National Knowledge Management Research meeting "Made in Holland" (12)

Daan Andriessen (Kenniskring Intellectual Capital, Hogeschool INHOLLAND): Metaphors for knowledge

Daan started out by say we used 159 metaphors for knowledge during this meeting. Examples are: knowledge sharing, flows, etc.! Daan is inspired by the “Conceptual Metaphor Theory” of Lakoff & Johnson. The use of metaphors is largely unconscious and they direct our thinking. Knowledge as abstract concept is primarily conceptualized by metaphor. It’s the only way we can talk about knowledge.

When comparing the used of metaphors in knowledge management literature they found that:
- in the Western world (e.g. work by Davenport and Prusak) knowledge is used as an object, as a resource.
- On the other hand, in the Eastern/Asian world (e.g. work by Nonaka & Takeuchi) knowledge is used as thoughts or feelings, as an organism.

So they wondered: What is the effect of metaphors on the discourse about knowledge management in organizations? Based on a workshop with managers and one with employees, they could analyze its differences and similarities.

Conclusions based on these workshops are:
- The choice of the metaphor strongly directs the conversation about KM.
- ‘Thingification’ of knowledge provides handles for controlling it and is in the interest of managers.
- Those that determine the metaphors have the power and they can use it for their means.

- KM literature should adopt alternative metaphors to humanize and ‘decontrolize’ organization.


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