Information overload is a common complaint these days. Too much data, too many reports.

In reading some insights from Dee Hock (founder of Visa), he showed a model that has helped liberate me from this deluge. I love it, and wanted to see if it might help anyone else… generally called the DIKW hierarchy, it gives a framework that helps judge whether you have enough understanding.

I’ll start from the most basic stage, and work up in complexity:

  • Noise: No discernible pattern.
  • Data: Noise becomes data when it has a cognitive pattern.
  • Information: Data becomes information when it’s assembled into a coherent whole, which can be related to other information.
  • Knowledge: Information becomes knowledge when it’s integrated with other information in a form useful for making decisions and determining actions.
  • Understanding: Knowledge becomes understanding when it’s related to other knowledge in a manner useful for anticipating, judging, and acting.
  • Wisdom: Understanding becomes wisdom when it’s informed by purpose, ethics, principles, memory, and projection.

These ideas have been bouncing around for generations because they’re good. Even Frank Zappa thought so:

Information is not knowledge,
Knowledge is not wisdom,
Wisdom is not truth,
Truth is not beauty,
Beauty is not love,
Love is not music,
and Music is THE BEST.

– Frank Zappa, “Packard Goose”

As with all my favorite learnings, you can find this on our Theory Of Everything document (which has just had an update).