This is an updated edit in response to several questions received by email — To clarify my, and the K-Cubed position, we work with the term ‘KM’ as it is the terminology of choice at this moment in time within the wider business community; although it means vastly different things to different organisations. This article aligns with what we do as a business; as our website says, we look at this as, “KM Rebooted”. We work with knowledge centric organisations who want to engage, or are dissatisfied with, KM and show them through our K-Core process how to mange their knowledge environments holistically, as a way to effect sresilient knowledge advantage through their people. We assist companies in navigating the complexities of KM practice, educate them and show them pathways to achieve sustainable success. We advocate the use of technology, but it is not the focus of our practice – red the full article, published in ‘Inside Knowledge‘
KM is its final death throes. There, I’ve said it. That’s my position and I’ll stand by it. How long it is going to take is the only real issue here… Look at the technology providers, they are already talking about ‘Wisdom Management’ and ‘Expertise management’. They are getting desperate because KM has crested and is in need of reinvention; and the time for people to become the epicentre of knowledge activity will come again. To be clear, I believe in the founding principles of KM. I do not believe in the practical concept of KM as it exists today.
KM a term is owned by technology, we need to face this. However, the management of knowledge resources is so much more than this. You can look back through my blog posts, this is not an epiphany for me. The bottom line, too many organisations are dissatisfied with KM as a strategic management tool because it is grounded in technology platforms that cannot possibly deliver the dynamic capacity that the organisation needs. Technology as a KM solution is Snake Oil, it just doesn’t work! Technology is there for the management of complicated information processes. People are the platform for complex knowledge processes. The only way to improve things is to reboot KM and embed people as the platform for sustainable success. That simple. We need to be ready for a paradigm shift. History tells us it will happen and nothing can stop it – it’s just a case of when the tipping point will come.
Want some evidence beyond what I have written and posted before…?
During May and July 2010 KM job ‘tweets’ were monitored on the Twitter social media platform. In all 239 jobs were isolated from over 1000 tweets – this accounted for duplication (multiple tweets), non KM related jobs and misleading links. In analysing the associated job descriptions it was found that 86% (206) were solely related to technology or information related positions; 14% (33) took a socio-technological view, requiring an understanding of wider HR-centric issues; and zero 0% were solely focused on the HR-centric view. The geographic spread of the techno-centric view predominantly emanated from the United States (56%), United Kingdom (28%) and India (12%). The socio-technological positions were in China (16 of 33), Singapore (3 of 33), United Kingdom (2 of 33), France (4 of 33), Australia (2 of 33), India (5 of 33), Japan (1 of 33).
David Snowden stated in KM Asia 2010 that he and Larry Prusak had stopped talking about KM, they now talk about decision-making. At K3-Cubed we talk about dynamic capacity and resilience.
Times are changing…
The following builds on a blog from May 2010 and the IJKSS article from October 2010; “Are we stuck with KM: The case for strategic knowledge resource development”
Where does KM come from? How durable is it as a concept? Is it a fad? Is it on its way out?
KM is one of the most fantastic but fundamental concepts for human society. It is
unfortunate it does not have a better name. But, ultimately, what it represents is the
history and future of mankind. It’s disappearance due to [the distraction of modern
technology] will be human society’s downfall? (Manager at Price Waterhouse Cooper)
If knowledge is a resource that the organisation needs to invest in then there has to be an acceptance that the organisation will need to manage or coordinate it. Enter KM. But what is KM exactly? Much like the concepts of knowledge, the knowledge economy and value, it is complex. Let’s begin by dispelling a popular myth; KM is not in its infancy.
The 1980′s, the birth of KM, really?
The need of KM is a persistent knowledge. The practice of KM over the last decade has been fundamentally flawed in conception (David Snowden, KM Asia 2010, www.cognitive-edge.com)
Many credit Peter Drucker with the birth and growth of the modern KM movement through his seminal article in 1988, “The coming of the new organisation”. Some talk of Karl-Erik Sveiby as the key figure in the field. Others credit Robert Buckman (and his work with Buckman Laboratories during the early 1980?s) with being the father-figure of KM, due to his contribution to the technological evolution of the field. Those championing Buckman as the ‘father’ of the field also seem to subscribe to the view of KM as something that technology does. This just does not align with the needs of the organisation, just look at the drivers of the knowledge economy. Whereas writers, such as Joel Mokyr, in his book, “The gifts of Athena”, believe that the evolution of technology is the residual evidence, or artefact, of knowledge development.
So, is the need for knowledge an enduring one? Is KM nothing more than a new label on a very old bottle? Or is the answer, to borrow the words of David Snowden, based in the fact that, “The need of knowledge is a persistent one”?
250 years old and counting…
If you have not read the acclaimed work of Joel Mokyr, into the links between knowledge and technology, you should give it a try. It delivers an insight into the development of knowledge economies, which can be observed through surges in technological achievements, such as during the first and second industrial revolution – The first industrial revolution starting around 1760-1780 and lasting until 1830-1850.
- The Industrial revolution constitutes a stage in which the weight of the knowledge-induced component of economic growth increased markedly
- At the turn of the century (1890) it was being stated that knowledge and its organisation contributed to capital value and was a significant engine for output.
- In 1908 The Lancet published an article, The diffusion of medical knowledge, promoting the virtues of knowledge sharing within the field of medicine and health.
- In 1918 knowledge was being discussed as a resource for organisations, predominantly in North America.
“The greatest problem for any nation is that of developing its resources to the utmost. The solution of this problem involves a thorough knowledge of all resources, natural, intellectual, manual and financial and thorough knowledge of all means of making the most of them?”
- In 1933 Fisher recognised industry to be moving toward a tertiary stage, with an emphasis on knowledge based goods and services instead of traditional manufacturing and production.
- In 1938 by Barnard, in his book “The functions of the executive” argued the need for organisations to create and disseminate knowledge.
- Periods of war brought about a voracious appetite for competitive advantage, which, in turn, brought focus to knowledge as a resource. The following is an extract from a newspaper article published during World War II.
“Primarily we need proved weapons, men, planes and ships to make America safe fromattack?.Back of these defense lines lies knowledge, organised and implemented by the
searchings of human minds and hands?”
- Literature from this period also offers a glimpse of an early incarnation of the modern Knowledge Manager, Industrial Efficiency Engineers. These were specialists who could critically manage knowledge to bring about what was described as:
“An organisation, so arranged that the results of all its efforts are recorded and analysed. The lessons to be learned and the experience to be gained are thus made as much as a company?s asset as more tangible things, and can be used in the direction of future undertakings?”
- Subsequent to this period there was as a knowledge explosion stimulated by events such as the post war recovery of Britain. This period brought with it a second incarnation of the knowledge manager, through the advent of the, “science of knowledge utilisation”, where there was focus on the need to coordinate such knowledge that was deemed useful to man.
- Was Drucker, and his 1988 article, a little behind the times? No, in 1959 Drucker famously stated,
“Productive work in today’s society and economy is work that applies vision, knowledge and concepts ? Work that is based on the mind rather than the hand?”
- The economic contribution of knowledge was being discussed by Machlup in his 1962 publication, “The production and distribution of knowledge in the US” . A position championed by Carter in 1968 as:
“Something with which the Federal Government must be vitally concerned?[as] it needs to guide the overall development and conservation of such an asset [knowledge]“
- The importance of technology for Information Storage and Retrieval was being extolled in the United Kingdom during this period by Maxwell in 1968.
- Duncan took this further in 1972 through a discussion on knowledge flow in organisations:
“The knowledge flow system in management and organisation includes all resource and user
subsystems involved in development and application of meaningful management knowledge?”
- It is during the 1973 that the term, KM, first appears, through discourse on Public Administration.
“By Knowledge Management, I mean public policy for the production, dissemination, and use
of information as it applies to public policy formulation?”
- It was from this time that authors began to widely recognise that knowledge was usurping capital in the battle for power within organisations.
- In 1977 the term KM appeared in discussions on marine and environmental science and in the term was evident in discussions in the field of computer science.
This time line traces the discussion of the management of knowledge resources well beyond the turn of the twentieth century. This means that organisations have been acknowledging the economic value of knowledge for well over 250 years. KM really is nothing more than a new label on an old bottle of wine. What this also tells the KM leader is that the management of knowledge has itself adapted to the needs of time and place.
Back to today…
At the moment KM is facing a multitude of problems and issues. The shift in terminology detailed within the KM time line appear to be brought about to meet the shifting needs of the environment, but the core need to utilise knowledge endures. It therefore stands to reason that KM itself will have to undergo a shift, especially if the field fails to overcome the dominance of
technology based KM solutions. But, regardless of what it might be called in the future, however it it is reinvented, historical precedent indicates that organisations will continue to need to manage knowledge as a resource for value creation.
The message here is to forget about the KM label and focus on the need of the organisation and the environment within which the organisation transacts. That need dictates what action is required and the label placed upon that action really does not matter; as long as the action and the outcome meet the organisation’s need. KM is here today and will be gone tomorrow.
Given the drivers of the knowledge economy, and the need for dynamic capacity, it is fair to say that the only constant for sustainable success is change. We have no choice at this time, but to try and adapt to the dying whims of an ill-fitting concept, but we also need to prepare for the future to make sure that the next incarnation can deliver success…something KM struggles to do!
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