A recent conversation with a colleague got me to thinking about our work in KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy development. A group of us were in conversation with a lady who is not among our usual group of acquaintances. She’s a professional person, well-established in a career (not in management), and she was curious about our work in the M.S. Information and Knowledge Strategy Program at Columbia University, with which I’m affiliated.
So I launched into my usual explanation about the value of knowledge development and knowledge sharing in the larger organization, how there are many companies and organizations and all sorts of enterprises where communication is a problem. I explained that much good work goes on these organizations, but when knowledge is developed through this good work (or even knowledge about failures), it often isn’t communicated. Our IKnS program teaches managers how they can work with their organizations, developing strategies for better knowledge sharing. Since many workers don’t know how to share the knowledge they’ve developed – or heard about – we teach managers how to be knowledge strategists, what we sometimes call “knowledge thought leaders.”
My friend’s reaction was quick and to the point: “You have to teach that?”
Hmm…. Got me to thinking.
Why do we teach KD/KS? Why is knowledge development and knowledge sharing – as an organizational function – not part of our conventional thinking, when we are dealing with the workplace? Even those who fit Peter Drucker’s classic description of the knowledge worker (employees who work primarily with information or who develop and use knowledge in the workplace) are not immune. And since most of the workforce can be classified as knowledge workers (some estimates range as high as 80% of all workers), we’re talking about a lot of people who should – just by the nature of their work – understand KD/KS.
And the challenge isn’t just in the workplace. When we move to the bigger picture, to how KD/KS functions in our personal lives, we would expect an almost automatic attention to KD/KS. Isn’t managing knowledge something that everyone has to be concerned with at one level or another?
And what about the next step, the societal level? Shouldn’t KD/KS be a focus of attention for our leaders? Of course (but perhaps that’s a topic that’s best saved until after the political season in North America has calmed down).
So why must KD/KS be taught? From where I sit, I see several reasons.
- Knowledge is commonplace. We can play with the popular data/information/knowledge/wisdom construct all we want, but in the final analysis, it’s knowledge that enables us to carry out the necessary functions of our lives. Whether on a personal basis or otherwise, the more we know about an activity, a goal, or any other desired objective, the easier it is to achieve what we want to accomplish.
- As we begin to give more thought to KD/KS, we recognize that we’re not just speaking about knowledge development and knowledge sharing as an enabler. Of course KD/KS helps us – as individual knowledge workers – to work better and smarter. But in the process of learning more about the benefits of excellence in the KD/KS process, we begin to come up with important insights about our role in the organization that employes us. We’re there for a purpose, and it’s not just to have a useful and interesting line of work for ourselves. We’re contributing to corporate success and to the successful achievement of the corporate mission and that role – in and of itself – speaks volumes about the value of what we do as knowledge workers.
- Related to that contribution, it’s now pretty clear that successful KD/KS matches (or should match) management expectations. In every organization, management’s job is to ensure that the investment in resources (people, processes, technology) pays off and hopefully – from our perspective – leads to the functioning of the company as a knowledge culture. The quest for ROI can’t be curtailed or downplayed, and today’s enterprise leaders are realizing that the proper management of intellectual capital brings tangible results. [And if they don’t realize it, we help them – that’s one of the things we teach as we seek to educate knowledge strategists for the business world.]
- Finally, in almost everything we do in the workplace, we need to go “beyond the routine” (full disclosure: the phrase is not mine but was shared by my colleague Nerisa Kamar in Nairobi from yesterday’s sermon at church). We’ve all known people who find themselves locked into a position that is often referred to – not so kindly – as a “deadhead” job. Nobody wants a job like that. One of the beauties of working in the knowledge domain, of learning how to contribute to well-functioning KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy development, is that knowledge workers have the opportunity to work beyond the routine. As society changes, as our personal lives grow and develop, and as the workplace continues to evolve, learning how to manage the KD/KS process is a career path that is guaranteed to bring interest (and perhaps some level of professional excitement) into our lives.