An account on how one can be attracted by the amazingly huge topic of knowledge, and how it defines us.
Knowledge. What a broad topic. The knowledge that we get, the one that we share, the one that we create, the one that defines us, we, as human beings. No wonder why this topic, for eons of time, has aroused so much interest from philosophers to distinguished intellectuals, psychologist, educators and later on, managers and knowledge workers. The rather abstract and undefined topic called “knowledge management” also professionally (if not affectionately) known as KM is one of the many branches that was born out of this universal tree. It is on this branch that I sit (hopefully on the right side), observing the incredible numerous extensions it provides and leads on to.
The first time I’ve heard about KM was shortly a few years after I had earned a Degree in Librarianship, Documentation & Archives in the late nineties. Freshly enrolled as a research assistant at the Geneva’s Business School within the Information Sciences department, I was required to take part in a National research project about Business Intelligence and Information monitoring* and expected to test several software agents. Wearing the hat of an Information broker, I remember how much I loved to look for information ‘out there’ in the world very wide web, thrilled by all the knowledge available since the Internet started to significantly grow.
It is at that time that I discovered the concept of Knowledge Management. While Information monitoring mainly focuses on what is external to the organisation’s informational environment, KM focuses more on the knowledge which is already available (but unfortunately often overlooked) within the organisation, and within people’s minds. Whether it relates to people’s expertise, the organisation’s best practices (and failures), or the archives, KM intends to foster the valuable knowledge generated by its own employees, allowing the organisation to improve its performance and evolve.
This change of paradigm triggered my curiosity, for two main reasons. Firstly from a managerial point of view and as a young professional, I’ve had already quite a few occasions to be frustrated by the realization that a lot of organisational resources seemed to be invested outside the institution in the sake of solving internal problems (by enrolling expensive consultants, buying brand new IT tools implying supplementary trainings, etc.), while ignoring the fact that some of the solutions were probably available within the organisation itself, and therefore less costly (in terms of time, money, or human resources). Secondly and from a personal point of view, this approach of valuing knowledge resonated with something incremented far more deep inside myself, echoing with a life’s philosophical approach to which I felt close to for many years: that knowledge (if not wisdom) was a hidden gem that needed to be discovered and seen in order to shine and therefore be used and shared (which could obviously only bring a lot of positive outcomes). But how can you look for a hidden treasure, if you’re not even aware that it exist?
As the authors O’Dell & Grayson (1998) summarized it very well: “If only we knew what we know.“ Indeed, how paradoxical it is that organisations that produce knowledge, aren’t usually aware of its intrinsic value (!). This leads us to one of the numerous obstacles that prevents KM to be implemented within an organisation: on the first place, one needs to be aware (preferably the manager) that there is indeed a valuable knowledge that is generated by the employees, secondly, that knowledge can be managed and that there are plenty of good reasons to do so (outcomes), and finally – and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of it – that one needs to understand what ‘knowledge’ means…
This is one of the many reasons why I’ve got interested in KM, not mentioning yet (but soon in another post), the hidden motivation I have towards knowledge sharing
*Information monitoring rather focus on the information which is available outside the organisation, whether it concerns the actual or potential concurrent, partners, new trends, forecasted political or juridical laws, or what media say about the organisation itself for instance. This information gathered, selected, sorted, analyzed, summarized and then communicated to the ‘client’ (usually the management team), will often help the managers to take important decisions that will inevitably have an impact on the organisation’s strategical objectives. This information is therefore characterized as being of high added-value and require the expertise of information professionals and appropriate tools.