Understanding 'The New Knowledge Management' LO30397

From: Mark W. McElroy (mmcelroy@vermontel.net)
Date: 07/22/03

Replying to LO30380 --

Dear Jan:

You said:

>>Jan, I'm not sure why you think we disagree here. The 'Knowledge Life
>>Cycle' framework depicted in the article (and repeatedly in my book) is
>>nothing if not a view of precisely the social processes you speak of. I
>>believe I'm quite clear about my commitment to that view.

>I think that knowledge needs no life cycle when you're talking about
>social processes. A life cycle is a kind of framing that - in my view -
>stems from the assumption that knowlegde has to be managed. I assume that
>with KM people think that knowledge - and perhaps all aspects of life -
>have to be managed. To them it is problematic that this world is chaotic
>and uncontrolled. Perhaps out of a feeling of fear, or threat or
>whatever, we set out to prove that KM is needed and exists. I think that
>KM assumes that this world needs management. When one frames the world in
>this view, this is what you will see: a "Knowledge Life Cycle". In my
>view this KLC is true, valid as an expression of that view. Personally
>i'm satisfied with a world that needs no management. What interest me is
>why and how we somehow need to convince others that this world needs
>management (a leader, a God) and fail to prove that this works.

Jan, I strongly recommend that you listen to what I am saying and not to
the words you're putting in my mouth. This business of needing to manage
knowledge is your hang-up, not mine. I am now quite convinced that you
did not actually read what I wrote. Instead, you have decided to paint me
with the same brush that you seem to think KM deserves in all of its
forms. Your prejudice is overwhelming.

You speak of the foolishness of KM trying to 'manage' knowledge. I agree.
I even use the counter-term 'un-managing knowledge' to express my
discontent. But you ignore that. I also speak in terms of restoring the
conditions in organizations in which knowledge can freely form and flow,
and yet I suppose you criticize me for that too. There's no pleasing you,
I guess.

Next you say that the idea of life cycles is suspect, specious, or in some
other way corrupt. Get real, will you. When's the last time you noticed
the weather, or birth and death? Or the emergence of problems and the
solutions that follow them, only to be followed by new problems and the
solutions that follow them?

You seem to adhere to some kind of misologism. Let's just dispose of our
entire capacity for observation, reason, and criticism, shall we?

>My personal cycle of knowledge in organisations is:
>--+--> communicating <-- + --> trusting <-- + --> co-operating <-- + -->
>committing <--+-- (+ = positively coupled: when communiacting improves,
>trust grows but when communcating declines, trust gets les etc).

Great, but what triggers all of this? And how do we know whether or not
what's being communicated is true or false? And when does your "personal
cycle" (I see now that you see fit to have one) come into play? Who gets
to participate in it? And how do we deal with the fact that not everyone
does in organizations, thanks to the unequal distribution of power that
prevails in modern corporations? And what about the purpose of learning
and the role that it plays in problem solving? Where is problem solving
in your scheme of things?

>Knowledge would appear in four different shapes - or flavours - :
>communicating or know who, trusting or know what, co-operating or know
>why and committing or know how. The know how and know what can easilty be
>made explicit; the know who and know why will develop over time.

Communication is language, not knowledge; trusting is an attitude, not
knowledge; cooperation is a behavior, not knowledge; commitment is also a
behavior, not knowledge. Knowledge lies behind these things, and is not
the SAME AS them. I find your typology to be confused and ad hoc.

>Perhaps we should divide knowledge in two parts: the knowlegde we know
>and the knowledge we do not know. The first part can be "managed",
>altough i would prefer "shared". The latter - the largest part - is
>beyond management but is already shared. I think it was Popper who wrote
>that we differ in the bits we know, but that we're equal in amount of
>things we do not know. Some knowledge can be made explicit - and this is
>always knowledge we know, this is the know in knowledge. Some knowledge
>cannot be made explicit - either because we're as yet unaware on how to
>make it explicit or because it is inherently implicit. This is the knew
>in knwewledge. As we gradually develop more and more knowledge we might
>think that all knowledge can be made explicit.

This is all very neat, but it fails to (a) address the problem of how we
know anything, and (b) assumes that all knowledge is subjective. This is
all a step backwards, not forward. Your approach to knowledge is to
coveniently side-step the question of truth versus falsity. You want us
to say that we "know" something on faith, and that whatever you decide we
express as explicit must be true because we say it is. Your approach to
knowledge therefore leaves us devoid of any distinction between
information and knowledge, and that is precisely why your approach and
philosophy to the subject fails on its face. It immediately presents us
with problems that it cannot solve. It is untenable. It dismisses truth
versus falsity as an issue, and therefore fails its ost fundamental test,
for if your defintion of knowledge cannot address that most basic
question, of what use it to us? Where do we turn for that distinction?
Or does truth not count in business, or in life for that matter?

>The basic problem with knowledge management is not knowledge, but the
>assumption that (more) kwowledge needs to be managed. We're a part of the
>framing of knowledged and become trapped in our own knowledge management
>system. You might assume that knowledge doesn't exist of when it does
>exist that it cannot be shared, increased or managed.

The "basic problem" you speak of is of your own invention. When did we
agree that that was the basic problem of KM? The basic problem of The New
KM is Kowledge Process Management and the process of differentiating truth
from falsity, not knowledge management. I agree that the old KM suffered
from this mistake, but I am also its chief critic! That has defined me
and my stance on the subject for years now. Stop trying to saddle me or
the rest of us with the same legacy mistake, especially since we have gone
to such great lengths to distance ourselves from it. Jan, did you actually
read what I wrote? Try listening for a change.

>>As for knowledge consisting of "writing stories," I guess I disagree with
>>that. Knowledge consists of beliefs and claims about reality, the content
>>of which we can communicate in stories, but knowledge is not the same as
>>the act of creating stories. Knowledge is knowledge; writing stories
>>is story-writing.

>;-). I like your response. I think that i wanted to say that the process
>of knowing, of gaining insights, learning, of discovering, of developing
>is much more interesting to me than the knowledge itself. The knowledge
>is in the knowing. I've studied physics (experimental biophysics) and
>there i discovered that knowledge - as in a scientific article - is
>presented as "knowlegde", but is developed as storying, not searching,
>but researching - and researching again. The cover - knowledge - IS a
>cover-up of the content and meant to be judged by the cover. The real new
>knowledge management would be about the cover up of the cover up. And
>that's a different story.

Well we can get into a debate of what label to give to what view, but the
fact is that the New KM is a declared branch of KM that is based on
fallibilism, and not some other school or body of practice that you would
ascribe to it. The New KM is about that and nothing else. If you have
some other competing point of view to put forward, pick another name for

>The role of knowledge and its management can be followed in the Iraq
>crisis: there we have KM of the highest degree. Any New Knowledge
>Management that doesn't address the issues on knowledge raised there (-
>for instance: "how can we know that something isn't there" - ) goes on a

In point of fact, the New KM has a great deal to say about the Iraq
situation -- namely that authoritarians often illicitly impose what they
say should pass for knowledge without allowing their claims to be
subjected to open testing and criticism beforehand. In fact, I can't
think of a more fitting case to call attention to the merits of the New
KM, not its deficiencies. What could you possibly have been thinking of?

>>>However, the thesis and the article scarcely address the emperor, the
>>>eM-part of KM. The M in KM suggests how one "must" or should enact
>>>Knowledge: knowledge should, must, can be managed. But management is
>>>hardly defined, described or dekunstructed. In fact, in my view,
>>>management seems a largely arteficial, constructed or social concept.

>>>Managers try to hide behind a position within the management, a
>>>management that - and here i agree with Mark - has the monopoly on
>>>justification. Management not only holds the justification of
>>>by the way. They're also the judge of peoples behaviour, results and
>>>rewards. And - at a certain level - their own judges.
>>My response here, and to the lengthier discussion of yours below re:
>>'management,' is to call attention to what I believe is a helpful way
>>clarifying what KM is all about. Instead of KM, think KPM: Knowledge
>>Process Management. What we should be focusing on in terms of
>>are 'knowledge processes,' the social processes you spoke of above. What
>>we need and want is for individual and social learning processes to be the
>>best they can be in organizations. Managing related outcomes is important
>>too, but it's the least of our problems. This is why so many KM
>>initiatives are limited to managing outcomes - it's the relatively easy
>>thing to do. Managing the social processes (i.e., learning) that account
>>for the production and integration of such outcomes, however, is
>>considerably more challenging, and should include consideration of all
>>that you say below. So I think we agree here.

>IT IS THE MANAGEMENT, STUPID! Again and again people assumed that
>managing (processes, organisations, people, knowledge) is "good",
>"better" or "best". Perhaps management has some succesful applications in
>closed, goal oriented processes and organisation, but the large part of
>our problems have to do with "why" and "who" questions, open questions
>that have no definitive answer, questions about belonging. The success of
>management in an organisation in a competitive environment has solved a
>limited subset of problems (making industrial products like ships,
>trains, cars, planes and PC's). This may have generated a "success to the
>successful"-loop. We might now be trying to manage everything, even
>processes of co-operation, trust, commitment and communication that are
>inherently unmanageble. The new Knowledge Management: managing the
>unmanageble. That's why i proposed a definition of management that is
>applicable to all people, not just to managers or management teams.

Well once again, you baffle me with your failure to read or hear what I
actually said, not just what you presumed (or is it hoped?) I said. On
the other hand, if it is ALL management that you agree to, then I fail to
see how you live from one moment to the next, or what you would have the
rest of us do as we attempt to sustain and improve ourselves. Don't we
get to make decisions about anything? And is the organic farmer who
admits to not being able to "manage" plant growth, but who strives instead
to manage soil conditions, not engaged in management of a sort? Do you
condemn organic farming too?

>Thank you for your kind patience.

Tested, as it was!



[Host's Note: In Mark's message above, it was not clear what was new text
and what was quoting from Jan's previous msg. I've tried to mark the
quoted passages, but I might have got it wrong. Please mark quoted text in
some way when replying to the LO list.

Also, although this exchange has gotten just a bit testy, I am convinced
there is value in trying to sort out these views about Org Learning and
Knowledge Management. Finally, I believe Jan is on Holiday for a while.


"Mark W. McElroy" <mmcelroy@vermontel.net>

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