Aristotle, one of the “greatest intellectual figures of Western history” and a remarkable ancient greek philosopher divided knowledge into three separate sections (Kenny & Amadio, 2021). In his book titled, “The Nicomachean Ethics” Aristotle states that all knowledge falls into three categories; Episteme, Techne, and Phronesis (Leverage Edu, 2021). Having the ability to develop each of these types of knowledge further enhances a leader's ability to analyze situations holistically and effectively study all aspects of decisions and problem-solving. How effectively do you use each type of knowledge, and what areas are you lacking in? Below we help you further understand each type of knowledge, how it can be developed, and its benefit to your corporation.
“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow” - Edward Teller
Episteme is scientific knowledge
Episteme is knowledge based on facts and science. It is the “domain of true knowledge…”. It is based on “clear and fixed truth, absolute certainty, and stable knowledge” (Nordquist, 2017). Episteme knowledge is steadfast. Within this category are the most basic principles of scientific knowledge that have been proven to be true. It is the starting point of advanced knowledge (Sadler, 2016). Episteme knowledge contains claims that “grasp explanatory connections that are universal and necessary and thereby deliver scientific understanding” (Angioni, 2019). This type of knowledge contains evidence-based statements and claims that can be applied to everyday life.
Episteme in the workplace
Episteme can be used to bring forth evidence-based practices in the workplace. Because episteme knowledge is based on science, it is important for corporations to have a flourishing scientific research team that communicates the most recent scientific findings that are relative to corporations functioning. When organizations have a steady income of epistemological knowledge, they are able to use the most current and effective methods available for goal attainment and profit accumulation.
Benefits of Episteme in the workplace
Decreased cognitive bias
Businesses that use data and scientific research are “are going to take the future” according to Wayne Eckerson (Avidon, 2019). Wayne Eckerson is “the author of two books; Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders and Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business” (Avidon, 2019). Eckerson believes in the use of data and scientific information in business because it removes the “cognitive biases that distort our perception of what's going on out there and make it hard for us to make objective, rational, smart decisions” (Avidon, 2019).
In a literary review of the effects that scientists have on businesses, the information and knowledge that scientists and researchers implement in business is seen as a “source of competitive advantage” by the companies they work for (Herrera,2020). By having teams of individuals that research newly published information and scientists that conduct their own research, corporations can increase their ability to create new and effective products. Research shows that “that scientists not only affect the firm’s probability of applying for a patent but also the number and importance of the patents” when involved in the production process (Herrera, 2020).
Increase in knowledge
The “recruitment of scientists increases the firm’s likelihood of combining knowledge from outside its existing technological boundaries…” (Herrera, 2020). By recruiting scientists and researchers, corporations can ensure a steady flow of new information and ideas allowing businesses to “redirect their decisions and reorient their innovation activity towards emerging areas” (Herrera, 2020). New knowledge keeps companies thriving. It allows companies to invest in the future with scientifically accurate episteme knowledge of upcoming trends.
“The most powerful asset for businesses in creating value from data is their people. Education and empowerment will be the true determining success factors in a data-literate world." - QLik Report, 2020
How to Develop Episteme
Improve data literacy
Understanding the results of scientific research requires that employees are able to understand data. An article from CIO states that “Data is the new language of business. Organizations must improve data literacy to ensure employees understand and use data to inform their daily decisions and actions” (Davis, 2020). However, only 34 percent of organizations provide data literacy training (Qlik Report, 2018). Employees with data literacy are able to read, understand, and communicate the implications of data to their organization’s community. Davis recommends that business leaders analyze their current employees’ ability to read data and then create a data literacy training program based on their employees’ needs (2020). By doing this, employees receive better training, increasing their resulting data literacy, which in turn increases the “enterprise value” of the organization (Delves, 2019).
Create a culture that appreciates data
Current research suggests that 74% of employees feel overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data and 14% of employees avoid data work entirely (Qlik Report, 2020). It is vital that when introducing an increased usage of data that employees are supported through training and helpful resources. The CEO of Millenials and Data, Chantilly Jaggernauth states that “This positive data culture is achievable with the right human investment.” Developing a culture that appreciates the importance of data and the necessity of understanding data is a continual process. Data literacy training should be a continuous process in your business. The Data Literacy Project’s Human Impact of Data Literacy Report states that training programs should be reassessed after being used for future improvements, employees should be able to leave reviews after completing training programs, and that data literacy training should be a long-term goal continual throughout the life of an organization. By supporting your employees’ own development of data literacy, you are better able to create a corporate culture that supports the use of data in decision-making and problem-solving.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." - John C. Maxwell
Techne is technical knowledge that brings results
Techne is the ability to use technical knowledge to bring forth results. It is most closely related to the management of others so that desired results are met. The heart of techne is using “any consciously intentional and knowledge-based activity provided with a method” to meet specific results (Coghlan & Brydon-Miller, 2014). The use of techne requires a technical expert. It requires that someone knows how to meet the goal and then can execute the method necessary to meet the goal.
Techne in the workplace
Techne in the workplace is most visible in management practices. Coghlan and Brydon-Miller state that in human relations and management, techne is “the mastery of influencing, manipulating, and using other human beings” to meet goals (2014). Those able to use techne knowledge must be able to “articulate” and explain their “skilled expertise” to those they manage or lead so that their team can understand the necessary methods of action and the potential outcomes (Coghlan & Brydon-Miller, 2014). Leading a corporation and employees to effectively achieve goals requires leaders with techne knowledge.
Benefits of Techne knowledge
Results-based management is defined as “the way an organization applies processes and resources to achieve results” by Benedict Wauters in his “sourcebook on results-based management in the European structural funds” (2015). This definition is very similar to the meaning of the Greek word techne which indicates bringing forth results via the influence of others. Because of this similarity between results-based management and techne and the lack of research surrounding the impact of techne knowledge on the workplace, the benefits of results-based management are outlined below. The benefits outlined below can readily be applied to the understanding of techne knowledge because of its close relationship with the definition of results-based management.
By using techne knowledge that directs others towards defined goals, employees have a greater sense of accountability (FAO, n.d). Clearly telling others what they need to contribute in order for the overall goal to be achieved reinforces that they are a part of a team, establishes trust, and encourages goal attainment.
If corporations have a specific goal in mind, they are better able to make decisions that support the overall goal. Business leaders can use their techne knowledge to select the most beneficial options available for goal attainment.
Techne knowledge helps leaders distribute human, financial, and material resources in order to achieve goals. Using these resources more effectively via the use of techne knowledge enables organizations to reach their goals with higher efficiency and less resource waste (Govt. of Canada, 2020).
How to develop Techne
Implement strategic training programs
Since techne skills are focused on the strategic use of resources to achieve goals, corporations need to invest in the strategic skills of their employees, especially those in management positions. Developing training programs that teach employees how to strategically use resources increases efficiency and optimizes organizations’ goal attainment processes. Furthermore, these training programs can also teach employees how to strategically direct others towards intentional action towards community goals. Task delegation and leadership skills are key to techne knowledge and help organizations strategically accomplish their goals.
Create a culture that values learning
Techne knowledge is based on knowing how to direct and manipulate resources for goal attainment. To do this employees must know from either experience, training, or education how to manipulate resources according to the desired goal. Corporate cultures that value learning support employees’ training and education. This training and education fuels the application of techne knowledge by giving employees the tools they need to direct and manipulate the resources that they are responsible for. Teaching employees how to better direct and manipulate resources supports the use of techne knowledge and has the potential to increase the effectiveness of their resources and employees.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” - Aristotle
Phronesis is knowledge of ethics
Phronesis knowledge is “the perspective-taking and wisdom required to make decisions when competing values are in play… [and] when the answer is not absolute, multiple options are possible, and things can be other than what they are” (Martin et al., 2020). Phronesis is closely related to virtue and involves the “use of practical wisdom to make ethical judgments... to acquire... strong moral character and habits” (Leverage Edu, 2021). This type of knowledge deals with right versus wrong and morality.
Phronesis in the workplace
Phronesis is evident in all aspects of running a business. Leaders can fail to use phronesis, choosing to use global resources unethically without sustainable practices. On the other hand, leaders can have ample phronesis knowledge and provide ethical employment opportunities. Human resource departments also use phronesis. Many organizations have defined disciplinary actions set in place that are known by employees and executed by human resource departments. Human resource agents must use phronesis when the actions of employees are being examined for ethical reasons.
Benefits of Phronesis
Increased job satisfaction
When managers and employees lead their teams with phronesis knowledge or knowledge of ethics and morality, research shows that employees report a greater level of job satisfaction (Al-Nashash, Panigrahi, & Darun, 2018). According to Al-Nashash et al’s research “Work ethics and job satisfaction go hand in hand.” When ethics and phronesis knowledge are actively used by organizations, employees have a more positive perception of the company and a greater sense of job satisfaction.
Increased employee performance
Research shows that when corporations and their leaders have strong ethical values or Phronesis knowledge, employee performance improves (Sabir et al., 2012). By investing in the knowledge of ethical knowledge or phronesis of employees and leaders, organizations can further support their organizational outcomes and profits.
Increased trust between employees and employers
Linda Thornton, founder, and CEO of Leading in Context states, “If we lead ethically, that lets people know they can count on us, and being able to count on us builds trust with individuals and within the group” (Thornton, 2014). Having business leaders who abide by strong ethical principles using phronesis knowledge, establishes trust between employees and employers.
How to develop Phronesis
Implement employee training in ethics
Training employees in the ethical guidelines set by a corporation equips them “with skills” that “help them to tackle ethical dilemmas” that might occur in their workplace (Mhonderwa, 2013). This increased knowledge of ethical principles, also known as phronesis, helps employers respond to situations in ways that are supported by the organization. Employees are also better able to relate to their employers because they have knowledge of the code of ethics they also abide by.
Create a corporate code of ethics
Developing a corporate code of ethics gives employees and leaders a reference point when addressing ethical dilemmas. Using these reference points allows employees to continually learn through experience the importance of phronesis or ethical knowledge.
Applying Aristotle’s three types of knowledge in executive coaching
By understanding Aristotle’s three types of knowledge, executive coaches can begin to analyze how much knowledge they have regarding each of Aristotle’s types. If an executive coach has a great amount of techne knowledge (that seeks to bring forth results) but is lacking in a knowledge of episteme (or scientific) knowledge, they could use coaching methods that are not backed by science in an attempt to get clients the results they desire. Without episteme knowledge, the methodology of coaches has no statistical probability of success and can lead to ineffective coaching. Furthermore, coaches who do not have phronesis knowledge, fail to understand ethical guidelines that support executive coaching.
For example, when facing a client with trauma or mental illness that needs mental health counseling, a coach with phronesis knowledge would direct them to resources or references that they have developed over time. Without this knowledge, a coach might continue providing services to a client who has medical needs that are not being met, ultimately doing more harm to the client than good.
Furthermore, when an executive coach understands the necessity of these three types of knowledge, they can assist executives in the examination of their own knowledge base. Helping executives understand which areas of their knowledge need more development and encouraging them to develop these areas, better enables executives to make more impactful, well-rounded, decisions for their company.
What Does It All Mean?
The three types of knowledge; episteme (scientific), techne (technical/results focused), and phronesis (ethics) are all influential to organizations. Business leaders must ensure that they are continually developing each of these types of knowledge in their own lives and in the lives of their employees. By understanding Aristotle’s three types of knowledge, business leaders can identify which type of knowledge is in need of the most development and the benefits of developing those areas.
Executive coaches also use these types of knowledge in their own practice by helping their executives examine which types of knowledge need more development than others. Executive coaches who help executives develop a balanced understanding of Aristotle’s three types of knowledge, equip executives with the ability to make better decisions for their business. Which type of knowledge do you most excel in? Which types of knowledge do you think you could improve upon? How balanced is your corporate community in terms of the types of knowledge that they use in their careers? Could your organization benefit from training in one of these types of knowledge specifically?
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” - Kofi Annan
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