Friday 21 February 2014

Drucker's description of knowledge, and what's wrong with it!

Peter Drucker dies at 95, a photo by IsaacMao on Flickr
Peter Drucker dies at 95, a photo by IsaacMao on Flickr
Peter Drucker said, in a much quoted sentence from an information week article on January 24th, 2000

"Information only becomes knowledge in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it."

In other words, Information only becomes Knowledge, in the hands of someone who has Knowledge of (knows) what do do with it.

To put it more simply, Information + Knowledge = Knowledge

There's something wrong with this equation!

If knowledge is needed to create knowledge, then where does that knowledge come from? You end up with a "turtles all the way down" argument.

The equation "Information + Knowledge = Knowledge" is like saying A+B=B. This is only true if A=0 (which implies there is no knowledge in information). Maybe that's what Drucker meant?

To find out what Drucker actually meant by this sentences is quite difficult. The article itself doesn't appear online, and is not in the archives of Industry Week. All that seems to remain are references to the sentence above, and to the preceding one "There's no such thing as knowledge management, only knowledgeable people", which also makes little sense, as just because something is a human attribute doesn't make it unmanageable.

My assumption, for what its worth, is that Drucker meant something like this

"Information only becomes actionable in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it."

In other words, knowledge makes information actionable.

But I guess we won't know for sure unless someone has an original copy of the article.


Unknown said...


'Someone who knows' 'holds' some knowledge ......

Te bottom line is probably learning to 'convert' info to K!

Cheers, Jaap

Unknown said...

Hi Nick, I think he meant that information could only become knowledge if the person who captured it also captured the meanings of it. Is your operational definition knowledge is information in actions?

Yang Lin

Unknown said...

Hi Nick, I guess it means that information becomes knowledge only when the person who captures it also has the knowledge to capture the meanings of it.

Nick Milton said...

No, my definition of knowledge is not based on information.

Nick Milton said...

I guess we will never know exactly what he meant! But if its the meaning that conveys the knowledge, rather than the information, the question then is, where does the meaning come from? Is it part of the information, or is it added by the reader? Maybe knowledge is the meaning we apply to information?

I would certainly, personally, see knowledge as something which can be applied to information, rather than being something that information becomes.

And of course knowledge can be applied to many other things part from information as well - knowledge can be applied to problems, challenges, opportunities, risks, and so on.

Unknown said...

Hi Nick,

I agree that Drucker's formula is unfortunate, but I think it's parseable.

In fact, I think as long as you consider actionable information to be knowledge as I do, there is no recursion problem. The first knowledge created by a baby is when they learn how to act on information received.

Drucker is just defining Knowledge as Information + Potential for Action in more words.

There's a great article that runs through the basis for this premise, but unfortunately I don't have the reference at hand.

Nick Milton said...

So Stephen, where does the Knowledge come from, that Drucker adds to the information to make more knowledge?

gregdavidbailey said...

Greetings Nick. This is a good leap forward. Starting from the premise that information and knowledge are different, serving simultaneous goal at each framework, in the simplistic Newtonian paradigm, " knowledge is the thing encoded in the information, albeit; information=breath and is the description of the thing(s) being explored at what appears to be a continuum of a particular set(s) of theoretical frames, to address a specific group of challenges or potentials. Second the knowledge is the "depth of the process with in details of the [who,what,when, where, why and how], still in the Newtonian beltway here, extracted to give meaning relationships at the quantum levels of the input, throughput and outputs of the knowledge received.

Drucker explicitly is speaking what appears to be the "tacit presenter of the knowledge, and the explicit relationships of the receiver of the knowledge-from the holders. The knowledge receiver perhaps is and may have a mental model construct, to shape, the information into "knowledge." Knowledge is knowing what to do with information, received from the "knowledge holders, whether in a disparate information exchange scenario or divergent knowledge relationships. The requester or receiver in other words, acts with the ongoing goals of synchronization and synthesizing, to meet the original knowledge requests.

One of Drucker's comments in "The Post Capitalist Society," gives a framework for the answer espoused above. Drucker (1993) stated;

KM view from Newtonian perspective= information is potential knowledge is action to resolve what is in front of us AND Quantum view is knowledge is the information and informational relationships, applied to what the receiver knows to be so, becomes applicable to knowledge exchange in a many fold relationship fields, leading to ongoing building on the information, across diverse relationships.

The reference below hasn't been referred, so it is proximal to giving feedback intuitive feedback, information to the discussion, and Drucker's comments, are the knowledge explanation,and the mental model held by the reader(s) make knowledgeable decisions, based on their interpretation of the information given. Quantum Relationships A and B,=C Newtonian is A +B+ C.

Drucker (1993)

"1993 - International economic theory is obsolete. The traditional factors of production - land, labor, and capital - are becoming restraints rather than driving forces. Knowledge is becoming the one critical factor of production. It has two incarnations: Knowledge applied to existing processes, services, and products is productivity; knowledge applied to the new is innovation."


Post Capitalist Society Interview with Peter Drucker:
WIRED -Issue 1.03 | Jul/Aug 1993
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, discusses how knowledge, not capital, is the new basis of wealth.

williams family said...

Thanks for that Nick. I went trolling for the source as well and came up with nothing. I'll have to find something else to finish off my paper with
Dave Williams

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