Larry Prusak, Executive Director of IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management in Boston, gave a high-energy two-hour public talk recently. His speech was officially titled "Enemies and Enablers of Knowledge Management" — but the real focus was on conversation and how critical it is to the health of large organizations. Part One of some fragments from the mosaic that Prusak built:

  • Knowledge Management is a misnomer. One can't "manage" knowledge in anything like the same sense in which one can manage budgets or other resources. One can, however, manage data and information.
  • Data are records of state changes — movements of items in the world, for instance. "You need data to make large organizations work, but it's just 'stuff'; it doesn't [fundamentally] change things. Information is different."
  • "Information is a message — it has a sender and a receiver." The linguistic root of the word is significant: information changes the form of something. Beethoven's 9th conveys information, as do Picasso's Guernica, Emily Dickinson's poems, etc.
  • Shannon et al. called their work "information theory", but it was really the study of bandwidth, the low-level machinery of data transfer — not content, not "information" in the meaningful sense.
  • Stories are the only thing people remember; it's how we learn. Chief Executives get paid big bucks to tell stories to Wall Street and raise stock prices. Stories put information into context.
  • "Knowledge is what a knower knows." It's not just what's in a book; you could read all the books that an expert has read and still not be knowledgeable. As the Koran says, "The ox that goes to Mecca is still an ox." You need experience to gain knowledge. Herbert Simon has said that it takes 20 years of doing something to get knowledgeable on a subject.
  • Wisdom is the poetic realm of unbounded subjects, like life and love.
  • Can one have knowledge without information? Perhaps yes: "You can just know!" in the fashion of chess or music prodigies. (^z comment: I disagree! Prodigies tap into the same information wellsprings as do conscious experts — but the prodigies have fortuitously discovered deep sources of power too early in life to verbalize them, in the same way that most of us can't find words to explain how we walk, see, talk, etc. No magic is needed.)
  • We remember maybe one part in 1014 of what we have experienced. Memory comes by placing things into cognitive frames — narratives or stories — which are related to what we feel is important. Everybody who is old enough remembers where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, when JFK was shot, when the Challenger exploded, etc. Most of us don't remember much about the first lunar landing; whether or not it was more important, it lacked an emotional resonance.
  • The key to success is a combination of mental energy and analytic skills. Being "smart", beyond a certain point, is less important in most cases than having drive and determination. We value knowledge not for its own sake, but because it leads to new insights and better judgments.
  • See the Dorothy Leonard book When Sparks Fly, and the Damasio book Descartes' Error, re the lack of difference between thinking and feeling. "Distance learning" tends to fail because of the poor connection between teacher and student; teleconferencing faces similar difficulties. "Emotional Intelligence" (Howard Gardner) is important. See Diane Vaughn's The Challenger Disaster re communication failure leading to catastrophe.
  • 28% of the GNP comes from persuasion — marketing, public relations, lawyers, marriage counselors, ministers.

(see PrusakConversation2 and PrusakConversation3)

Friday, October 13, 2000 at 21:11:28 (EDT) = 2000-10-13

TopicOrganizations - TopicSociety

(correlates: FarTooSmart, EssenceOfEducation, Comments on OozeOnVerst, ...)