Tying down Knowledge

A contributor at actKM has raised a question about the definition of the word ‘knowledge’ in Knowledge Management.  I agree that there is little agreement on this, but my first thought reading this is that we are wasting our time if we try to define the term.  Like many words in English, it is context-dependent, and its meaning is evolving. 

I use the term in my business with a particular definition that is understood by my stakeholders.  Some would claim that what my team does is not actually KM at all, yet I still find this to be a useful term.  My definition may not be suitable in other businesses, and maybe not even in other parts of my own company.  However, this team has been successful for just over seven years.

In the post, KM is compared to other disciplines, including Project Management, Document Management and Change Management.  I do agree that KM can be quite different to these disciplines.  I don’t see this as a problem.  KM operates at a different level to these process-oriented disciplines.  KM may be part of all of these, and can also be other things at a different level. 

The other disciplines referred to are (to varying extents) industrial-age processes – suited to repeatable, production-line environments.  My understanding of knowledge management is that it is far more to do with complex interactions between people, and less to do with process.

Even given the process-oriented nature of these disciplines, I have seen radically different interpretations of – for instance – Project Management and how it should be done.  A simple summary definition may not adequately cover all possible interpretations of the term.

I don’t see any particular need or benefit in attempting to tie down KM.  It will continue to adapt and evolve – and take on other names to suit different environments.

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