What Is Knowledge Management?

By Rod Collins

While knowledge management has become a topic du jour and many companies are embarking on new initiatives to keep up with current management trends, few companies truly grasp just what knowledge management is all about. Most of these initiatives are data storage exercises to record and catalog current and historical factual information. These massive library efforts are designed to leverage the power of technology to assure that the organization has instant access to one of its most precious assets. In this context, knowledge management is nothing more than another form of asset management.

However, knowledge is uniquely different from other types of economic assets, and normal asset management rules do not apply. When managing plant, property, or equipment, the goal of asset management is to preserve and grow scarce resources through ownership, investment, and acquisition. The proprietary accumulation of wealth through legal ownership has been the long-standing charge of asset managers. But knowledge isn't a scarce resource. Knowledge is an abundant resource, and the only way it grows is by giving it away. Knowledge is most valuable when it is commingled with other knowledge. Thus, holding knowledge as proprietary only diminishes its value over time. Although it may seem counterintuitive, when knowledge is shared, especially in networks, everyone’s intelligence is increased and all the contributors get far more back than they give away. Thus the true goals of knowledge management are not to preserve and protect, but rather to share and expand.

Because knowledge is an abundant resource, the fundamental work of knowledge management is about building processes to continually access the rich reservoir of workers’ knowledge and to quickly share this knowledge throughout the organization. This will not be accomplished by executive fiat  or massive data storage projects, but rather will require the adoption of the interactive processes of a new social technology where workers are able to commingle their knowledge and influence the consensus around the work to be done.

The basic tasks of knowledge management are collective learning and shared understanding. Collective learning provides the capacity to quickly access not only the information contained in electronic files, but more importantly, the critical knowledge that is distributed throughout the organization in the hearts and minds of its people. Shared understanding is the vehicle for using collective knowledge to build consensus and engagement around the work to be done. When these tasks of knowledge management are performed well, workers have the necessary frame of reference to connect the dots between their work and the corporate mission, enabling companies to make the leap to extraordinary performance. That's why the foundation for a high performing Knowledge Management system has nothing to do with storing data and everything to do with accepting the wisdom that nobody is smarter than everybody.

Rod Collins


Rod has more than 30 years of experience in management positions of increasing responsibility in the healthcare industry. Rod is an innovative executive leader with sustained success in achieving financial, operational, and market growth objectives in challenging environments. He has extensive experience in serving as a catalyst for positive change and in building highly collaborative organizations.

Rod is also a member of our Speakers Bureau.


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