Tim Powell is a frequent visitor to our SMR posts, and we speak together often. Tim also teaches with me from time to time in my course at Columbia, and we have on-going conversations about anything having to do with information management, KM, or knowledge services. It’s all part of this friendship we share, giving me the opportunity to be pretty up on what he’s working on at any given time.
On top of everything else Tim is an exceptionally fine author. He is the author of one of the textbooks I use (The Knowledge Value Chain Handbook 4.0), and the material he shares in his blog (Competing in the Knowledge Economy) is always stimulating. Last month, Tim produced one of my favorites (and, yes, I’m aware that I’m writing this six weeks after his post but I wanted time to think about what he wrote).
It would be unfair to attempt to respond to every comment and particular point of view Tim makes in Whatever Happened to Knowledge Management? but I experienced a couple of important take-aways. One of the most useful was Tim’s comment about the place of relevance, with respect to KM and knowledge services projects and activities, to the general population. It’s just not always clear what the result of getting into this work is going to be and, truth to tell, knowledge workers (and knowledge leaders) must focus on the relevance of what they’re proposing to do before they even begin. [And to give credit when credit is due, SMR Int’l partner Dale Stanley was one of the first people I knew to make this point; long, long ago – back in the mid-1990s – when Dale and I were giving workshops to budding knowledge services professionals he made sure that no knowledge services activity would work if it wasn’t relevant to what the company was trying to do].
So good for you, Tim. Thank you for keeping relevance at the center of the conversation when we’re speaking about success in KM/knowledge services.
Another focus with Tim, referencing Donald Hislop, looks at how often KM surveys tend to focus on implementation issues (“how to?”), rather than first gauging the level of interest in KM (“why?”).
Absolutely. And for anyone who has sat in on one of my webinars or lectures (or even in conversation with Guy, for the topic comes up often!), this distinction between “how to?” and “why?” is one I work with a lot. Instead of (or sometimes in addition to) Hislop, I’m quick to allude to Simon Sinek, who back in 2009 came to fame with his “golden circle,” urging us to focus on the “why?” of any activity before we try to deal with the “what?” and the “how?” His TED Talk has become a classic, and I never tire of bringing Sinek and his golden circle up in conversation, particularly when we’re speaking about KM and knowledge services. The construct fits so well with knowledge work, and it just makes sense to start with the “why?”
Which might explain why I liked Tim’s post so much: The analysis is right on, very good, and I can’t help but respect Tim for what he’s put forward for those of us working with KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy. I’ve been trying to deal with much of this for a long time, but particularly since I first got involved with the “idea” of knowledge services. [And whether or not I really came up with the term – as some give me credit for – doesn’t make any difference; someone else probably used the term before I did.]
I now realize – having been stimulated by Tim’s good post – that when I got to thinking about knowledge services, I was deliberately stretching (we might say) the concept of KM beyond “just” knowledge management. I was striving – I think consciously – in my definition of knowledge services to take KM to a more practical way of thinking about knowledge work (in fact Dale and I refer often – and have since the beginning – to knowledge services as “the practical side of knowledge management”).
So I called knowledge services “the convergence of information management, KM, and strategic learning” (the last usually referred to as “organizational learning” but I like the “strategic” flavor!) because I saw a need to move away from the concept of “managing” information and knowledge. And for good, very solid reasons, some of which Tim describes, and one reason which, in particular, impressed me perhaps more than all the others: too many executives just couldn’t get their minds “around” KM and knowledge services. They were having trouble with the whole idea of “managing” information and knowledge (and many of them still have trouble with this, as we consultants discover all the time).
And throughout all my writing and thinking and discussion I’ve tried to be careful to say, just as Hislop notes in his second reason (“KM activities now may not be labelled as such, but may just be part of the way things are being done”), that knowledge services is not a discipline or management theory in and of itself but a framework for describing how we – and hopefully everyone else in the organization – work.
Indeed, in much of my writing and conversation (until a couple of people hinted that I should stop making this reference, since it might affect my consulting business!), I’ve been known to say that knowledge services – including KM of course – might not even be around in a few years.
For me, I see (and have said so on many occasions and particularly in presentations to large conference audiences) that knowledge services might be considered analogous to quality management, TQM, “quality circles,” etc. It will still be there in the workplace but for all I know, in the future knowledge services – including KM – quite possibly will not be thought of as a separate management methodology or management tool, but just as part of “the way we work.”
I’ve never (really – this is true!) felt that KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy development should be stand-alone activities and disciplines. In my opinion they should be incorporated into what professional managers do as they go about bringing together the long list of management techniques and tools into their “ordinary” work. Everything connected with knowledge services should just be part of the management toolbox.
It might take us a while to get there, and that’s why I recently chose to change the title of a course I teach from “management and leadership in the knowledge domain” (pretty pompous that!) to “managing information and knowledge.” It’s pretty simple, really. I want my students to understand that when they move into management positions, their role will be to ensure that knowledge services is built in to the overall, larger enterprise-wide scheme of managing. As Tim puts it so well in his post, “information is not an island” and of course for me that moves on to being “information and knowledge – not an island” because we need both to get the work done. Information management, KM, and knowledge services must all be integrated into the larger, enterprise-wide picture. When they are not and the focus is on projects and implementation processes, we’re simply doing that, just focusing on individual activities. Our purpose is to focus on an overall picture or framework that influences – and responds to – the culture of the organization.