Knowledge Art and Compendium
Compendium and Knowledge Art
be called Knowledge Art? That is as yet an unanswered question. But Knowledge
Art as a concept encourages us to see Compendium as a medium involving art,
mastery, discipline and experience. It provides us with a new lens to view
what we’d already been doing.
Compendium be seen as Knowledge Art?
approaches to developing, capturing, manipulating, and reusing organizational
knowledge, while still valuable, don’t provide enough support, especially at
the pressure points – those points where everyday sensemaking fails.
Compendium started in 1993 with the seemingly counterintuitive juxtaposition
of “modeling” (disciplined, formally logical ways of seeing, rule-governed
analytical representational strategies) with “conversation” (free-flowing,
exploratory, informal exchange); creating visual representations of
conversation that provided seeds for analysis and reuse; formal activities
providing seeds for conversation and exploration. Not situated vs. abstract,
but situated informing abstract and vice versa.
allows participants to focus on one facet of a situation at a time, but
provides ways to make sure all the facets are there and related to each other.
Any facet or any focus can be valuable at a certain moment. At each moment
it’s simple, but the cumulative effect isn’t. Compendium aspires to
provide a resource for knowledge representations of great depth and breadth
over time, allowing bits of the big picture to be created and manipulated on
the fly, with nothing forgotten. It is an accessible, task-friendly, flexible
resource employing both ‘small’ and ‘large’ techniques. Compendium
provides a set of mechanisms to capture and relate the bits of organizational
life and knowledge streaming by. Using the mechanisms can create and
manipulate a wide variety of relationships over time. Statements and ideas
become relational hypertext objects of appropriate granularity. Techniques
reuse of knowledge elements and representational
morphing extend and multiply the use and life of ideas far beyond their
Compendium may seem like a bizarre or unfamiliar set of techniques, but in
aggregate it’s uniquely flexible, effective, and sustainable. The same base of
related objects yields multiple insights to multiple groups over time.
Compendium allows small incremental gains, like performing a single task (e.g.
building a model), facilitating a single meeting (e.g. a strategy discussion),
or producing a single artifact (e.g. a set of web pages), but it also
preserves everything as a continuously interrelatable and manipulable whole.
The basic set
of techniques are simple and can be taught in two days – but practicing and
combining them to attain some level of mastery takes either discipline or
innate talent (e.g. one of the core skills is being able to play close enough
attention (and working fast enough) during a meeting to capture, interpret,
represent, and inter-relate on the fly). Although Compendium rose out of and
was thought of as research, drawing on and knitting together many pre-existing
ideas and techniques, it was always practiced in actual organizational
settings where it had to show immediate benefit. Unlike art for art’s sake,
we had to show results right away. Our mantras were “First Be Useful”
(before claiming breakthrough, show that it provides tangible benefits in
practice); and “Value Now, Value Later (the “now” is better meetings,
better communication, and immediate output; the “later” is that material is already and always available in a form that can be reworked
and reshaped to provide new benefits to other groups at other times) -- providing
the ‘right away’ benefit but also aggregate over time.
We’re just beginning to explore the potential of these connections. In some ways Compendium can be thought of as a KM approach, in some ways it’s more in the realm of art, but it really seems to be a kind of fusion – something that approaches Knowledge Art. In subsequent drafts of this paper I will try to go further to explicate and provide examples of how Compendium, or perhaps more accurately a particular way of practicing Compendium, can fulfill this promise.