Who needs knowledge?


The never-ending pursuit of understanding


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom


The relentless pursuit of proven recipes for success appears to inflict many occupations, professions and specialisms. One of the main questions asked in numerous conferences and masterclasses around the world often probes for magic answers and secret recipes that can be dutifully replicated. Some disciplines such as IT and software development actively boast a long-established and steady succession of adopted innovative solutions and trends, each promising transformed capabilities and consistently outstanding results. These disciplines seem ready and willing to fall in love with and embrace whatever magic solution comes next. Yet, the constant quest for a new ‘best’ solution betrays an ultimate inability to address the fundamental concerns, resolve the essential aspects and uncover the ever-elusive silver bullet (Brooks 1987). This article looks at the nature of the never-ending quest for knowledge with a view to developing a different interpretation of knowledge and understanding and subsequently repositioning the main focus and perspective related to how we understand, process and execute knowledge and insights.

Starting with knowledge

From a very tender age, humans are encouraged to engage with knowledge. School children are asked to collect a handful of facts about frogs, oranges, the rain, or a faraway country. Ideas, poems, verses and even model answers are frequently learned by rote. Indeed, schooling, as opposed to learning, venerates the ability to repeat replicate and recall lists, passages or facts. In a published article, Dalcher observes how the quest for knowledge has played a major part in the evolution of individuals, societies and cultures tracing the impact of three main different knowledge revolutions. However, a defining feature and characteristic has remained fixated around the ability to repeat knowledge. The early recall techniques developed by the Greeks, were admired and replicated by the Romans and were ultimately descended to and embedded into many European traditions.

Other cultures and religions also celebrated the ability of trained clergy and intellectuals to precisely recount and retell stories, lessons, and facts. Over time, accuracy and repetition became the accepted measures of the goodness and quality of acquired and retold knowledge.” (Dalcher 2014: p. 6)

Knowledge and its pursuit are thus regarded as a worthwhile endeavour, reflecting ancient Greek values and traditions. This can be discerned, for instance, from Socrates viewing knowledge as a virtue, denigrating ignorance to an evil; whilst Aristotle proclaims that all men (sic), by nature, desired knowledge. The long-term retention value of regurgitation of morsels of knowledge may have been challenged, but the prevalence of knowledge acquisition in the classroom as taught to previous generations still persists in many educational settings (see, for example, Conway et al., 1992; Semb & Ellis, 1994; Deng, 2022).

However, book learning, especially in sterile classroom settings, can seem disconnected and devoid of practical meaning or even real value. Abbott (2010) recalls leading an expedition of seventeen-year-old English boys from a leading UK school, to spend six weeks living with nomads in the Zagros mountains of Iran as part of a geography trip, which led him to start questioning the value of book-based learning. Sitting around the fire one night, the tribal chief said that they were deeply honoured to have the fine young men visit them, but were confused as to why they were not helping their parents with their work, and learning from them what it means to become a man. All around the campsite all members of the tribe tended to their duties and responsibilities. The Tribal Chief explained that the only way to pass his wisdom and his father’s, and their survival skills to his children was by working together and discussing things with them, to ensure the knowledge acquired through his life time would continue to be shared down the line. On the Zagros mountain range, the ability to recount facts and repeat passages away from the classroom, seemed less relevant and compelling, as other skills and capabilities required for immediate survival assumed greater importance, urgency and criticality.


To read entire article, click here

Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes by professor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Routledge series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  See Prof Dalcher’s bio at the end of this article.

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2023). Who needs knowledge? The never-ending pursuit of understanding, Advances in Project Management Series, PM World Journal, Volume XII, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/pmwj135-Nov2023-Dalcher-who-needs-knowledge.pdf

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA, MINCOSE is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 300 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the British Academy of Management and the International Council on Systems Engineering. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Insight Team, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board as well as the British Library Management Book of the Year Panel.

He is the Academic Advisor, author and co-Editor of the highly influential 7th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. His books, all published by Routledge, include Leading the Project Revolution: Reframing the Human Dynamics of Successful Projects (December 2018);  Managing Projects in a World of People, Strategy and Change (August 2018) ; The Evolution of Project Management Practice: From Programmes and Contracts to Benefits and Change (September 2017); Further Advances in Project Management: Guided Exploration in Unfamiliar Landscapes (December 2016); and Advances in Project Management: Narrated Journeys in Uncharted Territory (August 2016). His newest book titled “Rethinking Project Management for a Dynamic and Digital World” was published by Routledge in 2022.

Prof Dalcher is also an academic advisor for and a frequent contributor to the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at d.dalcher@lancaster.ac.uk.

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.