The Acquisition of Understanding

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu's quote concerns our ability to understand both ourselves and the world around us. Our ability to understand the world around us lies in our ability to make sense of the information we collect through our sensors (eyes, ears, nose, etc.) and through the tools we create (information systems, media, smart technologies, etc.). This is important because it, the understanding we gain, provides the means for making meaningful decisions. The three pillars of any decision includes the data we collect, which gives way to the information we produce, and leads further to the knowledge we infer. Although mutually supporting, the three pillars of good decision-making bear a difference worth highlighting.

Data represents those individual facts about the world around us that hold little value by themselves. Such facts include the temperature and declining market data. Without context, facts are simple facts. Placed within the context of say a specific event, a collection of facts can be processed to produce information about that specific event.

The difference between information and knowledge lies in its value. Information is simply the integration of various pieces of collected data. For instance, the temperature and declining market data, placed within the context of the agriculture industry, may highlight important information concerning the impact of weather conditions on the production of food.

Knowledge is the application of individual expertise used to make sense of the information in whatever context we find ourselves in. In our running example an expert from the agriculture industry may place current weather conditions within the context of historical weather conditions and forecasted weather conditions to determine the long-term impacts on the production of crops.

The integration of knowledge with individual expertise, leads to some degree of understanding. The actions we take or the decisions we make represent the applications of some degree of understanding gained through this process of moving from data to decisions. The knowledge gained in the running example may lead to a decision to adjust the prices of specific food items. Moving from simple facts to degrees of understanding results from the application of management. Management is simply the set of processes we use to control the flow of information as we move from data to decisions.

The Three Pillars of Decision-making

Data Management
Data represents the first level within the information hierarchy. Data management represents the first stage in the process of moving from data to decisions. Data are simply the facts about our environment. Examples of data include measures of the atmospheric temperature, the grid location of a threat, or even a vehicle's tire pressure. As unprocessed facts, data can only offer a limited idea of what is going on in our environment. However, identifying the relationships that exists between disparate pieces of data can often provide additional clarity, offering a more informed idea of what is going on in our environment. The act of identifying relationships between disparate pieces of data starts the process of transforming data into information.

Information Management
Information represents the second level within the information hierarchy. Information management represents the second stage in the process of moving from data to decisions. Information can be derived from simple to complex arrangements of data that represent the various systems we interact with within our environment. The more complex the interactions amongst data, the more valuable the information they produce can be. At this level in the information hierarchy, the process by which we manage information is extremely important. It is by the sometimes complicated processes used to manage information that we increase the value of the information we produce, which in turn paves the way for developing knowledge. This process includes actions such as analyzing and disseminating information.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge represents the third level within the information hierarchy. Knowledge management represents the third stage in the process of moving from data to decisions. Developing knowledge requires the expertise of people. Expertise is developed over time and the people who have it come from various backgrounds with varying degrees of education and experience. When leveraged, expertise allows the decision-maker to gain insight from a collection of information.

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