08 February 2010

Knowledge complexity and the complexity of knowledge

The Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International was founded on the conviction that knowledge, learning and service are essential ingredients to professional growth, development, satisfaction and well-being. Knowledge supercedes data, evidence and information. Data leads to information, information is transformed into knowledge, and making meaning of that knowledge leads to development of philosophy and wisdom. Hopefully, wisdom supports sustainability and the greater good. My ideas about knowledge complexity and the complexity of knowledge have been greatly influenced by the work of Verna Allee.

Verna Allee has skillfully integrated all of these dimensions about knowledge into what she calls the Knowledge Complexity Archetype/Framework. I enjoy exploring Allee’s Knowledge Management Library. Her masterful synthesis of a variety of models and theories enables one to appreicate how knowledge and learning modes are connected to action and performance. I think the knowledge complexity archetype expands and deepens our notions about knowledge, learning and, ultimately, service. I am not sure the founders of the honor society fully realized the depth and breadth of their vision when they dedicated themselves to knowledge, learning and service as fundamental values for the community they intended to create.

Each of the dimensions or levels in Allee’s Knowledge Complexity Archetype requires a different mode of learning and has a different action and performance focus, as well as a variable time perspective. For example, data gathering requires instinctual sensing and learning with moment-to-moment attention and awareness. Information requires attention to single-loop learning and involves procedural adherence. Double-loop learning is required for doing things the best way because self-conscious reflection is required. Beyond knowledge, meaning-making becomes important in the context of relationships and trends, so communal learning is fostered. Communal learning fosters self-organization and development of philosophies that support pattern recognition, creativity and generative learning in service of a greater sense of community.

Perhaps, you are curious enough to study the Knowledge Complexity Framework Easy Reference Chart. As you do, ask yourself the following questions:

Where on the knowledge complexity archetype do I spend most of my time and attention?
What learning mode is most comfortable for me?
Do I spend time gathering information and conforming to standards trying to do something in the most efficient way or am I wanting to do it the best way?
How do I understand what promotes or impedes effectiveness?
Do I generally see where an activity fits into the whole picture?
How does my learning influence my sense of integrity and purpose management?
When do I take time to reflect and consider all the complexities of knowledge in the greater contexts of universal understandings?

I think the knowledge complexity archetype is a useful tool for reflecting on how best we engage in practice, education and research, and how each of these contexts can benefit from a deeper understanding of the complexity of knowledge. I am very grateful to Verna Allee for expanding my understanding and challenging me to think about all of these complexities.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.