All of us receive a tremendous amount of information in multiple forms through various channels every day. How can we understand the context better?
I first started seriously thinking about this while reading the book, ‘Working Knowledge’ by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak. The “Knowledge Vs. Wisdom” discussion is very interesting for me due to its relevance to decision making and assessing various types/sources of information.
An article titled “Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom” by Gene Bellinger, Durval Castro, Anthony Mills on the www.systems-thinking.org website has useful information on the topic. Here’re some selected notes.
“According to Russell Ackoff, a systems theorist and professor of organizational change, the content of the human mind can be classified into five categories:
1. Data: symbols
2. Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions
3. Knowledge: application of data and information; answers “how” questions
4. Understanding: appreciation of “why”
5. Wisdom: evaluated understanding.
The first four categories relate to the past; they deal with what has been or what is known. Only the fifth category, wisdom, deals with the future because it incorporates vision and design. With wisdom, people can create the future rather than just grasp the present and past. But achieving wisdom isn’t easy; people must move successively through the other categories.
Knowledge is the appropriate collection of information, such that it’s intent is to be useful. When someone “memorizes” information (as less-aspiring test-bound students often do), then they have amassed knowledge.
Understanding is cognitive and analytical. It is the process by which I can take knowledge and synthesize new knowledge from the previously held knowledge. The difference between understanding and knowledge is the difference between “learning” and “memorizing”. People who have understanding can undertake useful actions because they can synthesize new knowledge, or in some cases, at least new information, from what is previously known (and understood).
Wisdom calls upon all the previous levels of consciousness, and specifically upon special types of human programming (moral, ethical codes, etc.). It beckons to give us understanding about which there has previously been no understanding, and in doing so, goes far beyond understanding itself. It is the essence of philosophical probing. Unlike the previous four levels, it asks questions to which there is no (easily-achievable) answer. Wisdom is therefore, the process by which we also discern, or judge, between right and wrong, good and bad.”
How do we perceive individuals we consult with, articles or books that we read?
I think this note from a Fast Company expert blog (by Donna Karlin) has food for thought – “If we listen to all the knowledge that we’re bombarded with, we will close down and start ignoring it. There is way too much information to remember coming at us at the speed of light (thanks to technology). We can’t possibly retain it all. We can however look for guidance from those who have a wealth of wisdom because they see context, relevance and how it impacts us.”