Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Knowledge management and snow

It is by now famous that Eskimos have many different words for snow from 'crust on fallen snow' to 'soft, deep fallen snow on the ground'. And this is logical because they can and need to distinguish many different conditions of snow. (for snowboarding :))

But we live in a 'knowledge' society, I'm an 'officer knowledge sharing' and yet we have only one word for knowledge. And sometimes I go crazy because of the different meanings people attach to this word (same goes for learning by the way). So if knowledge is so important, can't we develop a bunch of different words to distinguish the different types of knowledge and learning processes?

Patrick Lambe just posted a taxomomy of ignorance here. With many attitudinal differences to the type of ignorance someone may display. Denham Grey distinguishes 3 types of knowledge in one of his blogposts of september and sees them as a continuum:

1. Tacit knowledge is closely related to intuition, gut feelings, compiled experiences and skills. This tacit stuff is very hard to explain, it comes from exposure, arises out of repeated learnings, consists of deeply held feelings and beliefs. Tacit knowledge allows us to reason without logic, to act without reflection and to make sense of new situations.

2. Implicit knowledge sits in the middle. Here we are able to model, explain, draw, surface, share insights and explicate beliefs. This often requires time, deep reflection, dialog, introspection and mulling around.

3. Explicit knowledge is documented, illustrated, captured, stored and retrievable. It takes many forms from transcripts, to business rules, from detailed definitions to evolving scripts e.g. such as we see in wikipedia or video sequences.

This is more refined than the common two-fold distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge, but does it help sufficiently to talk about knowledge and learning in practical cases?

Let's take two extremes of things I feel I have recently learned but which are very different.

A. In the office, I used to take a large cup of coffee from the machine, which overflows easily while climbing the stairs to my office. My colleague told me she takes a large coffee cup but draws a small coffee from the machine, plus an espresso. The cup doesn't overflow and the coffee is stronger and better. So this is what I do now. It doesn't cost me anything to change my habits.

B. On the other hand I have read about, observed and practiced acquisition of consultancies. It seemed very scary, but it's slowly demystifying a little. I feel I'm gradually learning how to do it and how it works (and realized this when someone told me that I talk about it differently) but it is still difficult. Sometimes I have to force myself into unnatural behaviour. (and sometimes I feel I'm doing the wrong things).

Here the model of explicit, tacit and implicit is not very helpful. The coffee case is not explicit knowledge (it is not documented), but a very superficial type of knowledge. The acquisition case involves tacit, implicit and explicit knowledge.

I'm tempted in this case to go back to Argyris model of single and double loop learning. I'd think in this case as well, we should rather see it as continuum from single to double loop learning where you can place a certain learning process at the appropriate level of learning. The two extremes determined by how deep your belief systems or assumptions have to change/will change. Knowing where to place a learning process will help to know how hard it will be to acquire the knowledge, how long it will take and what will be needed to guide the processes. Any pointers to interesting articles which delve into this?


Marnix said...

David Snowden uses the ASHEN model
(http://marnixcatteeuw.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!B9C4E02838429A32!160.entry). It is a little bit more complex, but we are used to this.

Joitske said...

Thanks, this is great, I had heard about it once, tried to find it back (on a discussion list) and could find it again. It sounds very useful! thanks again