Wednesday 28 August 2019

Why "Knowledge Sharing" doesn't work as an alternative title for KM

Many people prefer to use the term "Knowledge Sharing" instead of "Knowledge Management". However as a synonym "Knowledge Sharing" is inadequate and misleading. 

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I know lots of people prefer the term Knowledge Sharing, but sharing is only one element of KM. There are at least four other major elements of Knowledge Management in addition to sharing, and a focus only on sharing does not deliver the full potential of KM.

I think people prefer the team "knowledge sharing" for three reasons;

  1. Sharing is a softer word than management (it rhymes with Caring, after all), and people sometimes distrust the concept of management (unnecessarily, I believe) 
  2. Sharing is a concept that fits more neatly with social tools
  3. There is an oft-repeated opinion that because Knowledge is intangible, then it cannot be managed, and that the term "Knowledge Management is therefore an oxymoron.
I deal with the linguistic argument in my post  "why knowledge management is not an oxymoron"(there are plenty of management disciplines that cover intangibles, and if KM is an oxymoron, then so are risk management, safety management etc), and I defend the Management term here.

However even if the term "knowledge sharing" is easier on the ear, it still doesn't suffice. Knowledge sharing is only one component of KM, and there are at least four other main areas of Knowledge Management which need to be considered. These are as follows.

Knowledge Creation

Before Knowledge can be shared, it has to be created. Knowledge Management deals with the creation in three ways. The first is through Innovation. Process and roles for innovation need to be part of your Knowledge Management framework.

The second approach is team reflection. Processes such as After Action Review and Retrospect lead a team to reflect on performance, reflect on experience, and identify new knowledge. Processes such as these lead individuals to become conscious of their knowledge, and allow the team to collectively make sense of what has happened. These KM processes allow us to know what we know, and if we don't know what we know, we can't share it.

The third process is to use experts working with AI and/or with big data sets, to spot new correlations and to infer meaning and new knowledge from these.

If you focus only on Knowledge Sharing, you lose focus on Knowledge Creation.

Knowledge re-use

Knowledge doesn't add value until it leads to action. Therefore merely sharing knowledge is not enough - the knowledge needs to be applied (often it needs to be adapted before it becomes adopted).  Knowledge Management addresses re-use through promoting a culture of continuous performance challenge, through processes such as Peer Assist, and through the introduction of governance processes such as Knowledge Management plans.

If you focus only on Knowledge Sharing, you lose focus on Knowledge re-use.

Knowledge synthesis

Over time, more and more knowledge is created and shared. Some of it is duplicated, some of it is contradictory, some of it rapidly becomes out of date, and much of the time the knowledge consists of small pieces - observations, insights, lessons.  There eventually comes a time when the relevant community of practice comes together to make sense of all this knowledge, and to synthesise it into a single set of guidance; a wiki, a procedure, a guidance note or a knowledge asset. Sharing without synthesis rapidly leads to overload and "deknowledging".

Synthesis is a style of sense-making, and often is more like a co-creation of knowledge - creating new knowledge out of a compilation and combination of what is already known.

If you focus only on Knowledge Sharing, you lose focus on Knowledge synthesis and co-creation.

Knowledge seeking

Sharing is generally Knowledge Push. This needs to be balanced by Knowledge Seeking or Knowledge Pull. The need for Pull is a common theme in this blog, and readers requiring more background should go here.

Knowledge Push and Knowledge Pull equate to Knowledge Supply and Knowledge Demand, and more KM implementations fail through lack of demand than lack of supply.

When we look at Push and Pull, therefore, "Knowledge sharing" covers only half of the equation, and it covers the half which is less of a problem. In this circumstance, "Knowledge sharing" can even become a dangerous term. What is primarily needed is not Knowledge Sharing, but Knowledge seeking.  If you are looking for the 20% of KM that adds 80% of the value, then choose Knowledge Seeking. If you can generate a real demand for knowledge in your organisation, all else will be much easier.

If you focus only on Knowledge Sharing, you lose focus on Knowledge seeking, you focus on Push and not Pull, and your knowledge "market dynamics" are unbalanced.

So please a) don't feel you need to abandon the term "Knowledge Management", and b) if you do, don't replace it with "Knowledge Sharing"; a term that covers only 20% of the KM landscape, and not the 20% that adds the most value either. 

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