I am in the middle of reading The Axemaker's Gift: A Doubled-Edged History of Human Culture by James Burke and Robert Ornstein. I find it an interesting dovetail into my thinking about knowledge mangaement and the concerns we frequently hear about the over-selling of technical solutions to the general issues of knowledge retention, innovation and collaboration (among others).
The authors talk about how techonological developments, from the first primitive tools to oral language to written language and beyond all impact the way we physically, mentally and socially develop. (In fact, they argue that our surroundings also impact these things.) They are particularly interested in follow-on effects of these early technologies. Writing, for example, developed out of a need to keep track of possessions as societies were able to produce abundances crops. It eventually developed into a means for representing knowledge that then expanded the ability of people to think abstractly about knowledge (the Greeks, specifically).
However, the authors also talk about how these new technologies also force us to align ourselves with how they are used. The authors claim that the written word - particularly written word as abstracted from the items the letter combinations represent (no longer pictographic writing) - creates a way of thinking about the world. It's not necessarily bad or good, it's just becomes THE WAY to think.
So, what about KM? Tools that enable people to do something new and faster are those that get incorporated into the business fabric (and into society). The classic example is the huge change that spreadsheets (VisiCalc) made in the accounting and finance worlds. Analyses that would require days of calculations and verification could now be done - and redone - much faster and by more people than the experts. And today we have the internet, intranets and email that massively changed the way people conduct their daily business.
The other thing that is tickling my brain as I read the book is the idea that any kind of automation automatically removes the ability to be flexible and creative in a given process. The authors hint at some of these aspects when talking about the innovation of rule-of-law removing the freedoms of hunter-gatherer societies for new protections. If forcing people into boxes makes life easier for them, they are more willing to climb in with you.
Something to consider the next time a vendor tells you their product will solve your problems.