James Krohe Jr.

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Managing knowledge is hard to do well because managing knowledge is hard to do at all. Knowledge is at once a process, an outcome, and a raw material. Managing knowledge thus cuts across all the familiar institutional boundaries, which is why some firms base their KM efforts in their IT departments, some in HR, some in “business strategy” departments, some in new departments set up for the purpose.

Knowledge can be combined, internalized, and externalized, as well as forgotten. It can be learned by doing, by watching, by listening, or by stealing. It comes in many forms—tacit, explicit, cultural, and (the form apparently hardest to apply in a corporate setting) Plain As The Nose On Your Face. Different kinds of staff—those who do things for the company, those who think about how to do things, and those who think about which things are worth doing—need different kinds of knowledge to do their jobs well. A consultant who insists that there is a simple system to do all of these things across a very large organization has either fooled himself or is trying to fool his clients.

Perhaps sensibly, most firms shrink from attempting to manage knowledge at all, instead contenting themselves with managing information, which is knowledge in its most rudimentary form. This kind of KM is basically a housekeeping operation aimed at liberating staff at all levels from the tyranny of the stuffed email inbox, the overflowing meetings calendar, the War and Peace-length memos. Useful, certainly, but employing machines to manage a problem that the machines created in the first place is never likely to be transformational.

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