Positioning — what is this thing called KM?

One of the most fruitless recurring activities in the knowledge management world is the irregular call to ‘define KM.’ I have touched on this here before, but today is slightly different.

Study at Calke AbbeyMatt Moore has produced an intriguing list of things people call knowledge management. It includes an eclectic mixture of things that don’t always sit well together. However, there are some themes. The descriptions in the predominant group refer to knowledge in some way (typically attached to verbs like transfer, sharing, retention, exchange, development or enablement). The next largest group is ‘social’, closely followed by ‘information’ and ‘learning’, then ‘collaboration’ ‘best practice’ and ‘innovation’.

Overall, the list strikes me as being very dependent on organisational context — a business that depends heavily on marketing products to customers is more likely to react well to “Multi-channel, digital information sharing strategy and customer intelligence capability” rather than “Knowledge and Process Management.” And KM teams may change their focus over time — either as a reaction to changes in the wider business or to take advantage of new tools and technologies that might be seen to further the cause. This would explain the proliferation of ‘social’ titles, for example.

Coincidentally, last week Nick Milton provided an interesting template to help organisations thinking about their approach to knowledge management. His blog post, “Knowledge of process, knowledge of product, knowledge of customer” suggests that organisations locate themselves between three extremes of a triad — process, product, customer — depending on where their efforts are (or should be) focussed.

I like Nick’s approach (even though he underplays the extent to which law firms need to be aware of client needs), but it proceeds on an assumption that organisations are self-aware enough to say honestly where they are. In my experience, few have that awareness. Instead they hoodwink themselves with aspirational assertions about their goals and the value they provide. One of the things that Cognitive Edge techniques can do for a firm is to help them avoid entrained patterns of thinking and unlock the real business culture and aspirations driving knowledge needs.

Once it is understood what (and who) the business is for, and where it is heading, the choice of knowledge activities (and perhaps their name) will flow from that.

If you are interested in exploring these techniques, I can help — get in touch.

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