Knowledge: 3 styles of creating it

Written by Sumeet Kukar

Hello! I'm Sumeet, a Learning Nibbler. I like to find bite-sized learning in everyday things and share these to enhance critical-thinking. *Fusing cyber, digital strategy, risk and technology for a resilient tomorrow*

June 22, 2023

“Training programs are largely focused on sharing existing knowledge – skills that already exist. But in a rapidly changing world, existing knowledge quickly becomes obsolete. We need to broaden our definition of “learning” to include creating new knowledge.” (What motivates lifelong learners; Hagel J. Harvard Business Review, 2021).

When I read this section in the HBR Organisational Learning section, I have been reflecting on the creation of knowledge. Something that we perhaps have been doing naturally without much thought.

Hagel wrote the above piece with respect to the workplace, emphasising how traditional participation in upskilling programs is insufficient in the presence of heightened technological change. In this article, I will share some of my personal experiences and observations across the industry and classify three themes of new knowledge creation.

What is knowledge and how do you create it?

Firstly, a quick recap… Cambridge defines knowledge as the “understanding of or information about a subject that you get by experience or study, either known by one person or by people generally” (Meaning of knowledge in English; Cambridge Dictionary).

I won’t touch on the organisational knowledge pursuit, building competitive advantage, implicit/explicit knowledge or knowledge models. These have been covered extensively elsewhere so feel free to browse at your own pace.

Great, so you’ve got knowledge management and the need covered. My thinking has been around what styles foster knowledge creation and how does it practically work in the industry?

The 3 styles of knowledge creation

Style 1: The Paradigm shift

The first style is the paradigm shift. Often taught to us in physics, this refers to a drastic change in the way we view a certain theory or model. For example, using classical physics to explain planetary movements and objects at large scale is great. However, moving to the particle and sub-atomic level, it was necessary to shift that thinking with a quantum model.

Quantum physics particles to explain a paradigm shift in creating knowledge.
Quantum physics particles; Altmann G.

How has this played out in various industries? Take the healthcare industry. With time we understood the waning nature of some types of immunisation and needed to move to a booster model. The accounting and finance industry. With big corporate failures like Enron and OneTel, it was clear that the old thinking of an Income Statement and a Statement of Financial Position was not enough to provide a complete financial picture. Pick up any company annual report now and you will see a Statement of Cash Flows along with detailed notes.

When we observe something in our workplace or industry and unpack different behaviours or results from what we’re used to seeing, then it is likely we are prompted to drastically change our models and frameworks. This style of knowledge creation is underpinned by a paradigm shift.

When we observe something in our workplace or industry and unpack different behaviours or results from what we’re used to seeing, then it is likely we are prompted to drastically change our models and frameworks. This style of knowledge creation is underpinned by a paradigm shift.

Where are you seeing the need for a paradigm shift in your industry? Here is a thought… as companies adopt blockchain technology, how does a classical external auditor’s strategy shift around testing based on the cut-off assertion? Would this differ from company to company depending on the blockchain’s consensus algorithm in place?

Style 2: The translation (or adaptation)

Next up we have the translation or adaptation as I often like to call it. How often do you study one discipline and think to yourself, what if I could apply this model in another industry? Or maybe use it as a basis for explaining it in a different way that is easier to comprehend?

Let’s look at the cyber security industry. Metaphorically, I always like to use the house model or analogy when it comes to explaining key security domains. If you wanted to break into a house you wouldn’t drive through the wall, but rather try entering from the doors or windows as these are entry points. Similarly, doors and windows are entry points to a house like ports are the entry points to a computer or system. Defending systems and networks in cyber security then follows this allegory. Locking the doors, fencing, CCTV associates to physical security. Monitoring potential break-in activity around other neighbourhoods enables us to comprehend principles of threat management. Managing whom goes in and out of the house can help us grasp the field of identity and access management. Managing the keyring with different keys can be used to explain concepts of cryptography. Here, a simple metaphor can adapt knowledge on to others in different fields.

A lake cottage as a metaphor for translating or adapting new knowledge.
Lake cottage by the water; Winkler F.

Where do you see opportunities for translation or adaptation, whether it be metaphorical or taking models from a different industry? I’m not sure which side adopted it first, but think of the medical field and the agile methodology. Combining these and walking through a hospital, we see patients getting triaged in the emergency room and then allocated to different departments based on the injury or ailment. This makes patient treatment and prioritisation based on criticality much more effective. That same triage concept works well in cyber security when dealing with incoming security incidents.

Style 3: Old math

Have you seen the movie Hidden Figures? In one of the scenes we see the character of Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P Henson, looking at the calculations on the board with her fellow colleagues at NASA. She then has a moment, stating that it’s not new math but perhaps “old math”, whereby she points out the use of Euler’s method to approximate the spacecraft’s descent and re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Katherine Johnson in the Hidden Figures using Euler's method, or old math knowledge to solve new problems.
17 Best Hidden Figures quotes, Blair G. ScreenRant, 2022

How has this played out in the workplace? Consider the marketing industry. As social media and technology in general have brought about significant change in our marketing channels, we have seen a move from print advertising towards digital marketing. However, the measures of success and return on investment still use the same formulae, albeit in another context. This same method or formula applied in a different context is what constitutes old math.

This same method or formula applied in a different context is what constitutes old math.

Where else do you think we will be applying old math or techniques in a different context? If marketing was taken to the metaverse environment, would the metrics measured and the critical success factors be the same, i.e. the level of engagement with the content or advertisement?

Final thoughts

These three styles are what I’ve been observing around different industries. What have you been seeing? As you consciously start to reflect, what styles of knowledge creation do you adopt? You can also read more on upskilling in “All things upskilling: Are you on track for 2025 (Part 1)”.

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