‘What is knowledge?’ represents a question that humankind has grappled with for centuries at least back to Plato and Aristotle (Hislop 2005; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998). The current day knowledge exploration is attributed to Drucker (1993) (knowledge as management resource and power), Wiig (1997) (knowledge as a form of belief), Polanyi (1958, 2009) (distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge) and Davenport and Prusak (2000, p. 5): ‘Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It originates in and is applied in the minds of knowers. In organizations, it often becomes embedded not only in documents or repositories but also in organizational routines, processes, practices, and norms.’
The Australian Knowledge Management Standard, Standards Australia (2005, p. 2) defines knowledge as ‘A body of understanding and skills that is constructed by people and increased through interaction with other people and with information’.
Polanyi’s work formed the foundation for the highly respected KM theory authors Nonaka and Takeuchi (Nonaka 2007; Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995). Tacit knowledge is subjective, environment-specific and personal. Tacit knowledge is difficult to communicate whereas explicit or codified knowledge is objective, easily communicated and transferred without in depth experience (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995). Polanyi (2009, p. 4) stated ‘…we can know more than we can tell’ and contends that human beings create knowledge by involving themselves with objects through a process Polanyi calls ‘indwelling’. Nonaka and Takeuchi propose that tacit knowledge consists of cognitive and technical elements. The cognitive element is based on Johnson-Laird (1983) ‘mental models’ (schemata, paradigms, perspectives, beliefs and viewpoints) where humans create working models of the world in their minds. The technical element is the existing know how and skills. The cognitive elements are important as they form the mobilisation process in creating new knowledge. An understanding of people elements in the lessons learned knowledge process requires further work as Duhon and Elias (2008) reports that failure of learning valuable lessons from projects can be connected to a number of cultural, social and cognitive factors (Bresnen et al. 2003; Fernie et al. 2003; Holste & Fields 2010).
What are your thoughts on Knowledge? Have I missed something?
The next post will focus on Knowledge Management.