Collaboration versus Command and Control

This post is about differing management styles and approaches to not just knowledge management but to business and ultimately life.

Do we believe there is a limited “pie” and so we need to compete and create hierarchies to control it (whatever “it” is in our own particular case) or do we believe in working together to make the pie bigger and be content with our own slice of pie, however big or small that may be?

As a small business person, I am not particularly interested in growing my business to be bigger than it is. I like doing consulting and giving focused, specialized service to my clients, I don’t need, nor do I want to grow my business to 25, 50, 100 or more people, I wouldn’t be able to do what I like to do in those scenarios. If a client or potential client wants services that I don’t offer, say development work for a particular software platform, I am perfectly willing to refer them to someone I know who specializes in that work rather than do it myself, or hire someone to work for me to do it for the client.

In my KM practice I often talk with people about what it takes to be successful with KM; people are often looking for that “magic bullet,” but there is none. It takes hard work to be successful with KM in any organization, but the more open and collaborative the organization is, the more likely it is to be successful.

Being open and collaborative is hard for a lot of people, especially for those who believe in a limited “pie” and hierarchy. Being open and collaborative goes against everything they believe in–command and control. They believe the worst about people, that people have to be told what to do, that without that command and control structure people will not do their jobs. They believe there is a limited “pie” and they are going to compete and they are going to win by whatever means possible, because that is the way the world works. Except that it’s not.

If you assume the worst about people, you get the worst; if you assume the best, you get the best, that is the way the world works. At least that is the way my world works, and the way the world that I want to live in works.

Being open and collaborative helps us all work together to produce a desired outcome, because we want to, because we believe in it, because we trust and respect ourselves and our colleagues. It makes a bigger “pie” possible, it also helps us to be content with the slice of “pie” we have.

Bigger is not better, more is not better.

So when I see KM people behaving in a command and control fashion, it confuses me. How can they be good at implementing and managing KM in an organization with behaviour like that? It smothers KM and sharing to be controlled. KM and sharing grows exponentially when it is given space (Nonaka’s ideas around Ba come to mind) and is allowed to happen; when it is supported and enabled, not controlled. Maintaining that openness is hard, it’s hard to have a lack of solid ground under us, we want the certainty of the rules and the ground, but to be successful in KM and in life we have to be okay with that uncertainty.

It takes a lot of self-knowledge and self-esteem to be okay with uncertainty and to manage in that way, but it’s the way to get the most out of your KM program and life.

Topics and Trends from KM World 2012

I attended KM World 2012 in Washington, DC last month, for the first time since 2006 (when it was still in San Jose, California). Let me first just say that I enjoyed the new location very much, not just because it’s a much shorter flight for me, but it seemed more intimate–easier to meet and talk to people and find my way around. I did miss being able to visit all my friends in the Bay Area, but I will get out there again.

Okay, so on to what I learned and observed at KM World 2012…

I think one of the big things I observed was a shift away from all the talk of technology, don’t get me wrong, people still talked tech, but I found less of an emphasis on it this year and much more emphasis on the value of the network, i.e. the people-to-people connections. Certainly any of us who have been doing KM for a while know that this is the case, that technology just enables and supports the activities of the network, but for most of the last 15-20 years we have had to fight against the idea that technology was the silver bullet in KM, that if an organization implemented the right technology they would find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Other themes:

  • Mobility and Internal Social Media
  • Internal Communications (consistent and repetitive communications via multimedia channels)
  • Strategic Alignment (km must always align with the business strategy of the organization to be successful)
  • Measurement and Value (everyone is measuring trying to determine value, but everyone is also still measuring things differently, but that’s OK.)
  • The importance of
    • Governance
    • Serendipity
    • Complexity/interconnectedness of KM
  • The DIKW pyramid is dead. Or is it?
  • Don’t fall prey to echo chambers in your organization
  • People’s knowledge goes beyond their job description which is untapped capital
  • The power of influence by friendship through peer networks is real
  • Seek forgiveness, instead of permission
  • Ask yourself daily what your km clients would answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Some of the presentations and keynotes are posted on the KM World website, and Dave Snowden’s closing keynote is on his website,

Finally, I have to thank Daniel Lee for his notes/thoughts on KM World, which I have incorporated in this post as well as in a presentation I did for Knowledge Workers Toronto and is posted on Slideshare.