Thursday, July 08, 2010

Similarities between KM and Quantum Physics

A few weeks ago, sitting in my home in the vineyards of South West France, I was thinking again about KM and Quantum Physics.It has been bubbling up inside of me over the past few years.

I have always been somewhat concerned about the polarity that exists between KM practitioners.

For example, the 'people approach' versus the 'process and technology approach' that still exists today. The 'complexity of systems and emergent properties approach' and the 'codified reusable kbase and best/good practices approach'.

I consider knowledge management: the art and science of both invisible knowledge flows and visible knowledge assets, to follow the same laws as classical physics and quantum physics.

The physical world of ‘what we can see’ follows the laws of Newtonian Physics, and we can rely completely on these laws of gravity, thermodynamics, aerodynamics etc.

The sub-atomic world of ‘what we cannot see’ follows the laws of Quantum Physics with both waves and electrons, infinite possibilities, entanglement, and total interconnection etc.

It is not either/or but both/and to give us a complete understanding.

Turning specifically to the area of KM. If you listen to a speaker who comes primarily from the more right brained ‘invisible’ world of complexity thinking, symbols, flows, emergent patterns, apparent fragmentation, you simply cannot disagree with this explanation of this world, because it is right. It follows quantum thinking at the sub-atomic level. Here, there is no real place for the laws and management and measurement of visible knowledge assets.

Actually, whenever I listen to such speakers, I get inspired because they put me in a predominantly right brain mode.

If you listen to other KM speakers, who comes primarily from a more left brained ‘visible’ world of knowledge bases, distilled knowledge from practices and lessons learned, knowledge managers and knowledge areas, you simply cannot disagree with this explanation of this world either, because it is right. In predominantly left brain mode I get equally inspired with good stories.

For example, as a pilot I simply love this eloquent story of the way BA discovered that ice can freeze fuel lines at high altitude and how, within 30 days of the BA crash landing at LHR, all pilots in the world had their flight checklists updated with a new procedure to strictly follow, to cover this learning. Although this distilled universal knowledge in the checklist came from a detailed ‘in context’ accident report, that led to detailed new knowledge creation theory and tests, and then lessons learned and best practices repositories, the pilots were not interested in access to raw source materials of what occurred at LHR, they just wanted the best applicable knowledge to apply now, for safety. A few months later, in USA, a flight had the same freezing occur. The pilots immediately followed the checklist and the passengers were none the wiser.

I see effective knowledge driven organizations needing both effective knowledge flows and techniques, and I see the absolute need for evidence based knowledge creation, knowledge bases, and application.

I see, this both/and approach for each key knowledge area, key knowledge communities/networks and knowledge bases.

So what is my conclusion? There is a key KM principle here:

‘Knowledge Management is SITUATIONAL.’

We need both 'quantum knowledge flows' and 'physical knowledge assets', to be able to understanding both worlds properly. If we live in just one world we may perish, or get mediocre results, at best.

A holistic approach to invisible tacit and visible explicit knowledge, supported by understandings like both Newtonian and Quantum physics, will ensure more effective knowledge management.

In 2003, a team of us working on a European Commission funded project project called Know-net tried to express this, as best we could, from our research and findings in our book Knowledge Asset Management - beyond the process centred and product centred approaches.

There is also another brain principle here, I think.

You will think or feel like you are listening to the truth, depending on whether you are predominantly in your left or right brain hemisphere, and its associated laws, but the whole Truth requires whole brain thinking .

That’s my vineyard inspired philosophy for today.

What do you think?

Ron Young

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