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Storytelling and zen

Eastern concepts of knowledge

In the West, intuitive knowledge has often been devalued in favor of rational scientific knowledge, and the rise of science has even led to claims that intuitive knowledge is not really knowledge at all. However, recognition of the difficulties inherent in transferring knowledge from one person to another has tended to highlight the importance of tacit knowledge e.g. notably in the writings of Polanyi (1975), and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995).

In an effort to distinguish knowledge from mere information, some Western analysts have tried defining “knowledge” as wholly tacit (i.e. as capacity in action), thus consigning what others have considered as explicit knowledge to mere information (Sveiby)

In the East, the tradition has been to celebrate the importance of the intuitive, in comparison with the rational. The Upanishads for instance speak about a higher and a lower knowledge, and associate lower knowledge with the various sciences.

Zen thinking in the West reflects the Eastern tradition. For example,

Value, the leading edge of reality, is no longer an irrelevant offshoot of structure. Value is the predecessor of structure. It’s the pre-intellectual awareness that gives rise to it. Our structured reality is pre-selected on the basis of value, and really to understand structured reality requires an understanding of the value source from which it’s derived.
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Stephen Denning, The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative (Jossey-Bass, October 2007)

Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, London, Butterworth Heinemann, October 2000, chapters 4-7, 11-12.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Bantam, New York, 1974.

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