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A Tribute to Larry Prusak, IKNS Lecturer and Father of Knowledge Management

One of our most senior and esteemed faculty, Larry Prusak, has recently informed us that he will be retiring from his teaching responsibility by the end of this academic year. Nancy Dixon, PhD, IKNS lecturer and long time professional colleague of Larry, writes a tribute.

In his own words, Larry started life wanting to be a professor in the history of ideas. He moved toward that goal by graduating from New York University with a Ph.D. in Philosophy. All these years later, it is still ideas that intrigue him, inform what he reads, lectures about, and that have shaped his career. If you ask him who influenced him, you’ll hear a list of great thinkers, James March and Peter Drucker, both management theorists, Clifford Gertz anthropologist, Isaiah Berlin philosopher, Nassim Taleb mathematical statistician and risk analyst, Paul Romer, who won the Nobel prize in Economics, and on and on.

Along with Thomas Davenport, Larry wrote one of the early books on Knowledge Management (KM) in 1998. That book made him the “go-to” person for KM. He has been a frequent speaker at KM conferences, a sought after KM consultant to some of the most prestigious organizations, such as NASA and McKinsey, and now the Vice President of Global Engagement at the Project Management Institute. Larry has led three KM research consortiums that have drawn together knowledge management thinkers and implementers to learn with and from each other. The first was at Ernst and Young, where he worked as a KM consultant, the second at IBM, likewise his then-employer, and the third at Babson College.  

Since 2011, along with Linda Stoddart, Larry has contributed profoundly to the curriculum and indeed mission of the Masters of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program at Columbia University and has been with the program ever since. He is a beloved teacher of his students and is known for never using PowerPoint in his lectures. Unlike the rest of us, he doesn’t seem to need reminders about what to say. I think that is because all that knowledge, drawn from years of experience writing and working in KM, is right there in his head. And as his students will attest, Larry is fond of his many aphorisms about KM that he freely and repeatedly offers:

  • Knowledge is a social attribute, not an individual attribute. Knowledge is socially constructed.
  • Knowledge gives meaning to information.
  • No one person or organization can know enough. You have to build alliances.
  • Knowledge is in the space between people.
  • Without trust nothing happens. People won’t share knowledge without trust.
  • No one does anything great by themselves. Well, maybe...nah. No one does.

Those aphorisms represent Larry’s deeply held belief that knowledge is not only a human attribute but an invaluable attribute worth spending a lifetime exploring.