Knowledge Inventories

The dubious notion of ‘knowledge inventories’ has somehow crept back from the dead. It happens every few years. Beware.

Creating ‘knowledge inventories’ is utter nonsense. It has been tried for decades, by very clever people, and gets nowhere. There have been, and will always be, spectacular failures. The problem is the  Newtonian model of analytic reductionism fails outright when applied to knowledge.

Knowledge is not a stock item like printer cartridges or soft drinks. C’mon.

Beguiling salesmen and well-manicured consultants advance the knowledge inventories nonsense. Sometimes they claim to access knowledge with enterprise portals.  Many times they called them knowledge repositories. Often, the license is sold by the seat.

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Thing is, anyone that actually used these specious inventories and repositories jokingly called them knowledge suppositories. Sadly, management embraced knowledge inventories and vendors precisely because they were often thinking with their ‘seat.’ Real knowledge workers summarily rejected the portal-repository nonsense.

In leading knowledge management (KM) worldwide for 25 years, and with intimate and lasting relationships with all the top, recognized, global leaders, it can be said with confidence all the notions of knowledge assets, capital, inventories, taxonomies, etc., are just patently ridiculous, useless, a confident farce and a profound waste of time.

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Unfortunately, every few years, the ‘knowledge inventory’ baloney pops up again. It is always proffered by arrogant and unfortunate Western rationalists. They think they can apply analytic reductionism to complex phenomena like knowledge, networks and ecologies. Somehow these pathetic managers gain confidence by wasting money and talent on knowledge inventories. They ALWAYS fail and eventually fade away.

Fortunately, many embrace enlightened knowledge thinking and reject the Western notion of codified knowledge. The joy of enlightenment is palpable when reductionism and codification are finally retired.  


Colabria Action ResearchAmong the greatest contemporary thought leaders concerning business knowledge management is a colleague, Ikujiro Nonaka. This lecture in Vienna is worthwhile. It is a good summary of the essential principles.

In short, business knowledge management is about distributed phronesis

Sadly, no matter how hard we try, some people still pursue specious knowledge inventories. Fortunately, it is becoming more and more rare, since all discover it is a certain path to oblivion.

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Of course ‘organizing the world’s information,’ data capture, search, social profiles, information / document / database management, robust taxonomies, semantic webs, Big Data, etc., remain critical functions and services. However, all knowledge is forever about human connection not data collection.


Concerning knowledge management it is often difficult to pull Westerners and Newtonian adherents back from the brink. In KM we have learned, painfully, that Newtonian rationalism and reductionism is a cognitive pathology and difficult to cure. Even worse, the afflicted are very brittle and pursue a malignant zero-sum game. They are best simply avoided.

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Anyway, what we strive to do in KM is try and show them the way out of their failed thinking and the overbearing farce of knowledge stock, inventories and portals. It is brutal to get them to, ‘think different.’ Whole systems and systems thinking are foreign to them.

Finally the social reorientation of work is going mainstream. Knowledge is recognized as a complex flow. Manifold KM failure is waning. Today, at last, more and more effective social models and network patterns propel knowledge. They are critical dimensions of productivity and innovation.

To develop new social capabilities and achieve knowledge productivity and innovation, praxis intervention and phronesis are strongly recommended. Colabria Action Research is a leading exponent.

In summary, business productivity and knowledge inhabits complex social networks. It cannot be broken down and reassembled. Rather, praxis and phronesis achieve comprehension, knowledge coherence, robust networks, social flowpaths, mission cohesion, meaning, leadership maturity, new brokering capabilities, productivity, growth, business prosperity and optimal outcomes overall.   

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