Document Management is not Knowledge Management….. ask any London Cab Driver with ‘The Knowledge’

Have you ever noticed people riding mopeds around London with a clipboard on the front holding a route map? (apologies to Londoners for my provincial naivety).

These are the Knowledge Boys and Girls undertaking the extremely challenging training necessary to become a licensed London Black Cab driver. The requirements are astonishingly difficult and include things like memorising 320 standard routes across London, the location of 25,000 streets and the sequence of theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue. It takes on average 34 months, a lot of London driving (plus a number other requirements) to acquire The Knowledge. It’s so mentally demanding that this BBC article  reports that the brain of a Knowledge Boy/Girl swells during training.

That’s very interesting, but what’s it got to with documents and knowledge? The answer lies in this post by Dave Snowden where he illustrates the difference between information and knowledge with the example of using a map of a city to navigate (document containing information) compared to what a London taxi driver possesses (knowledge). In the context of London Cabs, information could consist of route plans, landmark descriptions, traffic reports, maps and other documents. Knowledge however is different. It has developed through experience, insight and a lot of hard graft. Quite appropriately, ‘The Knowledge’ is a phrase that has a great deal of kudos when associated with London Cab Drivers.

Back to document management vs. knowledge management debate. The example of the London Black Cab Divers and The Knowledge has helped my understanding of the differences between the two. So that I don’t forget here are a few points to remind myself of why a document management system (a very necessary requirement for all sorts of reasons) will not provide what is needed for knowledge management.

Most documents are not knowledge. Very few documents capture real knowledge. The insight and experience that accounts for knowledge rarely gets translated into written documents. What we write down is only a fraction of what we actually know.

Knowledge can only be volunteered, not conscripted. Another Dave Snowden quote. I have written about this previously where I also suggested that some documents (even those in a document management system) would be at the best incomplete and possibly wrong. People tend to write versions of events that meet the requirement of organisational procedures and policies, rather than what actually happened. It’s not a great basis for a sound knowledge management system if your ‘building blocks’ are incomplete and possibly wrong.

Document management systems don’t claim to be knowledge management systems. Well at least they don’t in the Wikipedia definition. I enjoyed reading this definition, it makes no reference to knowledge management…….”A document management system is a computer system used to track and store electronic documents. It is usually also capable of keeping track of the different versions modified by different users“. I find the rest of the article just as helpful and will be re-reading it regularly to avoid any confusion with knowledge management.

Ultimately this leaves a big question ‘how do you approach knowledge management?’  Given the social nature of knowledge (it’s about what people know and think), there has to be huge scope for linking knowledge management with social media approaches, a subject for future posts.

One final definition, information will tell you a tomato is a fruit, but knowledge tells you not to put them in the fruit salad.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Document management is not knowledge management.
  2. Knowledge is something people hold in their heads which has been gained through experience, insight and effort. Sharing this knowledge is a deeply social process, not easily achieved through a document management system.
  3. If you had options for crossing London, at rush hour, who would you choose? Someone using a top end ‘sat nav’, radio traffic updates and a glossy map; or a London Cab Driver with The Knowledge?

Linked posts: Why is good practice such a bad traveller?

Picture source:

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

9 Responses

  1. For your question (“If you had options for crossing London, at rush hour) I would slavishly obey whatever Google Maps tells me to do. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 4 months and it works shockingly well 🙂

  2. Hi, thank you for this post I agree with you that Very few documents capture real knowledge. The insight and experience that accounts for knowledge rarely get translated into written documents. very useful information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s