Knowing a solution is at hand is a huge advantage… Uncertainty is far more challenging

Knowing a solution is at hand is a huge advantage… Uncertainty is far more challenging.

Knowing a solution is at hand is a huge advantage; it’s like not having a “none of the above” option. Anyone with reasonable competence and adequate resources can solve a puzzle when it is presented as something to be solved. We can skip the subtle evaluations and move directly to plugging in possible solutions until we hit upon a promising one. Uncertainty is far more challenging. Instead of immediately looking for solutions to the crisis, we have to maintain a constant state of asking, “Is there a crisis* forming?”

Garry Kasparov – How Life Imitates Chess

On knowledge and (organizations as) knowers

Been giving some thought to the concept of knowledge and knowing in the context of organizations and knowledge management. These two paragraphs come from separate trains of thought, but are related so I decided to post them here together. Definitely needs a bit more reflection and development. What do you think?


The terms “tacit” and “explicit” are typically used when referring to different types of knowledge (in the context of knowledge management efforts). It seems to me that “unconscious” and “conscious” might be more appropriate / accurate? In that explicit knowledge is that of which you are consciously aware of while tacit knowledge is that which lies “below the surface” and which you use without having to be aware you are using it. Need to cross reference this with what I’ve been learning about Liminal Thinking….

On the subject of “knowers”, could the organization itself be considered a “knower”? Not the sum total of the knowledge that resides in its members or files, but a knowing that emerges from the connections and interactions of that knowledge. If so, how would that change how we approach KM?

Children and the curse of knowledge

One of our goals as a society is to educate our children, to pass along the knowledge of what has gone before so that the children understand where they’ve come from and how we got to where we are. At the same time, we are dependent on our children to create the new knowledge that we need in order to continue and to grow.

To accomplish this we must avoid the danger of infecting our kids with a “curse of knowledge”, of teaching our kids not only how to think but what to think. The best of ideas in almost any field of endeavor quite often come from those with the least preconceived notion of what that field of endeavor should be.

One of the home page quotes on the FIRST website is the following:

"Overnight, they were asking and trying things that none of our testers ever dreamed of after six months of development. We know we are all in for a treat as these kids move up through society."

In case you’re not familiar FLL is the FIRST Lego League, a robotics competition program for kids age 9-14 (in the U.S., this equates to 4th through 8th grade). As the quote hints at, a team of technical and game experts spend a lot of time designing a game, coming up with the rules and putting everything together.

But it only takes a day for a bunch of kids, many not even teenagers, to think of questions and try to do things that never even occurred to these experts. The experts are learning from the “novices”.

What have you learned recently from the novices – children, new employees, etc – in your life?

Lessons learned and learned lessons

Dave Snowden, with whom I share a general dislike (maybe distrust is a better word) for lessons learned / best practices, has a post from about a year ago on the difference between lessons learned and learning lessons. I’m revisiting these ideas after sharing my thoughts about knowledge work as craft and the growth and development of young knowledge workers as craftsmen with the Work Literacy group.

Before someone can start working in a craft, they must first learn the basics of the craft. Part of this learning is traditional learning of the facts, procedures, and techniques that have been learned and passed along by those who have gone before. While not “lessons learned” in the usual sense, this type of lessons learned (or best practice) can be of value.

In fact, I think that assimilation of this knowledge, obtained from lessons learned by others, is a key early step in helping people become able to learn their own lessons later on in their career. Without a solid foundation of what has already been learned, the apprentice is destined to “reinvent the wheel” more than is necessary. (Note the “more than necessary” caveat: I believe that it is important for the novice to attempt some reinvention of their own; this gives them an understanding of the importance of those early lessons.)

The journey of an apprentice to the realm of the master is, in many ways, a journey from knowledge consumption to knowledge creation. As an apprentice, the reliance on existing knowledge is very high. The journeyman learns to understand the knowledge in use and apply it in creative, new ways. The master, while grounded in the existing knowledge of the craft, is not constrained by that knowledge as he creates new knowledge for use by the next wave of apprentices.

The same progression can be seen in many aspects of knowledge work. Most will start off in college, accumulating that basic information they need for their chosen field, then move on to a “journeyman” stage in a company (or their own company) where they will learn how to apply that accumulated knowledge. For most, this is the stage they will remain at for most of their career.

If they are lucky, and of course diligent in continuing to develop their own work literacy, they will progress to the “master” stage where they can re-write what is taught to students in college.

On the importance of rules

After reading some of the various recent posts concerning Mind Maps® and downloading and using the trial version of MindManager, I went back to the source of my first introduction to Mind Maps®, Michael Gelb‘s book How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. I was fortunate enough to meet Michael when he was touring for the book when it came out several years ago and hear him speak about the book and his experiences. If you’ve not read this book, I strongly recommend it.

After a brief description of Mind Maps, Michael lays down the rules of Mind Mapping before presenting the exercises. The rules themselves were very familiar to me since I have been playing around with Mind Maps over the last couple of days. What really grabbed me was Michael’s “justification” for using rules, a quote from DaVinci’s Treatise on Painting:

These rules are intended to help you to a free and good judgement: for good judgement proceeds from good understanding, and good understanding comes from reason trained by good rules, and good rules are the children of sound experience, which is the common mother of all the sciences and arts. (emphasis added by me)

Throughout my adult life I’ve had a “glass half full” perspective on rules that somewhat mirrors DaVinci’s sentiments. This comes from the scientist and engineer in me. To paraphrase another great mind, Richard Feynman, it is important to know what has been done before so that you can build from it.

As anyone with children – especially teenagers – knows, though, rules have a very bad reputation. From the kids point of view, rules are evil things meant to repress (oppress?) kids and limit their adventures in life. I see this as a “glass is half empty” perspective on rules.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that many people in organizations I’ve been involved with have this same perspective. Rules in the form of organizational processes, best practices, etc., are all too often ignored – often quite blatantly and proudly. The not invented here syndrome is alive and well. That said, I do not advocate blind following of rules or application of past success (best practices) to any “knowledge” problem.

One aspect of Knowledge Management, process improvement, etc., is the capturing and use of best practices. Much of the writing and practice of best practices, at least that I’m familiar with, and my past experiences with organizations doing work with best practices focuses on the capturing of past practices that worked and the application of those practices, as is, to future situations that are similar. While this works fine for what I call “information” processes – and is, I believe, a critical step in helping any organization improve – I don’t believe that it is appropriate for “knowledge” processes. Or, in terms of DaVinci’s scheme above, the blind use of rules, in the form of best practices, stops short of the goal – good judgement.

This is not to say, however, that past experiences should not be exploited in creating/acquiring new knowledge. Except for the rarest of occasions of thinking “outside the box” (e.g., Newton’s discovery/invention of the calculus and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity), most new knowledge created today is derivative of something past. It is important to know what has come before and learn from the success and mistakes of others. The rules that come from those past lessons then become the framework for the future, not the fully developed solution to be applied like a generic template to a MS Word or PowerPoint document.