Thursday, January 26, 2017

Knowledge Management and the Internet

In his book Too Big To Know, David Weinberger (2011) gives a one definition of what knowledge is that is aligned with many classical ideas, mainly that knowledge has the characteristics of justified, true belief (p. 43). But in addition to what knowledge actually is or isn't, one thing that was typically agreed on is how the "truths" of the worlds were collected, on books and in the minds of experts.  However, Weinberger (2011) argues that due to the Internet and the networked nature of the world, the body of knowledge now lives on the network and not it books (p. 45). But the network is messy, and it makes getting to the truth even harder is many ways, despite the opportunities that networked knowledge creates. While reading Too Big To Know, I was reminded of a scene from the movie Men in Black discussing some of the problems that occur with knowledge:

The largest issue that the Internet, and knowledge on the network, has caused is summarized by Davenport (2015) and his claim that due to the web, knowledge management is dying. There is an irony that has occurred with large networked knowledge, in that with a greater amount of knowledge, it is often harder to find and use. And due to the rise of efficient search algorithms, such as Google, it has now become easier to search for external knowledge than to find internal knowledge (Davenport, 2011, p. 2). For organizations to now manage knowledge there must be a shift towards using social learning as advocated by Dixon (2009) and Jarche (2010).

In a recent survey, the difficultly of managing and maintaining knowledge was displayed when less than 15% of organizations were confidant in their ability retain knowledge when employees left (Jarche, 2016). Social learning is certainly something that can and has occurred naturally in workplaces, however, through effective leadership organizations can foster the trust that is a "essential component of social learning" (Jarche, 2010). The networked world is often changing too fast to conduct traditional training, instead leaders need to empower employees and small teams to solve the "how to do it" for themselves (Jarche, 2010). This empowerment by leaders fosters trust and facilitates the organic creation of social networks, which in turn assists in building the community necessary for social learning (Dixon, 2009).

These issues are very relevant to my new position. I am now in charge of updating a training program on a plane that rapidly changes with new technology. The  process for formal training course changes can take years and after approval the changes might not even be relevant. Instead I will definitely be using the advice of Dixon (2009), Jarche (2010, 2016), and Weinberger (2011) moving forward, teaching students as well as instructors how to "fish and move on the the next challenge", develop the skills to learn from each other, and foster a community that encourages social learning.


Davenport, T. D. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going - part 3. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Jarche, H. (2010, February 24). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Jarche, H. (2016,  December 8). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY: Basic Books.


  1. Christopher: You brought up some great points on the role of the leader to help foster a social learning environment within an organization. In your new role, are there any opportunities to take that a step further and learn from others outside of the organization? Perhaps within the same industry?

  2. I have been in your shoes. 26 years ago, I spent a year convincing the U.S. Navy to add programmable calculators to the curriculum for celestial navigation. Celestial had been taught the same way since the age of sail...but calculators could do it faster and more accurately. It was a hard sell but I eventually pushed it letting the experts play with the calculators. In the age before social networks, it was at least a form of social learning.

  3. Christopher, I appreciate your post. In particular, your comments on the process for formal training courses, leading to outdated information once finally approved is painfully resonant. It also makes me pause and consider “knowledge” that is science based versus that which is more aptly an art. We tend to consider scientific knowledge more fixed once determined, yet even it may be called into question in light of new information and interpretations, as was the case for a man convicted of murder in 1988 based on what is now considered vastly inaccurate arson science (Stahl, 2015). And where my field, communications, is far less a science and more art in nature, there still are best practices to be absorbed and incorporated, some of which are specific to the industry in which I communicate on behalf of, as well as still others that are specific to my exact organization. In essence, what I consider “knowledge” for me in my role, industry, and organization may well not be for another communicator in another company in another field. My internal network of communications colleagues and the collective knowledge managed therein are critically useful to my work daily.

    Stahl, J. (2015, August 16). Trails of Ed Graf. Slate. Retrieved from


  4. Good morning Christopher. Thank you for your post on knowledge management, particularly the words on the role of the leader. The field of knowledge management has clearly experienced significant change due to the role of the Web 2.0 and the ability for professionals from all fields to access information via the Web. I agree with you that leaders can play an important role by facilitating the use of networks of information by their employees. I believe we have shifted to an age when organizations simply will not be as confident about their ability to manage knowledge, but must put more employees in a position to acquire and share it. That is the only way for those organizations to sustain that level of knowledge. We must get away from the belief that the leader or manager holds the knowledge and push all those who work with us to acquire it.

    The benefits of doing so are vast. Dinh et al. (2011) studied medical professionals in an emergency department and found that their use of the Web to gather information and help making both diagnoses and medical care decisions is widely accepted and frequently practiced. It demonstrates the need to put people in a position to seek out information and make informed decisions without the influence of a manager or traditional leader. I believe those organizations that do not empower employees to do so and then share that information with colleagues will fail.

    The Ayes Have It


    Dinh, M., Tan, T., Bein, K., Hayman, J., Wong, Y. K., & Dinh, D. (2011). Emergency department knowledge management in the age of Web 2.0: Evolution of a new concept. Emergency Medicine Australasia, 23(1), 46-53. doi:10.1111/j.1742-6723.2010.01373.x