7.3 Personal Knowledge

7.3 Personal Knowledge

          Each one of us has gone through unique experiences and learnt different skills which help us to perform routine tasks. Similarly, we have learnt about various aspects of life and gained knowledge about different things around us. In fact, each of us has an incredible knowledge base of personal experiences, skills, facts, etc., but we do not use all of it regularly. Even, sometimes, we cannot remember what we know.  This is our personal knowledge. Personal knowledge includes knowledge gained from formal and informal instruction. Personal knowledge also includes memories, stories, personal contacts and relationships, books we have read or written, notes, documents, photographs of us or by us, intuitions, what we have learned from others, and what we know about things around us. This knowledge may exist in different form including explicit, implicit, tacit, etc.

          It is extremely hard to discuss any aspect of knowledge management (KM) without mentioning or referencing the knowledge worker in some form or another, and with regards to their personal knowledge. In fact it could reasonably be argued as impossible; since the idea of “person” is intricately tied in even with the very coinage itself. Realizing the importance of individuals, in his book "The Effective Executive", Peter Drucker writes “Every knowledge worker in a modern organization is an executive if, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results.” (Durker, 1966).

          As we have discussed in previous chapters, the world of knowledge work is intensifying. Consequently, knowledge workers are facing serious challenges to remain the key asset of the organization.  Davenport examines the capabilities of knowledge workers in relation to ideas of acquisition, personal documentation, knowledge search, and networking and knowledge sharing.  He segments knowledge workers into five categories: functionalists, cube captains, nomads, global collaborators, and tech individuals.  Nevertheless, individuals from every segment need to remain competitive through overcoming uncertainty and change that affect the competitiveness and value of individual in today’s information saturated technology driven complex work places.

          In Chapter 2 we have already discussed that knowledge is something very personal and belonging and strongly embedded in its owner’s mind. Davenport and Prusak (1998: 5) write that “knowledge exists within people, part and parcel of human complexity and unpredictability”. Because of these human aspects, knowledge is embedded in an individual’s personal, subjective mental space and is strongly related to an individual’s psychological features, volition, motivation and emotional intelligence, where emotional intelligence is sometimes even more important than traditional intelligence (Pasha & Pasha, 2009).

          Meredith and his colleagues represent human knowledge as residing in a three dimensional space. These dimensions are (Meredith et al., 2000):

  1. Cognition – conscious play of words and images through our mind;
  2. Affect – feelings and mood;
  3. Conation – connects cognition and affect to behavior.

            As they say, these dimensions come from the traditional model of human mental processes espoused by philosophers and psychologists.

          The three processes or dimensions are closely interwoven. Each process pervades the other to a great extent. The same external stimulus results in responses from all three processes. None of the three exists in a vacuum without the other two. Since knowledge is at least cognitively based, it is impossible to know something without having an affect and conative reaction to it, these reactions adding to and becoming a part of knowledge (Meredith et. al., 2000).

          Much about the personal element in knowledge can be found in Michael Polanyi’s writings. For example, his book ‘Personal Knowledge’ is especially devoted to this subject.  However, Polanyi was not the first to recognize this personal element in knowledge. In the ‘Transcendental Analytic’, Kant argues that into all acts of judgment there must enter a personal decision that cannot be accounted for by rules (Karori, 1998).

Another important aspect is, as Polanyi (1964) indicates, that ‘personal’ does not definitely mean ‘subjective’. There is a connection between the individual’s world and reality. Polanyi (1964) calls it ‘universal intent’ which is an effort to uncover a hidden reality.

          Polanyi (1964) says that when we claim to know anything, we are in fact tacking a risk. Any act of factual knowing “presupposes somebody who believes he knows what is being believed to know. This person is taking a risk in asserting something, at least tacitly, about something believed to be real outside himself” (Polanyi 1964: 313). According to Karori (1998) this statement by Polanyi means “that we don’t have strict criteria of telling when we have made contact with the hidden reality. So, although our claims are made with ‘universal intent’, this does not guarantee their truth”.

          However, Nonaka (1991) asserted that personal knowledge—expressed in a universally comprehensible language—could be synthesized from the ineffable tacit capacity ‘to know’. Nonaka and his colleagues (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Nonaka, Toyama & Konno, 2000; Nonaka, Toyama & Hirata, 2008) have claimed that the authenticity of personal knowledge is ‘in the eye of the beholder’: it is merely a matter of personal preference—which begs questions about solipsism and institutionalization of trust. Yet, Radical Constructivism insists that knowledge (no matter how it is defined) is in the heads of persons and the knowing subject has no alternative other than to construct what he or she knows using his or her experience (Glasersfeld, 2002, p. 1).

          This debate of personal knowledge could not be concluded without discussing Ray’s point of view about making sense of personal knowledge. He says, “Rational interaction with others involves conceding an intersubjective reality. The sense that we make of communication with other people has to be more or less compatible with ‘the world as they see it’. Children are born ‘knowing more than they can tell’, but mastering the ability to speak does not enable them to ‘tell what they know’. While language cannot stand in place of what the knower knows, it can be used as a tool for constructing intersubjectively viable accounts of experiential reality—including the precise and reliable predictions developed by scientists. Without intersubjectively viable communication with others, I could not construct myself as ‘me’. And I could not ask how I perceive myself. While the construction of my Gestalt perceptions of me differs from other people’s Gestalt perceptions of me, without others there would be no me. Moreover, no one’s Gestalt perception can be reduced to its putative parts: knowing is always more than telling.”   (Ray, 2009: p.28).

          He further maintains, “I have no recollection of what happened before I learned to speak and could not comment, objectively, on how trust shaped my knowing and learning. As the subject—not the object—of my experience, I could never be objective about the putative ‘parts’ of trust that may shape my capacity to act and think. Nor could I claim privileged access to a ‘private self’ that commands and controls my ‘voluntary actions’. Contrary to North’s model of institutions, I could never be wholly explicit about putative ‘rules’ that shape my actions and thoughts. I know such things in ways I cannot tell: the power of institutions to shape my capacity to know and learn is imagined.” (Ray, 2009: p.29).  

          So, personal knowledge can be defined as a set of facts, rules, heuristics intuitions, etc. which an individual uses in trying to accomplish a certain task in a given environment. This knowledge can be in different form embrained (conceptual, implicit), embodied (tacit, implicit), encultured (shared beliefs), embedded (in processes) or encoded (symbolic, external)  (Blackler, 1995).