Why "knowledge management" is not an oxymoron
One of the arguments against the term “Knowledge Management” is that knowledge is an intangible and cannot be managed, therefore “Knowledge Management” is an oxymoron
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It wasn’t Einstein that said this quote, it was
William Bruce Cameron in 1963, but its still a good quote
The argument is that knowledge is personal and context specific, and is not an object in it’s own right – not something that can be weighed and measured and counted – so how can it be managed? According to this argument, “Knowledge Management” is said to be an oxymoron because knowledge is an “intangible object”.
However the management of intangibles is common practice in the business world.
- Risk management
- Safety Management
- Customer Relationship management
- Brand management
- Reputation management
- Environmental management;
All of these are established disciplines which make up part of good management practice in many businesses, and are concerned with intangibles. Safety, Relationships – these are personal and not objects in their own right. You can’t touch or weigh a reputation or a risk.
Is Knowledge Management any different? Why is Safety Management a valid term for example, while Knowledge Management is an oxymoron? Surely an accident is not an object you can manage?
I think part of the problem is that we tend to look at the management term in the wrong way.
Risk Management does not mean that a risk is an object that can be managed — many risks are completely unmanageable. Instead it means putting in place a framework where decisions are made, and actions are taken, so the impact of risk is minimised. It means “Managing with attention to risk“. It means changing the way people work and think so that they treat Risk as something important which needs to be addressed and not ignored.
Similarly, Safety Management means putting in place a framework where actions are taken, and behaviours put in place, so that the workplace becomes safer. It means “Managing with attention to safety“.
Similarly Knowledge Management does not mean “the management of knowledge”. Instead, it means putting in place a framework where expectations are set, actions are taken, and behaviours are put in place and sustained, to maximise the value of the know-how of the organisation. It means changing the way people work and think so that they treat Risk as something important which needs to be addressed and not ignored. It means “Management with attention to knowledge”.
If we see Knowledge Management as one more “Intangible Management System”, then it allows us to learn from the other systems; to see how they are introduced and sustained. And if we look at risk management, safety management, quality management etc. it quickly becomes clear that implementing these disciplines is, more than anything, about attention, mindfulness and prioritisation.
The companies that have made breakthroughs in safety management know that it is about paying attention to safety, being mindful of safety, and prioritising safety throughout daily work. Similarly quality management is about paying attention to quality, being mindful of quality, and prioritising quality throughout daily work.
The same is true of Knowledge Management.
Like other intangibles, Knowledge Management is about attention and priority. It’s how you manage, when you realise the importance of Knowledge.