Souphead - a tasty knowledge metaphor

Souphead.jpgFor the first meeting of the HK Knowledge Management Meetup group I wanted to present a metaphor for knowledge to help people understand exactly what knowledge is. I had a number of options that I could use, the most obvious being the DIKW model, the triangle with data at the bottom, and information, knowledge and wisdom on top of each other (see here for a full explaination). I really don't like the DIKW model.

To me it is the epitome of the oversimplfication of complex systems! The model leads us to assumes that data, information, knowledge and wisdom are discrete and that each is based on each other, which is entirely wrong. But enough of my rant. To introduce the idea of the complexity of knowledge and managing knowledge I introduced my own metaphor, the soup metaphor.

All the "input" we receive - the data, information, things we learn, things we are taught, things we experience, as well as the things we work out for ourselves all combine to make up our knowledge, a bit like ingredients of a soup. But once you make a soup, it is impossible to "unmake" it. If I try a soup, I can tell some of the ingredients - mushrooms, cream, salt, herbs, but I cannot tell exactly what those ingredients are and in what proportion they are used. All I can say is that it is mushroom soup and it's very tasty, but has a little too much salt! So each person's knowledge is a complex combination of certain "ingredients". We can share some of those ingredients with others, but there is a complex combination of situations and input that means that we can never really share our recipe with others. Like in cooking, we can create a list of ingredients and cooking methods, but each person will make the soup in a slightly different way. And each soup will be subtly different.  

This is the reality of knowledge management, knowledge is not a discrete "thing" between information and wisdom, but a soup of experiences, learning and deductions each person builds for themselves. The best way to "swap recipes" is not to capture them in some system, like the AllRecipes site captures cooking recipes, but for us to cook, learn, and share experiences together. Sharing recipes is fine if it is among chefs, but it takes time with a chef to make a new chef!