Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The nonsense of "knowledge management"

I just read an interesting article by T.D. Wilson a professor emeritus called "The nonsense of 'knowledge management.'" If you like to challenge your beliefs, this is a must read article.

His basic conclusion is that knowledge management is "in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads." He states that "knowledge can never be managed, except by the individual knower." Data and information are what is managed. He also cites inconsistencies in how KM is defined, especially in the differentiation between knowledge and information. He sees a new marketing ploy of changing the terms from information to knowledge systems. In other words, he's see the fad as using the term knowledge in place of information.

He goes on to say that KM "also shows signs of being offered as an utopian ideal." Being a past survivor of total quality management (TQM), team processes, empowerment, quality circles, etc. I remember all the excitement and promise around these concepts. I also remember endless debates over the terms and how they could be applied. Even though these terms have gone from usage, some of the "good" components are still being used today.

I agree that knowledge management is a fad and will most likely be replaced by a new term in a few years (I already see new terms emerging like competitive intelligence and business process management). However, where I disagree with the author is that I believe fads are good. Fads get people excited and energized. By having something new to grab on to, the business issues around capturing and managing knowledge (or information) are being addressed. THIS IS GOOD. There's a new energy here and new solutions are being tried. Will all these be in practice in a few years, I highly doubt it. Will some, definitely!

This article does point out a trap, the idea that KM is utopia. It's not, its just a means to the end, a better way to manage how we do business. Will I end my career in knowledge management, probably not. Will I still be using concepts of knowledge management, definitely.

As for the distinction between information and knowledge, its not important. What is important is deciding what information is needed, by who, at what time, and then making sure it gets there so it can be used.

3 Comments:

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Thommy Bommen said...

I agree with you Jeff on the issue where we do not need the definition correctly to work with knowledge. But as an academic it is quite disturbing to not be able to define the terms used.
But at the ICICKM2005 conference we did discuss the need for a common definition and many of the participants did proposed to use the one that was most suited at the moment. And by this letting the issue overcloud the actual problem, to get people to share and promote this in any ways possible.
The article by Wilson is an old one, but it is a very good critic of much of the KM literature out there.

 
At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its a few years later and look whats still going strong.unreal

 
At 1:45 AM, Blogger Putcha V. Narasimham said...

Great Article...not sufficiently published / cited.

 

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