Does knowledge exist without someone to know it? Will it continue to exist without leaders to champion and protect it?
The vastness of all there is to be known is likely largely virtually untouched. Also, that which is currently known may change. What we “know” now does not always resemble what we definitely knew before or will know in future (Arbesman, 2012). Individuals, teams, and larger collectives may well have greater access to greater stores of knowledge than ever before, yet this does not diminish the leader’s role in protecting access and in some cases, protecting and promoting knowledge itself.
Knowledge Management as a concept was given a name in the early 1990s for purpose of its role in an organization. Unsurprisingly, an article in KMWorld quoted Knowledge Management pioneer Davenport as to the definition: “…the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge” (Koenig, 2012). While the term was coined largely for management of knowledge as a business resource, it applies certainly to broader knowledge collections or even the ongoing evolution of knowledge, its development and access to it.
Knowledge begins as data from which information is extrapolated and knowledge produced. Dixon (2009) described early Knowledge Management as explicit or document based. It then shifted to include experience or people before evolving to the systems, network or collective that it increasingly is today. Knowledge does live in the network (Weinberger, 2011). However, the network includes everything. It includes books and people’s heads. It includes connected computers and connected people. The effect the Web has had on Knowledge Management is to bring everything together and provide access to everything.
Davenport (2015) shared several valid comments on what he described as the death of Knowledge Management. Several resonated, but two in particular jumped out. I used to work for a technology company, which was maintaining and growing a vast collection of knowledge for purpose of working with its technologies. This was 15 years ago, and employees joked even then, though with sincerity, that it was easier to access this internal information by leveraging Google Search than by working through the knowledge store’s own search engine. Thus I agree with the two points around the time-consuming nature of searching for stored knowledge in addition to claim that Google helped kill KM. We were then using an external engine to find internal information, and this issue has only been compounded in recent years as the wealth of externally available information has increased. However, while I agree with points offered, I disagree that Knowledge Management is dying. I argue instead that it is simply evolving. It existed before the term was coined, albeit in a different form, and it will exist when it is no longer viewed by the 90s era definition. The need to learn, categorize, and share will remain.
The more vast the information, and the more information that lives on the Web and any other virtual place perhaps yet to be invented, the more necessary are tools. Web based tools are necessary to discover, filter, and contribute to knowledge. I agree with Weinberger’s (2011) discussion of the shift in our filters. These are filtering forward versus filtering out. Filters are no longer determining for us what is valid and eliminating all else. They are pushing the most relevant information to the front, while all other information continues to exist and be accessible if time and desire allows.
The extension of knowledge is learning. It is doing something with knowledge. It may be formal or informal. The specific percentage for each of the aforementioned avenues varies, but the emphasis is generally placed on informal or experiential versus training. Jarche (2010) echoed this with discussion of the importance of social learning or learning through others. It is the natural next step to enhance the knowledge pool. Dixon (2009) also reinforced the concept in demonstrating her belief that Knowledge Management is headed toward “collective knowledge,” which by her definition is about integrating multiple ideas and perspectives.
While we enjoy the evolution, gaining access to data, then information, knowledge, and we have the luxury of learning about nearly anything, nothing is ever guaranteed. We revel in greater access and see knowledge workers arise. We have the benefit of tools, specifically those that help filter forward what we most wish to learn about. Knowledge itself and access to it will continue to change. However, there will always be need for leaders. Leaders are responsible for encouraging, and in some cases facilitating, collective knowledge. They have a place in what Jarche (2016) described as closing the “learning-knowledge loop.” A leader’s role, whether within an organization or society at large, will always include an aspect of heroism, and Lowney (2003) said it best. Considering the Jesuit as a 450-year-old thriving organization, and with regard to the Jesuit tradition of leadership pertaining to knowledge management, many relevant lessons emerge. Though individuals do have greater access to greater amounts, leaders are needed to positively impact the bringing together of different perspectives, capturing and circulating of best practices, and/or creating a culture that values knowledge in the first place. The Internet is more difficult to dismantle than the Library of Alexandria, but the quest for knowledge will always benefit from a champion.
Arbesman, S. (2012, November 5). Be forewarned: Your knowledge is decaying. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/11/be-forewarned-your-knowledge-i
Davenport, T.H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to Knowledge Management? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2015/06/24/whatever-happened-to-knowledge-management/
Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where Knowledge Management has been and where it is going- part one. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html
Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge Management: Where we’ve been and where we’re going- part two [blog post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-where-weve-been-and-where-were-going—part-two.html
Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where Knowledge Management has been and where it is going- part three. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html
Jarche, H. (2010, February 24). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Harold Jarche. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/
Jarche, H. (2016, December 8). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. Harold Jarche. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2016/12/closing-the-learning-knowledge-loop/
Koenig, M. E. (2012, May 4). What is KM? Knowledge Management explained. KMWorld. Retrieved from http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is-…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx
Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450 year old company that changed the world [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/