Filed under: Knowledge management
Knowledge management has been around for some time, and while it hasn’t gone away, it has yet to really prosper. There is no question that there are very real issues to be solved in organisations, and that these issues are getting only larger.
As a whole, however, the KM community (and industry) is fairly stagnant. The fundamental problem is that we haven’t really convinced organisations that we (as KM consultants) should get paid to help them solve their problems. Why is this?
My take on this is that we haven’t bridged the gap of understanding that stands between our concepts and knowledge, and the practical reality of organisations.
Up to now, the industry has generally spent a lot of time trying to convince businesses that “KM is very important”. This may be done by appealing to competitive advantage or innovation, or by highlighting the risks of an ageing workforce. The carrot or the stick.
In almost all cases, we take high-level concepts to potential customers, and expect them to map these into the actual needs they have. For example, we talk about communities of practice, knowledge sharing, or complexity theory. We hope to “educate” clients about what these mean, so they can take on the ideas themselves, and find the business problems that they can be used to solve. And then pay us to help solve them.
This doesn’t happen. Instead, organisations are bombarded every day with new ideas and approaches, covering every aspect of their business. Dozens of vendors and consultants are all looking for a slice of the action. Clients don’t have the time or the interest to look at the relevance of each idea, they expect us to do it for them. Fair enough too.
So this is our challenge: to bridge the gap ourselves, to map our theories and concepts into something tangible that organisations understand and care about. This means letting go (to a large extent) of all of the sales pitches involving the use of “knowledge” or “information”.
Instead, we need to be able to go to clients and say: “you have this problem, here is a way of solving it”. The challenge, of course, is that each organisation (or industry sector) has different challenges, cultures and languages. A “one size fits all” sales message no longer works.
At the end of the day, we need to stop bleating that nobody “takes KM seriously”. Why should they? Instead, we need to go out into the field and actually solve problems, write case studies, demonstrate value. I know that there are many in the KM field already doing this, but not anywhere near enough.
It’s not hard to get work doing KM (we’re very busy), but it does mean taking a very different approach to connecting with clients. One that leaves behind the evangelism of theories, models and abstract concepts.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soap-box now, and get back to real work…