In yet another long actKM discussion between Joe Firestone and David Snowden, Alan Dyer recently wondered whether an upended box of matchsticks on the floor was complex or chaos. I wrote back stating that it was just a heap but if someone came along and rearranged them then it would be an artifact.
Let’s extend the comment from Stephen Bounds that “once the potential energy is dissipated, then as Luke says, they’re just a heap” into the knowledge arena.
Joe Firestone’s blog title is “All life is problem solving”. A different purpose as quoted by Scott Sampson in a chapter in the book “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” states:
“The purpose of life is to disperse energy.”
My wife and I gave a presentation which took a rather different and somewhat eccentic perspective on KM at the 2006 actKM conference when we talked about knowledge energies and the energy of knowledge. In summary, we took the view that knowledge has properties that have the potential to unleash energy if tapped and also contain the properties of flow and dynamics that can be observed in well-run knowledge processes in teams. Energy flows in organisations like meridian channels in bodies (that are used in acupuncture) – unseen, difficult to objectively measure, and that when blocked require some form of appropriate therapy.
This perspective links to chaos and complexity. If the purpose of a complex or chaotic system is to disperse the energy within it, then it can be surmised that the un-ordered nature of these systems provide significant opportunities for the release of large amounts of energy (for niceness or evil!). The increasing complexity in modern organisations is from attempts to grab more of the energy in the system and harness its potential. So within emergence and chaos lie the energy of opportunity and innovation whereas within order lies a far more limited, prescribed and linear energetic channel. Both are useful and context-sensitive – hence the power of the Cynefin framework as a social sense-making tool to identify those possibilities and engage people in exploring those opportunities.