Blog Post

"Useless" Knowledge

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 11 August 2002



"Useless" Knowledge
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Posted DateSunday 11 August 2002 18:22 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
CategoriesKnowledge Management
PeopleBertrand Russell
CountryUnited Kingdom

Bertrand Russell A few weeks back I was in a second hand book shop in Godalming and I bought a couple of books - at the counter I was told that having bought two books - I could get one free. I quickly stepped up to the philosophy section and run my fingers over the titles and spotted a thin red book by Bertrand Russell. It was called Let the People Think - knowing of Bertrand Russell but knowing little of his work I thought it was the ideal choice.

As I got back to the car and flicked through it I was delighted - it was a collection of short essays and one caught my eye - it was entitled Useless Knowledge Here is a quote from the essay:

"Curious learning not only makes unpleasant things less pleasant, but also makes pleasant things more pleasant. I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of the Han dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kanisaka introduced them into India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word "apricot" is derived from the same Latin source as the word "precocious" because the apricot ripens early; and that the A as the beginning was added by mistake , owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter."
In knowledge management we often talk about focusing on productive knowledge and that KM should not be an intellectual exercise and to a degree this is right but Bertrand Russell pulled me up - as he says elsewhere in the essay "Perhaps the most important advantage of "useless" knowledge as that it promotes a contemplative habit of mind." Now to me taking time to reflect is at the heart of KM. So paradoxically "useless" knowledge can promote KM. I like it!

And oh yes Apricots have also tasted sweeter to me since!

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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