Knowledge Management History

By Martin Gilliard

Knowledge management history starts around World War II and in particular with the building of the fighter planes.

Observers were led to note that building a second airplane took considerably less time and realised considerably less defects than the first.

An understanding was beginning to emerge that workers learned from experience. This phenomenon led corporations in the fifties to begin to analyse and codify their observations.


(Photo Credit Merlin_1)

Organisations understood that the better and quicker they were able to manage the learning processes, the better equipped they were to pass on the tacit understandings that forms the basis of how they operate.

People were beginning to understand that knowledge management is strongly associated with the learning process.

Knowledge management history should also include a discussion of electronic knowledge management tools. These didn't start to appear until the early nineties.

The tools were somewhat primitive in terms of the management of knowledge and could often only be described as electronic document management systems.

document management system

(Photo Credit sean dreilinger)

These systems failed to give human network interactions the opportunity to tap into the tacit knowledge held within an organisation.

However, as tools of this nature advanced, (e.g. problem management systems) individuals were able to document the solutions they had provided to problem areas; this recording of knowledge with reference to the resolution of problems added value.

Recurrent, documented, problems were now being resolved; often by individuals who had no previous experience of the problem area. 

Success of such tools gave rise to the notion that if you develop the process, learning will occur.

It is now understood that the learning process is highly complex and that knowledge management does not fully address the issues associated with how learning occurs. Furthermore, it does not address the question, what are the specific business outcomes resulting from such new knowledge? However, it must be recognised that knowledge management is continuously advancing towards a deeper understanding of these inherently complex areas.

Moving from knowledge management history to knowledge management today, many practitioners believe that knowledge exists and grows within a complex structure of internal networks and communities and research and analysis in this area has proved to be the most productive in terms of the development of knowledge management tools and techniques.

thirst for knowledge

(Photo Credit Andrew)

Recent tools have been based on observational research in terms of what people actually do, how they share knowledge and experience, and under what circumstances they keep knowledge to themselves. Other areas include the way knowledge is used, changed or ignored and how knowledge is learned from others.

Chase states in The knowledge based organisation: An international survey, Journal of knowledge management:

“Futurists, economists and academics have recognised for many years that the world is moving towards a global ‘knowledge economy’. Increasingly, the ‘knowledge’ put into products or services is as valuable as the product or service itself.”

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