Corporate Epistemology and 'The New KM' LO29755

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 01/04/03

Replying to LO29744 --

Dear Chris:

In answer to your question, I think enabling networking is indeed an
important goal for the new KM, but I think what you may be missing is
also the notion of the Knowledge Life Cycle (KLC) idea and the
importance of strengthening it, not just the networks that operate
within it, or in support of it, or even outside of it. The KLC is a
social knowledge processing system, and networks or communities play an
important role in it, but there's much more to the story than just
enabling networks. There are many other operating characteristics, the
health of which make a KLC more or less effective. The networking idea
in the absence of a larger purpose or system seems too narrow to me.
 It's like saying people need to network so they can improve their
individual performance, but it leaves the issue of what kind of
performance is relevant or not, or whether or not the organization is even
properly focused, entirely open. Networks in service of what? And how
does a healthy community of communities, in fact, have impact on
determining strategy, or on helping an organization to adapt?

So I think what might be missing in your vision is the wholescale view of
the enterprise as an adaptive knowledge processing system that makes its
way in the world by detecting and solving problems and closing its
knowledge gaps. Here, I also want to say that there seem to be some
assumptive overtones in your description about values, as though they come
down from on high and the K worker's job is to understand them and choose
his or her actions, accordingly -- with good networking support, thanks to
KM. If so, I think I should point out that the new KM seems values as
coming up from on low, not the reverse. That's the whole point of the
KLC, and its vision of organizations as enterprise-wide knowledge
processing systems, as opposed to collections of individuals and groups
who follow in response to management-wide learning only. The politics of
knowledge processing in the new KM's view of things are utterly open and
non-hierarchical. The normative Enterprise Model that falls out of this
view is what we're calling 'The Open Enterprise' (new book in progress!).

So I think I can agree with the Drukerian view of organizations as
increasingly made up of knowledge workers (who wouldn't!), and the
subsequent layering of systems thinking/theory on the enterprise, but I
think the next wave of thought (that should actually precede the arrival
of KM in your analysis) is the view of organizations as adaptive systems
-- this is an outgrowth of the influence of systems theory on our
thinking, I admit -- but it's important and deserving of special
attention. Where KM comes into play (the 'new' KM, that is) is in its
particular response to the adaptive systems idea, in that it recognizes
the importance of knowledge processing to an organization as its strategy
and mechanism FOR learning and adaptation. Thus, if organizations are
adaptive systems which depend on their capacity to learn and engage in
knowledge processing in order to survive and flourish, we must have a
management discipline -- a new one -- that seeks to enhance knowledge
processing systems in organizations. That's the new KM! Right there in
front of us. It's here.

Anyway, that's how I see it.



Chris Macrae wrote:

>Thanks for your wonderful detailed reply. I wanted to have another
>iteration. This may be very selfish thinking aloud but I guess I am
>groping through some patterns of understanding that seem of huge value to
>me and wondered whether anyone here has already been through the same
>route, or one that added an extra branch!
>It seems to me that the 3 greatest organizational ideologies to design and
>value corporate futures around can be identified as
> 1) Drucker's Knowledge Worker & Necessary Revolution in Organizational
> -- add --
> 2) Systems (LO) understandings
> -- add --
> 3) KM understandings especially those that the emerging infrastructures
>of a digitally connected networking world can bring

[... snip by your host ...]


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.