Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, January 2004

Knowledge Management: People Are Important!

Peter A.C Smith, President, The Leadership Alliance Inc., Moira McLaughlin, Director, moira mclaughlin associates


Knowledge Management (KM) is widely accepted as valuable means for organizations to enhance intellectual capital, encourage innovation and optimize performance. The authors maintain that successful KM implementation is critically dependent on the collaborative nature of the organization’s social fabric. They further assert that this social fabric is significantly influenced for better or worse by critical non-rational people-factors that are ignored in a typical KM initiative. In this paper a performance-based approach to the design and implementation of a KM system is proposed that facilitates identification, clarification, and remediation of the key non-rational people-factors that impact its usage and efficacy. This approach is independent of the type of KM system envisaged. The authors first lay a “New Science” foundation for the performance approach. Next they explain how a KM environment can be designed, implemented, and monitored using a simple performance system comprised of three performance drivers or “fields”. They go on to examine important shortcomings they believe are common to KM implementation, and explore remediation via factors that shape the state of these three “fields”. The authors further maintain that leverage for remediation lies in upgrading “Personal KM”.


For more than a decade Knowledge Management (KM) has been proposed by many authorities as a viable means to optimize enterprise performance in the face of the rapidly increasing complexity and ambiguity of our modern world (Drucker, 1988; Itami & Roehl, 1991; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Davenport & Prusak, 1998; Von Krogh, 2000; Choo & Bontis, 2002). During this period the KM field has been significantly hyped; however, practitioners and researchers have begun to have access to reasoned critiques (Fuller, 2001; Seely Brown & Duguid, 2000; Pietersen, 2001) and balanced reviews (Despres & Chauvel, 2000a). Indeed there is now an admission that KM systems can fail to deliver on their promise (Fahey & Prusak, 1998; Newell & Scarbrough, 1999; Lindgren & Henfridsson, 2002; Storey & Barnett, 2000). It is our contention that the true reasons for sub-optimal KM performance are in very many cases related to the lack of supportive attitudes and emotions on the part of the organization’s employees. Since most organizations only countenance operation within a facade of rationality (Smith & Sharma, 2002a) such negative people-related factors remain unacknowledged or at best undiscussable. As a consequence solutions are not explored and organizations are forced to repeat history with predictably dim results.

Fortunately of late there has been an acknowledgement of the people-centric nature of KM implementation. Comments by authorities such as Wiig (2000; pp. 4) “ … there are emerging realisations that to achieve the level of effective behaviour required for competitive excellence, the whole person must be considered. We must integrate cognition, motivation, personal satisfaction, feelings of security, and many other factors”. Wiig (ibid; pp. 14) cites a number of authors to support his contention that “Overall KM will become more people-centric because it is the networking of competent and collaborating people that makes successful organizations” and “One key lesson to be learned is that we must adopt greater people-centric perspectives of knowledge …Technology only goes so far” (ibid; pp. 25). Snowden (2000; pp. 237-8) notes that:  “ (organizations) … are gradually becoming aware that knowledge cannot be treated as an organizational asset without the active and voluntary participation of the communities that are its true owners. A shift to thinking of employees as volunteers requires a radical rethink of reward structures, organizational forms, and management attitudes”. Even where the KM focus is essentially technology based, the importance of people to the process has been acknowledged. For example, Davenport and Prusak remark “ … the roles of people in knowledge technologies are integral to their success” (Davenport & Prusak, 1998; pp. 129); unfortunately such sentiments are quickly viewed by organizations as impractical and serve only as window dressing.

In this paper we aim to heighten awareness of the impact of people-factors on KM implementation and to offer practical approaches that we contend will “get the people factors right”. First we review the tried-and-true approach to performance that one of us (Smith) has utilized successfully with a broad range of organizations for almost two decades, and we will show that this approach is based in a “New Science” perspective. Next we use this performance model to frame descriptions of initiatives that shape various people-factors for successful KM implementation.

We find the notion of a Personal Knowledge Management System (PKMS) useful for exploring and defining what it is that individuals, at differing organizational levels, should know in order to successfully implement KM. According to the performance model discussed later, each individual’s PKMS will contain cognitive, affective and resource related factors with respect to implementing KM. The approach described in this paper is aimed at populating an individual’s PKMS with knowledge about the successes and pitfalls of KM implementation, and is particularly directed to shaping the affective people-factors domain of the individual’s PKMS.

A Performance-Based Approach To KM: The “New Science” Platform

In this section we discuss the theoretical platform for our performance-based approach. The platform is based in complexity science (Gleick, 1987) and Chaos theory (Fitzgerald, 2002). Complexity and Chaos were first popularized as a “New Science” perspective on business organizations by Wheatley (1992), and later developed by other authors such as Mitroff and Linstone (1993), Kelly (1994), Sanders (1998), Gabriel et al (1999), and Lewin and Regine (2000).

Wheatley (1992) contends that the world is formed of complex dissipative structures in which disorder can be a source of order, and growth is found in dis-equilibrium. The richness of the diverse elements in a complex system allows the system as a whole to undergo spontaneous self-organization (Waldrop, 1992). Chaos by itself does not explain the structure, the coherence, and the self-organizing cohesiveness of such systems. Even the most chaotic of systems stay always within certain boundaries called “strange attractors” (Gleick, 1987) providing order without predictability. According to Wheatley, one of the best ways to create control under these conditions is through the use of forces called “fields”. Many scientists now work with the concept of fields - invisible forces that structure space or behaviour (Bateson, 1988; Mitroff & Linstone,  1993; Boisot, 1994).

It is argued that an organization must develop a visionary core at its “center” to provide such fields (McNeil, 1987; Parker, 1990; Smith & Saint-Onge, 1996). The organizational meaning thus articulated becomes Gleick’s (1987) “strange attractor”, and in this way individuals make meaning to produce order from chaos, giving form to work, and structure to what is happening at the level of the individual.

A Practical Three “Field” System For KM Implementation

In this section we describe the three “field” system, based on the theory discussed in the last section, that we use to actualize our performance-based approach to KM, and populate the PKMS. The three systemic fields are termed Focus, Will and Capability. The generic model is presented in Figure 1, and represents here an outcomes-driven KM performance system. Performance is driven by the business outcomes desired; for example, formally via The Balanced Score Card (Kaplan & Norton, 1996) or informally via simple objective-setting exercises.

The model has been introduced successfully since the mid-80’s by one of us (Smith) to enhance performance in organizations as diverse as Exxon (Smith, 1993), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (Smith and Saint-Onge, 1996), and IKEA (Drew and Smith, 1995). The model has also been used as the means to facilitate development of a learning organization (Smith and Saint-Onge, 1996); leadership (Smith & Sharma, 2002b/c); learning applications (Smith, 1997); and dynamic strategic planning (Smith & Day, 2000).

The three fields form a dynamic system. The actual current performance level achieved by the system depends on the interactions and interdependencies of the three fields. Focus represents a clear definition and understanding of the performance proposed; Focus is associated with questions such as What ..?; How ..?; Who ..?; Where ..?; When ..?; Why ..? The field of Will represents strength of intent to action the performance defined in Focus; Will is associated with attitudes, emotions, beliefs and mindsets. Capability represents the wherewithal to transform into reality the performance defined in Focus; Capability is associated with such diverse areas as skills, SW/HW, infrastructure, budgets, tools, physical assets etc. A change in any one of these fields may effect a change in the state of one or both of the other fields.   

Optimal performance is favoured when Focus, Will and Capability form a self-reinforcing system, with all fields in balance and harmony. As Figure 1 shows, current performance potential is represented by the degree of overlap of the circles; optimal performance being represented by complete congruence of all three circles.

Areas shown in Figure 1, where only two model fields overlap, are typical of real-life situations. These imbalances and lack of congruence typically lead to misdirected and wasted efforts as well as loss of performance. For example, organizations often concentrate on developing an I/S KM system (strong Capability) without regard for the fact that their employees don’t understand why KM is needed (weak Focus) or a cultural feeling that an individual’s knowhow is their source of power  (absent Will). The key to performance optimization is the continual dynamic tuning of the degree of overlap of the fields based on re-making and re-shaping meaning.

Figure 1


                                                   THE PERFORMANCE SYSTEM






















As Figure 2 illustrates, the performance model is consistent across all levels of the organization; however, the meaning of Focus, Will and Capability will change to reflect the changing context. This is a very important strength of the model.

Figure 2



















As discussed in the previous section, once ideal Focus, Will, and Capability are defined, the system forms a “strange attractor” termed the “Shamrock Attractor”, by which individuals in the organization make meaning to produce order from chaos through these fields. That means that when Focus, Will and Capability are defined appropriately, KM will be promoted naturally.

The model is particularly important because it provides three “levers” that can be set by senior management in concert with employees to position the organization to attain overall high-performance, including KM. The current positioning of the “levers” can be checked and compared to the designed settings (Smith & Tosey, 1999; Tosey & Smith, 1999).

Based on the authors’ lengthy experience in “field” implementation, Capability is most likely to be overdeveloped; Focus underdeveloped; and Will essentially undeveloped. Yet to optimize, or even maintain good performance, it is critical that balance and harmony are maintained among all the fields, since too much emphasis on any one or two of the fields is probably worse than too little.

A wide range of initiatives can be launched to attempt to shape and harmonize the fields, A selection of learning-related initiatives that could be targeted to KM is presented in Drew and Smith (1995; pp. 10). Initiatives more specifically related to KM are also widely available; for example at the strategic performance level (Itami & Roehl, 1987), general performance (Dixon, 2000), and technical (Applehans et al, 1999). 

Endemic Performance Barriers And Overcoming Them

Although the above initiatives are likely to be impactful in shaping and balancing the three fields, we feel that typically there remain serious endemic barriers to implementing KM, particularly with respect to development of open and trusting cultures. In this section we discuss these barriers. Given the highly systemic nature of their interactions, no attempt has been made to discuss individual fields in separate dedicated segments.

As was noted previously, in an effort to foster “ideal” performance, organizations typically explicitly over-develop Capability; under-develop Focus; and to all intents and purposes, do not develop Will at all. This does not mean that Focus or Will in the employee community are necessarily weak. On the contrary, Capability is exerted through “roles and tasks that exert overt and covert control over emotional displays” Putnam & Mumby, 1993; pp. 37), and hence there is an implicit effect on Will. These authors talk of “emotional labour” being expended in this effort (ibid; pp. 37); unfortunately this produces compliance rather than the commitment that is vital to effective KM.

The reasons that prevent organizations from achieving balanced well-targeted fields are complex and illogical, as one would expect where tacit feeling-laden concerns are involved. For example, organizations typically operate with a fašade of rationality although Will involves irrational issues. Will is often perceived as negative, linked to the expressive arenas of life rather than to the instrumental goal-orientation that drives organizations. In 1973 Egan wrote “Emotional repression in undoubtedly still a far greater problem than emotional overindulgence” (1973; pp. 61). Thirty years later this statement is as true as ever; society still equates emotional maturity with the control or repression of feelings, continuing to use the word “emotional” in a derogatory sense. In contrast, the fields of Capability and Focus are easier to address, since they rely on production of tangible “evidence” such as vision and mission statements, action plans, and the like.

In our view, shaping Will to promote KM requires that a new mindset be developed, one that views organizations as less rational and embraces all their complexity (Wheatley, 1992; pp. 46). Because of the inter-related nature of the performance fields, creating such a culture means shaping Focus to pull people towards the organizational goals rather than pushing them. Traditionally organizations formulate the KM vision/mission/goals in isolation and cascade them downwards through the organization. This will not positively influence the Will segment. Rather people must be pulled toward a visionary core through their involvement. This is accomplished by aligning the organizational vision to people, rather than the people to the vision (Mahesh, 1993; pp. 230-231; Kouzes & Posner, 1995; pp.129-133).

The benefits of collaboratively shaping Focus lie in each person’s subsequent actions. When employees themselves clarify the KM Focus, they gain more than a sense of direction and a means to define their code of conduct. The process helps them develop the appropriate Will. This is because each will be motivated to act in accordance with the role-related responsibilities they have defined for themselves.

In shaping Will it is important to understand that in today’s business world those dubbed “leaders” no longer know all the answers. Leaders and followers need each other. This gives rise to an uneasy balance (Hirschhorn, 1990) since the leader must make plain her/his own vulnerability, and risk that her/his followers may cease to see the leader as worthy of following. Likewise the followers must alter their passive dependent role and risk threatening and/or alienating their leader. Goldstein (1992; pp. 16) contends that what are needed in today’s organizations are authority not authoritarian relationships. In an authority relationship the supervisor sets the context for the work and the supervised individual exercises judgement in how to carry it out. The supervised individual also has the right to negotiate a change in the context. If the supervisor abdicates this responsibility or sets fixed boundaries, the supervised individual becomes more rigid since (s)he feels made responsible for tasks and outcomes that (s)he cannot control. In reflecting on complexity and organizational management from a psychoanalytical point of view, Gabriel (1999; pp. 280-288) notes that it is to be expected that managerial rigidity and faith in authoritarian control will rise with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty such as those related to KM implementation, although such faith is largely misplaced.

Development Of Sound Focus, Will and Capability

In this section we outline initiatives that an organization can undertake to influence the three fields such that “ideal” behaviours (and therefore KM performance) will in principle be developed and maintained. These initiatives will have the benefit of addressing the endemic shortcomings we discussed in the last section with particular reference to people-factors.

Each field is treated individually; however we have attempted to indicate how activities initiated to shape one field will influence one or more other fields. The fields are treated in the order Focus, Capability and Will because actions can be initiated fairly readily for Focus and Capability that are the basis for any successful attempt to influence Will.

A.        Focus

Focus represents a clear definition and understanding of the performance proposed, and in our opinion, the most critical aspects of Focus are the organization’s “Vision and Mission”. Vision and mission make their strongest contribution to Focus when they result from a sharing of the individual yearnings of all employees. In spite of a wealth of information on how to involve the whole organization in development, articulation, and sustenance of vision/mission (Senge, 1990; Senge et al 1994; Senge et al, 1999; Parker, 1990) experience confirms that such an approach is still only infrequently adopted (Kouzes and Posner, 1995; pp. 124).

We will not regurgitate here the recommendations of the above authors. Rather we posit that an organization adopt an approach that will eventuate in both a shared KM vision/mission and the means to keep it evergreen. The simple approach of encouraging individual managers to explore, with their teams, development and articulation of a shared local KM vision/mission for their particular function, consistent with that of their organization, is in our experience sufficient for the purpose. 

B.        Capability

An aspect of current organizational life that we believe has become undervalued is an appreciation of the physiological needs of individual employees. This is tragic in that research has shown that satisfying these needs directly correlates with the quality of an individual’s performance (Fortune, 1997). Furthermore, we believe the need for self-actualization pioneered by Goldstein and polished by Maslow (Mahesh, 1993; pp. 35) is critical to the development of cultural traits that successful KM implementation demands.

Organizations would do well to review Maslow’s notion (Maslow, 1943) that human beings have an innate requirement to satisfy a hierarchy of needs. The lowest level he termed the physiological. Once the physiological needs are fulfilled, humans look to satisfy their safety needs. When the two lowest needs are largely gratified, there emerges the need for belongingness. According to Maslow, only when the three lower needs are satisfied will an individual seek esteem. He divided this class of needs into two sub-classes. The first involves the need for self-evaluation; the second involves the views of others. Maslow is quoted by Mahesh (1993; pp. 49) as seeing a further less well formulated stage: “Even if all these (lower) needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he, individually, is fitted for” and “What a man can be, he must be”. It is very important that Capability needs at lower levels of the hierarchy be satisfied before attempting to introduce Will-related activities aimed at self-actualization. An organization can readily establish the current satisfaction level of its employees with regard to their needs. For example, organizational health surveys are commonly carried out, albeit asking the wrong questions!

C.        Will

The initiatives discussed above for Focus and Capability are in themselves very powerful in shaping Will by pulling it into being rather than mandating a certain state. In this subsection we concentrate on activities that shape Will and are associated with intrinsic motivation.

One area where Will can be positively shaped is by addressing how the people in an organization meet. At most meetings attendees talk for hours without “meeting” each other at all. Often the last thing people want is to be forced to reveal their concerns. This lack of disclosure arises because of the nature and quality of the interactions between individuals and groups. On the surface of a meeting, all may appear well, and discussion proceeds in a calm and dignified manner. However, under the surface, a more turbulent encounter is taking place that will profoundly affect the discussion above the surface plus any subsequent actions.

Whenever people meet, although there are intermediate stages of partial awareness, in simple terms there are two extremes of activity, namely aware and unaware activity. One common way to picture this is to imagine people as icebergs floating together on a sea of life. As one can visualize, when icebergs meet, the submerged parts of the icebergs (unawareness), which is much greater than the visible tips of the icebergs (awareness), meet first. The “aware” part is termed the content of meeting; the “unaware” part is termed the process of meeting. Gaunt (1991) provides details of the group conscious and unconscious awareness at various levels of the iceberg, and points out that the content is often defeated by the unarticulated process, which is about building trust.

Revans (1982) differentiates between “puzzles” (where a solution already exists and where there is one right answer) and “problems” (where there is no single solution and no one way of doing things). KM is typically wrongly implemented as if it were a puzzle. For example, the iceberg tip might be articulated as “How do I develop a KM system for my organization?” However, the underlying problem that will need resolution might more realistically be defined as “How do I and the people in my team deal with feelings related to leadership-follower dynamics, power, competition, job security, vulnerability, envy, poor self esteem etc?” We contend that such KM icebergs cannot be fused into a cohesive whole by examining and responding only to their tips. This is because individuals and groups, and indeed the whole organization, struggle with semiconscious and unconscious impulses that operate at another level.

People meet at their “boundary” and every individual has their own boundary; “… a psychological marker that creates a space within which people can take up their roles with some degree of certainty knowing who they are and what they are accountable for” (Goldstein, 1992; pp. 21). In the absence of boundaries, individuals internalize the business chaos around them, feeling they are being made responsible for activities and outcomes beyond their control, and becoming more resistant to trust and openness so critical to successful KM. People make real contact with one another when they are aware of their own boundaries, and those of others. A meeting with the right tone is one where people demonstrate the qualities that Zinker attributes to the happy family (Zinker, 1998; pp. 114). Zinker also lists the ways that families block communication (Zinker, 1998; pp. 119-124).

A critical pre-requisite to embedding such positive behaviours is an appreciation of “awareness”. Awareness involves comprehending the environment through the use of senses. Its aim is to enrich the background, so that “what matters” stands out fresh, clear and engaging (Nevis, 1987). Thus an employee demonstrating an effective PKMS takes in and processes all the information related to her/his environment plus her/his relationship with it, while keeping hold of the key issue.

Awareness highlights what requires attention or action, but does not necessarily lead to action.  People/organisations can become stuck in their awareness. We typically think of this as “resistance” but this is a descriptive word that must be treated with care (Goldstein, 1992; pp. 20). For example, an individual may be trying to signify something about how they are being approached. As discussed earlier, resistance does not necessarily indicate an absence of Will, but rather the presence of inappropriate Will.

Concerns such as these have been explored through the discipline of group dynamics (most notably psychoanalysis, field and systems theories, and Gestalt). For example, the writings of Freud (1984), Klein (1959), Bion (1961) show that “our experiences of being and working in groups are often powerful and overwhelming.  We experience the tension between the wish to join together and the wish to be separate; between the need for togetherness and belonging and the need for an independent identity” (Stokes, 1994; pp. 19). If we add the levels of uncertainty and pressure associated with KM implementation, we begin to develop a sense of the potential anxieties - conscious and unconscious - that must be dealt with.  In fact we suggest that a KM system in itself is a defence against anxiety.

Egan (2002) has proposed a system of counselling skills whereby emotions such as those highlighted above can be explored, understood, and resolved or managed. We describe in the next section group interventions (PKMS Groups) that we use, building on Egan’s work and that of others such as Heron (1998, 2001). These interventions foster expression of blocks to effective working, and help develop insight into unconscious difficulties whilst promoting personal awareness of oneself as an individual. In our opinion, without such interventions no meaningful KM progress can be made, and in fact harm will be done. As Gaunt (1991; pp. 86) notes: “Un-discharged feelings have the power to block logical thinking.  Anger and sadness are normally difficult to express in a work environment but they are there, and without some access and ventilation an individual (or in some circumstances a whole organisation) becomes emotionally disabled.  Feelings are facts”.

PKMS Group Meetings

In this section we describe our approach to developing the characteristics of happy families that Zinker posits, plus appreciation of the importance of boundaries, awareness, and the capacity to address the aware and unaware aspects of “icebergs”.

Our interventions are directed to populating an individual’s PKMS with knowledge critical to the successful implementation of KM, and in particular targets people-factors. We term such programs PKMS Groups. PKMS Groups are based on an action learning process, utilizing counselling and group work skills that draw on psychodynamic, Gestalt, and client-centred theory.

A PKMS Group program typically begins via a 2-day workshop for middle managers (up to 18 at a time). In day 1 morning we begin by identifying what PKMS means for the participants, and could include exploration of barriers and anxieties related to participants’ personal understanding and experience of KM; in particular addressing “what’s in it for me?” There could also be familiarization with best practices.

The afternoon would provide an introduction to action learning (McLaughlin, 1998) as a PKMS model, with practice applied to participants’ real life KM problems, including identification of key skills e.g. active listening, confrontation, facilitation. These skills would be treated in detail on day 2. We use a style of action learning based on the counselling approach pioneered by Gaunt (1991) where participants negotiate for time to explore an issue. We favour this model over the more familiar “project model” advocated by many exponents of action learning (Revans, 1982) because it encourages individuals to define their own areas of interest/concerns, and work in-depth with these issues, thus building increased capacity for ownership and insight.

Action learning requires highly skilled facilitation to encourage discipline in setting aside one’s own agenda and working openly with the group process. The facilitator trains the group in action learning techniques, models the skills, and provides what Winnicott describes as a 'holding environment' for the client group (1965).  By acting as “ … a safe container who can accept and survive the anxieties and sometimes the hostile projections coming from the client system, [the facilitator] provides the containing space within which challenging and thinking can happen” (Linklater & Kellner, 2000; pp.15). Our aim in facilitating a PKMS group is to enable members to become self-facilitating, taking responsibility for their own development.

Whilst individuals often bring problems, participants may use their time to explore an opportunity, or reflect upon the learning from an achievement. The rest of the group act as collective ‘counsellor’ to the ‘presenter’ of the issue, enabling her/him to explore and clarify their situation and, where appropriate, identify options, solutions, or ‘next steps’. Under non-workshop formats, there is a follow-up meeting at which the presenter reports to the group on her/his progress, i.e. the subsequent ‘action’.  

Day 2 would be built around intensive skills practice and development of an understanding of Egan’s “3-stage process of helping” problem solving process (Egan, 2002). This process is about exploring the presenting problem and moving to a detailed understanding of the underlying issues, followed by action planning. Here we enable people to develop the skills to look below the waterline of the iceberg, and explore the semi- and un-conscious motivations and defences operating when KM is being introduced. Role-plays could be included where participants would be encouraged to share and work with their own real-life PKMS issues.  

Longer-term action learning groups would be formed at the end of the 2-day program, meeting typically every month for about 6 months (post the 2-day workshop) to embed skills, focus in-depth on current issues, and exchange best practices. These meetings would be typically half-day facilitated sessions and could be technology-supported ‘at arms length’. A review session would be included midway to ensure effectiveness. At the end of the 6-month period, participants would move into a general communities-of- practice framework. This post-workshop activity would be captured in an individual’s PKMS and, as appropriate, in the overall organisational KM system. In effect this makes tacit knowledge explicit via spaces (“Ba”) for knowledge sharing and creation (Nonaka and Reinmoller, 2000; pp. 98-111).

In this way approximately 100 managers could pass through five 2-day PKMS Group workshops in 3-4 weeks, meaning that in about seven months an organization would develop a very knowledgeable KM implementation community. Although participants are encouraged eventually to offer their PKMS to their teams and reports, as well as familiarize their own manager with the approach, this is not routinely included initially in the program. We feel strongly that it is important that participants first feel how it is to be involved personally in these PKMS Groups before trying to help others.  As Gaunt (1991; pp. 85) asserts “I can only help others to the extent I have begun to ‘map my own ignorance’”.

Closing Remarks

In this paper we discussed foundations for, and details of, methods we recommend for acknowledging, exploring and positively influencing, non-rational people-factors that we feel are ignored in a typical KM or organizational learning initiative. Our intention was to heighten awareness and understanding of these factors, and to point out that by addressing them proactively, such initiatives would have a much greater chance of living up to their promise.

As Wheatley says so eloquently “There are no recipes or formulas, no checklists or advice that describe ‘reality’. There is only what we create through engagement with others and events” (1992; pp. 7); thus actioning our recommendations will still entail the exercise of leadership, vision, patience and fortitude.


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This paper is based on a presentation made at the 6th World Congress on Intellectual Capital & Innovation, January 15-17, 2003 at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

Contact the Authors

Peter A.C. Smith is President of The Leadership Alliance Inc.; Executive Director of the International Foundation for Action Learning – Canada; Past Chair of The International Community of Action Learners; Consulting Editor, The Learning Organization; and Editor in Chief, the Journal of Knowledge Management Practice

The Leadership Alliance Inc., 12 Kilpatrick Drive, Holland Landing, Ontario L9N 1H6 Canada; Tel: (905) 853-9553; Fax: (905) 853-1954; Email:; Web: 

Moira McLaughlin is Director, moira mclaughlin associates; and an Executive Member of the International Foundation for Action Learning – UK

moira mclaughlin associates, Crouch Hall Road, London N8 8HT UK, Tel: 0208-348-4627; Email: