This blog tackles the issue ‘why bother with Knowledge Management now?’ with help from ‘Thinking Work’ a book by Thomas Megill, (2nd edition hot from the press).
To demonstrate the relevance of knowledge management in our lives today, Megill suggests we are living through a third major revolution or sea-change in the way humans use tools. The first revolutionary change can be seen in the development of simple tools to supplement human strength. Then came the mechanical age where machines supplemented human muscle power, using steam at first, and later electric and motor power. Finally we have the revolution that brings digital control to our tools. Here is a summary of Megil’s pertinent illustration.
Think about digging a ditch. The first revolution was to use a digging tool. Easy to use, you still just apply muscle power, but with a spade, you can do significantly more than with hands and feet alone. Come the industrial revolution, mechanical diggers were invented, so the operator can dig faster, but now needs more sophisticated skills to control and maintain the appropriate machinery. In today’s digital world for serious digging, as for almost all our work, we have computer power. Highly complicated and expensive machines are used, where controls of the machine is via a touch screen. The operator no longer depends on physical strength or mechanical skills. Instead they need to be computer savvy. Not only does digital power allow more accurate and precise digging, it also enables the operator to communicate with a team who can be connected across the internet. This can, potentially include team members who are in geographic locations far from the digging site. So now a skilled and knowledgeable professional is required with computer literacy and team work communication skills. You can still dig ditches with a simple tool and your own muscle power if you want. But the digital revolution offers an alternative that requires different skills and delivers far, far more digging power.
This example provides a simple way to bring alive the way ‘work’ has evolved through gradual but revolutionary changes since the arrival of computing applications. Our working lives have changed dramatically as computer programmes have moved into everyday work life in the years since the middle of the 20th Century. Knowledge Management is the discipline that has evolved alongside, as we try to adapt our ideas and cultures to the huge new powers at our disposal.
In 2013, for good or ill, humans and the organisations they create have to find new ways to organise in order to thrive as they control the communication and knowledge power they have unleashed.
Megills Book: Megill, K. (2nd edition), 2013. Thinking for a Living: the Coming age of Work. Berlin: De Gruyter Saur.