Knowledge and Understanding

A while back I posted a quick example of how knowledge of how Microsoft PowerPoint works could save you time when composing a presentation. In KM terms, this type of knowledge would be considered explicit, something you can read in a book or find in the help file (or just figure out by clicking on menu items and buttons to see what happens). But just because you know how to use PowerPoint doesn’t mean you understand what you can do with it. (If you want to get a better understanding of what you can do with PP, I highly recommend Cliff Atkinson’s blog beyond bullets and his recently published book Beyond Bullet Points.)

A couple of things have happened over the last few weeks that have got me thinking about the differences between knowledge and understanding.

I bought a new car: Closing the deal with the financial guy, there were forms upon forms. He typed in my info, a bunch of things got printed out, “Sign here, here, here and here.” The process was very straightforward, he knew what needed to be done, but I don’t think he necessarily understood why he was doing all the things he was doing.

Tax time: I used TaxCut to do my taxes this year. The interview process is relatively painless (assuming you have all the info you need gathered up). The program asks some questions, you give answers, it tells you if you have a refund or owe money to the IRS. But how it comes up with that answer is beyond me (and, I would guess, most everyone else that isn’t a tax specialist!)

GTD: I’ve been using the
Getting Things Done add-in for Outlook
, with some success. What I’ve found, though, is that by relying on the technology of the add-in to do the bulk of the processing, I’ve lost touch with the process. On the surface it looks as if I’m effectively managing my projects and actions in accordance with GTD, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find something a bit less straightforward.

The common theme here is how the automation of processes through IT has the potential to remove our understanding of the processes we follow everyday. Is this good or bad? Who can say. Just something I think we need to keep in mind.