Knowledge Management & LO LO20723

Ed Swanstrom (
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 12:46:21 -0800

Response to -- LO20709

Hi Richard,

>What do you think? What's your viewpoint on the concerns expressed
>recently about the KM - LO linkages? Perhaps Ed Swanstrom <>,
>Chairperson of the KM Consortium, would care to comment.

I'll make a stab and will also try to answer several other questions that
have been raised about KM. Current work in KMC is focused on down-to-earth
applications that help improve the organization's bottom line (whatever
that bottom line might be -- more time with family, money, knowledge,
etc), but it sometimes helps to step back and take a more "academic"
approach to answer concerns about KM.

A commanding majority of the KMC participants (1000+) view KM from an
applied anthropological point of view. KM is what we humans do and have
always done as individuals and as a collective to increase our ability to
survive. From the eyes of an anthropologist, managing knowledge is a natural
cultural and social process. We use technologies and tools (artifacts) to
help us do it better. Organizational learning is a natural subprocess of KM.

Go back thousands of years and what do we find? -- humans managing their
knowledge as individuals and tribes. They used stories, oral history,
dance, art, elders, shaman, teaching, etc. They picked up artifacts left
by other tribes and acquired knowledge through imitation, produced
knowledge through innovation, and a myriad of other ways we are still
trying to understand. Over the millennia, they developed technologies to
help them manage their knowledge better. Writing, storytelling, etc. is
considered technology.

See Mead, Margaret. (1964) Continuities in Cultural Evolution. New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press.

Bateson, Greogory (1942) "Social Planning and the Concept of Deutero
Learning," in Science, Philosophy and Religion, Second Symposium Lyman
Bryson and Louis Feinkelstein, eds., New York, Conference on Science,
Philosophy and Religion, pp. 81-97.

Tyler, Stephen A. ed. (1969) Cognitive Anthropology. New York: Holt,
Rinehart, and Winston

For transmitting knowledge, we haven't changed much in today's business
setting. Instead of a fire, we have meeting and eating tables, water
coolers, coffee stations, etc.

Humans manage their own knowledge in many different ways. We produce,
transmit, and acquire it (Learning is a subprocess). As adult individuals we
decide what school to go to get our education, our instructor, the books we
read, the learning heuristics we choose to learn to improve our learning,
etc. These are KM choices.

For better of worse, collectives manage the knowledge of individuals and the
collective. Examples include:
- The policies of a company
- The decision of a manager to pick a person with a certain skill set vs.
another in forming of a team
- the company approval process for going to a seminar or class
- Deciding to have or not have an apprenticeship program to transfer tacit
knowledge from soon-to-be replacements
- Deciding to become a learning organization

Other KM mechanisms include unwritten policies, norms, belief, and culture.

We use artifacts such as tablets, books, telephones, email, etc to help us
manage knowledge better. The products of computer-based technology is an
artifact -- just a tool -- that can assist us in helping us produce,
transmit, and acquire knowledge.

If we don't understand our knowledge needs, our knowledge processes, or have
measures to help determine if our needs are being satisfied or our processes
are being improved, then throwing a software solution at it is a waste of
time and money.

We know very little about natural knowledge management. By understanding how
organizations manage their knowledge processes, we can find ways to improve
those processes to help that organization achieve its goals faster and more
effectively. Understand the goals of the organization, the work processes,
the knowledge workers within that process, the knowledge-needs that support
that work process, and THEN explore how technology can help.

The purpose of the KMC is to help people come to shared vision, common
understanding, and aligned action about what KM is and its application. The
first step is to educate the community about past research conducted in this
area -- or "Build on the shoulders of giants."

Called knowledge governance, KM has been studied as a science since the
1800s starting with Franz Boas, the founder of Anthropology. Ruth Benedict,
Margaret Mead (I especially like her work), and many others in anthropology
were interested in the mechanisms the govern the production, transmission,
and acquisition of knowledge in groups of various sizes. Several
contemporary applied anthropologists, such as Bill Stuart, are interested in
improving knowledge governance in businesses.

Karl Mannheim founded Sociology of Knowledge in 1936 and Robert Merton
expanded it to its present form in 1946. Sociology of Knowledge has focused
on the issues of how authority, class, race, environmental conditions, and
so on, govern knowledge and knowledge processes.

In the 1950s, many cognitive psychologists and AI researchers expanded their
studies into the realm of social cognition. Herbert Simon coined the phrase
"Organizational Learning" (1957) and still is guiding research in this area.
Social cognition is interested in developing computational models to help
develop a theory that can hold up within the scientific community. One form
of the research is "Robo Soccer" to help understand, among other things,
knowledge governance of a team to fulfill a goal against competitors.

In philosophy there is no longer much of a distinction between social
epistemology and philosophy of science thanks to Thomas Kuhn in the 1960s
and Evolutionary Epistemology of Karl Popper and other modern philosophers.

In the 1950s, Economist and Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow helped justify
innovation and imitation as an important part of the economic equation. This
lead to Richard Nelson's Evolutionary Economic Model, Brian Arthur's
increasing returns, Paul Romer's work, and so on. Related work is that of
John Holland. John Holland's work lead to Complex Adaptive Systems Theory at
Santa Fe Institute and the current "knowledge-based" economics has become
the foundational work for current theories in KM. He developed a
mathematical framework for measuring the effectiveness of knowledge in
helping agents adapt to their environment. In short, the better you manage
your knowledge, the better your chance to survive. Knowledge should never be
stale. It gets that way due to bad knowledge management.

This is scratching the surface of previous work on KM.

Organizational learning (or tribal learning, cultural learning and societal
learning) has ALWAYS been considered a part of the study of knowledge
goverance and knowledge processes. You might be surprised to find that most
KMers see this connection.

The "Computer-based" and "Knowledge Storage" views of KM is part of "Folk
KM" that has emerged as result of this gold rush mentality that has swept
the business community.

Without discussing the long philosophical history of this -- knowledge is
information that is validated by an individual or collective. It is
information that is tested against a criteria to have predictive,
explanatory, or descriptive power. Plato defined knowledge as "justified
true belief." From the sociology of knowledge perspective, justification is
based on individual or collective criteria. To be more precise, knowledge is
validated procedural and declarative rules.

See Holland, John H. et al. (1986) Induction: Processes of Inference,
Learning, and Discovery. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT
Press. This is the seminal work that the thought leaders in the KMC have
developed its position and definitions.

See also Holland, John H. (1998) Emergence: From Chaos to Order.
Reading,Mass.: Addison-Wesley

Holland, John H.(1995) Hidden Order: How Adaptation BuildsComplexity.
Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley

Holland, John H. (1992) Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1975 First MIT Press Edition



Edward Swanstrom
Knowledge Management Consortium International
B (301) 590-0102
F (301) 519-9197


"Ed Swanstrom" <>

[Host's Note: In association with, these book links...

Induction : Processes of Inference, Learning and Discovery (Computational Models of Cognition and Perception) by John H. Holland, Keith J. Holyoak, Richard E. Nisbett Emergence : From Chaos to Order (Helix Books) by John H. Holland Hidden Order : How Adaptation Builds Complexity by John H. Holland, Heather Mimnaugh (Editor)

Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems : An Introductory Analysis With Applications to Biology, Control, and Artificial Intelligence (Complex A) by John H. Holland


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