If I keep reading blogs, I might just read myself out of business. Last week it was that information overload doesn't exist. This time, it is Joe Firestone saying that knowledge management is not all about serving the business objectives. Knowledge Management and Strategy
I believe that my friend and collaborator Mark McElroy (2001) was the first to point out the inherent conflict in the very popular, but we think mistaken, idea that Knowledge Management should be aligned to organizational strategy and that its purpose should be to mobilize knowledge in the service of it. But what's wrong with this widely held idea? Isn't knowledge just a 'tool' or instrument of strategy and KM just a method of upgrading the quality and effectiveness of the tool? And doesn't this mean that KM is itself just a hand maiden of Strategy? Well no, not really. Things are a bit more complex than that.
Joe makes reference to the Firestone & McElroy The New Knowledge Management, dividing what we frequently think of knowledge management into three tiers: Knowledge Management, Knowledge Processing and Business Processing.
This begins to make sense to me when thinking about this breakdown. Joe wants business strategies as part of the flow between knowledge processing and business processing. Knowledge management operates "above" the world of business, in that it can serve many masters beyond strictly the business world. Look at the open source movement -- a collection of people from many different organizations, working together to build software that supports common knowledge and business processes. The APQC has also defined common business processes, many of which cross individual business boundaries.
I think Joe's point here is that knowledge management can serve much more than strictly the goals of individual businesses. In this light, I also begin to hear the strains of Debra Amidon and others, who argue that the "innovation superhighway" should serve the public good for everyone, not just the companies who have bought "KM solutions."
Olaf Brugman's post on this same article helped me see it in this light.