When I asked the visitors to this blog for ideas on what to talk about on KM, Peter posed a fundamental but intriguing and important question: Recently, I have been confronted with "KMers" (not sure I agree that they are) that consider that you can only manage information and not knowledge because "knowledge" is only in people's minds, and that what can be communicated is only "information". What would be your arguments to support the view that knowledge can be "managed" and is not only found in our minds?
(Ni)Me says: Peter, thanks for helping me go back to the basics and re-think on a really important aspect of KM. Is KM an oxymoron or not is a question that many people have raised in the past and continue to raise even today. There is a school of thought that believes that knowledge cannot be managed because everything that can be labeled as knowledge lies between the ears of human beings and these human beings walk out, carrying this knowledge with them, at the end of the day. This school of thought also perhaps believes that whatever is extracted/drawn out from people is not equivalent to knowledge once it is extracted/drawn out. It loses a particular attribute of itself that converts it into bare information the minute it is extracted - The human mind retains the cognitive clothing. Now, how much of truth does this perspective carry as seen through my eyes is perhaps what I need to delve into in this post! :)
Human beings are carriers of knowledge, not just carriers but generators, and processors of knowledge. Would managing people (the HR turf) be the equivalent of managing knowledge then? I think so! Now, that is a very simplistic view of managing knowledge according to me! If you’re managing your people, you’re, in a way, managing your knowledge! If you’re capable of inducing people to generate ideas, share thoughts, collaborate, apply their knowledge, learn continuously and act upon what they’re learning – bingo, you are indeed managing the knowledge of the organization! So, am I saying that all we have to do is replace the KM function with the HR function and say there’s nothing else to do to manage knowledge? No! Managing something (content) by managing the container that contains it is not exactly the same as managing the content itself, but it does come close! ;)
Is it really true that ‘knowledge’ when ‘outside’ a person’s head is information and absolutely nothing more? I don’t think so. A concept that I’ve come across when discussing knowledge sharing with some KMers is that of deciding whether the knowledge that has to be shared is of the type that can be just pointed to, or is of the type that has to be told about or has to be actually shown/demonstrated. Thus, when we can simply point to something or explain something, we are passing on not just plain information but adding to it our own experiences, opinions, intuitive feelings etc. When we show or demonstrate something, we cannot possibly help the knowledge seeker replicate our methods immediately or as is but we do succeed in sharing some components of our knowledge. Assuming that the knowledge sharer and seeker are both genuinely interested in the exercise and are using the right tools and methods, through a repeated process, we succeed in transferring quite a significant amount of knowledge. It is important to understand that the ‘knowledge’ transfer is complete only when we explain the reasons, causes, logic and the intricacies of the action under question. Basically, the knowledge transfer is effective when we explain the Why and How of things to the knowledge seeker….else, it may be safely declared that what is transferred is nothing more than information. Knowledge equips the knowledge seeker to think on her own some time down the line, analyze things by herself, understand the methodology and apply concepts and tools in future situations without requiring external support. Thus, true knowledge sharing happens when the knowledge sharers go beyond the ordinary – go an extra mile - and become true mentors and coachers. Thus, it is possible to connect the knowledge sharers with the seekers, help them share knowledge in such a way that it makes a difference to both the entities and thus helps the organization manage its knowledge. Because managing knowledge means ensuring that it flows between different entities, gets used and leveraged upon and gets enhanced by the inclusion of multiple perspectives.
An organization that combines various pieces of information and in order to lead to action and continuously works on aspects like embedding something in an existing process can be said to be managing knowledge because it is leveraging on knowledge from a long-term perspective. It has to be ensured that the process also captures the Why, Who and guidelines for the How so as to be sustained in the long run. When people who use the process understand why it is done that way, they are gaining knowledge and not just information. As long as the why and how are understood, it does qualify to be called knowledge rather than information. Because it equips the receiver to then think and apply the concepts on her own.
Digressing a bit and going into a day-to-day example, superstitions, for example, are labeled so when there is no information about the reasoning behind them. The minute such a ‘belief’ is backed by the why (and how wherever applicable), it ceases to be bare information and becomes richer knowledge because it allows knowledge seekers to understand, evaluate, agree/disagree and use it in their own lives!
Oops. Looks like I’ve ended up writing an article in response to Peter’s query! :D But what I’d like to know from Peter and everyone else who’s interested is whether I’ve hit the nail on the head or left you feeling like using the hammer to hit mine. Let me know…! ;)