Whatever Happened to Knowledge Management?

That was the title of a talk I gave recently to a group of graduate students at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science.  It may have seemed that I was just trying to be provocative — but in fact, I was genuinely interested in finding the answer.

I think I now finally have.

KM 1.0 arrives

When I launched my company in 1996, Knowledge Management in its modern form had just arrived on the scene.  Books by Tom Stewart and Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak had begun to revitalize a field that had its roots back in the 1960s with Fritz Machlup and Peter Drucker.

Having been a researcher all my career, I was so excited by the potential of this approach that I described my company by the tag line “The Knowledge Agency”. That seemed to resonate with people, so I eventually adopted that as our main trade name, with a registered mark to go with it.

The curtain closes

At one point I brought on a former colleague who had previously been with a global technology company prominent in KM.  “Ron,” I asked him, “don’t tell me anything proprietary, but am I basically right that KM is the greatest thing since the Beatles — and that we’re all going to have a lot of fun and make a lot of money?”

“I hate to break this to you,” was his unexpected response, “but they’re dis-investing in KM.  It didn’t work for them — they couldn’t make enough money at it.”

I soldier on

I went back to rethink my goals several times over, each time coming to the same conclusion — that KM was (and is) something badly needed that will have a major impact if executed well.

But I noticed that, more and more, in my consulting practice I was being called on to diagnose and fix KM approaches that, once implemented, had failed to meet their original goals.  These were in some cases multi-million dollar efforts that ended up not being integrated into the entity’s work flow, and therefore did not provide sufficient ROI.  This happened so often that I began informally referring to myself as “Dr. Know.”

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