This is the first in a series of blog postings which I hope will explore knowledge management (KM) from a practical no nonsense point of view. I begin with the language barrier.
Library and information professionals have been doing the ‘information thing’ for years but frankly not making enough noise about our skills. So when your organisation demands implementation of a knowledge management strategy based on information they obtained from conferences, journal articles, consultants, and because ‘everyone else is doing it’, we must take the lead and become the link between theory and practice.
We may not be KM theory experts but our practical skills, knowledge of the organisation and accompanying culture/values and mental flexibility means we are ideally placed to help them make sense of the information world. As it has been said, ‘the only thing that matters in the workplace is how it works in practice’.
‘If you don’t understand, it’s probable no one else does’
The first obstacle to making sense of KM is vocabulary. As with any business language there is a world of increasingly jargonistic prose to work through. Buzz words, meaningless expressions, ‘abstractionitis’ are simple obfuscation. It is true to say that you need to know the concepts behind the words but as soon as the words become the concepts, you are already mired in irrelevancies.
A recent blog posting from Harvard Business Review states the problem clearly and concludes with the sensible advice, to increase your credibility, challenge the speaker on their meaning. So when someone starts to use jargonistic phrases that they’ve seen or heard, ask them to clarify. This will keep the conversation focused, relevant and meaningful.
More important is how the information from these meetings is captured. Secondly as for the term “chalk & talk”, say what you mean. It’s a traditional lecture - with little or no audience participation.
Although KM Institute is responsible for some of the most offending uses of jargon, my favourite tweet from them reads, ‘when you sell KM to top management, to get their commitment don’t use KM jargon to do it, speak in business terms familiar to their ear. Create a KM plan with a realistic and competitive return on investment’. This is sensible advice.
Go to your managers with a short preliminary KM discussion paper which conveys a clear idea of what you mean by KM. Include real life examples of good practice from your own organisation to demonstrate your point if you’ve had to use jargon. Managers can then see that you’re alert to the possibilities and reassuring they’ve probably already got something like it in place. This gives you a good foundation on which to build other aspects of KM.
Language can be both a barrier and a means of effective communication. Most ideas underpinning KM are already in place within organisations so it just takes the confidence of staff to use the various communications channels and get the knowledge flowing and make a real difference.
* From KM Institute '
 Sue Doe, ‘Knowledge management’, in BIALL Handbook of Legal Information Management ed., Loyita Worley, (Ashgate;
Aldershot, 2006) p197
 Dan Pallotta, ‘I Don't Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore’, 5 Dec 2011 http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2011/12/i-dont-understand-what-anyone.html accessed 24 Feb 2012
 As above
 Hélène Russell, ‘At a glance jargon-buster’ http://www.theknowledgebusiness.co.uk/knowledgebank.php?post=6 accessed 24 Feb 2012