loren Eric Swanson: Information and Knowledge

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Information and Knowledge

Recently I came across an article that was a rebuttal to Thomas Friedman's, The World is Flat. The author, Laurence Prusak argues that Friedman confuses information and knowledge. He makes some good points

What's the difference between information and knowledge? Information is a message, one dimensional and bounded by its form: a document, an image, a speech, a genome, a recipe, a symphony score. You can package it and instantly distribute it to anyone, anywhere. Google, of course, is curently the ultimate information machine, providing instantaneous access to virtually any piece of information you can imagine--including instructions for how to perform an laparoscopic appendectomy. But I'll wager no one would opt to have an appendectomy performed by that young woman in Shangahi (alluded to earlier as the mythical 24-year old billionth entrant to the Internet)--no matter how much information she'd gathered on the procedure--unless she'd also had years of hands-on surgical training. Only those years of reading, watching, and doing, under a skilled tutor's watchful eye, would give her the knowledge to expertly perform the surgery.

Knowledge results from the assimilation and connecting of information through experience, most often through apprenticeship or mentoring. As a result, it becomes imbedded in organizations in ways that, so far, have largely evaded codification.... [N]o amount of IT can...crack the problem of how to speed knowledge acquisition. It takes about the same amount of time today to learn French, calculus, or chemistry as it did 200 years ago. Knowledge is time-consuming and expensive to develop, retain, and transfer--and that's as true for organizations and coutries as it is for individuals.

HBR April 2006, p. 19


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