I have been a KM consultant and practitioner since 1993. That's a long time, but I am happy to say that I have helped many clients in different industries, and quite different cultures, all around the world, implement successful and sustainable KM initiatives.
Yet, just last week, I was speaking at the KM UK 2011 conference in London. It was attended by a broad selection of experienced practitioners, consultants and people new to KM. At that conference I attended a Knowledge Cafe, run by David Gurteen, and he posed the question for discussion 'It can be argued that KM has failed to live up to its expectations over the past 15 years and has not delivered the business value promised. Why is this?
As a proud and passionate KM professional, I never like to hear of KM as a failure at any time, especially when it can deliver such extraordinary results to an organization, but I am, at the same time, acutely aware of much 'overselling' of KM as a technology, or KM as a silver bullet, and I do greatly respect the concerns of my fellow practitioners and peers like David Gurteen.
I guess that the biggest mistake that I make is in assuming that we all have the same understanding of KM, as novices and even amongst experienced practitioners and consultants who may choose to specialize rather than generalize.
And I often make the great mistake of assuming that everybody knows what KM is! I forget that, each year, many people are totally new to KM and very keen to learn.
The No 1, most popular section of my website www.knowledge-management-online.com is, by far, people searching from all over the world for an understandable definition of 'knowledge managemen'. This is followed, in popularity, by the section 'What is KM?'. So I should know better.
I gave a quick answer at the Knowledge Cafe that a key problem is the language that we use. Everybody understands and nobody argues about the importance of better managing our knowledge, but as soon as we say 'knowledge management' people tend to say, 'is it a system or software? can you do KM to us? etc.
A simple reordering of the words 'management' and 'knowledge', can change the perception and understanding entirely.
I often get the same confusion from seminar delegates with the words information and knowledge. People still often argue about differences between 'learning organizations' and 'knowledge based and knowledge driven organizations'. And, increasingly today, I get lots of questions asked in my workshops about new knowledge and innovation.
I left the London KMUK 2011 conference somewhat frustrated, as I think there is so much great work that has been done,and so much work yet to be done to bring about effective knowledge driven organizations with increasingly productive knowlede working.
I flew from London to Singapore, to spend a week with clients who are so keen to improve the way they manage their learning and knowledge.
I always start a new client engagement with assessing and developing their common understanding of KM or whatever they prefer to call it, and the words they prefer to use. I use a simple tool to demystify the jargon and start talking about KM in words we all understand.
I offer the essence of it here. This should work for you, if you are experiencing difficulties and misunderstandings. But you may agree or disagree with this. Please let me know your thoughts.
I strongly believe that a key problem for KM is the way we use our language.
So I call this tool 'From the management of knowledge to effective knowledge management and innovation'.
1. We communicate 'information' to one another. We do this verbally and through the use of a variety of information and communication tools and technologies (ICT). We inform others and we become better informed.
2. 'Learning' is the process of turning information into knowledge. The information we receive may be 'intellectual' such as listening or reading, or it may be 'experiential' such as 'learning whilst working/acting. We learn through our senses by filtering, analysing and synthesizing the new learning's with our existing knowledge.
3. 'Knowledge' resides within us. It is a human phenomena. We can call this knowledge within us our 'tacit' knowledge, and when we externalise it through communicating to others, it may be called our knowledge that is made explicit.
4. Our 'explicit knowledge' is information to others, unless they already know. It becomes part of their synthesized knowledge when they have performed the learning process.
5. Information can be communicated in seconds. Knowledge takes time through learning.
6. Collaboration (co-labouring) is working together as a team towards achieving a common mission, goal or objective. We can learn to effectively collaborate.
7. Managing knowledge effectively, which is about identifying critical knowledge areas that will make a 'big difference', capturing and synthesizing new learning's and ideas, retaining knowledge, transferring or sharing knowledge, and applying knowledge to make the best decisions, requires the best communications, collaboration, learning and knowledge strategies, processes, methods tools and techniques.
This may be called 'knowledge management'
8. We must manage our knowledge at the personal, team, organizational and inter-organizational levels, to bring about 'effective knowledge management'. For each of the four levels, we must learn how to effectively communicate, collaborate, learn, share and apply our knowledge. We must learn 'why, what, who, how, where and when' for each of the four levels. For many organizations, this may be called 'extraordinary knowledge management'.
9. The 'Four Dimensions of Knowledge Management' is a framework to bring about extraordinary knowledge management. This can be used to help organizations to 'mainstream knowledge management'.
10. A natural outcome from effective knowledge management is innovation. Mainstreaming knowledge management will bring about 'mainstreamed innovation'.
After presenting the 10 commands in a KM workshop, delegates are then given the opportunity to discuss the use of these words, and my suggested definitions.
So far, many have said that it has helped them considerably to demystify KM and to realise, teach, and bring, about a common understanding of the term Knowledge Management, or another more suitable term for them, based on these principles.
I have no doubt that effective knowledge management will bring about extraordinary results for organizations, and I look forward to the prospect of a Knowledge Cafe in the future that will discuss extraordinary knowledge management and innovation.