On DIKW Hierarchy

I recently saw this post on LinkedIn and it reminded me of my MBA dissertation on the same subject.


My MBA dissertation was on D-I-K-W hierarchy and as part of literature review I had mentioned following references (found in a research article by Nikhil Sharma) to DIKW:

T. S. Eliot’s lines in The Rock (1934):

Where is the Life we have lost in living? 

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? 

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

And, Frank Zappa’s lines from 1979 song/quote

Information is not knowledge. 

Knowledge is not wisdom. 

Wisdom is not truth. 

Truth is not beauty. 

Beauty is not love. 

Love is not music. 

Music is THE BEST.


Not many pay attention to this hierarchy/subtle differences and use the words interchangeably.

We, in IT industry, work with Databases, call it Information Technology industry, harp on Knowledge Management…and behave as if we have all the Wisdom.

Thankfully, the industry hasn’t caught attention (so far) of next level word owned by Mystics and Spiritual Gurus (and used by some academicians) – Enlightenment 🙂

White reading and thinking about DIKW recently, I also thought about Excellence, how industry nomenclature/ jargon is changing – and Entropy.

Few decades ago businesses and organisations were striving for serving the customer – meeting customer needs. Then they started talking about Customer Satisfaction. Soon, Satisfaction was not a differentiating factor; so they came up with “Wow!” effect – taking customers by surprise by exceeding “satisfaction”. Few years later they had moved on to Customer Delight! Amazon and few others now talk about Customer Obsession (having extreme Customer focus). If this trend continues (Meeting customer experience–>Satisfaction–>Delight…) then very soon they would talk about Customer Ecstasy, (and next logical extension – Customer Orgasm :P).

This is common in journey on the path of Excellence. Remember the objective is never to reach Perfection – as there is no such thing as a permanent state called Perfection. It is always a journey…of Excellence. What is exceptional today would become a norm tomorrow and hence the need for moving to next level. Today’s Wisdom becomes tomorrow’s Knowledge. Today’s Knowledge becomes tomorrow’s Information, and so on.

But the Customer journey – is it really about such real progression and advancement or is it more like Entropy, and more of a word-play?

Entropy was the most difficult concept I found during my Mechanical Engineering. Not just because it is really a difficult concept, but also because even the Prof didn’t bother to teach it (he himself had no clue). But based on my limited understanding on Entropy, it is synonymous with the level of chaos in the system. Entropy of the universe is ever increasing!

Sometimes I feel that all the nice sounding words – Customer Delight, Customer Obsession, Customer Focus – are part of the Bullshit Bingo which is very common in Management. Some words go out of fashion and every few years people need new vocabulary and jargon. You will always find new, better-sounding and next-level words because “entropy” of Customer Management is ever-increasing and upward! In reality, there is really no paradigm shift or tangible positive change in customer experience – it is all about managing customer perception.

Coming back to DIKW, I am now reasonably convinced (won’t say fully convinced) that DIKW or any such process, system, methodology is just a guiding principle. The ultimate ownership lies with People. We can document so called “information” or “knowledge” and we can retrieve it (as in query the database), but we cannot “apply” it if there is no “understanding“. I wondered where the Understanding fits into DIKW. Is it beyond Wisdom? Then I felt that it is actually not part of the hierarchy – it is the foundation and covers entire spectrum.

And understanding comes from “Experience” and internalizing that experience. Personal, first-hand experience is the best! Nothing can substitute that. But it is not always possible to experience everything first-hand. In fact, in very limited cases our understanding comes from our own experiences. So what is the best proxy for own experience? What is the nearest substitute? Well, it is vicarious experience. You have to learn from, and through others. That’s why you look up to the old and wise people, and those who have experienced much more than you. On your part what you need to pick up the vicarious learning is a flexible and thinking mind/brain – so that you assimilate the experiences and develop own understanding.

Processes, systems, institutions, tools and technology are important to nurture information, knowledge, to cultivate wisdom – but they are only enablers. They cannot substitute role of people – say teachers, mentors, Guru.

But in today’s world where there is an App for everything, not many would support this view. For them, Byju’s Learning App (with access to Premium contents) is good enough! Sad, but true…



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