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Knowledge management and innovation

If knowledge management is (roughly).equivalent to knowledge sharing, as many organizations are now calling it, does this mean that it entails simply recycling old knowledge, that is perhaps worn-out and no longer relevant to current business needs?

Such questions are sometimes posed by research establishments in an effort to undermine the management enthusiasm for sharing knowledge "on the fly" in agile ways that academically oriented reseach organizations may not have embraced.

The question rests on some confusions.

The quality of knowledge does not depend on whether it is old or new but rather whether it is releveant, whether it still works. Whether it is old or new hardly matters. The question is: does it work?

The dynamic of academia is different. Here the new is celebrated, whether it is useful or not. The old is looked down on, not because it isn't useful, but because the raison d'etre of academia is to create the new, not the useful.

Innovation in industry will often draw on lessons from the past, particularly those that have been forgotten, or those that can be put together in new combinations to achieve new results. The bottom line however is not whether the knowledge is new, but whether it works in practice.

The other dimension of innovation that is important to keep in mind is that the application of (old) knowledge almost always involves some adaptation, and in the process of adaptation, new knowledge is created.

Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, Butterworth Heinemann, Boston, London: 2000.

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