Friday, September 06, 2002


One of the first rules of working in knowledge management is that you must have a workable definition of what knowledge is. I have seen many definitions and recently read a book on artificial intelligence called ‘The Society of Mind’ by Marvin Minsky which greatly helped me understand the concept of knowledge.

Knowledge for me is the things that are known which are stored in people’s heads, not written down or stored on computer that is when it becomes information and is subject to information management.

I like to think of knowledge as being stored in chunks or frames concerned with a specific subject or topic

Minsky suggests that when you hear a story certain words or phrases resonate with your past experience and the relevant frames are excited and brought into focus. This is the point in a conversation where people chip in with their experiences or thoughts. In a presentation this is where you start to think that’s a good idea or I remember something similar myself.

As the story unfolds against your own backdrop of frames, any new knowledge or ideas it may provoke are attached to all the currently excited frames. As these frames are then stored back in your memory they take the new story with them.

Excite any of these frames later in conversation and the story comes to mind.

Now consider how difficult the proposal to ‘manage knowledge’ is when you think of the very different experience and therefore frames which exist in our staff.

An example of the difficulties we face occurred earlier this year when my brother-in-law phoned to say that he had seen a dead badger by the side of the road near his house in the North East of England. He asked if he should inform anyone and I suggested he phone our Northumbria team just in case someone was monitoring road-kill animals.

My daughter on hearing this asked “so what does a badger look like” and I said “ you know, it’s black and white, quite large, a bit like a bear”, “Oh yes” she said “ I know the one”. It was a couple of days later when she sheepishly admitted that she had actually pictured a panda lying in the roadside. My transfer of knowledge had failed to resonate with a frame of hers concerning badgers but brought up the much more exciting/disturbing prospect of driving into a panda on your way home.

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