Capturing, sharing, and curating knowledge – the elements of knowledge management (KM) – have become key activities for organizational success in this age of superabundant information. KM as a field has been the topic of endless books, seminars, keynotes, and academic discussions in the last twenty years or longer. Yet we don’t have a workable, systematic way to approach actually ­getting the job done.

Kate Pugh, in Sharing Hidden Knowledge: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems With the Knowledge Jam, attempts to provide such a system. She takes up the question, “If KM is ‘levering knowledge for business value,’ what is holding us back?” Her answer is knowledge blind spots, knowledge mismatches, and knowledge jails (formats, locations, or associations that make knowledge invisible or inaccessible to knowledge seekers). Her solution is the Knowledge Jam.

The 90-minute jam

Right. What’s a Knowledge Jam? The term is an adaptation of what musicians do in a jam session. Pugh describes it as a formal process for bringing out know-how, through a facilitated conversation between knowers and seekers, with a built-in step to circulate or “translate” what was learned. Think of it as a three-legged stool: conversation (sharing organizational learning), facilitation (supporting intelligence acquisition), and translation (using collaboration technology).

The book presents five key interactions (steps) between five key participants in the process, and supports the presentation with multiple examples from Pugh’s work while she was at Intel and as a consultant. The instruction for applying the process is very thorough, and makes use of templates, worksheets, lessons learned and FAQs, tips, and transcripts from actual sessions.

The knowledge jam relies on social media

While it might seem that a formal process such as this would rule out or replace social media, such is not the case. Social media are collaboration tools, and they land content onto platforms, rather than into narrow, sometimes hidden, channels (e.g., Facebook is a platform; e-mail is a channel). Pugh addresses the use of social media within the corporate firewall – ESSPs (Enterprise Social Software Platforms), including wikis, social bookmarks, microblogs, and SharePoint discussion forums. It’s a practical, not overly involved, way to get the job done quickly and to respect the time of the participants.

Add this book to your summer reading!

If you are in a position to complement your work in online learning and education with change management and organizational development, by all means you should get this book and apply the ideas that Pugh presents. There is no more certain way to “get a seat at the table” where organizational leadership sits, than to build a successful internal consulting process that gets concrete strategic results. This process will do that.

The value for external consultants goes without saying. If you are a manager in an organization and you read only two books this summer, I urge you to choose Sharing Hidden Know-How and the book I reviewed last week, Flawless Consulting. It will be the best money you have spent since grad school.

Bibliographic information

Pugh, Katrina B. (2011) Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems With The Knowledge Jam. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 248 pages. ISBN 978-0-470-87681-7.

Publisher’s list price: $35.00

Barnes & Noble: $30.80

Amazon: $29.08

Nook: $28.00

Kindle: $15.94

No audiobook version

(The publisher provided a copy of the book for this review.)