There was a time, not so long ago, when one of my colleagues – a smart man who was a serious student of philosophy and was himself what I could only characterize as “deeply philosophical” – moved over into information management. He become a specialist librarian, had something of a career in that field, and was (by the time I knew him) teaching in a graduate LIS program.
On many occasions we had great discussions about the role of the knowledge professional in corporate and organizational effectiveness, and despite the strength of my argument or my passion about the knowledge professional as knowledge thought leader for the organization, my friend was always quick to make a point – almost any point – by saying, “Just give it up. The engineers have won.”
He meant that the battle – as many described it in those days – between the people who build the pipelines and the people who manage the content was lost. The IT community was going to always be in control, according to the conventional wisdom, and nobody really cared about the opinions and leadership of the people who managed, advised about, and shared content.
He was wrong. My friend was dead wrong.
We now know that that time in the history of knowledge management, knowledge services, and the knowledge worker was just a skirmish, not even a battle. It was just a period of time that we had to wait out, to be patient about while the rest of the world caught up with us.
I always knew it, of course. Not that I could have predicted what the outcome would be. I’m not that smart, and there’s no way I could have predicted things like SaaS, remote data centers, social networking media, and all the myriad other products and tools that enable such strong communication nowadays. I knew it because it was the way things worked. In every encounter I had, having to do with information management, knowledge management, or strategic learning – those three elements that merge together to make up what we refer to as “knowledge services” – it was always a collaborate effort. It was always the engineers and the content people working together (in the successful efforts, that is) and while some of us were perhaps anxious to “push” the process toward one end of the spectrum or the other, that’s not what happened.
And look where we’ve come.
I’m impressed to see Dan Holtshouse’s lead article in the current KMWorld. In “The Future of Knowledge Workers,” Holtshouse writes about research into long-term trends that demonstrates how companies and organizations are preparing to leverage “the best of the knowledge workers of the future.”
OK. Perhaps I’m a little bit pollyanny-ish here, but reading what Holtshouse writes sends me a very clear message. The battle between the “engineers” and the “content people” is long over. Now, according to the research he describes, companies are preparing proactively for the future, with managers giving serious attention to how to retain knowledge that would be lost during retirements. And they are recruiting aggressively for high-quality knowledge workers (or outsourcing knowledge management), and among those who are recruiting the best people to come into their own shop, their top recruiting strategy, according to Holtshouse, turns out to be “an emphasis on flex telework/telecommute programs that reflect the era of the mobile work force.” Equally important in effective recruiting for knowledge workers (why are we not surprised?) is an “emphasis on opportunities for personal growth through mentoring/coaching programs, advanced degree support, and integrated life/work programs.”
Well said, Dan Holtshouse. I think we can now put away our “fears” (if that’s what they were) about IT “taking over” or KM functioning as a separate, stand-alone management methodology. We’re all in this together, and now that organizational management recognizes that fact, organizational effectiveness and success are closer that we ever thought.