I'd like to thank Olaf Brugman
and Jack Vinson
for their comments on my
blog post about Knowledge Management and Strategy. I am very interested
in the parallel between the view of The New Knowledge Management (TNKM)
and Rudolf Steiner's work of 1919, and I agree that one implication of
what we are saying is that, as Olaf says: "knowledge development should
not be subordinated to - or monopolized by - economic life (be it
corporate or societal". I also agree very much with his statement that:
"Economic reasoning and decision-making cannot solve all social issues,
and it shouldn't. However, to be able to move, as a society, towards a
better version of society, we need all three impulses that make for
change: coming from economic life, rights life, and cultural (=
knowledge and feeling) life. And economic and bookkeeping logic should
not be the only one governing our knowledge development."
And I agree, as well, with Jack's observation that:
"I think Joe's point here is that knowledge management can serve much
more than strictly the goals of individual businesses. In this light, I
also begin to hear the strains of Debra Amidon and others, who argue
that the "innovation superhighway" should serve the public good for
everyone, not just the companies who have bought "KM solutions.""
As important as the points made by Olaf and Jack are, however, I don't
think the important ideas that KM transcends (1) economic life
and also encompasses rights life and cultural life, or (2) the goals of
individual businesses, should overshadow the main point I was making.
It speaks directly to those who believe, unlike Olaf and Jack, that KM
should not transcend economic life, or the goals of individual
Once again, that point is: even if your company's strategy is strictly
focused on only its own economic goals, it is still true, nevertheless,
that if you want to achieve these goals continuously and on a
sustainable basis, you should implement an autonomous KM function that
is not aligned with current strategy, but rather with a KM strategy of
enhancing knowledge processing. Keeping the three-tier model in mind,
and also my previous blog posts entitled "All Life Is Problem Solving"
and "Organizational Problem Solving"
, here is another, shorter
statement of the key argument leading to the conclusion that there is a
contradiction in practicing KM and aligning it with strategy.
(1) Strategy focused on economic goals is implemented through business
processes which use already created knowledge including strategy iself.
(2) Knowledge use is not specifically a knowledge process. Rather it is
part of every act of decision making and of every pattern of actions
constituting a business process.
(3) Knowledge Use Management is therefore every manager's job, Knowledge or otherwise and it is not what I mean by KM.
(4) Organizations, including profit-oriented companies, are complex
adaptive systems. In such systems the outcomes of routine, rule
governed processes based on previously created knowledge, frequently
deviate from the objectives and goals of the system. This creates a
need for adaptation (and an epistemic problem) that must be fulfilled
by problem solving (or knowledge or learning) processes.
(5) These processes are used to produce new knowledge that, in turn, is
applied in re-inventing business processes so that the deviation of
their outcomes from strategic goals and objectives is less or is
entirely eliminated. The knowledge processes of knowledge production
and integration are the organization's way of problem solving and
producing new knowledge that it can use to adapt.
(6) Among the possible outcomes of new knowledge production and
learning is creation of new strategic knowledge that modifies or
replaces the goals and objectives themselves and that evaluates the old
strategy as too costly, impossible to implement, or simply non-adaptive
relative to the organization's economic goals.
(7) New strategic knowledge of this sort is often essential for
organizational adaptation and for the sustained attainment of its goals
and objectives through time, and therefore knowledge processes and the
knowledge workers who implement them must have the capacity to produce
it when necessary.
(8) Organizational Knowledge Management is the set of activities and
processes that maintain and enhance the knowledge or problem solving
processes of organizations, including the capacity of knowledge workers
to implement them.
(9) If KM is aligned with strategy, it must focus knowledge processing
on solving problems that arise, by viewing them as problems of
implementing strategy, rather than as problems of strategy itself.
Thus, if KM is aligned with strategy, it should pursue policies and
programs that discourage inquiries criticizing the current strategies
it is aligned with, or that inquire into whether those strategies are
(10) But this view of KM, a logical implication of its alignment with
strategy, is in contradiction with (6). KM cannot be both aligned with
current strategy and also committed to enhancing the organization's
capacity for sustainable problem solving and adaptation, since
enhancing that capacity includes enhancing problem recognition and
problem solving involving current strategy itself.
(11) Therefore, since there exists a set of organizational activities,
a function, that can enhance the organization's capacity for
sustainable problem solving and adaptation, and we choose to call that
function Knowledge Management, it follows that it (KM) cannot be
aligned with current strategy, but must be independent of both its
dictates and of the authority of those whose function is to both
implement and formulate it.
In short, KM is about more than implementing economic goals, it is
about maintaining and enhancing the capacity to adapt, which in turn
requires other goals, as Olaf says, cultural goals and rights goals
(See Excerpt #1 from The Open Enterprise
). And why is this so? Because
complex adaptive systems such as organizations are not about only one
thing, not even a thing so important as profit or economics. They're
also about culture, politics, social networks, communities, people,
values, ethics, and goals in each of these areas. And they're also
about the knowledge necessary to pursue these diverse goals, and the
knowledge represented by goals, objectives, culture, strategy value
claims, and ethics, that are produced by such systems as they re-make
themselves in co-evolving with and meeting the challenges of their
So, in the end, it's not at all surprising that adaptive functions of
organizations, including problem solving and KM, are about more than
just serving the economic goals or strategies of organizations. Rather,
they are about change and the capacity to change themselves, and so
they must transcend and check other executive functions of the
organization, lest they freeze its pattern in a way that makes it too
rigid to withstand the winds of change.