Giraffes and tools

Giraffes are fantastic animals, very well designed for their environment. Yes, they are wise and far-seeing and take a broad perspective of their environment, but they are also equipped with some fantastic tools. The obvious case is their neck, superbly suited for reaching the fruit that no one else can get. Then there’s their tongue which can navigate through the maze of thorns and thistles unscathed while seeking out the fruit buried within.

Giraffe tongue

My point is that wisdom and far-sightedness are great but pretty useless if you don’t have the tools to stay alive in the environment you’re faced with.

Of course, on the other hand, the giraffe’s design wasn’t centred around its tools but on the environment. The needs of the giraffe led to the development of tools that addressed the needs – this is important.

If we, Working Group 3, are associating ourselves with the noble giraffe, should we, along with all our valuable conceptual thinking, also take a view on KM tools? Is that within our remit?

I’m a bit of a techie, some might even say a geek. I’m the first to admit that I often get over enthusiastic about ICTs and web based communication tools and become somewhat technology driven. But I’m learning. I now realise that there’s a whole world, in fact a whole history of social tools that different cultures in different times have used for KM. For example, we were hearing about the culture of coffee drinking in Ethiopia, how it’s an informal knowledge exchange process that been going on for centuries. We can learn a lot from this stuff.

The question is this then; what is the right balance of conceptual thinking and practical thinking and how do we achieve this? (While also bearing in mind that WG2 are looking more closely into tools and WG1 are looking into Southern knowledge creation and use).

Any thoughts on this?


5 Responses

  1. Hi Simon

    This is such an interesting post. Yes, this is something we need to talk about!

    Best wishes

  2. Simon, this is a brilliant posting! Thanks a lot. You were hoping to cause a controversy by posting this, so I am very sorry to disappoint you, because I quite agree. 😉

    I think you use the giraffe metaphor as a perfect analogy of the importance of balancing tools with the needs and an understanding of the context in which they are to be employed. So to answer your question, I think the balance lies in the fact that before designing the tool, you need to take into consideration the environment: are the bushes thorny? So what should we use to get to the nutricious part, anyway? What is available, why does it/does it not suffice, and how can we improve upon it? These questions form the ‘conceptual’ part, but without the practice (‘the empirical evidence’) upon which such concepts are based, and indeed, without the tools to address the issues, such thinking is useless…

    So great to have you on this group. Do continue to challenge us like this!! =)

  3. Hi! Interesting post. I’m just making a brief comment on the giraffe as your chosen metaphor. You’re quite correct that the giraffe apparently evolved in response to specific environmental pressures and that it’s various physiological tools give it a reasonably secure competitive advantage vis-a-vis competitors. However, keep in mind that its tools are quite specifically-adapted to the savannah environment and that it might not do very well in a heavily wooded environment or a prairie environment with few or no trees. By analogy, this seems to suggest that WG3 is focussed on a specific KM niche. Is that correct? Personally, I like the adaptable and tool-using crow but it’s not a very sexy animal. 🙂 Cheers

  4. Remember, giraffes spit and bite hands that try to feed it as well – particularly well meaning but oblivious humans! 😉

  5. Interesting string. Sorry, though I’m supposed to be one leg of the giraffe, I’ve been playing the ostrich of late 😉 Anyway, as the giraffe has evolved over years to take the shape it has today, it is also noteworthy to mention that it is the only animal that in turns shapes its environment and gives these trees their characteristic shape.
    Is that an ambition of WG 3? To change the KM environment? Of course not but then again yes: we can’t pretend to change the environment but we are aiming at informing KM practice and refine theory to change thinking and adapt it as much as possible to felt needs for the development sector… Isn’t it?

    And indeed, the theory and practice work hand in hand and strengthen each other, so I hope we will find a “niche” as WG3 or at least one hole in the hive, suggesting we can also act as bees. That’s the beauty of IKM: Noah’s Ark as our toolbox to address the changing issues of KM and their specific aspects. For one we will be a bee, for another a squirrel, and for yet another a turtle?

    This is a wild wild world…

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