What The History of Knowledge Management Can Teach You About Life

Previously, we shared how ecology frames how we understand our knowledge. This week, we’re talking about the definition and history of knowledge management, and how you can apply it to your life.

In six words… Davenport defines Knowledge Management as the process of “capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge” (Davenport 1994).

When was ‘Knowledge Management’ first used?

The term KM was first used in the management consulting sector at McKinsey in 1987. The concept then circulated following an Ernst & Young conference in Boston in 1993 and subsequently disseminated to other consulting firms, professional associations, and disciplines (Koenig 2018).

KM was initially limited to the confines of an organization or enterprise in the context of IT, or Information Technology. IT was the main support of organization-owned information and knowledge assets. In the 1990s, companies such as Hallmark Cards established “information guides” (read: human support) that would translate between user information requests and IT staff who specialized in querying computer databases (Davenport 1994).

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To reduce library staff, companies identified information needs and started systematizing the way they collected information. Dean Witter, for example, initially advocated for hiring more librarians to efficiently meet brokers’ informational needs, they eventually decided to centralize information in order to reduce library staff. They consolidated a core “information platter” by inputting key documents on a local area network server for brokers to access the critical information they needed with the technology they were already using (Davenport 1994).

Let’s look at another definition.

Gartner Group expanded the process of KM with the following only a few years later:

Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.

Note the use of “integration” and “previously un-captured expertise.” Once knowledge is gathered, integrated, and connected, we start having access to information assets that were previously unknown, or unavailable.

Why does integration matter?

Knowledge Management is no longer limited to managing the information assets from and within the confines of an organization. The term has extended beyond “the organization” itself to include relevant and associated information.

Take the history of the internet as an example. Following the Early Internet came the World Wide Web, the Commercial Web with the emergence of Amazon, eBay, and Google, then the Interactive Web that led to the Dot Com Bust. To understand how knowledge has extended beyond the reach of a sole corporate organization is to understand how information from relevant places become integrated.

The information has been published, distributed, accumulated by commercial companies like Google to give way to the rise of a more democratic, accessible platform like Wikipedia. The interconnected nature of information proliferated for the world to see, through the medium of the Internet.

Barack Obama on Technology.

These associations, insights, and analytics become even more important when they are aligned with how humans take in information. The beauty of knowledge and information assets is precisely the beauty found in an aquarium: its ecology.

tl;dr

In essence, the history of knowledge management reveals a journey of how we understand the way knowledge works. This has shaped our approach to not only categorize our information, but also integrate and make new meaning from our information. Developing insights from our knowledge means we draw connections between relevant and seemingly unrelated information. This kind of processing is one that centers the human experience, rather than the machine one.

What do you think about Knowledge Management? Leave a comment or thought below!

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References

Davenport, Thomas H. (1994), Saving IT’s Soul: Human Centered Information Management. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 72 (2)pp. 119–131. Duhon, Bryant (1998), It’s All in our Heads. Inform, September, 12 (8).

Koenig, M., 2018. What Is KM? Knowledge Management Explained. [online] KMWorld. Available at: <https://www.kmworld.com/About/What_is_Knowledge_Management> [Accessed 26 November 2020].

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