The Nomadic Brain: A Discussion On Knowledge Loss and Management On Montserrat

 Montserrat Soufriere Hills Volcano 160212

Danny Joseph

Release Date

Thursday, August 9, 2012


One of the most memorable mottos of academic institutions within Montserrat is that of St. George's Primary. It read "Knowledge is Power"ÔøΩ. This was fiercely embedded into the student body through instruction and repetition but the phrase became naught but a phrase instructed and repeated - uttered reflexively on demand when requested by teachers in possession of tools of corporal punishment but devoid of meaning to the student populace. Concise in words, and hung in the rafters in black and white, it was a message more decorative than substantive when the cricket bat was collected and out-a-man was afoot.

However age and time gives one opportunity for contemplation and reflection. Many of the institution's alumni would look back and reflect on the motto with an acknowledging nod, relating it to the value knowledge has provided to their academic and social life, as well as to their career. "The more you know", the NBC blurb, can easily be extended to suggest a myriad of positive things.

Consider a memorable line of the ongoing US presidential election campaign, said by the Republican nominee. "Corporations are people too, my friend" Romney said to his political disadvantage. However regardless of the fallout of the anthropomorphisation, human beings tend to translate complex ideas into relatable analogous entities. The analysis is done on the relatable entities using understood rules and then translated back into the complex concept. And what better understood entity for Romney, than human beings themselves.

So let's take the Romney lead. If we relate a corporation to an individual, we may posit that similar to knowledge being a tremendous resource for an individual, it would also be of great value to the corporation. However a corporation has its own unique rules and context that govern and facilitate knowledge. As opposed to a human with one data store and the ambitions of one individual, a corporation has many employees, many divisions, many datastores, and many processes.

Achieving commercial value through knowledge (knowledge management), involves the identification, creation, representation, and distribution of knowledge within the corporation. Academic research has shown that corporations that institute knowledge management measures, are more commercially successful than those who don't. Knowledge essentially feeds every process within a business.

What is the knowledge we need? Who has this knowledge? What format is this knowledge in? How do we distribute this knowledge? How do we secure this knowledge? How do we present this knowledge to who needs this knowledge? The company that is able to answer these questions makes better decisions, makes better products, is more efficient, and is generally more profitable than equivalents.

But we go even higher than corporations...

Montserrat itself is an entity, competing in a global marketplace, and thusly needs to factor knowledge and its management as critical factors in its quest for economic growth. There are processes, decisions, actions that are made by Montserrat, like a company, like an individual, that require injections of knowledge. However, as a company represents a unique context, a country has its own similarly different. A thorough discussion of this would be beyond the scope of this article, but the author sees two aspects that warrants specific mention"_'The Great Brain Drain of Montserrat Post 1997' and the value of "ÔøΩcollaborative conversation'.

Montserrat's knowledge management processes should acknowledge and take into consideration the tremendous loss of knowledge brought about by more than half of the population moving away from the island. Conversations on the loss of population, often revolves around the considerations of the expatriated with respect to their volume. More people here would have meant more workers; more money circulating; more customers. But the loss of half of Montserrat's population corresponds to a loss in Montserrat's economy, not merely by the absence of people as consumers, but in the absence of people as knowledge owners, and importantly those of 'knowledge potential'.

Montserrat has lost, to distance, people with tremendous levels of knowledge running the gamut of disciplines. History, education, electricity, cooking, managing, policing, the list goes on. These are the lost 'knowledge owners'. We also have the loss of those with 'knowledge potential', those who have, since leaving Montserrat, had the privileges of graduating some of the world's best universities at graduate and post graduate level; undertaken courses and training programs; as well as accumulated experience in a variety of careers. This combination of knowledge that left on the ferry, and knowledge acquired since departure on the ferry is of an understated economic value to Montserrat. And that is an understated statement.

The largest value in the modern global economy surrounds knowledge and not natural resources. Montserrat has to determine how it would go about integrating this knowledge within its society and economy. Montserrat, it should be noted, does not refer specifically to the government, civil service, or any leaders, but to anyone who identifies themselves as Montserratian. Each individual has to determine what role the knowledge they own can play towards the development of the island they consider their home.

The growth of Web 2.0 with its emphasis on user participation, presents an opportunity for individuals to contribute to the conversation via collaboration. The wiki model is well known, but consider Facebook groups such as 'Montserrat Island & Postcards& Photos' and "ÔøΩVintage Montserrat' where there is an ongoing development of a knowledge base on sugar mills and estates on the island. Rather than one historian giving one account, there is a collaborative effort online, finding truths at the intersections. Integrated within this collaborative effort is the novel twist of the social dimension that Facebook provides. This adds volume and colours to previously formal and static ideas.

Websites such as MNI Alive provides an opportunity for individuals with specific expertise to contribute. Did you pursue a university degree in child care? Why not submit an article on child development in Montserrat? Your thesis was on some novel economic theory? Why not apply it to a Montserratian context and submit your ideas? You're an architect? Why not write an article on how Montserratian architecture has changed due to shifts in the economy and natural disasters. Are you a restauranteur? Submit something on Montserrat cuisine or on health? You just graduated law school? Write something about the Montserrat constitution? Are you a DJ? Why not write about the music scene? I could go on. Contribute to the conversation.

"Knowledge is power" was written on the banner at St. George's Primary, but at the 3 o'clock bell, I would leave to go home and watch the animated tv-show G.I Joe. They'd end each show saying "Knowing is half the battle". So even a 9-year old knew there was more to knowledge than simply knowing. We should share some of our knowledge.

Editor-in-Chief's Note: Danny Joseph is a former lecturer at The Montserrat Community College. He is currently a Director at Montserrat's first local software company, Lavabits. Mr Joseph is also currently a post-graduate researcher at Manchester Business School.

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