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July 25, 2008

Knowledge Management – An Ancient Art

In my earlier days, one of my favorite professors in graduate school assigned me to read an interesting book titled “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. This book was a collection of the wisdom of Sun Tzu, a General in the Chinese Army around 500 BC. This book was one of the earliest documented works on strategy and tactics as it applies to leading an army. It is a valuable exercise to read this collection and to analyze how this applies to modern day business strategy and tactics.

There have been lots of articles and books written about Sun Tzu and how he was able to apply strategy and tactics to become a leading General in the Chinese army and lead many successful military campaigns. What we don’t normally credit Sun Tzu with was the fact he was one of the first to establish a successful Knowledge Management Program.

In the consulting business the importance of managing knowledge as an asset is getting more visibility over the years and companies even have Chief Knowledge Officers. In the business where intellectual property and knowledge based work provides great value it is critical to systematically capture this information. This applies to those who are individual consultants or those who work with larger consulting arms or businesses.

How does this happen with you or your company. First it starts by recognizing the criticality of this activity and implementing a strategy to make it a systematic approach. It really is not as complicated to begin as it sounds as evident by the fact it was done 2,500 years ago. Why was Sun Tzu able to do this? Because he knew it was critical for the success of his army to retain the knowledge and the lessons learned from his preparation and tactics in battles won and lost. The goal was to make sure he repeated the successful strategies and to learn from the failed strategies during his career. He simply collected, analyzed, organized, and documented the information and then passed this down to others in his army so they too would have this knowledge and use it for the value it represented.

Like most initiatives, if the leader or general of the organization understands the value and importance of this practice then it will lead to the success. If it is not being stressed as important in your organization then you have an area of opportunity to educate and lead others. How do we know that Sun Tzu was successful? The fact his documented work is being taught in some business schools 2,500 years later is a clear indicator.

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