440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111-2496
415 781 5700

September 20, 2000

04 00067 61 00092001

Mr. Henry van Eykan
Bootstrap Institute
6505 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, CA 94555

Subject:   Co-evolve Education with Tools for KM

Dear Henry,

Good point in your letter today about the need for education to create and perform KM.

Education is essential for stable knowledge tools to lift civilization by extending the alphabetic mind. Insight to strike out on this new path, must be matched by commitment through culture and training to a stable foundation for growing knowledge, lest we innovate ourselves into ignorance and oblivion, as you cautioned on August 12.

KM can be described, from Doug's 1992 paper reviewed on March 27, 2000, as handling daily working information. However, tools alone are not enough. Technology must co-evolve with educational curriculum that enables a transition from IT to a culture of knowledge.

For example, since everyone handles information, KM seems like a good idea for a product. However, nobody really knows what KM entails, because the "handling" that produces knowledge is done by human intelligence on automatic pilot. Nobody sees it, so the process is unfamiliar and only vaguely understood. As a result, when people discover that KM empowers handling a lot of complex connections to avoid errors and discover opportunity, there is shock and dismay because we normally don't deal with complexity. The conscious mind is wired to summarize in order to take immediate action, and it does this even when it causes harm, because for most of human existence, information in the immediate span of attention was more important than future impacts. In an information age, future impacts gain in relative importance, making KM useful, but it is at war with our biology. It takes focused determination to step beyond our biology. On January 25, 2000 Eric Armstrong cautioned in the project specs that KM will boggle the mind.

People do not like their mind boggled! Andy Grove points out that we like to work on familiar things in familiar ways. For example, people, who call for "empowerment," suddenly fall silent when given the details that effect lives and fortunes. Knowledge brings the burden of responsibility, so ignorance is often preferred in order to avoid accountability.

This presents a dilemma which only education can address: what is KM, what kind of tools are needed to make it possible and effective, what skills are needed to use tools for adding "intelligence" to information; and, most of all, how to overcome fear of responsibility that comes with knowledge, by recognizing that intelligence is more likely to bring positive accountability, called "credit," for success, rather than negative accountability, like being fired for failure?

The difficulty is that KM delivers future benefits, but presents immediate costs. This classic risk management tension can be grasped in the classroom, but is difficult to sell in a marketplace driven primarily by biology, absent education on the lineaments of Knowledge Management, discussed, for example, at SRI by Doug's team on May 18.


Good management enabled by KM takes more time than bad management, because bad management requires doing nothing, where people get information and react spontaneously without analysis, organization, alignment for feedback. Good tools make Knowledge Management fun, faster, easier and more effective for solving world problems, for getting the car fixed, going to the dentist, building a bridge or a DKR; but, it takes time and skill. No matter how good the tools can be made, it will always be faster and easier in the moment to rely on information from conversation and documents, and there will always be many excuses for not using good management, and instead dashing off an email, see for example NASA. Therefore, we need a work role to add alignment to communication in the same way that an accountant adds alignment to finances, because in the modern age, there is too much information for most people to align during a busy day.

As you pointed out in March, we absorb only about 5% - 10% of what we read and hear, due to the hectic pace of modern life. This presents a huge opportunity for KM to improve work and earnings; but, people are not aware they are missing anything, so the urgency to change work practice from information to knowledge management is missing, as well. Moreover, when we see a broader range of details, connections and alignment, or lack of alignment, it is unexpected; we are frightened and recoil by saying it is unnecessary. We turn out the lights to avoid the details, and run to the next meeting, email or hop on a plane to go sell KM for others to use. We seek the safety of darkness.

All this boils down to identifying an actual customer for KM, discussed at length by Doug's team on February 27, 2000.

Joe Ransdell, professor at Texas Tech, recently noted this same dilemma was faced by Plato, Aristotle and others when the alphabet was introduced around 400 BC. They, and their progeny, succeeded through education, so as the tools for literacy improved over the centuries, people were prepared to apply them emotionally, and academically.

Accordingly, co-evolution on the education front about the architecture of human thought, the growing risks of relying on impulse (e.g., conversation, email) to determine action, and learning the skills, ease and fun of producing useful intelligence, will provide living, breathing customers for KM tools.

How we accomplish this educational step is critical for all who champion the clarion call for Knowledge Management.



Rod Welch