Building the Knowledge Culture

Managing the KD/KS “Expert Blind Spot”

Guy St. Clair

Those of us working in KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy find ourselves being asked about our work.

We’re asked a lot, in fact, and we’re often surprised that people we know don’t quite “get it” when we say we work with information management, knowledge management, and what we call “strategic learning” (what we learn for the workplace – for most other people the information and knowledge they “learn” is “just what I need to know”).

Over the years most people have figured out how to deal with what they need to know (at least in their personal lives). And when it comes to what’s needed in the workplace, they don’t think much about how they work with the information and knowledge they are called upon to use (or how they could work with information and knowledge even better). Some people even express surprise that there is a discipline like ours (see “You Have to Teach That?”).

So I keep thinking about how we – as specialists in this discipline – can convey to others what it is we do.

A recent idea came to me from the education field, when I read about a concept that teachers apparently deal with all the time. I got to wondering if perhaps we knowledge professionals might give this some thought.

In educational theory it’s called something like the “expert blind spot.” And from what I understand, it has to do with the fact that once we – as experts – have mastered a body of knowledge about a subject, we have some trouble connecting with what people who haven’t mastered the subject don’t know about it. In our case, it becomes difficult to imagine what people who aren’t knowledge specialists don’t know.

Is that a problem for us? Sometimes it gets a little confusing, when we’re working with people who don’t share our background. So we get into the whole knowledge-about-knowledge conversation and soon realize that it’s more than coming up with a short elevator speech. Sure, we can share our elevator speech with one of the company’s senior managers we run into accidentally, or the colleague from another department who sits down with us in the company cafeteria.

But is there another way, another approach, to speaking about what we do?

Certainly we knowledge professionals and knowledge strategists know what we know about our company’s intellectual infrastructure. And we know it’s our job to ensure that knowledge development/knowledge sharing – the KD/KS process – functions smoothly. It’s our job. We’re expected to know that and to put what we know to work for the company.

So how do we handle what we tell others? How do we – as knowledge specialists – deal with our own expert blind spot?

  1. Robert Dalton at the Gurteen Knowledge Management Community Group on LinkedIn responds:

    This is where elevator speeches come in handy. When asked this question I always put it very simply: “We help to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience from those who have it to those who need it using a variety of technologies, processes and techniques.”

    Guy responds:

    Great comment, Robert. And what a beautiful way to share an explanation about what we do. Thanks very much.

  2. Beulah Muller says:

    This is one of my daily challenges eventhough I work at a business school where Information and Knowledge Management is a course module.

    A time tested phrase I always use is, “To ensure you have access to all the relevant information and knowledge resource to enable you to do your work more effectively and efficiently”

  3. Elizabeth Greenfield, at the SLA New York Chapter LinkedIn Group, posted the following:

    Good article, and good points here, especially when you say “we … know what we know”. It’s very difficult for people not in the knowledge/information fields to understand what knowledge about knowledge actually means. I’ve found it takes an open mind on their part, and some good, practical examples on our part – examples that show how they benefit from what we do. Here’s one: when I worked at a major law firm, a certain enterprise search system was put in place. Of course, behind the scenes was an enormous tagging/indexing/organizing operation. Users didn’t care about that (why should they, anyway?), but they DID care about (and love) the results: if they wanted to find attorney work product, or precedents, or docs involving a certain client, they could, almost as easily as if using Google.

    So, if I’m understanding your question and article correctly, I think it’s unlikely for others to really get the big picture, but, when you make something relevant – and beneficial – to them personally, they can at least begin to understand the value of our work.

    Guy responds: Excellent point raised here, Elizabeth. As with any knowledge sharing situation, it’s the relevancy that makes the sharing experience worthwhile. And the example you provide is a fine one, making it clear that once the “share” (is that a word?) sees the relevance and how the change might make their work experience a better experience, the knowledge that is shared can be put to use. Thanks for responding.

    On September 22, Elizabeth added this good comment:

    Thanks, Guy. I’d like to add a point: when I refer to the value of our work, that word, “value”, has more than one meaning. If I can find, e.g., an asset purchase agreement previously used for Client X within the past 5 years, and I don’t have to jump from server to server, but can find it in a few minutes, and. boom! (I like to say that), there it is, I save the client my billable time. And I save the requestor from charging his/her time for – oh, please, no – fumbling around with google or Lexis or Westlaw. A litigator might want to find an answer involving the concept of holder in due course – we in KM know how to find this quickly from among our firm’s intellectual assets. Quantify that for the billing partner, or even a junior associate who is still in the nascent stage of client-consciousness, and you’ve sold them on KM.

    So that’s the monetary value. There’s also the intangible value of work product: it’s good for people to know that completed work doesn’t just disappear, but can have repeated (updated) use. That’s less important to the bottom line, of course, but goes to morale.

    We have to demonstrate the value in concrete and the less concrete terms. (Hope I’m not being repetitious!)

    Guy comments: No, you’re not being repetitious, Elizabeth. In fact, you make a very good point. And you give me the opportunity to refer to a colleague’s blog post about the value chain in our work with information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning (the work that makes up what we call “knowledge services”). Take a look at Tim Powell’s “Competing in the Knowledge Economy.” You can see it here:

    The link is to Tim’s post for August 5th, 2012 (“Value for dummeze”) so be sure to take a look at this particular post, in which Tim has a section called “A Lexicon of Value.” He comments that we’re all dealing with “questions of value that have direct application in solving the challenges faced by our clients” and he kindly defines the kinds of things we need to talk about (and convey to leaders in the company or the firm).

    Good reading, and Tim’s comments connect well with what we’re speaking about in some of SMR’s posts and discussion at the different LinkedIn Groups.

  4. Rupert Lescott at the Gurteen Knowledge Management Community LinkedIn site had this to say:

    I tell people I teach organisations how to learn….and then explain further if need be!

    Guy responds: Well said, Rupert. Concise, succinct, might even be our new “elevator” or “water-cooler” speech. And the connection with organizational learning is so important (has it really been 22 years since Peter Senge introduced us to the concept of the learning organization – and 14 years since Tichy and Cohen brought in the idea of the teaching organization?). Thanks for sharing this good summary of what we do.

  5. John Thorne at the Gurteen Knowledge Management Community LinkedIn Group notes:

    I now say … I help people make good choices in how they socialise on and off line.

    If people make good choices as they socialise … they will be more able to learn from others.

    If needed I explain what a good choice is, and I Have just created a new type of video to explain what a good choice is

    hope that adds

    It does indeed Jon. Thanks for your contribution (and for the neat video – it provides a clear description of what we need to think about, and I like the connection at the end with change management – so basic to what we do).

  6. Hildah Bawani – also at the Gurteen LinkedIn site – says:

    simply say: i transform organisations and individuals to be innovative and add value to their environment.

    Guy responds: Thanks, Hildah, for bringing in the innovation and value-add – they connect so clearly with what we do as knowledge strategists, and with the whole knowledge development/knowledge sharing process for the larger organization.

  7. Guy St. Clair says:

    At the Gurteen Knowledge Management Group, Iqbal Fajar comments:

    For me its best to explain it that it help business creating value added by combining people ‘s knowledge. After all, business is all about creating value, right?

    Guy comments:

    Absolutely, and see the comments between Elizabeth Greenfield and me above.

  8. Guy St. Clair says:

    At the Gurteen Knowledge Management Group at LinkedIn, Pieter Labuschagne had this to say:

    Robert got the nail on its head with the “Elevator Pitch” remark. A colleague from Adelaide (Australia) gave me this one:

    “The movement of practical knowledge between people”
    – Nonaka

    movement – having knowledge is one thing. KM is about the SHARING. There is a responsibility to share; and an equal responsibility to ASK

    practical – E=MC2 is an important piece of knowledge. It binds our universe together. But I can’t actually remember ever using it. It is not a target for KM

    people – This is what separates KM from IM and BI reporting. KM is all about how PEOPLE accept, transform and use knowledge. The medium is NOT the message.

    The asker (knowledge seeker) is hooked !

    Guy responds:

    What a terrific comment, Pieter! This is one that I’m going to put into my “don’t-forget-how-good-this-is” file.

    And Iwill probably pass along often (with full credit to you) when I’m advising people how to speak about their work in KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy.

    For those of us working in these fields, it’s ALWAYS about the people, about the interacting with people, and about the knowledge sharing. Which is why I spend so much of my professional time focusing on the KD/KS (knowledge development/knowledge sharing) construct.

    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  9. Alexis Adair writing at the Gurteen Knowledge Management Group at LinkedIn had this to say:

    I like to say that I “align people, processes and technology to help achieve the organization’s strategic goals.”

    I’ve seen variations on this sentence in The New Edge in Knowledge by the APQC, and also used by Business Architects. It applies equally well to Knowledge Management, Enterprise Architecture, Business Architecture, and the evolving field of Social Business. And it’s a reminder that whatever we call KM, it’s not a discipline that’s engaged in for its own sake – it serves and aligns with the overall business strategy.

    If innovation is a strategic capability the organization values, there are KM practices that help align people, processes and technology to support the ability to innovate. For the value disciplines of Customer Intimacy, Product Leadership, or Operational Excellence, KM practices can align people, processes and technology to improve the organization’s ability to achieve those strategic goals. (The three value disciplines come from Treacy & Wiersema, Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines, Harvard Business Review January-February 1993).

    Admittedly, the phrase doesn’t make explicit reference to “knowledge,” but if you’re talking to someone who’s never heard of KM or is a KM skeptic, that could be a good thing.

    Guy responds:

    Thanks, Alexis, for this thoughtful comment. And you’re right on in noting that what we do often doesn’t have a direct connection with “knowledge” as we usually think of it. It is critically important to think about these value disciplines as we try to connect what we “do” with what someone who is not a knowledge specialist understands about knowledge in the workplace. You raise good points here.

    Alexis comments:

    Thanks Guy, I hope I didn’t sound like I meant there’s not a direct connection with knowledge – it’s just that I realized the phrase I use doesn’t say “knowledge” in it anywhere. But in my mind, the “people” element of the phrase is what people know, so for me that encompasses the “knowledge” piece of the puzzle.

    I think the processes and technology pieces are what facilitate the transfer of people’s knowledge, in addition to direct person-to-person transfer via techniques like after-action reviews or storytelling. And all the transferring and re-use of knowledge then supports “creating value” that Iqbal mentioned.

    As an aside, Pieter I love your point about the “equal responsibility to ASK” as well as share. Too true, and an important organizational culture element for KM to support.

    Hilda Bawani continues the conversation:

    Thanks, Alexis for the clarity. I like “KM practices can align people, processes and technology to improve the organization’s ability to achieve the strategic goals.” This makes KM to be one of the backbones of an organisation. if there is no alignment of people, processes and technology, the productivity level will be greatly affected.

  10. Donna Gordon at the Association of Independent Information Professionals Group at LinkedIn commented:

    Guy, I vary my pitch based on who I am speaking with, and my business is not as much focused on information, but on how it is used. My general response is I help business owners find and analyze the information they need to make the right decisions at the right time. I have also said, I am a left brained analyst for right brained entrepreneurs, or I work with people who know what they don’t know to get the knowledge they need. Many people think they can just Google something and find what they need to know. If they are just looking for facts, I am not their person. I prefer to work as a partner with my client to make sure they not only have the data, but also an understanding of what that data means for their business.

    Guy responded:

    What a good approach to talking about what we do as knowledge strategists! And in a way, you’ve very much defined the entire knowledge strategy framework, whether we are working for a company or independently: your focus on how the information/knowledge is to be used is a critical approach and for many people coming in with information and knowledge needs, it’s just what they require. Good for you.

    This whole discussion has proved to be tremendously informative, and if you want to see what others have said – from responses from other LinkedIn comments – we’ve tried to aggregate them at the comments section at They are all in my name, of course (since people aren’t responding directly to SMR), but we’ve tried to credit them within each comment.

    At the same site, Tim Peterson responded:

    Try some reality factor. Put it in terms that the person you are talking to can understand and absorb. Staying away from acronyms. I have no idea what KM or KD/KS is. I was a computer operator. The old mainframe computer used a lot of tapes, they were the size of a dinner plate. I used to tell people my job was like that guy on that old variety show that spun plates on wooden dowels.

    Guy said:

    Makes a lot of sense, and I really like your approach to reality. Have to disagree a little about acronyms. Of course we stay away from them with the people we’re addressing in this situation. They’re not information/knowledge professionals and we have to put our language in terms they understand, and language that reflects what they need.

    But within our work, yeah, I don’t love the acronyms either but our professional language (jargon) is crowded with them. So I pick and choose.

    Thanks for that useful comment, Tim. Really like the image of the dinner plates – and, yes, I remember those tapes!

  11. Mary E. Woolsey says:

    Guy–Great and timely, but important topic.

    In managing the information world at the corporate level, it is difficult to get across many management levels, what we as knowledge managers do.

    The concept I used, when explaining, was the idea that each nugget of information becomes and contributes to the whole picture of the corporate knowledge. (I don’t mean to generalize about corporations in general, and use the term, but as a special librarian in the corporate world, this is where I am coming from.) This corporate knowledge is the level at which the management works when reviewing and looking at business strategies for the immediate needs and to meet the long term strategic goals.

    The difficulty is to express that the basic piece of information is what ultimately drives the process of business knowledge management to allow for innovation, creativity, meeting the fiscal/financial needs, and to remain ahead of the competition. But in my mind, the most important piece for corporations/business to keep in mind is the need to monitor the small bits of information to remain proactive and understand what is going on in their business. The concept and idea of the small is lost in the overall business picture, but this is where the knowledge manager needs to be on top of their information and make their contributions to the overall large picture of business knowledge.

    Guy responds:

    What a thoughtful comment you’ve made, Mary!

    I think this is one of the places where we who work in KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy could give some further attention, to how “the idea of small” (as you put it so well) sometimes get lost. I’m a “big-picture” fellow – and often teased about it, about my inability to get down to the workaday, NOT enterprise-wide needs of knowledge seekers – and your comment is helpful to me.

    I’m going to give this further thought, and I hope others will as well. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. Wendy Foster says:

    I run a medical library in a hospital. When asked what I do I regularly say “I stop doctors killing patients”.

    I really liked Lisa’s “I’m a Librarian…I find things Google can’t.” I might start using that in the future.

  13. Guy St. Clair says:

    Posted by John Pierce at the Gurteen Knowledge Management Group at LinkedIn:

    I say that I get people to talk to each other and then explain further, including the use of appropriate technology to support the conversations.

  14. Guy St. Clair says:

    Edward Dupree at the KM/Knowledge Services LinkedIn site wrote:

    Initially, I frame my response in the importance of the discussion in saying, “Knowledge Strategy is a cohesive and comprehensive alignment of your organization’s intellectual capacity with its strategic, cultural, and operational goals. It is the singular as well as sum alignment and integration of the human, structural (technological), and customer capital in order to achieve your firm’s strategic objectives.”

    I then revert into a Yogi Berra fashion, by simply saying, “ I help you find, capture, and utilize that, which you don’t know that you know”.

    Guy responds:

    Well said, Edward. I like the “singular as well as sum alignment” approach – keeping all doors open. And of course I love the Yogi connection. Thanks for responding.

  15. Guy St. Clair says:

    Annette Hexelschneider at the Gurteen KM Group at LinkedIn writes:

    I try to give a practical example of a knowledge transfer in the business sphere of the person who aks me.

    Coming back to the questions from Refilwe Montshiwa I think our world is so highly specialised that those questions are normal. And anway – luckily – we are there to answer them 😉

    Guy responds:

    The key word is your response is “practical” – good for you. It’s when we can enable the knowledge seekers to hear what we say and apply it to their work – particularly with a good example – we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing.

    And “luckily” is another key word from you, Annette. Lucky not only for the knowledge seeker but for us as knowledge specialists, since we’re in the good position of being able to assist the knowledge seekers and at the same time learn more about the workplace – and the work – in our own sphere. Well said.

  16. Md Santo says:

    “Expert Blind Spot” revealed through Knowledge Architecture

    • We developed and mapping our Knowledge Architecture as platforms to revealing our “Expert Blind Spot” and making us easier to gain KD/KS with the people. Visit – “Teaching and Learning Process variables within Human System Biology-based Knowledge Management (HSBKM) model framework”

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