My friend and former colleague Tom Pierce has recently started blogging on Enterprise 2.0 over at EnterpriseBlend.com. One of his recent posts talks about whether or not social computing is the end of Knowledge Management (KM), that somewhat nefarious term for extracting, organizing, and sharing the knowledge from the heads of employees that ultimately forms a competitive advantage. He makes the point that KM concepts are still valid, it is just the technology that is changing. I agree that the technology is changing, and I agree there is still a need for KM, but I do think the way we approach KM now is shifting.
To me, Enterprise 2.0 is the new and preferred way to implement KM. The problem with past KM approaches was that it was too structured, too top-down. Heavy-handed, overly-rigid, formal approaches to anything rarely succeed. They usually end in rebellion, or, at best, apathy. Sharing knowledge because you are passionate about it and because you want to do it is a lot more fun, rewarding, and meaningful than doing it because it is a bullet point on your yearly review.
Formal KM initiatives I saw succeed Back in the Day did so because there were a small number of people within an organization who were paid to shepherd the information as their full-time job. This might have been a corporate librarian or an SME tasked to manage and grow a community of practice, for example. What we now know and what we now have the capability to leverage practically is the power of the network fueled by ubiquitous connectivity, massive storage capacity, and ever-increasing processor speeds that can index the whole mess. Knowledge management at that kind of scale can’t and won’t wait for you to figure out what your taxonomy needs to be. And you don’t need to figure it out–The taxonomy will just be.
It’s not all about the technology. Yes, the tools are better. But Enterprise 2.0 does better at KM not just based on the technology alone. It’s because Enterprise 2.0 is the anti-KM. It’s bottom-up. It has little or no structure. It’s about forming loose and accidental connections with others. If there are potential barriers to KM success this time around, I think it is that, for some types of organizations, this organic, bottom-up approach is antithetical to their current corporate culture. If they can’t change that–and it is so difficult to do–I think they’ll lose competitive advantage and become unable to compete effectively over time. For some, they’ll realize this too late, like maybe the day after all of the Baby Boomers decide to retire and move to southern Florida.