Many great management innovations over the last 40 years have originated in Japan. Total Quality (TQM), PDCA, Toyota Production System (TPS), Lean, and so on, are good examples. These innovations are the genesis and ancestors of almost everything we take for today’s management. This includes modern and prevailing management practices for knowledge workers and KM.
However, the East West KM differences are striking. It is one reason it is very important to be highly suspicious of knowledge management systems (KMS). The fact is Western KM is suffocating on ill-suited information technology. In Japan, there is only limited penetration or use of technology by knowledge workers. In short, here are the differences –
– California Management Review
Spring 1998, Vol. 40 Issue 3
For example, the Western-style, deterministic KM efforts are often challenged or outright failures. Western-style, project-focused KM is very expensive, takes forever and does not produce positive outcomes.
Westerns culture does provide stunning innovation in information technology. Advancements in content syndication, discovery and retrieval are unmatched. Unfortunately, these disruptive breakthroughs in information technology are often corrupted by markets, vendors and pundits and called knowledge management. They are not.
The key Eastern principles of knowledge and authentic KM are lost on your average manager and KM professional. The Western mindset for knowledge and KM is rigid, pervasive and harmful. To them, the Eastern Focus is considered unserious, soft and valueless.
The most serious Western KM thinking defect is explained by Taiichi Ohno’s, the Father of the Toyota Production System (TPS), as follows: ‘To codify method is to impede understanding.’
Most errant Western KM is technology-focused. It’s advanced by dubious Best Practices. Meanwhile, when thoughtful KM people do wish to share, they are met by inept moderation in KM email lists and discussion groups. Coercive, self-absorbed moderators enforce the overbearing KM focus on technology. It’s because they are wholly and objectively indifferent to the Eastern Focus for knowledge and KM.
For example, in Western KM, every few years, for over two decades now, a KM Standards farce arises. It is just another sterling example of KM’s Western intransigence. Like so-called best practices, KM Standards are a widespread defect of Western thinking about knowledge and KM. Responsible business rejects these efforts.
However, one setting where failed Western KM methods are legion is in massive government bureaucracies and the vast corridors of state power. These failed approaches are doubly harmful for govt because they perpetuate ineffective bureaucracy. The govt absence of accountability and widespread institutional incompetence is the perfect setting for defective Western KM. These methods assure the eternal life of moldering government agencies.
Simultaneously, the rise of social media, complexity, network analysis and The Social Enterprise positively demands the Eastern Focus for knowledge and KM.
Fortunately, the charade of Western thinking styles of knowledge and KM is revealed by the headlong flight to The Social Enterprise. People will now migrate to authentic, Eastern principles of knowledge and KM for the simple reason they have no other option, no other choice! It has been a long-time coming.
Just imagine if a group of enterprise knowledge workers tossed all their ridiculous portals, KMS, SharePoints etc., on the ash heap of history. (No one uses them anyway.) They would embrace the canon of Eastern knowledge and KM. Productivity and innovation would soar!
Fortunately, there is a place where the Eastern mindset of knowledge and KM is rampant: entrepreneurial startups. Startups are decidedly free of vast information repositories, portals, processes, methods and legacy technologies. By no coincidence they lead many advancements in learning, productivity, innovation and invention.