what does it mean to “know”?

When I was a kid, my mom would sush me outside dad’s study “don’t bother Daddy, he’s on the phone with London,” she’d say. I would imagine important conversations with the leaders of the city. I suspect that in reality he was talking to his college roommate.

Last October, I saw a New York Times headline “Panel Says Firms Knew of Cement Flaws Before Spill”. More recently, we’re hearing the media and others question whether the Pakistan Intelligence Agency, ISI, “knew” where Bin Laden was.

I don’t know the answer or details to either of those questions. But i do think it raises a very important question. What does it mean for an organization to “know” something? I think its essential to answer this question. Does “know” mean that some individual somewhere in the organization knows this as an individual? Does it mean that there has been a “discussion” amongst people? That a “memo” has been created? That someone on the executive team was briefed on the topic?

What do we want it to mean? Is it the goal, that when someone in an organization knows something, that everyone does? That any interested party can easily find out? That the executive team is aware? Understands implications? That a certain percentage, division, or set of specialists “know”?

Defining this notion – or at least working on it will be critical to understanding the effectiveness of collaboration, knowledge management and the “social enterprise”.

Have any of you seen work on this? Here are some of the questions I believe need to be answered or at least oriented for us to make progress here.

  • What does “know” mean?
  • When does it matter?
  • Are there different types of “knowing”?
  • Is there a legal precedent here?


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