'You Can Never Have Too Much Knowledge'
by Larry Prusak The future of information used to appear bright indeed, but lately its star seems to have waned. Whereas information used to be considered almost an end in itself, and organizations and even entire nations dedicated themselves to becoming "information societies" many people now complain that there's too much information, and experts are touting "knowledge societies" and urging businesses to identify and retain "knowledge workers." What does the future hold for information - and, by extension, information professionals? Has information been permanently eclipsed by knowledge, or will it begin to regain its luster when futurists identify the "next big idea" in organizational development? Information Outlook posed these questions to Larry Prusak, a former SLA member who consults on knowledge and learning within organizations, His responses are especially timely given the findings of SLA's Alignment Project. Q: What's the difference between information and knowledge, and why is the latter considered more valuable than the former? There's a world of difference between knowledge and information. One easy way to answer this is to assume you're going on a trip, and you start saving your money and making plans. Which would you prefer to do: read a guidebook about the place you're visiting, or talk to someone you respect who's been there? Overwhelmingly, people say they'd choose to talk to someone who's been there or lived there. And that's the difference between knowledge and information. The book would have a lot of information about Paris or India, but talking to someone who has knowledge of these places is much more valuable to people. It's interactive, it's limitless, there's emotion and trust and passion involved, and there are all the cues that come with talking to someone. That's a very quick and dirty answer to your question. Put another way, knowledge is what a "knower" knows, whereas information is codified. You could say that information is represented knowledge - that's probably as good a way as any to describe it. It's a little cut or slice of what a person or a group knows, and it's represented in some codified form, be it a book or a painting or a piece of music. It's frozen; it's stuck. Now, of course, we love these things and we need them to run the world, but they're not the same as knowledge. Information is a codified piece of what a knower knows at a particular time. Q: Can there be too many of these codified pieces - too much information? Yes, there can be too much information in the sense that there's too much to absorb, but you can never have too much knowledge. That's one of the
differences between information and knowledge. Who would ever say they have too much knowledge of something? Would you want to go to a doctor who says, " I know too much about your illness?" You want people who help us in our lives doctors, politicians, economists - to have a lot of knowledge. Q: Does knowledge come from information? You can have knowledge without information - there is such a thing. Generally speaking, however, information is one of the inputs of knowledge, but it's just one. This is a big debate among philosophers and social scientists. I would argue that participation and experience are bigger chunks of knowledge than information is. Let's assume someone says to you, "I'll give you five million dollars if, over the next three years, you read everything you can about organic chemistry and pass a test," Well, for that much money, you'd probably do it. But you really wouldn't have much knowledge of organic chemistry when you finished. You would have absorbed a great deal of information and spat it out to pass a test, butto really be acknowledged as a chemist, you have to do chemistry - you have to participate in the activity we call chemistry. And that's just as true of medicine, law, management, or almost any other field you can name. Experience,...
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