About John Donahue


How I Became a Knowledge Manager

How I became a KMToday I’m a KM consultant and CEO of Trinity Knowledge Management, but like most KMs, I’m often asked “How did you first become a knowledge manager?” Normally I explain the events that led to my first knowledge management job, but that’s only part of the story. Initially I thought I took to KM quickly, but what I didn’t realize is I had been a knowledge manager for a decade or more before I took on the title. Looking back, I see I began my “KM Journey” long before I ever heard of KM.

Real-World KM

After college I flew fighter jets in the US Air Force, where I was keenly aware of the impact of effective, and ineffective, information sharing. The aviation community has many anecdotes of crews sent into harm’s way without having been provided all of the available information that they needed to be successful and return home safely. The reasons vary in these stories, from someone intentionally withholding information for “security” reasons, to the people in the system simply not knowing who needed the information. I don’t know if the anecdotes were true, but the problem was real and as a result the US military has invested quite a bit into “Command and Control” or C2 systems. These systems are not all information technology systems, many are organizational structures (people) and standard operating procedures (processes) designed to process information and share knowledge with the people who need it. When I wasn’t flying I was helping to develop those systems.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen for a “career broadening” tour as an instructor at the US Air Force Academy, one of the top-ranked universities in the United States. I taught some classes that the cadets loved, where all I had to do was point them in the right direction and they took care of the rest. I also taught classes that were not so popular. In those classes I adjusted my style, and my expectations, to the environment and found ways to help the students learn what they needed to know.

Learning the Knowledge Management Profession

John_DonahueLike many KMs, I didn’t study KM in college, there were no Knowledge Management programs offered at the time. (Note: This was in the pre-online education stone-age). As an undergrad at Northeastern University I studied Computer Engineering and later earned my Masters in Management Information Systems. In the Air Force we studied teamwork and leadership in professional development programs at every new level of command. I believe this combination of a solid technical foundation with, management and leadership study went a long way toward preparing me to be a knowledge manager. Of course a true professional studies their profession. I took the KMI course online (actually on CD) and it gave me a decent overview of Knowledge Management, but self-study is where I’ve truly developed my KM knowledge. I have a shelf full of (well used) books by Nonaka, Davenport, Dalkir, McElroy, O’Dell, and many others. (No offense meant to those I’ve left out, I just looked at the stack sitting next to me for that list, tomorrow there will be others.)

Arriving by Chance / Staying by Choice – My KM Journey

So I became a KM by chance, but am building my expertise deliberately. I’ve found that you learn a little through study, then some more through application, but real in-depth understanding comes when you try and explain it to someone else. That’s what I hope to accomplish with this blog. Hopefully we’ll both learn something here at KM Academy!

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