posted 12 Sep 2001 in Volume 5 Issue 2
Mikko Arevuo reviews The Knowledge Management Yearbook 2000-2001.
The Knowledge Management Yearbook 2000-2001
Editors: James W. Cortada & John A. Woods
Publisher: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000
“That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.” (Ayn Rand.)
This quotation comes from the ‘Quotes on knowledge management and organisational learning’ section of the excellent collection of articles that constitute the second edition of The Knowledge Management Yearbook 2000-2001.
The editors have come up with the innovative idea of creating a clearing-house for numerous articles written on knowledge management and organisational learning. The book emphasises the practical application of knowledge management, founded on sound theoretical principles. As a result, the book is a valuable resource for consultants, students and executives who need an introduction to the various issues surrounding the universe of knowledge management. Since the book covers a vast amount of material, and, as is the case with many such contributed books, some of the material seems disjointed, the book should not be read from cover to cover. The editors realise this and the reader is instructed to peruse the contents of the book and dip into articles and sections as required.
The book is divided into five main parts, and the first covers the nature of knowledge and its management. This introductory section explores the theoretical underpinnings of knowledge management, in particular the tacit and explicit dimension of knowledge.
The second section deals with the critical issue of how the effective management of knowledge influences corporate strategy and affects business results. It explores, using practical examples of organisations such as Xerox, the strategies companies have used to capture, harness, share and leverage knowledge for competitive advantage, and concludes with an article on knowledge mergers and acquisitions, an area that has not been widely discussed in knowledge management reference books, but is of vital concern for corporate strategists.
Organisational learning constitutes the largest part of the book. This section integrates knowledge management with learning organisation theory, and explores how an organisation learns and grows from its experience to become more efficient and effective.
Learning, both at organisational and individual level, is dependent on successful collection, codification and transfer of knowledge. This synthesis of two ‘disciplines’ is a welcome development. While there may be differences and a varying emphasis between organisational learning and knowledge management theories, most executives treat these as complementary areas in the implementation of knowledge-based strategies. Again, theoretical discussion is backed up with a number of case studies on how different companies have effectively managed knowledge to improve efficiency, increase sales and enhance customer satisfaction. An article that deserves a special mention is the case study on the Shell Group of Companies’ experiences in embracing organisational learning.
This section, as I previously mentioned, is the heart of the book. However, readers will find it heavy going due to the theoretical nature of some of the articles and the nexus between knowledge management and organisational learning. That said, I recommend you persevere and am certain that you will keep coming back to this section as different issues arise in your knowledge management initiatives.
Part four pulls together all the previous sections by outlining tools and techniques organisations can use to capture, organise, store and distribute knowledge and information. IT often receives a disproportionately large level of attention in knowledge management literature. This, combined with the fact that a number of consultants focus solely on the information technology aspects of knowledge management, has produced a perception in the minds of many that information technology equals knowledge management. It is therefore good to see that Cortada and Woods have struck an appropriate balance in their book between IT and tools for managers to facilitate the fundamental change process required in creating a knowledge-based organisation.
Part four concludes with two articles dealing with the auditing and measuring of knowledge and knowledge management effectiveness. Measurement of the business impact of knowledge management has always been a difficult issue and has provoked plenty of debate among theorists and practitioners. What we all agree on is that if we cannot measure something, we cannot manage it. Measurement is therefore a critical consideration if knowledge management is to prosper as an organisational philosophy. A lot of research has already been done on measurement, but more is called for. There is always a danger in that by including a relatively short section on knowledge management measurement, more questions will be raised than answered. It may be an idea for the editors to focus on measurement aspects of knowledge management in subsequent yearbooks.
The book concludes with a comprehensive reference section that includes knowledge management websites, publications, organisations and so on. The real gem, however, is the thought provoking collection of about a hundred quotations on the nature of knowledge and its management, learning and wisdom. If you are, like me, always thinking about how to start an article or a presentation that will captivate your audience, then the quotes will give you plenty of ideas. Since I have in this article pointed a finger at IT-centred knowledge management approaches and highlighted the need for a more expansive treatment of knowledge measurement issues, I was pleased to find the following quote by Wendy Craig: “The best technology in the world won’t contribute a dollar to the bottomline by itself. It has to be supported by enablers. And they all have to be driven by measurable benefits.”
The Knowledge Management Yearbook 2000-2001 is a valuable addition to the fragmented knowledge management literature landscape. Its greatest strength is the ability to combine high quality articles into a resource that works at many levels, from seasoned knowledge management professionals to readers who are taking their first steps in the knowledge journey. The editors’ greatest challenge is to repeat this in next year’s publication.
Mikko Arevuo is principal at Delta Strategies Ltd. He can be contacted at: email@example.com