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From: "David S. Isenberg" <> To: <>
Subject: KNOW-WHY AND OTHER CLUES -- SMART Letter #19 Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 20:24:30 -0400
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              SMART Letter #19 - April 18, 1999
            Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg
      At we accumulate intellectual capital
           the old fashioned way -- we LEARN it. -- -- 1-888-isen-com


> Know-why: the 'open source' of intellectual capital
> Quote of note: Peter Drucker
> My own private Clue Train
> Snapshots of the late pre-communications age
> #1. Squandering Knowledge
> #2. Be my guest, but don't hog the phone
> #3. Sprint non-Sense
> Conferences on my Calendar, Copyright Notice, Administrivia


David Weinberger, perpetrator of The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (, one of the knowledge cognoscenti (that's a know-know), and a SMART Person too, writes that that there are three types of knowledge: (1) patterns that we mine from life's data, (2) know-how, which is knowing what to do about the patterns we find, e.g., so we don't skin our knuckles a *third* time, and (3) ideas. (see "Knowledge versus Ideas," JOHO, April 10, 1999.)

He's right, and there's a fourth kind -- "know-why." (Buckminster Fuller coined the term "know-why," I think, in a spare moment between designing his Dymaxion Car and formulating another theorem of spherical trigonometry. Talk about a knowledge worker!)

Know-why works like this: Your significant other asks you to get potatoes at the corner store. But suppose you get to the store, and they're out of potatoes. Without know-why, you might return home empty-handed. But if you knew why s/he sent you for spuds, you could assess alternatives. Suppose s/he's just plain hungry; then Triscuits or apples would substitute. Or suppose s/he wants a starch dish for tonight's meal, then squash or rice could suffice. Or if s/he had a jones for French fries, you might find some pre-cuts in the freezer section, or get some pre-cookeds at McDonalds. In each case, knowing why determines a different way to handle the unanticipated condition.

In the knowledge economy, "Our's is not to reason why," is obsolete and counterproductive. Keeping your nose to the grindstone makes your nose sharp but dulls your mind.

A good knowledge worker is a whys-ask.

A company without "know-why" needs management, rules, procedures, and ISO 9000. A company that has "know-why" can leave much of the "how" to individual employees and small teams. This is why having a real "mission" and a real "vision" are important. They define "why."

There is a "know-why" shortage, which is why most mission/vision statements have all the grace and skill of Isenberg trying to dance ballet. (I consider "two left feet" to be an absurdly understated politeness.) Missions and visions would pirouette on arpegios of informed teleokinesis if their authors had "know-why."

One of the reasons that "know-why" is in such short supply in Korporate Amerika these days is that the *real* "why" for many companies is, "To grease the palms of our officers and absentee stockholders while making our employees work ever harder for less and less." Or the ever popular, "To make the boss look good." Or even, "To be bought by Microsoft."

Of course, no company with a P.R department would ever put these "whys," however honest, in their annual report, so we get tired, familiar, meaningless corpo-jargon.

Maybe companies should be required to disclose their REAL mission/vision in their annual report. Then the Securities and Exchange Commission could audit the teleological capital (the accumulated know-why) of every company. Discrepancies between stated know-why and actual employee know-why could be punished under fraud laws. Yeah, right. In my dreams.

But seriously, show me a company where employees know why their company exists, know why they are working there, one that has real goals with respect to humanity, and I'll show you a good investment and a great place to work.

QUOTE OF NOTE: Peter Drucker

"I never predict. I just look out the window and see what's visible -- but not yet seen." Peter F. Drucker in Forbes, March 10, 1997 (Interview by Robert Lenzner & Stephen S. Johnson).

by David S. Isenberg

The Cluetrain Manifesto (, is a 95-point, in-your-face (but essentially correct) polemic about how the Internet is changing businesses, markets, advertising, and our work & social lives. It is authored by four SMART people; Rick Levine, Chris 'Rageboy' Locke, Doc Serls, and David Weinberger. The name comes from an unidentified informant who said that the Clue Train had been stopping at his company regularly, but nobody had been taking delivery.

At first, Cluetrain seemed to me too rude to change anything. It disses fence-sitters. It does not allow an innocent, "Gosh, really?" without interrupting, "It's obvious, you stupid idiot!"

Tom Petzinger, who devoted his April 9, 1999, Wall Street Journal column to Cluetrain, told me that a manifesto is to rally the converted. But, if I may be so bold as to assume that I am one of the converted, Cluetrain got in *my* face too.

Early in my career as a Prosultant(sm), I had the good luck to read the Autobiography of Will Rogers. People "got" Rogers, and even paid to hear him, for two reasons (IMHO). First, he was able to see through "the role" to "the individual" -- that's why he said "I never met a man I didn't like," about Stalin, of all people. Second, he could point out the absurdities of life in plain language that made people laugh.

So, for example, he'd talk about "a dumb guy with an argument . . . he don't think there can be any other side but his." And then he went on, " . . . never disagree with a man while you are facing him. Go around behind him and look the same way he is looking and you will see that things look different from what they do when you are facing him." (Got it, cluesters?)

And he said, "Any man that thinks that Civilization has advanced is an egotist." ( . . . as we think, "The Net changes everything.")

And he said, " . . . the great secret of show business -- learn[] when to get off. It's the fellow that knows when to quit that the audience wants more of." (95 points? Gimme a break.)

When I give my Stupid Network talk, I begin by asking people to put aside their "corporate identity" and listen to me as "individuals caught up in, or driving, the Communications Revolution." Then I pause, and "observe" that everybody just gained 10 IQ points. I remind them that in five years the company they work for might not exist, but communications will still be valuable, and they'll still have good jobs.

As I close, I ask them, as individuals, to "Fight on the right side of the Communications Revolution." They might have to go back to their hold-back-the-future RBOC job after my talk, so I try to give them a little reminder that can sit on their shoulder and whisper in their ear.

SMART Person Janice Gjertsen says, "Corporations change one individual at a time." I'd like to change one individual at a time too.

Nevertheless, when I see so many people talking about the Cluetrain Manifesto, when I observe the creative thinking that lots of people are doing post-Cluetrain, I'm beginning to think of the irritant in oysters that makes pearls.

(Prosultant is a service mark of, inc.)


#1. Squandering Intellectual Capital
I recently bumped into an old friend who is a fairly senior person at a Really Big Old Company. He was going to a professional meeting that was directly relevant to his job -- on his vacation time, at his own expense. His boss's boss is a 30+ year company man who reports directly to the CEO. Mr. Boss-boss had determined, with no input from my friend, that he "didn't need to go." My friend has a PhD in a hard science and has advanced through the ranks strongly, but today his official duties mostly entail making powerpoints. Looks like nobody's gonna meet this Clue Train, either . . .

#2. Be my guest, but don't hog the phone. The Atlanta Airport Hilton has begun charging $.75 a minute for local or toll-free calls that exceed half an hour. This new policy is aimed at bending people's new, Internet-shaped calling patterns to match the hotel's PBX capacity.

They're treating the symptom, not the problem. It would be so much better to bypass the inappropriate circuit-access system altogether, giving hotel guests always-on packet access that would make them feel *welcome* at the Hilton.

With the Hilton fix, you can always log off at 29 minutes and call in again. The real problem comes when you are trying to get through to Microsoft-on-hold, where if you hang up at 29 minutes you lose your place in the cue. (I was trying to deal with the Happy99 virus at the time.)

There is an immediate solution available to the Internet-dependent traveler. Choose another hotel.

(Anybody else having phone problems in hotels? Tell me about it --

#3. Sprint Non-Sense
As a 12-year AT&T veteran, I took a walk on the wild side and switched to Sprint. It took two months. I'm sorry I did, and I hope to never have to do it again.

I signed up for Sprint Sense Home Office, which would let me unify my business calling on one bill, including the line into my assistant's home and 888-isen-com, at $.10/min. I filled out the form at the Sprint web site and hit "send."

Several days passed, and nothing happened. I called to ask about the status of my order. Sprint didn't know about any order. I told the attendant that I submitted it via the Internet and she transfered me to the Earthlink people, who could sell me an Internet account, but didn't know squatola about my Web order for phone service.

So I called again, submitted the order again, via voice, in real time, to a human being. Weeks passed. I called 00# and got the AT&T Operator, indicating that I was not yet switched. I made more calls, spent countless time on hold, and with much faxing to and fro Sprint figured out that the reason that I was still PICed to AT&T was that Bell Atlantic had a PIC freeze on my numbers. (You'd think they'd call about this right away if they *really* wanted my business.)

There was still no movement towards switching 888-isen-com, so I re-entered that process. Meanwhile, I got my first Sprint bill, which was incomprehensible. Its a good thing for them that I am a telco nerd; a regular guy with above average intelligence would never have gotten to the cheese at the end of this two-month long maze.

By the by-line, I put on my columnist hat and called Sprint Media Relations about the episode. With admirable candor, they told me that submitting a change order to a Local Exchange Company (LEC) is a completely open-loop process -- Sprint throws it over the wall to the LEC and never checks again. Furthermore, when somebody submits a service order via Sprint's Web Site, they said, it goes to some office where it is faxed "in several days" to somebody who can do something about it. E-commerce, ya gotta love it.

Now I *can't*wait* to get Sprint's ION service!


May 23-26, 1999, Washington DC. 7x24 EXCHANGE 1999 Spring Conference. 7x24 is a non-profit consortium that is devoted to always-on facilities of all kinds. Today they're weighted towards electric power and financial services industries, but they want and need more telecom involvement. It could be a great forum for us to learn about reliability from individuals with similar practices in different industries. I'll be giving the keynote, on Tuesday, May 25, on "Reliability and the Stupid Network." For more information, contact Joe Paladino, 212-575-2275,, website forthcoming.

September 27-29, 1999, Lake Tahoe CA. George Gilder's TELECOSM! Save these dates . . . I'm putting a high-level panel together on The Stupid Network. For more information, watch

Redistribution of this document, or any part of it, is permitted for non-commercial purposes, provided that the two lines below are reproduced with it: Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com

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1-888-isen-com            1-908-654-0772
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