440 Davis Court #1602
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415 781 5700

November 2, 2000

03 00050 61 00110201

Subject:   Partnership for Knowledge Management

Experience over the past 10 months by the SRI seed team for the OHS/DKR project shows that the SDS program supports knowledge management under a theory of knowledge explained in POIMS. We need to grow customers in the classroom and in the work place through pilot testing, and SDS needs to evolve with emerging trends in technology. This requires partners.

The team has seen about 25% of SDS capability using the Internet to support knowledge work, commonly called the paperless, also, virtual, office. Eric is planning to release an OHS/CDS for use and development under open source, with an emphasis on email. SRI expects to implement an OHS next year under the launch plan Doug submitted on October 25, 2000, that initially targets software programming.

This mix of objectives and methods offers a healthy ferment to accelerate progress on KM. How, then, to focus these diverse strengths to move forward on common goals?

There are three big ideas...

  1. Human intelligence can be significantly augmented.

  2. Tools and skills must co-evolve.

  3. Civilization rises when enabling forces are aligned.

Based on 15 years experience, I believe SDS and Communication Metrics make substantial progress on the first two points, and so offer a rare opportunity to lift civilization, as occurred in 700 BC, credited as the approximate time when alphabet technology became settled; and, again in about 1450, with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg that enabled alphabet technology to work its magic across a wider spectrum of time and distance. Since alphabet technology is the engine of knowledge work, if we build a more powerful engine, it will magnify skills in engineering, science, agriculture, manufacture, and other modalities that enable civilization.

For many, talk of enhancing alphabet technology is emotionally wrenching, because it is bounded by 5,000 years of information technology, experienced broadly today through wordprocessing, which leads to confusion and frustration because people feel that wordprocessing has limited impact on thinking and earnings. People ask how the alphabet is "improved," and wonder if this means more letters, brighter bold, stranger fonts. They point out, as did Larry Ellison at Oracle in 1997, that Bill Gates has done all that; and, besides, how can more fonts improve the ability to think? Obviously it can't, and so that aspect of alphabet technology is the wrong place to look. The right place is in POIMS; but. people don't want to read, according to Andy Grove, when interviewed on May 27, 1999. Of course, Andy was exaggerating. He was expressing a deeper problem of getting people to pause and think carefully, for more than 20 minutes, about a new idea that conflicts with long standing tradition, and, more importantly, personal practice. Grove reports experience at Intel shows that getting people to seriously assess new methods, especially counterintuitive methods that change existing work practice in order to improve earnings, is more difficult than ...walking through the valley of death. People want you to tell them how it works, and if they don't get it, then they want to hurry off to a web site, send an email, or run to the next meeting. All of us are willfully blind in order to avoid responsibility of knowledge that requires changing work practice. This presents an innovation loop explained on October 4.

Over the past 10 months, SDS records on the Internet have led some contributors to suspect that KM may turn out to be both very simple, and much more powerful than expected; yet, the design is counterintuitive. People worry the dreaded paradigm shift may call for an approach that defies common sense; indeed, requires uncommon sense, plus a lot of perspiration that Thomas Edison revealed was his secret for being creative.

The only real challenge we face, then, is aligning cultural forces that enable progress, because, despite fancy technology and powerful new skills, we need faith in a new direction that steps up a notch on the cognitive scale from information to knowledge.

Let's take stock for a moment.

Today, 1% - 3% of our citizens have faith that investing time to tend the garden will reap a harvest in the future that far exceeds the bounty they reap from foraging to satisfy immediate needs. While hunting is more fun, farmers have faith that planting yields more time for fun later. This model of deferred rewards was transplanted to the field of finance with the practice of paying interest that grows the value of investing, which reinforces faith in deferred rewards. Similarly, in education we have have faith that even though children would rather stay home and watch television, go fishing or visit friends, and even though children could help at home by chopping wood, fetching water or helping with the harvest, we have chosen to defer these immediate rewards, and, instead, insist our children attend school, because long hard experience gives us faith that everyone reaps a much bigger harvest by investing time to grow knowledge and ideas.

Faith in the power of investing through farming likely took several hundred thousand years to form. Faith investing finances perhaps took another 10,000 years, drawing strength from the Biblical tenant thou shalt not steal. If you don't steal what you need, you have to produce it, leading to the notion of community that joins forces to increase the chances of deferred rewards. Education has been around a long time, but not until about 1850, 100+ years ago, was universal education made a mandatory national investment. So faith in that idea, also, took a long time to form. Look though at the result: in 100 years we moved from transportation that had existed for 100,000 years, to landing on the moon, plus delivering a cornucopia of goods and services that is staggering to the imagination. That's a pretty good return on investment.

Two lessons emerge from this history: deferred rewards are multiplied a thousand fold, and faith takes a long time to grow enough for people to defer emotional satisfaction of immediate rewards.

This impacts KM in two ways. One, the rewards of knowledge are inherently deferred, and so cannot compete with the emotional satisfaction of attending a meeting, sending an email, calling on the cell phone, or punching something into a Palm Pilot. Experience does show, however, that there seems to be considerable emotional pleasure from connecting information into chronologies of cause and effect that generates useful knowledge, reported on October 4, 2000. The mere mechanics of the process are fun, because of immediate satisfaction from understanding that cannot be lost. (Hopefully, this is not entirely a reflection of limited social life.)

Second, we need a new work role to help invest intellectual capital, the way we have a special work role for farmers, bankers and educators.

Everyone needs to learn KM, like everyone learns the alphabet and mathematics. Of course, a few use these technologies more than others. We all balance our check book, but accountants and bookkeepers are specialists at aligning finances with objectives, called "budgets." So, too, professional writers come in a lot of flavors. Classic open source developers, who use alphabet technology to build a vast DKR, are called variously the media, pundits, authors, writers, analysts, and reporters. Alphabet technology is applied along a continuum from passive to active. Reporters make a living by investigating, questioning, and analysing events that impact our lives tangentially through government, business and other macro settings. Reporting and analysis is combined in a highly specialized field of intelligence for military and high level government tasks to align daily events with national objectives, and to identify patterns that may threaten future danger. These roles work because of a powerful fact: for about 3,000 years there has been a stable means to generate and convey information using alphabet technology.

Now, as we step gingerly onto the stage of a vast new era, moving from an information to a knowledge culture, we need to build new forms of open source implementation for a powerful new Knowledge Management technology that augments human intelligence.

As with reporting, we need a specialized role, but since knowledge is a higher cognitive process than information, this new role needs to work closer to the people, more like the accountant, who is in the trenches every day along side the engineer, the manager, the carpenter, and the scientist. Why do we have an accountant? For one, the IRS requires professional certification of earnings to establish tax obligations. For another, the complexity of business transactions requires dedicated effort to maintain alignment. Most everyone can do the math involved in accounting, but there are a lot of nuanced aspects of accounting that require focus, and the shear volume of work is too much for a manager, engineer, salesperson to accomplish, while, also, attending meetings, talking on the cell phone, sending email and using the Internet.

Knowledge management uses an intelligence process to convert information into knowledge. The artificial intelligence community has been developing technology for the past 30 years to accomplish this conversion. Powerful ideas are emerging from universities, industry and open source programs that promise improved handling of categories and ontology. In the meantime, SDS enables computers to help people get the job done now. This work is fun, rewarding and takes time. But, information overload makes people feel they don't have any more time, so demand is growing for a new work role to manage knowledge that compliments the accountant's job to manage finance.

Notables like Henry Kissinger, Robert MacNamera, Peter Drucker and Andy Grove call attention to new realities wrought by success building an expanding information infrastructure that brings new blessings, but, also, new danger that makes communication the biggest risk in enterprise. Therefore, we need a new role to align information in like manner that the accountant aligns daily finances. This new role combines the task of accounting, reporting, and intelligence to convert the constant flood of information into knowledge and ideas on the job each day. It departs from traditional notions that useful knowledge and good ideas come from books, articles, television, academia and the Internet. The new vision of Knowledge Management, which I call Communication Metrics, is set out in POIMS, and posits that knowledge comes by connecting information from traditional sources in school, books, articles, television and the Internet, with daily experience from meetings, discussions, calls, letters and the mere act of doing and observing things, i.e., what did we do, what did others do, what did we see, hear, and how does that align with objectives, commitments, requirements and history? The integration of formal training and new information from daily experience is accomplished solely by the human mind. SDS significantly leverages this innate process.

The new reality of expanding information infrastructure is rapidly transforming a traditional labor intensive culture driven by information, into a new culture that requires continual growth of knowledge. This change creates demand for help on the job each day to convert daily working information into useful knowledge, following the models of accounting that aligns financial data, reporting that creates information to give data context, and intelligence that organizes, analyses and summarizes reporting to show emerging patterns for understanding the past to take action, and plan for the future, i.e., intelligence converts information into knowledge.

I call this role a Communication Manager.

Why can't the engineer, manager, CEO, salesman or scientist do their own knowledge management? They can, and they are already doing it. Each of us, every moment of every day, both awake and asleep, are constantly converting information into knowledge using innate, subconscious intelligence explained in POIMS. These innate processes, however, are overwhelmed by an expanding information infrastructure, and this new reality requires a new role to avoid errors and omissions in making connections, remembering and communicating. A scientist focuses vary narrowly, as does a computer programmer, on the minutia that impact immediate concerns. Like the carpenter focused on driving a nail in precisely the right place, and like a manager running to the next meeting, people become disconnected from the correlations and implications of surrounding context that both impacts and is influenced by their daily work. The carpenter can fall back on the architect's drawings to provide context. The programmer relies on requirements, design and specifications for information to guide daily work (see though article on Linux suggesting programmers need help to align work with objectives). But what guides the architect and the engineer who prepare the plans and specs? What connects their work to anything? I believe Knowledge Management adds considerable value to this work through a process of continual learning.

Let's focus for a moment on the difference between information and knowledge, explained at length in POIMS and NWO... Despite learned exegesis, busy executives ask "How can we improve daily work by adding more paperwork?" The short answer is that knowledge is not paperwork; it is the engine of enterprise and the core of civilization.

Gil Regev's letter to the team on October 19 suggests the answer, when he requested the record of the meeting at SRI on October 17. Jack Park forwarded a link to the record prepared by Howard Liu, and Gil responded with a note of thanks, saying that understanding context helps a lot. What though is context? I describe this deliverable as information positioned in Knowledge Space that shows cause and effect, more commonly called human experience. Hopefully the distinction is clear from comparing information on the meeting for October 17 with the SDS record that converted the information into a web of knowledge showing connections with objectives, history, correspondence and calls, i.e., connections of daily working information provides the context that Gil reported helps understanding.

Over the past 10 months contributors on the DKR team have experienced knowledge management through SDS and Communication Metrics support for weekly meetings, and project correspondence. Experimenting with links for a few moments shows how context is accomplished in an SDS document log.

The full range of capabilities for knowledge management, like work product, boggles the mind, as Eric warned on May 5, 2000. Not everybody likes that. Indeed, some are emotionally driven from the field, crying out...

Let's not set our sights so high!

Let's aim for incremental improvement.

Email has been targeted for this effort. This is a good strategy for allowing people to become acclimated at their own pace to the challenges that lie ahead in moving from an information to a knowledge culture.

On the other hand, over the past 15 years SDS has gone through all of that and settled on a design, features and functions that enable people to both create and apply a highly connected environment with ease. This experience shows that a critical mass of integrated capabilities are needed to accomplish knowledge management to save time and money. Far from boggling the mind, it is fun and effective to do knowledge management. Like playing the piano, playing football, or playing cards, you have to learn to play. Some people play better than others, but everyone plays better using knowledge, rather than using mere data and information. That is the secret of lifting civilization: enable everyone to think, remember and communicate better by tweaking alphabet technology just a bit, as set out in the letter to Mary Keeler on June 24, 2000.

Enabling forces, however, need to be aligned in order to...

  1. Grow demand for knowledge by customers who now demand information.

  2. Grow skills to convert information into knowledge.

  3. Grow the technology for converting information into knowledge.

Let's start with growing the technology. This requires getting people a lot smarter than Rod working on the issue, so that is the easiest part of the task. If anyone wants to become a partner to grow KM technology, please let me know. With the rise of Linux, there are several development paths that seem inviting. Indeed, a KM capability might give Linux a boost.

Growing customers requires developing Communication Manager skills, i.e., issues one and two are closely related. Typically, as people gain experience working with SDS on the Internet, demand grows for direct control of the record. This interest is restrained, however, by worries about diligence, deferred rewards, and accountability, which can only be overcome by building faith in the value of adding "intelligence" to daily work. Today, executives and customers don't have the faith of the farmer, the banker and the educator that investing time for intelligence will reap a bigger harvest of knowledge and ideas that saves time and money. Customers have faith in information from cell phones, email and meetings for getting things done, which are summarily taken as collaboration, communication and expediting. Strong cultural imperatives to rely on spontaneous methods, that reduce productivity through continual mistakes that escalate rework, delay and cost, create powerful emotional resistance to KM, as reported by Fortune in an article published June 1999. It is an innovation loop that every new advance must overcome. As noted, farming took several thousand years; finance took 10,000 years, education took 2,000 years. That's a good trend, but if Knowledge Management is going to happen in our lifetime, we have to get started.

How, then, can we build faith in the value of investing intellectual capital by tending the garden of knowledge each day on the job, so that civilization has a powerful new process for generating deferred rewards that presently come from farming, finance and education?

Both Doug and Andy Grove at Intel recommend pilot testing, but this costs money. People have to struggle for a few weeks to learn a new work practice, and then have to use KM for a month or more before benefits of knowledge start rolling in. As discussed on October 4, most folks only have 20 minutes to an hour for testing new technology. Does anyone have ideas on how to bridge this gap to build faith in the power of knowledge? This would be an invaluable partnership for moving KM ahead.



Rod Welch