KFS (KM) in China:
|III Can knowledge be managed?
Definition of Management
As the word "to manage" and "management" are used in many different contexts, it has a very broad meaning. The Encyclopædia Britannica (2004) contains several definitions:
"1 : to handle or direct with a degree of skill: as a : to make and keep compliant b : to treat with care : HUSBAND c : to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of
2 : to work upon or try to alter for a purpose "
The definitions under (1a) and (1c) describe an active action with direct influence over an object. For example, to manage a computer would involve a skillful installation of software, organization of its files, maintenance of the operating system, etc. Similar to that, definition (2) describes the same direct influence but adds a purpose. To manage employees would mean to make and keep them compliant to company policies and work expectations. To treat with care could for example mean to handle a resource in the most efficient or effective way.
But applied to knowledge, there is a large discussion in the academic community whether 'to manage knowledge' is an oxymoron or not. The consultant Karl-Erik Sveiby summarizes these notions and sees that people either tend to see knowledge as objects that can be "identified and handled in information systems" (Sveiby, 2001) and tend to work in technologically oriented fields such as computer and information science. Thus, he calls this notion the 'IT Track KM' and equals it with information management. According to them, knowledge could be managed by finding "useful knowledge, bottle it, and pass it around" (Hildebrand, 1995; Stewart & Kaufman, 1995 quoted by White, 2002). In this literature, the terminology of information and knowledge are also often used synonymously (Wislon, 2002).
On the other hand, researchers and practitioners working or being educated in humanistic fields, such as philosophy or psychology tend to see knowledge as "complex set of dynamic skills, know-how etc, that is constantly changing" (Sveiby, 1996) and thus calls it the 'People-Track KM' and equals it with management of people. They stress the tacit nature of knowledge, often defy it's explicit nature and doubt whether knowledge can be made and kept compliant. They argue that knowledge holders have only limited control over their knowledge. They can gain new knowledge through reason and experience but it is hard or even impossible to forget knowledge. Therefore, it is even more difficult to manage the knowledge of another mind which could be done only indirectly by providing or inhibiting access to information channels or learning by experience. For example, an organization could make an effort to require its employees to learn certain information and test their resulting knowledge through exams. Frank Miller (2002) states that considering the tacit nature of knowledge "the notion that we can 'capture' knowledge becomes ludicrous, just as ludicrous as the notion that we can 'capture people's thoughts'". Wilson points out the difficulty of organizing knowledge since knowledge, although appearing to have been forgotten, can sometimes remerge when it is needed which results in us having "very little control over 'what we know'".