Is KM dead? John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and LangDavison, all with Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, argue that passive repositories of organizational information (i.e., Knowledge Management) have failed to advance learning. They write:
The best KM systems succeeded at capturing and institutionalizing the knowledge of the firm. But for the most part the repositories and directories remained fragmentary and the resources didn't get used. The folks with the knowledge were often reluctant to put what they knew into the database. The folks seeking the knowledge often had trouble finding what they needed.
They go on to say that a new, more problem-solving approach is needed:
In these circumstances, the last thing the world needs is another knowledge management scheme focusing on capturing knowledge that already exists. What we need are new approaches to creating knowledge, ones that take advantage of the new digital infrastructure's ability to lower the interaction costs among us all — ones that mobilize big, diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.
Hagel, Brown, and Davison propose the development of “creation spaces” that help people interact around major performance problems of an organization. They use the analogy of the “World of Warcraft” computer game. Its community of advanced gamers helps each player get through to the next WoW challenge. They share information, experiences, and tools with each other for the purpose of anyone in their “guild” reaching higher levels within the game.
Like WoW, “creation spaces” have three elements that need optimization in order to solve performance problems: 1) participants; 2) interactions; and 3) environments. Participants need to have an easy and low cost way of observing and contributing to the conversation. Interaction must be encouraged and rewarded. Environments should be developed that link participants to each other and link participants to external networks.
Storing, sorting, and retrieving information, the characteristics of any good KM system, are not sufficient, contrary to what some software companies that sell KM products would have us believe. Of course, it’s nice to be able to archive lessons-learned and best practices, but without processes and tools for knowledge creation, KM will have little impact on achieving organizational goals. As Hagel, Brown, and Davison suggest, and I have written previously, KM alone will not have much impact on an organization. Learning requires sharing knowledge with others, applying new knowledge to collective problem-solving, and giving and receiving positive and negative feedback. This doesn’t happen in the typical knowledge management system.