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Sharing Hidden Know-How - Book Review

1 March 2014
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems with the Knowledge Jam," authored by Katrina Pugh in 2011, outlines the Knowledge Jam method. This method was developed by Katrina Pugh and Nancy Dixon, initially for sharing tacit knowledge at Intel and subsequently adopted for use across the United States and worldwide.

While the book is somewhat extensive and detailed, it offers valuable insights for guiding Knowledge Jam processes to effectively lead groups and facilitate knowledge transfer in a broader context. It comes highly recommended!

The book delves into the following topics:
  1. Understanding Knowledge Jam

  2. The Stages of the Jam, which include:

    1. Choice

    2. Planning

    3. JAM Meeting

    4. Knowledge Processing and Mediation

  3. Tips for Success

Additionally, it provides practical advice for success in various roles, such as a Facilitator/Leader and a Knowledge Broker.

Understanding Knowledge Jam

The term "Jam Session" originates from the world of music, particularly jazz, describing a semi-impromptu gathering of musicians that isn't entirely planned but relies on improvisation during the session.

Expanding on this concept, related terminology has emerged, such as "Innovation JAM" (utilized by IBM Company), signifying a substantial gathering of individuals to foster innovation through a semi-impromptu format.

Similarly, "Knowledge Jam" is built upon the same foundation to facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge within an organization. It is structured around a planned meeting where the content develops in a somewhat unpredictable and improvisational manner.

Effectively conveying tacit knowledge during these encounters requires the valuable concept of improvisation within the meeting. However, it demands meticulous preparatory work and significant effort post-meeting.

Knowledge Jam is a technique for transferring tacit knowledge, a challenge that conventional knowledge management solutions often need help to achieve. It encompasses face-to-face interaction, storytelling to spark curiosity, knowledge processing, and, most importantly, the transformation of knowledge from its original context to a new context within the organization.

It's more accurately described as a process where the encounter represents one of the stages and serves as the climax. This process comprises five stages, which will be detailed in the subsequent sections:

  1. Choice: Selecting the knowledge transfer focus areas.

  2. Planning: Formulating partner lists, preparing meeting plans, knowledge transfer plans, and tool planning, in addition to actual preparatory meetings.

  3. Knowledge Transfer: The Knowledge Jam meeting itself.

  4. Mediation: The process of knowledge processing involving an intermediary (one of the knowledge recipients) to make it usable in the new context.

  5. Usage: The reuse of knowledge.

This process connects gathering information and knowledge, systems thinking, and collaboration. People tend to prefer personal face-to-face knowledge transfer over documentation, not only for interaction but also for the ability to adapt and translate knowledge to the specific context and need of the transmitter.

The successful integration of these disciplines makes the challenging task of transferring tacit knowledge and making it useful in a new context feasible. Importantly, this method is applicable in any organization, including non-profit entities.

In summary, this technique requires an investment of 9-16 working days, with an integrator who may also serve as a consultant responsible for 60-80% of the effort, while the involvement of organization members is comparatively lower. Knowledge Jam is firmly rooted in well-established disciplines of knowledge acquisition, collaboration, and organizational learning, effectively embodying these principles in its outcomes.

The Stages of the Jam


The selection stage naturally involves choosing knowledge subjects, and this decision is a complex one. It requires pinpointing the areas where the organization can benefit from this intensive process among the myriad knowledge topics it deals with. In addition to this practical consideration, there is an added advantage to collaborative decision-making at this stage. When this stage is carried out collaboratively, those involved in the selection process feel more committed to continuing, thus increasing the chances of success. This stage encompasses three sub-stages:

  1. Preparation of a list of potential topics for the JAM process.

  2. Prioritization of knowledge subjects: Selection of the project and the associated teams.

  3. Securing Executive Sponsorship.

A suitable topic should meet the following criteria:

  • Impact: Transferring knowledge on the subject should offer the most outstanding value in enhancing efficiency, innovation, and competitiveness.

  • Feasibility: It is estimated that extracting knowledge within the defined scope will be relatively easy.

The facilitator's responsibilities include:

  • Mastering the tool.

  • Aligning expectations.

  • Managing organizational politics.

  • Evaluating topics for selection.

  • Maintaining a portfolio of potential topics for future use.


JAM planning shares similarities with project planning regarding tasks, collaborators, and schedules. However, since this is a JAM event, essentially a discourse, it incorporates improvised and evolving components and is not intended to be fully preordained.

The planning stage consists of several sub-stages:

  1. Identifying the knowledge ethicists, content experts, project managers, or staff members with knowledge in the relevant field. This also involves selecting intermediaries for knowledge acquisition. If necessary, appoint a coordinator to assist the integrator in logistical and other tasks.

  2. Conducting preparatory meetings to specify the sub-topics and engage partners in the process.

  3. Planning the JAM meeting and the accompanying tools.

  4. Aligning expectations.

  5. Ensuring the integrator gains an early understanding of the subject's content world being conveyed before the JAM.

The facilitator's responsibilities include:

  • Conduct interviews with initiators and the mediator to define partners and prepare the JAM, including agreement on the appropriate concept for knowledge transfer.

  • Crafting a plan for the JAM meeting, which includes considerations for tone, focus, templates, agenda, structure, and promotion.

  • Initiating the documentation of knowledge accumulated during the planning stage.

  • Undertaking technical and logistical preparations for the JAM meeting.

The planning phase plays a pivotal role in the overall success of the entire process.

JAM Meeting

The JAM meeting naturally serves as the culmination of the process and typically lasts between an hour and a half to two hours, taking the form of either a physical or virtual meeting. (Tip: In the case of a virtual meeting, participants should convene in common subgroups.)

Meeting structure:

  1. Opening: Setting the agenda, establishing work rules, and defining the topic.

  2. Discourse: For each topic, the following steps are followed - introduction of the topic, discussion and comments, summarization, and key takeaways. This includes noting any additional issues that arise and require separate consideration (commonly called "parking lots").

  3. Summary.

Facilitator's responsibilities encompass:

  • Cultivating a positive atmosphere among participants.

  • Promoting the use of a common language.

  • Documenting meetings' proceedings using templates and displaying the content to those present.

  • Guiding the discussion prompts speakers to delve deeper into their presentations and reach the core of the issues or rationale for decision-making while facilitating sense-making.

  • Encouraging active listening, questioning, and meaningful discourse.

  • Providing interim summaries and concluding the discussion.

Several success factors are essential for the discourse to evolve and yield significant insights:

  • Adherence to defined work rules (including the use of parking lots).

  • Adherence to the schedule and agenda.

  • Fostering openness and transparency by documenting the main content discussed during the dialogue and sharing it with partners. Avoiding hasty conclusions and defensiveness while embracing constructive criticism.

  • Embracing systems thinking.

  • Ensuring diverse participants in terms of roles, perspectives, hierarchies, and more.

  • Nurturing practical discourse by actively listening, showing respect, reflecting different voices, and refraining from immediate criticism and responses to foster idea development and systemic thinking.

Knowledge Processing and Mediation

The conclusion of the meeting doesn't signify the end of the JAM process. The integrator continues collaborating with the knowledge broker to process the acquired knowledge and direct it toward new needs. More is needed while the knowledge processing phase begins informally during the JAM meeting.

The processing and mediation stage comprises several components:

  1. Expanding the meeting stage summary, including translating it into a new context and documenting the knowledge.

  2. Sharing the content on organizational collaborative platforms.

  3. Engaging in conversations with project teams and stakeholders.

  4. Integrating knowledge into work processes, guidelines, training, and more.

Facilitator's responsibilities include:

  • Guiding the direction of knowledge, potentially involving factors beyond those initially focused on during the JAM.

  • Assisting in expanding knowledge, its dissemination, and communication.

  • If necessary, it will aid in managing change among knowledge recipients.

Processing and translating knowledge into the new context is often quite complex and may require additional discussions with those possessing the knowledge.

Knowledge utilization begins when the user encounters it, either serendipitously or intentionally, in various contexts such as:

  • Within a knowledge base.

  • On social media platforms.

  • On collaborative websites.

In addition to knowledge utilization, assessing the extent and scope of its use is advisable to gauge the return on investment (ROI) for the entire process.

Facilitator's responsibilities encompass:

  • Providing reusable examples to illustrate knowledge utilization from previous JAM processes.

  • Undertaking measurements to gauge the extent of knowledge use.

  • Periodically reporting back to partners regarding the utilization of knowledge.

Tips for Success


The choice between an internal or external facilitator poses an important question. There are valid arguments on both sides, and no strict hierarchy exists. What matters most is that the facilitator has familiarity with the organization, a solid understanding of the method, and the ability to lead effectively while aligning with the formal and informal roles described above.

Tips for success:

  • The facilitator's role extends beyond simply leading the process; they should nurture and encourage engagement at each stage and within conversations.

  • The facilitator is pivotal in illuminating blind spots and striving to complete missing puzzle pieces.

  • Being a facilitator demands personal resilience, collaborative skills, and the ability to lead while simultaneously comprehending and motivating individuals.

Reading documentation can be a challenging task for many. The mediator's role is to adapt acquired knowledge to the needs and contexts of the recipient group.

A proficient mediator:

  • Represents the needs and interests of users.

  • Enhances and refines knowledge to maximize its potential for reuse in the user's context.

  • Conveys content to users, both verbally and collaboratively.

  • Acts as a catalyst for change.

  • Advocates for knowledge reuse while setting a personal example.

In summary:

The JAM process may seem more intricate than its name suggests. However, compared to other knowledge management initiatives, it distinguishes itself as a focused, interdisciplinary, and valuable investment. It is crucial to champion this concept within the organization, emphasizing the associated benefits and return on investment (ROI).

The book provides diverse examples, showcasing its applicability across various content domains. It is highly recommended to explore it!

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