Does KM work for you?

As a knowledge management (KM) enthusiast, I was curious to come across this recently published collection of essays on Personal KM.  Personal Knowledge Management: Individual, Organizational and Social Perspectives, edited by Pauleen and Gorman and published by Routledge in 2016.

It moves KM away from a major focus on organisations and investigates how it could be life changing for individuals. It persuasively puts the case for helping people to benefit from understanding KM but also contends that an emphasis on individual benefit would improve the way we do KM in organisations too. If we had this emphasis woven into all our work, it would offer an exciting challenge to traditional KM! (Are we old enough to have traditions?)

Ideas on the centrality of knowledge for organisational success go back to Penrose and her ideas of the theory of the firm, (Penrose, 1995),  and also of course, the very influential management theorist, Peter Drucker, who was the first to talk about knowledge workers,  (Drucker, 1968).  Knowledge Management grew out of this macro focus on strengthening organisations.  Now would seem an appropriate time to shift the focus to strengthening individuals in our very globalised, yet atomised world.

You can’t thrive in an environment characterised by computer facilitated information overload, promotional bombardment and now ‘alternative facts’ without acquiring skills to handle information. Knowledge management goes a step further and looks at how all this fecundity of information combines with our own personal skills and understanding.  This is the area of tacit knowledge – the stuff we know that makes important things happen. Tacit knowledge is vital when jobs are precarious and everyone needs a portfolio of skills to allow adaptation to this ever more complex work environment.

PKM involves a range of relatively simple and inexpensive techniques and tools that anyone can use.  It focuses on how we acquire the knowledge we need, create new knowledge and how we share our understanding with our personal networks.  The emphasis is on collaboration with colleagues, without having to rely on the technical or financial resources of an employer.  Helpful attitudes for managing these evolving understandings, skills and abilities are an enthusiasm for learning and a willingness to explore suitable software, so that we build our abilities in communication, collaboration, creativity, lifelong learning and social networking, keeping our knowledge up-to-date and accessible.

Is there a potential conflict between Personal KM and Organisational KM?  This book insists that the opposite should be the case. Working with PKM will bring greater effectiveness to organisational KM programmes. KM is well established in many organisations but there is a danger that it can easily be characterised as a negative force for individuals. Are we to give up our personal power for the benefit of an organisation that increasingly owes us little in return, with no commitment to long term job tenures? Does the mantra about sharing benefiting the giver and the taker hold true or is it equally plausible that we are cajoled, manipulated or bullied to give away our knowledge power, and then be made redundant in the next inevitable restructure?

This book takes a positive line, that knowledge is all about individuals and so organisational KM must work to build peoples’ personal KM. The best organisations will already encourage personal learning and allow time for reflection and growth. Knowledge managers are trying to help all employers recognise the power of this KM good practice so that it benefits both the organisation and the individuals involved.

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