Cynicism and the Propaganda of KM

I just don’t get it. Bloggers whose views I otherwise respect have been waxing lyrical about a slew of IBM and Lotus videos on KM released onto YouTube. One in particular, made by Lotus in 2000 (back when KM was still chic) particularly gets my goat. It’s a saccharin sequence of beautiful KM words accompanied by world music and beautiful people fading in and out to each other, or playing with Matrix like holographic computer screens. Pleeeease… get real… it’s exactly this nirvana-like image of KM that got people disillusioned in the first place. So the parody below is entirely deserved in my view – it’s the Lotus video with a slightly more realistic voiceover…

10 Comments so far

Luis Suarez

LOL !!!

Hi Patrick! (I hope I am one of those webloggers, since I was also one of the folks who linked to it, too! wink heh) That was just hilarious, by the way ! I thoroughly enjoyed it! Good fun to get me going on this Monday morning. Yes, I know what you mean about that propagandistic video, but tell me of any propaganda that doesn’t try to achieve the same thing without giving you some of that nirvana-like images and cool tunes? Isn’t that what marketing is all about? :-D

The fact that there are a number of beautiful KM words used in there does not mean that one cannot long to achieve something like that at some point, right? I mean, when you mentioned above ”it’s exactly this nirvana-like image of KM that got people disillusioned in the first place“ I am not sure I would agree with that statement. What I think got people disillusioned was not those different buzzwords, but more businesses trying to push for the explicit exchange of knowledge, focusing on tools, processes and measurements, forgetting completely altogether from what I have always thought was the glue that made everything stick together, i.e. the people! And that is what this video is trying to show: that all that data, knowledge and information hasn’t got a place unless the focus is placed on the people, who should be the ones trying to manage those interactions. I think that is where people got disillusioned and why all along there has been such negativity about KM and why some people nowadays claim that KM is dead and it is time to move on. Is it really? Some food for thought in there, I guess.

By the way, I would have loved if reinin3 would have responded to the original video we linked to with this “The Cynics KM”. That would have been putting things into perspective quite nicely! Any chance of making that happen?

Thanks again for the feedback and for keeping us all focused on what we need to focus…

Posted on February 26, 2007 at 09:13 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Hey Luis, nice to see you here! Yes, you were one of the “criminals” wink

My main objection to the Lotus video was the sheer blind optimism of it, with not a hint of the real dirty sometimes soul destroying challenges that face knowledge managers - now back in 2000, maybe Lotus could have been forgiven for such a glitzy view but in 2007 it cannot be allowed to pass.

One of Dave Snowden’s observations on propaganda stories is that they almost always generate cynical “anti-stories” and these are really dangerous when they are in the minds of the managers you are trying to enlist in a coordinated large scale KM initiative. We encounter this cynicism all the time (I had a meeting with a client yesterday to deal with the impossibility of getting senior managers into a KM strategy workshop together, because of just this).

It’s almost always because somebody painted an overly rosy too-idealistic picture at 30,000 feet, and didn’t know how to follow through at ground level and address the real problems and issues that fuel the cynical version of events. So the cynicism is amplified because the cynics can say “See, I told you so! It was never going to work!”

So I see this kind of propaganda as a spoiler for real KM work. You’ve got to tell it like it is, look them in the eye, and say it’s going to be difficult, but we’ve got to do it if we want to become more effective at what we do.

As for the video creator I can’t speak for her/him, I suppose posting it on YouTube must have been their version of a direct response.

Thanks for the generous response Luis, I always enjoy your inputs.

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 10:38 AM | Comment permalink

Luis Suarez

Hi Patrick !

Thanks a lot for the extensive input. Great stuff, as usual, and lots of food for thought over there as well for everyone, specially for those folks who may blindly buy-in into the whole message put together into the original video. I agree with you that from the very first beginning it would be very helpful to actually provide a much more realistic view of how things would work, or not, with a KM strategy. However, I am also inclined to think that in most cases if people, new to the whole concept of knowledge sharing, get a full picture of how everything could work, or not, in most cases we would actually be closing them off from the first moment, as opposed to think, perhaps, in a bit over enthusiastic manner. Reason being? Well, in most cases lots of knowledge workers are still very reluctant, if not afraid, about sharing their knowledge and collaborating with others, so if you put barriers or potential issues, straight up front, you may end up with people running away and not wanting to think about it.

I can certainly understand that other side of the spectrum and agree with both of you and Dave, but I am thinking about the following scenario: What would be better for you to work with? A group of knowledge workers not willing to open up to a new way of working and sharing knowledge because they have seen that it is not all nice and dandy and therefore they may not want to confront things further or rather a group of knowledge workers, really enthused about knowledge sharing and collaborating (Along the lines of the original video), who may be willing to give things a try and if they work, great!, if not look further into why it didn’t work and try to fix it? I am not sure really about what I would be answering to that scenario on what I would prefer. Somehow, and perhaps need to think some more about it, I would be more inclined towards the second group of knowledge workers than the first one, but like I said, I am not totally convinced about it. Just an inclination, but I guess it would be a start for me.

Thanks again for the extended feedback and for the update! (Appreciated as well the kind comments wink)

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 10:55 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Hmm… perhaps I AM over-compensating for undue optimism with undue pessimism Luis… it’s an allergic response I suppose, haha… it is important to communicate enthusiasm and commitment and belief, that much I’ll go along with.

But it’s also important to acknowledge the real contexts for action and make your pitch in a way that connects with those contexts. As for which group to work with (the already redeemed or the unredeemed), we don’t always get a choice smile

What we find more often is that we are working with a small bunch of the faithful who get it completely and are working like hell to make it work (that’s what makes what we do worth while) and we are both trying to show the unbelievers how this stuff can be made to work for them. We have enough small sucesses to keep us going, when the aha moment comes, it’s a real joy.... and it’s more convincing by far to the other cynics than any propaganda we can put out.

I guess I could reposition this whole discussion by asking, in February 2007, who WOULD be an appropriate audience for this Lotus video?

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 11:06 AM | Comment permalink

Luis Suarez

LOL ! I guess we got involved in the conversation far too much, eh? wink
Ok, let’s have a look and meet up somewhere in between. I wholeheartedly agree with your comment: "But it’s also important to acknowledge the real contexts for action and make your pitch in a way that connects with those contexts" and, in fact, while I have been writing these comments, I was actually thinking about something similar to what you propose. Perhaps not so much pesimistic but also not so enthusiastic. And I am thinking that in the end it would all be down to providing an answer to your final comments about the original video and who would be an appropriate audience for it.
To me, that particular video, today in 2007, would be meant for those of us, i.e. that bunch of the faithful who get it completely, who do not need to be convinced about it. Yes, indeed, that video would be like preaching to the choir, but with a good reason. To get a boost and re-energise ourselves that we are already on the right path, that it is possible to be able to make it, that there is an end to it all and so forth and that, despite all initial hurdles we may face with those who need to be convinced, we still understand where we would need to go.
I can imagine myself watching that video every now and then to help me focus whenever things get a bit more difficult than usual. Or perhaps also as a nice icebreaker for whatever the presentation I may be giving to get some conversations going on how good and effective that video was for themselves, kind of like what we are doing over here.
Is it meant for regular knowledge workers already involved in KM? Probably not? Would it be ok for us to show that video to them ? Yes, why not? It will probably bring a whole bunch of conversations as to why that video tries to represent a completely different world, or how they can relate to it, you never know. Actually, I am thinking that I may be using both videos, as an experiment, and run them by the audience and see how they feel about it. I bet it would be an interesting exercise. 

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 11:23 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

LOL! I would love to hear about what happens! Let me know!

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 12:05 PM | Comment permalink

Luis Suarez

heh ! I surely will, Patrick! Actually, it is not going to be that far off from the chance where I can do it, since I am scheduled to provide a couple of KM presentations very shortly. But more on that, as time goes along, in an upcoming weblog entry over at grin

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 06:34 PM | Comment permalink


I learn from and respect your views(and that, of course, means I like your blog as well) smile
But, I’ve just one thing to say about the video which is being “thrown” around here ;P.
Such videos can be inspiring. It spurs people on and gives them the strength to face challenges. But yes, we need a good blend of pragmatism and idealism. Let’s be inspired by an idealistic goal but have the commonsense and courage to expect and face daily challenges. smile

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 11:14 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Hi Nirmala, funny, I could just feel that “but” coming smile

I’m quite happy to acknowledge that the video can be inspiring to some people. Unfortunately, I think it’s also misleading to others. And it’s not the people who are inspired that I worry about…

Thanks for dropping by, and carry on the great work on your blog!

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 11:21 PM | Comment permalink


That was quick! :o :D
It must be nearing 12 AM in Singapore (if you’re there right now). Blogging keeps you awake, eh? Or is it work? smile

OK. I get the point! And maybe wink I am not worried about those who aren’t inspired! Ha. Ha. Jokes apart, yes...that’s what communication is all about, I guess. Fine-tune the message to strike a chord in a variety of minds...and of course, that’s a huge challenge!
PS: Thanks for encouraging me with my blogging! I await the day when you’re going to rip apart one of my posts. will be fun! wink

Posted on February 27, 2007 at 11:42 PM | Comment permalink

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