Knowledge Management: More Than Just Know-how!

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People sometimes interchange the terms "know-how" and "knowledge", but there's a world of difference! Systems vendors are falling over themselves to sell you so-called "integrated knowledge management solutions", but these are rarely more than glorified information management systems with go-faster stripes.

If we fail to understand knowledge in all its facets, then there is a danger that in doing so we miss out on the most valuable aspects of knowledge management and end up delivering a system-driven solution, rather than a cultural shift towards sharing and learning from experience.

Know-how is the processes, procedures, techniques and tools you use to get something done. This kind of knowledge can?t always be captured in its entirety - imagine trying to write down your know-how on "how to ride a bicycle"! Some things are simply best learned from combination of know-how and experience.

Know-why relates to strategic insight - understanding the context of your role, and the value of your actions. It's the "big picture" view of things. Why are we doing this? Where are we trying to get to? What would happen if we didn't do it? Where do I fit in all of this? Think back to your first ever job. Did anyone explain to you why what you did was important, or were you just expected to "get on with it" and not ask stupid questions? Know-why is a key to lifting morale and generating commitment and buy-in from staff.

Know-what is the facts required to complete a task, it's the information needed in order to take a decision and it's the things you need to collect together before making something. This kind of knowledge can be captured and embedded into systems, scripts and processes.

Know-who includes knowledge about relationships, contacts, networks, who to call on for help. It's the "I know a man who can" factor. All of us apply and build up this type of knowledge on a day-to-day basis, often subconsciously. If your role is sales-oriented, you'll know just how important know-who can be. The degree to which the know-who in your organisation can be accessed will be a reflection of your culture. How easy is to find the right people? When you do find them, are they willing to give you the benefits of their experience? Are networks and communities of practice supported and encouraged in your organisation?

Know-where is that uncanny ability that some people have for navigating through and finding the right information. You probably know people in your office who fulfil this role, functioning like human search engines! In his bestseller "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell describes these people as connectors. If you visit Yahoo!, or one of the other major Internet portals, you?ll be in a knowledge-rich environment where most of the content is know-where - links to where relevant know-how (and often know-who) can be found on the web.

Finally Know-when is the sense of timing - to know the best time to do something, to make a decision, or to stop something.


Knowledge is a many faceted gem - to truly extract the value, you will need to look beyond "know-how", and polish-up your organisation's performance in a wider range of areas. By doing this, you will move far closer to having an integrated strategy for managing knowledge.

Chris Collison is a renowned expert in knowledge management and an experienced practitioner in the leadership and implementation of organisational change from a people perspective.

As a best-selling author, he has presented to audiences at business schools and at conferences around the world, and is a regular contributor to specialist knowledge management publications. Chris has worked with leaders at the highest levels of many public and private-sector organizations, sharing the practical experiences he gained whilst working in BP's knowledge management team, and his deep understanding of the human dynamics of major change programmes.

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