Thomas Davenport, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of knowledge management, wrote that the field is not dead, but that it may be on life support. He stated that with the growing use of Google, the field of knowledge management may become obsolete because people are no longer interested in seeking out internal knowledge. David Weinberger (2011) seemingly agreed with Davenport by stating that the internet does not have the necessary components to create a body of knowledge. Yet, Google and other social media networks have become in many ways the outlet for which ideas and knowledge are collected.
I tend to disagree with Davenport’s view that the field of knowledge management is fading away and instead believe that his scope was and is too narrow. Weinberger (2011) seems to imply that a body of knowledge can only exist when pure or with some level of gate keeping that requires only the absolute and correct be included. While I acknowledge that those parameters would certainly make the information that can be found on the web more reliable and easier to wade through, I do not think it makes the good and useful information that can be found there any less valid. We can find diverse perspectives and leverage collective knowledge, yet it requires additional effort and scrutiny. Weinberger even seems to contradict his earlier statements when describing the wisdom of John Davis. While Davis was a knowledge expert in the traditional sense, he only helped solve the problems of the Exxon Valdez because the network utilized, the internet itself, to seek out an expert was wide and diverse in scope.
What Davenport seems to be focused on in his interpretation of knowledge management can be described by Dixon’s first category of the field, which is that of leveraging explicit knowledge. Jarche referenced the work of Jay Cross, who compared the past importance of identifying subject matter experts to spread knowledge within an organization to what happens more today, where it is more important to contribute to and learn from the subject matter than to learn from someone else. The idea that organizations require the explicit knowledge of those in the room considered the experts or leaders no longer seems applicable.
As I read about Dixon’s second and third categories of knowledge management, I could not help but think of its applicability to my current leadership role. I have always despised large group meetings where the managers in the room are the only individuals who speak, providing updates on the happenings of the organization and listing successes for a collective pat on the back. However, I do believe there is value in bringing together a group of like-minded and talented individuals who may not otherwise regularly interact. Leading an IT organization, I have been searching for ways to encourage participation, innovation, and collaboration that is not centered directly around a task. I plan to put Dixon’s description of leveraging experiential knowledge into action at my divisional staff meeting next week.
I have asked employees to submit topics of interest that might be worthy of discussion and engagement for our entire group. One employee asked if we could speak about the need to document processes so that work can be performed consistently and knowledge can be transferred among the group. I plan to present Dixon’s first and second categories of knowledge management and ask the group to discuss their merits. I expect some will believe that leveraging explicit knowledge is crucial to ensure quality. I expect others though will argue that recording processes in the ways that might have been done in the past no longer makes sense. They may argue like Dixon does about leveraging experiential knowledge, that knowledge is dynamic and may change before anyone seeks it out or that the knowledge is not applicable but to specific situations. A good example of this is the work performed by Wolbers and Boersma, whose study of information management identified both individual interpretations of information by professionals, but a collective sensemaking of that information through discussion and negotiation.
Even more exciting to me about this upcoming staff meeting and the topics submitted by staff members to discuss is that I can remove myself from the position of authority. I am an outsider to IT. The staff, however, are not. They are talented network engineers, programmer analysts, desktop support specialists… and the list goes on. They have the kind of diverse perspectives that Dixon spoke about that can come together and leverage collective knowledge to address the organization’s most challenging problems. A study by Fursin et al. (2014) demonstrated the benefits of leveraging all of explicit, experiential, and collective knowledge together. It is my hope that by bringing together those talented individuals in a forum that allows them to use their experiences and collective knowledge to attack problems that are important to them, that we may identify innovative and creative solutions.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts,
experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY.