KM On Trial?

I was reading an interview that Verna Allee had given to the Knowledge Management Journal way back in 2003. All of what she speaks about is relevant today as Social Software makes its way into the enterprise. Some of the key concepts that caught my attention :[My comments inline]

  1. Knowledge initiatives have actually been undersold in most cases….The bigger story about focusing on knowledge is how it can improve the underlying intangibles asset base of the organization—where you are building capacity for the future. If you want to build capability for the future, you must be able to understand and tell a story about the return on intangibles investment (ROII).
  2. Eventually communities of practice, collaborative tools and portals, intangibles scorecards, and value network analysis will become common management practices. People will have courses on these in regular business degree programs, not just the special knowledge management track.People have to grapple seriously with themes such as knowledge economy, sustainable economy,transparency, risk, ethics and values, collaboration, learning and value networks—as well as what is really required of leaders and managers in this type of environment.
  3. The greatest failing is the mechanistic thinking that pervades a lot of the actual practice. The default business model is the value chain and the most common analysis tool is still the process diagram. These are linear, mechanistic approaches based on the industrial age production line….We must move to more organic ways of supporting the enterprise as a complex, adaptive system – as a living system.
  4. It is a real misfortune to be saddled with the label “knowledge management,” a truly awful term for describing the questions that people are trying to address. It is too big, too vague, and the term “management” is loaded with connotations about control and ownership that are in direct opposition to the way the knowledge economy is playing out….Personally, I try to avoid using the term knowledge management. In fact, I have never called myself a knowledge management consultant or practitioner. I am a business and organizational consultant. [My Comment: Every KM consultant needs to think about this. Social Software could eventually have a serious impact on how knowledge gets created and shared and in the process may challenge the notion of “managing” knowledge]
  5. I see a clear pattern in the cases where a knowledge initiative didn’t take hold. The three levels of innovation that have to be addressed—the operational, the tactical, and the strategic—are basically technology innovation, social innovation, and business innovation…The most common failing is on the business side where intangible assets and conversion of knowledge to value are simply not taken
    seriously.[My Comment: Social Software by its very nature would lower technical barriers and lay the foundation for new forms of social innovation beyond teams-think communities,JIT teams,smart mobs etc.,But there would be a serious need for innovation on the business models side-Do these models acknowldge that value creation can happen at the edge?]
  6. That is our greatest danger because that is exactly where we are in the knowledge field. The hype is diminishing and people are beginning to find new tools and practices to support the knowledge questions that must be addressed in any successful company. But there is also a tendency to pull KM back into the old mechanistic linear thinking that has dominated business in the industrial age. So we have to be alert as we begin to settle in to the core methods and tools that supposedly are KM. Are we holding the edge? Are we modelling and changing behaviours and infrastructure to support new social innovations and ways of working? Do we address the hard questions of ethics, risk, transparency, and relationships?Are we challenging ourselves to learn the new economic language of intangibles and value network dynamics? [My Comments: There have been two problems always. Tool complexity and Mechanistic mindset. Social Software has radically simplified the ways and means to create and share knowledge. Now,are enterprises ready to ride on the social innovation that these tools enable. Social Software in an enterprise caught in a “old mechanistic linear thinking” would set the stage for a second wave of KM failures. And yes, it is so easy to blame the tools!!]

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