Wisdom: The End-Product of Knowledge Management


Nov 6, 2013 (4 years and 8 months ago)



Wisdom: The End
Product of Knowledge Management


Prajapati Trivedi

Secretary, Performance Management

Cabinet Secretariat

Government of India

Just like business management, which people have practiced since the first businesses were
established, know
ledge management is as old as knowledge itself. Even before the evolution
of the human race, other species managed knowledge from the time they appeared on this
planet and developed the urge to survive. Today, the management of knowledge management
has com
e of age, and we are beginning to see some consensus on essentials such as the
definition of knowledge management.

Most practitioners agree that the term
knowledge management
(KM) loosely refers to a broad
collection of organizational practices related to

generating, capturing, and disseminating
how and promoting knowledge sharing both within an organization and with the
outside world. However exciting these activities may appear, they are not the main goal of a
KM exercise. KM is a means toward an e
nd and not an end in itself. To understand its place
in the knowledge supply chain, it may be useful to examine Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Knowledge Supply Chain

It is clear from this figure that KM is an intermediate product in the
knowledge supply chain
whose ultimate goal is better
quality advice to policy makers. KM can only be effective
within a sound KM infrastructure. Without an effective system of collecting data and
generating information, effective KM is unlikely. Indeed, t
here will be little to manage.

Draft for Discussion Only


Data management and information management do not imply,
ipso facto
, intensive use of
information communications technology (ICT). Ancient civilizations

the Egyptians,
Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Indians

had excellent
systems of KM without the benefit of
modern ICT. Thus, KM and ICT are by no means synonymous. Rather, ICT is a means for
improving data management, information management, and, eventually, knowledge
management. If a country (or an organization) does not al
ready has a well
designed system of
data collection and management, ICT is unlikely to be of much use. We know of many
statistics organizations that, in spite of their expensive computers and hardware, have poor
quality data. ICT can create a false sense o
f comfort and delay much
needed reform of the
fundamental incentives to create and manage data. The same applies to information

Fortunately, the importance of information management is now well established. Most
observers would concede that qu
ality of an organization’s KM is directly proportional to the
quality of its information management systems. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said
about the world beyond KM. There is a current orthodoxy that has made KM the be all and
end all of our ende
avors in this area.

From Knowledge to Wisdom

Knowledge is but a means to improve decision making. The successful civilizations of the
past exemplified the critical role of wisdom. As Sophocles said, “
Our happiness depends on
wisdom all the way."

t of the successful ancient rulers were either wise themselves or
had access to wise advisers. It is useful to look at the accumulated knowledge on the
importance of wisdom.

Many have thought about these issues, but Walter Lippmann said it best: “
It requ
ires wisdom
to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.” Thus, some would argue
that being wise is a talent that one is born with. We can all learn to play the violin, but few
reach the heights of Mozart or Brahms. In his famous wi
sh, Reinhold Niebuhr asked God for
wisdom and not knowledge: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

This does not mean that we should not strive to

be wise. Not everyone can be a Mozart, but
through practice and perseverance one can become a good violinist. In the knowledge
business, according to Socrates,
"the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

However, other giant thinkers have had
plenty of advice on how to acquire wisdom:

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
Marilyn vos Savant

“We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no
one can take us or spare us
Marcel Proust

“Wisdom doesn't automatically come with old age. Nothing does

except wrinkles.
It's true, some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first
Abigail Van Buren


“When you make a mistake, don't look back at i
t long. Take the reason of the thing
into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past
cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.”
Hugh White

“One's first step in wisdom is to question everything

and one's last is to
come to
terms with everything.”
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the
strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Mahatama Gandhi

“Good people are good because they've c
ome to wisdom through failure.”

The sum total of the wisdom on wisdom

that is,

appears to be that
knowledge combined with experience leads to accumulated wisdom. The operational
significance of this conclusion is that one sho
uld acquire as much knowledge as possible but
not think that it is a substitute for wisdom.

As always, the private sector is ahead of the public sector in this regard. The public sector
caught on to the KM trend almost a decade after the private sector ha
d taken the plunge.
While the public sector is making its first tentative forays into knowledge management, the
private sector is already moving on to wisdom management. MIT Media Lab’s codirector
Michael Schrage summarized this trend best:

Knowledge mana
gement is clearly just a phase, an ephemeral link in the
great value chain of organizational productivity. Knowledge management
simply does not go far enough. Organizations have to have the courage and
creativity to look to the management destiny beyond kn
management. I’m confident you know what that destiny is; it’s the logical
extension of knowledge well
managed: Wisdom Management. (
December 10, 2001)

According to proponents of this trend, a wise CEO will surely make better decisions than
merely knowledgeable one, and a wise company inspires greater trust and loyalty from
employees and customers than one that simply has more knowledge. This group would have
us focus on creating wisdom systems and wisdom portals.

Good Judgment: Worlds B
eyond Wisdom

Is wisdom the end of the line? Alvin Toffler warned us that “you can use all the quantitative
data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and
judgment.” Knowledgeable, wise people have shown such poor
judgment in the past that it
is important to highlight how crucial sound judgment is. Ultimately, presidents and prime
ministers listen to people whose judgment they trust. Since we do not have the technological
sophistication to set up “judgment portals,
” we will have to continue to harness judgment in
the old
fashioned way.