E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Defining Knowledge Management and Enterprise 2.0 – Sharing Your Story

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo's SurroundingsMost of the folks out there who know me, and have been following this blog for a while, have probably realised by now how much I dislike definitions, and putting labels on things, in general. Funny enough, that has been like that for quite a while, having gotten started around 2001, when I was first getting exposed to Knowledge Management (KM or Knowledge Sharing, whatever you would prefer) as time and time again I kept bumping into multiple knowledge managers wanting to define it. I am sure that would sound very familiar to plenty of people out there.

Fast forward to 2009 … and we still haven’t come to terms with the fact that we may not be able to define it, after all; at least, that’s what may be coming out after all of what has been written on the topic over the last few months, where KM definitions seem to have peaked up again. Ray Sims made a very brave attempt by managing to compile the whopping number of #62 of them. Yes, 62 different definitions of KM!

Steve Barth ventured, earlier on this year, into putting some very thought-provoking arguments on the need for one, after all, and he shares his favourite one:

"Knowledge management refers to strategies and structures for maximizing the return on intellectual and information resources. KM depends on both cultural and technological processes of creation, collection, sharing, recombination and reuse. The goal is to create new value by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of individual and collaborative knowledge work while increasing innovation and sharpening decision-making"

David Gurteen shared, just recently, another KM definition by David Weinberger, which I am going to take the liberty of quoting over here, since it fits in quite nicely with the direction I am heading for this blog post… and you will see why shortly:

"But the real problem with the information being provided to us in our businesses is that, for all the facts and ideas, we still have no idea what we’re talking about. We don’t understand what’s going on in our business, our market, and our world.

In fact, it’d be right to say that we already *know* way too much. KM isn’t about helping us to know more. It’s about helping us to understand. Knowledge without understanding is like, well, information.”

So, how do we understand things? From the first accidental wiener roast on a prehistoric savannah, we’ve understood things by telling stories. It’s through stories that we understand how the world works"

Getting closer to the real thing, don’t you think? Well, it gets better, because just recently, one of my virtual mentors, someone for whom I have always had the greatest of respects as being one of the fathers of Knowledge Management himself, the fine Dave Snowden, finally, after over 15 years (Perhaps even more!), decided to put together his definition of KM. And he blogged about it under "Defining KM" just a couple of days ago:

"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"

Not bad, eh? Indeed, not bad at all! Both Weinberger’s & Snowden’s definitions of Knowledge Management would probably as good as it gets and it’s just amazing that it’s taken over 15 years (And several dozens of definitions!) to reach this stage! However, has it been worth it? Has it been worth while all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of heated discussions, articles, blog posts, white papers, interviews, podcasts, etc. etc. to reach for that one or two definitions that we would all be happy with? Have we just invested, perhaps, far too much energy, effort and commitment to the cause intro trying to create a label for something that may not have been needed, in the first place?

I know, plenty of food for thought on that one, don’t you think? Here’s the thing though. We may not have invested enough such energy and effort, because nowadays we are just embarking ourselves on, yet again, the same kind of activity, but this time around with a different label, but still dealing with the exact same core principles. Yes, I am talking about the recent Enterprise 2.0 and the on-going (And growing!) discussions on not just how to define it, but also how to re-define it!

Ouchie! It looks like we never seem to learn from the past, don’t we? Here we are again, after 15 years of trying to successfully define Knowledge Management, trying to do the very same thing with Enterprise 2.0. Again! Why don’t we just focus, instead, on the overall message from Snowden’s definition or the last sentence from Weinberger’s: "It’s through stories that we understand how the world works".

Wouldn’t we be so much better off not getting lost in the semantics of trying to nail down what we may never be able to, and instead focus on those stories? I bet things would be so much better for all of us, knowledge workers. After all, we get to share, learn and apply most of our knowledge through the sharing of those very same stories. So what’s stopping us from doing that? Do we prefer, very much so, it seems, the rhetoric of finding a definition of a label we may never get to re-use again? I hope that’s not the case!

At least, I would rather prefer to focus on the stories, on the use cases, on their execution, because somehow I feel I would be able to learn so much more not just from Enterprise 2.0, but from knowledge sharing and collaboration, in general. And I think that’s what matters at the end of the day, don’t you think? If not, have a look into this YouTube video by Nick Milton, who, very successfully, in my opinion, explains very clearly the differences between Data Management, Information Management and Knowledge Management… And he doesn’t use a single definition for each of them. No, he doesn’t. Not a single one!

Instead, he does it by sharing a story we can all learn from and relate to. A story that would help us explain next time around why Data & Information Management are quite different, in substance, from Knowledge Management. Who would have ever thought, right?

Is it still worth while looking for that golden definition, or label, of Enterprise 2.0? Or whatever other term you would want to call it? Not sure what you would think, but perhaps not. Maybe there are many more interesting activities in the 2.0 space that we could focus on and learn the most from. Because learning from definitions, as always, is incredibly limiting. Instead, I doubt we could say the same thing from sharing stories. So, what’s your story?

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Worth while sharing it along?
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29 comments

  1. On my site, archestra, I’m occasionally offering things like KM definitions or descriptions of web 2.0 … here is a recent KM excerpt:

    “For the most part, knowledge is a “resource” and management is a practice that pursues the efficient and effective application of a resource to operational performance requirements. But let’s be far more specific.

    As for distinguishing knowledge from other resources, we like the value-chain model that shows data becoming information through modeling, and information becoming knowledge through practical utilitarian relevance to a context or presumed circumstance.

    In effect, knowledge is a status, not a material — very much similar to “health”. This helps to identify what is at stake when managing it, as well as suggesting what kind of risks accompany neglecting it.”

    If that seems interesting, you might like to visit the site and scan the KM and Web 2.0 items.

  2. ROAD MAPPING THE IMPLICATIONS IN TREATING KNOWLEDGE AS SUBJECT

    For the first time Knowledge is treated as subject already behaving as ‘Having Consciousness – Dynamic – Free Will (Mind plus Value) – Active, contrary to Information which is still as Object – Static – Pasive

    Some implications will be noted. First, defining KM will be somewhat different as follow : KM is the staging of Human Enlightment process – The process is to managing the transformation of Information content into Knowledge and beyond – The goals are towards Learning, Growth and Innovation – The management should leveraged by KM Standards, KM Tools and KM Process Framework. Second, human born as Knowledge process. Third, KM is an access mechanism that can be used across any management tool type. Fourth, there is analogy of Human Body Genome with organizational KM. Fifth, the real Epistemology and Ontology of KM could be found and KM hypothetically could becoming ‘Theory of Everything’ (TOE) in Management sciences. This in turn will give new amazing implications

    We’ve developed the roadmap of the implications above mentioned. You could follow the roadmap through the Link http://mobeeknowledge.ning.com/forum/topics/road-mapping-the-implications – ‘ROAD MAPPING THE IMPLICATIONS IN TREATING KNOWLEDGE AS SUBJECT’

    Regards,

    Dr Md Santo
    • E-mail : moesdar@gmail.com
    • URL http://mobeeknowledge.ning.com (currently 322 members from 22 countries)
    • Follow me on Twitter : http://twitter.com/md_santo
    • Connect with me on Linkedin : http://www.linkedin.com/in/bluemoonmobee
    • Add me as a friend on Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=566704069&ref=profile

  3. I like the way this topic is moving from blog to blog, like those dinners Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald hosted, where they ate each course at a different restuarant. But I still I think everybody is afraid to walk up to the elephant in the room.

    Nick Milton tells a good story about what it means to possess knowledge. Knowledge enables us to interpret information and act on it. There’s a lovely phrase “taking something into account” which reminds us that before accounting was a numbers game, it was about storytelling, and it was about being accountable to one’s colleagues.

    When we talk about KM, we invoke a management function that sits between knowledge and the people who act on it. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, I’d say, if it treats knowledge as a status or a resource. What matters above all, is the quality of managers’ performances and decision making.

    Gregory House may be the best doctor in the world, but when he examines a patient, how much knowledge does he take into account? And what does KM do to improve that?

    1. Luis, I love your blog. Es muy interesante y me hace pensar mucho!

      I am wondering (out loud) if when we are all able to let go of the need to define KM or KS whether we will then understand it on a deeper level. I think when we do (let go of the need to define it), we will be practicing knowledge sharing without having to think about it…it will then be second nature to us.

      I am just trying to come to terms with how to inspire knowledge sharing in a organizational culture that is suspicious of anything KM related…any advice greatly appreciated! 🙂

  4. I love David Gurteen’s cake metaphor, on data, information and knowledge, and it is a story I tell over and over:

    “An analysis of its molecular constituents is data – for most purposes not very useful – you may not even be able to tell it were a cake. A list of ingredients is information – more useful – an experienced cook could probably make the cake – the data has been given context. The recipe though would be knowledge – written knowledge – explicit knowledge – it tells you how-to make the cake. An inexperienced cook however, even with the recipe might not make a good cake. A person, though, with relevant knowledge, experience, and skill – knowledge in their heads – not easily written down – tacit knowledge – would almost certainly make an excellent cake from the recipe.”

    From: http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/ksculture

  5. Many good thoughts and perspectives in this post! Lots of stuff to steal 😉

    I personally like to think of knowledge management as the fostering of an environment where people who choose to do something together (enterprises) can discover, create, exchange and retain any knowledge that is somehow relevant to their shared purpose.

  6. All too often, the debate gets caught up in what the technology must be rather than how it must be used.

    This happened in debates about blogs and wikis too. See What is a Blog? A Wiki? – http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Blog372

    And, as you discuss here, the definition of KM 2.0 and E2.0 are always changing and up for debate. I think what’s important is the ideas, like emergence and its role, vs. how the word “emergence” shows up in the definition. See Structuring for Emergence – http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Blog1130

  7. For the need to have a definition for Enterprise 2.0 and Knowledgemangent,

    Coming from a person who just started on KM and E2.0 work, it is required as it helps shape and scope the domain for the learner and helps the person learning journey. However with so many definitions it can be quite confusing for the learner.

    From the perspective of getting work done, I do favour story telling as it is through it that we share our experience and knowledge and learn from there so as get our work done in a more effective and efficient manner.

    Do let me know if I make sense here. I just started my enjoying and for now enjoy getting lost in it for there is so much to learn.

  8. Responding to Sunny —

    As for the learner – It helps to understand the range of definitions and how people view the problems solved by E2.0 and KM 2.0 approaches.

    As for the end-user: I think they shouldn’t have to consider these issues at all. They should load up a system and do their work. My best customers don’t call TeamPage a “blog” or “wiki” – its their “Intelligence Central” or “Project Dashboard.” They understand it as a solution rather than a technology.

    Jordan

  9. You’d think Knowledge Management (KM), that venerable IT-based social engineering discipline which came up with evocative phrases like “community of practice,” “expertise locater,” and “knowledge capture,” would be in the vanguard of the 2.0 revolution. You’d be wrong. Inside organizations and at industry fora today, every other conversation around social media (SM) and Enterprise 2.0 seems to turn into a thinly-veiled skirmish within an industry-wide KM-SM shadow war.

  10. I’m not sure how much irony was intended in Business management’s comment, but I’d like to remind people that “Communities of Practice” were being didcussed many years before KM (Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger published in 1991, I think).

    Also, this year marks the 10th anniversary of Swan, Scarborough and Preston’s paper “Knowledge Management – the Next Fad to Forget People?” Time for sober reflection, perhaps.

  11. I would like to comment that Knowledge management refers to strategies and structures for maximizing the return on intellectual and information resources. KM depends on both cultural and technological processes of creation, collection, sharing, recombination and reuse. The goal is to create new value by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of individual and collaborative knowledge work while increasing innovation and sharpening decision-making.

  12. To add to the mix of definitions is that Knowledge Management is applied differntly by Support, Government, Law and Enterprise practitioners. If we took the 63 definitions and conducted polls amongst the four groups, a different winner will bubble to the surface for each. At the help desk, we try to capture the knowledge and reuse by agent or end user. Following the Knowledge Centered Support methodology, the agent and end user are just quickly moving through the motions and are not expected to retain the knowledge. The knowledge is wrapped with tagging, metadata, controls, etc. to maintain its functionality to both the end user and the business. Anyone out there know of good reading which discusses the subtle differences between the groups? Cheers, Matt

  13. To add to the mix of definitions is that Knowledge Management is applied differntly by Support, Government, Law and Enterprise practitioners. If we took the 63 definitions and conducted polls amongst the four groups, a different winner will bubble to the surface for each. At the help desk, we try to capture the knowledge and reuse by agent or end user. Following the Knowledge Centered Support methodology, the agent and end user are just quickly moving through the motions and are not expected to retain the knowledge. The knowledge is wrapped with tagging, metadata, controls, etc. to maintain its functionality to both the end user and the business. Anyone out there know of good reading which discusses the subtle differences between the groups? Cheers, Matt

    Matt Haggerty
    Read my blog: http://www.ridgehead.com/blog
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