Knowledge, Innovation, Value and Wisdom

I inadvertently derailed a wonderful thread on MOCs a while back, and with the topic coming back up just now in the great thread on the IMF/LYT system, I figured I’d open this topic so as to divert any such discussion from that thread, as well as have a dedicated place to openly discuss/debate such things.

This graphic largely summarizes what I was getting at in both other threads

It is my sense and observation that in this PKM space (and, frankly, the general world) that people are living and working (at best) in the middle pane. Even when they do venture into the Insight one - selecting specific ideas as valuable and worthy of development - it is not clear that they are actually valuable. A cursory glance at our fractured and ever-heating world should make it clear that most “innovations” are really “misinnovations”, at best.

What I suggest is that people take a humble pause in their idea formation and development and ask “is this even valuable”? The immediate answer will almost always be “yes”, but is it really? What does “value” even mean? To whom, where, when, why?

The world is quite clearly just one massive network map of network maps - everything is interconnected. Certainly all people, but also all things - be it cows, fungi, lithium or limestone - through our collective interaction and supply chains that we’ve built in the world.

I submit that for something to be valuable to anyone, it has to be valuable to everyone/everything. And not just people now, but people in the future - our abundance now might be resource depletion for future generations. So, I suggest that we always look at the world through a “Harmony filter” and use that to decide which individual dots become Insights that are worth cultivating and developing.

Again, this takes Humility - the fundamental force for anything good - more than anything, to be able to objectively assess whether what you think is valuable is actually valuable, and to change your mind and direction in favor of harmony accordingly. It takes courage and “sacrifice”, but I submit that the only true sacrifice is to not put yourself into harmony with the broader system - we sell ourselves insofar as we operate in selfish independence from it.

Times are scary right now, yet its also a tremendous opportunity for change with the collective slate somewhat wiped clean. The only way forward is for people to choose harmony - I truly hope this thread can generate some discussion and inspiration to help do that.


Ah, I love the DIKW framework. You’re right—it is a great way of defining value in terms of PKM.

(Trivia: I think Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom originated with Russell Ackoff, a seminal author in cybernetics/systems sciences. Here’s the original essay.)

I also appreciate how Liz Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers expand on the use of DIKW in generative research (e.g., arguably, PKM)—in particular, how to fit ideas and vision into the DIKW framing.

Another pull from the literature: All of this is really in service of sensemaking—which is literally a discipline, one I didn’t know existed until I went to design school. An instructive article is this one by Jon Kolko.

(As it happens, I created a DIKW map to guide my research on innovation!


Thanks very much for all the links - I will definitely be checking them out in the near future and will follow-up with some thoughts. I’ll let others chime in here in the meantime.

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I’ll just add this - a “Harmonized” version of your Innovation Process Model

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And, with respect to this diagram:

While its certainly helpful for thinking about new innovations, the essence of what I’m talking about here - getting to the root of Value and Harmony - is the opposite of “innovation” or “theorizing”: we have problems, be they personal or societal, insofar as we ignore the lessons that have already been well-defined in the world’s great, ancient traditions of wisdom. What we need is less striving for “technology” and more humility and harmony.

I would point anyone who is interested in this to two people in particular:

EF Schumacher - a famous economist, philosopher and creator of harmony

Joseph Campbell - a famous academic and popularizer of Mythology


All of the bacon, Ryan. All of it.

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Thanks for all the references! Always looking to add new ideas to the reading list. The challenge for me is that I like to see these ideas operate in the wild. By that I mean that talking about “Knowledge Management”, capital K, capital M — never mind “Personal” — is less interesting than seeing examples of how people have actually made breakthroughs by cross-polinating ideas from different fields. I’m now more attuned to seeing this in people’s descriptions of their own advancement, the most recent example for me being a podcast by Eric Weinstein describing a cross between evolutionary biology and cancer research leading to a new understanding of the relationship between telomeres and cell sonesence in mice. This is well outside my field of expertise, but the mental process looks exactly like that described by Asimov on innovation. I’m currently noodling on how to add more knowledge at a level that doesn’t win Nobel Prizes, but provides the seeds for new ideas relative to the stuff that I do know well.


I agree completely. I’m fairly allergic to the whole PKM space (and, really, any “space”/community - especially internet-based ones) - its mostly focused on the endless collection and organization of, at best, knowledge and not insight, much less wisdom - which, by necessity, requires actions in the world.

But, at the same time, I think that there’s a massive problem of people reveling in the self-description of being “doers” - the negative consequence of which is apparent everywhere you look.

What we need is for “thinkers” to have a higher vision and standard for their thinking and goals - going beyond just thinking and advancing “knowledge” for the sake of it - while also slowing down the “doers” to think about which technologies, processes, relationships etc… should actually exist in the world.

Again, Humility is #1: nothing good, be it learning, courage, love, etc…, can come without it. And then, by virtue of humility, having a focus beyond our meager selves towards harmony.

This doesn’t mean that we should always have a specific, tangible thing in mind - great advancements are often (always?) a product of curiosity and serendipity - but there still needs to be some forethought regarding which things we should be dabbling and experimenting with.

I think that a good metric for knowing if you’re properly on the harmonious path is, as Campbell, who I linked to, liked to say: “Follow your Bliss”. Bliss has been co-opted by the New Age movement so that it doesn’t really mean anything now, but what he meant was more akin to Flow States that the (generally disgraceful) Positive Psychology movement has latched onto. What he really means is “Follow your Blisters” - do the difficult things that so thoroughly light you up, that you are willing to sacrifice, bleed and, perhaps even, die for. Yet, clearly a lot of people have done those things in service of the wrong things, so we must frequently return to a harmony-check. At the same time, if you’re on the right path “Sacrifice” loses all meaning and sorrows melt away.

“Those who have a Why to live, can endure almost any How” - Nietzsche, via Viktor Frankl’s “Man Search for Meaning” (both people WELL worth checking out).

A harmonious Why that is beyond yourself is the most crucial thing that anyone can find - with it, all becomes possible and fulfilling. Without it, we suffer. Society seems designed to prevent people from even considering, let alone acting upon, this, thus, as Abraham Maslow has said, " The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short" (another great thinker worth checking out - specifically his final book “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature”, which goes far beyond the Self-Actualization that he is generally associated with into Self-Transcendence.


If harmony and humility was the answer for every individual and the solution to all the various problems in the world, we surely would already live in an utopia.

The world in all it’s complexity isn’t that simple, not at all.

Furthermore, technology already is and most certainly will be solving most global problems.
Together with more, better education and innovation.
Of course also in terms of concepts like humility and value. Which, by the way, I am a big fan of as well.
But how do you expect 11 billion people to be fed without major advancements in agriculture? Asking Africa to practice humility, slowing down their birthrates and eating less? Most certainly not.

For a holistic understanding there are much, much more variables to consider and put into perspective. Again and again for every problem and for every new constellation of events.
The world is a lot more complex than it seems and humans tend to fall into the trap of oversimplifying. I am not really a fan of formulating sentences as definite maxims, it easily leads to misunderstandings and an inflexible conversation.
The most crucial thing for anyone to find, is most certainly different for every person at every given moment in time.

Generally nice thoughts tho. Humility as well as the creation of true value are an indispensable part of a functional future. Fortunately the world is already moving in this direction at a decent pace.

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@nixsee I’ve seen that info graphic but do not understand it. Do you have the source of where it came from or a link to where someone had posted an explanation of it.


Why is that? Humility is the single most lacking thing in the world, because it is the single hardest thing to acquire…

The world in all it’s complexity isn’t that simple, not at all.

Yes it is. But simple doesn’t mean easy.

Furthermore, technology already is and most certainly will be solving most global problems.

That’s not at all evident, especially when technology is the cause of climate change which will kill us all eventually.

But how do you expect 11 billion people to be fed without major advancements in agriculture?

By sharing. For example, I live in Guatemala and know many extraordinarily poor communities who have had their villages and crops burned down because someone wants to build a dam or cut down forests. There’s more than enough space and resources to go around if people would a) share it better and moreover b) reduce what they think they need for a good life - again, humility.

Also, modern agricultural innovations, by and large, are quite destructive to our soil and environment. Fortunately there are trends towards a more harmonious regenerative agriculture process that works with nature’s processes to improve soil health, biodiversity, AND yields. No-till is a start, cover-crops (especially specific ones with deep roots that promote microbial life throughout the soil), etc… Less work and less energy inputs as well.

To say nothing of more robust/resilient food systems - as was on full display in the spring (and probably ongoing) when tens of billions of dollars of crops were literally left in fields to waste, animals slaughtered by the barn-full, etc… because there was nowhere to send them.

Asking Africa to practice humility, slowing down their birthrates and eating less? Most certainly not.

It is well demonstrated that birth rates decline as education and living standards increase. That problem is solved as I described above. And in the context of poor people, as demonstrated, the lack of humility is largely on the side of their oppressors - which is the proper term here (though the poor, as humble as they are, suffer from lack of humility as well, as they are breathing humans).

For a holistic understanding there are much, much more variables to consider and put into perspective. Again and again for every problem and for every new constellation of events. The world is a lot more complex than it seems and humans tend to fall into the trap of oversimplifying.

The most crucial thing for anyone to find, is most certainly different for every person at every given moment in time.

Both quite the opposite. There are no new problems - just read something like Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and you’ll see that people and our problems haven’t changed in the slightest. It is because we overcomplicate things that we suffer.

To take a “PKM” view to all this: Occam’s Razor - make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. Or various formulations of the notion that simplicity is the greatest complexity, and is what any the great scientific theories tend towards - unifications of scattered complexities. Artists do the same. Poets especially.

Fortunately the world is already moving in this direction at a decent pace.

This isn’t even slightly apparent.

I don’t mean to be rude, but for someone who talks of complexity, you really haven’t take a very comprehensive, harmonious, “systems” view at any of the things you’ve said, let alone scratch beyond the surface…

I recommend you check out the various authors that I’ve mentioned, as well as things like regenerative agriculture, systems thinking, etc… There’s no doubt that there’s endless pieces, but they can all fit together quite nicely if we can take a more humble, harmonious approach to it all.

I should also add that none of this means we shouldn’t have ANY new technology - it’ll most certainly be necessary for dealing with many of our problems, such as cleaning oceans, converting waste plastic into useful and durable items, surely innovations in health (though most of our health problems come from ignoring our nature - shit diet, too much stress, no exercise, etc…), etc… But the real source of change will be decidedly un-technological. EF Schumacher, in particular, writes a lot about this. Short and easy, but tremendously insightful, reads. Your name appears to be German, if so, you can probably find copies in his native language, though he was fluent in English so I can’t imagine they’re all that different.

For something even more jarring, consider this eloquent advocation for/defense of indigenous values - people who knew how to live in harmony with the planet.

Or Louis CK’s thoroughly enjoyable take on it.

Finally, George Carlin’s masterclass on all this - the need for humility to live in harmony with a far more powerful nature.


I have no idea where I found it originally - what isn’t clear to you? I’d be happy to try to explain.

If you mean the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom idea, I’m pretty sure it’s Russ Ackoff’s. See the essays I shared above, especially:

But I also like this iteration of that graphic:

(hat-tip to


The problem with this position to me personally is that it lacks a triggering factor that would allow itself to be considered during conscious evaluation of knowledge.

I determine values of my notes (and consequently my knowledge) contextually. Sometimes, it is valuable to me if it bridges a gap and provides an explanation on how things are connected. Sometimes, it is valuable because it captures precisely the nature of a certain phenomenon that I experienced.

Your suggestion seems to be to step back and further question why explanatory power or capturing power is valuable. There’s nothing wrong with this suggestion, but to me these things are evidently valuable, so asking why they are valuable isn’t valuable to me. For this reason, I am having troubles finding your “Harmony Filter” useful in its current state.

Did you read something that caused a profound change in how you the world ? That maybe something worth sharing, because it could bring people closer to your perspective. It may happen that you already adopted such a perspective, which leads to your interpretation of the graphic.

A final remark, the graphic denotes that Wisdom is seeing how two (or more) things connected. I personally would call such a thing Insight. What bugs me about the graphic is that the separation between Knowledge, Insight and Wisdom is not clear. It seems that Knowledge are meaningful information, but what about Insight in relation to Knowledge, and Wisdom in relation to Insight ?

I’ll read what @ryanjamurphy provided, thanks !

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A few quick thoughts.

(1) At some point it’s just a debate about semantics. What one person calls “knowledge” another might call “insight” and another might call a “key concept”, or whatever.

(2) The real point, though, is that there exists some spectrum extending from “raw” observations about something up to “perfected,” refined thinking about the same thing.

(3) The word “spectrum” there is deliberate. Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom are supposed categories, but really it’s a gradient. Whether a thing fits in one category or another is a matter of perspective.

(4) And that perspective is important, too. What might be data to you for one purpose might be wisdom to someone else for a different purpose.

(5) So who cares about this? Why’s it matter? Well, it provides a heuristic for knowledge work. If you are trying to make a decision about something, you probably need to gain clarity about the thing; what has worked before, what is likely to work again, what might be a creative approach to it, what matters about the thing. This is wisdom.

To answer these kinds of questions, you need to know what high-quality evidence exists, what others might have done, what the expected results should look like. This is knowledge.

To answer knowledge-questions, you probably need to synthesize what has been tried, what conclusions have been drawn before, what criteria you might have for good evidence, and so on. This is information.

To develop information, you need to actually collect various examples of what has been tried and what else might be related to the thing at hand. This is data.

To collect data, you need to observe the world. This is the phenomena underlying DIKW. Read/watch/listen/think/feel. Search. Run experiments. Whatever is appropriate to generate the observations you need for data, to collate and organize into information, to synthesize into knowledge, and to use as wisdom.

(6) Of course, the direction can also work in reverse: what data do you have? How can it be combined into information? How might that information be used to synthesize new knowledge? How can that knowledge be used to solve different problems (exaptation) or to identify new problems?

The questions I pose above are arbitrary, off-the-cuff examples, but hopefully it shows how this is useful.


@nixsee I understand the data -> Information -> knowledge -> wisdom pipeline, but I have no clue what the info-graphic itself is trying to say. Is it saying Information is just data with colored dots? Or knowledge is just information that has been connected to each other? Both those are wrong, so I don’t think the info-graphic is as self apparent as people who share it seem to think.

I guess it depends what you mean by “just information that has been connected to each other”. If you are talking about a simple document link in an app, sure, I agree. That is wrong. But it is just a drawing. Not some exhaustive truth or final say. It isn’t trying to be the map for How to Get To Wisdom.

In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph, the author talks a lot about the importance of breadth of experience and knowledge. And how over-specialization can lead to narrowing of thought, or the inaccessibility of silo industries and fields. (If it takes 3 PHDs to understand some field, that knowledge might end up lost some day.) Some of the most adaptable and innovative people worked at the intersection of multiple fields, or took a meandering route to get to where they were going.

Or take his chapter on analogies:

Each time he got stuck, [Johannes] Kepler unleashed a fusillade of analogies. Not just light, heat, odor, currents and boatmen, but optics of lenses, balance scales, a broom, magnets, a magnetic broom, orators gazing at a crowd, and more. He interrogated each one ruthlessly, every time alighting on new questions. - Range by David Epstein

And by connecting these analogies, Kepler invented astrophysics. Let’s apply that to the infographic:

Data - He observed and recorded stars, planets, and Mars’ perplexing orbit at an observatory.
Information - He took tons of notes. He documented how confused he was.
Knowledge - He uses tons of different analogies to connect the data in different ways. He took copious notes and left a breadcrumb trail of his work.
Insight - All planets move in ellipses. From there, he conceived of invisible forces, outside of any experience or language to describe it.
Wisdom - Working with his insights, he invented astrophysics, and connected things, like Mars’ retrograde to the rest of the solar system. He published his findings and forwarded science. Connecting other people to his ideas.

You could choose to view the connected lines as being the publishing or sharing of ideas from one person or field to another. Wisdom unshared is mere insight. Or:

“An idea kept private is as good as one you never had.” - How to Take Smart Notes

By the way, that infographic reminds me a lot of the Back of The Napkin process, Look See, Imagine, Show. (Another great book!)

Those are just some of the associations I’m reminded of when I see some “coloured dots”.


After reading the essay @ryanjamurphy referenced and thinking about it, I have written a summary that maybe useful to people:

—> Start summary

The essay gives an interesting definition on data being properties of objects and events, information being data processed in a more useful form. They are useful in the descriptive function which provide answers to what, when, where, who questions. Knowledge is conveyed in instructions, which answer how-to questions. Understanding is conveyed in explanations, which answer why questions.

Information, knowledge and understanding are grouped together into efficiency, which is not explicitly defined, but is measured relative to a particular objective with regards to how much resources are needed to achieve a certain objective. The value of the objectives is not relevant to efficiency.

However, the value of the objectives is relevant to effectiveness. Effectiveness is evaluated efficiency, or efficiency with respect to a valued outcome.

This is what the essay purports to be the distinction between wisdom and the rest. Wisdom is the ability to increase effectiveness, while intelligence as the ability to increase efficiency (through increasing information, knowledge and understanding).

—> end summary

This illustrates more clearly my disagreement with what is @nixsee proposes to be valuable. Which also brings shifts my attentions towards this:

I understand what you mean. However, how would you extend to this point to take into account the epistemic role of value in distinguishing between different resolutions of this spectrum of thinking about something ?

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If I’m accurately following your question, it’s all about why you’re doing the work. Someone trying to understand the relationship between Veeries’ migration patterns and the strength of the upcoming hurricane season might be looking for information, knowledge, and wisdom from bird migration and number of hurricanes (the data). But another person trying to investigate Earth’s complex systems might use the paper explaining the Veeries’ ability to predict hurricanes as data for their own thesis on the connectedness of everything.

“Value” is generated whenever you combine some set of inputs to travel “up” the spectrum towards whatever you’re curious about. What constitutes “data” vs. “information,” “knowledge,” and “wisdom” depends on the questions you’re asking.

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Interesting thought!
So why would it be necessary to put all the information in “boxes” or label it or do other things to categorise it (finally the good English term :wink: )
As @ryanjamurphy rightly puts, the same info can contain information for different people looking at it form different angles.
Think Obsidian gives you the possibility to put large chunks of info together in a vault. The search works super, which allows you to find whatever you want.
That search gives you the possibility to put all the necessary info in a new note and move on.
I am not sure if I understand the MOC idea very well because I use the Obsidian graph to see the links. That graph also nicely shows me the links I demonstrated in the “new note” above. Do not see the added value of the MOC in this particular usecase.

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