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The beginning of the Armadillos

December 29, 2007

QCHRSPOne beautiful night on the banks of the turbid Amazon, Painted Jaguar found Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog and Slow-Solid Tortoise sitting under the trunk of a fallen tree. They could not run away, and so Stickly-Prickly curled himself up into a ball, because he was a Hedgehog, and Slow-Solid Tortoise drew in his head and feet into his shell as far as they would go, because he was a Tortoise; and so that was all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?

Now attend to me,' said Painted Jaguar, 'because this is very important. My mother said that when I meet a Hedgehog I am to drop him into the water and then he will uncoil, and when I meet a Tortoise I am to scoop him out of his shell with my paw. Now which of you is Hedgehog and which is Tortoise? because, to save my spots, I can't tell.

The above quote is from Kipling's wonderful Just So Stories. There were a part of my childhood, and my the childhood of my Best Beloved both as a book and in the wonderful BBC Radio reading by David Davies. The story of the Armadillos referenced above (an on line version) will take you a few moments to read, and it is a delight.

Pause to read

OK now you have read it (or remembered it) you will know that the story involves a tortoise and a hedgehog, having fooled the Jaguar for some time, finally realise that combining capabilities is the only way to survive. As a result the create the first Armadillo. Now it came to mind when I was reading some of the comments on my blog of yesterday, in particular those relating to the hoary old issue of defining knowledge. Now I have long had a position that defining knowledge in the context of consultancy practice should be avoided. Two thousand years plus of debate amongst philosophers has not resolved the issue and the idea that a management consultant, or members of a list serve can succeed seems to me foolishness at best, arrogance at worst.

On the other hand, I have at various times essayed definitions of what it means to manage knowledge which seems to be a useful process if one is not to hard and fast about the process and is prepared to tolerate a degree of fuzziness. Probably the nearest I came to such a definition, in a form which I am still happy to use, was when I talked about knowledge being simultaneously, and paradoxically both a thing and a flow, the same way that electronics are both particles and waves.

Conventional approaches to KM have focused on knowledge as a thing, because in those days technology focused on codification, but forgot the flow aspects. Now with social computing we can also manage flow, although we still need human contact and interaction. Trying to privilege one form over another is a mistake, but an all to common one. You see people who argue for codification or personalisation (knowledge in the head) such as the dreaded Frank from ActKM. Others argue against any form of codification (this includes some of the purists in social computing).

However we need to live with the paradox, and the value of shared properties. Maybe we need a Painted Jaguar (or more likely his mother) to create the conditions?

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