Simon Terry

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A Poem as Knowledge Work

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. – Salman Rushdie

The moment of change is the only poem – Adrienne Rich

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood – TS Eliot

Poetry is pure knowledge work. Poets take their art, sensibilities, training and deep domain expertise to create a work of pure knowledge, a piece of literature.

We accept that a poet might use elements of the following processes to create their work:

  • Engaging with the world
  • Taking time for reflection & seeking inspiration
  • Working drafts, experimenting, throwing away failures, restarting often and trialling different approaches and ideas
  • Building on patterns, influences, themes and ideas shared by others
  • Collaborating with others, seeking the guidance of colleagues, peers, editors and audiences to improve the work
  • Creating new forms, practices, breaking rules and pushing the discipline of the domain
  • Questing after perfection and never quite realising it. Paul Valery famously said “Poems are never finished, just abandoned

Poetry in this way is an example of knowledge work’s pursuit of effectiveness, over efficiency. The best poems are the result of distilling human experience, creating a leap forward in capability and dazzling in their rich human value.

As much as we may joke about a roomful of monkeys with typewriters writing Shakespeare, we know it cannot happen. Yet many organisations seek to manage knowledge work as a monkey business, concerned solely with the efficiency of the process of knowledge production. This mindset rejects the potential of the elements above and seeks to apply industrial process management to knowledge work. An example is the concern that collaboration in organisations might be wasteful or time consuming.  That concern misses the engaging and creative potential of collaboration.

There is much knowledge work that can be improved. Even poets quest for better more impactful creation.  However, they focus of their improvement is increasing the value of the output and not reducing waste in the process.

We can minimise down time. We can reduce errors and waste in the process.  We can turn the process of knowledge creation into an algorithm. But like poetry created by monkeys, we must acknowledge that the great human potential for connection, emotion, creativity and innovation has been lost in that process.

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history – Plato

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth – Samuel Johnson

Always be a poet, even in prose – Charles Baudelaire


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