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Practical Knowledge Management Guide for SME Owners and Managers

By Naoki Ogiwara, Ron Young, Serafin Talisayon and Boondee Bunyagidj

©APO 2010, ISBN: 92-833-7096-1


bookWhen we use the term “Knowledge Management” (KM), some readers may have the impression that it is a very difficult topic to understand. I believe, however, that the principle is not difficult but rather a simple one that anyone can easily understand.

The principle of KM can be likened to applying the Japanese proverb “Sannin yoreba monju no chie” (a gathering of three people will result in wisdom equivalent to that of Monju Bodhisattva) to business management. Monju Bodhisattva is the well-known Buddhist deity of wisdom. The proverb indicates that if three ordinary people come together, great ideas will be created which could not be conceived by a single individual alone. As I understand it, the essence of KM is applying this proverb to business management today.

However, the simplicity of the principle does not necessarily mean that it is easy to utilize KM fully. Similar to 5S and kaizen (continuous improvement), understanding the principle is easy but putting them into practice on the job is not.

When applying the principle of KM, we collectively gather ideas first, and the level of the success depends upon the degree of communication inside the organization. In this regard, small and medium-sized enterprises have an advantage over major corporations with several thousand employees. However, many small and medium-sized enterprises experience difficulties in communication between the top management and employees, so-called poorly ventilated space. In such cases, communication must be improved first, which often requires organizational change or reallocations of work space.

The power of IT to smooth internal communication is overwhelming. Due to the rapid evolution of IT, even a tiny company today would find it difficult to function without relying on IT. However, IT is not omnipotent and is not the equivalent of KM. Much more information can be communicated face-to-face than by sending e-mail. Opportunities to create new ideas also increase through face-to-face communication. However, no one should think that KM is not suitable for his or her organization due to a fact that a huge budget is not available to invest in IT.

The applications of IT for accumulating information and knowledge continue to increase. However, I believe that a small organization can document information in the absence of sophisticated IT hardware without diminishing its value. The APO, an international organization of which I am the Secretary-General, is currently sharing publications to member countries. This Practical KM Guide for SME Owners and Managers is a concrete example of gathering knowledge without using IT and sharing it with all who are interested.

Finally, there is no absolute formula to ensure “wisdom,” i.e., processes that create new ideas and innovation, unlike the communication and accumulation of information.

The only thing we can do is to foster an environment conducive to the development of such ideas. While this may not appear sufficient, in the long run, the percentage of innovative ideas created will be much greater in organizations that continue such KM efforts. This will in turn result in an increased number of companies that incorporate incentive systems for appropriate proposals or that develop a culture that accepts and learns from failure.

Owners and managers of small and medium-sized enterprises can learn a lot and derive many benefits from KM. The examples included in these cases are not abstract theories, but rather introduce practical guide for KM application. The “wisdom of Monju” is hidden in each example. I hope that these cases will be used for further KM improvement.

Shigeo Takenaka
Tokyo, September 2010

Download the entire e-book (10Mb)
Chapter 1 Introduction
Small and Medium Enterprises Rely on...
Moonbake Story
How to Utilize This Book
Chapter 2 To Satisfy Existing Customers and Attract More Customers
Ishima Manufacturing: Customer Collaboration for New Business Creation
Kitchen Equipment Distributors Inc: Eliciting and Reusing Knowledge from High-performing Sales Representatives
Chapter 3 To Improve Productivity and Quality of Products, Services, Processes
Evergreen Fresh Foods: Knowledge Sharing for Dramatic Quality Improvement and Cost Reduction
Sawasdee Restaurant: Leveraging Customer Knowledge to Improve Service Quality and Provide Value-added Services
Chapter 4 To Develop New Products and Services (Accelerate Innovation)
Guild of Plating: Small Manufacturers’ Consortium to Create New Businesses
Cool Installations: Knowledge Creation and Innovation Through Collaborative Work
Chapter 5 To Develop Skills/Motivation/Teamwork Among Employees
Productive Training and Education Consultants: Simple Competency System to Accelerate Learning Among Employees
Lessons Learned in Motivating Workers: Both Knowledge and Willingness Must Be Present
Chapter 6 Takeaway Learning
Key Messages 1-4
For KM Implementation in Your Small Company
The Next Step
APO References
About the Authors

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