As an industry, we spend an awful lot of time trying to define and differentiate the various bits of intellectual property that lie at the center of our attention spans. We try to relate data to content to knowledge to wisdom in the hope and expectation that one necessarily blends into the next (see Russell Ackoff’s DIKW Pyramid) – and whether or not we succeed, we then throw hundreds upon thousands upon millions of dollars after any number of software solutions to help us manage them, usually individually.
No wonder we don’t get business value for our money.
From where I sit, the fundamental problem is that we never quite get around to articulating the business problems that we are trying to solve, especially those that stem from our typically less-than-optimum approach to wrangling, sharing, and leveraging all the informational “stuff” that everybody agrees is so important to organizational success today. Instead, we continue to chase a concept – the Unified Theory of Cerebral Reposidata? – that greater thinkers than I have all but concluded is unworkable.
Three and a half years ago, thinker and Friend-of-Holly-Group David Weinberger wrote the following in a post on the Harvard Business Review blog site:
“The data-information-knowledge-wisdom hierarchy seemed like a really great idea when it was first proposed. But its rapid acceptance was in fact a sign of how worried we were about the real value of the information systems we had built at such great expense. What looks like a logical progression is actually a desperate cry for help.”
Then, this past February, David Griffiths of K3Cubed Ltd. recorded a video for the Indiana CPA Society in which he said:
“[People] bring the meaning to raw data. We then then take the information and we add to it our experiences. We draw inferences, we gain insight, and we then start to make decisions. So if that’s what it’s about … how does information technology provide the solution for knowledge management?”
What this tells me is that there is little need to wander far down this philosophical path; instead, I recommend that the issues be defined in business terms as early in the conversation as possible, and that discussions of which technologies to use with what data types, image and document formats, etc., and to support which classes of users, come a bit later. Then, maybe, we can sit down and wrestle the whole DIKW thing to the ground.
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