Knowledge management: a cult?

March 30, 2007 at 6:00 am 1 comment

pict0027.jpgI have been re-reading Don Watson’s 2003 book Death Sentence, which examines the decline and decay of public language. I remember being irritated by this book when I first read it, largely because it does not follow the structure of a good book (IMHO anyway) ie index; table of contents; headings as signposts etc. I also found the examples he used of how public language is declining repetitive and thought you could read the first 50 pages of this 191 page book, get the gist of things and toss it on the “Read” pile.

However, I recently caught myself uttering such phrases as “optimising learning”; “cultivating a dialogue”; and the classics “deep commitment” and “adding value”. Nothing wrong with these phrases really, but after a week’s worth of presentations, I was reflecting on this sort of ‘managerial speak’. So I went back to Watson’s book, which attacks how managerial language has, like a noxious weed, infected academia, business and politics.

I spent ages trying to find the exact quote I wanted (which is why the lack of an index irritates me so much with this book). Couldn’t find it, so I will have to rely on memory – but Watson said something to the effect that whenever you hear managerial language that utters words like flexibility; strategise; reasonable timeframe; enhancement; value-adding etc – you are in the presence of a cult and he included knowledge management in this (both the term and the discipline). On page 27, he refers to knowledge management as being “…one more mutant form of the managerialism that walks blithely over a whole tradition of Western philosophy, crushing all subtleties and distinctions“.

So I decided to check out some of the terms prevalent in KM literature to see if the discipline can still be accused of spitting out managerial speak. Here are some of the references I found (I’ll protect the innocent by not naming the authors):

  • the optimization of explicit knowledge is achieved by the consolidating and making available of artefacts;
  • an authentic guide for individuals and organizations in coping with the increasingly complex and shifting environment of the modern economy;
  • “Knowledge management has inspired a shift from a transaction to a distributed knowledge management (DKM) perspective on inter-organizational information processing… Each player in the network acquires specific knowledge from other players for decision support”.
  • KM embodies “organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information processing capacity of information technologies” (with synergies and synergistic being particular favourites of managerial speak).

Watson would in fact accuse me of more managerialism because I used bullet points above! again, nothing is wrong with the use of words like ‘artefacts’ or “authentic guide” and most KM practitioners would understand the context. But rather like lawyers had to go through the process of learning Plain English drafting and losing the legalese, so KM practitioners need to keep a vigilant eye on the use of over-hyped and confusing jargon.

Plain English Knowledge Management should use Watson’s book as a text, get out a large red pen and strike out any hint of business speak, otherwise we might soon see a book entitled Death Sentence: The Decay of Knowledge Management.

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Entry filed under: Knowledge Management.

Bibsonomy: a folksonomy Learning 2.0

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. kittu  |  June 11, 2007 at 5:22 am

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