On February 19, 2008, Tom Davenport, one of the most well-known names in KM, published a blog post entitled “Enterprise 2.0: The New, New Knowledge Management?” Before, I discuss this piece, full disclosure requires that I call attention to the fact that “The New Knowledge Management” is the “brand name” that my collaborator, Mark McElroy, and I gave to KMCI’s approach to Second Generation Knowledge Management a number of years back. So, perhaps, it’s to be expected that I might be critical of an opinion claiming that there is yet another “New Knowledge Management” out there. However, the expression “KM 2.0” is also a claim that there is a “New Knowledge Management,” as well as implicitly a claim that with every wave of new software tools there may well be another “New Knowledge Management,” so that we’re in for a KM 3.0, KM 4.0, KM 5.0, etc. as software technology advances. So, I may be very busy in the coming years evaluating whether the various changes in software tools really do signal the appearance of “New Knowledge Managements.” For now, however, I’ll get back to Tom’s entertaining post.
Tom begins by referring to a talk of Andy McAfee’s about which he says:
“. . . he talked about the need for trust, cultural change, for senior management leadership, and even for some “slack” within organizations. “OMG,” I thought. “He’s talking about knowledge management!”
Now for the life of me, I can’t see why such a statement wouldn’t evoke “change management,” “collaboration management,” or “innovation management,” rather than KM. However, Tom goes on to say:
“I have argued with Andy in several settings about the fact that Enterprise 2.0 isn’t as new or revolutionary as some would have it, and I had knowledge management in mind.
“Still, that E2.0 is the new KM didn’t hit me for a while. But when Andy said the ultimate value of E2.0 initiatives consists of greater responsiveness, better “knowledge capture and sharing,” and more effective “collective intelligence,” there wasn’t much doubt. When he talked about the need for a willingness to share and a helpful attitude, I remembered all the times over the past 15 years I’d heard that about KM. When he described the need for “lateralization” (by which I think he means simply the lateral flow of information), I wasn’t sure that a new word was necessary, because I’ve heard about the same topic in old words for many years.
“Sure, there are a few differences between classical KM and E2.0. The tools are largely different, for one. Perhaps the most important difference is the emphasis on emergence of content structures in E2.0, rather than specifying them in advance, as early knowledge managers had to. But I’ve always felt that most information environments require some mixture of structure and emergence. Andy’s comment that E2.0 requires “gardeners” suggests that he agrees.”
When we think about these comments of Tom’s, it’s useful to review Andrew McAfee’s definition of Enterprise 2.0 which is:
“Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.”
At the risk of being seen as “picking a nit,” I need to point out that according to this definition at least, “the use of” such platforms is not any kind of Management at all, but is really just employee activity using these new tools. Now, implementing emergent social software platforms in order to enable their use, may fall under the heading of “management,” but we can well ask why that is KM, rather than Information Management, Collaboration Management, Social Network Management, or some other form of Management other than Knowledge Management?
Of course, in previous discussions involving Andy and Tom, Andy had emphasized that, “the ultimate value of E2.0 initiatives consists of greater responsiveness, better ‘knowledge capture and sharing,’ and more effective ‘collective intelligence,’” and this can easily be interpreted as a claim that use of E2.0 software leads to enhanced knowledge processing in organizations, which is a basic rationale for KM. But even if this claim is true, it doesn’t equate E2.0 with KM, but rather claims that E2.0 causes or leads to enhanced knowledge processing, and further suggests that KM interventions implementing E 2.0 tools would prove effective in leading to enhanced knowledge processing.
I have no objection to a claim like this last one. E2.0 tools may well lead to enhanced knowledge capture and sharing, and also to increases in collective problem solving capability (which is what I mean by “collective intelligence”). However, does the probability that E2.0 tools, alone, or E2.0 tools combined with earlier generation tools (perhaps the more common situation) will enhance knowledge processing suggest that E2.0 is “The New, New Knowledge Management?” Forgive me, folks, but I don’t think so. Attempts to identify E2.0 and Knowledge Management whether new or not remind me of the claims that Enterprise Information Portals were KM’s “killer app” that appeared in 1999, just after the portal craze started. Those claims were based on two things: an expansive vision of portal software that was never successfully implemented by any software company, not because it couldn’t be, but because the venture capital gave out before a company could develop a real Enterprise Knowledge Portal, and an identification of KM with the software tools that are used in KM interventions.
The identification of E2.0, or Web 2.0. tools with a new generation of KM called KM 2.0, is not the first time that some commentators have tried to claim that advances in Information Technology define new ages or generations of KM. However, changes in KM that warrant us using the term KM 2.0, need, I think to be much more fundamental than mere changes in the IT tools that are at the disposal of KM practitioners. What I mean by more fundamental is that such changes are about the way one conceptualizes KM as a type of activity. Changes such as these occur relatively infrequently, and therefore movements from KM 1.0, to KM 2.0, to KM 3.0 and so on would also occur rarely, as befits a field that aspires to be a discipline rather than a fad.
In other words, it is appropriate and understandable for software tools to move from versions 1.0, to 2.0 to 3.0 and so on in a very few years; but KM is not a software tool; it is a management discipline, and thus there cannot be a “new” version of it every few years, even though many aspects of it may change frequently, as is appropriate for a dynamic, quickly changing field.
One reason why it’s possible and popular to advance the idea that there is a KM 2.0 that is Enterprise 2.0, or that is Web 2.0, is because many who are advancing it, haven’t given a lot of attention to conceptualizing KM and don’t have a clear idea of what it is. In other posts we’ve seen the tendency to conflate both KM and knowledge processing with Information Management. Collaboration, and Content Management. In addition, in previous posts in this series, we’ve seen the frequent conflation of KM and knowledge processing. We’ve even seen it in Tom Davenport’s blog, as I’ve pointed out above. And we can see it in other work of Tom’s such as his otherwise great article with John Glaser on the Partners Healthcare case.
Identifying these two different things, makes it more sensible to contend that when the tools of knowledge processing change, we also have new versions of KM. It’s harder to draw such a conclusion when we have clear definitions of KM that we apply consistently, however. In my previous work, including many of the blogs here, I’ve defined KM as activity intended to enhance knowledge processing; and I’ve also said that knowledge processing includes, problem seeking, recognition, and formulation, knowledge production, and knowledge integration. In addition, I’ve explained the Three-tier Model as specifying the context of KM.
Applying these notions here, one can see that there has been only one fundamental change in KM since its beginnings as an explicit field of study and management in the late 1980s. That change occurred when KM’s original emphasis on sharing, reusing, finding, and capturing knowledge as the activities knowledge managers were trying to enhance, was supplemented by the addition of problem seeking, recognition, and formulation, and knowledge production (creation, discovery, and making) activities, as targets for KM activity. That change occurred in the period 1995 – about 2002 or so. It was a gradual change, but today, if pressed, I think the majority of KM practitioners would agree that this new area of concern, “the demand side” of knowledge processing, is, in addition, to knowledge sharing, a primary target of Knowledge Management, as a discipline. This change defines the Second Generation of KM, the real KM 2.0.
In other words, I am suggesting that the change from KM 1.0 to KM 2.0 is not occurring now as a result of the introduction of E2.0 new tools, but has occurred both in the past, and some time ago, as a result of the realization that KM had more concerns than just knowledge sharing, knowledge capture, and knowledge re-use, and that, in fact, it was also, and in equal part, about learning within complex systems. The changes being introduced by “Enterprise 2.0” are no doubt positive for KM and they provide other useful tools for the KM tool box. But by themselves they may well not produce good or more successful KM, or even enhanced knowledge processing. Enhanced knowledge processing may not be a product of enhancements in collaboration, content management, and social connectedness alone. Such enhancements can have negative effects as well as positive ones. They may stimulate excessive communitarianism, and the destruction of dissenting points of view and new ideas in the enterprise. Then, again, they may not.
My point here is, that the simple correlation of enhancements in social networking with enhancements in the quality of knowledge processing is not something that can be guaranteed. It is not supported by scientific research. It is not supported by good theory. And it is not suggested by the idea that KM is about enhancing knowledge processing. So even if E2.0 can guarantee complete success in enhancing collaboration, content management, and social networking, this would not establish the inevitability of improvements in knowledge processing and the quality of knowledge.
And even if we view it as guaranteeing better “sharing,” ”collaboration,” “content management, E2.0 in itself would still carry with it no way of telling whether we are sharing information or knowledge, or whether we are sharing what will work for us, or just sharing our errors. So, the connection between E2.0 and better KM is, in my view, no closer than the connection between it and other older tools such as portals, content management software, search technology, and databases. All such tools can be useful in KM, as can KM 2.0 tools. Undoubtedly Enterprise 3.0 will add still more tools that can help us in KM and also undoubtedly, there will be many more generations of software improvements after that. But no new generation of software tools IS KM, or a new form of KM. We cannot declare a new generation of KM every time we have software changes. This is just a category error, and we need to stop making it, or we in KM will end up as an entirely conceptually confused appendage of the software industry and its marketers.
To Be Continued