Principles of human knowledge management

Principles Jul 8, 2021

In my previous post I talked about what drives humans. Today, I am going to talk about some of the principles around how humans share knowledge. This will help evolve this to next topic - teams, on how humans interact and work together.

When I talk about human knowledge management I shameless steal the 7 principles postulated by Dave Snowden of the Cynefin framework fame, an expert in complexity science, knowledge management practitioner.

The seven principles that Dave postulated are:

  1. Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted - knowledge usage is a pull system. The person who has the knowledge decides when and how much of it can be used and it cannot be pulled out of them.
  2. We only know what we know when we need to know it - Knowledge is triggered based on need. And we cross-connect information to come up with new patterns in which we have not seen this information before. That's how "a-ha" moments arise.
  3. In the context of real need, few people will withhold their knowledge - the key word here is "real". If one is truly involved or is in a response to a need the answers come up automatically. Very few would refrain from using their knowledge and information to help out.
  4. Everything is fragmented - we are more right brained patterned than left brained. Therefore knowledge is abstract and cannot be clearly documented or articulated in a written form. We are pattern matchers and connected pattern constructors.
  5. Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success - our memory for failure is higher than memory of success. And success comes from failure, millions of failures of different kinds. Remember your baby steps? You most probably don't, but you do walk today from that memory and practice.
  6. The way we know things is not the way we report we know things - we are not capable of explaining why we came up with a particular answer or a particular thought. Retrospectively we might construct some stories that look like they can explain, but we know most things unconsciously and cannot be explained by our conscious though process.
  7. We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down - This is an extension of the famous Michael Polanyi quote "We can know more than we can tell" - We can express only part of what we know - it is easier to express by talking, and less so by writing about it. And yet, what we say is always a small part of the understanding we can created with our knowledge of information patterns stored in our brain.
We can know more than we can tell - Michael Polanyi, 1958

And these have enormous implications in how knowledge work is done in an organizational context. These underlying principles help design how work could be done optimally if we are cognizant of what humans are, especially in these days of cognitive creative work that drives the technology centric work in organizations large and small.


Rendering Knowledge -

Acts of knowing -


Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.