Eschenbach, Sebastian and Geyer, Barbara, Editors. Wissen & Management. 12 Konzepte für den Umgang mit Wissen im Management. Wien: Linde Verlag, 2004. 184 p. ISBN 3-7143-0020-1 €23.90
This is an attractive, easy to read handbook on concepts in knowledge management. The authors themselves state that they do not actually like the concept 'Wissensmanagement' (knowledge management), since at least in German, management can only refer to people, and they believe it has been coined in order to sell IT 'solutions'. But the problems that KM addresses are real in all organizations: how best to support people whose tasks mostly demand intellectual work, by providing the best tools (such as IT), the best methods of organizing information, and the best concepts to help people think about what they are doing. Methods from library and record management are helpful when it comes to organizing knowledge, but the aim of this book is to present helpful 'concepts'. The target group consists of managers and students.
The authors want to give an overview of what they see as essential concepts—ideas, theories, or models—by summarizing and evaluating different authors dealing with 'knowledge in organizations'. There are twelve chapters that deal with one 'essential concept' each, and these are all structured in the same way: short descriptions of the authors of the concept, how the concept is used, where it comes from, what it is about, a evaluation of its practical (and sometimes theoretical) value, and a list of recommended literature. When reading through all chapters, one should get a basic understanding of knowledge management concepts and theories, a deeper understanding of some special issues and concrete tips for practice, the authors hope. Their choice of reviewed authors ranges from Popper (What one can learn from 2500 years of philosophy about dealing with knowledge) through modern classics in management literature such as Drucker and Argyris, to knowledge management gurus (Hansen, Davenport, Nonaka and Takeuchi) and more practical consultants. Five of the twelve chapters are about American authors and four of the discussed authors work in German-speaking countries. On first sight it seems audacious to put a review of heavyweight Popper next to reviews of very lightweight KM consultants, but on the other hand, including Popper at all in a KM overview does put a perspective on things… As a whole, several interesting and/or classical texts are discussed, and the authors are unusually scrupulous about motivating their choices and giving clear references. The language is simple, but treats the readers as intelligent beings - a relief!
In two introductory chapters, the authors present their own views and definitions of knowledge, management and knowledge management, which are quite critical. In comparison, the summaries and evaluations could have been sharper. The final chapter offers two ways to structure the reviewed concepts, one a model placing the reviewed authors according to how theoretical or practical they are perceived as being, and how broad or specific. The other model is more interesting, as it tries to visualize which concepts are based on which. This is a good way of showing the development of a 'knowledge management' field as well as giving interested readers an idea of what else might be good to read. However, it would have been even better if the authors had made clearer how they came up with these relationships.
In summary: this may not be a book full of exciting new ideas, but in a field dominated by buzz words and new trends, a serious handbook that tries to structure, summarize and weed among existing literature is welcome. Its format makes it especially interesting as a first introduction to students, possibly managers, of what knowledge and knowledge management is said to be about.