The 3 Levels of Knowledge

The 3 levels of Knowledge

The more I live in the Knowledge Management business, the more I realize that there is no common understanding of what is Knowledge. The more I try to define it, the more I realize it’s about connections and actions. Knowledge is alive, it must go on.

Level 1: Facts Lists

Many people confuse knowing and reciting. Knowledge is associated with General Knowledge. Lists of facts like lists of states with the capital cities. Rote Learning (learning by repeating endlessly) is focused only on the syntactic level of Knowledge. It is the external skin of our thinking, and learning it “as is” is useless. In the DIKW model, it’s like taking raw facts as Knowledge.

Today computers expand our brains, and we don’t need to retain this Knowledge.

Level 2: Shallow Knowledge

You gain Shallow Knowledge by assimilating information. A lot of concepts are acquired, a lot of supporting facts and names with just a first level of connections. It’s superficial but may do the trick for a while.

Some people read the news thoroughly every day. They appear very well versed in a vast number of topics without any first-hand experience of it. There is no in-depth knowledge, only varnish. It relies a lot on memorizing names, sources, events.

In a way, it’s not very different from what Google may reply to when you type a question in the search bar. It is similar to responses from bots like Alexa or Siri. It is often surprisingly pertinent on facts, totally disconcerting on analysis.

Level 3: Connected Knowledge

In the DIKW hierarchy, Knowledge is what comes after information. In Organisational Knowledge Management, some say it is information ready to be used. My position is that Knowledge only resides in humans brains. The complexity of the connections goes beyond what writing can convey. Knowledge is always personal (until we can share brains).

Loading and unloading knowledge from a discourse takes an extra effort to dig beneath the words and explore connections. Language is linear and can’t convey all the deep thinking. Dialogue, by writing or talking, is linear. It resides on a single axis. Words span as much time as needed. Drawing and showing are faster but still limited. When we add links, we elevate the possibilities of expression sharply. It’s like in a community: Our brain is like the room. Concepts are like people. Connections like conversations. The more people engage in conversations, the more Knowledge is extracted. To rebuild connected Knowledge, we must hold talks in ourselves and experiment.

In the brain, links are totally free. There are no limits of distance, no requirements that they lay flat like on a map. In a mindmap or a sketch-note, it’s limited to the paper and the plane. On the plane, links will eventually cross one another and end up unreadable. In the brain, links are like twigs in a haystack. There is no need for a general organization.

The richness of the links is what enables smartness and effective use of Knowledge. The more connected it is, the faster and stronger conclusions can be drawn. It’s because we can create very quickly a multitude of connections between distant topics that we are creative and have insights. It’s because connections between related thoughts are traversed again and again in all possible directions that we are performing faster on complex tasks.

Language and writing don’t always go with us, a sketch, a map could convey a better image. The richness of our language, our references will help us keep articulated thoughts without ambiguity and friction. This is why having a jargon and symbols helps a lot. It’s very natural that the same symbols can be used for symbolic links.

Every time we go back to reflective thinking, we go deeper in the understanding. We have new ideas, make new assumptions, and experiment new practices or new techniques. What we learn is enriching our network and takes us to the next stage.

Having a knowledge system supporting linking brings the ability to offload what we found but don’t use for a long time. It helps to keep this Knowledge as near as possible at it is in our brains without obliging to organize it in texts. Like in the brain, in a knowledge system, there is no need of a flat layout or a general organization of thoughts like a tree.

This is one reason why, for me, note-taking applications don’t qualify as knowledge applications. As long as you can’t maintain links and constantly reorganize and refactor what you have, it is only tools to manage the superficial aspect of it: the shallow Knowledge. The key test is when it imposes to reopen a note to add something. Adding should be on a new note, at once, no matter what. It’s a software business to find where to store this new note, not a human business. It’s a software business to attach a new note to existing ones. We want systems that support fast deepening of Knowledge, and don’t hold us back.

Level 4: Dynamic Knowledge

For me, Knowledge has always been about doing. If you can’t put it to work, it’s just shallow Knowledge.

My idea of putting Knowlege to work is not new. If you can’t put it to work, it’s not Knowledge.

If you can go as far as formalizing some part of it, you can build best practices, workflows, checklists, offload to your outward brain the tedious tasks. In some cases, you can even automate the task. You could create or buy some macros and apps doing the work for you. It’s exactly like when you purchase an automatic grinder for your coffee.

So Knowledge is potential actions.

The implication of dynamic Knowledge on our time management

It’s only recently that I realized that what people call their PKM practice or note-taking methods are really only about dealing with incoming information. How people deal with incoming information, tells a lot on the level of Knowledge they manage.

Imagine you take it seriously and start to apply everything you learn and imagine. You will quickly run out of time, it’s unsustainable.

This is where you realize that each incoming information has two sides:
– the payload side: the description, text, or video content.
– The hidden side: what you should or could do with it: read, share, reply, try, experiment, compare, refute, chunk, archive, tag, etc..

Knowledge is really Knowledge in Action. From far away, it looks like a piece of text, information plus something. Looking a bit deeper, it can be understood, a bit nearer it can be activated, again nearer it is vibrating and has to be taken care of.

What we learned so far

  • If you cannot use it to do something, it’s not Knowledge
  • If you don’t do something on it, it dies, fades away, stays shallow.

When you deal with Knowledge, you have to keep it vibrating, keep shaking it, keep using it, sharing it; otherwise, it just goes away. When it is shaken, it changes, evolves, gets more refined. It’s not permanent.

Each grain of Knowledge undergoes changes under different actions. Those are the true Knowledge Processes, I see.

What’s next

Every piece of Knowledge we acquire has its own agenda. Either we are ready to devote time keeping it moving along this agenda, or we better let it go from the beginning.

This has a massive impact on our time management and our ability to make progress. This is why, from now, I prefer to use Personal Management instead of Personal Knowledge Management. Without overall guidance and time management, our Knowledge can’t be managed.

I announced 3 levels, and I described 4. I’m one ahead of my promise. This idea of connecting Knowledge and time is also new to me. It is still a subject of exploration for me. Stay along to share this exploration with me. I have tons of exciting ideas to share.

What are your levels of Knowledge? Share with me your views in the comments below.