“I Speak-a No KM”

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Ash of AOK.  One of the things Jerry said that struck me was his discomfort with terms like “knowledge capture”.  Flinging his arms forward and pulling them back, he said “it’s like taking away one’s knowledge – I capture it”.  Equally culpable is “knowledge transfer” which seems to imply moving it from one place only to be placed somewhere else.  While we know that a person’s knowledge is not removed, whether captured or transferred, these terms still require that accompanying explanation when we use them.

It got me thinking about other terms in KM that we have loosely coined that may seem harmless when used in context but could be threatening and counter-productive especially when used on the KM uninitiated. Even the term “sharing” needs to be explained because it does not mean knowledge lessens when shared.

So a quick mind-scan of KM labels throws up terms like knowledge elicitation which semms like we get the knowledge through provocation, knowledge extraction which sounds pretty painful although it is more often used for data, knowledge harvesting which seems like we only take what we can use and not all the knowledge the individual has is valued. For the person we want to seek the knowledge from, it can seem rather weird, if not ungrateful, for someone to be doing that to his knowledge.

While these terms have their place and time (and audience) when used, KM managers I think need to be very careful not to get too carried away with them especially when trying to influence behaviour to be more KM-friendly, be it from management or from the rest of the people in the organisation. On the one hand, the managers need to convince people that they know their stuff, so they use these labels. On the other hand, they also need to keep it simple and understandable, without seeming condescending or KM-ignorant.

You would think that it would be better to use terms that are more encouraging and convey the positives to the individual whose knowledge we seek? Rather than using a label explaining what we do to the person’s knowledge like “transfer” or “capture”, could we use labels that explain what happens for the person when we do it? Dave Snowden said that “we only know what we know when we need to know it”. Is it not useful then that when the knowledge is in need, it makes us aware of what we know? So, how about the term “knowledge cognizance” where both seeker and the provider become aware of what is known… and unknown. A simpler term would just be “knowledge awareness”, although it might be a mental challenge for some to break away from the sophistication of the KM speak.

Instead of transfer, how about knowledge extension or knowledge augmentation, so there is no connotation of removal of knowledge, just stretching its value, strength and use. I am sure we could come up with more positive sounding terms if we put our minds to it.

Maybe we cannot change what has already been accepted as common language in the KM field, but for the new terms/labels that are coming on board, perhaps we could spare a thought for the KM manager who has to explain it to the typically skeptical folks.

2 Comments so far


very good, i never realised the words we are using have indeed a painfull meaning.
Maybe we should look at a word which means we make knowledge available for who wants to use it : something like liberation or setting it free ??

Sharing sounds good to me : isn’t a shared pain half a pain and a shared joy double a joy ??
If you at it this way, it does not hurt and it does not reduce the initial knowledge

Posted on November 18, 2006 at 04:01 AM | Comment permalink

Paolina Martin

OK, I could live with “sharing”.

As for setting it free - unleashing?

I think “visibility” might cut it - for both the knowledge and knowledge provider.

Posted on November 21, 2006 at 10:45 AM | Comment permalink

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