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The 2013 KM Convention: a summary of my conversation with Dave Snowden

1 January 2014
Dr. Moria Levy
woman thinking

My first personal meeting during this convention was with Dave Snowden, who for years has been a leading advocate of the school of thought claiming knowledge is unmanageable. Therefore, Snowden claims KM is either dead, dying or should be killed.

With these difficult terms, I contacted him, introduced myself and explained my work in Israel and requested a meeting with him. He initially refused due to his busy schedule, but closer to the date of the convention, contacted me and said that he cleared some time for a meeting and would gladly meet me. I approached the meeting slightly concerned.

I decided not to relent regarding any subject. I presented Standard No. 25006. I discovered that despite his distinct opposition of standards, he served as head of the British Standards Institute for several years. I dared and touched on the chapter of the standard dealing with KM culture and the chapter dealing with actual KM in organizations. I explained the rational of referring to culture in a standard and how the implication of KM can be studied, all without any prepared instructions specifying how to manage knowledge. He seemed convinced. I gave him a copy of the standard (with permission, obviously) and decided that if I passed the first obstacle successfully, I can safely approach the next obstacles.

Fifteen years ago, Knowledge Management began from dealing exclusively with in culture. It quickly spread to dealing with technology. Yet during the last eight years, KM is going through a balancing phase: not exclusively culture or solely technology. Do you believe, I asked him, that following these changes KM is realistic?

Knowledge Management, Snowden persisted, is dying. Movements of this sort usually last a decade. KM had its run and now survives only in governmental offices. This is why the conference relocated from California to Washington, D.C. and is comprised of a few hundred participants and not thousands (in reality, there were a thousand participants but I refrained from pointing this out). It's not that Snowden believes that managing knowledge is a bad idea. Quite the contrary, it is an excellent idea. Decision support is vital and so is innovation. Regretfully, KM took a turn for the worse since it is utilized exclusively for document and content management. The interesting aspects of Knowledge Management aren't called KM anymore and those are precisely the subjects he deals with.

If your theory was correct, I challenged him; KM should've disappeared years ago. He responded that the dying process takes a while. So, I inquired, why are you still here? Why come to the convention? I am making a living, he answered simply; I get paid for these workshops.

I left the meeting encouraged, because we in Israel deal with other aspects of Knowledge Management: innovation, developing professional procedures. This means we need not despair. Furthermore, despite all he said the tone in which he said it left me with a feeling he's still with us and will be coming back to the convention as he has done for the last 15 years. He may speak against KM, yet it seems he can't quit it, at least not yet.

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