“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less”

30 April 2012

A great comment by Anthony McL. Collins on my post on K(star) pointed to this paper on The nonsense of ‘knowledge management’ by T.D. Wilson. I do not often post a paper without providing a review it but this is worth reading it all.

Relevant to the K* discussion is his conclusion to the section related to use of the term by consultancies:

The conclusion to this brief exploration of consultancy Web sites is that ‘knowledge management’ means different things to different companies and that one or two of them that have previously dabbled with the idea have moved on to other things.

Here is Anthony’s comment:

I really like your comment “the proponents of K* have created more jargon”. In fact KM is indeed a jargon-ridden field. For a not at all new but still true and provocative view of KM, this very serious and detailed paper of 2002 by an eminent University of Sheffield professor is a must to read: “The nonsense of ´knowledge management´” : http://informationr.net/ir/8-1/paper144.html

The religious proponents of KM will be very upset, but the simple truth is that the “K” letter is really a fundamental misnomer. Knowledge is something elusive within the minds of people, while INFORMATION is what we actually manage. But it´s not nearly so engaging as a term to pontificate on and amplify as K* variants. Actually, when I first read this paper, I nearly collapsed laughing, as the frank description of what passes for KM in the world of consultants is hysterically funny, but also revealing of a sadly pseudo-scientific activity.

For a thoughtful comment on the Wilson paper “Knowledge Management in the Real World” is also worth reading: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/knowledge_manag.php

As an aside, I am aware of a large global organization that initiated a KM program some years ago, then finally evolved the name into a KS ( =K Sharing) program, so that blogging, twittering and diverse other Web 2 social activities could be racked up as major global “KS” achievements within the program that barely achieved any KM. The fact that school children everywhere routinely do these … no further comment needed !

The Richard MacManus articule to which he refers summarises Professor Wilson’s findings of the study of KM journal articles:

  1. A concern with information technology.
  2. A tendency to elide the distinction between ‘knowledge’ (what I know) and ‘information’ (what I am able to convey about what I know).
  3. Confusion of the management of work practices in the organization with the management of knowledge.

Anyone who has worked in the sector will certainly have to agree with this first conclusion. The obsession with IT is palpable. Even the K* conference appears to have been covered by an army of bloggers and twitters.

Do read Professor Wilson’s paper -if anything for a good background on knowledge management- whether you believe it is nonsense or not.

(And, for the record, I accept the frequent misuse of the term: will do my best to avoid it in the future.)