Who knew there was so much to know about knowledge? Michael E. D. Koenig has compiled a treasure trove of information about knowledge management (KM) in one article, attacking the subject from every angle and addressing the ins and outs. With charts, graphs, and references galore, it offers one of the most comprehensive looks at the subject that you will ever find in one space, so sharpen your pencils and grab a fresh eraser. Class is in session.
Koenig begins by offering several definitions of KM taken from various sources, including one of the original definitions from 1994, “Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” He then breaks down the idea of knowledge itself into three types, explicit, implicit, and tacit. Whereas explicit and implicit knowledge can be set out in a tangible form, tacit knowledge is that which is extremely hard to express in tangible form.
Similarly, knowledge management can often be traced back to three bases—Lessons Learned databases, expertise location, and communities of practice (CoPs). As defined in the article, Lessons Learned databases are databases that attempt to capture and to make accessible knowledge that has been operationally obtained and typically would not have been captured in a fixed medium. Expertise location has to do with being able to locate the experts of various disciplines within your organization. CoPs are groups of individuals with shared interests that come together to tell stories, to share and discuss problems and opportunities, discuss best practices, and talk over lessons learned.
A history of KM is afterward provided, its development being divided into three stages of Information Technology, HR and Corporate Culture, and Taxonomy and Content Management respectively. Beyond that is a brief discussion of issues currently facing KM, such as what to do with approaching retirees:
Much more likely to be useful is to keep the retiree involved, maintain him or her in the CoPs and findable through expertise locater systems. The real utility is likely to be found not directly in the information that the retiree leaves behind, but in new knowledge created by the interaction of the retiree with current employees. The retiree says “it occurs to me that …” and elicits a response something like “yes, but here …,” a discussion unfolds, the retiree contributes some of the needed expertise, and a solution is generated. The solution arises not directly from the retiree’s knowledge but rather from the interaction.
The article ends ultimately by answering the question of if KM is here to stay. The answer, of course, is yes.
Now, the irony is not lost on me that I have just written you a primer for a primer, but for an article as expansive as this one, a little bit of Cliff Notes never hurt anyone. Just remember to study long and study hard. There may not be a written test at the end, but the state of your organization’s knowledge management will be a report card in and of itself.