To kick off this blog – and my new role evangelizing the need for companies to embrace and engage the Long Tail of Collective Enterprise Knowledge – I’d like to propose that knowledge practitioners and thought leaders come together to evolve traditional definitions of Knowledge Management. Enterprise knowledge has the capacity – mostly untapped – to transform organizational performance; however, to unleash its huge value, we need to approach managing it differently.  Language is important: How a discipline is defined will itself define how its programs are run.

[It’s worth a moment to focus on our use of the Long Tail – this is Chris Anderson’s theory from the book of the same name published in 2004, about the retail strategy of making available a large number of unique items in small quantities—unconfined by the boundaries of physical systems, departments, or immediate relationships. We apply it here to describe the variety of collective, specialized, fragmented enterprise (and beyond) knowledge or pieces of information that are unconstrained in the same manner.]

There are many definitions of Knowledge Managementall of which are relevant and valuable. I’ll focus on one, which is brief, and published by one of the authorities on Knowledge Management, KM World. This definition is good and right – however it may not be complete enough—evolved enough—to move forward hugely successful KM programs in our world of data explosion.

To capture knowledge presumes that knowledge is an object that can be stopped in time and stored. (And if we are to be precise, it is information which can be captured and stored; and yet, information is not knowledge. Knowledge is a human capacity, one that enables us to make decisions and take action facing uncertainty. It may be based on information but requires human interaction to become knowledge….but that’s a blog for another day.) Knowledge is a live, evolving entity that is constantly changing. What is true today may not be true tomorrow.  Also that knowledge which is most apt to be captured is often the most-used, and yet least-specialized, least-complex and, potentially, the least valuable knowledge, creating cracks that may become craters in a knowledge management program where the value of the specialized knowledge is huge, and not having it readily available creates significant performance issues for the organization.

Next consider the concept of distributing knowledge.  Sounds like a neat package: Capture and distribute. However, rather than being passive “receivers” of knowledge, we humans actively seek knowledge – in our own, highly personal ways, based on our own levels of experience, knowledge and understanding, and our preferred behaviors.

Moreover, if people create and house knowledge; if, as Peter Drucker said many years ago, “knowledge is between the ears and only between the ears,” then any knowledge management program must connect people as well as information.  The prospect of distributing knowledge that is in people is, well….challenging, even with collaboration systems within organizations.

“Effectively using knowledge” certainly resonates. It’s the end of the definition, “of, and in organizations,” that may benefit from an update. While the knowledge of and in an organization is highly valuable, and as we’ve already said, a significant asset that today is not well utilized, it is not the sum of the knowledge to which an organization and its constituents should have access. Beyond the organization, there is highly relevant knowledge and information – in the minds of customers, former employees, partners, prospective customers, industry experts, and in social media, such as communities of practice, sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and elsewhere.

How, then, shall we define knowledge management? Shall we include the Long Tail of highly specialized, highly varied and fragmented knowledge, all of which is changing all the time? Shall we include the ways in which people interact with data, which are highly personal and therefore unique? Shall we include the linkage of people with information and through information to other people?

What do you think needs to change, how would you define Knowledge Management in ways that will lead to successful KM programs in 2014 and far beyond?

[i] KMWorld (May 2012) What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx