The dream of knowledge management has always been - implicitly or less so - to encode and leverage the experience of an organisation's most "knowledgeable", expert, valuable, irreplaceable people.
In reality, the most valuable knowledge of all (partly due to the difficulty of capture and even more difficult, encoding…) is that which is implicit rather than explicit.
The most powerful information is in fact almost impossible to encode, and is therefore impossible to communicate and exploit.
This is critical, and not just for knowledge management professionals. As we can see above, the workplace reality creates a value blockage, in that the knowledge - perhaps we can call this information for greater clarity - that such systems are best equipped to handle is typically far less valuable, far more common and commoditised - albeit easy to encode and share - than that which would promote substantial advantage.
So, most knowledge management systems end up as archives, document management, with lots of lip service paid, but more or less ignored in real day-to-day practice. The good stuff is personal, and social in nature. What we really need access to is not information – it's experience, expertise and assurance. These we get from people.
Knowledge, for all practical purposes, is tribal.
The tainted dream of Customer Relationship Management, was that the capture and encoding of information about the behaviour of people would enable corporations (like giant, clumsy Geishas perhaps?) to anticipate their future behaviour, in particular their purchasing dispositions, in order to take best commercial advantage.
But as we saw with knowledge management, the most valuable information that a company could wish to own about a customer is private, and increasingly at the time of writing, jealously guarded, by the high-value customer in particular.
And correspondingly, the most powerful experiences that a customer may have shared with the business (or more commonly its representatives) are almost purely emotive. They can be told – as stories, if you like – but they are not usefully susceptible to encoding as knowledge. They cannot be meaningfully exploited.
How many meaningless - yet perfectly, from the direct marketing point of view, targeted, and in many instances well-intentioned - commercial communications do we still receive across all channels? Literally thousands each year?
What does this mean for business and its relationship with information?
There is value, there is meaning, there are powerful, loyal relationships, there is even commercial benefit. They're out there, by the ton. But none of this dazzling opportunity - not one ounce - can be manipulated as "information", or "knowledge", simply because it is not, except in the broadest, far too forgiving sense, susceptible to encoding. Information, at best, just points at it.
Clearly this has considerable implications for the role and value of information in today's and tomorrow's worlds.
But weren't we always just a little suspicious - less than 100% convinced, but never able to satisfactorily articulate our concerns - of the supposedly explosive and infinite value that "all that access to all that information" would actually turn out to represent?