I’d like to start the New Year with a rhetorical question: does knowledge management (KM) really matter?
Well, it matters to me and to people within the KM world. It matters to people who want to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently. And it matters to conference organisers, book publishers, consultants, contractors, and people and institutions providing KM courses.
But does KM really matter to the people in organisations who have the power and authority to make the big decisions and then carry them out? Based on my own observations and discussions with people, perhaps the only people who care about KM are the KM-ers in the industry itself.
There aren’t many examples of people like Bob Buckman from Buckman Laboratories (Book: Building a knowledge-driven organization) who really saw the benefit of pursuing a knowledge-driven strategy for his company. I certainly read the Buckman Laboratories story with great interest, and might I say, with a great deal of hope that other organisations see the KM light as clearly and positively as Buckman himself.
It seems to me that the KM industry, and I am part of it too, spends a great deal of time talking about what KM can do; what KM could do; what KM might do; and what KM is all about, but actually struggling to get any key decision-maker within an organisation to actually support and promote an organisation-wide approach to KM. Sure, we get by with the odd successful initiative or project and we can champion them (I certainly do!) but this is pretty small-fry in the big scheme of things. We can lay claim to a nice intranet site, or a great social networking initiative, but rarely are these initiatives the well-spring of senior management. More often than not, these KM initiatives emerge (struggle through by sheer individual persistence in many cases) and we celebrate them. In fact we actually make-believe that bottom-up approaches are the way forward rather than seeing these successes as symbols of bright KM cracks in a dull and disinterested organisational landscape. Bright cracks of KM success are indeed positive, but they are not bright enough to penetrate the dim, dark recesses of conventional and political organisational management.
There was plenty to hear and read about “the KM success stories” when I did my Master of Knowledge Management course at University of Canberra, and all the readings and discussions on KM years prior to that. In my Masters course, one subject on leadership highlighted the characteristics of great organisational leaders and how they made a big difference to their organisation – the US female newspaper publisher from yonks ago was the case study in fact (sorry, the details have skipped through my memory bank at this time). And, of course, there are bestselling books and biographies of champion business leaders extolling more success stories. I am not convinced that these tales are actually ever read by business leaders to stimulate thought about their own organisations, but perhaps they do.
However, in the ubiquitous world of organisations, all these success stories and learnings are the exception. We in KM seem not to be able to shift key management thinking and action towards an organisationally-driven knowledge management (or knowledge capable) enterprise, better able to recognise and solve internal problems, and more resilient and agile in the business environment.
So, does knowledge management really matter?