Reports of the death of KM are greatly exaggerated

There’s a dialogue going on, over on the AOK list which has become [my paraphrase] “Is knowledge management dead, dying or actually bursting chock-full of life?” No prizes for which side I’m on and, to be honest, most of the contributors are on too.

My take on this is that Knowledge Management is about as “dead” as Scientific Management was for a great deal of the last century – ie its time as a management fad was finished, but it continued to form the basis of the best thinking about how to run organisations for long after people saw themselves as practitioners of Scientific Management.

For me, the trouble is that we haven’t quite shaken that off – many of the ideas inherent in that approach have become so entrenched in the collective psyche that we still think that management is about control, efficiency and productivity (as in the ratio of outputs to inputs) and that the organisations are actually huge machines, not groups of people at all. There is another way – it’s a bit messy, it doesn’t necessarily conform to our ideas of what a management discipline is, but the ways of working that together we’ve come to call Knowledge Management are the only ways that organisations can continue to thrive as the emphasis of what we do has shifted from industry and manual labour to brain work.

That’s why I started talking here about Kmanagement (the K is silent). It really is just about management of knowledge-based organisations and I do believe that much of the pain we feel at work (anyone not feel pain? – hurrah for you!) is down to us knowing that the old methods don’t work, but not knowing what would.

I think the implications fall into three areas:

  • the changes for individuals in the way that they work and learn (Personal Knowledge Management)
  • the changes for those who lead organisations in the way that they carry out their role (Enterprise Knowledge Management)
  • and

  • the new social institutions that are needed to work alongside commercial organisations to supply their needs and look after those who work in them
  • But social institutions may be for another day’s discussion. Thank goodness there are so many excellent brains working on how to make this all work out for the best.