Cognitive Artifacts in Complex Work

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 3345)


The Indian folk tale recorded in the well-known John Saxe poem tells of six blind men, each grabbing a different part of an elephant, and describing their impression of the whole beast from a single part’s perspective. So the elephant appears to each blind man to be like a snake, a fan, a tree, a rope, a wall, a spear. As the poem concludes:

“And so these men of Indostan, Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong. Though each was partly right, All were in the wrong.”

Although this tale suggests a general metaphor for poor collaboration and social coordination, the insinuation of blindness indicates an inability to share the common information that is normally available through visual perception. When fundamental cognitive resources such as shared information or visual cues are missing, collaborative work practices may suffer from the “anti-cognition” suggested by the elephant metaphor. When individuals believe they are contributing to the whole, but are unable to verify the models that are held by other participants, continued progress might founder. We may find such “blind men” situations when organizations value and prefer independent individual cognition at the expense of supporting whole system coordination. Blindness to shared effects is practically ensured when those who work together are not able to share information.


Information Object Information Ecology Work Domain Information Behavior Complex Work 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Redesign ResearchUSA
  2. 2.The University of ChicagoUSA

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