Knowledge management – mapping the elephant

Good quality positive dialogue helps us “map out the elephant”

KM working team – me third from left
I have just spent a really interesting couple of days on the working team for the ISO KM standard, and one of the most interesting things was the diversity of emphasis among the KM practitioners. It was not a diversity of overall view – we all shared the same view of KM, its components and the principles on which it was built – but it was a diversity of emphasis on the importance of various components.

You know the story of the blind people and the elephant, each intepreting the animal in different ways. The person holding a leg says “The Elephant is a sort of tree,” the one holding the ear thinks it’s a sheet, the tail holder says it is a snake.

I have worked on Knowledge Management for a long time and I thought I knew what the KM Elephant looks like, but it struck me in the detailed discussions with other experts that maybe I was looking at the Elephant out of proportion.

This came to a head when we were discussing KM Culture.

“Culture is everything in KM” was one view. “If you don’t have the culture in place, then nothing else can happen. It’s the most important thing”. 

“Culture is an output” was the other view. “If you have the right processes and procedures in place, then the right culture will happen. Processes and procedures are the most important thing”.

We had similar discussions about processes, and about technology infrastructure.

How could we have such different views?

We all saw each of the KM components as vital, but each person seemed to choose different elements as “primary”.  We were not blind to the topic – we could all see the whole  KM Elephant, we could see it had 4 legs and a tail and a trunk – but different people favoured different legs, seeing them as a “primary” leg; more important than the other legs.
It was only through long and animated discussion and dialogue – through active listening and sharing with each other –  that we began to synthesise these diverse views, and paint a balanced picture of the elephant as a whole. It was a really interesting few days and a valuable learning experience for me.
There are still strong polarised views about KM which are still in circulation. You will have heard some of them:
  • “Knowledge Management is all about people”
  • “Social media is the new knowledge management” 
  • “Knowledge management is all about change”
  • “Web 2.0 will replace Knowledge Management”
Thats a bit like saying “The Elephant is all about the tail”. “The trunk is the new Elephant”.
Knowledge Management is holistic – it is all about People AND Processes AND Technology AND Governance AND culture AND change etc etc. All of these things are important. The key is to get them in the correct proportion.

Thank you to the ISO team members for helping me see the proportions a little better.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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