Einstein’s elegant equation of his special theory of relativity linking energy, matter and speed rocked the scientific establishment. It challenges notions of absolute time and space towards ones that are relative, depending on the observer.
I think that it is also an excellent mathematical equation for describing knowledge management. Many of you who know me may wonder why I am going against my previous statements on the troubles with measuring knowledge and reducing complex things down to the bare essentials. Quite true, but it’s an interesting exercise anyway. Here goes:
Sveiby has defined knowledge as “the capacity to act“. In this sense, it has an energetic dimension. I remember from high school physics that you can have kinetic energy (an object is moving so that it can perform work on something else) and potential energy (such as an object on top of a cliff that might not be moving but could do work with its potential capacity if it is unleashed). Both are like knowledge in an organisation – the potential for work to be done either by knowledge in an action or flow or knowledge that is not being used currently but has the potential to be used.
Knowledge as energy! But what then of the m and c you ask? Well m of course is meaning. Knowledge won’t work unless it has some meaning. Some might say that this is circular – knowledge is only knowledge if it has meaning – otherwise it is just data or information. True, but it also demonstrates the strong positive relationship between the two – if I can enhance the meaning to people (through story or through process or through rewards), then the value of the knowledge and its potential energy is increased.
Meaning – that’s easy I hear you say. What about the c? And how are you going to square it? Well c stands for connections. And it’s not just about knowledge energy being increased when connecting people to information (through technology or content management systems for example) but also connecting people to people (such as through CoPs, shared visions, narrative or simple email systems). Both sets of connections are important – hence why connections squared. There are obvious links here to Metcalfe’s Law of the Networked Economy.
Simple then, isn’t it? E=mc2. Knowledge energy (or the value of knowledge) is dependent on meaning, connecting people to information, and connecting people to people. Cover all three bases and your knowledge energy will exponentially grow!