Knowledge and Management. Making the Connection.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, but it was not until 1994, when Mosaic released Netscape Navigator to the public, that knowledge began to acquire a new shape.  Originally a place to retrieve information, the web has become an open, social, space where everyone can contribute content.  With the web, knowledge is just a few digital steps away.

In the book Too Big To Know, Weinberger (2011) describes a symbiotic relationship between the web and knowledge, which he refers to as the networking of knowledge.  The net’s structure enables knowledge, and knowledge enables the net’s structure.  Free from curators and boundaries, the web retains content indefinitely, and does not impose limitations on its quantity or quality.  Creating knowledge is a social endeavor.  And, the web connects a large and diverse group of people.

In this new epistemology, do organizational leaders need to alter their view of knowledge?

Weinberger’s (2011) concept of socially created, networked knowledge is distinctly different from the hierarchical model of knowledge embraced by organizations in the late 1990s.  The data-information-knowledge-wisdom pyramid popularized by Ackoff (1999) exemplifies the hierarchical model.

DIKW PyramidThe idea behind the hierarchy is that each level is the meta of the previous one.  Information is meta-data.  Data are facts: it rained one inch on Tuesday in New York City.  Information connects facts: if it rains three days in a row in New York City, umbrella sales skyrocket.  Knowledge is meta-information: don’t buy an umbrella in New York City, you can probably pick one up on the subway, people leave them behind all the time.  Wisdom is meta-knowledge: you can’t stop the rain from falling.

Ackoff (1999) proposed that knowledge is the application of data, and Davenport, De Long, and Beers (1998) asserted that knowledge is the cornerstone of organizational decisions and actions.  Weinberger (2010) pointed out that this applied view of knowledge came from the desire to obtain business value from data.  This is the context in which Knowledge Management—a system designed to help organizations create, share, and use knowledge effectively—was created.  Unlike the open and social shape of the net, the style of Knowledge Management started out closed and hierarchical.

In a three-part blog, Nancy Dixon (2009) describes three eras of Knowledge Management—where it came from, where it went, and where it is going.  The first era—leveraging explicit knowledge—began around 1995.  Knowledge was viewed as competitive advantage, an asset for leaders to manage.  Organizations created internal repositories to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and to connect people to content.  Leaders focused on ensuring that the “best” knowledge was both captured and utilized.  The main failing of the first era was that it did not consider the fluid, infinite nature of knowledge, or its reliance on context.

The second era—leveraging experiential knowledge— began around 2000.  This era focused on connecting people to people, and using people’s experience to build communities that learn and perform faster.  Central to this era was the belief that front line workers were the real connection to knowledge.  The problem is, information flow between front line workers is mostly tactical and horizontal, and the model did not capture vertical information flows.  Leaders pondered their role in overseeing experiential learning communities, and looked for ways to create vertical flows.  They also recognized the model’s failure to address the growing complexity of organizations.

There is little similarity between the first two Knowledge Management eras and Weinberger’s open, social, contextual networking of knowledge.  A fundamental problem, as Weinberger (2010) pointed out, was in defining knowledge as a product of filtering information within a hierarchical structure.  Perhaps that is why Knowledge Management was declared to be dead, or at least on a respirator.  In the article “Whatever Happened to Knowledge Management“, Davenport (2015) conceded that, even if Knowledge Management has a few breaths left, it has lost its popularity and probably won’t be back.

Dixon (2009) is more optimistic than Davenport, indicating that Knowledge Management’s third era—leveraging collective knowledge—strives to meet the needs of today’s complex and connected world.  As Jarche (2010) pointed out, modern organizations face an environment of constant change and a market that values intangibles.  In the third era, which began around 2005, Knowledge Management moved out of the  knowledge hierarchy and into a collective, constructivist model; a model that tackles organizational complexity and adaptive challenges by connecting employees to decision makers.

As it turns out, leveraging collective knowledge to deal with adaptive challenges means using the network to create knowledge.  The keys to the third era, according to Dixon (2009), are accepting cognitive diversity, integrating knowledge, and ensuring transparency.  These three keys are also the hallmarks of Weinberger’s network of knowledge.  It appears there is hope for Knowledge Management after all.

The new shape of knowledge is pushing leaders out of the hierarchical model, but will they really miss it?  While the structure of knowledge has changed, the desire to leverage knowledge as a strategic asset remains intact.  The non-hierarchical structure of networked knowledge is complex.  Leadership is needed to facilitate the use of tools to encourage the social exchange of knowledge and bring value to the organization.

Thankfully, there are a myriad of web-based tools to help manage information and knowledge.  My university uses LinkedIn to recruit employees and cloud-based systems like ADP and Salesforce to manage people and relationships.  Virtual employees attend meetings via web tools like Skype and VSee, and students from all over the world use the Internet to connect to our learning management systems.  Employees and students alike use tools like Office 365, Google Docs, OneNote, and YouTube to manage information.

Knowledge Management is not dead, it just had to reinvent itself for the networked age.  Leaders need to do this, too.  Jarche (2010) advises leaders to focus on strategy, gain understanding of the web, leverage social media for problem solving, and teach people how to work effectively in this new environment.  In a network of knowledge connections, leaders must be connectors.




Ackoff, R. L. (1999). Ackoff’s Best. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Davenport, T.H. (2015, June 24). Whatever happened to knowledge management [blog post]. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Davenport, T.H., De Long, D.W., & Beers, M.C. (1998). Successful knowledge management projects.  Sloan Management Review, (39)2, 43.

Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part one [blog post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from

Dixon, N. (2009, May 10). Knowledge management: Where we’ve been and where we’re going- part two [blog post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from—part-two.html

Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part three [blog post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from

Jarche, H. (2010, February 24). A framework for social learning in the enterprise [blog post]. Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2010, February 2). The problem with the data-information-knowledge-wisdom hierarchy. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.


17 thoughts on “Knowledge and Management. Making the Connection.”

  1. Nice post, CatonKB! I liked how you framed the evolution of KM to the present age, and your final note that “… In a network of knowledge connections, leaders must be connectors.” I have been fascinated over the past week with how the new presidential administration is starting (with starts, stops, and redirections). I am not sure that I have seen “connectors” yet. “Knowledge” may yet take on new meanings in an environment of “alternative facts.”


    1. Dr. Watwood,

      I wonder if the recent interest in “alternative facts” has contributed to the growing sales of George Orwell’s book “1984”. As of today, this 1949 publication holds the top spot on Amazon’s best seller list. An article in yesterday’s New York Times (Kakutanijan, 2017) suggests that some readers may see a relationship between “alternative facts” and Orwell’s idea of “reality control”. In “1984”, Julia appears to be a fanatical supporter of the Junior Anti-Sex League, the Two Minutes Hate, and the Community Centre. All of these institutions were designed to control connections.

      We can say that 2 + 2 = 5, or define war as peace. As Kakutanijan (2017) concludes, however, there seems to be a characteristically human resistance to deceit and coercion. And, as you pointed out in your blog The Leaky Social Media Question, “controlling the message” requires a communication infrastructure that may no longer exist. Sure, there are echo chambers, but the open and transparent nature of “wirearchy” affords infinite connections to alternate views. Thankfully, there is no need to limit the search for verifiable truth to a singular source.



      Kakutanijan, M. (2017, January 26). Why ‘1984’ is a 2017 must-read. The New York Times. Retrieved from

      Orwell, G. (1949). Nineteen eighty-four: A novel. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Co.

      Weinberger, D. (2014). Too big to know. New York, NY: Basic Books.


  2. Hi CatontheKB!
    Thanks for a great read and super job highlighting the essence of our readings. You reference Ackoff’s DIKW model which incorporates wisdom as the highest order of knowing. You also seem to align with Weinberger in suggesting that the open network has replaced this hierarchical model. But one element which exists in Ackoff’s model and seems noticeably missing from today’s networked model is wisdom. In the DIKW model the end point of gathering data seems to be to know how to act as a result of having the knowledge – to demonstrate wisdom. You mention the complexity of the non-hierarchical model of networked knowledge and discuss leaders playing roles as connectors. Agree wholeheartedly. And then take pause at exactly how we might actively promote this. I feel a case can be made for leaders needing to acquire a degree of wisdom in order to help their direct reports to make sense of non-hierarchical data and information in order to transform it to knowledge and thereby bring value to the organization. Admittedly I am extrapolating on an article looking at the effects of age and culture on wisdom at however, the findings suggested that culture plays a more significant role on wisdom development than age. Thus experience and time will not guarantee wisdom. However, culture can promote it. I am taking the leap here and playing with the idea that we as leaders need to focus on establishing a culture which intentionally develops wisdom. Simply hoping that time will foster wisdom appears to be a fool’s errand.
    Thanks for getting me all fired up about pursuit of wisdom when it comes to knowledge management!


    1. Tricia,

      You bring such interesting insights! I greatly appreciate the opportunity to dig deeper into the pursuit of wisdom when it comes to knowledge management.

      As both of us note in our posts this week, the DIKW pyramid was popularized by Ackoff (1999), a name I recognize from my systems science studies. Looking into Knowledge Management from a systems perspective, I found this diagram in the systems wiki.
      I like the way the picture divides the Past into Gathering and Learning, and sees the Future as Doing. I think Future Doing is where wisdom is most needed, and where value is added. The ethical component of “doing the right things” is so important!

      I also came across a paper by Rowley (2007) that offers a literature review of the DIKW hierarchy. Rowley notes that, even though wisdom holds the highest position, there is little discussion of wisdom in comparison to DI&K. Rowley points out that wisdom may be exactly what is needed to deal with the knowledge management complexities that Dixon (2009) describes in her third era blog. (Check out Figure 8 in the Rowley article; the upended DIKW pyramid illustrates that wisdom is the goal.)

      The vision makes sense, but, as you said, how do we execute? Your point that “a case can be made for leaders needing to acquire a degree of wisdom in order to help their direct reports to make sense of non-hierarchical data and information in order to transform it to knowledge and thereby bring value to the organization” is spot on! And, the connection to culture makes perfect sense! In considering ways to promote a culture of wisdom (sounds like a fascinating research area), one tool that comes to mind is the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2007) Value Rubrics. The Value Rubrics define skills like creative and critical thinking, ethical reasoning, inquiry and analysis, and problem solving— all useful for intentionally developing wisdom.

      Thank you, Tricia, for getting ME all fired up about pursuit of wisdom when it comes to knowledge management!



      Ackoff, R. L. (1999). Ackoff’s best. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

      Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2007). Value rubrics. Washington, DC: AAC&U. Retrieved from

      Dixon, N. (2009, July 30). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part three [blog post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from

      Rowley, J. (2007). The wisdom hierarchy: representations of the DIKW hierarchy. Journal of Information Science, 33(2), 163–180. doi:10.1177/0165551506070706


      1. Whoa!! Love your response -it’s chock full of great material. I think we all took a step closer to wisdom with this discussion 🙂 Rowley’s consideration of how wisdom might benefit overall knowledge management is much appreciated. I really think we are shortchanging wisdom. And how have I never heard of the value rubrics?? Thank you for introducing them to my life. As always I am very grateful for your outlook and knowledge. ~Tricia


  3. Good morning CatontheKB,

    Bravo on your post! Your last sentence, “Knowledge Management is not dead, it just had to reinvent itself for the networked age” truly stands out to me and I could not agree more. I was especially intrigued by the Davenport, De Long, and Beers (1998) article and it made me think about the differences between the terms data, information, and knowledge. I wonder if the digital and networked ages have made it so that these terms are now confused and misunderstood.

    Perhaps the frustration that some scholars have with the change in the field of knowledge management comes from the use of data as knowledge without its critical component – context. Context is a tricky thing, though. Context, and our interpretation of data, can make it so that data and information ulimately results in a knowledge that may differ depending on the individual or audience. Does knowledge require experience? Do our experiences actually skew knowledge and cause us to overlook other information that may influence our understanding? I don’t know if I have the answers to these questions. What it does tell me though is that the original context of knowledge management as defined by Dixon (2009), that of explicit knowledge, appears long gone.

    The Ayes Have It


    Davenport, T.H., De Long, D.W., & Beers, M.C. (1998). Successful knowledge management projects. Sloan Management Review, (39)2, 43.

    Dixon, N. (2009, May 2). Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part one [Web log post]. Conversation Matters. Retrieved from


    1. Hello, Ayes!

      So glad you had a chance to check out the Davenport, De Long, and Beers (1998) article. It prompted me, as well, to think about the difference between data, information, and knowledge. Going a step further, Rowley’s (2007) article “The wisdom hierarchy: representations of the DIKW hierarchy” is akin to a literature review of textbook definitions for data, information, and knowledge. Pertinent to your comment about the importance of context, Rowley points out that lack of context is the reason data is often attributed as having no meaning or value. This void is the basis for defining information in terms of data (and vice versa). Rowley says that knowledge introduces more complexity and is difficult to precisely define, but she notes that experience was a common factor in many definitions. Given that data, information, and knowledge are often viewed from an information systems perspective (Rowley, 2007, p. 166), your comment that the digital and networked ages might be contributing to a misunderstanding of definitions certainly rings true, as does your conclusion that explicit knowledge no longer serves Knowledge Management’s purpose!

      I greatly appreciate your excellent comments and questions, and the opportunity to dig deeper into data, information, and knowledge. As Eugene Ionesco said, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the questions.”



      Davenport, T.H., De Long, D.W., & Beers, M.C. (1998). Successful knowledge management projects. Sloan Management Review, 39(2), 43. Retrieved from

      Rowley, J. (2007). The wisdom hierarchy: representations of the DIKW hierarchy. Journal of Information Science, 33(2), 163–180. doi:10.1177/0165551506070706


  4. Great post, Cat!

    While I took a different approach to the future of Knowledge Management (I presented its eulogy in my post), you provided a compelling counterpoint. How can leaders address the issue presented by Weinberger (2011) first developed by Cass Sunstein that people naturally are attracted to others with similar views and beliefs (p. 82)? While the Internet does provide vast amounts of knowledge, one can easily filter that knowledge to fit within one’s own comfort zone. Does this provide another challenge to leaders?

    Even once effective leaders can turn toxic (Lipman-Blumen, 2005) and one of the ways this happens is when one surrounds oneself with like-minded subordinates who will not rock the boat or question the leader’s actions or decisions. Oftentimes, when a subordinate shows “rogue” behavior, he/she is quickly removed from the inner circle through force or free will (Lipman-Blumen, 2005). Extremists can easily find the answers they want to hear in a connected world, so how can a leader assist in these situations?


    Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). The allure of toxic leaders: Why we follow destructive bosses and
    corrupt politicians-and how we can survive them. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

    Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.


    1. Krista,

      Such great questions! As you said, given that people are attracted to others with similar views, it can be challenging to introduce diversity. One department I worked with was so insular that change did not occur until a critical mass of members moved on, and were replaced by a more diverse group. The current department is completely different.

      The Lipman-Blumen book sounds like an excellent resource – thank you for sharing. I read a brief summary of the book’s key points, one of which noted that recruiting nontoxic leaders is a good way to “repel” toxic leaders. Yet, as you pointed out, this does not always happen, and sometimes good leaders change. A colleague of mine (a leadership professor) recommended “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” (Friedman, Treadwell, & Beal, 2007). Friedman proposes that there is a reactive atmosphere in our society that is contributing to toxic leadership, and to the sabotage of good leaders. Friedman has some solutions, but the path to them is beyond what I can articulate at this point, having not yet finished the book. This YouTube video illustrates Friedman’s basic concept. Toxic leadership is something I am interested in learning more about, and I would love to hear your and any other insights on this topic!



      Friedman, E. H., Treadwell, M. M., & Beal, E. W. (2007). A failure of nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. New York, NY: Seabury Books.


      1. CatonKB-
        Take the toxic leadership course…it is enlightening! It actually helps one to “look in the mirror” more often as suggested by Jim Collins! Leaders can be forced into toxic situations by the unrealistic expectations of followers. It was a very fascinating course and understanding the behaviors and motivations have made me a more effective leader.



  5. CatOnKB-

    I thought you posed some interesting thoughts in your post. As I was reading your overview of the knowledge hierarchy, I couldn’t help but think of Bloom’s Taxonomy which is essentially a learning hierarchy. Bloom’s Taxonomy starts with remembering, then moves to understanding, followed by the ability to analyze information. Next, in the hierarchy is evaluate. The hierarchy ends with creation. Which means the information learned can be used to create new material (Armstrong, 2017). In my opinion, these two hierarchies are related. I actually think Bloom’s Taxonomy it is more useful to approach knowledge. The higher on the hierarchy the more in-depth the comprehension of information. Plus this approach makes information more useful.

    Armstrong, P (2017). Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved from


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