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working knowledge

Ubiquity, Volume 2000 Issue August, August 1 - August 31, 2000 | BY John Gehl 


Full citation in the ACM Digital Library

      I see that Davenport and Prusak continue to promote the "knowledge management" nonsense. Knowledge is what the knower knows -- it is personal and cannot be recorded externally. Anything that is recorded is either data or information -- information only becomes "knowledge" when it is incorporated into the existing knowledge base of a knowing human being. Intuitively D&P recognize this when they say: "They are unlikely to talk about a 'knowledgeable' or even a 'knowledge-full' memo, handbook, or database, even though these might be produced by knowledgeable individuals or groups." Indeed! How could they -- there is no "knowledge" in a database -- only data; there is no "knowledge" in a handbook, only information; there is no "knowledge" in a memo, only information. That information may or may not be transformed into knowledge by a knowing human, depending upon whether it bears any relationship to the human's existing knowledge -- it must be incorporated into a body of knowledge and the only way that can be achieved is in the human mind. Again, D&P recognize this: "Of course, since knowledge and decisions usually reside in people's heads, it can be difficult to trace the path between knowledge and action." Indeed -- virtually impossible, in fact, because the person himself or herself may be unaware of the process whereby knowledge results in action. D&P go on to say: "Knowledge develops over time, through experience that includes what we absorb from courses, books, and mentors as well as informal learning." Of course, but what we "absorb" is not "knowledge" but information -- which may or may not influence our knowledge base, depending upon our ability to make sense of that information and integrate it. Knowledge management is another management consultancy fad -- and how such arrant nonsense as promoted by Davenport and Prusak can be published by the President and Fellows of Harvard College is beyond me.

-- T.D. Wilson

Hungry for more "knowledge"

Re: Working Knowledge (Ubiquity August 8, 2000)

      I think that Davenport and Prusak have made a clear picture of what the general public and management in general intend by "knowledge." But I remain thirsty about more substantial findings, if this is supposed to be a research paper. It would probably be necessary to enter in a modeling and field-testing process of "knowledge." If possible quantitative modeling. A long and perhaps tedious time, for sure. But it would give a firmer ground to the humanistic thinking of the authors.

-- Pierre Berger


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