13 June 2002

Third-generation knowledge management

I'm not sure why my heart sinks when I hear something prefaced with the epithet 'third generation'. Perhaps too often the hype exceeds the innovation. In this instance, though, David Snowden - a leading protagonist in the organic approach to knowledge management - makes a compelling case. Having been one of the founders of the Institute for Knowledge Management, he's founded another new IBM-sponsored venture, the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity. It's described as "global network of members and partners applying complexity theory to organisations by developing a diverse portfolio of pragmatic sensemaking methods and models that can help solve problems for which structured approaches have failed." Anyway, if you want to know what this brave new generation is all about, take the time to read his article describing a sense-making model [pdf] that treats knowledge as both a thing and a process, and embraces established scientific management practices even as it borrows newer approaches from complexity and chaos research. It's exciting stuff, but you'll find it heavy going if you view knowledge as a set of documents and databases, rather than as a socially-mediated phenomenon.

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