Knowledge Management

What is Knowledge Management?

Concepts are best defined from how people use them. So let me try to define Knowledge Management by looking at what people in this field are doing.

Both among KM-vendors (researchers and consultants) and KM-users (read short descriptions of what companies and other practitioners are doing) there seem to be two tracks of activities – and two levels.

Track KM = Management of Information. Researchers and practitioners in this field tend to have their education in computer and/or information science. They are involved in construction of informatiom management systems, AI, reengineering, group ware etc. To them Knowledge = Objects that can be identified and handled in information systems.
This track is new and is growing very fast at the moment, assisted by new developments in IT.

Track KM = Management of People. Researchers and practitioners in this field tend to have their education in philosophy, psychology, sociology or business/management. They are primarily involved in assessing, changing and improving human individual skills and/or behaviour. To them Knowledge = Processes, a complex set of dynamic skills, knowhow etc, that is constantly changing. They are traditionally involved in learning and in managing these competencies individually – like psychologists – or on an organisational level – like philosophers, sociologists or organisational theorists.
This track is very old, and is not growing so fast.

Level: Individual Perspective. The focus in research and practise is on the individual.
Level: Organisational Perspective.The focus in research and practice is on the organisation.

Even if this grid is to oversimplify things, there are paradigmatic differences in our understanding of what knowledge is.
The researchers and practitioners in the “Knowledge = Object” column tend to rely on concepts from Information Theory in their understanding of Knowledge.
The researchers and practitioners in the column “Knowledge = Process” tend to take their concepts from philosophy or psychology or sociology.
Because of their different origins, the two tracks use different languages in their dialogues and thus tend to confuse each other when they meet.

I would label myself as an “Organisation Theorist”. My own managerial experience and research are in how managers of organisations which produce and sell only knowledge manage their intangible assets. I call them “Knowledge Organisations”, and I have used epistemology for understanding what knowledge is. To me Knowledge Management is: The art of creating value from an organisation’s Intangible Assets.

To help managers learn how to create value I have developed a simulation for managing Knowledge Organisations and a tool for measuring and presenting intangible assets, the Intangible Assets Monitor.

Now, you….

…. might be interested in finding out how epistemology can help for understanding what tacit knowledge is.
….might like to understand how the two concepts Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital are related?
…. might like to learn more about the history of Knowledge Management. It has been elegantly charted by Debra M. Amidon Rogers.
….learn more about what the actors are doing in the field of Knowledge Management. I have collected a number of mini descriptions below.
After those small detours, you will probably realise that your company is already managing knowledge, albeit not quite so consciously and not structured in this way. This is a very important insight. Knowledge has been “managed” at least since the first human learned to transfer the skill to make a fire. Many early initiatives to transfer skills and information can be labeled “Knowledge Management”, libraries being one, schools and apprenticeships others. Librarians, teachers and master craftsmen can be called knowledge managers. Later database managers were added to the list. Today’s new professions include Chief Knowledge Officers, Knowledge Engineers, Intellectual Capital Directors and Intellectual Capital Controllers.

A 2×2 grid might look like this:

Knowledge Management

Track/Level Knowledge = Object Knowledge = Process
Organisation Level “Re-engineers” “Organisation Theorists”
Individual Level “AI-specialists” “Psychologists”