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Of Unicorns and virgins

By Dave Snowden  ·  May 3, 2012  ·  Musings

David Griffiths, aside from being a fellow welshman with a proper appreciation of the religious aspects of rugby (I am writing this wearing one of several Grand Slam 2012 T shirts I have acquired) also blogs on knowledge management.  I keep a track on what he says and also comment more frequently that I do for others, generally along the lines of OK I agree but .....   He recently published some thoughts on Chasing Unicorns in which he argues that "KM is a redundant process that should be re-evaluated and scrapped", he calls it a management myth and more specifically that "KM fills a gap, caused by lack of business understanding and a street war between territorial agents from IT and HR".   Now that will probably get him on the same hate lists in which I and others feature for arguing that KM is dead; although not many get the historical context of that statement when I use it but there again too few people read Dietrich Bonhoeffer these days.

He argues that "We don't need KM, we need a more focused and proactive HR function and we need a strong relationship between HR and IT.  KM is not the solution."  Now I agree with that, but in the OK I agree but .... sense again.   HR is in most organisations an administrative rather than a development function and it needs to shift.   IT has many of the tools that could support KM, but gets swept up in the apparent neatness of Sharepoint and the like solutions, in general (although this is changing) disposing the messy coherence and semi-anarchistic knowledge flows associated with social computing.  If it interacts with HR without some other form of mediation/intervention then I suspect that all solutions will be bureaucratic, over structured and uniform in nature.   

I think the issue is not ownership its focus.  I have argued for years that decision support and innovation are the primary goals of KM and those functions belong in strategy and operations as much as in any head office function.  Any KM programme should be a portfolio of projects that link directly to business needs.  And with a portfolio approach we can allow a degree of experimentation with needs that are not yet articulated.   HR and IT relate to those projects in various ways and degrees, but they can't own or direct them with any effectiveness.

I'd also take issue with the "KEN Knowledge Environment Diagram" that contrasts order with disorder in a linear way.   Managerial work is not limited to disorder and procedural work to order, nor is that a useful dichotomy anyway.   But that is a subject for another day.  One of these days we may appear at the same conference at the same time!  

For the moment, if you are a virgin in knowledge management, then you have a chance with unicorns and chasing a few might lead to some interesting discoveries.