Knowledge can’t be managed. Knowledge is everywhere, buried in the confines of the organization, within stovepipes of systems and silos, but also woven in the minds of people. In fact, it is people not systems who possess knowledge and decide on its relevance according to the context of what they are working on.

But knowledge is also paradoxically one of the most important assets of any organization, and an asset that will yield returns only when re-used, when the sum of each employee and customer can tap into what people know and the information that the company knows, every time.

The idea that knowledge can be managed as a predictable and transferable commodity has narrowed the scope of thinking around how to best re-use knowledge across organizations. Hence the concept of knowledge has been confused and reduced to information and documents. In fact, anecdotally still states “Content, document and Knowledge Management” as part of its own logo, another simple sign of how the business world understands the topic.

Knowledge is a human ability to exercise judgment facing [business] situations. When engineers design products, when people sell to customer needs, when customer service responds to customer issues, when analysts reach a conclusion, they exercise judgment. That ability resides with every individual, and while executing a [business] task must be complemented with additional information and know-how gained through probing and reaching the people and the content needed.

The idea that all the knowledge required to conduct business efficiently can be classified and curated within knowledge bases, ECM, SharePoint, CRM, or other central systems of record is fundamentally flawed. This is especially true in a world where systems and information sources proliferate. The consumer world knows better and has empowered everyone to reach the Long Tail of everything in the world. Average people using Search technology can tap into content and knowledge that they did not even know existed, because just yesterday they were unaware of today’s questions, and because search technology has unlocked the world’s knowledge way beyond Britannica encyclopedia and the yellow book. The same concept will radically transform business and yield much greater returns from the huge untapped collective knowledge asset: Suddenly every employee and every customer will know what the organization knows.

Knowledge can’t be managed. Smart organizations will make Knowledge ubiquitous and relevant; accessible everywhere and in a contextually relevant fashion by every employee and every customer. Knowledge management is an oxymoron, just like shrimps are never jumbo and a depression is never great!