The Far Side of KM: So Easy, a Caveman Can Do It!

Recently, I came across this cartoon on the Facebook page of Knowledge Pad.  My first take was a smile and the thought “how off target.  Cavemen are attempting to capture knowledge, and it’s not even valuable, how ridiculous."  For some reason though, I continued to turn the cartoon around in my head and ponder my initial reaction.  My conclusion is that I’m wrong, and our natural inclination as KM pros is to neatly fit the round peg into the round hole.  However, while we don’t always get the ideal shapes, we still must make use of the captured knowledge.  They are capturing knowledge and it's useful when viewed in the right context. 

The quote from one caveman to another, “We should write that spot down” could have many different meanings:

  1. The spot that they found the mammoth
  2. The spot that the arrow penetrated the mammoth
  3. The spot where they notched the arrow into the bow, causing it to accelerate so rapidly as to slay dinner for a month
  4. The spot they found the arrowhead that finally penetrated the thick mammoth skin.

Farside Cartoon

In today’s KM systems and methodologies, the knowledge captured by these two cavemen could lead to a serendipitous moment.  A little bit of tagging with keywords, a nice searchable title, and we actually have four potential pieces of knowledge derived from the cartoon:

  1. The ‘spot’ they found the mammoth is not significant to the locals; they already knew they live in a land filled with mammoths.  This knowledge is inherent.  However, an ancient Egyptian from the Nile Delta area searching for a mammoth, will probably never accomplish this mission.  Delivering the ‘spot’ knowledge to the Egyptian opens up new possibilities.  Sync it with google maps (old parchment), he now must traverse down the Nile River, cross the Red Sea and the Negev Desert, hike north into the Alps, and find mammoths in Gaul (or whatever it was called when mammoths existed).  Without a clue as to what/where the ‘solution’ is, the Egyptian will probably never find a mammoth until the KM system delivered a document from a geography and culture very different from his own.

Knowledge, no matter how obvious or simple to some, is not always inherent across business silos, cultures, and geographies.  Documentation of work experiences, best practices, and interaction builds a base of information that colleagues and/or co-workers may or may not reuse.  Making it available to others at least gives them the chance to find the ‘mammoth’, which perhaps they don’t even know exists.

  1. In the cartoon, previous arrows have always harmlessly bounced off the lumbering beasts. Sort of like when Bilbo Baggins gains information on Smaug’s vulnerability in The Hobbit, these cavemen have found the soft spot in the mammoth’s thick hide. For generations, the cavemen have lived in fear of the mighty pachyderm, but now the tide has turned.  A new source of food and the ability to prevent stampedes becomes evident. 

Knowledge Management is increasingly getting information based upon others’ experience to a client/end user at their point of need.  Documented knowledge is reused at different rates.  “Password Reset” may be used 10 times every day, while “How to conduct a goat rodeo” may be viewed once a year in a 100,000 end user organization.  “Password Reset” provides incremental value, while “Goat Rodeo” may inspire a new routine at Ringling Brothers.  But when the time comes, wouldn’t it be nice to search and find out the way to prevent a mammoth stampede is by shooting the matriarch in the lower abdomen?  That’s the beauty of KM:  you never know when or how it may be reused. 

  1. The cavemen were using the bow with string as a musical instrument.  Plucking the string with a pick (a stick with a pointy stone attached) produced a pleasant sounding vibration.  It also happened to attract a few curious mammoths.  Panicked by his predicament, the caveman took his music “pick” and attempted to fling it at the menacing mammoth, using his bow as leverage.  Eureka!  Saved from a stomping plus dinner for the whole clan!

The intersection of luck, defense, and music gives us a new knowledge object.  Spreading this knowledge around eventually led to a descendent combining the use of fire with bow and arrows to create a stunning Olympic opening ceremony.  The point is this:  without the capture, process, validation, delivery and reuse of the original knowledge, the occurrence of subsequent innovation and creativity takes more time, in turn costing the society (organization) resources and expenses.

  1. 20 minutes before the miracle of killing a mammoth, the two cavemen had stumbled upon a rock mine full of black stones with jagged edges.  Never having seen obsidian before, the cavemen replaced the (in comparison) brittle gazelle horn from their arrow shaft with the newly found sharp stone.  On the first shot, the cavemen could not believe their good fortune as the stone tip pierced and the animal fell. 

Marking the ‘spot’ of the quarry allows others to use the same resource and not have to reinvent the wheel or stumble upon a solution too.  KM centric organizations are constantly striving to build these efficiencies into their everyday processes.  IT Help Desk agents are searching the Knowledge Base first.  Enterprise KM initiatives are replicating this methodology too by having employees blog and create Communities of Practice to share similar experiences. 

So what have I (and perhaps you, the reader) learned today?  The barrier to see outside my normal thought process caused me to laugh and dismiss the Caveman Cartoon as archaic and ridiculous compared to the present state of KM.  How wrong I was though.  This is the basic building block of KM, Capturing knowledge.  Today, we Process it through the KM system.  It becomes Validated by our peers and the community at large.  The knowledge is globally Delivered through multiple channels.  People then Reuse the knowledge to create the desired result, or innovate by combining knowledge into new outcomes.  

Thank you, Gary Larson, for taking me to the Far Side of Knowledge Management and back. 

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