Mark Clare of Allstate, and formerly of Lincoln Re, did an excellent presentation at the KMPro Chicago meeting last night on the state of knowledge management and the needed future directions. He argues that KM needs to step back and define knowledge before plunging forward with the "next wave" of knowledge management approaches or applications.
KM has created and kept a high level of interest since its inception because it hits incredibly close to a central problem in management: the risk of knowledge being unused, not created, or not protected. However, KM hasn't had resounding success in the business world. Why? Not because the technologists hijacked the concept, but because the KM community has done a poor job of defining the appropriate methodologies and theories for "what is knowledge management." And this has happened because no one has delivered a useful definition of knowledge management. Only when you have these things does it make sense to persue a KM project.
This "definition of knowledge" is a big stumbling block. Mark made it a little easier by helping us think of what definition we really need. The organization needs to define knowledge as the knowledge critical to that business, both what the business needs to know today to succeed and what it will need in the future. He calls this "the Goldilocks problem," neither an overly broad nor an overly-narrow definition will be helpful. It has to be just right. With this in hand, the business can move forward with developing a knowledge vision/framework and then pick the appropriate projects to implement that will support that vision.
Another interesting aspect that Mark mentioned is the popular idea of culture change, one that I have considered a number of times. Mark argues that we should work with the natural strengths of the culture in building the knowledge definition and strategies. Typically, we talk about the needed culture change when implementing KM programs. Why not, instead, develop a KM program that supports and builds upon the existing culture? The acceptance rate by everyone in the organization will be much higher.