In their book ‘The Starfish and the Spider’ Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom review history and find that the ‘leaderless’ organization has always been a force to be reckoned with, from Jeronimo to Che Guavara to Al Queda, their strength drawn from a talismanic visionary who inspires a common belief in their followers, operating a command and out of control management practice. None of these organizations could operate without a mechanism for communicating that vision nor could they survive the offensive onslaughts of their larger oppononent if they had a fixed infrastructure that their opponents could destroy.
I sat in the audience in Dubai listening to Rod Beckstrom, a tall and impossibly healthy looking Californian, and saw the parallels to these virtual organizations and my own independent Public Relations firm, EASTWEST PR. How can we compete with the multinational PR goliaths? The answer for me lies in competing on speed of information and enabling smart people to make decisions they know the team will support.
Knowledge management became a central part of my business as early as 1995, but technology and my understanding have both matured to a level where it can be a core part of our business strategy. In 2004 I embarked on building an internet based platform with a vision for creating a ‘knowledge driven, geography independent’ network of consultants, and have enjoyed great benefits of increased business efficiency and service levels with each new iteration.
Knowledge management (KM) is predicated on a brilliant but logical piece of work undertaken by a Harvard post graduate in 1970, Robert Metcalf, which became eponymously known as Metcalf’s law; the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n²). One only needs to sit alone and try to think of a good idea and realise how much easier it is to do in a brainstorm with other minds.
Knowledge management is the technology equivalent of the oral history kept by Jeronimo’s tribes or intel shared between operatives of terrorist networks. It is how we share our common purpose and the information with which we achieve that purpose.
KM has become a billion dollar industry because of the macro trends of ubiquity of the net, reduction in cost of processing, and the growing strength of search technologies to tackle the volume of content.