JIT and Knowledge Building LO16677

Thu, 22 Jan 1998 12:26:40 -0500

Arbitrarily linked to LO16674 by your host --

In response to my 1/8/98 posting, Richard Webster wrote:

>Can your term, "knowledge building," be stated as "learning" in your
judgement and experience?

My answer is a qualified yes, and no. Clearly, "knowledge building" is a
subset of learning, but it has some very distinctive attributes that
separates it from other activities/processes that are also capped with the
term, "learning". For example, training is associated with the term
learning -- an rightly so; however, as I stated previously, training (and
this includes most OJT/OJL) is mostly information/knowledge
transfer/dissemination, NOT "knowledge building".

Learning, when viewed in the context of knowledge transfer, is a
logistical activity. By this I mean that it is more focused on moving
knowledge (into a greater number of minds), than it is with creating new
knowledge. When I think of "knowledge building", I am picturing a
creative activity, in which the actual body of knowledge is expanded with
new insights and new understanding. Logistical learning has the flavor of
acquiring existing knowledge; whereas knowledge building has the flavor of
synthesizing new knowledge from existing knowledge. Several friends of
mine are teachers, and they have often lamented that the formal education
system focuses too much on teaching "stuff", and focuses too little on
teaching students "how to think". This is similar to the distinction I
make in my work. "Stuff" is the already existing information/knowledge
that gets moved around. The number of people sharing in a common base of
knowledge grows; but the level (i.e. richness, complexity, newness, etc.)
of that knowledge does not necessarily grow. On the other hand, teaching
students to think is the bedrock foundation of "knowledge building" --
again we come back to the creative act, not the logistical act.

So, you can see why I answered the opening question with both a yes and a
no. How do the logistical (knowledge transfer/dissemination) aspects of
learning fit together with the creative (knowledge building) aspects of
learning? They are two, inseparable sides of the same coin. That is a
key point I was attempting to make about JIT learning. In my opinion, one
of the key factors that separate the stellar LOs from other organizations,
is how well they integrate logistical learning processes with knowledge
building processes. The way the logistical processes are structured has a
critical impact on the creative processes. "Batch processing" of
knowledge, while excellent for knowledge transfer processes, is a dinosaur
when it comes to supporting fast, flexible knowledge building processes.
The prize goes to organizations that excel at creating new knowledge; not
to those that excel at distributing existing knowledge. JIT is a paradigm
that emphasizes the fast, flexible movement of "stuff" -- it began with
things (manufacturing), but it works equally well with information and

In my experience, the principles of JIT are not particularly easy to
implement in some types of organizations. One reason for this is that
some pretty significant paradigm shifts need to take place before you can
even start a move toward JIT. The following illustration came from the
book "Intellectual Capital" (highly recommended) and it's about a major
paradigm shift that took place within Hewlett-Packard. In 1985, the
information processing security guidelines stated, "Computer systems
should be configured in such a way as to reduce the users' capabilities
and access rights as severely as possible... with capabilities and access
being assigned to each user on an as needed basis." Can you see how this
might make a JIT knowledge access paradigm just a little bit difficult to
implement (tongue in cheek)? In 1991, that policy was turned on its head
and the new information systems policy was changed to read, "Information
users should have access to any data which would help them perform their
jobs, unless specifically limited by management. The burden of proof must
be shifted from the user demonstrating a 'need to know', to the
appropriate management documenting a reason to limit access." BIG, BIG
DIFFERENCE!, especially when it comes to supporting JIT and knowledge
building. There are many such structural and policy issues surrounding
knowledge access/transfer processes and the commensurate/resulting
capabilities to effectively engage in knowledge building processes.

Implicit in the above paradigm shift at H-P, is a corollary shift which is
known as PUSH - PULL. The old paradigm (PUSH), is based on a process that
transfers knowledge through an organization based on the "needs
perception" and time table of the knowledge provider (not user). Formal
training falls, for the most part, in the PUSH paradigm. It is easy to
see how this was a good fit with the 1985 policy at H-P. The new paradigm
(PULL), is based on a process where the need is determined by the end
user, open access is assumed in advance unless specifically denied for
cause (i.e. Common versus Roman Practice/Law), and timing is at the
discretion/need of the end user (JIT principle). This is of course what
all the hulabaloo is about concerning the explosion of web technology on
company intranets.

As always, I look forward to any feedback; especially concerning paradigm
shifts and principles that have an impact on bringing JIT logistical
learning to bear on knowledge building.

Best regards,


Doug Jones <djones@asheville.cc.nc.us>

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