Teaching about Knowledge Management LO31166

From: Mark W. McElroy (mmcelroy@vermontel.net)
Date: 09/27/04

Replying to LO31163 --

Hello Jan:
There is much to reject in KM, I agree, but I think you paint the
field with too wide a brush. The fact is that there are several
competing schools of KM theory and practice, not just one. I hail
from a school known as The New KM, and it does not suffer from the
shortcomings you listed, I assure you. Regarding your points:
 1. The New KM (TNKM) recognizes three types of knowledge (physical
encodings, such as DNA; mental encodings, such as beliefs; and
cultural encodings, such as claims contained in books and other
artifacts). And there is no 'more is better' ethic in TNKM; only a
desire to have whatever knowledge is required to solve our problems.

 2. KM does not 'bypass' other important issues; rather, it sticks to
its knitting. It has a focus, just as other areas of management have
their foci and do not focus on knowledge. TNKM, however, goes further
than most other brands of KM. It does differentiate between the power
held by managers to commit organizational resources to action, and the
separate power held by everyone to produce and integrate their
knowledge. It divests managers of their traditional monopoly on the
latter (knowledge processing, or learning) even as it acknowledges
their monopoly on the former (command and control). Most of all, it
argues for holding all knowledge openly accountable, even that of
managers whose separate powers it grants.

 3. Regarding feelings and emotions, I agree that most of what passes
for KM ignores them. TNKM, however, does not. It first acknowledges
the distinction between knowledge of facts versus values, and it holds
value knowledge on just as high a pedestal as knowledge of facts.
Moreover, we believe that all knowledge entails a fusion of facts and
values, and that to ignore values in the development of factual
knowledge is to deceive oneself . This treatment of the value
component of knowledge is covered in one of my books, "Key Issues in
the New KM," co-authored with Joe Firestone (Ch. 5).

 4. Next is your lament over KM's lack of focus on problem solving.
Couldn't agree with you more. That's why in TNKM we start with
problem detection as the jumping off point for the discipline. We say
that KM is all about enhancing an organization's capacity solve
problems, learn, and adapt. This problem solving orientation is a
central theme in TNKM, and you can see it explicitly featured in one
of our key reference models, The Knowledge Life Cycle:

 5. Your last point seems to rely on a false dichotomy: the
organization as an end versus the individual as an end. But there is
a third way. Both. In other words, a robust KM program ought to
focus on both individuals and the collective, not just one or the
other. In fact, it ought to focus on sub-collectives as well. These
would be groups, teams, and communities. That is what we do in TNKM.
We see individual and group learning as an important component of
organizational learning, and we devote equal treatment to each.
Again, see the reference model linked above for explicit evidence of
Mark W. McElroy
Director and Chief Sustainability Officer,
Center for Sustainable Innovation (www.sustainableinnovation.org), and
Co-Director, Knowledge Management Consortium Int'l (www.kmci.org)
(802) 436-2250


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

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