Home-Grown Knowledge

There’s nothing quite like the home-spun tale – even in the business book genre. I guess that’s why I enjoyed reading this just released book from two Massey University academics and researchers.
Knowledge Management: an introduction to creating competitive advantage from intellectual capital, sounds trifle daunting but it’s not. It is no-nonsense, easy to read and timely summary of the essence of good knowledge management.
As Sheffield Consulting’s Ian Taylor writes in the book’s foreword “the case for smart knowledge management is succinct, taut and well researched. Beyond this, though, the book provides substantial practical insight based on wealth of field and consulting experience unique in this part of the world.” Couldn’t have said it better so why try.
The authors, he adds, have used sharp wit and astute anecdotal observations to bring the book to life, to make it an “interesting and compelling” read. I agree with that too.
Knowledge economy, knowledge wave, knowledge society and knowledge management, so many labels and so little consensus about what constitutes the core of each loose phrase. Davidson and Voss are quite clear about what they have concentrated on. They state it up front. Knowledge management is about “creating systems that enable organisations to tap into the knowledge, experiences and creativity of their staff to improve their performance”.
They like the definition because it makes it clear that knowledge management is about “sharing knowledge, not for its own sake, but rather as means to discover ways that enable staff to carry out business processes faster, better, and at lower costs”.
The authors argue the case that the way to thrive in our contemporary economy is for organisations to work smarter. Note they do not say “work smarter rather than harder”, because sometimes the smartest things to do involve redoubling of effort.
Knowledge management is not soft option. Sharing knowledge becomes source of competitive advantage “only to those organisations that enable staff to learn how to do their jobs better and then ensure they do them better”.
The authors are social scientists. They bring healthy perspective of the role of IT in the process on knowledge management. “We are big fans of computers, and certainly recognise that they play an important role in helping manage knowledge. However, we also think that far too much is made of that role and altogether far too little made about creating the conditions where staff are excited about sharing what they know and about learning from the experiences of others.”
Computers help with knowledge management “but only once we are very clear about how they support sharing and learning in any organisational context”. Knowledge management is about organisational learning and thinking – more accurately, it is about the learning and thinking of the individuals who work for the organisations.
The authors argue that managing knowledge is more about how organisations manage their staff than it is about how much they spend on information technology. It is about four key elements: identification of key knowledge assets that exist in the organisation; reflection about what the organisation knows; sharing the knowledge with whoever needs to know it; applying the knowledge to improve the way the organisation performs.
The authors concede there is no “simple recipe for successful knowledge management” but they do great job offering some very sound alternatives and suggestions for creating in-house solutions. As they say, the intention was to provide pointers on what ingredients the recipes might involve, and even on how to prepare them.
The key, however, is the use of home grown material and thinking. “In the early days we tried to apply what we learned from the international experiences,” says Davidson, “but we soon realised that the culture and size of local companies called for some local ingenuity”. The result will speak for itself. Every manager should read this book and understand its application to his or her area of management responsibility.

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