Viktor Dörfler - Jaszmina Szendrey
From Knowledge Management to Cognition Management: A Multi-Potential View of Cognition
(Session Presentation)

Conference: OLKC 2008
Theme: The Many Senses of Organisational Learning and Knowing
Presenter: Viktor Dörfler
Date: 28-30 April 2008
Place: The Danish School of Education, Copenhagen, Denmark

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The knowledge management literature often emphasizes that knowledge cannot be regarded separately from other personal characteristics, such as emotions, feelings, intuition, etc. However, when it comes to modelling knowledge and managing the knowledge workers, these other characteristics are usually neglected or only mentioned that should be considered. In this paper we offer a conceptual framework to discuss cognition as a multi-potential entity.

There are several sources of this conceptual framework. Similarly to Drucker, Tsoukas and Sveiby, we regard knowledge as potential that is utilized in processes of knowing, such as learning, thinking, or applying knowledge, just to mention a few; the processes of knowing transforms the knowledge potential into actual performance. We accept the conception of aoutopoiesis by Maturana and Varela in which life is identified with cognition; but we realized that this conception lacks internal consistency if cognition is identified with knowledge only. Therefore we started to search for other potentials that may complement knowledge; we have found additional three of them.

The four cognitive potentials are the following: Instincts are inherited drives that are based on our needs and lead to actions that may be complex but are not necessarily thought through; the first instincts can be observed in bacteria which are considered the simplest forms of life. Knowledge, that we typically associate with “rational” or “logical” thinking, is not a uniquely human phenomenon as we can observe it in all higher animals. What seems to be uniquely human is to we know that we know, which phenomenon is usually inappropriately labelled meta-cognition. Emotions are, after knowledge, the most accepted cognitive factors in our western civilisation, but are frequently regarded as obstacles, something knowledge should be in control of. Along with Fromm and Goleman we disagree with such approach. Transcendence refers to going beyond something e.g. beyond the self, the space and time, the culture, etc.

The cognitive system that is formed by the four described potential consists of elementary building blocks called cognitive schemata that are usually identified as the building blocks of knowledge. Adopting the multi-potential framework we can get a more accurate meaning of the cognitive schemata; this will be consistent with Schacter’s conception of memory, which should be extended with genetic memory to include the instincts. To describe the functioning the cognitive system we introduce two types of processes: the slow process is what we would, in the case of knowledge, associate with the rational thinking; and the instantaneous process, which we can associate with intuition. The four potentials operating as instantaneous processes correspond to the four types of intuition described by Gerard. We can describe many cognitive processes by the means of the four potentials operating via one or the other process upon the object of cognition. However, the real strength of the model becomes manifest if we apply one of the potentials via the slow or the instantaneous process to each other or to themselves. This way of modelling meta-cognition is much more sophisticated than if we only apply knowledge onto knowledge via a slow process. We can know about our instincts via the slow process and thus may choose to control our instincts; we can have instantaneous emotions about our knowledge, etc. For instance, the creative ideas, in this model, are born in instantaneous transcendence being applied to the knowledge potential.

To have a proper description of the operation we also need a central unit which will orchestrate the four potentials operating via slow or instantaneous processes upon the object of cognition (including each other and themselves). We have found that this is the freedom as described by Szondi. People who are free can choose the blend of potentials that they use in particular situations, while those who are not free (Szondi calls them fate-ill people) will always use the same, imposed blend.

In this paper we present a conceptual model that we arrived at in a purely speculative way; pulling together sources from diverse fields, such as philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, systems thinking, in addition to the more conventional areas of studying knowledge in the business arena. We illustrate the validity of the model by using it to explain well-known phenomena; our evidence is anecdotal rather than systematic. We see two potential uses of our model of cognition: Firstly, it can provide comprehensive framework to inform further scholarly research partly by being used as an element of new research projects in knowledge (or rather cognition) management; and partly as means of positioning existing research results. Secondly, it can provide the managers of the knowledge workers with better understanding of the nature of knowledge work, which can result in better cognition management.