A would-be nanopreneur's Thinkerings on Knowledge


Published on

Tham, David. (2004, Nov) "A would-be nanopreneur’s Thinkerings on Knowledge". In David Gurteen (ed.), Global Knowledge Review. London: BizMedia; pp. 6-7.

The Global Knowledge Review offered subscribers "unrivalled access to thought leaders in the fields of knowledge, learning, creativity, innovation and personal development". Each issue was designed to bring "leading edge thinking from top knowledge professionals around the world together with the latest news from the knowledge industry".Subscription to Global Knowledge Review cost £135/€140/US $170 for 10 issues per year. The Global Knowledge Review is no longer being published and this item is an archived version.

Published in: Business, Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

A would-be nanopreneur's Thinkerings on Knowledge

  1. 1. I was once asked at a conference to define a knowledgeworker.Istartedbydrawingthedistinctionbetweenmanualwork,informationworkandknowledgework.Manualworkwas done mainly with the hands. It could be highly skilledbut it was often repetitious and gave little scope for themanual worker to take the initiative and work differently.I argued something similar for the information worker –the manual element had gone but many informationorientedjobs,althoughskilledwereprocessdriven.Peopletended to be limited in their creativity by the demands ofthe process. And then knowledge workers, it seemed tome, had the most freedom – they got to decide to someextent what they actually did and to a larger degree howthey did it.At KM Asia last year, Tom Stewart gave his definition ofa knowledge worker that was pretty close to my own ofa few years before – “Someone who gets to chose whathe or she does in his or her job each morning”But for me, today, this is still not sufficient. Anotherperson who has influenced my views on knowledge workis Michael Schrage – a few years go he said this in aninterview with CIO Magazine:“I think “knowledge management” is a bullshit issue. Letme tell you why. I can give you perfect information, I cangive you perfect knowledge and it won’t change yourbehaviour one iota. People choose not to change theirbehaviour because the culture and the imperatives of theorganizationmakeittoodifficulttoactupontheknowledge.Knowledge is not the power. Power is power. The abilityto act on knowledge is power. Most people in mostorganizationsdonothavetheabilitytoactontheknowledgethey possess. End of story.”The point here is that ‘the ability to act on knowledgeis power’ which leads to my own definition of aknowledge worker:“Knowledge workers are those people who have takenresponsibility for their work lives. They continually striveto understand the world about them and modify theirwork practices and behaviors to better meet theirpersonal and organizational objectives. No one tells themwhat to do. They do not take “No” for an answer. They areself motivated.”Thekeyisabouttakingresponsibility.Tomymindknowledgeworkerscannotbecoerced,bribed,manipulatedorrewardedandnoamountofmoneyorfancytechnologywill‘incentivize’themtodoabetterjob.Knowledgeworkersseethebenefitsof working differently for themselves. They are not ‘wageslaves’ – they take responsibility for their work includingthe whole and drive improvement.What I like about this definition is that it is independentof your type of work – you can do predominately manual,information or knowledge work in my original sense andstill be a ‘knowledge worker’.So a question for you – to what extent do you thinkyou are a knowledge worker by this definition?David GurteenREVIEWKGLOBALKNOWLEDGEGTaking responsibility for your workIN THIS ISSUEGLOBAL KNOWLEDGE REVIEW November 2004Appreciating the invisible 2A puzzling question 3Stop selling the100% solution to experts 4Transparency rules, OK? 5A would-be nanopreneur’sThinkerings on Knowledge 6Why creative thinkingshouldn’t be left to chance 8Making learning aseffective as possible 10Who is hiring KMprofessionals in Asia? 11Tapping into the wisdomof crowds 12Briefing 14The MORE WITH MOREimperative 15TFPL page 14Businesses fail toshare information 17Dealing with anunhelpful cultureThis issue sees the return of some contributorsand the introduction of some others, who wehope and trust will soon become familiar.We are sure that you will enjoy all thearticles and doubtless some will resonate withyou more than others. Perhaps if I had onearticle which really struck a chord with me itwas Victor Newman’s not invented here (NIH).Victor is an old friend and one of the mostinnovativethinkersonknowledgemanagementover the last decade.I am sure we have all been victims of a NIHculture–sometimesfromanindividual,maybeeven from a whole department or culture. Yousuggest something and you know you canforget any chance of the notion being takenon board.So do do you overcome NIH? According toNewman timing is everything. Anyone whowants to break down a NIH culture should notdemolish the delicate relationship capitalbuilt up by making a frontal assault. You haveto bide your time, introduce ideas slowly andgive people space to get use to new ideas.Peter WilliamsKG
  2. 2. 6 • Global Knowledge Review November 2004 www.globalknowledgereview.comAs a young seeker of knowledge, I began my career morethan a decade ago as a radio producer’s assistant whoquickly learnt that the most malleable thing on earth wasthe human imagination.Combiningwords,musicandothersoundbites,radiohasan endearing quality that has enabled it to withstandcompetition for audiences from other mass media greatssuch as television and the internet, and co-exist insymbiosiswiththem.Thisendearingqualityisradio’sabilitytocreatelimitlessvisualisationsinthemindsofitsaudiencethroughnarrativesanddescriptions–toimaginepossibilitiesof what might have been; what is taking place right now;and what could happen in the future. Often, one word isall that is needed to signify an idea or vision.NanoKnowledge is just such a word. NanoKnowledge isnotaboutnanotechnologyalone.Nanotechnologymaybeasprawlingideathatcutsacrosssomanydisciplines,includingengineering,physics,chemistry,biology,andmaterialsscience.The concept is that by manipulating matter at themolecularlevel,literallyre-arrangingatomsandmolecules,youcancreatenewmaterialsandproductswithextraordinaryproperties e.g. fibres stronger than steel yet at a fraction ofitsweight,chemicaldetectorsthatcansenseatracemoleculeof a toxic gas, precision-guided “smart” drugs, andcomputer memory chips 1,000 times more powerful thanany in existence today.Ontheotherhand,nanoKnowledgeisaboutthebuildingblocks of knowledge that help us visualise and make senseof ‘the bigger picture’. It’s about learning – where we areable to take bits of knowledge, form them together andcreate amazing things from what began as a single idea.NanoKnowledge looks beyond the technology, to thesource of the dynamic know-how – people – which gavebirth to new notions, like nanotechnology.The concept of nanoKnowledge is actually quite simple:bystimulatingcontinuouslearninganddevelopmentamongindividualsinanorganisation’sworkforcethroughnewandinnovative ways, people create new ideas, products andservices–wecallthis“innovation”–thatbecomethebuildingblocks for that organisation’s success and future.ProponentsofR&Dtechnologysaythatnanotechnologymay give rise to the next industrial revolution, but beforethat happens, nanoKnowledge will bring about a learningrevolution.Sounds like a plug? Think again.DrMihailRoco,SeniorAdvisorforNanotechnologyattheNational Science Foundation in the US, estimated that by2015, the global market for nanotech-based products willreach US$1 trillion and employ some 800,000 workers inthe US and two million worldwide.Harvard Business Review’s senior editor Gardiner Morsewrotethatnanotechnologieswilleventually“disrupt,transform,and create whole industries”. The question isn’t “whetheryour industry will be affected”, but “when and how”.Sowhycan’tnanoKnowledgehaveasimilarimpactbeyondthe technology arena?Deciding to set up nanoKnowledge as my very own firmwas a big leap forward for me, having worked for the mostpart of my career for multi-national corporations, start-upentrepreneurs and even the Singapore government. InSingapore, entrepreneurs are a rare breed indeed, not tomention the ones who make it without any financial helpfromtheSingaporegovernmentorotherrelatedassociation.I recall my first adventure in knowledge management asa knowledge manager for a Singapore-based internationalhotel and resorts company which at the time managedsome 38 properties in 17 locations around the world.The company had set up a Knowledge Centre facility,which was unique given the nature of the company, andhadhiredmetoimplementaglobalintranet-basedknowledgemanagement system. Here is an excerpt from my personaljournal one week after I first joined the company. No realnames are used here and I have changed the company’sname to “Company X” (see Figure on next page):Three years on (and one CEO later), I decided it was timetoleavemycushyjobatcompanyXtoventureonmyown.Thus nanoKnowledge – my very own consultancy firm –was born. But not before I had been tasked with putting inA would-be nanopreneur’sThinkerings on KnowledgeDavid C ThamFOUNDERNANOKNOWLEDGEDavid specializes in corporatecommunications, human capitaldevelopment and knowledgemanagement consultancy. His diverseexperience in HR and communicationhas made him one of Asias preferredstrategists for implementing humancapital and knowledge managementinitiatives using practical, cost-effective means.Soft assets matter most today. Ideas. People. Teamwork.Communities. Passion. Values and knowledge. That is whatAlan Webber, editor, Fast Company reckons. David agrees.Singapore
  3. 3. place a million dollar new intranet system and spent manylonghoursandheadaches(arrgh!)tryingtoconvince(read:“change manage”) the management of company X thatknowledgemanagementwasthewayforwardandthatKMis not just about technology but about people and whatimpassions them to come together, share and innovate theideas they have in their minds.Peter Drucker in Managing in a Time of Great Changewrotethat“Knowledgehasbecomethekeyeconomicresourceand dominant – and perhaps even the only – source ofcompetitive advantage”. Yet, competitive advantage is notonly the sum of the intellectual parts of an enterprise; it isthe speed of summation, which is referred to as “return ontime”. Through nanoKnowledge, I envisage a revolution inthe way we look to knowledge for competitive advantagethat goes beyond technology and products.In a knowledge-based economy, nanoKnowledgesignifies the critical element of business strategy that willallow organisations to accelerate the rate at which theyhandle new market challenges and opportunities. It doesso by leveraging its most precious resources – collectiveknow-how, talent and experience.NanoKnowledge is, however, not altogether a simpleissue. Nanotechnologists will, of course, claim it as theirown.Butitisnotatechnology,althoughtechnologyshouldbe positioned to facilitate it. It is not a directive, althoughstrategic leadership is imperative. It is not a businessstrategy,althoughonealignedwiththefundamentalprinciplesof knowledge management must exist. NanoKnowledge isbased on the premise that an organisation is able to takestock in its greatest, most valuable yet individualisticorganisation asset, namely, its People.It is within this framework that organisations must firstbe able to challenge age-old adages by no longer relyingon core products but on core competencies. That is wherethe competition really begins. The organisation that canharness its nanoKnowledge is the organisation that trulyunderstands Success in a Time of Great Change.And then can we appreciate Rudyard Kipling who wrote:“They copied all that could follow but they couldn’t copymy mind, and I left ’em sweating and stealing a year and ahalf behind.” At the very least, if you haven’t beenthinkering with nanoKnowledge, it may be time for you tofind out how now.www.globalknowledgereview.com Global Knowledge Review November 2004 • 7KGSingaporePersonal Notes on Company X’s organisational knowledge culture (c. Aug 2001)Day 1:Wow! It’s my first day. But none of the managerial staff think that orientating new staff, even a fellow manager andcolleague, is important. A junior executive (management support staff) apologises and takes the initiative to show mearound. I don’t even have an idea of what my CEO looks like other than that he isn’t Asian and that he has a pot bellylike Santa. There are so many people to meet in the corporate office alone. All of a sudden I’m so not looking forward tohaving to know all the names of the general managers of the properties that are based overseas.Day 2:It seems there is a lack of corporate vision among some managerial staff. There is a tendency towards self-importanceamong senior (i.e. veteran) staff and this hinders the learning ability of newer staff who would be more effective to thecompany if they were able to attain or surpass the knowledge level of the former in a shorter time. There is a lack of aneffective communication network and knowledge resource pool among managers due to the size of the organisation,and this can create unnecessary delays in inter-departmental information exchanges.Day 3:Staff do not appear to be well-trained in effective time management habits and each person appears to have his/her owncompass direction, i.e. pre-occupied with the burden of accomplishing his/her own work rather than working togetherasateamtoaccomplishthecompany’sobjectives.Thus,thereisoftenalackofco-ordinationwhenmeetingsarearranged:e.g.certainstaffmembersmayarrivelateforadepartmentmeetingbecausetheyareattendingtoseeminglymoreurgentand important matters, even though sufficient notice was given in advance for the meeting. Staff who do turn up earlyor on time for meetings end up waiting and valuable work time is lost in small but incremental quantity. This in turn mayadversely affect the morale and enthusiasm of these staff who do make an effort to come early or are punctual. If leftunchecked, such a cycle may leave an undesirable impact on organisational culture. Worse still, if staff come early or ontime only because of the rank or seniority of the meeting’s proposer – this results in attendance to “please and appease”the boss rather than attendance to obtain/share the information necessary to improving overall work performance. Thelack of co-ordination may be due to the lack of communication of meeting agenda. Hence staff are not able to prioritisethe meeting activity above their other activities.Day 4:There is a high level of adherence to administrative “paperwork”. As a result, valuable time can be spent searching forrequired information from filing cabinets. Despite the general adherence to documentation, there are signs that certaindepartmentsmaylacksystematicdocumentation,e.g.theuseofcompanyX’sintranetsystemispresentlycrippledbecausenot enough staff usernames and passwords have been released to create an online community among the staff andgenerate web traffic. There is also no uniform system of indexing between departments and throughout the company.Furthermore, there is no obvious tagging system for existing and new information incorporated into the intranet.Day 5:Presently, most, if not all, of company X’s computer workstations use the Microsoft Windows 95 version 4 OperatingSystem. Windows 95 is documented to have a high tendency to crash thereby causing the loss of data and incurringadditional cost for data recovery and/or troubleshooting. The impetus to harness information technology has obviouslynot been very strong within the company and it is currently vastly under-utilised. I do not have sufficient information atthe current time to identify the reason for the lack of Operating System upgrades since 1995.KG
  4. 4. Businesses fail to share informationSurvey highlights the need for more efficient documentmanagement in the workplace.Subscribe to Global Knowledge Review for £135/€140/US$170 for 10 issues per yearGlobal Knowledge Review offers you unrivalled access to thought leaders in the fields of knowledge, learning, creativity, innovationand personal development. Each issue will bring you leading edge thinking from top knowledge professionals around the worldtogether with the latest news from the knowledge industry.To receive your personal pdf copy of GKR, simply print out the form below, and then send it together with your payment to:Your Personal DetailsMethod of PaymentII enclose a cheque made payable to Bizmedia Ltd.IPlease invoice my company. Please advise if the address to which the invoice should be sentis different from that shown.I Please charge the following credit card (Visa/Amex/Mastercard)Card No: IIII IIII IIII IIIIExpiry Date: II / IIBizmedia Ltd, Royal Station Court,Station Road,Twyford, Reading,Berks,RG10 9NF UKTel +44 (0) 118 960280 Fax +44 (0)118 960281Or subscribe online: www.globalknowledgereview.comPurchase Order No:Name of Cardholder:Signature:Title: Prof/Dr/Mr/Mrs/Ms First name:Surname:Job Title: Department:Organization:Tel:Address:City/Town:Post/Zip Code: Country:Fax:Email:URL:REVIEWKGLOBALKNOWLEDGEGBusinesses are failing to shareinformation because they are noteffectively implementing company-wide document managementsystems, a survey by Ricoh hasrevealed.EndpieceOf the 503 participants involved in the survey, 59% hadaccesstodocumentationonacompany-widelevel,whilst34% only had access on a branch or departmental leveland 6% had no access at all to information, indicatingthat many businesses are not realising the full benefits ofan integrated document management infrastructure.Ricoh says that by failing to standardise on a singledocument management system throughout the business,companies are effectively limiting information sharing. Itclaims that interoperability is essential for organisationsto communicate effectively both within and betweendepartments, branches and divisions.Without the means to control information across thewhole business, the sharing and retrieval of documents ismade complicated, and that could ultimately reduceemployee productivity and weaken the companyscompetitive advantage.A quarter of respondents indicated that their primarysource of documentation was electronic. The remainingthree quarters still relied on paper or a combination ofboth methods, suggesting that many organisations arestilldependentoninefficientandtime-consumingmethodsof storing, managing and viewing documents.The survey analysis concludes: "Changes to workingpractices have increased the demand for real-time accesstoinformation.Withoutputtinginplacesystemsthatcanadequately respond to these demands, companies willfind themselves left behind by their more forwardthinking competitors."