E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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APQC KM & Innovation 2007 – A Conversation with Bob Buckman from Buckman Laboratories

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After the couple of breaks that I have taken, posting on different other subjects, I am going to continue with the reviews of the APQC KM & Innovation event I attended in Houston beginning of May with one of my favourite sessions from the entire event. Perhaps one of the best, but definitely one of those that makes you think about things quite a bit, specially if you are passionate about Knowledge Management. It was actually a last minute change in the overall agenda as one of the presenters from one of the elective sessions could not make it in time and therefore thanks to that last minute change we had the incredible opportunity to listen to Bob Buckman talk to us about Knowledge Management.

Yes, indeed, I am saying incredible opportunity, because not every day do you have the chance to go sit and listen to one of the most revered, and knowledgeable, KM leaders and thinkers for several decades. Bob Buckman is one of those folks that you could listen to forever, if you would ever want to know the basics of what KM is all about and no fuss about it. No complications, no attachments, just plain and pure KM flowing all the way. That is exactly how it felt like!

I must say though that while Bob and his daughter were getting things ready for the session I was actually a bit disappointed that there were not plenty of people in the room waiting for the session to start. I bet that all of the other elective sessions were probably rather busy, and I am really happy for them, but I was expecting to see a whole bunch more of folks willing to listen to one of those folks who established what KM was all about by the time most of us were playing ball at highschool!

I took a whole bunch of notes from the hour we were with Bob Buckman and his daughter while they were discussing how they have been applying Knowledge Management to Buckman Laboratories over the course of the years. So I guess that this is going to be a longer weblog post than the average weblog articles, so you may want to go and grab a cup of coffee or tea and read on. Lots of gems in here to go and digest little by little, thus let’s get down to business.

In order to get things going Bob actually started setting up some of the background on how Buckman Laboratories has been applying KM all along and, believe it or not, it is all down to three basic items. Nothing more, nothing less. And here you have got them:

1. Values: Having a core set of values would help you establish a knowledge sharing culture. This set of values will help you fix the issues of working with islands or silos. With them you would be able to go cross boundaries, geographies, cultures, languages, etc. etc. In short, you would just be setting up the perfect ground for KM to grow healthy and strong.

If you take a look into it, this is actually something quite a few companies has been putting together over the course of the years (Including IBM as well, why not?, as part of the WorldJam that got conducted in 2004). But the interesting thing in here is that Buckman Laboratories has actually mastered the idea of making those values very public to everyone, not just its own employees, but also everyone else out there heading to their Web site. Check out the section The Buckman Fundamentals and in that section have a look into The Buckman Code of Ethics and read carefully. Yes, I know it may sound as pretty much common sense, but aren’t they revealing enough of some of the strongest KM principles from all along? … You bet!

2. Collaboration: This is one of the items that I just couldn’t help nodding a few times in agreement about the different things that Bob mentioned throughout the session. Simple, yet very effective, things with gems like starting with sharing something small, i.e. social capital and then build further up from there, so that when sharing critical stuff your values are actually determined by the people who you already know based on those social capital skills you have been putting into practice with tools like, amongst others, social software tools.

Bob mentioned how there are different methods of collaboration, but most of them would be based on the critical needs of the organisation, i.e. addressing and fixing customer’s problems. This is basically one of the areas as to where collaboration will always flourish and perhaps where things should have gotten started: collaboration between knowledge workers from that particular business and the customers and clients they would be closely working with.

3. Innovation: I am sure you will all love this particular item that Bob mentioned during the course of the breakout session. Innovation is all about connecting research to work on customers’ problems where speed of innovation against the competition is going to be a critical success factor.

At this point in time Bob shared one of the best quotes I have heard, read, seen ever on what Knowledge Sharing is all about: "Don’t be afraid to share what you know, because you know it better than anyone else!" WOW! This is just *so* true! I wish people would understand that and realise something I have been saying over here for a while now: "Knowledge shared *is* power!".

From here onwards, Bob mentioned how a successful KM strategy is that one that helps improve the way knowledge workers share information internally so that we can then start collaborating and sharing our knowledge with customers:

– Defining expectations from the customer
– Defining how customers would measure you
– And asking ourselves, are we capable? (Understanding the value of reputation!)

Here is another gem that was discussed right afterwards. The differences between Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Management, where years ago businesses would scare people away thinking that they would be taking their heads apart, when all they were dealing with were just people. Bob mentioned how one of the key issues / barriers regarding the adoption of a knowledge sharing culture is down to middle management for whom knowledge is power. however, knowledge flows quicker than they would be able to control.

From here onwards Bob mentioned a number of different tips on how to break the barriers within a particular business by incorporating a knowledge sharing culture:

1. If you would want to be a source of knowledge, share!
2. If you would want to be a source of expertise on how others see you: share!

One other issue that was addressed during the course of the session was how Bob was very supportive of empowering organisations to share knowledge across languages. Be willing to adapt to your situation by providing tools to collaborate in mother tongues and translate the critical material into English, so that it would be re-used. All of this, finished off with a priceless quote: "Don’t be afraid to steal stuff … Reuse!"

Oh, and talking about another priceless quote that Bob mentioned towards the end of the discussion, taken from an IBM conference in 1967!!:

"In the future we will spend more money in the transfer of knowledge than in hardware and software!"

Goodness! That is one heck of an interesting quote and said 40 years ago!!! And I couldn’t have agreed more with it. I have tried to look for it and see who was the person who mentioned it back then, but alas I haven’t found it just yet. So if anyone out there would know some more about it I would appreciate if you could share it with us. Amazing that someone would say something like that 40 years ago, and that nowadays, in 2007, it would be more relevant than ever! Fantastic!

From here onwards and towards the end of the breakout session he also mentioned how crucial the role of librarians is for Knowledge Management, specially for a case of small businesses fighting with much larger corporations. These librarians would be in charge of full text knowledge-bases that will capture all of the critical knowledge that other knowledge workers would be sharing.

Now, towards the end of the session Bob mentioned how crucial communities would become in helping spread that knowledge and empower knowledge workers to collaborate with one another. The more cross-enterprise the community, the more innovation that will be taking place, and all of that by creating a global culture using technology, as an enabler!, to help foster that global reach!

From here onwards, the conversation got a bit more lively and there were some additional comments (Some of them coming from Dave Snowden) about how in a successful KM program fragmentation and serendipitous knowledge accidents would be critical for its own success. And right here we go back to where the session started: The Buckman Code of Ethics where Dave mentioned that one of the reasons why these very same values have been so successful is because they were created socially bottom up! And I couldn’t have agreed more with it, because, after all, we need to be "culture agnostic in the setup of (those) values" that would help build up and sustain that successfully KM strategy that Buckman Laboratories has been demonstrating all along, and still going rather strong.

(And that was it, folks. I do realise that this has been a rather long weblog post, but I am hoping you have found it just as interesting and exciting as I did while I got to listen to Bob who was fiddling around every now and then with what he feels is the next wave of collaboration tools: his mobile phone! Who would have thought about that, eh?)

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  1. Some very good thoughts here. Especially, for me, the quote: “In the future we will spend more money in the transfer of knowledge than in hardware and software!”

    Honestly, that is what we are doing already. The reason we are buying hardware and software is for the collection of knowledge, but the ‘transfer’ part, so far, is weak. We can look at the buying of systems to increase competitiveness or increase productivity. How does that happen? Through the handling of knowledge.

    Right now there is the I.T. department. But, as soon as we get better at the transfer part, I would not be surprised if the I.T. department becomes a function of the knowledge department, in whatever new form that takes.

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