Tag Archives: oubs

is it possible to manage knowledge?

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book: "Managing Knowledge" edited by Stephen Little and Tim Ray.  I found it very interesting given the collaborative and sharing environment I’ve observed at Sun Microsystems over the past 8 years.

It’s actually a compilation of academic writings over the past 10 years on the subject of Knowledge Management.  While it’s originally designed to support the OUBS course of the same name, it stands alone as a very interesting read, although very academic focused with lots of references!

The books starts off with a discussion of information – how explicit information and tacit knowing interact and can lead to "knowledge".  An example encompassing this is the information that my friend Adam wears a red jumper, however the tacit knowledge I have to recognise Adam out of a crowd of people at the railway station is very difficult to quantify, describe and share.

It then reviews some of the current theory and concepts devised by Nonaka & Takeuchi and Cook & Brown and critically analyses them based on current learning.  As well as reviewing the Deep Smarts concept devised by Leonard & Swap – 2 very respected US academics.

Once the current theories and are understood the book moves onto "knowing in practice" which review why organisation should look to implement knowledge sharing practices, some of the human resource issues and organisation issues to include.  This section also looks at failed knowledge management activities to understand the key learning points.

The book closes by reviewing the Japanese model as described by Nonaka and whether this can be combined with Western ideas, such as Michael Polanyi’s work on tacit knowing to create a super-theory of knowledge.  The answer is no and the book goes further to suggest that "Knowledge Management" is really an oxymoron as true knowledge is unable to be taught or explained, therefore you cannot manage what you cannot explain.

While I agree to a certain extent, you can set up an environment for your team, group or organisation which allows time for training, group sessions and a sharing culture.

As mentioned in the book, it’s not enough to add a one liner to employees job descriptions to "share knowledge and training".  It must be more than this and involves having the right team members, in the right environment with the right motivation and a willingness to learn and discover.  Although there is no certainty that true knowledge will result.

I really enjoyed reading this book and have learnt from it, although I’m not taking the OUBS course, as it gave me a much better understanding of how some people have knowledge and others just read from notes and will never truly understand. Go and give your brain a fix, read today 😉