Knowledge Management Defined: Part 2

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

June 04, 2020

In the previous post I presented definitions of knowledge, knowledge management, tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge, and implicit knowledge. This post goes further by adding definitions and fitting them into an overall framework for managing knowledge.

My former HP knowledge management colleague, Bruce Karney, wrote the following in 2005.

People often speak and write about knowledge management without defining “knowledge” or “knowledge management” in terms that make sense to businesspeople. Here are some reasonable and useful definitions.

Knowledge is the mental capacity for effective performance. Knowledge as defined here can be ascertained by paper-and-pencil testing. The pure unit of measure of knowledge is accurate answers, but in many situations, we judge knowledge based on both speed and accuracy.

Skill is the physical capacity for effective performance. Skill can only be determined by physical demonstration. For a child to know the letters of the alphabet in their proper order is an example of knowledge; to be able to speak them out loud in an intelligible fashion is an example of a skill.

Attitude is the emotional capacity for effective performance. Using the word “attitude” in this way seems odd to many, though not to most educators. Feel free to use “temperament” or “disposition” if you prefer them — they all describe the same basic idea. A child of 5 who can rattle off the alphabet for his parents, but freezes when other adults are around, is not lacking knowledge or skill, just the attitude/temperament/disposition to perform that particular task.

Ignorance is the converse of knowledge; it can be defined as the lack of mental capacity for effective performance.

Learning is the process by which knowledge and skills increase.

Each of the five words defined above can be preceded by “Personal” or “Organizational.” For example, if you say, “Such and such an organization is too soft on poor performers,” you are describing a flaw in its Organizational Attitude.

These four derived terms must also be defined before we define KM itself.

  • Relevant knowledge [for an individual] is knowledge needed to optimally perform his or her job.
  • Irrelevant knowledge is knowledge that doesn’t matter for optimal performance of an individual’s job duties.
  • Relevant ignorance is any lack of relevant knowledge. The very good news is that most people have very little of this. The bad news is that it can be very hard to pinpoint just what a person or organization’s relevant ignorance is.
  • Irrelevant ignorance is any lack of knowledge not related to an individual’s job tasks. We all have vast amounts of this.

Now we can define “inability,” which is different from ignorance.  Inability is the converse of skill. Inability is the situation in which a person or organization that cannot perform effectively despite having all relevant knowledge related to the task to be performed. Inability is usually eliminated by practice, whether in simulated, controlled, or real-world environments. The relevant aphorism is “practice makes perfect.”

Now, there is only one more piece of the picture to paint. When knowledge and skill are present, lack of performance is usually caused by one or more of these factors:

  • motivation (don’t want to perform)
  • the work environment (prevented from performing by environmental factors)
  • lack of role models (an environmental problem in which the feedback loop about what constitutes good performance is broken; listed separately because it is so insidious)

If we consider temperament to be beyond the influence and control of the organization, then we can define knowledge management.

Knowledge Management is the process of improving the job performance of knowledge workers by eliminating relevant ignorance and inability as quickly and inexpensively as possible AND providing the proper environment, motivation and role models.

This simple definition encompasses a very broad range of worthy activities, including:

  • identifying internal or external proven practices and adopting them as standards
  • making sure that useful innovations move quickly throughout the organization
  • useful training efforts
  • internal communication and journalism
  • managing, coaching and mentoring

Knowledge Management is simply management – of people and of processes – in any organization that is predominantly made up of knowledge workers. Because knowledge resides in people, knowledge management is people management –  and must address the hearts, as well as the brains, of the workforce.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please read Stan’s blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto, with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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