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Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…

The evolution of Knowledge Management? No, time to evolve the D-I-K-W hierarchy!

The problem with KM is that it has become a catchall for technology conversations that, being honest, are nothing more than information management systems that, in our opinion, are arbitrarily elevated to knowledge status through the hierarchy of Data-Information-Knowledge-Understanding-Wisdom.  So, in the name of knowledge, get ready to spend more money on technology in the name of KM!

Take the latest article from Forbes:  The Evolution of Knowledge Management – a guest post written by Greg Merkle, VP of Product Strategy and Design at Dow Jones. The shift between information and knowledge, as is the case in Merkle’s article, is all too often unexplained and taken for granted.  I appreciate his sentiment that people (in Merkle’s case: Compass, Connector, Captain, Miner Scout, yet another taxonomy by the way – my view on KM taxonomies here), are taking the action, but the focus almost always seem to be on the technology solutions that are presented in such a way as to blur the line between information and knowledge – the terms are interchanged as if to convince us that they mean the same thing….for another example, see this article by Roan Yong (apparently KM is probably dead…). In doing so they lead us to believe that Information Management is Knowledge management.  well, it isn’t.  For example, Merkle opens by stating:

“The next generation of knowledge management tools will not only get the right information to the users who need it, but they will compile measure and curate that information for everyone in the organisation…”

What is it then, information or knowledge?  Where do we make the transition form one to the other?  If we agree that people activate information, blending it with their own understanding, experience, education, then perhaps we can agree that Merkle is actually constraining KM by promoting yet another Information Management system.  Also, perhaps it is just me, but his proposition sounds a bit like centralised decision-making, control of the norm…How will this bring about the variety required for the biggest challenge facing organisations today, innovation?

This is old news for those that have heard me talk, but it really is time to move on; the scope of KM is so much more than that suggested by articles such as this. It has to be time to consider a change…let me elaborate using a formula from Carnall (1995):

EC = D x K x V

EC is the energy for change – D is dissatisfaction – K is knowledge of what is needed – V is the vision for the intended outcome.

The energy for change is building…look at the dissatisfaction being expressed in our field.

Knowledge of what is needed – well, look at the KM M-Model… we know the drivers and we know how to respond

Vision for what is needed – It depends on the context, but it is about innovation, creativity, decision-making, resilience, competitive advantage; the list goes on.  But, above all, it is about people being exposed to variety in order to become more adaptive and to innovate!

All too often I find myself pointing the finger of frustration at the Data – Information – Knowledge – Understanding – Wisdom hierarchy; or people like Nonaka, who tried to get us to believe that tacit knowledge could be made explicit and therefore could be treated like any other capital resource; or the people who speak the language of Lean, ‘the right knowledge to the right person at the right time’ — Sound a bit like Merkle’s message?

If not D-I-K-U-W, then what? I don’t believe in attacking a problem without coming to the table with a solution.  Below is the K-Coupling Model, which can be found at the heart of the KM M-Model, and  is presented for discussion as an alternative to D-I-K-W.

For me, this is about energy for change and it is time that we either re-brand our field to reflect the true nature of the knowledge driven challenges facing organisations today, or we need to continue to challenge people who persist in persuading us that information is knowledge. Either way, it is time for change.

Creative Commons License
The K-Coupling by David Griffiths is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

12 comments on “The evolution of Knowledge Management? No, time to evolve the D-I-K-W hierarchy!

  1. Md Santo (@md_santo)
    February 3, 2012


    DIKW is just human artefact. The real Knowledge generated not from DIKW continuum but from Nature Knowledge continuum representing our smart, psycho-somatic, complex (adaptive) system and animate Universe. The paradigm needed, assuming Consciousness is the attribute of Knowledge, …“The Universe or the Nature Knowledge is the source and center of Consciousness” not anymore “Mind Brain or Human Being is the source and center of Consciousness”

    We come up to the table and solution at URL (“Basic structure of Human System Biology-based Knowledge Management (HSBKM) model framework”) and giving KM a new view considering that “We are KM-regulated by nature and by nature we are KM model” through URL (Brief Guide to Physics of the Universe : Knowledge Management Generated )

    • David Griffiths
      February 3, 2012

      Thanks again for the post, but, as I have asked before, any chance of a case study of this model in action?

    • Roy Wililams
      February 13, 2012

      I agree there is much that needs to be done. I think we need to unpack the bits and pieces (DIKW), and get a feel for how it has evolved up to now, and how it fits within context. Much of my own views are captured in the 2008 article in JKM (The epistemology of knowledge and the knowledge process cycle, 2008:, and in a forthcoming chapter which makes the link to complexity theory more explicit.

  2. Nikolay Kryachkov
    February 4, 2012

    “The next generation of knowledge management tools will not only get the right information to the users who need it, but they will compile measure and curate that information for everyone in the organisation…”.

    Am I correct – does it (“curate that information”) mean a sign of manipulative technologies in KM?

  3. Pingback: Technology, just like KM, is a response, not a point of departure! | Theknowledgecore's Blog

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  6. Yang Lin
    February 15, 2012

    For people who are interested in what information is:

    Remember: information systems are only a particular source of information.

  7. Pingback: The data, information, knowledge flow | Theknowledgecore's Blog

  8. wjpels
    February 21, 2013
    • David Griffiths
      February 21, 2013

      Hi Jaap,

      Very interesting and thank you for posting. There is a pretty significant problem with this model though. It makes the assumption that knowledge can be ‘documented’, which recycles back to ‘information’. This, for me, is a dated form of KM, one that needs to be shelved and quickly – if it is in fact, KM as opposed to IM. The premise being put forward seems to privilege the view of knowledge as a resource in the Resource Based View of the firm, a classic error in the DIKW continuum. Unfortunately a focus on this type of approach leads to significant knowledge loss as it is proven that we know more than we can show, we can show more than we can say, and we can say more then we can can put into an artefact.

      On the other hand…Perhaps it is just my interpretation of the diagram – but the ‘capture’ aspect appears to be focused on the ‘documentation’ step and therefore, if this is not the true focus, the flow might need a little tweaking – just my opinion though.

So, what do you think?

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