Posted by: arieliondotcom | January 6, 2010

The Way of the Wise: Knowledge Management and the Wise Men

THE WAY OF THE WISE: Knowledge Management and the Wise Men

While thinking about Epiphany this morning I realized that the Gospel story of the Wise Men gives good lessons in Knowledge Management.

According to Webster’s dictionary, wisdom includes: “accumulated philosophic or scientific learning: knowledge; the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; insight; good sense; judgment; generally accepted belief”, all within the purview of Knowledge Management. I would add the distinction from knowledge that wisdom includes the incorporation of these lessons into improvement of the quality of (or even sustainment of) life.

The Bible story of Matthew 2:1-12 tells about “wise” men from the east coming to Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews. The translation of “wise” is a transliteration of the Persian word “magus”, where we get our word “magic” or “magician.” This practice was forbidden by Jewish law, yet these men came seeking to worship the newly born king of the Jewish people. This infers that “magus” doesn’t mean “hocus-pocus” magic but higher knowledge or power. This probably also accounts for calling the wise men “kings” because of the similarity of the word to the Latin roots for sovereign or king (majesty).

Whether they were wise in practice other than in their arts before they came to Jerusalem, they proved themselves wise once they got there because these men put good Knowledge Management (KM) practices to work.

First, they all came to see for themselves. Firsthand observation is important in KM and although one man would have sufficed to identify the new Jewish king, they all came to see for themselves.

Later in the life of JESUS (John 1:46) Nathanael’s response to a friend who scoffs at Nathanael’s claim that JESUS, being from Nazareth, could be the long-awaited rescuer of Israel is “Come and see.” This “Come and see”, principle of KM is assisted by the “magic” of technology today, where we can “see” new processes, collaborate and innovate over the internet virtually anywhere at any time. The benefit is that each individual can interact with new information within his or her own context which always has the potential to spark new knowledge in innovative ways.

The second KM principle these wise men used was that they came prepared. They brought their gifts with them, not knowing whether they would find the object of their search or not. And a subset of this same KM skill of preparation is to be open to innovation of new approaches to what you are seeking to learn/know/implement.

“If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies to knowledge and innovation as well. The star which had started their search by indicating the birth of the new king was temporarily put aside. Assuming the new king would be known to, and in the presence of, the old king, they went where a king would be expected to be. However, seeing this was not the case they were quick to accept new ways to achieve their goals. They trusted the new (star) which was actually a confirmation of prior information (prophesies).

JESUS dealt with a similar situation of innovation changing expectations with John the Baptist. John had predicted the coming of JESUS and was telling others of Him. But when John became imprisoned and was not delivered by JESUS, he sent folks to double-check. As if to say “Umm…I wasn’t expecting this whole get locked up for what you believe thing.” He sent asking whether JESUS really was the expected deliverer or not. The question JESUS asks of John’s followers is an important one for KM, too: “What did you expect to see?” Many times your expectations and personal agenda will filter information and experience. JESUS called John’s followers, as well as His own followers, including John, not to be trapped by their preconceived notions of what the Messiah was “supposed” to be from tradition, but who He was foretold to be by Scripture and experienced to be in personal relationship.

KM requires that we acknowledge our expectations and be prepared to experience information in a new, personal way.

The final KM practice these wise men used was that having found what they wanted to know, they acted upon it. They worshipped the child JESUS, and their outward act made their “head” (intrinsic) knowledge into an outward (extrinsic) manifestation that others could learn from as well. By worshipping and giving the gifts they brought for the “King of the Jews” to this child, they made a life-changing decision. And as a result others could begin the KM processes of:

– Seeing for themselves
– Seeing beyond filters
– Putting observation into practice

for themselves.

When JESUS meets a Samaritan woman by a well, there is a rare moment where He lets her know that He is the Messiah. She goes and invites others to meet this man who told her everything she ever did. They do come and meet Him and (in John 4:42) say “We no longer only believe because of what you said but now we see for ourselves”, that He was whom He claimed to be. They saw for themselves, they looked beyond the filter of this woman’s claims in the context of her outcast lifestyle, and they put their observances and beliefs into practice for themselves.

A frequently quoted problem in KM is that although there are plenty of Lessons Learned available, the same errors are made over and over again because the lessons learned are not followed, the After-Action Reviews (AARs) not heeded. One wonders what would happen if we treated Scripture as AARs and AARs as Scripture.

Perhaps we’d find ourselves wiser for the effort as we use KM to:

– See for ourselves (through technology in our own context)

– See beyond the filter of our expectations and trust those who were there

– Put our observations and those of the past into practice

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