Thursday, January 3, 2008

Knowledge is an Artifact and a Flow

With credit to Dave Snowden, I have come to the conclusion that knowledge is both an artifact and a flow. As part of the learning process, you learn the state of knowledge as it exists at that time. You are taught and learn the knowledge artifact. Then, as time progresses, things change and you now need to know the changes to the artifact. You need to know the flow. Of course the new student starts with the now revised artifact.

As an example, I was taught and learned that there are nine planets in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Nine planets was my knowledge artifact. With the discovery of new objects in the solar system and the discovery of new information, astronomers have deemed Pluto to no longer be worthy of planet status. Now, there are eight planets in our solar system. The demotion of Pluto is the flow.

For my three-year old, the knowledge artifact is that there are eight planets in the solar system. There is some value to him in knowing that we used to think of Pluto as a planet. That is, the flow has some value to him. But he is going to be taught the revised knowledge artifact. He is going to be taught that there are eight planets.

Take this inside the firm. A practices and procedures policy is a great knowledge artifact. But once I learn the policy, I am concerned with the changes to the policy. I care about the flow. Republishing the policy in its entirety hides the flow and hides the knowledge.

One of the limitations of email is that it is mostly flow and little artifact. Email is not a good artifact because each party to the email will end up with the email in a different location. For the sender, the email will end up in their sent items list. For the recipient it will end up in their inbox and probably be transferred to a different location. It is a good flow for the recipient. But each recipient will probably treat the email in a different way. Of course, the email does no good for the person who comes into the firm the next day after the email is sent. They end up without the artifact and without the flow.

For effective knowledge find-ability and transfer in the firm, you need both the knowledge artifact and the flow.

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