“When I use a word it means exactly what I want it to mean.”
– Humpty Dumpty.
There has been further discussion at actKM about the definition of “knowledge”. One contributor gave this definition: “Knowledge is solutions to problems”. I disagree with this definition – I see it as too narrow.
This seems to ignore the use of knowledge in creativity and innovation, but it was further stated that these can also be viewed as just a different form of problem resolution. Joe Firestone stated that “non-routine creative learning is a response to a problem.” I struggle to accept this point of view. This is stretching the meaning of “problem” a long way. I do accept that creativity in the business world may be seen to be more limited than in pure art. (Is it always? Should it be?)
It seems to me that “problem” is usually used as a negative term (particularly by business decision-makers). It carries the linguistic image of something unpleasant that requires (possibly unpleasant) effort to resolve. It is because of this baggage that we come up with encouragements to see “problems as opportunities” – we need another word to help us see the potentially positive side.
Even the use of “solution” can also lead to misunderstanding. To view all challenges as problems that require solutions is to deny the complex nature of much of our work. This is at the heart of the Cynefin framework. Sometimes the best application of knowledge is to make small interventions, not necessarily to provide a complete solution.
It is often difficult to precisely define words in the English language – they can be very slippery beasts. I prefer to be less prescriptive in my definition of knowledge, and I would not want to restrict it to (my view of) the more common understanding of “problem”.
To be useful, a word must be understood in the same way by both the speaker and the listener. Of course, if you explain what you mean, then you can agree on definitions, but this takes time – a luxury we don’t always have…
“The chief cause of problems is solutions.”
– Eric Sevareid, 1970