Information: The raw material of knowledge work

If knowledge work is indeed a craft, then information is the raw material in which knowledge workers (fwiw, I hate that term but can’t come up with anything better) work. What really intrigues me about the idea of information as raw material is that you can give the same information to two different people, and end up with completely different products. There are only a few ways you can turn aluminum into a can (or bottle), but there are an almost infinite variety of ways you can turn information into knowledge.

The tools and techniques (and tricks) that these workers use to manipulate these raw materials evolve over time, and everyone handles their information a bit differently, but there are some general themes in managing information that can be applied. Along these lines, Jack Vinson has posted a review of Personal Information Management, edited by William Jones and Jaime Teevan (published by U of Washington Press), which addresses these common themes:

First off, this is an academic effort, rather than something aimed at mainstream audiences. It does a great job of referencing recent research in the arena of PIM and looks at a number of angles. The editors went to some lengths to create a fictional story line to be used by the chapter authors in order to establish a thread throughout the book, but I found it only partially helpful in explaining the ideas and concepts being discussed.

The central organizing effort of the book is around activities associated with PIM: collecting information, organizing information, and finding information (that has been collected/organized), as shown here in my crude graphic. Each chapter focuses on the academic work being pursued around an aspect of these activities.

Going back to my last post on Lilia Efimova’s Knowledge Work Framework, “information” as I’m thinking of it is represented on the left side of her diagram, the area of non-active awareness. The area between the left and right would represent the “management” of the information, the manipulation of the raw materials to create a new product, in this case a widget of knowledge.

Of course, this new piece of “knowledge” becomes another piece of “information” that feeds into someone else’s knowledge work framework, or may even feed back into the creator’s.