The Evolution of Knowledge Management

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(www.altactive.com, 2011)

Weinberger (2011) suggests knowledge is not restricted by the confines of a physical space, such as a library or encyclopedia, or limited to individuals perceived as expert sources. The internet provides instantaneous access to vast amounts of data, providing users the ability to create and receive information through innumerable global networks. Thus, the internet liberates users from traditional restraints to knowledge, such as access to subject matter experts, and provides a medium in which individuals can learn and grow through intimate interaction and shared understanding.

In an effort to gather perceived critical knowledge or provide a repository for information, many organizations created Knowledge Management (KM) experts to manage organizational data (Davenport, 2015). Throughout the past two decades, KM has evolved from simply storing critical information and focusing on individual learning to exploiting the collective knowledge, experience, and learning of groups (Dixon, 2009). Several factors, to include inefficient KM software, internet search engines like Google, and behavioral tendencies to horde information, resulted in most KM initiatives failing to improve the flow of organizational data to the end-user (Davenport, 2015).

Image #1. Example of the Complexity of a KM Program (www.aaim.org, 2016)

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From personal experience at Georgia-Pacific, KM professionals constrain employees to use SharePoint as a means to store and access information. While SharePoint provides a central location for data, it does not provide users with the personal interaction associated with networked communities or groups. The internet is far too large, and the available information too vast, for one person or a group of IT professionals to capture what is perceived as the best data to place in a shared organizational portal. As an example, employees find that data on the SharePoint is often outdated or incorrect, and the system fails as a means to distribute ideas among networked groups in the company. Much more successful is Georgia-Pacific’s use of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as a means to instantaneously connect employees and groups to key events and data.

No individual leader or group of persons is able to harness all the existing data on the web. Learning and creativity are achieved through the combined efforts of organizational groups tasked with meeting business objectives. Therefore, it is the leader’s role to provide the group with the ability to connect with a diverse team that emphasizes teamwork and collaboration (Jarche, 2010). As always, leaders still provide their teams with planning guidance, keep the group focused, and provide a vision of what success looks like in order to meet organizational objectives.

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(aimablog.com, 2013)

References

Davenport, T. H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happended to knowledge management. The Wall Street Journal.

Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- Part three. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com

Jarche, H. (2010, February 24). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

 

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15 thoughts on “The Evolution of Knowledge Management

  1. Chris

    Your comments about SharePoint being out of date or incorrect really brought home for me that technology is only as good as the people you have using it. With recent technological advances it is easier than ever to disseminate your message. However, I am reminded of a speech that tells us with great power should come great responsibility, or in the use of technology we have a responsibility to engage our critical faculty and to research information before advocating our position. I also believe we as the consumers now have a greater responsibility to not mindlessly regurgitate all the information, or knowledge that we come across. Fabricated inaccuracies propagated through networks now have the opportunity to reach millions through viral campaigns and are passed off as true knowledge obfuscating truly well research and documented information. I believe the potential negative impact of being able to “tweet” or “like” in an instant is that we may ultimately burry true knowledge so deeply that we loose it. If true knowledge doesn’t have a provocative headline with supporting imagery how many people are going to hear it? Many of us in the Ed.D program have social media accounts and probably have a large network of people linked to us. Back to the speech about great power and our individual role, but there are probably some attributions made about the information a doctoral student shares, or likes and as such do we have a greater responsibility to hold off on sharing without understanding its significance?

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    1. Cam – to push back gently – and you know that I am a strong proponent of social media – in this age, is it “leadership” to hold off sharing? With the wisdom of the crowd, would not any potential misstep be corrected by the network?

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      1. Dr. Watwood

        There is a term emerging from social media and it infers that people believe they can effect change without really doing anything at all. Slacktivism, once meant that you made a small contribution to a cause or society instead of doing something with impact. Kind of like planting a tree in your yard instead of participating in a Greenpeace protest. As out technology has advanced it has allowed us to tweet, share and like from the comfort of our living room making it easier to raise awareness on global issues, but it has a cost. However, the danger of becoming a slacktivist by sharing your latest cause on social media is that you are far less likely to research the topic before you give it a thumb up and share it with your network. Does social media ever consider if they have it wrong? A researcher at the University of Copenhagen (Colding-Jorgensen) created a Facebook page to raise awareness about a total factious cause and within two weeks the page had 27,000 members. How can we as a society justify social media knack for condensing complicated stories into salacious sound bites that we consume, digest and believe while sipping our latte at Starbucks. Consider the example of an American NGO called Invisible Children that started reporting on a resistance army in Uganda and its use of child soldiers. The condensing of information for social media and the ease at which we can share these types of stories lead to the subject matter being mentioned 160 million times online. It lead to public policy decisions where the US sent special forces soldiers in to hunt down the leadership of the resistance army. Unfortunately, the NGO had propagated false information, which was regurgitated en masse through the use of social media and slacktivism. Or how about Twitter being highjacked to orchestrate riots throughout the UK? To answer your question, leadership is about sharing appropriately, taking the time to understand all sides of an argument because the wisdom of the crowd is subject to manipulation and mistakes by the ease at which we can support a cause without understanding it or even knowing if its true. In some ways thinking the crowd is always right is a little like saying the public has always voted for the right person electing them to office and doesn’t consider variables like campaign spending or previous records in the decision.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good points, Cam. Not disagreeing…it seems to again suggest that this networked age requires strong leadership … leadership willing to ask if the crowd is right. Otherwise, we get the corporate equivalent of the Challenger explosion.

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    2. Cam,

      Great comments! While the internet allows near-instantaneous, global communication and information sharing, I do not think it changes what users want to believe. Just as newspapers in the past occasionally sensationalized events to attract consumers, internet sites do the same. It is not the responsibility of the author to provide fact-only reporting; it is the responsibility of the user to seek out verifiable, accurate information that they then chose to believe or disbelieve. As Weinberger (2011) suggests, the internet is the biggest crowd ever formed. It is impossible to compel any of these individuals to read only peer-reviewed articles. What do you think?

      Chris

      Reference

      Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

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  2. Nice post, Chris. Your last line really resonated with me – “…As always, leaders still provide their teams with planning guidance, keep the group focused, and provide a vision of what success looks like in order to meet organizational objectives.”

    To me, this suggests that the role of “leadership” is even more important in a networked world…and “strong leadership” and “team leadership” are not incompatible.

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    1. Dr. Watwood,

      Your post reflects ideas that I am troubleshooting in my current position. Among many challenges, I am tasked to lead a group of geographically-dispersed engineers to solve production problems at our mill. The team is diverse and competent but lacks focus; this is complicated by the nature of solving problems via a networked team. While I am still amazed at being able to share knowledge across time and space instantaneously, it often remains difficult to keep the team focused on objectives. My leadership is needed to guide the engineers through the problem-solving process without straying from the main task.

      Chris

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  3. Hi Chris,
    I spent some time reflecting on what you posted along with the Weinberger (2011) suggestion that knowledge is not restricted by the confines of a physical space, such as a library or encyclopedia, or limited to individuals perceived as expert sources. There seem to be a spectrum of reactions to the idea of knowledge management as it has changed from sharing of ideas (usually through vetted or peer reviewed channels) to now a collaborative process of developing ideas that were not in place before. So my reflection led me to the question; why is there such a spectrum of reaction? Here are my initial thoughts.
    1. It is so unknown! We can barely come up with a working definition of knowledge management before the process changes. And now by Dixon’s definition, we are collaborating and creating things that were previously unknown (http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2012/08/the-three-eras-of-knowledge-management.html, 2012). So, we go into collaborative knowledge management without a clear idea of an anticipated outcome, just a goal (which is also subject to change). This is unknown, and this can be scary.
    2. I work in academia where peer reviewed journals and published textbooks continue to hold great value as the keys to scientific knowledge. Just as the unknown was described as scary in the previous thought, the idea that a top tier scientific journal article may be used in collaboration with a process of subjective opinions to produce knowledge is not just scary, but it can be upsetting to some. Many academics feel that there is a strong distinction between the peer reviewed publication knowledge and what level a collaborative, un-reviewed process can bring to knowledge sharing. So the thought of someone holding a collaborative knowledge management process to the same standard, is an insult to the scientific knowledge gathering process.

    What are your impressions of these two reasons that could explain the spectrum of reactions to the idea of modern knowledge management?

    Kristin

    Reference

    Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

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    1. Kristin,

      Great response! You have great points. Davenport (2015) suggests resistance to behavioral change and over-reliance on information systems as some of the reasons knowledge management is “gasping for breath” (n.p.). In my military experience, leaders were already burdened with learning new systems to receive, interpret, and disperse vast amounts of data. Several of my peers were selected to be Information Managers; however, they had little success in managing the knowledge of the unit because of negative pushback from peers who did not have the time or patience to use new knowledge management systems.

      Concerning the reluctance of using non-peer-reviewed material in your profession, you are reading my mind! While reading Weinberger (2011) this week, I pondered how you, as an instructor, moderate student use of internet material. Do you restrain students from using only sources from the university’s database, or do you allow outside sources as long as the students show their validity? Does the university president support the use of the internet and social media in conjunction with peer-reviewed material?

      Chris

      References

      Davenport, T. H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to knowledge management. The Wall Street Journal.

      Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

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  4. You could not have described the evolution and current environment of Knowledge Management (KM) more lucidly. It would appear from my reading and explication of your post that you are not only focusing more on the management aspects of KM–from an evolutionary perspective–but also on the user experience or the reason why KM should matter to an organization and its members.

    While there are many ways to accrue and propagate knowledge, it is probably accessibility and the freedom to explore, unfettered, that is most appealing about the World Wide Web (Internet)—and perhaps this is most likely due to the vast array of perspectives, opinions, theories, practices, processes, or the infinitude of ideas that exist there (on the Internet). Even so, you raised an interesting point, and that is that no one person or entity is able to harness all the data that exists, or that will exist, on the web. However, I would contend that Google has been in the forefront in attempting to do so—given the fact that its [Google] search engine is consistently regarded as the most popular and used (de facto) search engine in the world.

    The problem with using Google as a KM tool is quite possibly due to the mindset that exists within organizational leadership and its desire to tightly micro-control information and knowledge flow from within. It would appear that Google has been threatening this control paradigm that has gripped organizations for decades, and the web and Google now stand at the threshold of proselytizing a new generation of leaders and users who think outside the box and who demand less control and more access—regardless of its hidden dangers and agendas.

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    1. You are right! Google provides the user with a unique, highly-effective search engine. When suggesting that no single person can take full advantage of the internet, I intended to mean that it would be extremely difficult for one or a group of Knowledge Managers to be able to create an organizational repository that could be a “one-stop shop” of sorts for organizational members to visit to support all of their business or academic needs. In an organization like mine, Georgia-Pacific with 30,000 employees, the task would be impossible. However, GP has done a remarkable job of connecting its multiple subsidiaries through social networking sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris-

    With the constraints that exist at GP that you identify with the KM system in place using SharePoint as opposed to other KM programs what steps would you propose that GP institute to achieve the same successful results that their Twitter, Facebook, and other social media is achieving in bringing people together? I ask because my organization faces many of the same challenges that you outline in that the KM program because the system they use internally is quite antiquated, but the external stakeholders platform to acquire data and knowledge is vast and quite successful. The differences that my organization faces is data that is not published is not accessible on the external system so trends, that often take years to become statistically significant, are not published on the open web and stuck in the internal system until validity is achieved. I have made suggestions that the internal system mirror the external system in all but the full content that is displayed, but my suggestions have fallen to the wayside.
    The reason why KM systems are so important to me is my organizations collects and disseminates data on large scales which is used by millions of people worldwide. As a data collection organization contributing to the knowledge base is an important part of the mission, and publicly they do a great job but internally they fail. It is fascinating to me how through the progression of knowledge being published in book form to now being placed on the web how quickly it evolves and how the need to keep current is more important than ever. The web allows for this, but a weakness that I see is the ability for leaders to understand how the denial of KM systems and contributing to the greater knowledge base is essential to everyone, not just the stakeholders that they identify as being important.

    -A

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    1. A,

      Great questions! Of course, if either of us knew the answers, we would likely be very wealthy! My suggestion is that current Information Managers concentrate on methods to connect GP subject matter experts to planning groups and decision-makers using the vast capabilities of the internet. This would allow users to benefit from the expertise of GP’s workforce without the restraints associated with time and space. Many employees are reluctant to use networked systems and need the assistance of a dedicated information technology manager. In my experience, constraining users to use a dedicated knowledge management platform like SharePoint, while seemingly efficient by providing a central point to place data, fails. This occurs because the employees refuse to learn the value of the system or the methods to use it effectively. Also, data placed on the internal server is consistently outdated and underused.

      Chris

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  6. Do you think your organization like so many other’s KM filed is because they were relying on just one software program? However, when an organization uses the combine resources from other programs, they are more likely to be successful at managing the information their organization needs. My organization did the same as yours and relied on SharePoint now people have moved to using Google, Facebook, and other programs to gather information the employees need and share. As leaders, we must come with the realization that there is no one particular system that will hold the KM of the company thus we must be willing to be open to using multiple avenues to retrieve and disperse information.

    Sheila

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