I just wrote this down after some reading. I will use it in further blog posts, but it already gives you some ideas what my thoughts are about KM
The question is being asked every now and then. LinkedIn had a great discussion about it (more than 300 messages) some months ago and lately the website for KMers started a topic about it. And there are not so many people who have a clear answer to it. So neither me. However, I will try to make sense of the question - just like all the others who are thinking - should we have a world without knowledge management?
My answer is NO!
Probably I am not objective to mingle myself in this discussion, as I attended a MSc in KM and work as independent consultant in knowledge sharing and learning. However, I want to use some clear arguments why I think we should continue working with KM.
For many years organizations have been seen as cybernetic systems. The aim of these systems is that the ability to predict is crucial to the ability to control an organization. Cybernetics is an application of the engineer’s idea of control to human activity by using negative feedback to create equilibrium. Negative feedback simply means that the outcome of a previous action is compared with some desired outcome and the difference between the two is fed back as information that guides the next action in such a way that the difference is reduced until it disappears (Stacey, 2005).
A simple example of a cybernetic system is a domestic heating system. These systems consists of an appliance and a regulator. The regulator contains a device that sense room temperature connected to a device that turns on and off the heating appliance. When the room temperature falls below this desired level, the control censor detects the discrepancy with a positive action - it turns the heat on. When the temperature rises above the desired level the opposite happens. So, the system keeps the room temperature close to a stable level over time utilizing negative feedback.
The key point about all forms of equilibrating systems is that they are regular, orderly and predictable. This means there are clear-cut links between cause and effect. And these links used to be manageable for organizations. For a long period organizations were thinking that they could keep the organization at, or near to, some desired state. That’s why the cybernetics is the science of control, and management is the profession of control.
However, our environment that gives out the links is changing in a very fast pace (due to Internet and mobile communication) and organizations are increasingly moving from a simple/complicated organizational context to a complex/chaotic organizational context (see Cynefin framework). Cause and effect cannot be predicted and there are no right answers. It is like an emergent instructive pattern. As a result, I do think we should not think of management (as in knowledge management) as a way to control.
To come back to the question I asked in the beginning: should we have a world without knowledge management? As I just outlined, the world is changing in a fast pace. Due to Internet and mobile communication it is easier to stay connected with all the corners of the world. The has lead - among other things - to globalization. Due to globalization organizations are facing more competition from organizations located in the Americas, Asia and Europe at the same time. With such a murderous competition, it is important to be innovative. Being innovative means you should look for territory you never were before and therefore you need the latest knowledge and be able to make sense of new knowledge. This gives you an unique position in the market. But being unique, is that not the opposite of trying to get an equilibrium with the environment. Something we do when we manage in cybernetic systems? Yes! It is the opposite and therefore I think that knowledge management has a hard time to integrate well in the organizations. The organization should redevelop itself. Create a new way of thinking, a new way of working and a new way of designing. If this could be established - to create a way for organizations to make sense of complexity and chaos - the so-called knowledge management practices can be better be implemented in organizations and let organizations becoming cutting-edge with the latest knowledge. So currently, KM means change management - the change to new thinking, working and designing!