An explanation for the Knowledge-Information-Record ecology

I have a hypothesis … a working theory (WARNING: Live knowledge work!) that an analogy from nature could help explain the Knowledge-Information-Record ecology, from a Same-and-Different perspective.

This is a view that is not about a hierarchy, where you attempt to resolve questions like: Is Information a subset of Knowledge? Or is Knowledge a subset of Information? This is a different and maybe fresh perspective.

If you are reading this and need to answer the question now about ‘Why would I care about these differences?‘ then jump down to the section entitled “How the distinction might be useful“. If you are still figuring out the ‘What’ it is that you might care about, then keep reading.

Starting with physics

In nature, H20 is a substance that can exist in different forms or phases: Gas, Liquid and Solid. Or as we more commonly say: Steam, Water, and Ice.  There are processes that transition such substances between these phases, e.g. freezing and condensation.

Here is a perspective that recognises Related yet Separate entities: Related = Water; Separate = Solid, Liquid, Gas.

How might this be applied to Knowledge-Information-Record?  How about:
Solid = Records/Archives – as something ‘tangible’ that can be touched/seen; is preserved
Liquid = Information – as something still ‘tangible’ that can be seen; is an input or output of process
(A tangential thought: Droplets = Data – the small bits that come together to make Information)
Gas  = Knowledge – as something less tangible; not seen directly; inferred by its effect on things; very fuzzy boundaries; more problematic to contain and capture

Does that resonate with you?

Changing Form

Science gives us six phase transitions that happen to the Forms of Solid, Liquid and Gas.

              sublimation                             deposition
SOLID  ============>  GAS    ==============> SOLID

              melting                                    freezing
SOLID  ============>  LIQUID  =============>  SOLID

            condensation                          vapourisation
GAS  =============>   LIQUID  =============> GAS

Cognitive equivalents for these phase transitions might be:
Sublimation = reading, thinking and memorising about the content of a record
Deposition = reflecting and working out loud to elicit inner thoughts and record them directly as something concrete and immutable
Melting =  reading and talking about the content of a record
Freezing = talking and writing with others to make the content of a record
Condensation = speaking, showing, writing about your knowledge to make it transportable outside of you
Vapourisation = listening, learning, doing, observing as you take in the knowledge of others and what is around you to ‘store’ it inside you
NB: I didn’t specify ‘inside you’ as your head or mind. Some of your knowledge may be residing in other parts of your body! And that’s a whole other conversation for another day.

There’s an interesting relationship to explore here in comparing these phase transitions with Nonaka & Takeuchi’s SECI model (1995).  For the uninitiated, SECI stands for Socialisation – sharing tacit knowledge tacitly through shared experience or in face-to-face communication utilising practical examples; Externalisation – converting tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge that is in forms that others can read/listen/watch and interpret for themselves; Combination – combining explicit knowledge with other explicit knowledge to create new forms and concepts that can be analysed and organised anew; and Internalisation – understanding and taking in explicit knowledge so that it becomes an individual’s own internal and tacit knowledge.

I leave it to you to explore and make up your own mind about such a relationship.

Defining Form

Another useful construct about each of the phases has to do with shape and volume:  A Solid has a definite shape and volume. A Liquid has a definite volume but it takes the shape of a container in which is resides. A Gas expands freely filling whatever space is available regardless of the quantity.

A Record is fixed; it has a definite form and volume because it captures the cognitive substance to be immutable, a static preservation at a moment in time.  Information is more fluid it has a definite volume but can change shape based on context and utility. Knowledge is amorphous it definitely exists but is hard to see or touch as something discrete or distinct from its surroundings.

How the distinction might be useful

Making such a distinction between Knowledge, Information and Records, and thus Knowledge Management, Information Management and Records Management, might provide useful clarification about differing expertise, differing and related problem spaces and thus fit-for-purpose solutions.

When you think of the different forms of water, it’s relatively easy to think of different roles for attending to each form, e.g. a Gas Engineer compared to a Water Engineer. Also easy to consider the use of different methods, technology and containers for storing gas (or steam) compared to water/liquid and ice (or frozen stuff).

I don’t have the answers for how you might think about the role of a Knowledge Manager compared to a Records Manager, or an Information Manager.  By sharing this concept, I simply intend to catalyse a fresh and potentially useful conversation.

Where will you take this knowledge?

Reference

Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating company. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isnt wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

The way of kindness

Can knowledge work be influenced by the mindset of kindness?  Why not a kindful quality of knowledge and knowledge-sharing!

I’ve recently been introduced to the World Kindness Movement (WKM). It’s based on the idea that our world will be more compassionate and peaceful if a critical mass of acts of kindness is ignited.

I had an recent inspirational and energetic conversation with Michael Lloyd-White, General Secretary to WKM and Chairman/Founding Director of World Kindness Australia who passionately shared stories of what was happening with the movement. The conversation stimulated my thinking about ways I could be a useful ‘broker’ to keep this knowledge and energy flowing. I thought of …

  • Hand ReachingThose among my contacts who would embrace such an idea and how I would approach them;
  • Meaningful messages I could share with key people;
  • Using my interest in origami to package the idea and capture an audience’s attention; and
  • Forums I could use or start, to inspire more people to act with generosity, and to recognise it in others.

Fellow travellers

The very next day an opportunity arose to actively show kindness. I was standing on Platform 2 awaiting my train to the city. I saw a guy on Platform 1 opposite dragging a large suitcase, looking perplexed. He was glancing from the train tracks to our platform filled with people, to his platform with only him, to the train schedule board. I yelled out, “Do you want the train to Melbourne?” He replied eagerly, “Yes!” I told him he needed to quickly change platforms, as the train he wanted was due any minute.

I shared relevant knowledge with someone who lacked it at a time of pressing need, and avoided an upset. (He would have had to wait an hour for another train.)

A fellow passenger, another stranger, commented on my kind act. So I told her about my recent introduction to WKM, and thanked her for recognising what I did. We then parted ways as we caught our train.

That night, I ran into the same woman again on the train home. She said she had thought of me that day. She shared her own story of how she helped out a fellow traveller with timely information they needed.

My actions in the morning had resulted in a knowledge transfer on multiple levels, and led to two pleasant encounters in Melbourne that day.

Good business: generosity at work

As a Change Facilitator, I can see ample opportunities for empathy when dealing with people in the midst of organisational change. How great to discover a group that aims to spread the idea of compassion in the workplace – so often the arena for self-advancement and competitiveness.

In an organisation, kind actions provide a more conducive environment for us to create and share helpful knowledge. It’s like a ‘good virus’ that spreads the possibility of further altruism. I am more likely to be an agent for good if I am liked, and people like the way they feel in how I treat them.

Play the Kindness Card

kindness_card_frontpageWKM has created a great initiative to capture acts of kindness – the Kindness Card. Michael gave me a card (has the appearance of a credit card) which I’ve activated on the Kindness card website and will physically pass on next time I see and can acknowledge an act of kindness. And each time it’s passed on, a story can be posted to add to other stories on the website. How much better will the world be for sharing these heart-warming moments?

How exciting to take a simple, instinctive concept like kindness, integrate it into a professional domain like knowledge management, and see what positive effects can be had. My knowledge ‘engine’ is fuelled with a warm emotional energy that I hope in turn infuses the knowledge I create and pass on.

Kindness is ‘heart’ knowledge. And we tend to focus on head knowledge. It’s time to expand our focus more holistically.

Research indicates kindness is literally in our DNA. How’s that for original tacit knowledge?

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning, so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credits: ‘Reaching hand’ from Microsoft Online Clipart; ‘Kindness card’ from World Kindness Australia

Professional is, as professional does

I’ve been paying attention to the use of the word ‘professional’.  And it’s got me thinking about what is meant about something ‘being professional’.

You might wonder, what’s this thinking got to do with knowledge work (which is the focus of this blog)?  I’d argue that professionals are knowledge workers, regardless of their profession.  It is their substantial knowledge and skill in a field or profession that warrants them the label knowledge worker. And they need to be cultivating that knowledge-base to maintain their professional credibility.

Here’s a sample of what I’ve come across in use of the word “professional”:
“It’s strictly a professional relationship.”
“The course is part of my professional development.”
“Their [company] website is very professional.”
“I wouldn’t use them again,  they weren’t very professional.”
“I get advice from my professional friends as well as personal ones.”
“I wear a suit as part of my professional appearance.”
“He plays tennis professionally.”
“If you want professional service, get someone accredited with the association.”
“The university makes a distinction between professional and academic staff.”
“It was a truly professional presentation.”
“I wish my staff would act more professionally.”

That last one, in particular got me thinking.  So what marks someone or something as ‘professional’? Here’s my list (a work in progress):

  • Done right and done well, high quality not mediocre
  • Done completely, nothing overlooked, attends to the right details
  • Do what they say they are going to do … or renegotiate
  • Respectful and courteous
  • Maintains appropriate boundaries, not overly familiar
  • Takes responsibility for action, consequences and mistakes, recovers in a mature manner
  • Has qualifications and credentials; endorsed by others
  • Has experience and expertise to be recognised at a particular standard
  • Confident and competent with established ways and means, not a novice
  • Has integrity, don’t share what is confidential, private  or not their right to share
  • Has reputation for achievement or delivery
  • Competent at managing time, resources, work, quality, risk
  • Compensated(with currency of value) for performance
  • Results in quality outcomes that are valued by the consumer/customer

What do you think? Got anything to add to my lists?

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and ways to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.