Third Generation Knowledge Management Theory

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At the moment, there are signs that the idea of knowledge management is slowly and gradually losing its meaning as a management strategy. This trend is unfortunate as the concept of knowledge management is an essential and growing issue in the field of management. Many studies suggest that rejuvenating the concept of knowledge management hinges on what is knowledge. Hence, the concept of Knowledge Management requires greater attention, especially in the field of organizational theory.

Currently, the main knowledge management approaches are seen in information storing, managing, sourcing, and sharing. Relying on this thin, technology-centric school of thought put the foundations of the concept of knowledge management in danger. Merely giving another name to earlier technologies by the modern savvy name of knowledge management offers nothing to the field of management. Naturally, this trend will not survive and the moment its impact is being felt. It is now than ever before, knowledge management specialists work hard to change the current trends in this area.

According to Gherardi (2006), at the moment there is a very thin line between the concept of knowledge management and information systems management. Currently, management mainly refers to things i.e. promoting cross-communication and computerized systems that take the name of what previously was known as “information” systems. This does not help managers at all (Gherardi, 2006).

This is not to say that, there is nothing we can credit the earlier advances in knowledge management. Indeed much has been done preparing the ground for a new field of knowledge. Jacques (1996) observes that significant changes, especially those of the last century led to management discourse took two generations to address (Jacques, 1996). At the moment what we need, is to critically examine our past experiences to advance the theory of knowledge management. I believe it is now than ever before, that we enter a domain of second and third-generation knowledge management (McElroy, 2000, Snowden, 2002).

The main purpose of this research paper is to critically examine the theme of third Generation Knowledge Management. This will be concerning the article written by David Snowden (2002) “Complex acts of knowing: Paradox and descriptive self-awareness,”.

Third Generation Knowledge Management as Paradigm Shift

The 1st generation knowledge management that prevailed in the mid-nineties mainly focused on information and decision support. The 2nd generation knowledge management, that prevailed in the next decade was based on the SECI model and focused on changing tacit to explicit knowledge that enhances improved business processes (Snowden, 2002). That was the dawn of a new school of thought and practice, which in this paper I will call the third that generation knowledge management.

According to Snowdon (2002), the first and the second generations of knowledge management concepts were directly linked with scientific management and the Newtonian school of thought and as such, they have been compliant with our business ideas. According to Kuhn (1962/1970) the Third Generation Knowledge Management advocates for a paradigm shift. This calls us to reflect on what we call knowledge, which requires knowledge that we need to manage. Surely, the earlier knowledge management literature provides us with varying and incompatible definitions and suggestions of knowledge.

Third Generation Knowledge Management can be perceived as the second and opposite Paradigmatic issue. Kuhn observes that we have tended to believe that innovation in management is essentially the management of paradigm change. The innovations of management that cause a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift that calls for an insight that transforms the boundaries of the possible. But this paradigm shift is full of significant implications, which in common sense can be sufficiently be managed using realistic management approaches that are well known while the management of paradigm shift calls for an opposite paradigm shift in what we call management (McElroy, 2000).

At this point, it is worth thinking of several ways to better understand what knowledge is. One of these ways is based on Snowdon’s argument, which tells us that knowledge needs to be contextual. As it is being observed by scholars like Binney (2001) and others, a comprehensive definition is not possible. And perhaps that is the reason behind the epistemological implications of the knowledge management literature.

1st and 2nd generation Knowledge Management literature considers the concept of knowledge as common sense or is lost in the epistemological darkness where the meaning of knowledge is indeterminate and of no practical use. More current Knowledge Management literature has often started to classify various pieces of knowledge; however, they provide us with a chain of differing realms which can bring in a vast spectrum of variety (Binney, 2001). This can be helpful in several ways but regarding managing it is worth looking for a level playing ground, differencing on those differences that bring problems in theorizing their management.

3rd generation Knowledge Management calls for us to seriously examine some well-known postulations that have permeated the first and second generations of Knowledge Management. It calls us to look objectively at the idea of management. The current literature on Knowledge Management seems to have originated from the information technology point of view, mirroring a concern with information systems design or from a Business point of view presented to senior management and tied by the demerits of the casino mold of managing innovation (Binney, 2001).

We should focus management efforts on collecting useful ideas, storing ideas alive, thinking of new applications to old ideas, and testing promising ideas (Hamel, 1998). Managers should understand that the world is changing and therefore they should change with it. 1st and 2nd generation Knowledge Management writings have been practically silent on the roles of managers at the workplace.

Considering knowledge as a practice does not offer us a solution to the problem of management, however, it could offer grounds for more inquiry into the subject in that matter. Utilizing the knowledge as a practice gives us the idea, that there is a legitimate realm for the policy-level and information technology systems thinking, however, this does not include the complete terrain of knowledge management (Spender & Scherer, 2007).

We all can agree that the operations of any organization are affected by people (Taylor, 1911/1967). Once working systems are in order and a policy has been established, the organization moves slowly and gradually towards its objectives. The key challenge for the manager in controlling the knowledge as a practice is how to direct a team of workers to coalesce their efforts toward the objectives of knowledge as a practice.

It is not enough for individuals in other disciplines to simply uncover that managing behavior is also very essential. Such understanding will have little if any impact unless we develop a sound dialogue between systems and policy experts and behavioral experts. Organizational change management provides us with the necessary ingredients for mixing systems and individuals, for uncovering and fighting with resistance to change, and for creating individual buy-in to team goals (Schütt, 2003). Therefore unlike the 1st and 2nd generation Knowledge Management which mainly focused on consideration of systems and policy, 3rd generation Knowledge Management focuses on consideration of individual and team behavior.

The way forward

There are signs that knowledge management is losing meaning in management. I have a strong belief that this is not true. The current literature can be the basis for a sound discipline of applied and theoretical knowledge. However, there are many obstacles in the way.

We must realize the limitations and contributions of the previous work on this subject. It is worth that the knowledge management literature is united as an impulsive rush to prescriptive knowledge. Thoughts like knowledge workers or a learning organization should not be taken for granted. But they ought to be seriously inquired. The current technological advances should be referred to as information management systems and not knowledge management systems

We should methodically differentiate the information and knowledge as both have been and continue to be taken lightly. At the moment, their use is not sufficiently forming a construct of a worker. The knowledge management literature currently provides something to the executive and something to the information systems developer (Huston & Sakkab, 2006). We, therefore, need to provide a theory that takes daily management of innovation beyond the casino model to scientifically useful practice.

We should recognize the importance of knowledge management inquiry. At the moment, information technology is over-represented. Information technology has a justifiable place in this questioning of the concept of knowledge management. The idea of knowledge as a practice should be expounded as it views knowledge to practice as a network in which some nodes are human and some technical (Conforte, 2009). Unlike the technical nodes, each human node is likely a meaning-producing point in the entire network. Unless this impulsive meaning production can be well managed, it is probable to bring in turbulence, resource copying, time delays, miscommunication as well as entire failure to achieve team goals.


There exist a field of study which is mainly devoted to uncovering, the successful management of human nodes in organizational working systems. At the moment this field is not adequately represented in the principally technical knowledge management literature. In the same vein, information technology evaluation does not provide the insight available in this field. This field provides ideas of the link between behavior in organizations and the structural components of the organization networks. This is the chance for theory and practice because the challenge of managing knowledge-exhaustive assignment is not fully understood and it is a success parameter in expanding the work situations.

In a nutshell, we need to use the experiences of 1st and 2nd generation knowledge management by integrating them into a vision of knowledge that is concurrently wider and more open to informing practice. This is a necessary step toward the development of analytic and prescriptive knowledge for knowledge managers. This is the key to the success of knowledge management as an area of study.


Binney, D. (2001) “The knowledge management spectrum-understanding the KM landscape,” Journal of Knowledge Management 5(1): 33–42.

Conforte, D. (2009) Innovation and Value Chain Management, DBA thesis in process, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Gherardi, S. (2006) Organizational Knowledge: The Texture of Workplace Learning, Oxford:Blackwell.

Hamel, G. (1998), “The challenge today: Changing the rules of the game,” Business Strategy Review, 9(2):19-26.

Huston, L. & N. Sakkab (2006) “Connect and develop: Inside Procter & Gamble’s new model for innovation,” Harvard Business Review, pp.1-9.

Jacques, R. (1996) Manufacturing the Employee: Management Knowledge From the 19th to 21st Centuries.

Kuhn, T. S. (1962/1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago:University of Chicago Press.

McElroy, M. (2000) “Using Knowledge Management to sustain innovation,” Knowledge Management Review 3(4):34–38.

Nonaka, I. & H. Takeuchi (1995) The Knowledge-Creating Company, London:Oxford University Press

Schütt , P. (2003). “The post-Nonaka Knowledge Management.” Journal of Universal Computer Science, 9, 451-462.

Snowden, D. (2002) “Complex acts of knowing: Paradox and descriptive self-awareness,” Journal of Knowledge Management 6(2):100-111

Spender, J.-C., & Scherer, A. (2007). “The philosophical foundations of knowledge management: Editors’ introduction.” Organization, 14(1), 5-28.

Taylor, F. W. (1911/1967) The Principles of Scientific Management, New York: W. W. Norton.

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