Of Definitions …Posted: October 1, 2009
This is the season of discussing and describing some of the fundamental aspects of Knowledge Management. On similar lines is the post by Luis Suarez about using stories for defining KM and e2.0 … interesting reading.
Beginning with the idea of definitions, there is the important part about defining KM. This is where i believe we need to do a bit of rethink. I believe that there is no single universal definition of KM, simply because there is no single, universal definition of knowledge. What i am trying to say is that if we dont know what we are managing, then the definition of the management process itself must be a little hazy. Hence, the starting point for this has to be a definition for the concept of knowledge. Now, this is not to say that i claim to have come up with a definition. And i am not even trying. All i am trying to say here is that if a universal definition eludes us, then we must look for definitions which are specific in nature, from the perspective of the world of business, and then try to build up a somewhat universal definition, which covers ample ground.
What this means is that we can define knowledge in the context of a particular scenario. Now, this definition may not be applicable outside of this context but thats ok, because if we look at a series of contexts, then every scenario, within the organization, that is, forms a context. This is akin to looking for a working definition, rather than a precse one. And once this definition can be found out, then the definition of Knowledge Management can get derived from there. Again, by definition, this definition would be contextual, but again, being a working definition, this gives us a good starting point for building up KM initiatives. And if we look at enough of these definitions, we could come up with something which is generic enough to cover ample ground, which is why i quite like the definition which Dave Snowden has given at his blog.
Having said this, this kind of working knowledge can be built up using the art of story-telling as well. However, this probably doesnt take away much from the need of a definition, because i believe that what you cannot define in two sentences is something you havent understood. But, yes, i do believe that stories can be an excellent way of building up this understanding, which in turn can be quite a good way to approach a better understanding. For example, i use stories, too, rather, examples, when trying to define Knowledge, and from there, define Knowledge Management when i am running sessions for this. I like to distinguish between three terms before proceeding:
Data: Meteorological data, collected from across the world by weather satellites.
Information: Its going to rain in Kolkata
Knowledge: Better carry an umbrella if you are travelling to Kolkata.
This also bring up the idea of relevance of knowledge, illustrating the idea that what is considered knowledge by one person may not be so by another. What i like to take as an example of this is the incident from A Study in Scarlet, where, when told by Dr Watson, that the earth revolves around the sun, Sherlock Holmes informs him that now that he knows this, he will try to forget it, because this is not relevant to him. While it is true that its very difficult to say what information, from which sphere, could lead to what new discovery, in which sphere, it is impractical to have access to all knowledge on the world, and hence, the notion of knowledge being that which is relevant comes into the picture.
These ideas can be refined by the audience to arrive at a definition of Knowledge Management, which, while being different each time, usually comes to something like:
Knowledge Management is the management discipline of facilitating the flow of knowledge in the organization, ensuring relevant information is made available to the relevant people, in a timely manner, to enable them to perform their job more effectively.
As you can see, this definition is something which is specific to the working context, like i said that probably its better to create something which is contextual, and then build upon it. Any ideas of where this definition might lead you?