• 07:18:21 pm on October 1, 2009 | 0

    KM is Crossing the Chasm!

    In the late 90’s Geoffrey Moore published his famous book “Crossing the Chasm”, in which he developed a compelling model for understanding a common lifecycle pattern of technology adoption.  Essentially the “chasm model” pointed out the difference between the initial phases of a technology and associated products coming to market, and later phases, between which he posited a CHASM existed.  The chasm is the gap between the expectations, expertise and needs of the Innovators & Early Adopters,  and those of the Early and Late Majority (often referenced as “the herd”).  The Chasm Model is represented as a curve – here’s a simplified version I’ve done  for Knowledge Management:

    Innovators & Early Adopters are willing to accept limitations in adopting new technology, the need to figure out and/or customize components of it themselves, in favor of the advantages they gain from being first to market for the new capabilities the technology provides.  The Majority needs more proof, market acceptance and guidance to adopt the new approach.

    I assert that Knowledge Management for Support & Service is crossing this chasm now.  The early adopters in support KM have all implemented – these were the hi-tech companies, many telcos, other technology-related businesses with deep technology expertise and existing knowledge bases, as well as a critical business need to provide hi-quality access to complex technical content.  The Majority is now coming to the fore:  I’m now working with financial services institutions, banks, retail, insurance, utilities, airlines, online consumer and many other types of businesses which are new to KM.  Self-service is driving a lot of this market – the need to drive as much successful service traffic online as possible.  But I’m also seeing a level of maturity of internal understanding evolving.  Organizations are becoming aware of the internal need to ORGANIZE and FOCUS their information development and delivery activities.

    All this activity suggests that ‘the herd is on the move’ – which means it’s time for us knowledge advocates to embrace the principles and practices required to successfully engage them.  A key insight of the chasm strategy is that the majority has different perspectives and needs than the early adopters.  The majority needs to see how others have done it, proof that it worked, and a clear recipe for moving forward.  Core KM practices to date have been as much art as science.  We need to frame and tool our methods in more consumable ways.  We need to make the process for engaging core practices clear and easy to understand, for everyone from the support agent to the self-help managers to the managers and executives who drive such initiatives.  We need to provide compelling, complete examples of success that show people how it’s done.  In short, we need better KM about KM!

    What does this mean for KM?  My experience is that the ‘chasm’ is the gap between capabilities and emerging objectives for organizations.  I tend to get requests to address technology, content, metrics and organizational issues, which all add up to challenges in getting to a fully functioning KM capability. Considered together they actually comprise the gap in capabilities, expertise and focus needed to get to a well-functioning KM system:

    If organizations can keep their eye on the ball, stay focused on developing these key capabilities, they will themselves be crossing the chasm!

    This is an exciting time for Knowledge Management – if we can learn to cross this chasm KM practices may clarify and standardize rapidly for a much larger set of organizations, which in turn will create more examples and reference points of value for everyone else.  Then, as Geoffrey Moore describes, we’ll be prepared to engage a “KM Tornado”!  But that discussion is for another time – let’s get those bridges built first!

    John Chmaj
    “The Knowledge Advocate”


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