Thursday 10 January 2013

In defence of the "management" part of KM - Tom Davenport

The terminology debate has been part of Knowledge Management since Knowledge Management began, with many companies and individuals preferring not to use the term. I have been an unapologetic supporter of the term "Knowledge Management", and much prefer it to proposed alternatives such as Knowledge Sharing, for a whole number of reasons.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find this 2008 blog post by no less a heavyweight than Tom Davenport, who has the same view. I quote a couple of extracts
"I do have a problem with overly simplistic characterizations of knowledge management, and management more generally. .... The term "management" is apparently a synonym for "command and control," and we know that's bad. "Command and control" is top-down, mean and nasty, and headed for extinction; "sharing" is bottom-up, nice and friendly, and the wave of the future. Maybe the Yale School of Management, for example, should become the Yale School of Sharing"
....if your organization really cares about creating, distributing (I'm sorry--"sharing"), and applying knowledge, you need to manage it. The last time I checked, "management" of knowledge could include some relatively structured, "here's the knowledge we really need to do our jobs right" approaches, as well as some more emergent, Enterprise 2.0-oriented ones. If you only do the former, your knowledge workers will probably feel a bit stifled; if you only do the latter, things will probably feel a bit chaotic".
So, I am with Tom on this one. People who object to the term Knowledge Management are often objecting to the term management itself, and seeing it as a synonym for "command and control". However, as Tom concludes, "The world of management is much more subtle and multi-faceted, and any synonyms for it should reflect that complexity".

Stereotyping Management as "Scary Command and Control" is as daft as stereotyping Sharing as "Cute Fluffy and Cuddly".


Unknown said...

Yeah, completely agree with you there Nick! I hate that some seem to want to pick a fight over the term and often because of a belief that you can't "manage" knowledge. I've blogged on this one myself. I've got three management degrees and I seemingly have no problem with the concept. You manage people and process, both places where knowledge exists. For someone to say you can't "manage knowledge" is akin to wanting to nit over whether you can "manage" a project as I'm pretty sure that you're also managing people and process there as well. I recall Tom's post on this quite well, and have tossed that back at some of the "thought leaders" who think that KM is nearly evil as a term. But it does seem that they lack a fundamental understanding of what management is all about.

Dr. Dan Kirsch, CPC, CKM, MKMP, CKMI
KMPro President / CEO &
Chairman of the Board of Directors

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Dan

Candace said...

I must disagree. As a librarian, my problem with the term has always been with the word "knowledge." We don't manage knowledge, we manage information. Knowledge is a much more existential concept. Knowing something is of a very personal nature. What I know cannot be managed by my firm's organizational tool.

Candace said...

I must disagree. As a librarian, my problem with the term has always been with the word "knowledge." Knowledge is a more existential and personal concept. What I know cannot be managed by my firm's organizational tools. We manage information.

Nick Milton said...

Candace, I think if all you are doing is managing information, then why not call it information management? Or even librarianship (a term with a long and honourable pedigree)?

Knowledge management should go beyond information, and focus on know-how. Knowledge management is the management discipline that focuses on ensuring people have the know-how they need to deliver the results needed. What you know can be discovered, enhanced, shared, improved and applied with the help of various management systems, supports and interventions. It's not the same as information management.

Led Zec said...

Good thoughts Nick.

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