Re: Is KM really dying? #state-of-KM


This question, along with those seeking to define what knowledge is, or what knowledge management is, are, in my opinion, all asking the wrong question. Is KM dying? What does that even mean? Does anyone really believe that for some reason companies have abandoned all efforts to manage knowledge?

Managing knowledge goes back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. In the X’ing Dynasty in China the Emperor Xin’s army is the first known instance of using paper on the battlefield to communicate across distance. The innovation wasn’t what was in the messages, it was the use of paper at all. This innovation, and the supporting behaviors and processes around it, gave his army an enormous advantage over its enemies, and was quickly adopted across Xin’s forces. (The trigger mechanism for crossbows and the stirrup were also invented and used for the first time in battle under his reign, conferring additional advantages).

Later on in history came worker’s guilds, and then trade unions, whose primary purposes included preserving and transmitting the arcane skills to novices, who were required to join these groups before they would be given access to the basic and more advanced skills needed to do their jobs.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Aborigine tribesmen were making odd-looking drawings with dots of ochre on a chunk of tree bark. Westerners were struck by the interesting colors, textures and patterns of these drawings and assumed they were tribal art. Anthropologists gradually came to understand that these drawings were, in fact, maps, showing the location of billabongs (seasonal water holes), containing life-sustaining water out in the middle of the desert. The ability to redraw and decipher these maps was a critical survival skill, passed on from one generation to the next - without the aid of any type of written documentation (they had no written language).

The reason KM practitioners seem to struggle with seemingly unending insecurity around our profession is because many have chosen to focus on managing knowledge as a separate pursuit along side of, and independent from, the actual work and business of theenterprise or institution they are serving. “Hi, I’m from the KM department, and I’d like to find out what knowledge I can help you manage.” Whether this is explicitly stated or not, this is what it sounds like and looks like to most everyone else outside the KM department. The responses may be many and varied, but they are most assuredly not, “Boy, am I glad to see to you.”

So. Let us quit agonizing over our relevance, over KM’s relevance, over KM’s definition, objectives or purpose. No more talk in public about tacit and explict. I propose we instead focus on a very simple question: How can we improve the way work gets done to save time or reduce costs? How can we help support achievement of strategic intent, by improving internal processes, practices and structure?

If you ask these questions, trust me, you will find yourself bumping up against various ways in which firms are effectively “using knowledge” (by whatever definition you want to give it), as well as gaps where they could clearly do a better job.


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