What is knowledge? Isn’t it the same as information? Isn’t KM the same as IM?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, “knowledge is the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.” Knowledge is the richness of learning, insight and experience that is in people’s heads (and some say in their bodies). Knowledge is the background that allows you to make the best decision.

Knowledge can be in people’s heads (tacit knowledge) or it can be written down or recorded (explicit knowledge). You can never capture the full richness of what’s in people’s heads—try writing down the knowledge of how to ride a bicycle for example!—but explicit knowledge can be a good catalyst for connecting people together, as it can be stored and searched. Captured knowledge can be of enormous value if easy to share, easy to read, easy to add to, and if it provides a connection to others who know.

Knowledge is not the same as information (data which has been packaged in a useful and understandable way).  The story below illustrates the difference between data, information and knowledge, and demonstrates that trust is an important element of effective knowledge transfer.

Knowledge is a lot harder to manage than information—it is mainly stored in heads rather than on hard disks.  However knowledge management needs to be built on a foundation of good data management and information management.

Story: You are in a foreign airport, trying to reach a remote site office for a crucial meeting.  You have never traveled this route before, and are confused and bewildered by the number of options.  Which is the best route, the most reliable airline, and the easiest connection? On the TV screens above you appear an endlessly scrolling list of flight details and departure times. So much data that you can’t take it in.

At last you find a source of information, a stack of timetables where the data has been sorted into a useful format, and you can look up your destination.  You see that there are three options for getting there. They all look risky; connection times are tight and you don’t know any of the airports or airlines.  How can you know which is the best flight?

The man standing next to you has been watching you, and offers some personal knowledge.  “I have traveled that route several times and I always take the northern option.  The flights on the southern route are often delayed and you could miss your connection.”

Should you trust him?  It’s vital that you make the meeting tonight.  Other people from your company must travel this route regularly; why doesn’t the local office put some recommendations on their web site?