Knowledge management enjoyed a high point in the early 2000’s when it was perceived as a key management tool, flourishing in organisations globally. Since then it’s lost some of its momentum, and in part that’s due to the way it’s been presented by practitioners. Nick Milton and Patrick Lambe point out in their recent book The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook3 that knowledge management is still a recent management discipline, and that it presents “a way of managing work, paying due attention to the value and effect of an intangible asset [knowledge].”
Knowledge management can be distilled into four key challenges for practitioners:
- you can’t avoid the concept of systems or complexity
- you need to be able to understand and analyse the current state of your organisation
- you need to develop a clear strategy and sell it to your organisation
- you need to have a toolbox to implement a solution.
Understanding knowledge management in an organisational setting is often constrained by confusing the tools in the toolbox with the result. These tools include the documenting of knowledge, technology platform collaboration, lessons learned, and expertise databases. Having these tools does not equate to a knowledge management strategy. Stephen likened this to wielding a hammer and not knowing that you’re planning to build a house.
We know that knowledge is valuable. It’s about:
- know what
- know why
- know who
- know how
- and know when.
A knowledge management solution does not exist solely on a technology platform, it’s far more vibrant and dynamic than that. Stephen emphasised that knowledge is an active process, it’s not something that can be captured and put in a bottle. Vital to decision-making, knowledge is only relevant in the context of the actions that are taken in relation to it.
Stephen illustrated this point by referencing David Williams’ Action Knowledge Information (AKI) cycle4 which emphasises the dynamic nature of knowledge. “Knowledge is created from framed experience, values, contextual information, interaction with others (events) and expert insights. Information is created as a representation of an object, event, action or a cognitive concept (knowledge).”
Knowledge is more than the verbal and documented, both on an individual and organisational level. The knowledge that we share drives shared behaviour. When we look at birds who flock in a pattern, they flock the same way because they have similar experiences in life. Organisations behave the same way, and they share values in ways that many of us are often unaware of.
Knowledge management also encompasses processes and organisational culture which survive generations of workers. Stephen pointed out that we hold a mechanistic view of organisations from the industrial era, the idea that you can implement a task and that it will lead to a set result that is sequential and repeatable. The idea that you can control people and their behaviour is a false premise, as intelligent agents are complex and they behave in non-predictable ways. The idea of complexity developed out of the world of chaos research5 from the 1990s. Complexity doesn’t disappear because it’s constrained organisationally or in a system.
In upcoming articles, we will cover four areas that people can focus on in 2017 to improve their knowledge management outcomes:
- Psychological distance
- Agile management
- Technology as disruptor
- Digital preservation
Next edition: Knowledge, complexity, and systems.
Header image source: Echelon flock formation by C.C. Trowbridge is in the public domain
References and notes:
- Stephen Bounds is the Director and Principal Consultant at KnowQuestion, publisher of RealKM Magazine. ↩
- For a copy of the transcript please contact Amanda Surrey. ↩
- Milton, N.J., & Lambe, P. (2016). The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook. London, Philadelphia: Kogan Page. ↩
- Williams, D. (2014). Models, Metaphors and Symbols for Information and Knowledge Systems, Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Innovation. 10(1), 79-107. ↩
- Strevens, M. (2005). How Are the Sciences of Complex Systems Possible?, Philosophy of Science, 72(4), 531-556. ↩