Knowledge and critiques of knowledge

Knowledge management sprung on the world of business some time around the mid 1990s – knowledge itself wasn’t a new concept but, as IT became cheaper and more pervasive a lot of organisations realised that they were in possession of a lot of information, but were struggling to extract useful knowledge from it.  There was also a move to establish that knowledge wasn’t just about using the technology – hence the popularity and relevance of the work of Thomas Davenport and Dorothy Leonard, both of whom wrote books on knowledge management which were published in around 1995, and a realisation of the value of tacit knowledge, a concept that had been discussed and refined by Michael Polanyi earlier in the twentieth century, but was really brought to bear on business through the analysis by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi of the factors making Japanese businesses successful.

Much as this is still relevant to business, it’s become tempting to see knowledge management as a late 1990s – early 2000s concept.  Personally I think that’s a pity, because the factors that led to knowledge management being important still apply and, if anything, tacit knowledge in particular is an even more important business resource than it was ten years ago.  So I was interested to read this defence of the extracting knowledge from data by Patrick Lambe, and related to it this critique in one of the Harvard Business Review blogs.  Some context: DIKW refers to data/information/knowledge/wisdom and SECI to socialisation/internalisation/combination/externalisation (the cycle of tacit and explicit knowledge creation identified by Nonaka and Takeuchi).  Dave Snowden is the man behind cognitive edge and an expert on narrative approaches in organisations.

One particular quote in the HBR blog concerns me: discussing the DIKW ladder it says that ‘its real problem [is]… its implication that knowledge derives from filtering information’.  That seems a bit assumption, and I don’t think would be my assumption.  Knowledge is differentiated from information through being relevant over time, where information tends to be transient, and because of that tacit dimension.   It’s often derived from information but certainly not usually created by filtering it.  It’s consistent with Patrick Lambe’s view that there is typically more knowledge around than information.


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