Information Seeking: An Organizational Dilemma

By J. David Johnson | Go to book overview
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FIVE
BARRIERS TO INFORMATION SEEKING OR THE BENEFITS OF IGNORANCE

[T]hey [Americans] judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous and the consequences of ignorance fatal. ( de Tocqueville, 1966)

[P]erfect knowledge is itself impossible, and an inherently impossible basis of social action and social relations. Put conversely, ignorance is both inescapable and an intrinsic element in social organization generally. ( Moore & Tumin, 1949, p. 788)

Information has always been a source of power, but it is now increasingly a source of confusion. In every sphere of modern life, the chronic condition is a surfeit of information, poorly integrated or lost somewhere in the system. ( Wilensky, 1968, p. 331)

Ignorance and information seeking are inextricably intertwined concepts ( Stigler , 1961). Ignorance, as used here, refers to a state where an individual is not aware of information related to organizational life, including procedures, policies, cultural factors, and events. So, ignorance exists when knowledge resides somewhere in the social system of which an individual is a part, yet the focal individual just does not have it. Ignorance by itself is not a sufficient condition for information seeking. Classically it is argued that a perceived need for the information is a necessary condition for information seeking to occur. Ignorance is thus different from ignoring, which often happens in an organization when an individual consciously knows that a problem exists, but chooses not to confront it.

Kerwin ( 1993) has developed a very useful classification scheme for mapping ignorance in terms of various levels of personal and societal (also read organizational) awareness and/or knowledge (see Table 5.1). Fundamentally, we can make a distinction between the things that are accepted as knowledge, although they might be socially constructed and subject to future paradigm

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