Saturday, June 23, 2007

How we got into the Knowledge Management Mess

This morning I realized that, while I have been all too eager to vent my position on the "knowledge management mess," I have not respected my own injunction to apply the Neustadt-May thinking-in-time strategy by asking how we got into the mess in the first place. As the comments keep coming in on Lou Paglia's CoRrElate blog in response to his most recent post on knowledge management, I think I may be able to start conjecturing about this Neustadt-May question. That conjecture is based on another of my favorite themes, which I have called the "epistemological comfort" of nouns and noun phrases.

The "bottom line" of the conjecture is that the IT concept of data (particularly as realized through database technology) has engendered a fixation with the static that has debilitated our capacities for both thinking and acting. We only seem to be able to deal with “specific states” that we can hold before us an examine. Even the “business process” is an impoverished abstraction that tries to reduce the complexities of work practices to “specific states.” (Needless to say, the idea that knowledge has anything to do with specific states, which is often a product of silly efforts to explain the distinctions between "data," "information," and "knowledge" that inevitably muck up three concepts in place of one, was shot full of holes back when Plato documented how Socrates would needle his students; and the holes are still there, probably bigger than ever!)

Effective managers know better than to try to freeze the world into a state they can examine. (This is why I have tried to follow Isaiah Berlin's lead, taking his text about Bismarck in his "Political Judgement" essay as a "blueprint" for effective management.) It may be that IT has ultimately sapped managers of the skills they once had for dealing with the flow of activities of business while they are flowing; and we can now witness the consequences of this “addiction to the static” just about every day. Unfortunately, our perceptions have become so warped that we barely recognize these consequences, which may explain one of my other favorite themes: our inability to summon the will to do anything about the messes in which we situate ourselves!

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