More Than a Feeling: Emotions and Knowledge Management
More Than A Feeling:
Emotions and Knowledge
20 Oct 2020
• An Industry Fellow at University of Technology Sydney.
• Over 20 years of experience working in knowledge
management with organisations such as PwC, IBM, Oracle and
• Also worked in Learning & Development, Marketing, IT Management,
Sales Operations, Project Management.
• NOT a psychologist.
• Some talking
• Breakout discussion 1
• Breakout discussion 2
• Wrap up
Back in the pre-history of May 2019
The thing I want to find out is: "What is the most confronting and
challenging question for the knowledge management community? What is
our biggest fear?"
Now "Is KM dead?" is not allowed. That question has reached a similar
stage to the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch for me ("probably pining for
I am interested in opportunities. But I am also interested in fears. Because
people don’t want to talk about them and yet they are hugely important,
and they drive a lot of human behavior. I often think that people are more
defined and driven by their biggest fears (of being poor, being alone, being
incompetent, getting sick, dying) than their biggest hopes. So it is important
to acknowledge and understand these powerful impulses rather than deny
I don’t want to stay with fears (and I do want to talk about hopes) but I do
want to start there.
So here are a few to get things started. Some KM fears:
• No one powerful cares about knowledge and what we do any more (if
they ever did).
• The technologists are actually right and people don’t actually matter.
• We end up in cycle of applying the same partially successful techniques
to the same organizational problems forever (like Groundhog Day).
“In general, Americans prefer high arousal, pleasant states.” – Lisa Feldman Barrett
The SIKM discussion group
Many thanks to:
Denise Senmartin (KM4Dev)
Thomas J. Froehlich
Why are we doing this?
“I’m not clear that emotions
are what you’re after here,
Matt. To what end does
exploring that add to our
“I have to say that I somewhat
disagree with the assertion that
emotions are "rarely talked
about" in KM. Is that your
experience? In mine, most
facilitation and KM related
strategies and activities take into
account emotions, including our
own, to connect, build trust, and
from there share/manage
human or organizational asset enabling effective decisions and action
Note 1 to entry: Knowledge can be individual, collective or
Note 2 to entry: There are diverse views on the scope covered within
knowledge, based on context and purpose. The definition above is
general as to the various perspectives. Examples of knowledge include
insights and know-how.
Note 3 to entry: Knowledge is acquired through learning or
“An emotion is an
organized system of
expressions, and action
tendencies that flow
from an almost
of a current situation’s
relevance to the
individual” (Fisher 2019)
• Affect – Related to emotions – sometimes a simple state of
• Mood – Longer term, diffuse emotional states.
• Valence – Pleasant vs Unpleasant (happy vs upset)
• Arousal – High vs Low (elated vs peaceful)
• Emotions are “constructed” by our brains
• Emotions are not discrete things.
• Emotions are not separate from reason.
• Culture impacts how our emotions are
formed – and how we make sense of
• Multiple physical systems and brain areas
are involved in emotional responses.
• There is not a one-to-one match for a part
of the brain and an emotion (e.g. fear and
• We are worse at reading emotions in
others than we think.
“We speak not strictly and
philosophically when we talk
of the combat of passion and
of reason. Reason is, and
ought only to be the slave of
the passions, and can never
pretend to any other office
than to serve and obey
Emotions in Organisations
“For many years emotions in the
workplace were ignored altogether
or were regarded as irrational.
Hence, they had no place in
organizations that were thought to
be bastions of rationality, or they
were considered merely a source
of annoying unreliability in the
reporting of more stable work
attitudes and perceptions.” (Fisher
Emotions in Organisations
• Emotional Intelligence (EI) as “a thing”.
• Happiness / Wellness / Positive Psychology
• Awareness of mental health issues (RUOK Day)
• Employee Engagement
• Behavioural Economics / Naturalistic Decision-Making
• Social Media - changing our public performance of emotion
What has my experience been?
• Knowledge manager as emotional laboror (Hochschild).
• Reading emotions in terms of debriefing teams to collect knowledge – and
the importance of negative space.
• Managing the emotions of a community – giving people permission to feel.
• Managing anxiety during times of change.
• Knowing who will “click” with who to create and share knowledge.
• Saying what everybody is feeling.
• Not saying something in front of other people.
• Forging connections with people and alienating others.
How might we manage the emotions of
others as knowledge managers?
•Think about the time you witnessed a display of
emotion in the workplace (or surprising lack of
•What was the context?
•How did you react?
•What did you learn from that?
How might we design our KM products and
programs to account for emotion?
•Think of a work initiative or a software tool that
has provoked an emotion in you – good or bad.
•Why did it provoke that emotion in you?
•What did you learn from that?
• David Hume. Treatise on Human Nature.
• Alan S. Cowen, Dacher Keltner. Varieties of reported emotional experience. Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences Sep 2017, 114 (38) E7900-E7909; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1702247114
• Fisher, C. D. (2019). Emotions in organizations. In R. J. Aldag (Ed.), Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Business
and Management Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190224851.013.160
• Scherer KR. What are emotions? And how can they be measured? Social Science Information.
• Hornung, O., & Smolnik, S. (2018). It’s Just Emotion Taking Me Over: Investigating the Role of Emotions in
Knowledge Management Research. In Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System
Sciences. DOI: 10.24251/HICSS.2018.512
• Hornung, O et al (2020) Inspired by Emotions, Guided by Knowledge: Which Emotional Cues Dominate
Knowledge Management Research? In Proceedings of the 53rd Hawaii International Conference on System
Sciences. DOI: 10.24251/HICSS.2020.573