Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Sunday, December 29, 2002day link 

 Tacit Knowledge
SmartMobs mentions these notes from a 2000 seminar on 'Clustering and Swarming as self-organising techniques in virtual communities', which is very interesting stuff. Specifically it talks about tacit knowledge and the fallacies involved with trying to manage and represent knowledge in any finite way. Hard to quote, because it is all good, but here, about what knowledge is:
"If the problems are large in defining human organisations in a behaviouristic way then we have to go to language and culture in order to make sense of them. 'Information space', or the realm of legitimate knowledge inside the language and the culture is 'multidimensional' - which means it can be cut up in many different ways. The problem of attribution is a social one and at the microlevel comes down to value judgments. It can be looked at the macrolevel in terms of the collective sympathy or resistance which determines whether or not an idea is taken up. Knowledge management is therefore not really about 'managing' the knowledge or skills which people have within an organisation but in 'making sense' of why something happened and trying to influence the future by such intelligence."
And here is an abbreviated version of the seven sins (mis-conceptions) of knowledge management:
  1. That knowledge can be managed [Too tacit, dynamic and complex]
  2. That organisations can be 'designed' [Real organizations are too complex and organic]
  3. The myth of the rational agent [People are not just motivated by data]
  4. Utilitarianism [People don't always do what they do because they expect a return]
  5. A belief in Utopia [The real world isn't made of glib generalizations]
  6. A belief in 'best practice' [Circumstances change]
  7. The organisation is merely a collection of individuals [Optimized individuals might not make an optimized organization]
The comments are mine. Read the real text which is better. Then, here's an example from IBM of how to use tacit knowledge:
"IBM now have a search engine called 'tacit' that can trawl the 'team rooms' on the intranet and pick up any key words that might give a clue to information on any current problem that they have. An e-mail is then sent requesting help and a task force can be quickly assembled. But privacy is respected in that only key words and not text are picked up. Also whether a person responds is up to them. If for example you are looking for an expert on 'story' you may not pick up David Snowden's but he gets informed that you are looking. If he knows that you are a person that's likely to steal his ideas he doesn't respond. If you're someone that he knows and trusts then he might phone. In a bureaucratic organisation the thief would prosper but in this kind of 'shadow' system he or she gets starved of the access to knowledge on which the exploitation depends."
And, from a comment on SmartMobs, here are some ideas behind the company Tacit's products:
  • Most knowledge lives in people's brains.
  • Most evidence of what each person knows lives in their email archives.
  • Knowledge flowing is more important that knowledge filed away.
  • Email archives provide opportunities for social network analysis (SNA) and social filtering.
  • People hate filling in complex forms.
  • People want control over sharing personal metadata (who I am and what I know).
Hm, lots of food for thought there. Essentially, rather than trying to constuct perfect structures for representing knowledge in some universally perfect way, mine tacit knowledge from more incidental information sources. Don't expect people to go and record it the right way themselves, but use indirect ways of figuring it out, based on what people do and say and who they interact with.
[ | 2002-12-29 22:03 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 A Free Market
picture "The advantage of a free market is that it allows millions of decision-makers to respond individually to freely determined prices, allocating resources – labor, capital and human ingenuity – in a manner that can’t be mimicked by a central plan, however brilliant the central planner." --Freidrich von Hayek

Sounds terrific. I hope to see one some day.
[ | 2002-12-29 23:59 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Managing Perceptions
picture I was watching a documentary on Jimmy Carter's presidency the other day. It is striking how he is such an intelligent and hardworking person, who's always trying to do what his heart tells him is the right thing to do, so he can act with integrity. And he accomplished some remarkable things both while he was president and after, in terms of brokering peace internationally. But at the same time he was one of the most unpopular and unsuccessful U.S. presidents ever, according to popularity polls during his presidency, lower than any previous president in history. Which points us to something very important which he didn't do. He didn't manage the public perception of him or the country or the world. He speaks in a boring monotone and doesn't pay much attention to public relations. So things go badly in the economy and in polls, because people don't have confidence that things are good. Whereas an actor like Ronald Reagan gave great speeches, and seemed confident and inspiring, so people responded accordingly. He mushroomed taxes and national debt more than any U.S. president every had, effectively nationalizing several trillion dollars worth of private property, while pretending that the government was being trimmed down. What mattered the most was the perception, not what actually happened. And fast forward to George W. Bush, and it is now ALL about perception. He's half illiterate, knew nothing about history or foreign policy, is a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict, and has many other problems that other candidates would have been nailed for. Now it is no longer necessary to get all the details right, and in most situations it doesn't really matter much if the facts are all wrong. As long as the president is looking good, looking confident while he says the right things, and as long as there are a bunch of people supporting him who do likewise, it doesn't really matter if the only reason for bombing Iraq is to get at its oil business. Doesn't really matter if nothing much came out of the investigation of 9/11. Doesn't really matter if Bin Laden gets to go free for no good reason. Doesn't really matter that the U.S. is now more in debt than ever before, and that military expenditures are skyrocketing. All that matters is managing the confidence in the system as it is.

My point here is not the politics. Rather, the world seems to have gradually changed so it is more and more about the perception of what is going on, rather than what really is going on. It is a virtual reality. That is both good and bad. The bad part is that slick political and corporate rulers can use the mass media to create the picture of reality that they would like to create. The good part is that it is public opinion that really rules the world. It is what you and I think, and what you and I see, that makes a difference, if there are enough of us. Which means, you don't necessarily have to figure out how to be president, or how to run a billion dollar company, or how to own an army. You just need to figure out how to influence public opinion in a more useful direction. It is not controlled, only influenced or inspired. If most people in the world stopped voting for people who mislead them, while pursuing special interests; if most people in the world stop buying products from companies who don't have their best interest in mind - the power structures would change very quickly. And how it all looks is now more important than who owns what. If public opinion changes its mind, and starts believing in totally different structures, and SEEING different structures - that would be the new world order.
[ | 2002-12-29 18:12 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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