Stuff or love? How metaphors direct our efforts to manage knowledge in organisations by Daniel G. Andriessen, in the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice, is a charming paper proposing that the metaphors we use to describe knowledge affect the way that it is managed. Managers often talk about knowledge as a commodity or resource to be exploited – it has a finite value, can be traded, conserved, wasted, and presumably can run out. Having discussed various metaphors of knowledge as a resource, Andriessen asked people to talk about knowledge thinking of it as love. He says: “The topic of conversations changed completely. Suddenly their conversations were about relationships within the organisation, trust, passion in work, the gap between their tasks and their personal aspirations, etc.”

He points out the “knowledge as a resource” is a very Western viewpoint, whereas knowledge as love is more akin to Eastern philosophies. Knowledge as love can be shared without it running out, but it is much harder to direct or control it. It is not difficult to guess which metaphor managers tend to prefer!

Andriessen points out that the metaphors we use tend to remain hidden and unquestioned in our subconscious. He urges us to think about the metaphors underlying our discussions and research on knowledge management and ask “What would have been the outcome of the research if we see knowledge not at stuff but as love?”