This position paper addresses the way knowledge is conceptualised in knowledge management (KM) literature and practice. Using the work of Lakoff and Johnson on metaphors it will show how people use metaphors to think and talk about knowledge. In KM literature at least 22 different metaphors for knowledge are used. Further research shows that these metaphors are primarily Western metaphors while in Eastern philosophy many other metaphors for knowledge are used. The choice of metaphors for knowledge has great influence about the way we think about KM. They determine what we diagnose as KM problems in organisations and what we develop as KM solutions. To illustrate this, this paper presents the results of an exercise set up to determine the effect of metaphors on KM approaches in which two challenging metaphors for knowledge were used: knowledge as water and knowledge as love.
Intellectual capital is a fascinating term full of contradictions, as it does not refer to capital in the literal sense of the word and is not about intellect either. Yet, it has helped to raise the awareness for the importance of knowledge in organisations among scholars and practitioners, including even the accounting profession. If the term is not used in the literal sense, it must be somehow metaphorical and in my search for an explanation of this phenomenon, I stumbled upon a book that has changed my life. This book (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) proves beyond doubt that not only intellectual capital is a metaphor, but also that all abstract concepts that we use as human beings derive their meaning from metaphor, including terms like organisation, strategy, human capital, intellectual capital, social capital, and……. knowledge.
Knowledge can only be analysed, talked about, and understood by using metaphors. In our work on knowledge management (KM) you and I use metaphors constantly, often without being aware of it. In my contribution, I would like to explain to you how this works, talk about the many metaphors for knowledge that I found in my research, and elaborate on the important consequences of this fact for our work on KM.
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