Dec 13, 2010

Creating order out of chaos: Managing knowledge in a globalized “Ba”

American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler (1928- ) once said knowledge is the most democratic source of power. I’d like to start my review of this course from Toffler’s words. Undoubtedly, we human have been aware of the incomparable power of knowledge and intelligence since a long time ago: from ancient philosophers to scientific revolution pioneers to modernists and then postmodernists, people created varied phrases conveying the same meaning, “knowledge is power” (some of us might have read similar words even in the Bible). For me, knowledge turns into power only when it’s applied into practice. Here is an story about Albert Einstein and the Atomic Bomb, we can see how powerful knowledge is when it is being used in certain fields. And there is something else on my mind when I dive into the whole knowledge management theories and practices, I’m trying to jump out of the circle and check the knowledge-human-power issue in a more objective and macroscopic manner. From my perspective, just like the any other power substance in the world, knowledge, the so-called “most democratic (I would like to add the word “friendly” here) source of power,” requires a highly systematic and effective mechanism in its control and uses, that is why we need to devote our time and energy in exploring knowledge management – as a matter of fact, managing knowledge is also a crucial knowledge and sometimes it’s even more important than the knowledge itself, especially in this information overload era.

We can’t analyze this knowledge-human-power issue without re-discussing the definition of “Ba.” Please allow me to show off my very poor third language knowledge a little bit, this word “Ba” is written as “場” in Japanese, means location, field, or market. In KM context, it is defined as the shared context for knowledge creation . At present and in the predictable future, the Ba, in which knowledge creation carries out its SECI process (Socialization, Externalization, Combination, and Internalization), is becoming increasingly globalized. This trend is part of the macro process of globalization in which economies, cultures, societies etc. are integrated through a global network . A globalized Ba, connect with what we discussed in Dr. Levy’s last lecture, is the foundation of Dr. Levy’s prediction of the future knowledge management revolution, which will be able to realize a semantic computing/addressing system(s) that allows human to create and manage knowledge in a universally shared Ba.

I also want to share some of my viewpoints concerning this “KM revolution.” Generally I agree with Dr. Levy’s prediction of the development direction for KM tools and measures of our human society in the coming generations, and this vision is definitely exciting and promising. In the meanwhile, one can feel a strong sense of cosmopolitanism in this tendency and it obviously pushes the trend of globalization onto a new level (Say, if we are able to create and share knowledge exceeding the boundaries of language, culture, and ethnic groups, what a super species we human will be…). My concern here is the degree of participation (or degree of acceptance) of this universally shared semantic network and its implications on human societies.

Yes knowledge is the most democratic source of power, so is useful information, but maybe they are not as democratic as we assumed. Let’s talk about the social network service tycoon Facebook. As statistics indicates, there are more than 500 million active users of Facebook today who in sum spend over 700 billion minutes per month on it . It’s not difficult to calculate that the users of Facebook have amounted to around 8% of the earth’s population within the past 6 years since its foundation, which is undoubtedly an amazing growth. But on the other hand it also means that there are 92% of the people on earth who are not using Facebook. And it is reasonable to predict that it will take way more than six years for Facebook to obtain another 500 million active users around the world. The reason is simple: there are a lot of factors in real world setting up invisible boundaries to the open access of information and knowledge, for instance, lack of information communication infrastructure, lack of education to use the tools, or too much censorship from the government. Here is the question: is it possible to realize a KM network which connects all human together and functions as a super-virtual-world above the real present world? Just like a cosmopolitan online community?

Our life is so long and so short and that makes us eager to know what the future will be like. I have a video here depicting the future living with the uses of technology about 50 years later, really exicting. So supposedly, at some point in future, a vast majority of the people in the world will possess the knowledge and infrastructure and time and willingness to participate in an universal knowledge creation and exchange system (a cosmopolitan online community), I’m afraid two things will happen before that: 1. the dominant capitalist economic system will no longer exist and global economy is running in a totally new model; 2. there will not be enough energy to fuel the world since every country is so developed. The energy crisis is one problem, not to mention the implications on philosophy, culture, education, political systems and ideologies all over the world. Thus my viewpoint over this issue is, a giant semantic network/system will occur in future and it may cover say 30% to 40% of the human beings on the earth, which will be revolutionary enough, but not a majority (say 90% or more) of the people. I never doubt that computing technologies and human wisdoms will realize a knowledge creating and sharing platform with no boundaries and limitations, but the ones who have access to it will always be a certain group of people compared to the whole human species in world.

We are in the center of a quiet knowledge revolution, and what we are thriving to accomplish is to create orders out of the overwhelming chaos in a highly globalized Ba. I would like to call this trend the globalization of knowledge management – as the personal knowledge management and organizational knowledge management axis and strategies are increasingly relying on the feature of globalization. Thanks to technology, we can have the chance to embrace and explore the world on a level that our predecessors have never dreamt about. On the other hand, in the PKM scenario, it sometimes occurs to me that today’s PKM is more like a game of “unbearable lightness” – the way we are dealing with the knowledge chaos (via the tools of social media and digital technology and so forth) seems always fall behind the pace of the increase of knowledge and information, and we are kind of stuck in the process of receiving, filtering, gathering and accepting new stuff rather than reflecting and thinking about them. In other words, we are struggling to create orders in the oceans of chaotic data, but not everyone in this KM storm can survive and take advantage of it.

Little, S. & Ray, T. (2005). Managing Knowledge: An Essential Reader. SAGE Publications. p. 25
Little, S. & Ray, T. (2005). Managing Knowledge: An Essential Reader. SAGE Publications. p. 26
Bhagwati, J. (2004). In Defense of Globalization. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.