Wednesday, 11 February 2009

An old idea in new clothes?

My friend and former colleague Vince Polley maintains a blog on Cyber-Law, and KM aspects of the legal world. He cites a webcast from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where Professor McAfee of HBS gives an hour-long talk on Web 2.0

Now Vince has been working with Knowledge Management since the late 90s, initially with the major international service company, Schlumberger, and he knows a thing or two about knowledge management. His comment to me, regarding this webcast, is that "Essentially, the “Enterprise 2.0” processes he’s so taken with are the fundamental knowledge-management processes we’ve been working with since the late 1990s: expertise locators, Communities of Practice, team reinforcement techniques, and the like......I was struck by his apparent sense that these are new and that companies are at the threshold of fundamentally different ways of operating".

I agree with Vince. There seems to be a lot of talk about "New KM", or "KM is dead, Web 2.0 is the future", yet when you strip away the hype, the issues are the same as those we have been working with for over a decade; How do you get people to want to collaborate, to want to share, to want to learn, and then how do you give them the structure within which that can happen? We have learned the lessons of the past, that technology is part of the answer but is not the whole answer. Lotus Notes did not deliver KM on its own; Intranets and Search Engines did not deliver KM on their own; Sharepoint will not deliver KM on its own; Web 2.0 will not deliver KM on its own. New clothes can certainly brighten up an old idea, but we must be wise enough not to mistake the clothes for the content.

To all of you who are looking at Knowledge Management, and are excited by the new possibilities and the new technologies, I would say - "Excitement is great, there are some exciting possibilities around, but don't forget to learn before you leap". What you read and what you hear is not all of it as new as it seems, and there are a lot of lessons from the past that you can incorporate, to ensure that your Knowledge Management efforts do not repeat old mistakes and reproduce old failures, but build on what has been shown to deliver long-term success.

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