Monday, January 19, 2009

Classifications of Knowledge


Pawel Brodzinski got me thinking more. [Editor: How can it be more, it's a first] The question is  what is taught or can be taught by PM organizations and what is learned.  Long before I can remember understanding it, someone beat into my head that there are four classifications of what we encounter:
  1. Data - This is everything available from what day it is, to footbal score to manuals skimmed through.
  2. Information - This is data that is relevant, for example that PMI stands from Project Management Institute and what can be taught about methodologies.
  3. Knowledge - This is the ability to use information in a meaningful way and must be learned.  For example, when you need to expend the effort to do risk and contingency analysis.  Someone can teach you what risk analysis is, but you have to learn when to do it and how long to keep doing it before it ceases to add value.
  4. Wisdom - This is the experience gained from executing projects where you should have done risk analysis and having suffered the consequences and also where you did risk analysis and it wasn't necessary.  Wisdom is the experience of having lived through the ramifications of knowledgeable decisions you made.
When I say there are limits to what you can get from PMI or any other framework or methodology, part of it is that you can only get data and information.  You must live through and experience projects to gain knowledge and be sufficiently tendorized to develop wisdom.

While it wasn't written about PM, anyone who has lived through the permutations and frustrations of projects can identify with the sentiment and understand of wisdom presented by William Blake (in 1796 or so) in The Wail of Enion from THE FOUR ZOAS” 

I am made to sow the thistle for wheat, the nettle for a nourishing dainty:
I have planted a false oath in the earth, it has brought forth a Poison Tree:
I have chosen the serpent for a counsellor, and the dog for a schoolmaster to my children.

I have blotted out from light and living the dove and nightingale,
And I have causèd the earthworm to beg from door to door:
I have taught the thief a secret path into the house of the just:
I have taught pale Artifice to spread his nets upon the morning
My heavens are brass, my earth is iron, my moon a clod of clay,
My sun a pestilence burning at noon, and a vapour of death in night. 

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song,
Or Wisdom for a dance in the street? No! it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath -- his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain. 

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun,
And in the vintage, and to sing on the wagon loaded with corn:
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season,
When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs: 

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements;
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter-house moan;
To see a God on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of Love in the thunderstorm that destroys our enemy's house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers. 

Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill, 
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, 
and the soldier in the field when the shatter'd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead:
It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity --
Thus would I sing and thus rejoice; but it is not so with me.

2 comments:

Pawel Brodzinski said...

I think you hit the nail with your classification of knowledge. Usually the further you go the more valuable you are as a specialist.

Data alone is meaningless. Data and information makes you barely a methodology junkie (of whichever technique you prefer). With wisdom your judgement should be good in typical situations and this is prerequisite to gain experience, which helps you to deal with unexpected situations.

Now the tricky thing here is wisdom. This can make you or brake you. Point which I'd discuss is whether wisdom can be learned. From my experience there are people who are able to build their knowledge each time something happen to them and those who just repeat on and on whatever they were taught on PM techniques courses. The latter group won't become professionals you'd like to work with.

Andrew Meyer said...

Pawel,

wisdom is only learned by those who can learn it and usually in places they would rather not be. That's why I love Blake's poem so much:

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song,
Or Wisdom for a dance in the street? No! it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath -- his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain.