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In 2014, Knowledge Management is an oxymoron!

Posted by Louis Têtu on February 18, 2014

Knowledge can’t be managed. Knowledge is everywhere, buried in the confines of the organization, within stovepipes of systems and silos, but also woven in the minds of people. In fact, it is people not systems who possess knowledge and decide on its relevance according to the context of what they are working on.

But knowledge is also paradoxically one of the most important assets of any organization, and an asset that will yield returns only when re-used, when the sum of each employee and customer can tap into what people know and the information that the company knows, every time.

The idea that knowledge can be managed as a predictable and transferable commodity has narrowed the scope of thinking around how to best re-use knowledge across organizations. Hence the concept of knowledge has been confused and reduced to information and documents. In fact, anecdotally still states “Content, document and Knowledge Management” as part of its own logo, another simple sign of how the business world understands the topic.

Knowledge is a human ability to exercise judgment facing [business] situations. When engineers design products, when people sell to customer needs, when customer service responds to customer issues, when analysts reach a conclusion, they exercise judgment. That ability resides with every individual, and while executing a [business] task must be complemented with additional information and know-how gained through probing and reaching the people and the content needed.

The idea that all the knowledge required to conduct business efficiently can be classified and curated within knowledge bases, ECM, SharePoint, CRM, or other central systems of record is fundamentally flawed. This is especially true in a world where systems and information sources proliferate. The consumer world knows better and has empowered everyone to reach the Long Tail of everything in the world. Average people using Search technology can tap into content and knowledge that they did not even know existed, because just yesterday they were unaware of today’s questions, and because search technology has unlocked the world’s knowledge way beyond Britannica encyclopedia and the yellow book. The same concept will radically transform business and yield much greater returns from the huge untapped collective knowledge asset: Suddenly every employee and every customer will know what the organization knows.

Knowledge can’t be managed. Smart organizations will make Knowledge ubiquitous and relevant; accessible everywhere and in a contextually relevant fashion by every employee and every customer. Knowledge management is an oxymoron, just like shrimps are never jumbo and a depression is never great!



  • Beto do Valle
    Posted on February 26, 2014

    Hi, Louis,

    Allow me to disagree with you! Althoug I consider that some of your statements are 100% right, you miss the big picture and get to the wrong conclusions.

    So, you are saying that “relationship management”, “marketing” or “talent management” are oxymorons as well? We can’t manage marketing or talent, but that does that make them useless disciplines?

    There are so many approaches and definitions for KM that your post sounds a bit superficial. In fact, the descriptions you use for KM (including the slogan of are so narrow and shallow that I hope your readers don’t think that THAT is knowledge management.

    But I won’t be so boring to comment each of your sentences. Allow me just to make two or three comments to put some perspective to the subject.

    1. Knowledge is indeed, as you say, one of the most important assets of any organization, so it can’t be just left for “people” to take care of it individually. It takes strategy, science and art to “manage” knowledge flows. It’s a key organizational capability. Don’t blame the discipline when words are not good enough to name it.

    2. When you say that smart organizations will “make Knowledge ubiquitous and relevant; accessible everywhere and in a contextually relevant fashion by every employee and every customer”, you are not denying KM, you are stating KM vision and objectives. THAT is knowledge management. (Not the other silly afirmatives such as “predictable and transferable commodity”).

    3. My arguments are irrelevant when we take a look at successful companies and see that they are innovating and generating value, not by acciddent, but because they are somehow managing knowledge flows.

    So, I fear that all your arguments are saying the opposite of your post’s title: knowledge is key to businesses and organizations, and those who refuse to make decisions on knowledge are deciding to ignore one of their key assets.

  • Ava Muniz
    Posted on May 10, 2014

    I agree that Knowledge is the most important asset in a person or organization, because with it, your business will never go astray. If your staff or employees have knowledge in the product that they are selling or maybe the services you are offering, then sooner or later you will see your business has skyrocketed.

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