Is Knowledge Management dead or alive and how do you know?

Is Knowledge Management dead or alive and how do you know?

First, three questions:

  1. How are you looking at Knowledge Management?
  2. How are you measuring impact, results and return?
  3. Are you ready for emerging forms of measurement related to interconnectedness/integration/interdependence within the organisation that could pronounce Knowledge Management to be dead when all the while you thought it was alive?

Now, Imagine Knowledge Management as a cat:

cat-1465317902o9rYou put the cat in a sealed steel box with a sample of radioactive material, a Geiger counter, a hammer and a tube of cyanide, and you leave them together for 60 minutes. The radioactive material is so small that it only has a 50/50 chance of being detected by the Geiger counter but if it is detected the Geiger counter will trigger the hammer to smash the tube of cyanide and the cat will die. You then wait for an hour. Because you cannot see the cat or sense its life signs, the cat, during this period of sixty minutes, according to the Copenhagen experiment, is said to be in a Superposition of being both dead and alive at the same time. You won’t actually know if it is dead or alive until you open the box and apply a measurement to determine its actual state.

***For those of you about to reach for the keyboard to write a rebuttal… Yes, this is Schrodinger’s cat and, yes, the point of Schrodinger’s thought experiment was to use a cat to debunk the Copenhagen experiment, in that large objects, such as cats, cannot be both alive and dead at the same time. But just go with the flow for me…

The point I am trying to make is that all too often Knowledge Management exists as the cat in the steel box. Knowledge Managers, to say nothing of the wider organisation, have no idea if the function is actually dead or alive – perhaps the wider organisation is not even aware that the function exists. In many cases, it is not until a form of measurement is applied against Knowledge management activities that its existence can be verified and its state (alive or dead) can be determined.

It is the form of measurement that becomes of interest, where Einstein might say that the actual state is relative and, therefore, perhaps Knowledge Management (the cat) is both alive and dead. For example, if you look at Knowledge Management in a micro state (a single small project) it might be seen to be alive. But, if you look at the macro state (the wider organisation view) the view might be that it is dying, if not already dead, and should be put out of its misery.

Relativity becomes important here. In my experience, one of the problems with Knowledge Management is that the value of Knowledge Management is over-estimated by Knowledge Managers. Returning to Schrodinger’s Cat, Knowledge Management practitioners/consultants believe that the cat is alive, purely because they will it to be so and, even when the box is opened and the function subjected to new measurement (e.g. the level of KM interconnectedness within the organisation), they fight any pronouncement of death. In the meantime, the stench of decay puts people off from even looking at the cat in the first place.

So over to you, is Knowledge Management dead or alive and how do you know?

2 thoughts on “Is Knowledge Management dead or alive and how do you know?

  1. Very good point David, I ask myself that question every day. How much am I contributing to my company’s value by managing the knowledge?
    I use flowcharts, swimlanes, etc to explain how work is done in a transactional environment but also explain bottlenecks and even “black holes”. By proposing different paths we can measure improvement (basically, continuous improvement techniques) but it is difficult to justify some of top management activities and you don’t want to bite that hand that feeds you…Is the investment in Knowledge networks really paying off? A meeting of 20 people from different points of the globe cannot be seen in the next months P&L. The ROI might never happen and sometimes these activities are considered as Industrial Tourism but they can also be seen as the reason why we are keeping talents and people like their working environment.
    Again, KM is challenging because it is not obvious…For people that would like more “causality” in their work, “action/reaction” type of job can always become accountants or a wall painters, I guess…

  2. There are so much controversies regarding KM as organizational asset and I understand how it can be difficult for some to recognize the value of KM at first. However, as one looks deeply into ROI and the human and technology factors behind of decision making and creativity versus productivity, it becomes so evident to me that KM initiatives is critical for a superior flow of information and knowledge production. The challenge regarding information and knowledge sharing can be dramatically minimized with effective organizational support and well engaged staffs who will: 1-easily access information, 2-energetically share information, 3-enthusiastically present new ideas and demonstrate creatives ways of performing a task, 4-trust co workers and supervisors, collaborating for a workplace of trusting and cooperation. Those are some measurable example in how KM makes the difference in organizations
    It is can be problematic, specially in a workplace dealing with high level of conflicts, resistance to change, Low morale, etc It is durable. It is tangible. It is critical factor for competitiveness
    KM is pretty much alive whether we recognize it or not. In fact, environments that tend to ignore its importance appears to be where it is more necessary
    Organizations – leaders MUST be able to understand that information technology alone will not resolve most of the organizational problems or accomplish organizational goals IT is part of the the complex information management program which involves people and processes and how those factors are correlated…

Leave a Reply