posted 9 Dec 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 4
Book review: Learning through Knowledge Management
Wido Bosch reviews Learning through Knowledge Management by Pervaiz Ahmed, Kwang Kok Lim & Ann Loh
TITLE: Learning through Knowledge Management
AUTHORS: Pervaiz Ahmed, Kwang Kok Lim & Ann Loh
PUBLISHERS: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2001
Learning through Knowledge Management has two main sections. The first is largely theoretical, while the second contains 18 case studies from organisations that have implemented KM programmes. The theoretical part consists of six chapters:
- ‘Knowledge management and learning for organisations’, in which basic characteristics of knowledge, learning and knowledge management are introduced;
- ‘Process approaches for the management of knowledge and learning’, in which a view on the knowledge-creation process is discussed;
- ‘Culture for knowledge sharing and transfer’, which deals with the climate in which people tend to share knowledge and learn;
- ‘Leadership role in the management of knowledge structure and culture’, which explores issues on how to facilitate the described knowledge-creation and sharing process;
- ‘Measurement and technology’, introducing a knowledge-management matrix for measurement in addition to a number of technological issues;
- ‘Learning knowledge management imperatives: present into future’, which includes some reflections on why knowledge-management programmes fail together with predictions for the future.
In the theoretical section, the writers attempt to provide an overview of the key issues concerning knowledge management, although they recognise that the book is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject. The authors approach this task primarily from a management perspective, presenting a number of models, gurus and theories. In the second section – the case studies – the authors outline the knowledge-management projects of 18 organisations, together with their individual strategies.
The authors do not achieve their goals in every chapter. For example, chapter two introduces a rigid framework for a people, project and experience factory, through which the authors propose knowledge and experience are stored for re-use in the organisation. I would refer here to Dave Snowden, who says: “A best practice is realised in a specific environment, under specific circumstances and organisational context, but organisations, circumstances and environments change. Therefore best practice is often no more than entrained past practice.”
Chapter five deals with measurement issues, but so briefly that I would suggest practitioners read further on this topic before adapting any of the models covered by this book. In the same chapter, only five pages are spent on technology, which I think is a bit sparing considering the technological possibilities of the age.
Chapter six, however, contains a profound and very impressive overview of why knowledge-management projects often fail to produce bottom-line impact. The authors argue that KM programmes often fail to close four key gaps: the technology gap, the implementation gap, the transfer gap and the integration gap.
Throughout the book, the focus is mainly on the role of the manager rather than the individual. Also, the theories discussed are primarily management theories. This is a shame, because a title that professes to deal with learning should be focused largely on the knowledge worker, learning styles and management’s ability to facilitate learning. The key in this regard is to give the knowledge worker the freedom to create their own environment in which new knowledge can be acquired.
Those at the outset of a knowledge-management project who already have a basic grounding in knowledge management might benefit from reading the case examples, but be aware that you do not want to imitate but innovate – cases are context specific, so copying directly will never work. Anybody who is looking to start a knowledge-management initiative should definitely read the part on why knowledge-management programmes often fail to produce a bottom-line impact. Project teams that have implemented a technical, working solution, but who are wondering why people still don’t share their knowledge should read chapter three, ‘Culture for knowledge sharing and transfer’.
Bearing in mind the main topic of the book, I expected a more profound view on the knowledge worker, what their working environment looks like and how they can develop new knowledge. The starting point for any discussion in this area should be the employee and not the manager or the organisation as a whole, yet in this book focuses too heavily on a managerial perspective. The cases provide valuable material on how organisations struggle with knowledge-management projects, but the majority of these are presented as success stories, despite the fact that it is possible to learn far more from failures.
A number of chapters contain interesting opinions (chapters three and six in particular) but overall I must admit that I failed to comprehend the authors’ vision on learning though knowledge management and it’s implications for organisations looking to implement KM.
Wido Bosch is director of KnowMany. He can be contacted at email@example.com