I recently came across a paper by respected author, consultant and keynote speaker Verna Allee on the 12 principles of Knowledge Management. Reading the paper, two thoughts occurred to me:
- The principles appear to be so simple and obvious
- Why didn’t I think of them!
I asked myself whether these statements meet the strict definition of ‘principles’, which is:
“a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.”
and firmly believe they do.
I’ve reproduced the principles below, with due accreditation to Verna Allee. I think these should be imprinted in the minds of anyone aspiring to be a competent and successful knowledge manager:
- Knowledge is messy. Because knowledge is connected to everything else, you can’t isolate the knowledge aspect of anything neatly. In the knowledge universe, you can’t pay attention to just one factor.
- Knowledge is self-organizing. The self that knowledge organizes around is organizational or group identity and purpose.
- Knowledge seeks community. Knowledge wants to happen, just as life wants to happen. Both want to happen as community. Nothing illustrates this principle more than the Internet.
- Knowledge travels via language. Without a language to describe our experience, we can’t communicate what we know. Expanding organizational knowledge means that we must develop the languages we use to describe our work experience.
- The more you try to pin knowledge down, the more it slips away. It’s tempting to try to tie up knowledge as codified knowledge-documents, patents, libraries, databases, and so forth. But too much rigidity and formality regarding knowledge lead to the stultification of creativity.
- Looser is probably better. Highly adaptable systems look sloppy. The survival rate of diverse, decentralized systems is higher. That means we can waste resources and energy trying to control knowledge too tightly.
- There is no one solution. Knowledge is always changing. For the moment, the best approach to managing it is one that keeps things moving along while keeping options open.
- Knowledge doesn’t grow forever. Eventually, some knowledge is lost or dies, just as things in nature. Unlearning and letting go of old ways of thinking, even retiring whole blocks of knowledge, contribute to the vitality and evolution of knowledge.
- No one is in charge. Knowledge is a social process. That means no one person can take responsibility for collective knowledge.
- You can’t impose rules and systems. If knowledge is truly self-organizing, the most important way to advance it is to remove the barriers to self-organization. In a supportive environment, knowledge will take care of itself.
- There is no silver bullet. There is no single leverage point or best practice to advance knowledge. It must be supported at multiple levels and in a variety of ways.
- How you define knowledge determines how you manage it. The “knowledge question” can present itself many ways. For example, concern about the ownership of knowledge leads to acquiring codified knowledge that is protected by copyrights and patents.
Reading through these principles I’m reminded of a famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi:
Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.
Amen to that.