Knowledge is everywhere: Whether obtained from books, brains, the web, or networks makes no difference. While their creation, storage, understanding, and distribution modes may differ, they are uniformly essential (Davenport, 2015; Dixon, 2009).
Nancy Dixon (2009) eloquently explains the concepts of knowledge management (KM) in her illustrations of the three eras of KM, which are unique, nonetheless complimentary of each other.
Books exemplify explicit knowledge or data that is easily documented and cataloged. Following, “know-how,” or knowledge obtained from experience habitually shared between peers, and more challenging to write and catalog is considered experiential knowledge (Dixon, 2009).
Notably, explicit and experiential knowledge share a significant flaw. Their distribution tends to only occur laterally, leaving those occupying the varying horizontally oriented levels within businesses in the dark about potential solutions to organizational problems. The third era of KM addresses this difficulty. Collective knowledge integrates ideas that are explicit and experiential. The main difference in this era is that knowledge is created from scratch in a process called sensemaking (Dixon, 2009). Dixon (2009) expounds the following in the third part of her three-part KM series:
But unlike the hierarchical process of passing everyone’s ideas and data up the chain of command to someone at the top who would then made sense of them, with collective knowledge the sensemaking is done jointly by those who hold those many perspectives and who own the data. It is the joint sensemaking that is a hallmark of Leveraging Collective Knowledge (para. 3).
Collective knowledge then requires the constant and continual sharing of diverse ideas communicated verbally or via text, in person, or remotely by (hopefully) heterogeneously minded individuals – If all factors needed for collective knowledge are aligned, the opportunities are genuinely limitless (Davenport, 2015; Dixon, 2009).
The latest era of KM is undeniably a social event without borders and with few, frequently imperfect, controls. Dixon (2009) correctly highlights the days of guarding information as treasured secrets are forever gone, particularly with the introduction of social networks accelerated by the infinitely flowing internet (Davenport, 2015; Dixon, 2009; Jarche, 2016; Jarche, 2018; Kelly, 2016).
With that, the following existential question arises: What is the role of leadership in knowledge management now that it is marginally, if at all, manageable? According to Dixon (2009) and Dixon (2020), leaders should facilitate its occurrence by leveraging collective knowledge rather than attempting to control it. They can do so by advocating transparency, encouraging internal and external stakeholders’ involvement in decision-making processes, planning events, and selecting the most appropriate venues and people to facilitate discussions. The multitude of web-based applications makes such a task ever more attainable. Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram are only a handful of hundreds of tools at our disposal.
However, as expected, there is always another side to every story. The ardent arguments and invaluable knowledge shared by Dixon (2009), Dixon (2020), Jarche (2016), Jarche (2018), Kelly (2016) assume we live in an ecosystem that is remarkably receptive to KM. Davenport (2015), however, argues KM is being shunned as it requires too much time and too much effort to ensue. His most convincing argument is that “Google […] helped kill KM. When people saw how easy it was to search external knowledge, they were no longer interested in the more difficult process for searching out internal knowledge” (p. 2). Indeed, how many of us still visit a library to read books about any subject we might be researching?
Additionally, the unregulated free flow of information allows misguided, immoral, and dubiously intentioned individuals, governments, and organizations, to manipulate the masses. In 2009, long before fake news gained its current notoriety, Dixon (2009) somberly questioned: “How we can tell if knowledge is valid or trustworthy[?]” (para. 1). Was Dixon (2009), more than a decade ago, seeing signs of what is happening today?
Fortunately, the information market, like the financial one, appears to in some ways, regulate itself even if sluggishly and poorly. Fake news is often fact-checked, and violent individuals are banned from social networks. That’s a good start. Still, we are far from an unbiased, altruistic, and entirely factual system.
In our defense, the internet as it exists today and collective knowledge are still in their infancy when contrasted against the big scheme of things. Nevertheless, one can still hope for the desperately needed advancements in knowledge and information sharing within modern networks.
Davenport, T.H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-CIOB-7428
Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going- Part Three. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html
Dixon, N. (2009, May 02). Where Knowledge Management Has Been and Where It Is Going- Part One. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html
Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge Management: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going – Part Two. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-where-weve-been-and-where-were-going—part-two.html
Dixon, N. (2020, August 31). Ten Big Ideas of Knowledge Management. Conversation Matters. https://www.nancydixonblog.com/2020/08/the-big-ideas-of-knowledge-management.html
Jarche, H. (2016, December 08). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. Harold Jarche – Work is learning & learning is the work. https://jarche.com/2016/12/closing-the-learning-knowledge-loop/
Jarche, H. (2016, July 09). Knowledge-sharing paradox redux. Harold Jarche – Work is learning & learning is the work. https://jarche.com/2018/07/knowledge-sharing-paradox-redux/
Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape your future. Penguin Books.