A week ago I met a colleague that was in the KM industry for many years and left. He is busy nowadays in some totally different area- the entertainment e-business. The truth is that I was surprised. The person was one of the first people in Israel that dealt with knowledge Management, and he ran a successful company in this area. His PhD. was about knowledge maps. I was even more surprised from the speech I was to hear within a few minutes:
You are brave, so he said; Knowledge Management will fail as a discipline. On the one hand, he flattered me having the strength / the will / the innocence to continue on with Knowledge Management; he was very happy to hear that I am working nowadays on my PhD. in Knowledge Management. On the other hand, he recommended me to leave and find something else to earn my living on.
Why leave? I asked. The Knowledge Management discipline, he explained, is against human nature. People do not will to share; Organizations are afraid, especially from the power that comes with managing KM. Most organizations that started large projects of Knowledge Management, he added, stopped after two or three years and in many cases even fired the CKO's who led the process. I started running scenes from the past years in my head. Yes, there were several organizations that did not continue on; and yes, there were CKO's that have left their job, not always in best circumstances.
There was something in what he said. Too many times I remembered Knowledge Management projects ending because of problems and struggles between people. The more I thought, KM was in all cases the victim, not the trigger for these struggles. One time, there was this CEO who believed in KM (and some other great ideas) but did not believe that he had to communicate any of his ideas to the managers who were supposed to actually share. The day he left, and one of these managers took his place, all the good ideas, including KM, were cancelled. In a different case the CEO worked directly with the KM activities manager, although there was a manager in between (the boss of the latter). The intermediate manager was not part of the process. At the first chance he had, after the CEO was replaced, he cut the budget off. Sorry to say, but there are more examples, and at least in both organizations I spoke about, there were already success stories and benefits yielding from the Knowledge Management activities.
Isn't knowledge an important asset, critical for organizations' success? I asked this colleague. Very important, he answered. That is why there are so many struggles around the issue. So why stay?
I left the place worried and troubled. Am I just stubborn as it is hard to recognize truth, bring so deep involved?
I find myself thinking about the issue a lot since. I do believe in people; I want to believe in them. I believe in organizations, and I believe that if Knowledge is an important asset, even critical, organizations will manage it, and even positively. It must happen, as it is the right thing to happen. It is not enough to find ways to manage the knowledge workers. Knowledge itself must be managed. The two are interconnected, and of course there are even overlaps. But these are two defined disciplines: Management and Knowledge Management.
I learn a lesson here regarding management of knowledge workers. Many of the ideas these workers will come up with, will not be trivial. Precisely these innovative non trivial ideas will be the ones most difficult for the organization to accept. There will be people in favor, but probably more not. People and organizations are afraid from exchanging the existing with the new. People are terrified when a good idea comes from someone else and try to object, many times until the idea is proven, and even sometimes even later. Our job, as managers, is to enable. Not only to enable the idea itself and help its progress in the practical level, but also to enable it's acceptance by people. And that is not easy.
I hope I did not leave you with a melancholy impression. I promise to some happy and smiley posts in the future. I promise, for those that wondered that I am not leaving Knowledge Management. Not now. Too much yet has to be done.