Monday, 10 October 2011


Where does knowledge come from?



In most of the training courses I run, I ask the question "where does knowledge come from?"

Always, every time, I get the answer "Experience - Knowledge comes from Experience". Never does anyone answer "Knowledge comes from Information".

Never

If you don't believe me, try it yourself. Ask people "where does knowledge come from"? and see what they say.

So why do we persevere with the Data/Information/Knowledge pyramid? It's misleading, and it does not represent what people think.

If you believe in this pyramid, then your KM approach will be an extension of information management. You will look at organising and aggregating information so that you can turn it into knowledge.

If instead you believe that knowledge comes from experience, and shared knowledge comes from shared experience, then your KM approach will be based on review and transfer of experience, connection of people, and conversation.



So we could in fact come up with a different pyramid, shown here, where experience leads to knowledge, which leads to decisions, and which leads to action.

The great thing about this version of the pyramid, is that action leads back to experience. And if we can share the experience from many actions, we can build shared knowledge which others can use to make correct decisions.

So the pyramids stack, as shown below.

Our previous approach, of treating Knowledge Management as an extension of information management, now becomes an approach of sharing experience in order to make better decisions, and take better actions.

Guess which of these works better?

12 comments:

  1. It's an interesting observation Nick. The one thing would be for groups to recognize the causal factors between their experience and outcomes. If you do X, do you really get Y? Also, are you really doing the right things for the right reasons? Sometimes groups do things because that is how they have always done them - not necessarily that the methods or objectives are correct or optimal.

    Maybe an objective evaluation method would help translate experience to knowledge when appropriate.

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  2. Interesting position. This scheme also seems to allow for the non-tangible influences: "ceteris paribus" does not exist in human behaviour. Data is factual and unchanging, whereas experience is fed by many subtle influences.

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  3. This observation is very much a reflection of its American cultural context, and reveals the degree to which Americans have lost the ability to learn systematically through information, books, reading, and the like. It's very much a reflection of the growing predominance of anti-intellectualist and populist approaches to knowledge acquisition.

    The situation is very different in European countries such as Germany, where a keen understanding of how methodical acquisition of knowledge through information- or book-based study still predominates. This is why German engineering, industry, and commerce are so superior to American.

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  4. "This observation is very much a reflection of its American cultural context" ... I wouldn't know about that Renaldo, as I am European, and much of of the training I have done has been in a European context.

    Maybe things are different in Germany - I don't know, not having taught or worked there - but most other folks seem to think Knowledge comes from Experience.

    Why don't you ask your German colleagues the question, and see what they answer?

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  5. The triangle is incomplete isn't it?

    It doesn't take into account Argyris single and double-loop learning.

    And isn't this a loaded triangle every decision and part of understanding is underpinned by invisible assumptions and frames.

    In sociology this would be seen in the work of Foucault in the visual arts W J T Mitchell and in the sciences hasn't this been considered in the important debate between Kuhn & Popper?

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  6. I posted this on my FB last February.
    data and (&) context yields (==>) information;
    information & analysis ==> knowledge;
    knowledge & decision outcomes ==> wisdom.

    Correlates somewhat with your pyramid. Change analysis to experience, and then my decision is approximately your decision plus action.

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  7. You are quite right Howard; once you get into the experience/knowledge/decision/action sequence it becomes immediately obvious that you are dealing with a learning loop (unlike the DIKW triangle) - see here for example

    http://www.nickmilton.com/2011/07/experience-management-continued.html

    which itself is simplistic and can be expanded.

    We are looking at a small component of real life, and my suggestion is that the EKDA succession is a better way of looking at that component than the DIKW succession, nonwithstanding the assumptions and frames (which become even more important when we start looking at shared experience and shared knowledge)

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  8. Thank you Sarah

    indeed, effective analysis is impossible without experience.

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  9. Thanks for sharing. Indeed interesting and I can identify with it. But there is one aspect that I am missing - we are all different and these pyramids from my perspective will differ in case of different people - e.g. depending on prefer personal learning styles ... because if knowledge comes from experience, then there must be learning process somewhere there ....

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  10. Nick, your original question to the group, does not make their answer correct. Obviously, the concepts of data and information do inform knowledge. Experience is not a starting point here, but it could certainly be said that it helps with wisdom. I think you make a good point about how experience can contribute to knowledge, and sometimes, to wisdom, but to say the DIKW model is not being taught correctly kind of depends on whether the people doing the teaching do that in context with people, which most do, so although I understand why you are doing this, i find your original stated question not to be evidence based, just because a group of people say it, does not make it correct.

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  11. Nick, your original question to the group, does not make their answer correct. Obviously, the concepts of data and information do inform knowledge. Experience is not a starting point here, but it could certainly be said that it helps with wisdom. I think you make a good point about how experience can contribute to knowledge, and sometimes, to wisdom, but to say the DIKW model is not being taught correctly kind of depends on whether the people doing the teaching do that in context with people, which most do, so although I understand why you are doing this, i find your original stated question not to be evidence based, just because a group of people say it, does not make it correct.

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  12. Hi Bill, thanks for the comments. I agree that, just because because a group of people say something, does not make it correct. However it can be considered to be evidence.

    What is the evidence for the DIKW model? Is this based on evidence? Or is this a model that "a group of people" say is correct?

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