What is this activity called knowledge management, and why is it so important to each and every one of us? The success of Google, Wikipedia, Face Book, LinkedIn, and so many other technology companies is basically based on the capturing of data and information, using them for mass impact through disseminating the same. The big data analysis and customer trends examining all are the part of the same exercise. The age old Indian mythology and sayings also stress on these. We have the goddess of Laxmi and Saraswati. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and Saraswati is Goddess of Knowledge. In the new world order and paradigm shift, Sarasawati has replaced as Goddess of Wealth.
Before attempting to address the question of knowledge management, it’s probably appropriate to develop some perspective regarding just what this stuff called knowledge, which there seems to be such a desire to manage, really is.
- A collection of data is not information.
- A collection of information is not knowledge.
- A collection of knowledge is not wisdom.
- A collection of wisdom is not truth.
The idea is that information, knowledge, and wisdom are more than simply collections. Rather, the whole represents more than the sum of its parts and has a synergy of its own.
We begin with data, which is just a meaningless point in space and time, without reference to either space or time. It is like an event out of context, a letter out of context, a word out of context. The key concept here is being “out of context.” And, since it is out of context, it is without a meaningful relation to anything else. When we encounter a piece of data, if it gets our attention at all, our first action is usually to attempt to find a way to attribute meaning to it. We do this by associating it with other things. If I see the number 5, I can immediately associate it with cardinal numbers and relate it to being greater than 4 and less than 6, whether this was implied by this particular instance or not. If I see a single word, such as “time,” there is a tendency to immediately form associations with previous contexts within which I have found “time” to be meaningful. This might be, “being on time,” “a stitch in time saves nine,” “time never stops,” etc. The implication here is that when there is no context, there is little or no meaning. So, we create context but, more often than not, that context is somewhat akin to conjecture, yet it fabricates meaning.
That a collection of data is not information implies that a collection of data for which there is no relation between the pieces of data is not information. The pieces of data may represent information, yet whether or not it is information depends on the understanding of the one perceiving the data. I would also tend to say that it depends on the knowledge of the interpreter, but I’m probably getting ahead of myself, since I haven’t defined knowledge. What I will say at this point is that the extent of my understanding of the collection of data is dependent on the associations I am able to discern within the collection. And, the associations I am able to discern are dependent on all the associations I have ever been able to realize in the past. Information is quite simply an understanding of the relationships between pieces of data, or between pieces of data and other information.
While information entails an understanding of the relations between data, it generally does not provide a foundation for why the data is what it is, nor an indication as to how the data is likely to change over time. Information has a tendency to be relatively static in time and linear in nature. Information is a relationship between data and, quite simply, is what it is, with great dependence on context for its meaning and with little implication for the future.
Beyond relation there is pattern, where pattern is more than simply a relation of relations. Pattern embodies both a consistency and completeness of relations which, to an extent, creates its own context. Pattern also serves as an Archetype with both an implied repeatability and predictability.
When a pattern relation exists amidst the data and information, the pattern has the potential to represent knowledge. It only becomes knowledge, however, when one is able to realize and understand the patterns and their implications.
The patterns representing knowledge have a tendency to be more self-contextualizing. That is, the pattern tends, to a great extent, to create its own context rather than being context dependent to the same extent that information is. A pattern which represents knowledge also provides, when the pattern is understood, a high level of reliability or predictability as to how the pattern will evolve over time, for patterns are seldom static. Patterns which represent knowledge have completeness to them that information simply does not contain.
Wisdom arises when one understands the foundation principles responsible for the patterns representing knowledge being what they are. And wisdom, even more so than knowledge, tends to create its own context. Someone has a preference for referring to these foundation principles as eternal truths, yet one can find people have a tendency to be somewhat uncomfortable with this labeling. These foundation principles are universal and completely context independent. Of course, this last statement is sort of a redundant word game, for if the principle was context dependent, then it couldn’t be universally true, now could it?
So, in summary the following differentiation can reasonably be made:
- Information relates to description, definition, or perspective (what, who, when, where).
- Knowledge comprises strategy, practice, method, or approach (how).
- Wisdom embodies principle, insight, moral, or archetype (why).