Am I following a fad?

October 8, 2007 at 3:00 am 2 comments

GreeceFor those who have emailed me about what it is I actually do for a living – no, I don’t head up some organisation battling against the loss of privacy in our society; I haven’t written a book on conspiracy theories (although there’s a thought!); and I’m not a member of a UFO club nor have I been abducted by aliens.

My day job is? Knowledge Management (yes, I know horrid term). For 5 years, I have been working with communities of practice in an Australian Government agency. Before that I was a CKO (hated the title – how can you be Chief of Knowledge?) and before that a KM practitioner in a law firm. So…..for those who were wondering, I do still keep my hand in KM and read constantly in the area. But I’d be hard pressed to waffle on daily about KM and I have a lot of other interests that keep me amused on this blog.

But two articles I came across recently are interesting. The first asks whether KM is a fad. Well, actually The Economist Guide to Management Ideas covers 100 fads that have emerged over the last 10 years and KM is in the thick of things.

Now…I get slightly annoyed when I hear or read that KM is a “fad”. What’s faddish about helping people in an organisation gain access to people or stuff that might support them in solving a problem or making sense of their daily environment or gasp…just learning something? Really, it’s a no-brainer. KM is about creating shared meaning by allowing people to tap into all the living, fluid, tacit stuff that’s going on in an organisation: dynamic conversations, stories, social networks. It’s not about stuffing away content into databases that fast become static and useless because they have been divorced from context and meaning.

When I think of fads, I think of Six Sigma. I have never understood Six Sigma’s appeal or its obsession with process improvement, measuring and “best practice” (which is basically kaput once it’s been frozen in time as “best” because things have already moved on). Six Sigma people always remind me of those ninjas in that Japanese TV series I used to watch growing up. A lot of leaping and bouncing about over what I’m not sure. But then I’d be the first to admit I’m not a great supporter of measuring anything even in KM. For me it’s all about the exciting stuff – understanding how people think and come to make decisions; how knowledge flows through informal networks; how people make sense of a complex environment.

So I don’t think I’m involved in some sort of fad – but have a read of this article from The Telegraph and see what you think. And then there’s this article – Knowledge Management: Are you in the Know? – which touches on how to build a knowledge culture by focusing on four things:

  • facilitate communities: people-to-people connections (yep, agree with that)
  • yellow pages: corporate directory of employee expertise (nope, don’t agree with this – waste of time I’ve usually found, but maybe with wikis….)
  • open things up: allow everyone access to the company’s knowledge base (yeah, okay but make sure knowledge is not divorced from context)
  • remember the individual: if you keep track of what individuals know, you’ll be able to spot what they need to know (yes, but remember that we don’t always know what we need to know until we need to know it and even then, we may not know that we need to know it. Hey, is this a Rumsfeldian sentence?!! And poor old Donald. He copped a lot of flak for that quote of his. But if you read it carefully, it’s actually quite profound. He’s talking about the absence of knowledge: ignorance).

I think I’m just in a cranky mood. I get a tad fed up with the navel gazing that can go on about KM and the seemingly endless discussions that take place over what is knowledge; what is KM and so on. It’s simple: KM is not a fad. KM is about looking at the channels through which knowledge flows eg social networks; allowing for serendipidity; working with new perspectives or radically different perspectives; unlocking people’s narratives; observing patterns. It involves the messy stuff – people – which is why databases figure prominently in KM work, because that’s just a piece of technology ergo no mess that gets hands dirty.

Okay, since I’m cranky, I might just go off and finish my review of that nasty, nasty book – The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen. I was half way through my post on it when I became so fed up by this holy roller preaching the gospel of stupidity that I threw the book into a drawer and locked it up! Hope I can find the key….

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Entry filed under: Knowledge Management.

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