Commentary: "Sharing Knowledge" versus "Knowledge Management"
By: Dr. Jay Liebowitz, Orkand Endowed Chair in Management and Technology, Graduate School of Management and Technology, University of Maryland University College
I recently returned from the International Association for Computer Information Systems (IACIS) Annual Conference in Mobile, Alabama, and I heard an intriguing presentation by Dr. Robert Skovira (University Professor at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh). One of his main thoughts is that when we think in terms of knowledge management (KM), we really should be using “verbs” versus “nouns”. His feeling is that when you use a noun, we are referring to a “thing” instead of a “process”. Often times, we aren’t really interested in improving the “thing”, but rather how can we enhance the “process”. This idea started to stimulate my neurons and hence produce this Commentary.
In the case of knowledge management, we certainly are concerned with the need to enhance the process of sharing knowledge. In fact, we use verbs to describe this process—for example, collaborate and communicate. In many organizations, when we talk to executives and senior managers about the noun “knowledge management”, they may not seem to get it. However, when we talk about the need to better communicate, collaborate, share, retain, apply, and generate knowledge, this seems to resonate with them. So maybe the KM community has been focusing on the wrong “things”. Instead of pushing the nouns, perhaps we should be emphasizing the verbs for sharing knowledge. We also want to align these processes with the organization’s strategy, goals, and objectives. And outcome metrics can then fall naturally out of these processes. For example, improving learning among your employees can be measured, for example, by seeing how they apply organizational lessons learned and best practices to generate new ideas or increase their productivity by not going down the wrong paths.
Using verbs, perhaps we should be interested in learning by seeing, knowing, and doing. Through mentoring and observations, we can learn by “seeing”. Through one’s educational background and set of core values, we can learn by “knowing”. And through on-the-job experiences, we can learn by “doing”.
Maybe we should also use the verbs—connecting and collecting—instead of knowledge management. Connecting people and collecting experiences helps to build the organization’s knowledge base. But, haven’t we’ve been doing this all these years? Is knowledge management the savior for institutional memory building and creativity enhancement? Organizations are using knowledge management for increasing innovation, becoming more adaptive and agile, building the institutional memory of the organization, and improving organizational internal and external effectiveness.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be concerned with the “noun”, but should focus more on the “verb”. “Knowledge management” may not resonate with everyone, but “sharing” knowledge may. Of course, we run into the dilemma that not everyone will be willing to share his or her knowledge. But, at least we can focus on the “process” which will hopefully lead to improved organizational outcomes.
For more information on our guest contributor, Dr. Jay Liebowitz click here.