I recently had to upgrade to a new computer. When I say “had to” I don’t mean that I was coerced, or that my old computer died. But it became apparent that my 5 year-old computer was not keeping up with the information or processes I was handling.
Fortunately, I have access to top-notch computer advice (my son, Dan) It was actually Dan who pointed out the need and the opportunity for improvement. “Dad, you need a new computer”. This leads me to two observations:
1) As Dr. Deming often said, “A system cannot understand itself. An outside view is required.” Dan provided the outside view, otherwise I would probably still be writing this blog (and trying to do many other things) on my old computer.
2) Perhaps you have heard the term “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”? I heard about this approximately one year ago from a physician who was describing the variation among his colleagues (of different ages) regarding interest in and capability to work with computers. Digital natives are people (like my kids) who grew up with this technology and for them, it is intuitive – their first language. The rest of us are “digital immigrants”, which means we can learn the language and some can become proficient, but we will always have an accent.
I think that my first introduction to the connection between lean thinking and information technology was through reading a book co-authored by friend and colleague, Mike Orzen. This is a useful book that I recommend.
A second milestone on my understanding was through discussions with friend and colleague, Julie Bartels who leads up the Clinical Business Intelligence Network at the ThedaCare Center For Healthcare Value. Julie agreed to an impromptu youtube video describing the connection between lean thinking and clinical information.
This interview contains some very helpful insights, including the key role for top management to really understand what this (lean) is all about. I highly recommend that you listen to the interview.
Dr. Deming often pointed out that information is not the same as knowledge. For instance, knowing the capitals of all of the 50 states is information, but it is not knowledge. Knowing why St. Paul became the capital of Minnesota is knowledge. It helps us to predict the future (the attributes of a state capital). He also pointed out that having the latest information will not lead to improvement (or survival) for individuals or for businesses. Here are some excerpts from his 1993 book, “The New Economics“:
“Information is not knowledge. We are today in possession of instant communication with any part of the world. Unfortunately, speed does not help anyone to understand the future and the obligations of management. Many of us deceive ourselves into the supposition that we need constant updating to cope with the rapidly changing future. But you can not, by watching every moment of television, or by reading every newspaper, acquire a glimpse of what the future holds. To put it another way, information, no matter how complete and speedy, is not knowledge. Knowledge has temporal spread.
“Knowledge comes from theory. Without theory, there is no way to use the information that comes to us on the instant. A dictionary contains information, but not knowledge. A dictionary is useful. I use a dictionary frequently when at my desk, but the dictionary will not prepare a paragraph nor criticize it.”
“An ounce of information is worth a pound of data. Data are symbols that represent the properties of objects and events. They are to information what iron ore is to iron: nothing can be done with data until they are processed into information.
“Information also consists of symbols that represent the properties of objects and events, but these are symbols that have been processed into a potentially useful message. Information is contained in descriptions; answers to questions that begin with such words as who, where, when, what, and how many. Most relevant information can be condensed significantly without loss of content. Irrelevant information can be condensed to zero without loss of content. Therefore, filtration and condensation are the two most important processes that can be applied to information. These, however, are considered to be irrelevant by those who provide managers with information. For them value and volume are synonymous.
“And ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information. Knowledge is contained in instructions, answers to how to questions. To know that a car won’t run is information; to know how to make it work when it doesn’t is knowledge. But knowledge presupposes information just as information presupposes data. Without the information that a car needs fixing, relevant knowledge would not be applied to it. The function of knowledge is to enable one to make efficient choices between alternatives revealed by information. Knowledge also provides criteria for determining the relevance of information; it identifies the information required to use what is known. So information and knowledge, like Punch and Judy, presuppose each other, have no practical value when separated from each other except on quiz shows and examinations given in schools. What an individual knows becomes organizational knowledge only when it is accessible to anybody else in the organisation who has a need for it, even if the source of that knowledge is no longer part of the organisation.
“An ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge. Understanding is contained in explanations, answers to why questions. To know how a car works is knowledge; to know why it was designed to work the way it does is understanding. Knowledge of how a thing works requires knowing its structure, how its parts interact. Understanding the nature of a thing means knowing its functions in the larger systems it is part of. For example, a car’s function could be: to enable people to go from one place to another on land under their control and in privacy. It is part of a transportation system. The function of the accelerator is to serve the function of the car, hence the purpose of the driver. Knowledge lets us make things work; understanding lets us make things work the way we want them to. The function of a corporation is to create and distribute wealth in the society it operates in and to promote the development of its stakeholders and that society. Productive employment is the only way known to man of simultaneously producing and distributing wealth. All other ways of distributing wealth consume it.
“An ounce of wisdom is worth a pound of knowledge. This makes an ounce of wisdom worth 65,536 ounces of data, using the previous three f-Laws. Wisdom is contained in value statements, e.g. aphorisms and proverbs. It lets us perceive and evaluate the long-term as well as short-term consequences of what we do. It induces us to want to pursue things of lasting value. It enables us to make short-run sacrifices for long-run gains. It prevents our sacrificing the future for the present. Knowledge enables us to make things work; understanding enables us to make things work the way we want; wisdom enables us to want the ‘right’ things, things that increase our ability to obtain what we and others need and want. Information, knowledge and understanding enable us to do things right, to be efficient, but wisdom enables us to do the right things, to be effective. Science pursues data, information, knowledge and understanding: what is truth; but the humanities pursue wisdom: what is right.”