Dec 12

The Coming Shift in Knowledge

 There is little new to Knowledge Management, right?

I mean, we have been doing it for more than 50 years, since Peter Drucker “invented” the term knowledge worker.  We know what it is, how to use it, what it demands, and what the results are; we have seen most of the challenges and issues and found lessons learned, best practices, and even fortunate discovery (fine, let’s call it serendipity) in some cases.

Who doesn’t know how to do Knowledge Management well?

Funny you should ask…

Even though we had it for over 50 years[1], modern KM solutions have only been around since the early 1990s[2].  Even then, as early as 1997[3] we were already writing about the reasons they failed, with the latest crop of scholarly articles about these same reasons coming out as late as 2010[4].  The reasons for the failure are myriad, have not changed much, and not the purpose for this post (you can read them in the articles linked above). Bottom line is that a whooping 62% of respondents to a survey on KM I recently completed are not sure that their KM initiatives are delivering the results they want.

How is this possible?

The problem is not KM as a discipline; the problem comes down to implementation.  In spite of the five-layer model (Rubenstein, Montano, et al)[5] for KM implementation, there are three variables that affect it constantly:

  1. Source of Knowledge – this is one of the most complex parts of knowledge management, actually.  It is not as if knowledge is born structured, self-advertised to be knowledge, or easily available.  Sometimes it is stored in some sort of repository (data, documents, assorted information storage) and sometimes it is in someone’s head.  Sometime the source is known, sometimes it is not.  The advent of social media and online communities made it even more cumbersome to know what it is, where does it come from, and how to tap into it.  The coming shift in knowledge management is based mostly on this.
  2. Storage and Maintenance of Knowledge – I am fond of saying that knowledge decays at a rate of 50% for every minute it exists.  It is a tongue-in-cheek way to say that we cannot hold on to what we think is knowledge for too long, and storing it is not the most important part: maintaining it.  The speed at which we generate data (And eventually knowledge) these days has compounded this problem: there are instances where knowledge is not even stored and is already obsolete.  We need to find better ways to maintain, store, and find knowledge at speeds never before used – this is a large challenge.
  3. Use of Knowledge – My favorite part of KM is not defining, finding, creating, storing, or maintaining knowledge these days (those were the good old days) but rather using it.  The core difference we will experience in the next five years with KM is going to come down to the change from knowledge-in-storage to knowledge-in-use.  Faster, better, cheaper methods to find, generated, store, and maintain KM systems are either here already or on the way – but the way we use knowledge has not changed as much.  We need to find a better value-based model for using knowledge that justifies the other process, and most organizations are not there yet.  This will be a core challenge for organizations that are tackling KM projects.

These three variables not only affect established KM solutions, but organizations that are iterating through existing ones.  If your organization has a KM system in place I can almost guarantee that some of the following questions have come up recently:

  1. How do we identify knowledge? Subject matter experts?
  2. How do we store it so we can more easily and rapidly access it?
  3. How do we discover new needs and how do we integrate into our KM strategy?
  4. What is KM? (perennial favorite)
  5. How can we ensure that Knowledge authors remain engaged to maintain what they create?
  6. How do we work with SME to ensure they remain engaged with your KM systems?

These are among the many questions you are facing – and we want to begin to provide answers.  Thanks to my friends at Stone Cobra sponsoring my research on this matter, I am going to provide some answers, some case studies, some lessons we learned, and some research on this matter.  I am also going to provide more questions for you to ask, I promise.

I am embarking on a 6-part (initially, until I find more to cover) series on the coming Shift in KM: how we use  it, how we leverage it, and how we generate value from it.  Will also discuss the challenges and issues I find along the way, and how to overcome them.  Finally, will provide you with a vision of where it needs to be to serve its purposes.  The purpose is to not just find the reasons for failure, but how to prevent them and turn them around, and how to drive success in KM initiatives.

Please bring your questions, your comments, and your collaboration as we look at KM for the next generation.  To get started, what do you think should be covered in this series? Any big questions I am missing? Anything else you’d like to see covered?