Monday, 8 October 2007

It's NOT fluffy - misconceptions about knowledge management

If one more person says "you do the fluffy stuff" when talking about the human element of knowledge management I'm going to scream...

Why is it, that anything to do with people is termed "fluffy". It makes it sound all kittens, pink and soft. It's not. People are interesting, complex, and above all, very very difficult to fathom. They are multifacted self directed objects, with their own thoughts, motivations, likes, dislikes, habits and beliefs. How on earth can dealing with or understanding them be "fluffy".

Knowledge managers who do not think codification and storage of knowledge is the way to go are not the only people who have this ridiculous label. Anyone working in training and development, social work, psychology, will all have been told they "do that fluffy stuff".

In terms of knowledge management, when we talk about communities, and networks, we are talking about the way people really learn. Numerous studies have demonstrated that we learn most of what we know about how to do our jobs by talking to one another, by communicating our experiences with others. However, this is seen as "fluffy" - because it isn't quantifiable? Because we can't see the knowledge being shared? It doesn't mean it's not happening...and that we may be able to harness/cultivate it for positive gain.

There are still people who believe that collecting "knowledge" is the way to go in knowledge mangement, that a database full of documents, a spreadsheet of comments, is what is needed. I would argue that this is not knowledge, but information. Information devoid of context, knowledge reduced in complexity, is of little use in comparison with a conversation or story giving depth and clarity. As Jay Cross so succinctly put it in his book Informal Learning,
"You can no more capture true knowledge in a repository that you can trap lightening in a box". (p64)
So what is so "fluffy" about people sharing knowledge without storing it in a repository...maybe "fluffy" is a euphemism for "I don't understand what you are talking about so I'll give it a name which makes it seem easy and harmless".

Then again, if "fluffy" really means complex, difficult to understand, but vital if we're going to share knowledge effectively, then I'm happy.

Rant over...

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