Knowledge Management & LO LO20745

John Gunkler (
Fri, 26 Feb 1999 10:42:25 -0600

Replying to LO20723 --

Ed Swanstrom writes about the efforts of the Knowledge Management
Consortium which, apparently, looks at knowledge management as applied

This makes a lot of intuitive sense -- and academics can go nuts with it
for many decades, I'm sure -- but I would like to throw in a huge

When organizations began being seen as possessing organizational culture,
the natural next step was to begin studying them as an anthropologist
would. The popular business book by Deal and Kennedy gave impetus to this
effort. The result was to kill most of the good that could have come from
thinking dynamically about organizations as cultures! Why?

I believe it was because the "anthropology" track that was followed was
almost purely a descriptive methodology -- so we had a proliferation of
renaming of aspects of organizations with anthropology-like names: we
didn't do work any more, we created "artifacts" (etc., etc.) While this
provided job satisfaction to those who did it, it did nothing to help
people who had to live in organizations do anything better!

As Herbert Simon wrote years ago (in his brilliant monograph, Sciences of
the Artificial), there are two major kinds of scientific description:
state description and process description. State descriptions are like
static snapshots -- they allow us to identify and name things, perhaps see
spatial relationships (but NOT causal ones, nor mutually causative ones.)
Process descriptions capture the interrelationships among the parts and
how they change over time -- the dynamics of the organization.

So, if we describing a computer or a cake, the state description would be
a picture of the computer (or a wiring diagram, or a screen shot) or of
the cake; a process description would be a listing of the program(s) the
computer is running or the recipe for making the cake.

As you can tell, if your object is to improve what is happening (with a
computer or in an organization) or to make a better one, the process
description will be much more useful.

System dynamics, for example, focuses on (one way of) creating process
descriptions for organizational systems and subsystems. I believe that a
system dynamics model is the much better one for dealing with knowledge
management than is the (static) anthropological model.

[I understand that there are anthropologists who focus on the dynamics of
cultures, but that focus is not evident to me in Ed's description of what
KMC is doing.]


"John Gunkler" <>

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