Why Knowledge Management is both revolutionary, and nothing special.

There are two end-member camps in the KM world – those who think KM is something revolutionary which is going to change the world, and those who think its nothing new, and nothing really different.  I have a foot in each camp

Let me explain why.

Knowledge management is nothing different because …

it is a management discipline focusing on an intangible asset. For KM, the asset is the combined knowledge of the organisation, and knowledge management is how you manage the organisation – the behaviours, attitudes, processes etc – so the value of this asset is maximised. 

Knowledge management is therefore one in a long line of management disciplines addressing intangible assets, including

Knowledge management can learn from each of these other disciplines. It can study the management framework each one requires, how that framework was introduced, how the supporting culture (a safety culture for example) was developed and embedded, and how each of these disciplines is sustained.
This is the great advantage of seeing knowledge management as nothing particularly special; it gives you a whole series of analogues to help you make KM more successful.

Knowledge management is totally unique because …

knowledge is the ultimate sustainable resource.  Knowledge is one of the few assets that you can give away to someone else, but still keep for yourself. It’s like the flame on a candle. if you hoard it, your candle illuminates a small patch of darkness. If you share the flame among multiple candles, you can light a whole cathedral.

Unlike money, knowledge does not have a “one-time use” – it does not add value to one person at a time, and sharing it just multiplies the value. If you share money with someone else, you each have half the cash. If you share knowledge, you each have the same amount of knowledge. Often you have more, as by sharing knowledge with someone else, you often co-create something new. Therefore, while hoarding money is understandable, hoarding knowledge makes no sense.

Also knowledge is a uniquely human attribute, and although knowledge can be conveyed, stored and shared (to some extent) through the medium of technology, it is only created and applied by people.

Finally knowledge management has a multiplicative power. As the power of a network increases with the square of its nodes, so the power of knowledge increases with the square of the number of people involved. Double the size of your knowledge sharing community, and you quadruple its power.

(Although, even looking at these unique qualities, they are also shared with quality management and safety management. Safety behaviours and quality behaviours are not lost if they are shared, and its only humans who can behave safely).

So knowledge management is nothing special, and yet is totally unique.   That’s partly why I love this topic so much!

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