RE: Knowledge Theory

From: John Maloney (
Date: Wed Nov 22 2000 - 08:34:22 PST


Thanks for copying me on this exchange. I have followed it with interest.

Mark, you've done a nice job of capturing and leading a lot of the thought
in this area.

While I don't have a problem with the principles in general, I think it is
only fair to state some of the predicates of the "knowledge theory."

If the 'knowledge theory' is simply an academic exercise or ontology, then

However, from my review it seems as if there is a belief or predicate in the
large-scale, unbounded, and mechanized production of useful knowledge. This
is a false & dangerous presupposition.

Michael Porter defines "innovation" simply as productivity growth. Indeed,
the lifecycle approach, systems thinking, quality management, Collective IQ,
etc., are all proven mechanisms to advance productivity and productivity
growth (innovation).

The refinement and continuous pursuit of these methods is honorable and

The danger is these methods are linear and deterministic.

True creativity is neither. In fact, structured, robotic, 'production'
settings as described, most often stifle randomness, chaos, agility and the
true context of creativity. Complexity science & OL simply do not provide an
adequate explanation or methodology for the highly erratic and capricious
nature of dazzling originality and spectacular invention.

Today, most business activity and thinking is still concerned with linear
mechanical habit. Thus, these "production" offerings have an important place
in today's lexicon and toolkit.

However, new wealth-producing processes require a much higher degree of
individual intellectual & creative effort. In this environment, knowledge
management must strive to enhance & expand zones of collaboration, sharing,
learning, play, context, content, expression and community for individuals.
It does not involve rigid, cybernetic processes of identification,
codification, control, production and maximization, for example. The KM
pursuit is an environment of effortless sharing and unconscious
collaboration. The objective is to maximize the efficiencies & effectiveness
of mental concentration, cognition and imagination, not "production" of

In the future, "knowledge theory" will be quite simply and directly about
the state of knowing. It will have less and less to do with control,
systems, production, processes, mechanics or methodologies.

Another example is agriculture. By far, the vast majority of the earth's
population concerns themselves from dawn 'til dusk with producing foodstuff.
We don't. Because of this, and the extremely low probability that I will
starve, allows me to write this message. You'll agree that our society has
totally mastered the production of food. We never think about the production
of food. It is the envy of the world. Yet, >60% of Americans are morbidly
obese. This excess accounts for the vast 'disease care' system that could
bankrupt our economy. 800,000 Americans die prematurely each -year- because
of obesity. If this was by war or by accident, it would be a national
catastrophe. These are just examples of the side effects of a "production"
system that has run amok. Close parallels can be drawn to this dysfunctional
production process and enterprise excess of "knowledge production." Quite
honestly, it is more important to create meaning than to "produce
knowledge." More companies suffer from knowledge indigestion than
starvation. A "production" system exacerbates this problem.

Look at how lean, lightning-fast start-ups whip their far larger competition
mostly because they enjoy an open, fast moving culture of close
collaboration, urgency, *customers* and collective goal seeking, for
example. Knowledge production isn't on their radar.

Anyway, thanks again for this message and this important work, research and
thought. It is a real contribution. As this work evolves, the following 1945
quote from the great Nobel Laureate economist Friedrich August Von Hayek is
even more prescient:

"Every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses
unique information of which beneficial use might be made only if the
decisions depending on it are left to him."

It is from "The Use of Knowledge in Society," which I recommend.



-----Original Message-----
Sent: Saturday, November 18, 2000 7:45 AM
To: Rod Welch
Cc:;; Maloney, John T.
Subject: Re: Knowledge Theory


My name is Mark W. McElroy. I'm Chairman of the KMCI Institute's Governing
(its board). Thank you for your response to our broadcast announcement.
Please see
my comments below in response to your queries.

Rod Welch wrote:

> It appears that KMCI's curriculum can provide guidance. Has KMCI settled
on a
> definition that distinguishes knowledge from information, and can you
suggest an
> example of work being done that illustrates this idea? This comes up
> ontology is thought by some to be a distinguishing feature of KM. Some
> call this categories or subjects, and some speak of an evolutionary
> epistemology, while others point to the idea of taxonomy.

Rod, a core team of KMCI principals, myself included, developed an
ontological model
of knowledge over a year ago. Since then we have enhanced it slightly, but
composition and use have changed little. We refer to it as the KMCI
knowledge life
cycle model, or KLC model. You can obtain a copy of this model at my own
website at
the following URL:
In general, the KMCI perspective on knowledge versus information is deeply
rooted in
the KLC model and hinges heavily on the notion of validation as performed by
self-organized communities of knowledge (aka, communities of interest,
etc.). Knowledge by our definition is information that has been validated
by a
social system; information, on the other hand, is invalidated and can be
thought of
as "knowledge claims" only -- potential knowledge -- but not knowledge, per
Knowledge is also, therefore, relative to its holders. Knowledge to me may
only be
information to you, because I've validated it but you haven't.
knowledge evolves in the same fashion. This is where communities of
knowledge come
into play. Communities create new knowledge and serve as the validating
intermediaries between individually-held knowledge and organizationally-held
knowledge. This is why communities play such an important role in our KLC
(we call
them "groups").

As for work being done in this area, there's lots of it. First of all, our
perspective is strongly aligned with attempts to aplly systems thinking to
organizational learning, including Peter Senge's efforts, and the separate
related work being done in the complexity science arena (i.e., complex
systems theory). For example, in my case I have been developing a
designed to enhance organizational knowledge production using principles
taken from
the KMLC model and complexity theory. This includes construction of an
simulator developed using system dynamics tools from High Performance
Systems and
which, again, can be found on my website: I would also point to all of
the work
being done my may others in the community building arena such as Etienne
Wenger and

> On 000113 I asked the president of KMCI, Ed Swanstrom, about these
matters, and
> he indicated that KMCI is working hard to formalize KM, but has not yet
> resolved the foundational matters that Doug's DKR team is addressing....
> Doubtless, KMCI has made a lot of progress since last January. Will all
this be
> covered in the course you are offering that explains a theory of

Yes, that is our intent. It's all bundled under the heading of "2nd
generation KM."

> Any help is greatly appreciated. By copy, I am alerting the OHS/DKR team
> your important work, and look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you, Rod.



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