Teaching about Knowledge Management LO31170

From: Mark W. McElroy (mmcelroy@vermontel.net)
Date: 10/01/04

Replying to LO31166 --

Hello Jan:
See my replies below.
Mark W. McElroy
Director and Chief Sustainability Officer,
Center for Sustainable Innovation (www.sustainableinnovation.org), and
Co-Director, Knowledge Management Consortium Int'l (www.kmci.org)
(802) 436-2250
>>>>> 1. The New KM (TNKM) recognizes three types of knowledge (physical
>>>>> encodings, such as DNA; mental encodings, such as beliefs; and
>>>>> cultural encodings, such as claims contained in books and other
>>>>> artifacts). And there is no 'more is better' ethic in TNKM; only a
>>>>> desire to have whatever knowledge is required to solve our problems.
>>>>And a fourth, wisdom (the art and pratice of choosing the write* problem)? One
>>>>the problems i would like us to solve, is how to live ethical. And i suppose, i
>>>>suppose, that using knowledge as an instrument, a tool isn't going to bring us

[My reply:] Jan, to say that a problem is the right or "write" one,
whatever that means, is just another knowledge claim. And to call it
a wise one doesn't insulate it from criticism. Thus, I see no special
case here that would warrant declaring a fourth type of knowledge.
On the other hand, I do think we need to make and acknowledge the
distinction between factual or descriptive knowledge, and valuational
or prescriptive knowledge. That is, there is a difference between
knowledge of what is and knowledge of what ought to be (facts versus
values). But both types of knowledge in that sense still take the
form of either physical, mental, or cultural encodings.
>>>>* use of write was intentional
>>>>> 2. KM does not 'bypass' other important issues; rather, it sticks to
>>>>> its knitting. It has a focus, just as other areas of management have
>>>>> their foci and do not focus on knowledge. TNKM, however, goes further
>>>>> than most other brands of KM. It does differentiate between the power
>>>>> held by managers to commit organizational resources to action, and the
>>>>> separate power held by everyone to produce and integrate their
>>>>> knowledge. It divests managers of their traditional monopoly on the
>>>>> latter (knowledge processing, or learning) even as it acknowledges
>>>>> their monopoly on the former (command and control). Most of all, it
>>>>> argues for holding all knowledge openly accountable, even that of
>>>>> managers whose separate powers it grants.
>>>>OK: there you have the problem in the open: the distribution (and consequent
>>>>of organizational power. Knowledge, as i think it is being treated by KM, is a kind
>>>>power, ('kennis is macht'). Now, it is easy to see that, as power corrupts and
>>>>absolute power absolutely corrupts, that - if you treat KM as asource of power,
>>>>whatever intent - the knowledge gets corrupted. I'm reminded of the tale of the
>>>>Walrus and the Carpenter from Alice in Wonderland: both try to eat as much -
>>>>clams ? - as possible, yet one of the two weeps for the clamps, deeply
>>>>My concern is that KM bypasses the problems induced by the paradoxes of
>>>>In other words, KM itself might become a power play itself disguised by friendly,
>>>>kind and sympathetic words.
>>>>You see, i do not doubt the intentions. But the route to hell is paved with good
>>>>intentions. Like the war on terror ... , the intentions are noble, pure, for the best
>>>>mankind. But there is no process in place, to openly discuss matters like 'what is
>>>>ethical use of power - if any', 'are people allowed no to participate AND not
>>>>punished for not participating?'. KM - in what i know of it - doesn't treat
>>>>as a type of social processes. Perhaps KM needs a Kuhn or a Feierabend.

[My reply:] KM does indeed need a type of Kuhn, but it should be one
in my view that explicitly rejects Kuhnian epistemology which is
deeply communitarian in its outlook, and therefore rife with
opportunity for the type of power corruptions you fear. A better
mentor for KM, in my view, would be Karl Popper, whose Critical
Rationalism offers the best protection against political distortions
in the quality of learning, and which holds all knowledge open to
criticism despite the political authority of its source. So in the
end, you are wrong about KM not addressing knowledge as a stype of
social process based phenomenon. We do. TNKM does.
>>>>I suppose i wrote something like: the "meta"-problem is the 'definition' of the
>>>>or problems by the ones who suffer from the problem, not the detection. An issue
>>>>in one respect like an iceberg floating in water: you detect only the tip, the top. In
>>>>another aspect, an issue behaves diffently according to the perceiver. For
>>>>an iceberg might be the solution to a fresh waterproblem - or a problem of
>>>>Or, an iceberg might offer a mode of transportation. And, the 'issue' of the Titanic
>>>>encountering the iceberg, had - in my opinion - almost nothing to do with an
>>>>iceberg. It was about the vanity of man, creating a Titan - and you probably
>>>>remember them from Greek mythology - and having the nerve to tempt it by
>>>>not enough life boats.
>>>>Now, if i may, lets make the Gedanken Experiment and assume that
>>>>thanks to TNKM, are a kind of Titanics, an even more powerful method to solve
>>>>organizational problems than the one's we had. Is it correct to assume that we
>>>>wouldn't need as much safety measures? Or - in other words - that when such
>>>>organisation meets an iceberg (called 'economic recession' or 'environmental
>>>>or 'an unethical CEO' or ... ) we're not able to save many 'employees'. They
>>>>drown, they'll just become unemployed, redundant, without pensions or
>>>>The other day i saw a documentary on Dutch television of 80.000 homeless
>>>>living in Los Angeles. One of them said: 'i see only three options for myself: try to
>>>>emigrate to The Netherlands (thank you kindly, but he had lived in Holland for a
>>>>years), to Canada or swim out into the see to play with the sharks'.
>>>>In other words, does TNKM make people stonger, more able to survive, to learn
>>>>themselves, for learning sake?

[My reply:] Yes it does. That is its purpose. To enhance the
capacity of people in (and of) organizations to learn, solve problems,
and adapt.

[Host's Note: Sorry about the line wraps... I did the best I could to
make it readable. ..Rick]


"Mark W. McElroy" <mmcelroy@vermontel.net>

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