Wednesday 11 February 2015

The KM 1.0 myth revisited

On a regular basis we see blog posts or linked-in pronouncements that "KM 1.0 was a failure - better try KM 2.0". 

This is usually a myth. 

Usually the poster is suggesting that the "old, failed KM" was about technology, about "command and control", about collecting information, and about organising content. The "new KM" that they usually espouse is about connecting people, about freedom, about conversation, and (usually nowadays) about social media.

The picture that is pointed of "old KM" is usually wrong, and the picture that is painted of "new KM" is usually incomplete.

If you look back at the beginnings of KM, to where it started, it was not about collection, and not about command and control at all. If you look back to the 90s, you can see the birth of social media in Lotus Notes, you can see the storytelling work done at World Bank, you can see the Communities of Practice at IBM, at Xerox, at Shell.

Almost all the work we did at BP was about Connection rather than Collection - the Communities of Practice, the face-to-face conversations within Peer Assists and After Action Reviews, the Virtual teamworking using the first generation of desktop videoconferencing to bring people into conversation. 

This may be "Old" in historical terms, and it was of course far from perfect, but it was a long long way from the 1.0 caricatures we generally hear about.

Look at the KM textbooks from the 90s;  Prusak and Davenport espousing a common-sense business-led culture-focused approach, Nancy Dixon and her conversation-based processes, Nonaka and the concept of Ba, or social space.

 KM in the 90s was about Connection as much as it was about Collection, if not more. It was about empowerment, not command. It was about conversation, not content. It was about devolution, not centralisation.

The reason why this is important, is that if you write off all KM before a certain date (2005 for example, or 2010) you miss out on all the valuable lessons from the organisations with a long Knowledge Management history - those ones who actually know how it works in the long term. As our survey shows, it is only from embedded KM that the highest value is drawn, and KM can take 8-12 years to embed.

Also New KM is not solely about connecting people and about conversation. Knowledge Management requires a balance between content and conversation, between connecting and collecting. You collect the things that need to be collected, and connect the people who need to be connected. You do both.

I agree that a focus only on content, only on collection, only on monolithic databases, is a Bad Thing if it happens at the expense of connection, conversation, and putting knowledge in the hands of the users.  But this change of focus is not a simple historical progression or evolution, and the myth of "they were wrong and we are smarter" is more than simplistic, it is plain wrong.

The Collect/Connect debate is not a question of 1.0 and 2.0, not a question of old vs new, not a question of traditional versus radical, and not a question of demonising the past and glorifying the future.

It is a debate that is happening now, it is a balance that needs to be drawn in every KM program,  and will always be with us so long as KM continues.

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