Have I mentioned recently how much I truly hate the term "social business"?

Maybe hate is a bit strong, and it's really not the term, but the way it is used. However, as I was struggling to finalize my contribution to this month's Social Business theme, I was saved by a fellow author's article: Knowledge Management in 2012: Probably Dead by Roan Young (@roanyoung).

How did Roan save my bacon? Well, because I really don't agree with the sentiment of his article, I get to write a rebuttal!

Roan opened his article with the following comment:

"I know I'd probably receive hate emails and death threats for saying it. But the truth has to be surfaced. And I will say it:

Knowledge Management (KM) - as we know it - is dying.
KM in 2012? Dead probably.”

Keep your cool. I know the above statements are pretty emotional...."

I have no intention of sending any hate mails, nor threats and I applaud Roan for being contentious, after all, it has provoked me into responding.

Probably the key words in the sentence that ring the KM death knell are "as we know it." For I must ask, who are we? People who count themselves as KM practitioners or specialists? Human Resource or Human Capital specialists? Business people with an interest in organizational memory? The collective "we" in this context may have very many and very different ideas on how Knowledge Management, as they know it, is dying or evolving.

KM is in Decline -- Because We Can't Define It

Roan goes on to suggest, "the biggest problem with KM is that it is too broadly defined." I hear you brother; in my presentation to the AIIM Info360 conference last year, I referenced work by Professor Michael Sutton of the Gore Business School at Westminster College, who collected a library of over 100 definitions of Knowledge Management back in 2008. (See slide 7 of the presentation on SlideShare). Anybody want to bet that list has expanded since then?

However, I would ask if that lack of a single, simple and broadly agreed upon definition is really such a problem? Does it really matter if your organization has its own, different definition of KM, as long as everyone in your organization agrees on it, understands it, and more to the point, understands how that definition will be used to derive value for your organization in enabling its business strategy?

For those of us who consider that we work "in the field of knowledge management," surely we can just pick one or two of the academic definitions, or we could join a body such as the KM Professional Society and use their definition so that we have a shared language and a common understanding.

Roan goes onto to say: "...needless to say, we have failed to meet those inflated, unrealistic expectations. People get disappointed with KM and decide to move on." That may well be true, but then I have worked in organizations where changes in business priority, and thus changes in funding priority have killed initiatives of every kind, whether they be business led or technology oriented, so while I don't really disagree with Roan, I think he is being melodramatic (purely for the sake of his article?).

And the Answer is...

"Social Business" of course!

Come on, seriously? KM is dying because we can't define it, but it will be saved, reborn, resurrected as social business? Can I legitimately insert "ROFL" here, because there is nothing "woolly" at all about that term, is there!

To be honest, it is not that I totally disagree with Roan, but I have a very wide (and odd?) personal definition of knowledge management. To me it is 95% non-technological, so to say that 5 largely technological trends -- social computing, mobile, cloud, big data, Gen Y -- will either kill KM as we know it or morph KM into something even more loosely defined is just, well, it's just bizarre.

So I don't like the trendy use of the term social business, as I explained in this article: Social Business or Enterprise 2.0 Platform? but I do quite like Deb Lavoy's much deeper analysis of the term in her article: Social Business Doesn't Mean What You Think It Does, Neither Does Enterprise 2.0.

In my article I explained why I prefer the use of the term Enterprise 2.0 because of the SLATES and FLATNESSES frameworks that were created to explain the technological aspect of the evolution from the 1.0 to 2.0 states. I have also previously referenced the work of David Gurteen and his 2007 presentation "KM goes Social." While David notes that he does not really like the terms KM 2.0 or Social KM, in the end he does not really care what we call it, as long as we can lever the new tools and platforms to meet our KM objectives.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

The bottom line is that I don't agree with Roan's assertion that KM will morph into social business. Let's agree that both areas are very broad, with equally broad definitions, but let's also agree that they are not the same thing, and in fact that they will probably co-exist in parallel, but not in all organizations.

I certainly don't agree with his assertion that inward looking KM is obsolete and social business will have to change it. Large law firms have a good understanding of what KM means to them, but probably not a good understanding of where social business fits in with their model.

Similarly, the global pharmaceutical industry has a good understanding of what KM means in their particular context, but social business might not apply to them either? Remember the issue about KM definitions -- well, that's because it is highly contextual, and broad brush assertions about how it will change can't be evenly applied.

Knowledge Management, while not being a precisely or narrowly defined field, is accepted as including human resources management, organizational learning, organizational change management, information management and many other facets -- many of which can be enabled by social computing-type technologies. To me, this does not depend on what school of KM you subscribe to: if you agree with Nonaka and Tekeuchi's assertion that tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit knowledge (SECI), or whether you believe tacit knowledge stays in our heads and all we can really share is information -- there is always a role for the latest enabling technologies.

So will KM 1.0 as defined by David Gurteen five years ago finally die off in 2012? Probably not. Believe it or not, some organization somewhere gets good value out of its stand alone database of "After Action Reviews" because its staff have become used to writing and filing them.

Will KM 2.0 continue to mature? For sure, some bright spark somewhere will come up with a new paradigm and we will all start to ruminate on the future evolution to KM 3.0!

But does KM simply die as a concept, to be replaced by the concept of Social Business?

Not a chance!!!

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