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Why Knowledge cannot be Managed ?

Knowledge management is a fad that has caught on recently in the IT/ITES industry. The primary reason being for this gaining importance was due to the nascent nature of the industry, a lot of jobs were available and this resulted in a churn of employees from organizations looking for better pastures. Such an employee churn resulted in a loss of face before the customer and also resulted in a loss of product/account/customer knowledge. This article examines if knowledge can be managed or not.

Knowledge is not in Information

At the very offset it is imperative to differentiate knowledge from information. Information is one of the elements that knowledge is made up of. Information can be of static nature, i.e. it can be easily represented in a human language, stored in a media and retrieved at will. The fact that ‘India has a population of 1 Billion people of which 300 million are middle class’ is information; the ability to use this information to come out with a marketing strategy to sell mobile phones to this mass is the application of knowledge; the application of knowledge of marketing, the consumer and the country.

Knowledge is the conversance with a certain discipline of art or science. For instance, a person who has experience in working in the field of astronomy, and who has had demonstrated ability to solve problems related to this discipline, and is an expert in the field, is said to have a good or deep knowledge of Astronomy. Similar examples can be given to different jobs, thus, knowledge is the aggregation of the basic study done in a certain discipline and the sum total of experience in a certain discipline that helps the individual to perform his or her job well.

In the context in the preceding paragraphs, it is certain that knowledge is not something that can be transferred from one person to another. However hard a professor might try to impart knowledge he can only quote examples and situations using which his students may be able to relate. The completeness of the knowledge comes from being in the thick of things and experiencing the situations. It is precisely this nature of ‘knowledge’ that prevents it from being managed. Information about a programming language can be well written in a book and often complemented by a well written ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQs), however, the infinite possibilities of the combinations of problems and situations that may occur prevent from giving a capsule form of knowledge. Thus, most programming books insist that the reader attain mastery over the programming language by writing programs in it.

In IT companies, when a person leaves, along with the person goes the skills acquired and the knowledge. Often valuable product knowledge is lost, resulting in longer maintenance delivery cycles. Thus, one of the techniques that the companies resort to is to have a knowledge management system. Typically, knowledge management systems contain whitepapers, cookbooks, how-tos, FAQs and tips & tricks.

Such a ‘knowledge management system’ reduces the time of getting a new member in the group to be productive; however, it never discounts the experience factor. Thus as a result, companies implement a mentoring system where the new joinee works closely with a senior associate. No matter how hard one tries, in the near future, there is no way ‘Knowledge’ can be managed; managed as in allocated and moved from one person to another.

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