KM Euphemisms – ‘Culture’

Knowledge Management is something I love to do and to talk about.  Nonaka and Taguchi is music to my ears. However, in my education we talked around a central KM issue that needs to be considered more. The euphemism that is used in KM is ‘culture’.  What exactly does this mean? It means considering what a company says and comparing it to what actually happens. In other words, business ethics. Right and wrong.

Ethics are a requirement for KM. Right action is a requirement for KM. Countries and companies that excel at KM are also ethical organizations. The Scandinavian nations are an excellent example. Toyota is another, as is Google.

Let me make it clear from the outset that this is not a hagiography. All of these organizations have problems, and have committed ethical violations. However, they usually stick to a core set of principles and are at their most effective and profitable when they stick to those principles. Toyota is one of the few remaining Japanese corporations that guarantees employment, taking a loss during the 1980’s in order to maintain their workforce. The Scandinavian nations, especially Norway, Denmark and Sweden have one of the most effective education and welfare programs in the world. They also have some of the most innovative and successful corporations, like Erickson, Nokia and Ikea. Google has a clear corporate policy of ‘Don’t be Evil’ and have an ethical affairs committee to review changes in their corporate policies.

Culture is one of the most difficult areas in Knowledge Management. Changing culture is the primary reason that Knowledge Management infinitives take longer than structural and procedural changes. However, a strong and consistent corporate culture also increases innovation and creativity.

In a larger context, corporations operate much like countries. If there is a strong, ethical leadership with entrenched institutions to safeguard central ethical principles it encourages investment. A kleptocracy or a country with inconsistent laws discourages investment.


Are you willing to lose money in defence of your organization’s core principles?

What is ‘not for sale’ in your organization?

What do you pay people for? What do you encourage through bonuses and corporate policies?

What do you discourage through disincentives?


On the origin of ‘Don’t Be Evil’

The Contradictions that Drive Toyota’s Success
– Harvard Business Review


The Unspoken Language – Misunderstandings on the Internet

One of the major problems with communication on the Internet is the lack of tone, context and body language. Major misunderstandings have emerged because of satire, the intended tone of a piece of writing or simply the brevity of the missive. This has become a major issue in blogging, I know that several of the progressive and conservative political blogs I read in the United States have fallen victim to misinterpretations. The high level of tension in political writing leads to some spectacular bickering and amusing misunderstandings.

These misunderstandings are an area of concern to be aware of when creating intentional communities on the Internet. Communities of Practice are not made up of the forum software or the server it is hosted on but the people involved. Cranky people with attitude and strong convictions. This is especially true with professionals and experts in their field. As an administrator of such communities you need to have a very deft touch in mediating disputes. Here are some basic rules for mediating disputes in online communities.

1. Have a community developed code of conduct and enforce it carefully and fairly. This should be written and posted in a very visible location in your forum.

2.  Identify your champions in the forum. These people are your core focus. This does not mean that they can get away with everything.

3. Welcome newcomers and encourage them to spend some time acclimating to the forums.

4. Use private messages to correct and encourage civility in heated disputes

5. Get a good moderating team together. A few of your top posters can review new messages, approve new  members and significantly reduce the workload of the person in charge of the forum.

As a case study and thought experiment, I’m going to use myself as an example. We always learn best from our own experiences.

I am an occasional writer of cranky letters to the editor, of which I’ll provide the most recent sample below.

LDS Protests Too Much

This letter elicited a response

Polygamy Debate

Think about the tone of each letter. Now try a bit of a thought experiment, reading the letters with different inflections and emotions in your mind.






Notice how different each letter appears?

Now this is only religion and politics. See the Consumerist for how bad it gets when you get business involved. [Grin]

The original article that sparked all this is here.

A sample of the letters I reference in my Letter to the Editor is here.

If the links are broken due to the limited archiving at the Calgary Herald, please feel free to contact me for PDF copies.

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