Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Knowledge Management Iceberg

The Iceberg is a very familiar model within Knowledge Management, seen in many slide presentations. I first used it myself in the public domain, in an article in Knowledge management magazine, 2000, entitled ""Mining the deep knowledge - tapping into things you don't know you know, and have re-used it many times over the last decade-and-a-bit.

In this analogy,the explicit knowledge of an organisation is like the visible portion of an iceberg, and the known tacit knowledge is underwater, but close to the surface, in the daylight zone where it is visible, and easily accessed. (strictly, in the original usage by Polanyi, this would be called Explicit but Undocumented. However the modern general usange is to call anything Tacit if it is undocumented)

The explicit knowledge can, in theory, be seen and found easily, as it lies in plain site. Similarly the known tacit knowledge can be found and accessed.

However deeper down, out of sight, lies the vast mass of unconscious knowledge; the bulk of the iceberg. This knowledge is invisible, inaccessible, and easily overlooked. These are the things that you don't know that you don't know - the unknown knowns, and this is very often the deep-lying technical knowledge - the mastery - that is of real value to others.

Before this knowledge can be shared and applied, it first needs to be made tacit and conscious. A process of realisation is needed, to move the knowledge into the tacit domain. Much as data may need to be mined out of documents to be useful, so the unconscious knowledge needs to be mined out of the human brain before it can be made tacit, then explicit. This "brain mining" is a skill, which can be learnt and taught, but it is primarily a human activity that cannot be automated. It is however the highest value step in the entire spectrum of knowledge management activity.

The mining tools we use to reach this deep knowledge are Questions, and any knowledge management system that does not somewhere involve a questioning process, or some question-based techniques, will never reach the deep dark unconsiouc knowledge where the real secrets of success and failure are to be found.


Anonymous said...

Hi, the Name is Polanyi, not Polyani, or am I wrong?

Nick Milton said...

well spotted, thanks. Spelling now corrected

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