The title is a bit harsh, but that is the reality. KM as a practice has to come out of the debilitating narrative given to it by Library Sciences. It is time for KM to come on its own.
One of the early articles on KM and probably the one that set the tone for formal management of knowledge was written by Larry Prusak (Where did Knowledge Management come from?) in 2001. In that, he mentions that KM is a “substantive response to real social and economic trends”. Globalization, ubiquitous computing, and the knowledge-centric view of the firm were considered as the key to this movement. Here one should note that there was a realisation that knowledge is the key asset in a dynamic market. The unsaid understanding was that the ability to leverage and manage will determine the competitiveness of the organization. That turned out to be true and continues to be the deciding factor.
However, KM as a practice could not capture or understand the way knowledge manifests in an organization. Even if the academicians and researchers understood this, it did not reflect as practices where it mattered the most. As a result, KM as a practice could not rise up to the expectation in its ability to help organizations manage and leverage knowledge.
One of the most important reasons for this has been the influence of Library Sciences and the resultant view of knowledge as an object. This influence can also be seen in the definitions of KM, which is ‘capturing, storing and disseminating knowledge’. To be fair during the initial stages of formal KM, Library Sciences played a very important role in giving it a shape and direction. However, that approach did not lend itself to leveraging knowledge and resulted in a reactive way of managing knowledge.
The extent of influence of the narration given by Library Sciences can be seen from the job responsibilities advertised by organizations for KM practitioners. Invariably it will be focused on content management. Even most of the commercial tools on KM are focused on content management or search. One will rarely find a tool that will help organizations find how much knowledge they have or do a knowledge audit.
For KM to really help organizations benefit from Knowledge, it should understand that organizations are nothing but a mix of different knowledge. This knowledge can be in the form of know-how, know-why and know what. The difference between an organization that is a market leader and a laggard is the difference in the knowledge they have across key areas of activity.
Practitioners should push themselves and think beyond the content management-oriented approach and look at how the business they support uses knowledge and devise ways to help in managing knowledge.
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