Knowledge Management Consortium, Inc.
San Francisco Chapter
Street address
San Francisco, CA 94111

Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000 08:34:22 -0800

From:   John Maloney

To:     Rod Welch

Subject:   Knowledge Theory


Thanks for copying me on this exchange [in your letter to Mark on November 17, 2000, asking about the theory of knowledge used and being developed by KMCI...] 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 [as set out in your letter responding to Rod on November 18, 2000...]

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 fine.

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 valuable.

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 knowledge.

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.


Knowledge Management Consortium, Inc.


John Maloney
San Francisco Chapter

Copy to:

  3. Mark W. McElroy,