Knowledge Management in Academia LO20555

Leo Minnigh (
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 12:33:18 +0100 (MET)

Replying to LO20458 --

Dear LO'ers,

In previous messages Doc and I were discussing the value of a knowledge
base as the Outsights-site is.

In LO20458 At de Lange guided our senses to the narrow (or even wrong)
meaning of the word 'knowledge management'. A better word for it should be
'Information Management'. And then he explains why this difference is not
only a matter of semantics, but a thing which goes much deeper. As long as
we do not penetrate in the heart of the processes that are involved in
the creation of knowledge, we risk to be information lurkers, or blind
followers and copiers. Let me first try to explain what At's point was.
Therefor, I need some kind of scheme. I hope that by using the simple
equipment of e-mail, this scheme will not be destroyed by the various
formats of the receivers.

The following sketch illustrates At's contribution:

(tacit)---------> info/technology
( ^ )
learning ( | )
info---------> (formal)


In words: Information is 'sucked'/pulled by the formal knowledge. This
process is called 'learning'. The formal knowledge is transformed (in our
heads) in tacit knowledge (indicated by a primitive vertical arrow). The
tacit knowledge (or experiencial knowledge; At uses the word experential,
which is not in my dictionary) 'blows'/pushes the transformed information
into new information or in technology. This latter process I have called

The 'box', indicated by the brackets is the place where knowledge is
created. Yes, here is the motor of the process, which is called
creativity. Thus the transformation of formal knowledge into tacit
knowledge is a creativity. It is realy the motor, since here is the place
of the forces involved: pulling and pushing.
At explained that if the tacit knowledge is lacking, the person will be an
information junkie. We could use also the words 'lurker', 'deemster'; a
good example is also the passive TV-junk. If the formal knowledge is
lacking or underdeveloped, the person will be a blind follower, a copier
or lives on plagiatry.
In both cases, creativity is missing: the internal process of transfer of
formal into tacit knowledge. The motor which consumes but also which
produces information. In our library we have a great text as a piece of
art painted on a wall:

But we can add now to this text: IF CREATIVITY IS INVOLVED.

And now the heart of the matter:
1. What is the starter of the motor, and
2. What are the gears of the motor? (the primitive vertical arrow in the
knowledge box)

In my mind, the starter is a/the QUESTION. I prefer in this cotext this
word above the word 'problem'. Question is more neutral than the negative
feelings around problems. The starter could be positive as well.

The answer to the second point is: the five (six) sustainers of creativity
of At:

If we consider these sustainers in more detail, we may recognise a mirror
of the sketch in the beginning of this mail. But now, it all happens
within the box of knowledge (transfer of formal into tacit knowledge). At
has put them in the right order:

* problem-solving - the starter of the process of creation. We could
change it into: question-analysis.
* exemplar-studying - the learning, the extraction of the information
stored in the formal knowledge
* game-playing - the filtering, mixing and combining of the
extracted information from the formal knowledge (which is again a form of
microscopic creativity)
* art-expressing - new microscopic tacit knowledge is formed, which likes
to escape (pushing); it is the result of game-playing with the formal
knowledge as resource
* dialogue - the internal loop between formal and tacit knowledge, that
repeats the above sustainers again and again, driven by the dynamic state
of pulling and pushing between the two types of knowledge ((created)
information is the mass which flows in the loop).

This fractal-like creation-process within the knowledge box, and on a
larger scale, outside the box (but the box is part of it) could be find on
an even larger scale: the learning organisation.

But how do we go further? At warned us already for the great risks of this
type of descriptions: ontological engineering.

We have to cope with a very difficult task: describing a motor while it is
running. It is the description of a being AND a becoming. We need probably
a special language (which is another thread in this list).

What we probably could do is:

a. description of the starter question + motives + expected goal
b. the consulted formal knowledge in the form of personalised information
and imported information. But we should add to this something very
important: the motives why we have culslted this info. This is hidden in
the algorithms of the Outsight knowledge base. However these motives are
c. If possible, indicate the filtering, mixing and combining process
d. description of the resulting tacit knowledge by formalising it. Here,
each preliminary result is as important as the final result
e. re-entering the original question with its motives and goals, to test
the results (dialogue). Maybe this loop is the most difficult part, since
it is such a dynamical feature.

The language needed for this is probably a combination of the type of
chemical reactions (including the description of the chemical plant), the
language used in certain cartoons and comic books, mathematics, enriched
words (as I suggested earlier, comparable with the cartographical
typography), pictograms, etc.

I don't know if the readers of this list are familiar with the comic books
of Tin Tin, by the famous designer/author Herge. Herge has invented in the
twenties a new language for this new media. It is worth to study his
subtile tricks. Some examples: a spiral behind a person, indicating that
he is running, a spiral above the head, indicating that he is dizzy,
sweat-drops indicating tension and stress of the person, question and
exclamation marks, etc. He enriched the static two-dimensional pictures
into vivid three-dimensional illusions.

At explained why the Goal, Fact, Symptom, Cause and Fix headers of the
Outsight-base are useless for exemplar-stydying. At illustrated this
statement with the example of the description of a new plant or animal
At, I know you love plants (among other things). I know you are in search
for new, or very rare plants. I agree that a clean description of one of
these species is useless to force in the pigeon hole-labels. It is even
hardly information, it will be 'just' data. However, if you could make
clear which information and which formal knowledge you have consulted to
find the place where this plant was growing, it becomes much more
valuable. If someone describes a new plant, but he also explains which
information he used for finding this plant, in other words adding all
sorts of environmental data and former experiences, others could learn
from it. Did you find your desert wonder (skelmpie) by pure accident, or
was it that you looked for certain soil and climatic conditions, did you
use other living organisms, etc. for the deduction of the biological

It is HOW people and organizations came to certain conclusions and
decisions, not so much the very results.
Maybe the answers a knowledge base would give to the queries of its
clients, should be in the form of new questions. It stimulates the
learning, creating and teaching: the flow that the motor of knowledge
keeps running.

dr. Leo D. Minnigh
Library Technical University Delft
PO BOX 98, 2600 MG Delft, The Netherlands
Tel.: 31 15 2782226
Let your thoughts meander towards a sea of ideas.


Leo Minnigh <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>