What Field of Dreams gets right (and wrong) about knowledge management.

                                                                                                    GORDON COMPANY

“If you build it, he (they) will come.”

We’ve all heard the voice at some point. Inspiring us to build something transformational. Once it is clear that ”it” must be built, nothing will stand in our way.

Like Ray Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams,” we are convinced that our “it,” in his case a baseball field, is so compelling that once the word gets out that “it” is finished – people will come from miles away (and even back from the dead) just to take part in it. The bleachers will be full. The players will relive their glory days. And best of all, we will recline on the sidelines, drinking a lemonade, basking in the sunshine and brilliance of our creation.

The End.

(Roll credits.)

“If you build a lessons learned database…”

Over the last two weeks I ran two more workshops on “Knowledge-Driven Architecture”. One was hosted by AEBL’s San Francisco Chapter. The other was hosted at a large architecture firm in Seattle.

At one point in my workshops I ask the participants to break out into small groups and create an inventory of their firm’s “structural knowledge assets.” Structural knowledge assets* are the databases, written procedures, practice manuals and other explicit materials that capture the experience you have acquired over time. I ask the small groups to brainstorm at least ten structural knowledge assets. At the end of the exercise I ask the small groups to pick the most important one.

Lessons learned databases are emerging as the top structural asset identified by workshop participants. It appears that most firms are building lessons learned databases. They heard the whisper to build “it.” Then they went out and built it.

“…will they come?”

Not so much.

At least that seems to be the feedback I’m hearing when I ask the follow-up question “are the lessons learned databases being used?” In many cases, one or two passionate individuals (like Ray Kinsella) take the time to create lessons learned – converting the experience they have acquired into an asset that can be leveraged by the rest of the firm.  This process is fundamentally a writing exercise, though the asset might additionally take the form of a video or presentation.

Once our writers have created their lessons learned, they put on their librarian hats and capture the knowledge assets in a database or post them to the intranet. Our librarians thoughtfully organize the lessons learned.  They develop keywording taxonomies and ensure that the lessons learned are searchable by everyone. Many times the lessons learned are organized by client, building type, CSI division or any number of familiar and convenient hierarchies.

And then they wait. Like Ray Kinsella.

But unlike “Field of Dreams,” “they” don’t come. Our writer/librarians are on the sidelines of the field. They’ve got their lemonade. But there are no players on the field and no fans in the bleachers.

Why aren’t people using lessons learned databases? And why is Hollywood misleading us?

The missing third act of “Field of Dreams” 

Act One

Our writers created knowledge assets.

Act Two

Our librarians captured knowledge assets.


The staff doesn’t leverage the lessons learned.

Knowledge Management is the process of leveraging yourself and your organization through the systematic creation, capture, and sharing of knowledge assets.

Act Three (Missing)

Our teachers shared knowledge assets.

Ending (Take two)

The staff leverages the lessons learned and our protagonists have helped to build a knowledge-driven firm.

“If you create, capture and share lessons learned, they will come.”

I’m sure that in practice, folks are notifying others that they have created and captured knowledge assets. But there is notification and then there is systematically sharing. Or in other words — teaching.

We have to continuously share our knowledge assets through teaching.  The work of knowledge management is never done. Knowledge management is a process, not a project. Most important, knowledge management is people-driven.

You’ll meet three types of people in a knowledge-driven firm – writers, librarians, and teachers. Writers create. Librarians capture. Teachers share.  The teaching part, the commitment to systematically sharing, is what’s missing. We are two-thirds of the way there. We just need to finish the job. “Go the distance.”

Here are five ideas for systematically sharing knowledge assets such as lessons learned that I have harvested out of the workshops and consulting work that we do at Knowledge Architecture:

  1. Create a best practices manual from your lessons learned database.
  2. Institutionalize the best practices as processes by using simple tools such as checklists.
  3. Develop an ongoing program where members of your staff teach modules of the best practices manual. 
  4. Tie bonuses and promotions to teaching.
  5. Improve your best practices manual by continuously creating, capturing, and sharing.

What do you think? Does this resonate? Do you have more ideas for sharing knowledge assets? E-mail me or leave comments below.


I’ll be leading a knowledge management workshop with AEBL in Orange County on December 10th. Click here to register or learn more about the “Knowledge-driven Architecture”  management roundtable.

*Credit to Thomas K. Stewart’s “The Wealth of Knowledge” for the framework.

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Filed under: General | Tags: | 1 Comment »

One Comment on “What Field of Dreams gets right (and wrong) about knowledge management.”

  1. 1 Patrick Gillam said at 8:16 am on November 16th, 2009:

    Chris, your observation that knowledge management requires teachers reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s observation in “The Tipping Point” that social phenomena don’t happen until salespeople spread the news.