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Knowledge Succession- Book review

1 July 2017
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Knowledge Succession: Sustained Performance and Capability Growth Through Strategic Knowledge Projects" by Arthur Shelley, published in 2017, emphasizes the importance of continuity in knowledge for achieving success. The book's title cleverly underscores this notion, highlighting that knowledge is indeed the cornerstone of success.

The book's central theme is the value of investing in knowledge management efforts within strategic projects. It provides insights into how best to approach this endeavor.

Key topics covered include:

  • Understanding the concept of knowledge management

  • Transitioning from strategy to tactics

  • Utilizing Communication, Discourse, and Reflection Circles

  • Harnessing the Power of Language

  • Nurturing Relationships

  • Influencing Behaviors

  • Engaging Stakeholders

  • Exercising effective Leadership

With extensive experience in knowledge management, both academically and in various practical settings (including roles at NASA), Shelley is unquestionably well-equipped to discuss this subject. His advocacy for integrating theoretical knowledge with practical experience is evident throughout the book, making it a valuable resource for readers seeking to deepen their understanding and application of knowledge management principles. Enjoy the read!

Understanding the concept of knowledge management

Knowledge continuity encompasses the collaborative creation, transmission, and application of knowledge. Key concepts include:

  • Competitive Advantage: Knowledge alone is insufficient; to yield organizational leverage, it must be implemented more rapidly, efficiently, and effectively than competitors.

  • Human-Centric Knowledge Creation: Knowledge and learning emerge through interpersonal connections and discourse.

  • Trust-Based Environment: Knowledge and learning thrive in environments built on trust, which must be nurtured to facilitate knowledge exchange.

  • Synergistic Activity Components: Knowledge continuity necessitates synergy among various activity components.

  • Immediate-Term Strategic Activities: Immediate-term activities serving strategic purposes are essential for knowledge continuity.

  • Project-Centric Operations: Many organizations operate on a project basis, and knowledge continuity hinges on activities related to these projects, particularly strategic ones. Strategic projects serve as conduits for knowledge transfer, offering stakeholders immediate benefits in terms of time, cost, and quality while fostering long-term competitive advantages through knowledge and capability development.

  • Integration of Strategic Activities: Strategic activities should be seamlessly integrated into organizational units rather than managed as isolated entities.

  • Empowerment for Knowledge Flow: Strengthening and empowering strategic knowledge development and organizational knowledge flow enhance organizational performance. The life cycle, from discourse and ideation through project management, knowledge dissemination, and knowledge reuse in subsequent endeavors, is critical for success.

  • Embracing Change: Viewing changes as opportunities for knowledge development, creativity, and growth is essential.

These principles underscore the importance of fostering an environment conducive to continuous knowledge development and application within organizations.

Transitioning from strategy to tactics

The strategic use of WH questions is instrumental in fostering knowledge development:

Begin with strategy-focused questions that center on value and individuals:

  • WHY: Establish connections with individuals whose knowledge we aim to share, generating value.

  • WHO: Identifies relevant individuals and content areas.

  • WHAT: Clarifies the nature of the knowledge sought.

Moving to the tactical phase, attention shifts to processes and tools:

  • HOW

  • WHEN



  • Sequence matters. Ensure discussions progress logically from strategy to tactics.

  • Leadership is critical. Effective facilitation involves skillfully posing questions, active listening, and synthesizing answers into a cohesive vision, strategy, and actionable plan.

Utilizing Communication, Discourse, and Reflection Circles

Communication, dialogue, and relevant reflection circles are essential for all stakeholders involved in organizational knowledge—both internal and external:

Effective Communication: Communication transcends mere transmission; it encompasses acceptance, confirmation of understanding by the intended audience, and a response affirming the implementation of desired actions.

Discourse: Organizations increasingly embrace a learning paradigm based on 10% formal learning (classroom/instruction), 20% social learning, and 70% experiential learning.

  • Leveraging active learning projects and collaborative knowledge development is recommended.

  • It is advisable to incorporate structured dialogues into the process of generating and nurturing ideas and implementing them in projects.

  • Facilitating debate sessions where constructive criticism fosters professional growth is beneficial.

  • Planning these meetings with clear objectives, practical outcomes, and identified beneficiaries is advisable.

  • Considering hybrid meetings that combine social interaction (such as coffee breaks) with educational components is suggested.

  • Organizing knowledge fairs to facilitate sharing opportunities within and across organizations can be advantageous.

  • Participating in peer forums outside the organization and beyond existing relationships should be considered.

Tip: To encourage active participation, ensure that the discussion revolves around topics of significance—what Shelley refers to as "Conversations that Matter."

Reflection: In a landscape dominated by projects and knowledge, reflection involves thoroughly examining and evaluating ongoing activities. Reflection is crucial as it fosters a deeper understanding of past, present, and future endeavors. It is recommended to leverage reflection across three levels:

  • Learning Level 1: Ensuring adherence to defined tasks.

  • Learning Level 2: Ensuring alignment with the proper functions.

  • Learning Level 3: Identifying novel tasks that align with organizational goals and objectives and the appropriate stakeholders.

Harnessing the Power of Language

The language we employ in daily interactions often carries ambiguity. Even terms discussed within the framework of this book are susceptible to varied interpretations among different individuals, sometimes even within the same organization. Prominent examples include Capacity and capability, Outcome and output, Efficiency and effectiveness, Strategy and tactics, and others. These instances highlight the potential for misunderstanding, even when distinctions between terms seem apparent (e.g., tactics versus strategy), underscoring the importance of clarity and precision in communication.


  • Strive for linguistic clarity.

  • Exercise caution in employing judgmental language and words that may hold divergent meanings in different contexts, particularly if such interpretations could lead to misunderstandings or adverse consequences. Drawing from historical anecdotes within organizations can underscore the significance of this point.

  • Utilize metaphors or symbols to enhance comprehension.

  • Employ humor judiciously to convey messages effectively.

Understanding the terms' examples is indispensable for organizational success; thus, they warrant attention. Recognition of the distinction between deliverables and outputs, the evaluation of skills alongside suppliers, and the simultaneous consideration of strategy and tactics are imperative. Examining these examples and contemplating their simultaneous application is crucial for organizational effectiveness.

Nurturing Relationships

The topic of discourse has been previously discussed in the earlier Discourse chapter, but it's crucial to delve into it from a different perspective: the cultural and organizational level.


  • Nurture connections amidst the sea of individuals.

  • Foster trust among team members.

  • Cultivate an atmosphere that allows for mistakes.

  • Embrace discourse and acknowledge its importance within the organization.

However, casual conversations by the water cooler don't quite meet Shelley's ideal. Don't leave things to chance—plan and understand. Creating an environment conducive to structured dialogue and connection yields far better results.

Influencing Behaviors

This chapter on behavior unveils a surprising revelation: influencing all facets of people's behavior, especially their character and its derived actions, proves impractical. Rather than dismissing this challenge or attempting to diminish its significance, Shelley proposes an alternative approach:

  • Engage in structured and organized dialogues with individuals regarding behaviors conducive to a desirable culture.

  • Provide a safe environment where individuals feel empowered to make mistakes, thereby reducing stress and negative behaviors. Encourage adaptability to ongoing change as a means of coping and mitigating tension.

  • Cultivate a culture that celebrates behavioral diversity. While discouraging disruptive behavior, strive to avoid uniformity in behavioral norms.

Integrating diverse perspectives within a safe environment fosters fertile ground for creativity, boundary-pushing, and optimal growth.

Engaging Stakeholders

A stakeholder encompasses any individual or group affected, positively or negatively, by our activities or capable of influencing our plans. Stakeholders are pivotal to the success of any endeavor, and their proactive involvement in projects cultivates a sense of responsibility and ownership, significantly contributing to achieving desired outcomes.

Persuading and influencing stakeholders is rooted in three fundamental aspects: emotion, logic, and credibility.

Tools for implementation include:

  • Sharing success stories.

  • Employing the 5C model: Communicate, Connect, Collaborate, Capitalize, and consistently reiterate Communication.

  • Initiating change begins with raising awareness and understanding "why," addressing objections, fostering engagement, providing practical implementation tools, and being supported by knowledge and action.

  • Leveraging knowledge communities and social groups provides reliable environments and facilitates individual connections.

  • Additionally, fostering an environment that embraces mistakes and errors is paramount.

Exercising effective Leadership

Leadership extends beyond mere project management. While management adheres to structure and concentrates on plans, resources, execution, and control, leadership addresses people and future uncertainties. It encompasses envisioning, inspiring, and influencing. Both management and leadership are indispensable, and one should stay within the other.


  • The golden triangle of scope, time, and cost serves as a foundation for leadership, yet it offers only a partial narrative.

  • Transitioning into leadership involves contemplating and shaping the future rather than solely dwelling on the present and past.

  • Leaders must acknowledge the complexity and uncertainty of their realm, where simplification is not always feasible.

  • Engaging in dialogues with individuals to collaboratively define success is advisable; their contributions are pivotal to achieving goals.

  • Serving as a mentor or coach to individuals is recommended for grooming the next generation of leaders :-)

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