Although I haven’t said so flat-out before, many of the tools and services I’ve been playing with, exploring, and seriously using lately (wikis, Furl, Bloglines, e-learning tools, content management tools even blogging software and Gmail, to some extent) all have a common thread: what many people today call knowledge management.
However, I personally loathe the buzzword “knowledge management” because it has become hopelessly corrupted, convoluted, and devalued by companies hawking huge expensive systems or consulting services that border on organizational voodoo.
In my book, knowledge management boils down to arranging ideas. In other words, I prefer to view this as a real human process, not a technological or abstract one…
(NOTE: Read my July 27 followup to this article, which includes links to many articles in other weblogs commenting on this one.)
I see the process of arranging ideas as comprising three core tasks:
- Recording your thoughts in useful, creative ways that yield even more interesting ideas, context, and insights.
- Organizing and storing your thoughts with tools that help you easily retrieve, juxtapose, compare, or combine specific ideas.
- Sharing your ideas and observations with a select group or the world in a way that encourages and enables further mixing, matching, insights, and creativity. (Actually, the “sharing” part is optional, since it’s possible for knowledge management to be a strictly individual matter. Still, I think sharing ideas is generally desirable.)
The result of this process is what I call structured thoughts ideas, observations, and insights that are organized within a system that both gives them rich context and makes them easy to find, use, and share.
In the real world, structured thoughts could manifest in many ways, such as:
- A richly annotated Dewey decimal-based card index in a computer-deprived library
- The notebooks and files of an experienced journalist, photographer, diagnostician, or investigator
- A weblog, wiki, or discussion forum that contains real ideas, rather than just links and facts.
- Occasionally even the contents of a sophisticated and costly knowledge management or content management system
I say “structured thoughts” to distinguish what we think and perceive (ideas, relevance, and insight) from raw data. This is what I believe elevates the process of arranging ideas above mere database-building.
Why should writers, editors, and other content professionals care about such high-level stuff? First of all, because this is the core of what we do. Arranging ideas so that people can grasp and benefit from them is our gift, our talent, our service, and perhaps even our duty. If you’re a writer, editor, artist, philosopher, storyteller, teacher, mentor, or “knowledge worker” (another dreaded neologism), people rely on you (and you rely on yourself) to arrange ideas so that they can affect the world, in large ways and small.
It may sound grandiose, but content professionals play a key role (perhaps the most important role) in connecting ideas to the world. We do more than package and convey information we arrange ideas so people can use them. I think that’s pretty important.
On a more practical note, the field of structured content is where the job market is going. I think it’s the next editorial frontier. Traditional writing and editing are becoming commodities to a large and regretful extent. If we don’t adapt professionally, we could wind up facing a world where content has been structured mainly by MBAs, programmers, and engineers rather than by people (like us) who are fundamentally attuned to what ideas mean to people, and how people think.
…So, are those thoughts deep enough for you this early in the morning? And I’ve only had one cup of tea so far! OK, time for me to get back to my paying work, and then head out for a couple days of thankfully computerless camping in the mountains of Colorado….