The dark side of knowledge
Volume: 9, Issue 3
This paper explores the concepts of organizational knowledge and intelligence from the perspective of new systems theory. It draws particularly on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems, George Spencer-Brown’s calculus of distinctions, and Dirk Baecker’s applications of the two to questions of management. According to this view, knowledge can be conceptualized as a structure that determines the way in which information is dealt with. In other words, knowledge is a structure that determines whether a difference makes a difference and, if so, what difference it makes. Knowledge thus means selection; and selection implies contingency—one could have selected differently. The selectivity of knowledge, however, remains latent. That, and what knowledge excludes, is not included in the knowledge. Knowledge, thus, inevitably implies nonknowledge as its other, or “dark,” side. Intelligence can be conceptualized in relation to knowledge. It can be understood as the ability to deal with the other side of knowledge—to deal with nonknowledge. According to this view, an organization is intelligent to the extent that it is aware of its nonknowledge and takes account of this nonknowledge in its operations. In terms of Spencer-Brown’s theory, intelligence appears as the re-entry of nonknowledge into knowledge. Three examples of forms of organizational intelligence are presented in this paper: inter-organizational networks, heterarchy, and organizational interaction.