Defining Ourselves

One of the thorniest problems we’ve faced in knowledge management has been how to explain what we do. Ray Sims set out to determine if there was a definition of knowledge management that could help with this. What he discovered was not one or two, but rather 62 definitions of KM. That’s more than one for every week of the year!

Into this murky mess steps Dave Snowden. Although he has nothing to prove, his recent post, Defining KM, demonstrated yet again why he is considered one of the foremost KM experts in the world. Here’s how he defines KM:

The purpose of knowledge management is to provide support for improved decision making and innovation throughout the organization. This is achieved through the effective management of human intuition and experience augmented by the provision of information, processes and technology together with training and mentoring programmes.

The following guiding principles will be applied

  • All projects will be clearly linked to operational and strategic goals
  • As far as possible the approach adopted will be to stimulate local activity rather than impose central solutions
  • Co-ordination and distribution of learning will focus on allowing adaptation of good practice to the local context
  • Management of the KM function will be based on a small centralized core, with a wider distributed network

There’s a lot to chew on in this definition.  I heartily agree with his assertion that the point of KM is to support “improved decision making and innovation.” If this isn’t why you’re involved in KM, what are you doing?  It also raises an interesting question for people engaged in KM 1.0.  What proof do you have for your operating premise that larger document repositories improve decision making and innovation?

For those who are KM empire builders, his guiding principles will give pause.  He is clearly favoring local, grassroots solutions rather than centralized, large-scale solutions.  This will require placing people close to the frontline who are knowledgeable enough about KM to provide some light guidance to the knowledge workers who have the most immediate need of KM systems.  Better still, to my mind it encourages every knowledge worker to be an effective knowledge manager.  In this context, a global KM Czar is going to be superfluous and unwelcome.

In separate correspondence with Dave Snowden, I’ve asked if he can elaborate on his notion of “effective management of human intuition and experience.”  It’s not clear to me exactly how one manages either intuition or experience.  It will be interesting to what additional guidance he can provide.

In the meantime, stayed tuned.  By offering this definition, he’s given us an opportunity to define ourselves and our work again.  Let’s see how far we get this time.

[Photo Credit:  jovike]