The Essentials of Radical KM

Stephanie Barnes (Entelechy)

Knowledge Management Essentials • Das Kuratierte Dossier, Band 5 • März 2023
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About the key visual: This color wheel was developed by the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul at the end of the 19th century. His contribution „De la Loi du Contraste Simultané des Couleurs“ is considered one of the most important works on color theory for artists and modern painting. From the three primary colors red, yellow, blue, he developed a color wheel with 23 mixed colors for each primary color, resulting in a circle of 72 colors. (Image: Wikimedia Commons, CC0)


It has been two and a half years since I started calling the creativity infused version of knowledge management that I do, Radical Knowledge Management. I have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands of people and at time of writing, the three papers I have written and published in academic journals have been downloaded thousands of times.

Additionally, I have taught my Creative (Radical) Knowledge Management class three times. So, I think it is safe to say that there is curiosity and interest in the idea of doing KM differently.

For this article I thought I would compile some of the most common questions I get asked about Radical KM and answer them. Hopefully leading to a more practical understanding of what Radical KM is and how to do it.

What is Radical Knowledge Management (KM) and how to implement it?

Radical KM is about making space for creativity, specifically arts-based interventions, in our organisations. We have been told there’s no place for creativity and the arts in our organisations, that they use up time and other resources for no reason. The only time we might make a bit of space for them is in team building or if the activity is directly connected with profit. And yet, knowledge work (which is what all of us do) requires space for reflection, curiosity, and iteration which are enabled and enhanced through the use of creative method and arts-based interventions.

There is so much magic that happens when we give ourselves space and yet all the space has been removed because it is seen as wasteful.

So, how do we implement creativity and arts-based interventions in our organisations? We start small. We start with quick little icebreakers, e.g., scribble drawings, guided visualisations, improvisational games.

It is easy and it is fun. The hardest part is letting go of the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t do it.

Why should ABIs should be placed under KM?

First a couple of definitions: Arts-based interventions (ABIs) are activities that use an art medium or discipline to improve a process or situation. In organisations some of the places they are most commonly used are in design, innovation, and team building, but they can be used anywhere.

Knowledge Management: traditionally, I have used the definition of connecting people to the knowledge they need to do their job, I still believe this, but find that it is too narrow and focuses too much on documented and documenting knowledge. The definition of KM for the purposes of Radical KM focuses more on continuous learning and so that KM is about enabling people to find and create the knowledge they need to do their jobs.

For many organisations, innovation is a key driver, people want to do things differently, more sustainably, more purposefully, more flexibly. However, the behaviours that allow us to behave that way have been educated out of us and discouraged by our quest to appease the metrics gods.

ABIs help us to tap into those skills and behaviours that have been lying dormant in us. They help us get out of our comfort zones and look at things differently, to see the bigger picture. ABIs are part of KM because they help people create new knowledge by asking different questions and looking at the world differently. ABIs inspire curiosity and thus facilitate continuous learning; they enable sustainable mindsets and resilience, as well as helping to transform organizational culture, becoming more of a knowledge sharing culture.

How do we create the space to breathe when we’re working or in a workshop/meeting we are leading?

This is both hard and easy.

It is hard because we have been indoctrinated with the ideas that we have to be “doing” something, we have to be visibly active or engaged in something, that making space for reflection, thinking, research, creativity, is a waste of time. These beliefs are drilled into us from an early age and the thinking and patterns that support them are hard to change. We have a lot of stories that we tell ourselves about why we can’t make space for doing things differently, even though in some cases, we know we should, actually doing it is quite difficult.

It is easy because we can start small and the things you can do to start are not difficult, the hard part is letting go of the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t.

So, how do you start, what do you do?

1. Decide you are going to do it, frame it as an experiment if you like, but decide you are going to try a short, small activity and see what happens.

2. Find an activity that you are comfortable leading, it might be a guided meditation, it might be a scribble drawing, it might be story cubes. If you need ideas google “icebreaker games” and see what you can find or reach out to me and I can help.

3. Once you find one that you like, review it and prepare to lead it. This might mean preparing a slide or a document or saying it out loud to your dog/cat/plant for practice.

4. If you can, do it with a team, you know well and are comfortable with. Explain the activity to them and why you want to do/try it. If you’re doing it the first time with a group you don’t know (like I often do when I’m leading a workshop or a class), I just give a brief introduction and explain this is the way I work because it gives better results — more engagement, more innovative ideas.

5. Do the activity.

6. Debrief the activity: how did the participants like it, what came up for them, how did you like it, how did it feel for you?

7. Continue with the rest of your meeting/workshop, etc.

8. Keep looking for activities to try out and opportunities to try them out in.

We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about why we can’t, about what might happen, but what if those stories we tell ourselves aren’t true?

Where/how to connect creativity (especially painting, but other arts-based interventions, too) to KM?

In practice Radical KM has a lot of potential and can be utilised in many activities and every-day meetings, any place people are coming together to collaborate and share knowledge and information or create new knowledge in an opportunity for a creative activity. This is because it influences trust and respect within our relationships, so taking a bit of time to do something fun together and that gets us thinking about things differently. These activities are good for our relationships and knowledge sharing, and also help build a knowledge sharing culture and develop and support psychological safety (which has to be experienced not just talked about).

So, practically speaking, you can start your meetings off with a guided visualisation, or a short icebreaker. These activities can also be done during the meeting, if you find things are stuck and no progress is being made and you want to shake things up a to re-energise everyone.

If you’re planning a longer meeting, maybe a strategy or planning meeting that is going to be 2-3 days long you can incorporate larger interventions like painting, drawing, 3D Art, or theatre. These activities can be woven into the meeting to ignite people’s innovation and problem-solving abilities.

Remember with these activities, it is about the process, and the relational impacts, not about the end product.

How do I bring Radical KM ideas and activities into our organisation?

Many knowledge management programs start small, taking an “under the radar” approach, building support and success stories before taking on larger initiatives and processes, Radical KM is no different. Start small. Start with a team or group of people who are curious and supportive, the KM team itself can be a good place to start. Do some training and education with them and start using icebreakers and other ABIs to facilitate the KM team’s activities. This helps get the team comfortable with the ideas and practices, then they can start bringing the activities into other meetings, meetings with people outside of the KM team.

Once you get some ground level support you can start sharing Radical KM ideas and activities more widely, by using change management activities: communication, training, education, as well as coaching, mentoring, and train-the-trainer.

Radical KM activities can be difficult for some people to adjust to, so go slow, allow people to go at their own pace and allow them to watch if they don’t want to participate. It is about psychological safety, and everyone has a different threshold for what feels safe and what doesn’t, being open, honest, and making space is key to long-term adoption of the ideas and the success of the program. There will be early adopters and laggards, just like any other change initiative, work with the early adopters first, the laggards will get there with time.

How does Radical KM connect to learning?

Having an ABI experience takes us out of our comfort zones so that we see things differently, allowing us to make different connections. It helps us tap into and develop our curiosity, “what happens when/if…” in a safe space and builds our courage to ask these questions in other areas of our (work) life. Curiosity drives continuous learning.

Organisational culture and creativity – do we make creativity part of our culture or is it just a booster to perk things up?

Creativity and ABIs help shift the culture and become part of it, it is a new way of working. They are used for teambuilding, communication training, leadership development, problem-solving, and innovation processes; as well as being a strategic process of transformation. If an organisation is serious about implementing the idea of Radical KM, they cannot help but shift the culture into one that is much more sustainable and collaborative.

Change management and the cultural shift that must happen to foster ABIs and creativity. Often there is a pushback of “I have a job to do, I don’t have time to play around.” So many people say “I don’t have time” so then feel that the creativity part is a waste of time for them. How is this handled?

Yes, unfortunately, we have been educated to believe that the arts and creativity are unnecessary, at best they are extras or nice-to-haves, but the opposite is true. They are incredibly necessary and useful in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. In knowledge work, we need time to think and reflect, we are not machines or robots; making space for creativity and ABIs gives us what we need in order to be efficient and successful knowledge workers. And make no mistake, we are all knowledge workers.

People might not have time for long/big interventions, but they have 5 minutes to do a creative icebreaker or a guided visualisation and reap the benefits of slowing down so that they can better focus on the task at hand.

Explaining that metrics isn’t always about the numbers. How to do this to a numbers organization?

As a reformed accountant, I understand people’s drive to attach a number to everything, especially in our data-driven world, and numbers are useful, but there is more to life than numbers. William Bruce Cameron once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted” and we need to remember that. I often tell the story of the Cobra Effect, which speaks to how numbers can be manipulated as another reason to be careful about metrics. That said, there are metrics and ROI studies which show the value of creativity and ABIs, so sometimes these help address people’s concerns. However, often there is something else, some other underlying reason for people resisting these ideas, so it is better to discover what those are and address them rather than trying to provide a never-ending supply of case studies and metrics to prove your point.

How to approach leadership on making creativity a priority?

There are lots of case studies, and facts and figures that document and explain way creativity and ABIs are beneficial to people and organisations, unfortunately, in many cases the data doesn’t convince management, they have been educated to believe that these things are not necessary, that they are extras, nice-to-haves rather than must-haves. In today’s VUCA world that couldn’t be farther from the truth, but convincing management can be a difficult job.

There are a couple of activities to try that can help win management over. The first thing to do is to try to find out what stories the managers believe about the idea. In some cases, they have a background in something creative and artistic and ended up in business to be able to “pay the bills”. This is often a best-case scenario, because these managers will have experienced the magic of arts activities in real life and will be less difficult to win-over. In fact, they may become an important proponent of the idea. If they do not have an artistic/creative background, having this conversation with them will at least help you understand what their concerns are so that you can collect the information to correct their misperceptions.

The second activity is to give them the experience of an ABI. ABIs are experiential, so the best way to convey their value is to experience it. You can start small by introducing small activities into meetings or plan a longer meeting where you can integrate a bigger ABI into the activities. What you do will depend on the manager, situation, and organisation but giving the manager(s) the experience helps them to have the embodied experience, getting out of their heads and (hopefully) shifting their beliefs about the importance of ABIs.

We tend to isolate creativity in individuals. I wonder how group creative work could help people get more involved, and maybe relieve some of the anxiety around “Creativity” by encouraging play and “team building”.

Engaging in group creative work has so many benefits, team building is certainly one of them. ABIs have the advantage that most people are uncomfortable, to some degree, in participating in them, and so they tend to level the playing field and help identify communication issues and other behaviours that may be hindering collaboration. A good facilitator will see this happening and work to resolve the conflict. We are all creative and working together to solve problems helps us to discover the best solution to the problem.


These questions highlight a cross-section of worries and concerns people have about the idea of bringing ABIs and creativity fully into our organisations. I hope my responses have helped to calm some of those fears and provided a better understanding of how and why it is possible to shift our organisations towards a more balanced, holistic, sustainable way of working.

Stephanie Barnes is a (radical) knowledge management consultant and artist with over 30 years of experience. In her consulting practice (Entelechy) she focuses on aligning people, pro- cess, and technology to not only help organisations be more efficient and effective with what they know, but to be more innovative and creative, too. Stephanie has been bringing knowledge management success to organisations for more than 24 years. Stephanie has published two books, and several chapters and articles on various KM-related themes and she has spoken at conferences around the world. Stephanie can be found on the web at www., and LinkedIn.

About this contribution Text: Stephanie Barnes · Editorial Team: Andreas Matern, Stefan Zillich · Key visual: Wikimedia Commons, CC0 · Editorial Design: Stefan Zillich, re:Quest Berlin · published in: Das Kuratierte Dossier, vol. 5 “Knowledge Management Essentials”, March 2023, ISSN (Online) 2940-1380 · Published by Gesellschaft für Wissensmanagement e. V. · order print edition · About the series “Das Kuratierte Dossier” · © authors / GfWM e. V. 2023 · Imprint: Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives 4.0 International (BY-ND)

Knowledge Management Essentials • Das Kuratierte Dossier, Band 5 • März 2023
Alle BeiträgeKontakt Redaktionsteam