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KM 2.0 and Knowledge Management: Part Six, The End of 2007 and Mike Murphy

August 16th, 2008 · No Comments


There were two more highly interesting contributions to the discussion of KM 2.0 in 2007. The first of these was by Mike Murphy (CEO of InQuira), appeared in DM Review, and is entitled “Knowledge Management Revitalized.” The second was by Dave Pollard, appeared in his blog, “How to Save the World,” and is entitled “KM 0.0 – Simply Enabling Trusted Context-Rich Conversations Among Communities that Care.” This post will review Murphy’s contribution and the next, Dave Pollard’s.

One of the common themes we’ve seen thus far in earlier literature on KM 2.0 is a failure to be either be clear about a) what “knowledge” is, b) what “KM” is, and c) what the distinction is between “knowledge” and “information,” or alternatively to introduce definitions and distinctions which, to be kind about, are relatively easy to bring counter-examples against. This replays a major theme of earlier days in KM (see the critical reviews in Chapters 1-3 of my book with Mark McElroy), and is a very bad sign for those who hope that “KM 2.0” will be more successful than KM practice in earlier days, since I doubt that conceptual confusion about one’s fundamentals is a very good predictor of successful practice.

One can see this problem very clearly in Mike Murphy’s article. He begins by analyzing what was wrong with pre-KM 2.0 Knowledge Management. First, he points to the multiplicity of definitions of knowledge and KM, and asserts that some thought that knowledge is what is in documents and records, and others thought of knowledge as tacit personal knowledge in minds. So, for the first group KM became document management and records management, organizing information, and automating existing processes; and, for the second, it became getting employee input, which can get old very quickly, unless getting such input is continuous. Second, he also says that KM:


. . . was also too rigid – older KM systems did not take into account that people were contributing content, so the content would naturally evolve as procedures and policies changed and employees moved roles. Without a flexible system, knowledge would become outdated quickly and rendered useless.”

This analysis of pre-KM 2.0 KM is something that may have been true in the days when Best Practices databases were popular during the 1990s. But since the late 1990s, I think very little of KM can be described in this way. The role of “people” in knowledge processing has been generally recognized in KM at least since 1995, and before then by individual writers going back to the very first writers who used the term KM, and content management systems certainly do make provisions for changes in content introduced by people. The split between those who believe that knowledge is codified and those who believe it is “tacit” or mental, is still present, of course. But, again, that split came into KM in very early days and still exists regardless of the introduction of Web 2.0 tools into KM. Moreover, the existence of a multiplicity of definitions of KM is also a problem that still exists, as a recent survey of definitions of KM by Ray Sims, makes all too clear.

More generally, I think Mike Murphy is illustrating a pattern that we have seen in the narrative of KM 2.0, before in this blog series. That is, in analyzing the difference between older KM and KM 2.0, there is a tendency to exaggerate differences by over simplifying and caricaturing KM as it existed earlier.

In analyzing the revitalization of KM, Murphy raises other questions about the validity of his views. One factor he cites in revitalization is that when KM started, RDBMSs and record-oriented content were the dominant forms of storage, and he states that with: “. . . the arrival of the Internet and its evolution leading up to today, unstructured data exists easily in so many forms that cannot be accommodated in an RDBMS.” While this is certainly true, KM has developed continuously along with the increasing use of the Internet. Portals and content management systems, and the application of search technology, have been strongly associated with KM, as have been community enabling support applications, all of which long-predated the advent of KM 2.0. KM 2.0 really has nothing to do with use of the Internet per se, but only with the development and increasing use of social computing tools in the last five years.

A second factor cited by Murphy is the aging workforce, the retirement of the baby boomers, and the resulting concern in organizations that valuable know-how will be walking out the door and cannot easily be replaced. While I agree that this is a factor in the revitalization of KM, and in the rise of the KM 2.0 meme, I also think it’s a factor in a generalized revitalization of KM, only partly connected to KM 2.0. That is, as a revitalization factor, this one is not specific to KM 2.0.

Murphy’s third factor in the revitalization of KM is increasing competition and the need for customers to deliver higher levels of customer self-service to compete successfully. This need, in turn, makes businesses more open to Web 2.0 tools that provide forums and other tools for exchange in which customers can participate. Again, this third factor, while consistent with the availability of Web 2.0 tools, and certainly driving their use is not specific to Web 2.0 since not all online forum tools are “Web 2.0” tools. Many are available using older portal technology.

Murphy next moved to explaining why things will be different for KM, this time around. The first thing he says about this is: “At the heart of it, KM is about enabling people to share information more freely so that they can be more effective doing their jobs.” And he’s seemingly oblivious that this idea about KM has been with us pretty much since the beginning of the field, and is perhaps a big reason why KM hasn’t had great success the first time around. That is, it’s highly debatable whether KM is primarily about enabling better information sharing. For one thing, sharing anything is only one aspect of KM, since it was widely recognized that enabling people to create new knowledge is also an aspect of KM, and, for another, even if KM is restricted to enabling sharing, it is knowledge sharing that it is supposed to enhance, not information sharing.

I think this characterization of Murphy’s about what is at the heart of KM is an indication of his casual and interchangeable use of the ideas of knowledge and information, and his failure to make a systematic distinction between them in characterizing KM 2.0. From the beginning of KM we have been beset by similar confusions, the final result of which is often that people who think this way, develop Information Management solutions which they then label as KM solutions. When these solutions fail to satisfy, the result is generally chalked up as another KM failure. The same will happen with KM 2.0, if we continue to perpetuate this confusion between KM 2.0 and what I will refer to as IM 2.0 (for Information Management 2.0).

Murphy’s reasons for thinking that things will be different with KM 2.0 include:

1) increasing competitive pressures motivate users to contribute to knowledge bases;

2) Greater need than before for a system that allows efficient information distribution across geographic regions of large companies and organizations;

3) The Web 2.0 movement reminds people that knowledge exists in many forms, while making it almost second nature for the “emerging Web 2.0 generation” to contribute content to knowledge bases, thus changing the way knowledge is collected.

4) KM 2.0 systems can constantly evolve when agents discover additional ways of solving problems and update the system, when users draft or recommend new content or changes to existing content, when users update personal profiles and preferences, when details from previous sessions are tracked by individuals, and when content is identified that users have not read yet, have already read, or that has been updated since the user has last read it.

5) KM 2.0 systems provide capabilities for customer feedback amending knowledge content, more effective Web self-service capability including customer tools to navigate the track record of information exchanges in discussion forums, internal users with privileges to click and recommend or contribute content from a forum topic easily capturing exchanges or aspects of them as “formal knowledge content,” and upgraded “. . . intelligent search mechanisms to categorize user intent and knowledge applicability,”

This is an interesting set of reasons for thinking that things will be different this time. However, reasons 1) and 2) seem a bit abstract and also not unique at all to the Web 2.0 period. Reason 3) seems less than compelling also, because people hardly need reminding that knowledge comes in many forms, and also because I doubt that the motivation of the “emerging Web 2.0 generation” to contribute content to organizational knowledge bases can be taken as a powerful enough influence to contribute materially to the success of KM. Perhaps this reaction is too cynical, but if KM practice has learned anything in earlier years it is that people are motivated by their work dynamics. If these dynamics produce a need to contribute content to organizational knowledge bases, then they will do so. Otherwise, the motivation of this emerging generation will not suffice to ensure continuous contributions to knowledge bases.

When we move to the reasons under 4) and 5) I think Mike Murphy is on firmer ground. IT capabilities are much greater currently for enabling the production and sharing of information and also knowledge content, for collaboration, and for searching and retrieving the record of people-to-people exchanges. Introducing Web 2.0 into organizations will certainly lead to a greater volume and intensity of information sharing, at least to begin with. However, I also think that many of these capabilities are pre-Web 2.0 innovations and that neither they, nor the Web 2.0 innovations, provide sufficient reasons to think that things will be different this time.

The reason for my doubts about this, are reflected in Mike Murphy’s approach to the KM 2.0 discussion, and my disagreement with it. His article leaves no doubt that he thinks that KM 2.0 is KM that uses Web 2.0 tools to enable information sharing. To the extent that this orientation is shared by others who advocate KM 2.0, or, even worse, to the extent that KM 2.0 gets defined this way, there will be no clear idea of the relation of KM as a social activity to knowledge processing broadly defined as problem seeking, recognition, and formulation, knowledge making (knowledge production, creation, discovery), and knowledge integration (knowledge and information broadcasting, searching and retrieving, teaching, and sharing), and then, in turn, no clear idea about the relationship of the introduction of Web 2.0 tools to enhanced knowledge processing.

In particular, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the fulcrum of knowledge processing, that distinguishes it from information processing, is knowledge claim evaluation (or error elimination, if you prefer). One thing we need to know when evaluating the new Web 2.0 software tools, and whether their appearance really does signify the coming of KM 2.0, is whether, and in what way, those tools enhance knowledge claim evaluation. The reason why this is vitally important is because if these tools have little or nothing to contribute to this knowledge sub-process or its management, then, in the end they are nothing but IT tools after all, because, even if they help us in sharing information and in collaboration, they help us not at all in classifying knowledge claims into those that are false, those that are undecided, and those that have survived our criticisms tests, and evaluations. Thus, they also help us not at all in increasing the quality of our knowledge, and in increasing the quality of our decisions which rely on that knowledge.

In short, Mike Murphy’s article advocates the position that KM 2.0 is enabling enhanced information sharing with Web 2.0 tools, and also that KM 2.0 will be successful for a variety of reasons amounting to the assertion that these tools will enhance information sharing. There is not much wrong with this argument as long as one accepts that KM is about enhancing information sharing. But, again, while that may be a vision for Information management; it is not and never has been a vision for Knowledge Management, except perhaps in the early days aphorism saying that KM is “getting the right information to the right people at the right time.” In First Generation KM, however, the dominant vision throughout the 1990s was KM for enhanced knowledge sharing, and in Second Generation KM up to the present, it is enhanced knowledge production and enhanced knowledge sharing. Finally, in the New Knowledge Management, my own orientation, the strategic vision is to gradually enhance knowledge processing in the organization in a manner that will add increasing value and create sustainable innovation over time. So, none of the last three orientations would accept the idea of KM 2.0 as a discipline devoted to enhancing information sharing through the use of Web 2.0 tools. On the other hand, Mike Murphy has failed to show that the introduction of Web 2.0 tools enhance knowledge sharing , or both knowledge making and knowledge integration, or enhance these things in a sustainable fashion.

To Be Continued

Tags: Epistemology/Ontology/Value Theory · KM 2.0 · KM Software Tools · Knowledge Integration · Knowledge Making · Knowledge Management