Three Types of Knowledge: One in an Occasional Series about Knowledge Management and Social Media

I apologize for the lateness of this post. The end of year craziness seems to have created a hole in the space/time continuum and I skipped right to this date (it seems like).

Now to an article that is the first in an occasional series of blog posts about various aspects of knowledge management and social media as it pertains to small business. I shall attempt to make practical suggestions based on white papers, journal articles, other blogs…wherever I find information that I think could be useful to you.

This first post about the three levels of knowledge is based on part of an article called  “Making Knowledge Workers More Creative” from the Research-Technology Management journal. Authors:  David H. Henard and M. Ann McFadyen.

They have offered a hierarchy of knowledge types and stated how each type contributes to the competitive differentiation of your business. While much of the research into knowledge qualities came from examples of large corporations, there is no reason the same ideas cannot be put into practice in the small to medium business realm. Plus, if you do, you will be exhibiting at least one  of these levels of knowledge. 

The first level of knowledge has been labeled “Acquired Knowledge”. This can be thought of as knowledge accrued from previous experiences, training, learning, even conversations with others. This can also be thought of as a variety of common knowledge. Most people in the same area, such as a particular industry, have the same knowledge or they can easily access it. Not much competitive advantage in that, is there? If everyone knows “X” then “X” won’t differentiate anything. This level of knowledge also tends to keep organizations doing things the way they have always been done. And really squelching creativity.

The second level of knowledge offers a better chance of differentiation. It is called “Unique Knowledge”. This is knowledge that comes about from spotting connections between pieces of information or seeing something that fits into a previous line of acquired knowledge that makes the knowledge worker view the knowledge in a new way. To coin a phrase “they are thinking out of the box”. It is new knowledge that is integrated into the base knowledge. Now some areas of differentiation become apparent. Unfortunately, it is possible for others to make the same connections you just did. So we need a type of knowledge that is extremely hard to copy.

The third level of knowledge is “Creative Knowledge”. This is where someone takes their acquired knowledge and unique knowledge bases and uses them, not to think outside the box, but to think inspirationally. This is the type of knowledge found when a breakthrough idea, process or product is formed. This type of knowledge requires not just using what you already know or improving on it by discovering new links. It requires you to use those two types of knowledge to take new experiences and information, no matter where they are from, and see possibilities in them that someone who only uses their acquired or unique knowledge would not “get”.  Creative knowledge skills open the way for these ah-ha moments.

This last is the type of knowledge that will offer ongoing differentiation and advantage to your business because the dual nature of creative knowledge cannot be imitated by your competitors. Creative knowledge comes about through individual thought that is interwoven with the culture and information of your company. Your competitor could try to hire away your creative knowledge worker, but it won’t be the same.

The take-away here is mostly that there are different levels of knowledge and that the skills for unique and creative knowledge can and should be enhanced and encouraged. To do so pays off in finding ways to beat the pants off your competitors. Especially if they don’t have your newly found Unique Knowledge. (Which I hope you have because the ideas in this blog post have caused you to make new connections between pieces of information to improve your business.)

If you would like to expand on this topic by giving us your thoughts or relating your experience in using or honing your knowledge skills, please share. The rest of us would like to “acquire” some knowledge to help us on the road to creativity.

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