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Knowledge Management: Ignore at Your Own Peril

It is not a clarion call, nor a desperate plea, but the statement evolves from a reality that organizations are made of knowledge. Like the way we find atoms when we go on dividing matter, we will find knowledge in various forms as we dissect an organization. The knowledge that is embedded in employees, in the process, in the tools and in the products/services. Knowledge which is present as ‘know-how’, know-why’ and ‘know-what’. Growth of an organization or its demise is nothing but a reflection of the knowledge the organization has and its ability or inability to leverage that knowledge.

While this being the truth, management has been fairly ignorant to this reality, resulting in managing of knowledge considered as good to have practice. As a result, we are seeing billions if not trillions of dollar lost by organizations in the form of reinvention, repeated failures, slow growth and loss of knowledge. We have many examples of organizations performing the same tasks at different levels of expertise at different locations, because of its inability to manage knowledge. A failed organization is as much a loss for the society as for the stakeholders.

The discipline of managing knowledge and gaining competitive advantage through leveraging knowledge never grew into a proper function, like marketing, HR, procurement, production etc. It is not only because the benefits of managing knowledge are indirect, but the management of organizations is done in a reactive and short-sighted manner generally. One should have the ability to appreciate how organizations work and how managing knowledge is part of it.

Ignoring knowledge means, not protecting critical knowledge resulting in knowledge loss, not capturing or leveraging best practices, not learning from past mistakes or learning from experience. Ignoring knowledge generally leads in an inability to learn, resulting in inefficiency, ineffectiveness and probably a slow demise of organizations. Management will be searching for reasons, but they will not know that it is their inability to manage knowledge that caused it. It is because cause and effect are spaced out across time and location of impact.

Lew Platt, Ex CEO of HP once said: “If only HP knew what HP knows we would be three times more productive”. It’s a surprise that the most powerful person in an organization felt helpless. It is not because it is a complex problem, it is just that we do not care and do not understand the implications or benefits.

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