The Art of Knowledge Management

This page started out being a sub-page of this blog, as I was influenced by the connection I see between art and KM. I soon found out that you could not add posts to sub-pages, so… as the rest of my blog has grown and gained notoriety, I have placed these types of entries on the main page. For first timers, this page offers an interesting blend of art and knowledge management theory.

Knowledge Management is an art; communication is the tool that transforms information into shared meaning and understanding. Artists and their art offer wonderful analogies for KM, for “art” transcends language, thus bridging that which can sometimes divide. So, if you’re interested in sampling a mix of visual art, performing arts, literary art, art history and KM (or if you just want to see some really cool images, listen to great music and link to inspiring sites), take a sip around the world!

KM and Corporate Social Consciousness and another poet

I can almost hear the groans through my speakers. Not another poet?!? Yep, another one to help focus our minds on what might be the important stuff in life:

“There are things you do because they feel right and they may make no sense and they may make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other and to eat each other’s cooking and say it was good.”

What does eating good food have to do with KM?I referenced this poem in another context today, and it transported me to the 2007 ICKM (International Conference on Knowledge Management) in Vienna this past August. Our “knowledge coffee” closing session begged conference attendees to form “for” and “against” collaborative groups to discuss a REALLY important question from a KM perspective… Corporate Social Responsibility: Economic Threat or Opportunity. We were asked to offer matrix measurements so as to evaluate the “success” or “failure” of socially responsible corporations. Trying to decide what was a success and failure was MOST challenging. Once group even offered measuring the amount of anti-depressants prescribed. Another wanted to weigh trash.Conference chair Franz Barachini sits on an international board that is currently debating this very topic. (If you’d like to wage your opinion on this topic, add it to the newly created ICKM wiki.)

Maybe beyond ourselves, a goal for KM is, as poet Brian Andreas says, to do what we do because it feels right and it may make no sense and it may make no money. Honestly, I find so many KM professionals who are of this “like-mind.” Is this why we do what we do? What type of pioneer are we? In the end are we promoters of understanding and peace? Of shared meaning and communication?

Maybe I should drink some chai tea while I think about my colleagues and toss these thoughts around in my head and get them out there…

KM = (K)eep (M)oving

I can’t help but see a strong correlation between Walt Disney’s “keep moving” culture and good KM:

“There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward—opening up new doors and doing new things—because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting. At WED, we call it Imagineering—the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.”
…from a 1965 presentation by Walt Disney called “Total Image”

Peanuts and the Pursuit of Knowledge

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, my home is being overtaken with cut-out jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, pumpkin bread and the sounds of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I think it’s interesting how some of our greatest and most enduring children’s literature artists are also our greatest and most enduring philosophers of knowledge.

“I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind! The answer is twelve? I think I’m in the wrong building.”

Charles Schulz,
Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts

Knowledge doesn’t have to be “heady.” It should be fun and fun-loving. So, in honor of the kids and all the really important things you learned in kindergarten, let’s skip the coffee and have a mug of cocoa instead…

Poetry as a change agent

I feel it almost my duty to introduce you to David Whyte: poet, captivating lecturer, and, quite interestingly, a corporate consultant. He holds a degree in marine zoology, and has worked as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands; led anthropological and natural history expeditions in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile; and subsequently traveled to India and the hinterlands of Nepal.

In corporate settings, he uses poetry to bring an understanding of the process of change, helping clients to understand individual and organizational creativity, and to apply that understanding to vitalize and transform the workplace. He is a communication guru and knowledge management hero!The May 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review reported a conversation between author Lisa Burrell and David Whyte, entitiled, A Larger Language for Business: POET DAVID WHYTE ON CONVERSATIONAL LEADERSHIP.

David Whyte has pushed executives at Astra-Zeneca, Boeing, Citigroup, and a host of other companies to hold the conversations they and their employees most need to have.


Through poetry.

In workshops and retreats, he recites and reflects on classic and contemporary works, including his own, using images and ideas from the poems to fuel discussions about such challenges as fostering creativity, engagement, and social responsibility.We recently spoke with Whyte about how poetry begets courageous conversation and, in turn, better leadership.

How did you come to bring business and poetry together?

I launched myself as a full-time poet in 1986; soon after, I was approached by a gentleman at the end of a speech I had given. In best American fashion, he said, “We have to hire you,” and in best Irish-English fashion, I asked, “For what?” He persisted, saying, “The language we have in the corporate world is far too small for the territory of relationship and collaboration we’ve entered.” For a poet, that was an intriguing invitation. A poet’s work is all about creating a language big enough to represent both the world you inhabit and the next, larger world that awaits you.

Initially, I was afraid I would be asked to compromise my work, but as it turned out, executives only pushed me further to elaborate on the themes I’d begun to explore. Good poetry can open up areas of everyday business life that remain impervious to the jargon we have created to describe it. Executives are hungry for this larger language.

How can poetry help people become better leaders?

Through the insight it provides. Of course, you don’t go to Wordsworth’s Prelude and expect a few good management maxims to come out of it. The poem has bigger fish to fry than whether your organization succeeds or not, but it can cast a brilliant light on the shadowed microworld of the workplace.

Consider Wordsworth’s phrase “I made no vows, but vows/Were then made for me.” It speaks to the phenomenon that whatever project, plan, or career you commit to, there will always be a deeper dynamic you discover inside, a promise larger than your original conception that in effect makes vows on your behalf and invites you to find a different kind of courage than you first intended.

Poetry is a way of getting at the phenomenology of conversation — that is, what happens along the way when you’re trying to have a real meeting with something other than yourself: a meeting with your customers, with your colleagues, or with a new field of endeavor. It could also be a conversation with yourself about the greater dimensions of your vocation. Good poets throughout history have looked at almost every stage of the process of creative confrontation. Dante is brilliant on the experience of losing your sense of direction but finding something else in that darkness far more precious: waking, as he said, “in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.”

What makes a conversation real?

A real conversation is one that, no matter how slowly, helps you make sense of the world around you. It can tackle great universal questions, or it can be about your work group’s puzzling lack of respect for you or why a division of your company is refusing to go in a previously agreed-upon direction. At the executive and managerial levels, work is almost always conversation in one form or another, and yet we spend almost no time apprenticing ourselves to the disciplines necessary for holding real exchanges. That’s partly because they involve a great deal of self-knowledge and a willingness to study how human beings try to belong — skills we hope our strategic abilities will help us get by without.

The temptation is to say, “I’d much rather inhabit the 5% of reality where I’m in control than enter this 95% where I don’t know what the hell is going on.” But a conversational approach makes work less stressful, not more so. It means leaders don’t have to try to be paragons of perfection. My work has executives asking, in many areas of their lives, personal and professional: “What is the courageous conversation I am not having but need to have to take the next step?”

Sit back, add Kalua to your coffee and “listen” to one of his poems that addresses our age of information:

This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,and the radio, and the blurred screen.
This is the time
of loaves and fishes.
People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.

“Mending Wall” as a study for Knowledge Management

I spent a few days this week at a Knowledge and Project Management Symposium. One of our speakers began his presentation with Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall.”I knew right away it would be a wonderful example of literary art used to explain the philosophy of the art of knowledge management… and more specifically, how to facilitate it.

Critic George Montiero offers this about Frost’s poem: “What impresses itself upon the poet is that, for whatever reasons, men continue to need marked boundaries, even when they find it difficult to justify their existence.” To this end, a paper I collaborated on with a professor and fellow student was also presented at this same conference. By chance, it addresses walls—barriers if you will, and how emotional intelligence can moderate these dysfunctional mental models in order to faciliate improved communication and knowledge sharing.”Mending Wall” offers us the opportunity to contemplate whether walls and fences are impediments to the retention and renewal of human relationships and the sharing of knowledge.

Are Toondoos the new knowledge sharing?

An important question in terms of this blog might be, “Is art a way of knowledge sharing?”

According to The University of Hull, “Works of art help to tell a story. They can provide us with information about a period in history, about a person, a way of life. On the simplest level, looking at a painting or sculpture can tell us a lot about how people lived, what they wore, what they did with their time. On another level, a work of art tells us what the artist felt was important during the time he or she wasworking. We can learn about his or her feelings, emotions and concernsthrough the pictures and sculpture they have created.” The concept of art as knowledge transfer is not new.

The Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) aims to advance and enrich an active conversation between Christian theology and the arts—bringing rigorous theological thinking to the arts. To be sure, the spreading of Christianity through the deliberate execution of art was itself an expression of the art of knowledge sharing.

Fast forward to 2007. Is toondoo art? Or more importantly, is this one of a multitude of ways we knowledge share today? Are the fragmented methods of the latest technologies facilitating knowledge sharing and recording our history?

The art of… Web Design

I’m presently obsessed with web design and designers–TRULY the artists of today!

It all started when I selected Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, as my choice to review and discuss for our class “book club” project. Actually, I think subliminally I chose the book hoping that I could say to Doc Martens “Please don’t make me think! in your Design and Implementation of Web-Based Information Services class.” I’m trying to complete 12 hours of graduate studies this semester so I can “get out” in the Spring?!? Well, that didn’t work because after reading Krug’s book, listening to his podcast, and trying to learn Dreamweaver, I’m thinking more than I normally would!

And just in case you’re wondering about what I ordered from the Knowledge Café this morning, I enjoyed a hazelnut mocha–my drink of choice–as I sat in front of the Dreamweaver tutorial, inspired by the great web artists and wishing I could join the ranks.

Today let’s honor artists like Steve Krug and others who are creating the most widely-seen and widely-used art in the world… web sites! If you’re truly interested in looking at some award-winning sites, check out: this collection of sites. Because this page is all about the arts, you may want to explore the award-winning Hong Kong Arts Festival website. Be sure to “click” on the Video Preview page after the animated artists come alive.

Picasso and Open Source Software

I was elated today to read on our Fall 2007 LIS/KM 5043 Design and Implementation of Web-Based Information Services class (led by Dr. Betsy Van der Veer Martens ) discussion board, that a fellow colleague introduced another great artist into a timely information/knowledge management debate.

One of Picasso’s quotes was mentioned in terms of open source software (OSS) and comments made by Steve Job on a fascinating documentary called “Triumph of the Nerds.” Commenting about the development of the PC and software in the mid-70s, he noted that it was borne out of the 60’s communal vibe that everyone contributes for the greater good, and so, according to my colleague, the fact that Silicon Valley is located where it is seems like no accident. As the 80s came around, Jobs noted a change in the industry when he quoted Picasso who said:

“Good artists imitate…great artists steal.”

So, true to the nature of this blog, I did a little investigating in order to dig up some good parallels between Pablo and KM. And in the same way OSS designers take from one another, improve on an idea, then “create” a better product, so Picasso and his contemporaries were masters at taking inspiration from one another, personalizing it, then advancing the abstract art movement to a new level.

Art Knowlegde News does an excellent job explaining Picasso’s blue period and the evolution of abstract art.

Take time today to enjoy some spanish coffee and ponder how we all build on the knowledge of those who have come before us.

Is that art?

This timeless debate offers knowledge mangers valuable insight needed in order to develop the art of questioning in their organizations. In his book The Art Question, Nigel Warburton leads his reader to ask a question many of us ant to ask but are afraid to. This same fear is a common barrier to communication, no matter the venue. Knowledge Managers must create an environment where questions are welcome. The result, knowledge sharing!

According to Think, “Warburton guides the reader gently and accessibly through some of the most influential theories of the twentieth century… He deftly applies the standard tools of philosophy, such as counter-examples and the detection of circular reasoning, to a field that is prone to vagueness, pretentiousness and sometimes elastic notions of meaning and language…. an excellent introduction to the philosophy of art.”

Try something new! Today drink your coffee “black” and check out <a href=””>”Bad Art” on to vote on or submit your own bad art.

The Fauvists as a learning organization

So, today we’re enjoying café au lait from a French press and learning the relevance of the Fauvist movement to learning organizations. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “For most artists, Fauvism was a transitional, learning stage.” Could we say, then, it was a precursor to the learning organization of which I spoke today on this blog’s home page?

Henri Matisse broke with tradition on many occasions, the least of which was his controversial painting of “Woman with a Hat” which is featured on the link above. Had Peter Kline and Bernard Saunders’ “Ten Steps to a Learning Organization” been published in 1900, we might expect that Matisse fashioned his career based on steps 7 and 8: “Map Out the Vision” and “Bring the Vision to Life,” respectively. According to the Met, while his earlier works showed the influence of older generations (Map the Vision), Matisse learned from the past but created a significant number of remarkably colorful canvases that broke with traditional painting themes and techniques (Bring the Vision to Life).

Matisse’s career can be divided into several periods that changed stylistically, but his underlying aim always remained the same: to discover “the essential character of things” and to produce an art “of balance, purity, and serenity,” as he himself put it in his “Notes of a Painter” in 1908.” As Kline and Saunders suggest, he remained with the vision, but brought the vision to a new life. And Matisse left us with a wonderful painting that is representative of change in a learning organization:


And as you enjoy your coffee and a new world that awaits you out the window, remember Alexander Graham Bell’s poignant truth:

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

Knowledge Managers are wise to learn, but not dwell on the past as they create the future.

Music to inspire creative solutions… This morning, composer Ralph Vaughan Williams will join you for a cup of English Breakfast tea and help transcend your day with an excerpt from “Lark Ascending.” This composition has been touted as “music to inspire creativity”–a much needed skill for KM practitioners.

Like so many of our ancient knowledge managers, Vaughan Williams (his official last name) fostered a mutli-disciplinary approach to his craft. From the RVW society website we read that “In a long and productive life, music flowed from his creative pen in profusion. Hardly a musical genre was untouched or failed to be enriched by his work, which included nine symphonies, five operas, film music, ballet and stage music, several song cycles, church music and works for chorus and orchestra.”If you liked what you heard… you may enjoy listening to his most famous composition, “Tallis Fantasia”:

Finding a universal language…

My heart lives in the Traverse Bay area of Michigan.

If you haven’t been–you must go! It offers a veritable smorgasbord of “arts” mixed with the best natural beauty this part of the world has to offer. The famous international Interlochen Center for the Arts resides there, and I’ve found that their public music station is one of the best! The Center’s philosophy defines their universal mode of communication: “inspiring people worldwide through excellence in educational, artistic and cultural programs, enhancing the quality of life through the universal language of the arts.”Please take time to enjoy the totality of your virtual experience at Interlochen . Listen in while you enjoy your latté this morning overlooking Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Grand Traverse Bay, or anything else you found appealing on the link above.

I just returned home from the ICKM 2007 in Vienna, Austria: the epitome of a “knoweldge café.”

While there I grew to appreciate the city’s tradition of art and innovation and knowledge. In her book, “Gustav Klimt”, Nina Kransel tells us that “Viennese Modernism was born of the fin-de-siécle. In a mere two decades–the 1890s and 1900s–Vienna produced superb achievements in art, literature, music, and most importantly, ideas. What would the world be today without Freud’s psychoanalysis, Mahler’s symphonies, Scheonberg’s twelve-tone music or Gustav Klimt’s pictures?” Once shunned by society for his avantgarde art and philosophy, Gustav Klimt is now the city’s poster boy for culture.

I’ve selected his art to be featured as the first installment on the walls of The Art of Knowledge Management café. Like a KM practitioner, he was forward thinking and hard working. “I’m a painter who paints from morning till night,” Klimt once said.Please enjoy “The Kiss” while you sip your Melange (coffee with frothy milk) in a Viennese sidewalk café. And be sure to sit long enough to watch this virtual visit to his studio (complete with music!) and ponder his wisdom.

(For those not familiar with Klimt, be mindful his art is sumptuous, elegant, and sometimes erotic.) href=”; title=”klimt-gustav-the-kiss-8300084.jpg”> “The Kiss” is Klimt’s most widely recognized painting. This fascinating picture is one of the high points of Klimt’s art. It is a wonderful allegory about the power of love to draw people out of their individuality and merge with another person, and with the universe. It is housed in the Belvedere Mansion in Vienna.



  1. Though I would’ve loved it much more if you added a relevant video or at least pictures to back up the explanation, I still thought that your write-up quite helpful. It’s usually hard to make a complicated matter seem very easy. I enjoy your weblog and will sign up to your feed so I will not miss anything. Fantastic content


  2. Excellent post: hps to underline the pitfalls of cognitive dissidance, albeit where spatial and power vectors do not achieve focus. Lack of phocus causes blockes, vis. Perceptual, ones which tend to block communication. This is where knowledge develps a vacuum, a vacuum where we must learn to overcome difficulties which aise where we do bot actualise the potentials hidden within us.


  3. Excellent post. Helps to underline the pitfalls of cognitive dissonance, albeit where spatial and power vectors do not achieve focus. Lack of focus causes blocks, blindspots, These, if perceptual, tend also to block communication. There develops a vacuum, that degrade the power hence, the joy to learn, hrough communication and for the sake of communication. It inhibits the potentials hidden within from its actualisation through actualising its power to change our lives for the better


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