Knowledge Management in Academia LO20458

AM de Lange (
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 17:29:20 +0200

Replying to LO20439 --

Dear Organlearners,

Leo Minnigh <> writes:

>Dear Doc, dear LO'ers,
>Thank you very much for your great documentary. I have certainly
>judged too early.

Greetings Leo,

I am not so sure. In your original contribution LO20411 to which Doc
replied in LO20421, you wrote the following:

>Maybe all these questions and remarks have to do with a more
>general question:
>Is the knowledgebase of the Outsights-site problem-oriented or

I sighed with relief -- finally somebody (Leo) is beginning to ask
penetrating questions. Finally I can sit back, doing nothing, and observe
with joy how creativity enters the picture of Knowledge Management.

The first thing which makes me itchy, is the name "Knowledge Management".
It should have been "Information Management". Allow me to explain why.
Learning is a becoming and its outcome knowledge is a being. This
becoming-being pair exist within a living person. The person may use it to
create products outside him/her like information or technology. But
knowledge based products like information and technology should never be
confused with the living pair learning-knowledge. However, the name and
practice of "knowledge management" is with us so that we will have to deal
with it factually.

When we observe the living pair learning-knowledge within a person, it is
then when we are struck by the richness of it. In our observation we will
each have to begin with ourseleves and as we gain experience, move to
other people. Consider now, for example, the interaction between merely
the tacit and formal (explict, expressed) levels of knowledge. The tacit
level pushes and the formal level as its emergent pulls. As soon as a
person denies the pushing action of the tacit level for whatever reason,
the formal level stagnates. When I help a learner to become revitalised,
often my main work is to guide that learner to stop quenching the pushing
action of his tacit knowledge, to realise that it is there and to use its
power effectively.

Now what happens in Knowledge Management (KM)? The information which a
person is able to produce on a topic, are now formalised (given form) in
definite patterns. This process is sometimes called ontological
engineering. The idea is that these patterns will help a recipient
(somebody else) to import that information more effectively. But now it is
required from that person to PULL in such formalised information. Which
level of that recipient's knowledge will do the pulling? The recipient's
formal knowledge.

But if the recipient's formal knowledge is immature or absent, the tacit
knowledge have to do it. However, the tacit knowledge is a pusher and not
a puller with respect to formal knowledge. Thus it will either fail to do
so, or when it succeeds in doing so, it loses its identity. What happens
when it looses its identity? The tacit knowledge is a puller as well as a
pusher. Whereas it pushes towards formal knowledge, it pulls on
experential knowledge. When it loses its identity, it cannot pull on
experential knowledge any more.

The overall effect is that the person becomes an information junkie,
afraid to experience self the outside world. Without experiential
knowledge pushing the tacit knowledge, the tacit knowledge stagnates. In
the next sequence this stagnated tacit knowledge, low in pushing power,
causes the person's formal knowledge to stagnate. In the final stage the
person's sapient knowledge stagnates. Thus the the theme of many a science
fiction novel becomes actual.

The second thing which makes me itchy, is the kind of patterns which will
be used to transform information into a Knowledge Object of Knowledge
Management. In the qoute above, you refered to one kind as
"problem-orientated". Now let us go deeper into these kinds of patterns. I
have written a number of occasions on what I call the elementary
sustainers of creativity. Up to now I have identified five of them (with a
possible sixth one suggested by Don Dwiggens, namely imagination or "what
if"). They are:


Now try to formalise the information obtained by exemplar-studying into
the pigeon holes "Goal, Fact, Symptom, Cause and Fix" and see what becomes
of it. If you want actual examples, take the description of any new plant
or animal species, or take the description of the synthesis and
identification of a new chemical compound. Little, if any, will fit into
the taxonomy (pigeon holes) of problem-solving. And when we try to force
by hook or crook such information in the taxonomy of problem-solving, the
result will have little, is any applicative value. (A taxonomy is the
forms in a form.)

Please, do not misunderstand me. I have nothing against problem-solving.
For example, it is just as foolish to fit information pertaining to
problem-solving into a taxonomy for exemplar-studying. Furthermore, when
we carefully consider the 5 elementary sustainers above, the first four
differ from the last one in a remarkable aspect. Each of the four has a
taxonomic form (which is rich in diversity), but the fifth one (dialogue)
has no definite taxonomic form. It can be formless (plasmodial) and it can
take up any form as long as all the members are satisfied with it.

I have merely pointed to the five elementary sustainers of creativity.
They have been with humankind for millenia. The are also exhibited (but to
a much lesser extent) by some higher life forms with a central nervous
system. Should I drop this latter requirement, it is possible to identify
some more sustainers. But the point which I try to make, is that we can
formalise our creativity into many more forms than the five above. Each of
these forms have a distinctive taxonomy. At the pinnacle stands
mathematics. Its very spirit is to transform its taxonomy (form of form)
continually. (Yes, mathematics is the study of the form of content in such
a manner that when its form gets exhausted, that form becomes the content
for a new form. Thus mathematics is the chameleon of the mind.) Should we
imbed information in only limited number of taxonomies, all the rest of
the rich formations of our creativity will find little coherence in these
few kinds of "information ores".

Leo, that is why I appreciated your original proposal (LO20383) that
databases should be "person-oriented" so much. On my first reading I
expected that you would sketch later on a rich picture, showing that it
had to include all the facets of human creativity and its emergents. You
can still do it and I would love to read about it. I want to write here
only the minimum. We must take great care in this ontological engineering
that it does not come in conflict with human creativity. Philosphers will
probably shoot me, but I have to get it out -- it is this very ontological
engineering which took the life out of philosophy. This is something which
"academia" must be very careful of.

Knowledge management has been accaimed as the tool which will prevent
information overlaod. Data mining has become a catch word for giving
people the competitive advantage. But I think we need a bag of salt here
to digest all these claims.

Leo, to get back to your contribution, you wrote:
>.... the issue of
>"which knowledge is present within the organization"
>"how could we archive this knowledge and make it available
> for further use"
>is something which lives in every organization.

I cannot agree more.

With the divergent developments as they happen, I become year by year
deeper under the impression that organisations will have to choose between
two main contenders: Learning Organisation and Knowledge Organisation.
Whatever the executives choose, I can recommend only one thing: keep an
eye on the spontaneous creativity of the members of the organisation. Make
sure that the choice do not impair their creativity. If the choice by its
back action does impair their creativity, the organisation will stagnate
and eventually cease to exist.

Best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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