How are learning and innovation connected to something as outwardly dull as knowledge management? In this post I’ll explore the question how managing your personal knowledge allows you to focus your learning efforts.
Learning and humor
In my previous post I compared knowledge management to herding cats. Using metaphors can help explain a topic while adding a dash of fun to dry facts (or severely dehydrated opinions). It helps the learning process along. A post I read some time ago was about “comparing apples to oranges“. I enjoyed the post, which was actually about innovative ideas.
Innovative approaches are often the result of looking at familiar topics from a different angle. In that respect, innovation has a lot in common with humor: take two seemingly completely different topics, crash them into one another, and see what happens. If you want a slightly more predictable result, you try to control the process that leads to innovation (or humor).
Using proverbs, metaphors, and other ‘language tools’ in learning is not without hazards. Reading in a non-native language makes it even trickier. For example, I’ve always thought of “comparing apples to pears” (from Dutch) as measuring two completely different things by the same criteria. In that case a perfect orange would make a lousy apple (or Apple). On the other hand, in innovative thinking, borrowing criteria from one context and applying them in a different context may yield unexpected insights.
Connecting knowledge management to learning – and innovation
You could view personal knowledge management as a controlled way of assessing what you know. ‘Knowing what you know’ gives you a basis for deciding what you else you need to know but don’t. You can then focus on bridging the gaps by either learning about those topics yourself, or by contacting someone who has the necessary knowledge and asking them for help. Both actions have their pros and cons.
- By taking control of your learning process, you will gain new expertise which may serve you well in the future. On the other hand, you need to judge what level of knowledge you need. If it’s knowledge on a specialist level which you need urgently, learning may take too much time. If speed doesn’t matter quite so much you can focus on learning the basics and figuring out the rest as you go along. This tends to happen on blogs a lot ;)
- By contacting an expert, you ‘risk’ two different world views crashing into each other. If you communicate what you need (and don’t need) from the exchange, and facilitate an honest and open dialogue, you may discover more in less time than if you try to master a new topic by yourself. Moreover, if you bring in a person with a different background, opinion, and expertise, you won’t be able to self-censor anything which doesn’t fit into your view of the topic. This way you open up new possibilities. It’s up to you to then select the things that might actually work for you. This kind of confrontation is useful for innovative thinking, but it’s also a great way to get unstuck if you’re stuck trying out #1.
(I’ve actually done #1 on this blog, and I’ve helped someone out being their ‘nearest WordPress.com expert’ so that’s my #2 for now.)
Using knowledge management (KM) to learn
Harold Jarche, in a post on his KM blog, mentions David Williamson Shaffer’s book How computer games can help children learn. After explaining the word epistomology (the study of knowledge, page 10), Shaffer goes on to say:
“…here I argue that computers create both the means and the necessity to fundamentally rethink what it means to know something – and thus what is worth learning and how we teach it.”
I don’t think it’s specifically a computer thing, but I do think computers have made it painfully clear what happens when technology changes and we don’t accept that change means we need to adjust – to learn. Nowadays it’s worth reviewing our assumptions on a regular basis. The problem for many people is that it usually doesn’t seem worth the effort. You can use your time to do either of these things:
- sit around thinking about what you know, or
- get your job done and bring food to the table.
If you lose your job, your first inclination won’t be to sit and think carefully but to put the turbo on to get a job. If that doesn’t work you may spend some time panicking before you sit down and (hopefully) think things through. Most of us only sit and think either when we can afford to take the time, or when we have exhausted all other options – when we have to.
Check up on your assumptions (or ‘knowledge’) at regular intervals
What if you take the proverbial ‘step back’ from your canvas every few weeks to check where you’re going, where you want to go, what you need to do next, and what other options you see? Options which you’ll leave largely unexplored for now, but keep in a treasure chest until you want them.
- Harold Jarche’s blog.
- Earlier posts on this blog about change management and the nature of knowledge management.
How do you view your (personal) knowledge and its management – how do you decide what to learn next?