The New Edge of Knowledge: A book review by Bob Morris

The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management s Changing the Way We Do Business
Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert
John Wiley & Sons (2011)

Finally, in a single volume, just about all you need to know about results-driven knowledge management

According to Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert, “this book tells you how leading organizations achieve great results in knowledge management, or KM, and provides the strategic principles to help you do the same in your organization.” Note the use of direct address in this, the second paragraph of the Preface. O’Dell and Hubert almost immediately establish a personal rapport with their reader and sustain it as they present their material throughout the book’s lively and eloquent as well as substantial narrative.

Although O’Dell and Hubert have extensive experience with all manner of organizations because of their respective responsibilities with AQPC (American Quality and Productivity Center), each is a world-renowned thought leader in her own right. It is to the reader’s great advantage that they can – and do – bring their considerable talents to bear when examining a wealth of information, insights, caveats, and recommendations generated by hundreds of AQPC-sponsored initiatives that include research studies, special reports, conferences, workshops, seminars, and publications.

As its website correctly notes, “Since 1977, APQC has been focused on providing organizations around the world with the information they need to work smarter, faster, and with confidence. Every day we uncover the processes and practices that push organizations from good to great. As one of the world’s leading proponents of process and performance improvement, we follow our mission to help organizations around the world improve productivity and quality by discovering effective methods of improvement, broadly disseminating findings, and connecting individuals with one another and with the knowledge they need to improve.”

O’Dell and Hubert carefully organize their material within 11 chapters that (in effect) provide a sequence of stages by which to plan, launch, implement, and then strengthen a KM program to achieve objectives that include these:

• Establish the foundation that positions KM for the future
• Determine the value proposition
• Identify critical knowledge needs
• Identify critical knowledge now available
• Identify critical knowledge gaps to be filled
• Formulate a framework for KM strategy development
• Select and design KM approaches
• Activate social networking
• Determine governance principles, policies, and procedures
• Build a knowledge sharing culture
• Measure the impact of KM operations and initiatives

I especially appreciate O’Dell and Hubert’s brilliant use of reader-friendly devices in each chapter such as “Resources” that contextualize and expand on material discussed in the chapter, boxed summaries of key points and suggested action steps, Figures and Tables (to illustrate alphanumeric relationships), and checklists that will facilitate, indeed expedite periodic review later of key passages.

There are hundreds of comments and phrases (often inserted throughout the book that strengthen the aforementioned rapport. For example, direct address (“you can assess where the flow of knowledge is breaking down” on Page 31) and invitation with use of a first-person plural pronoun (“Let’s now examine how to gauge such impact” on Page 142). In other words, from beginning to end, O’Dell and Hubert take reader under their proverbial wing of knowledge and wisdom and over time prepare their reader to provide the leadership and management that are required to convert the right information into the most effective action.

Vision is not enough. Thomas Edison once said that “vision without execution is hallucination.”

Knowledge is not enough. Extensive research conducted by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton (among others) suggests that a significant percentage of C-level executives have a “knowing-doing gap.”

Near the end of the book, I can almost hear them say, “Now let’s take a look at several companies that have gained the new edge in knowledge management. Let’s see what we can learn from them that will help you in your own organization.” The mini-case studies are of ConocoPhillips, Fluor, IBM, and MITRE. This material, all by itself, is worth far more than the cost of a copy of this book. Their greatest value, however, can only be derived if the material that precedes them is read (and preferably re-read) with appropriate care.

And action is not enough. Peter Drucker once said that there is nothing “quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

I know of no other single source that offers more and better information, insights, and advice about knowledge management than does this one. I commend Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!


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1 Comment

  1. Allan Grohe on June 24, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Thank you for the review of this book, Bob! I received a copy at APQC’s KM conference in April, and haven’t read it yet, but it’s going to the top of my pile 😀


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