AKRI

Slow knowledge

The concept of knowledge management has created an impression that knowledge is a commodity which can be manipulated by systems at high speed. There is more than an implication that knowledge can be moved rapidly and effectively delivered to the point of need. The suggestion is that knowledge itself can be stored in electronic form and processed in the same way as any other electronic document or file.
Whilst all of this is true for documents and files which are loosely described as knowledge, it is most certainly not true for human held knowledge. It is now accepted by many that knowledge can be many things including documents and files. Yet this state simply weakens the concept of knowledge as something which is known.
There are many differences between document based and human based knowledge. Many of these differences are extremely important to those with an operational interest in knowledge. Important differences concern the application of knowledge directly but another significant difference is the processing or manipulation speed. Electronic files and documents can be manipulated at very high speeds. Some human knowledge takes a lifetime to acquire yet can be applied rapidly in some circumstances.
Whilst electronic documents are most certainly in the fast lane, there is a problem with the application of whatever knowledge they might be said to contain. In most cases, even the most detailed documentary instructions cannot actually achieve a goal without human intervention. And when things go wrong, documents often fall short when it comes to dealing with the problem.
The acceptance of documents and files as knowledge in applied areas is often convenient but allowing the belief that all knowledge of the broadly defined kind can be managed and processed in the same way is very unhelpful. Human knowledge is a slow lane system whilst documents and files are in the fast lane. There are potentially significant problems with attempting to drag human knowledge into the fast lane. Fast lane human knowledge might be what people want to hear and others promise to deliver but it is an illusion.
Even though knowledge management has been around for many years, the processes and procedures which underpin human knowledge have been many thousands of years in the making. The speed problem relates primarily to knowledge transfer, something which used to be called learning. Knowledge transfer can imply high speed but most understand that learning is typically a slow lane activity. Changing the name unfortunately, won't speed things up.
As humans learn, slowly, they typically become more able to solve problems and also create new knowledge. Fast lane systems cannot come close to this human capability. So as many wish for faster knowledge systems, they focus only on the problems relating to slow and either neglect or ignore the considerable benefits. As organisations create pressure for faster knowledge systems they do so probably unaware of the difficulties they are creating for a learning and growing organisation. Decisions relating to organisational knowledge often take place with without much of the most relevant information.