Most 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!
"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?
Tags: Definitions, Social Business, Ray Sims, Steve Barth, David Gurteen, David Weinberger, Dave Snowden, Cognitive Edge, Stories, Sharing Stories, Storytelling, Narrative, Nick Milton, Data Management, Information Management, Use Cases, Business Value, Case Studies, Business Cases, Enterprise 2.0, Social Software, Social Networking, Social Computing, Social Media, Collaboration, Communities, Learning, Knowledge Sharing, KM, Knowledge Management, Remote Collaboration, Innovation, Networking, Social Networks, Conversations, Dialogue, Communication, Connections, Relationships, Productivity