DIKUW Content Model | Big Wisdom

Pivoting away from big data and into big wisdom.

I literally only watched 90 seconds of the above video and had to grab a pen and piece of paper (always good to kick it old school) to jot down the opening point: Data > Information > Knowledge > Understanding > Wisdom.

Often cited as the DIKW Pyramid (although this model lacks the ‘understanding’ level), the pause was needed to reflect, as something ‘connected’ in my brain / soul and the ideas needed time to percolate:

DIKUW Content Model

There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing.
Peter Drucker

So many organisations / companies / social issues are about maintaining and sharpening the core operations (efficiencies) without re-examining the fundamentals of their origins (effectiveness).

Over the past few weeks I’ve shared the following with so many peers and friends as a way to get my head around it. When sharing, the example that’s become handy to ascribe it to is the oil industry:

The big oil companies have a wonderful understanding of how to protect and create the market for their product and to drive the consistent need. They have deep knowledge of how to both get the oil from where it is and then to refine and package it. They have precise information on where it is and how much it will make them based on the patterns. They have masses of data on all aspects of the process so they can refine and become more and more efficient.

What they don’t have is the wisdom to drive them into the future of becoming effective on a higher plane. They are doing the wrong thing righter.

Wisdom would allow them to pivot their whole business model. Taking their profits and for the next 5-10 years investing everything they have into more sustainable energies / renewables. This alone would revolutionise the whole sector via investment, ensure they continue to profit in the energy space whilst also pivoting the whole industry into serving the world and its global health.


Thank you Russell Ackoff.

Big thanks to Jennifer Sertl for the tweet / link and appreciation for inspiration behind flow diagram image for Broomy83
Related post / presentation video: WYSDEM | Big Wisdom Thinking For Businesses & Organisations, Humanising Wisdom | An Exploratory Presentation


  1. Loving this concept DK. On the oil company front however, I’ve just finished reading an excellent and inspiring book from someone who has worked for Royal/Dutch Shell for 38 years. The Living Company (by Arie de Geus) is massively feeding my thinking about how to manage a company as a community of human beings and as a living breathing organism. it is, in fact, packed with wisdom. I’m in ‘percolating mode’ and its is a game-changer for me. let me know if you read it and let’s share some thoughts.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Lisa – not read that book although how to manage organisations better (efficiency) is not the same as why it exists and what problem it is solving in the first instance (effectiveness). I maybe wrong though and still working this stuff out myself :-)

      1. On the efficiency/effectiveness front … I need to get my head around that because its important. My gut is telling me there is something in this book still. Also, ‘effectiveness’ doesn’t quite float my boat. Maybe its too clinical. My parameters are Why do we exist? What values drive us? How does this translate into human experience? And how does inform the the impacts we want to have? I have no answers either. What bugs me is that my sector is not asking those questions (as a whole), Guess I’ll be in continual working out mode. Its certainly not earning me any money. Asking the questions is good though, yeah? I mean … we only have one life eh?

        1. I’m still getting my head around it and yes the semantics are a little ‘off’ although after watching the video above a few times it’s starting to get clearer for me. That being said, very much at the beginning of this journey and eager to thrash ahead (even if I have no clue of where the path will take me or even if one exists) :-)

          Thanks for the follow thoughts (& juicy provocations).

  2. I enjoyed the clip and the example. I think that this could make astounding changes in any business that would be farseeing enough to embrace the idea and brave enough to take a look at where they are today.

    1. Appreciate you taking the time to check it out and leave a comment John – the fact you cited ‘brave’ as a word / idea is delightful and laser-focussed regarding the bigger issue here. Thank you.

  3. Hadn’t seen this video before, but came across these ideas some years ago doing my MBA. They still resonate strongly, and the wisdom he has is clear in the video. Am using the DIKUW model at the moment with a museum I am working with. For me, it is about the process of an organisation working toward self-realisation. The process, done properly, allows an organisation to see the cumulative narratives that have subconsciously informed their current trajectory, and to make informed change.
    The image that always stuck in my mind was that it doesn’t matter how high up the ladder you climb if the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

    1. The ladder image is a great metaphor :-)

      Your work sounds great and can imagine enriched / possibly accelerated if you mashup a little design thinking in there (at least the ‘gaining empathy’ phase from their users / customers). Share when you have stuff up online or in the public domain so we can all learn from – thanks for the comment sir!

  4. Great snyposis of Dr Ackoff phenominal work, DK. His discussions of the relationship between data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom (which you have visualised very well) adopts a very management science approach to critiquing organizational systems as systems of transactions, hierarcy and turnover, and less as human systems of human relationships and emotional connections embedded in rich context. Effectiveness (just as data, information, knowlegde etc) has different meanings depending on the context within which it is being considered and from which it emerges; and the meaning derived. Wisdom is much much more and richer than effectiveness as a label gives it credit. This model also excludes the way we experience the world, as people as co-creators of systems. :-)

    1. Always a delight to see a comment from you. As you allude, there’s lots of work to do on the connecting organisational systems and human systems – hence the hopeful exploration wysdem.com will provide.

      1. Ackoff’s work is well documented and informs much of our understading of the differential between efficiency and effectiveness in the design of management systems, with examples his well known for in his critique of the design of education system, private sector and governments. Consider citing some of this in your posts so people can read his original works. Its fascinating stuff.

        Okay… so, I’m curious … whose work are you bouncing off in terms of organizations as living human systems?

        1. OK.

          Been devouring more personal / small group conversations in this space as a way to validate even if it’s the right question.

          As you know, not very good with long-form-academic-word-based flavours, and dine from more sensory offerings: light starters would be Tumblr efforts from ‘On Being’ for the moral fibre, main course would be tech / philosophy videos from Ericsson / School of Life video, washed down with the amazing audio sweet trolley from the likes of Radiolab and Reddit’s Upvoted (sorry none are hyperlinked although all Googleable) :-)

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