Knowledge is what we retain as a result of thinking through a problem, what we remember from the route of thinking we took through the field. Knowledge belongs to communities. The idea that knowledge is the stuff “between the ears of the individual” is a myth. We don’t learn on our own. We are born into a world already full of knowledge, a world that already makes sense to other people—our parents, neighbors, church members, community, country. We learn by participating in these communities and come to embody the ideas, perspective, prejudices, language, and practices of that community.
In summary, when we look at our own experience, knowledge is much more—and much more elusive—than most definitions allow. Knowing is a human act, whereas information is an object that can be filed, stored, and moved around. Knowledge is a product of thinking, created in the present moment, whereas information is fully made and can sit in storage.
To share knowledge, we need to think about the current situation, whereas we can simply move information from one mailbox to another. However, knowledge is more than you think. Knowledge settles into our body. It is a kind of “under the fingernails” wisdom, the background know-how from which we draw. Most of us find it hard or impossible to articulate what we know; whereas information can be written or built into machinery. We acquire knowledge by participating in a community—using the tools, ideas, techniques, and unwritten artifacts of that community; whereas we acquire information by reading, observing, or otherwise absorbing it.
Clearly, leveraging knowledge involves much more than it seems. It is not surprising that documenting procedures, linking people electronically, or creating web sites is often not enough to get people to think together, share insights they didn’t know they had, or generate new knowledge.
Using our own experience as a starting point to design knowledge management systems leads to a different set of design questions. Rather than identifying information needs and tools, we identify the community that cares about a topic and then enhance their ability to think together, stay in touch with each other, share ideas with each other, and connect with other communities. Ironically, to leverage knowledge we need to focus on the community that owns it and the people who use it, not the knowledge itself.
If a group of people don’t already share knowledge, don’t already have plenty of contact, don’t already understand what insights and information will be useful to each other, information technology is not likely to create it. However, most knowledge management efforts treat these cultural issues as secondary, implementation issues. They typically focus on information systems—identifying what information to capture, constructing taxonomies for organizing information, determining access, and so on.
The great trap in knowledge management is using information management tools and concepts to design knowledge management systems.
Suggestion for Leveraging Knowledge
- To leverage knowledge, develop communities.
- Focus on knowledge important to both the business and the people.
- Create forums for thinking as well as systems for sharing information.
- Let the community decide what to share and how to share it.
- Create a community support structure.
- Use the community’s terms for organizing knowledge.
- Integrate sharing knowledge into the natural flow of work
- Treat culture change as a community issue.
The above are excerpt from the article – “Why Information Technology Inspired But Cannot Deliver Knowledge Management” by Richard McDermott.
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