It’s a Round World After All–Laurence Prusak in Harvard Business Review

The world is round after all, according to
Laurence Prusak writing in the Harvard Business Review. His essay makes the
point that access to information is not the same as knowledge. The distinction,
he writes, is critical.

Access to information is not the same thing as knowledge, and this is a critical distinction according to Laurence Prusak who writes in an essay, “The World is Round,” in the Harvard Business Review. His point is one I need to hear because it’s too easy for writers like me to consider access to information as a sufficient virtue in itself. It isn’t, according to Prusak. And his point is well made.

His reference to the world being round is in direct contrast to Thomas Friedman’s phrase, “the world is flat.” Being connected globally–the flattening of the world–isn’t enough, Prusak says. Interconnection is more about having access to information, but information is not knowledge.

Information, says Prusak, is a one-dimensional message bound by constraints of form–a photo, document, recipe or symphony score. It is what it is, a packaged message . But what it is not, Prusak says, is knowledge. Knowledge is the assimilation and connection of information through experience, often over the course of many years, as in the training of a surgeon or other high-skilled professionals.

Knowledge results from this assimilation and connecting of information through apprenticeship or mentoring. Prusak reminds me of the writings of Dr. Tex Sample who also says apprenticeship and mentoring are part of the role of the Christian community in forming people in lives of justice, service and ministry. In Sample’s phrase, which he borrows from the New Testament, it’s “pitching tent.” It’s being with people, interacting and mentoring over time. It’s relationship and accountability.

I don’t mean to imply that Sample and Prusak are writing about the same idea; they aren’t. The similarity is one I’m drawing at some risk, I suppose. But the point is clear. Technology apart from mentoring and relationship is simply technology. Information apart from experience and insight is merely information. Knowledge occurs over long periods of time, through assimilation of information, experience and reflection. It results in deeper insight and awareness of the importance of information, and it leads to skills that surpass information itself.

It’s a result of interaction and, at best, of community.

Being connected is important, but connection alone doesn’t lead to the kind of knowledge that results in skill, insight, and meaningful experience. Prusak makes an important distinction that I will remember. In the final analysis, I hazard to add, he reminds me that people and community matter.

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