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March 26, 2009

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Pritom Phookun

I believe the most commonly used approach to making a business case for KM is one that is based on an analysis of likely benefits of introducing KM vis-a-vis the costs. This approach is attractive because it is based on logical analysis and we believe that senior management will definitely be persuaded through logic and figures. That may be so and companies (e.g. Texas Instruments)have used that approach successfully. However, I do not believe that people are always persuaded by sheer logic alone. Sometimes, it may be more persuasive to use a psychological approach by using, for example, the storytelling approach. Stories, when used effectively, can capture the audience's imagination in a way much more than sheer logic can. Stephen Dennings, former Programme Director, KM of the World Bank (WB) provides such an example (the World Bank has been benchmarked by APQC, USA and Telios as one of the best practice organisations in KM). He recounts his experience in the 1990s when KM was still new to WB. He mentions how he gave PowerPoint presentations that compellingly demonstrated the value of sharing and leveraging the know how of WB. But either the audience was dazed or the response he got back was that the WB was a lending organisation and that is what pays his salary! They told him that knowledge might be interesting but the WB is basically a lending organisation! Having realised that his logical approach did not work, Dennings reflected on other possible approaches on making a business case for KM, when he stumbled upon a story from Zambia...a story that had the capacity to communicate the idea of KM in a captivating way and get people rapidly into action. One of the early listeners of his story was high enough to get the ear of the President, WB, and suddenly, he found the support he wanted and which he had failed to garner with his logical business case presentations.
I am not saying that analysis is unimportant. My point is that it may be erroneous to assume that a business case based only on analysis will necessarily persuade senior management and others to accept KM. It may be necessary to use complementary strategies, such as the psychological power of story telling. As Dennings says, analysis might excite the mind, but it hardly offers a route to the heart; and it is to the heart that one must go if the KM champion is to motivate people to take action.

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