In reading some papers about knowledge management written by my talented colleague Clare Thornley, I noticed a few areas where a delicate balance needs to be managed.

  • Remembering vs forgetting
  • Sharing vs information security
  • Technology – enabler or noisemaker?

Remembering vs forgetting

Traditional views of knowledge management look to learn from past experiences of what has worked before and assume ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. So, we keep doing what we’ve done before, creating an organisational memory of ‘how we do things around here’, which is built into the processes that are followed. This can create robust processes, but can also result in rigidity.

Being able to adapt and change direction is seen as a key skill in the digital age, and the flexibility to make radical shifts is necessary. But changing established processes means disrupting patterns of behaviour and action, and going against the organisational memory. Organisations need to develop the ability to ‘forget’ what they knew so as to try new things without judgement against the ‘old’ ways.

Sharing vs information security

Sharing information is a key part of any Knowledge Management strategy. Processes, technology, and controls may enable and facilitate sharing, but what gets shared and with whom needs to be carefully considered. There’s a continuum that needs to be managed. On the one hand, people may actively withhold information for complex and personal reasons. Even those willing to share information may find that they are unable to, perhaps because of the specificity of their knowledge, or because they have an unreceptive audience. On the other hand, people may be too ‘generous’ with the knowledge that they have, leading to issues around information security.

Technology facilitating knowledge storage and retrieval vs too much information

Nowadays, the challenges in getting information to the right people at the right time have been well solved by technology. So the challenge is no longer about managing content, but making sure that people can respond to, learn from, and apply that content.

On the flip side of this, we have seemingly endless supplies of data and information, which can lead to information overload. This can make it difficult to understand the issue, and effectively make decisions.

Finding Balance

There is no ‘one right way’ to optimise knowledge management. Organisations need to find their own right balance between these competing forces, based on their unique context and environment.

If you’d like to read more about Knowledge management, here are the two papers which inspired me:

If you are interested in evaluating our revised KM critical capability, to see how it can help you in balancing these competing forces, contact