Ten Principles of Knowledge Management

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Introduction

Many companies are beginning to feel that the knowledge of their employees is their most valuable asset. They may be right, but few firms have actually begun to actively manage their knowledge assets on a broad scale. Knowledge management has thus far been addressed at either a philosophical or a technological level, with little pragmatic discussion on how knowledge can be managed and used more effectively on a daily basis. At this early stage of knowledge management in business, the most appropriate form of dialogue is not detailed tactics, but rather high-level principles. When an organization decides what principles it agrees upon with respect to knowledge management, it can then create detailed approaches and plans based upon the principles. Ten principles of knowledge management are listed below. With each principle some implications and issues are also discussed. Where I am aware of firms who have wrestled with the principle and taken action on it, their experience is described. 1. Knowledge management is expensive (but so is stupidity!). Knowledge is an asset, but its effective management requires investment of other assets. There are many particular knowledge management activities requiring investment of money or labor, including the following: •Knowledge capture, i.e., creation of documents and moving documents onto computer systems •Adding value to knowledge through editing, packaging, and pruning •Developing knowledge categorization approaches and categorizing new contributions to knowledge; •Developing information technology infrastructures and applications for the distribution of knowledge; •Educating employees on the creation, sharing, and use of knowledge. What is the cost of ignorance and stupidity? How much does it cost an organization to forget what key employees know, to not be able to answer customer questions quickly or at all, or to make poor decisions based on faulty knowledge? Just as organizations attempting to determine the value of quality determined the cost of poor quality products and services, if we wish to assess the worth of knowledge we can try to measure the cost of not knowing. Of course, such an assessment could lead to political problems, but that is another principle. 2. Effective management of knowledge requires hybrid solutions of people and technology. Business Week recently announced in the title of a recent article on artificial intelligence that, "Computers that think are almost here...The ultimate goal of artificial intelligence-human-like reasoning-is within reach." Reading this headline in 1995 may create a deja vu experience for managers and professionals, who have been hearing about machine-based knowledge since the 1950s. But the fact is that firms wishing to effectively manage knowledge today need a heavy dose of human labor. Humans are very good at certain types of activities, computers at others. Human beings may be expensive and cantankerous, but they are quite accomplished at certain knowledge skills. When we seek to understand knowledge, to interpret it within a broader context, to combine it with other types of information, or to synthesize various unstructured forms of knowledge, humans are the recommended tool. These are the types of knowledge tasks at which we excel, and we should be employed for these purposes. Computers and communications systems, on the other hand, are good at different types of things. For the capture, transformation, and distribution of highly structured knowledge that changes rapidly, computers are more capable than people. They are increasingly useful-though still a bit awkward-for performing these same tasks on less structured textual and visual knowledge. But it is still the case that most people don't turn to computers when they want a rich picture of what is going on in a particular knowledge domain. Given this mixture of skills, we need to construct hybrid knowledge management environments in which we...
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