Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is Knowledge Management?

bulb Oof! I've been wanting to write about this for some time... There's always been debate on how to define 'knowledge management'. Dave Snowden is one of the big thinkers in this area. He has always been critical of the old-skool knowledge management approaches and definitions. Interestingly the social Internet is showing he has been pretty right all along.

Snowden came up with a definition not too long ago. (I'm not sure it's his first attempt, as Luis Suarez says. At least Snowden implicitly defined what KM is here, for instance.) Here's his definition:

The purpose of knowledge management is to provide support for improved decision making and innovation throughout the organization. This is achieved through the effective management of human intuition and experience augmented by the provision of information, processes and technology together with training and mentoring programmes.

The following guiding principles will be applied

  • All projects will be clearly linked to operational and strategic goals
  • As far as possible the approach adopted will be to stimulate local activity rather than impose central solutions
  • Co-ordination and distribution of learning will focus on allowing adaptation of good practice to the local context
  • Management of the KM function will be based on a small centralized core, with a wider distributed network

Some comments:

  • KM provides support for "improved decision making and innovation". I agree, but I've been thinking: Is this all it supports? Couldn't it support the product creation process for instance? If so, maybe this can be solved by adding 'process' after 'decision making and innovation'.
  • I miss the word 'learning' in this definition. It's in training and mentoring. Maybe these words could be replaced by 'learning'
  • I love the principles. The nice thing about principles is that we almost don't need a definition when we comply to the principles. Small comment on the first principle: I agree with that principle, but can't we go a little deeper there by saying 'All info generated in projects will be clearly linked etc.'?

Mary Abraham has a nice post about this definition as well. After commenting on the principles she says: "In this context, a global KM Czar is going to be superfluous and unwelcome."

I wish this would be true. However I think we will always need someone to coordinate KM because it's human to forget to share, for instance (- "because I'm too busy to share").

To round up this post I'd also like to point to Snowden's presentation for KMIndia about 'Social computing'. It's mostly about the way he works (personal KM!) and uses social tools to share and learn. He restates this 7 principles of KM. He opens the presentation with a great quote:

What's new about the new economy is that work is conversation. (Alan Webber).

It has always been, we just forgot about it for a while. (Dave Snowden)

Very true!

So, what do you think of this definition? Does it describe KM well? What do you miss? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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