July 15, 2008

Honesty in Advertising

There's precious little honesty in advertising. And, if you think your small corner of the corporate world is immune from this truth, take a look at how people are described on your org chart. Title inflation is rampant. In my view, it is the bane of the corporate world. There was a time when we were either worker bees or craftsmen in guilds and professional associations. Now we are specialists, coordinators, managers, directors and C-Suite dwellers. What comes next?

Similarly, information management morphed into knowledge management and, in so doing, won a new lease on life as a business fad. And now we seem to be stuck. Some clearly are hoping to ride the next wave by telling everyone that web 2.0 is really KM (or KM 2.0). However, the social computing advocates have been doing a good job of defending the barricades, explaining that web 2.0 is not just KM in fancier clothes. Interestingly, in the process of working through that explanation, they are shining more and more light on the skeletons in KM's closet.

Perhaps the biggest skeleton is one that I blogged on recently: the questionable notion that it is even possible to manage "knowledge." Granted, saying that we manage knowledge makes us sound more specialized and wiser than our information management predecessors. After all, surely one must be knowledgeable before one can find and manage knowledge, right? By contrast (or so the argument goes), it doesn't take much talent or expertise to recognize information and dump it in a repository. And, if managing knowledge were not tough enough, some have gone even further and suggested that we're in the business of "wisdom" management!

However, despite our pretensions, all we actually can capture, store and attempt to manage is information. As I wrote earlier, knowledge arises when an individual applies their experience to information within a specific context. Until they perform that alchemy, all you have are discrete bits of information.

It's time for us to be honest about the work we do. We need to find a better way to describe our activities and label our discipline. Given the range of activities within knowledge management, it's most likely that there isn't a single umbrella term we can use. Therefore, perhaps each of us should focus on the essentials of our jobs: information manager, librarian, content creator, collaboration facilitator, information sharing coordinator, etc. While these titles may seem pedestrian, they do have the virtue of being closer to reality. And that's what honesty in advertising is all about.

2 comments:

Henry said...

Thank you for bringing out this point: “knowledge arises when an individual applies their experience to information within a specific context.”
Indeed, without context interpretation may be difficult and often misleading. Effective communication without context is impossible…

Graham Durant-Law said...

Hi Mary - great post.

I have a recurring theme, which is unless we can define our discipline we will never be able to sell it.

Sometimes I wonder whether KM is just a euphanism for management! Some time ago I blogged this thought - see http://www.durantlaw.info/Is+Knowledge+Management+Just+a+Euphemism+for+Management .

Best Regards, Graham