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Knowledge management, a state of the art guide – Review

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Knowledge Management: a State of the Art Guide.
Authors: Paul R Gamble, and John Blackwell
Publisher: Kogan Page, London, 2001
Format: Paperback, 226 pages
ISBN 0749436492
Price: £18.99

Buy this book from the TrainingZONE – Blackwells bookshop.

“The trick”, according to consultancy firm KPMG “is to make it really easy to amass content and then get it out again when you need it.” Through having worked with KPMG and many other leading companies in Europe and the USA (some of whom now employ Chief Knowledge Officers or Chief Learning Officers), Gamble and Blackwell are able to provide a wide ranging and challenging summary of how knowledge management is defined and practiced in a wide variety of different organisational cultures. The book contains quotations from practitioners, many of which are off-the-cuff observations rather than carefully formulated statements of bland company policy. As such, they are much more interesting.

The book is written as a short text on a newly emerging area for MBA students, but deserves a wider readership in the worlds of education and training. After an introduction which briefly covers the history of management theories of knowledge during the second half of the twentieth century (management by objectives, knowledge process re-engineering, total quality management, management by wandering about and so on), the authors begin to concentrate on defining how knowledge management is different. It relates to globalisation, the breaking down of barriers between the worlds of learning and work, new approaches to career management and personal responsibility for learning, and of course, information technology.

There is a pertinent discussion of the different approaches to IT in the USA and the EU. US companies are more ready to throw money at new technological solutions early – lots of shrink wrapped boxes will make people knowledgeable. This brings some benefits – the benefits that always go to early adapters – although an over emphasis on the “hard” issues of technology in the area of knowledge management is a mistake. IT is apparently only 15% of KM – albeit an important 15% – but empowering people and rethinking learning theory are more important (“given a choice between asking someone or looking up a fact in a database, people will usually choose the former”).

Companies need to move from being knowledge chaotic (“knowledge is stored and managed in an ad-hoc way …accessing and retrieving it is difficult and time consuming because nobody knows where… it may be held”) to being knowledge-centric (“the enterprise redefines itself… is able to demonstrate sustainable competitive advantage… many conventional forms have been abandoned to allow greater autonomy, empowerment and choice”). Knowledge workers need to progress from merely knowing what, to knowing how and why – and then to caring why. They must learn to work with represented knowledge – in books, manuals and databases, embedded knowledge – more subtly hidden in rules, procedures and working practices and embodied knowledge, which only exists in people. Knowledge engineering, the great hope for the future a decade or so ago was going to get it all out and codified, but that’s another story…

The book contains a lot of matrices, bullet point lists, charts and diagrams which help to get ideas across clearly and succinctly. It’s definitely a text book, but none the less readable for that. The final chapter deals with management and evaluation – how do you value knowledge in a company balance sheet ? Again, there are a few suggestions for scoring systems, and the book contains a useful questionnaire as an appendix. It might have helped Lew Plant, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who summed up his dilemma as – “if only we knew what we know”.

David Evans
E-Learning Consultant
Financial Projections Ltd

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