Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I was wondering the other day what was knowledge management. So I typed in "knowledge management" in Google and looked at the first entry. In it was the following definition.

Knowledge Management is a new branch of management for achieving breakthrough business performance through the synergy of people, processes, and technology. Its focus is on the management of change, uncertainty, and complexity. It evolved from the need for advancing beyond the failing paradigm of Information Technology Management that accounts for 70%-80% system failures. As 'IT' becomes more of a commodity and endowed with more complex 'potential' capabilities, there is need for re-focusing on strategic execution. As we transition from an era of information scarcity to information glut, there is need for re-focusing on human sense-making processes underlying decisions, choices, and performance. In this new paradigm for increasingly uncertain and complex business environments, dynamically evolving performance outcomes are the key drivers of how 'smart minds' use 'smart technologies' to leverage strategic opportunities and challenges.", www.brint.com/km

Will somebody translate that into English?

To be honest, I am getting tired of "x management" Today we have risk management, consumer relations management, human resources management, knowledge management, ... I am waiting for "manager management".

I see two big problems with all of these. First is why should these things be managed in the first place. For example, the field I am most familiar with is risk management (as related with safety/environment, not financial risk). In my opinion risk is something to be avoided, not managed.

Secondly, all of the x management really is directed to one goal: money management (or should that be profit management?). All x management is really done to either increase revenue or decrease costs. Risk management is done to reduce the cost of building control equipment, doing mitigation measures, or retooling current equipment.

Let us get back to knowledge management. Often in the discussion of knowledge management, the question is asked "can knowledge be managed?". I really think that question is irrelevant. The real question is should it be managed? We should encourage knowledge and the use of it, not manage it.

In fact, I would go further. The for-profit corporation as it is today actually discourages the acquirement and use of knowledge. It tells its employees to be innovative and then demands that it keeps the patent rights. Why should the employees be innovative when they get no benefits, while the company and its directors get the money and the credit.

Then what really is knowledge management?? To begin with, it is another buzz word for consultants and academics to use. It (and all their other x management buzz words) justifies their existence and gives them something else in which to make money.

But it is mostly an excuse for a company implement policies to maximize profits while protecting its(?!) "intellectual property". When I say intellectual property(1) of course I am referring to the collective of all its employees. Hence knowledge management is all about control.

It is interesting that all the knowledge management "gurus" never mention the free/open source software development model. As one business academic said "it is management as we have never seen". In the open source world, developers are mostly unpaid and do it either as fun or to fulfill a niche. They will usually respond to request for additional features, make security fixes as soon as possible (usually within days), and then provide their work free under the GPL (GNU Public License (2)).

If companies could emulate this style we might have better workers and more intellectual freedom. Indeed intellectual freedom is to me much more important than knowledge management or the profit line.

NOTES: (1) Actually intellectual property is a misnomer. It includes patents, copyrights, and trademarks, which are three different things. See www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/not-ipr.xhtml/view?searchterm=patents

(2) For information on free source software, including the GPL look at the Free Software Foundation website.

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