On our business voice by David Weinberger
Quotations from David Weinberger:
Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation - literally. And 'knowledge workers' are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations.
To have a conversation, you have to be comfortable being human - acknowledging you don't have all the answers, being eager to learn from someone else and to build new ideas together.
You can only have a conversation if you're not afraid of being wrong. Otherwise, you're not conversing, you're just declaiming, speechifying, or reading what's on the PowerPoints. To converse, you have to be willing to be wrong in front of another person.
Conversations occur between equals. The time your boss's boss asked you at a meeting about your project's deadline was not a conversation. The time you sat with your boss for an hour in the Polynesian-themed bar while on a business trip and you really talked, got past the corporate bullshit, told each other the truth about the dangers ahead, and ended up talking about your kids - that maybe was a conversation.
We get to knowledge — especially "actionable" knowledge — by having desires and curiosity, through plotting and play, by being wrong more often than right, by talking with others and forming social bonds, by applying methods and then backing away from them, by calculation and serendipity, by rationality and intuition, by institutional processes and social roles.
Most important in this regard, where the decisions are tough and knowledge is hard to come by, knowledge is not determined by information, for it is the knowing process that first decides which information is relevant, and how it is to be used.
Implicit knowledge isn't explicit knowledge that we're not currently thinking about. Implicit knowledge isn't there the way ore is buried. It's "there" only in the sense that we can generate it when required.
But the real problem with the information being provided to us in our businesses is that, for all the facts and ideas, we still have no idea what we're talking about. We don't understand what's going on in our business, our market, and our world.
In fact, it'd be right to say that we already *know* way too much. KM isn't about helping us to know more. It's about helping us to understand. Knowledge without understanding is like, well, information.”
So, how do we understand things? From the first accidental wiener roast on a prehistoric savannah, we've understood things by telling stories. It's through stories that we understand how the world works.
But the real problem with the information being provided to us in our businesses is that, for all the facts and ideas, we still have no idea what we're talking about.
We don't understand what's going on in our business, our market, and our world.
In fact, it'd be right to say that we already *know* way too much.
KM isn't about helping us to know more.
It's about helping us to understand. Knowledge without understanding is like, well, information.
Knowledge Management should not be about helping us to know more.
It should be about helping us to understand better.
Here's a definition of that pesky and borderline elitist phrase, 'knowledge worker'. A knowledge worker is someone whose job entails having really interesting conversations at work.
The characteristics of conversations map to the conditions for genuine knowledge generation and sharing: they're unpredictable interactions among people speaking in their own voice about something they're interested in. The conversants implicitly acknowledge that they don't have all the answers (or else the conversation is really a lecture) and risk being wrong in front of someone else. And conversations overcome the class structure of business, suspending the organization chart at least for a little while.
If you think about the aim of Knowledge Management as enabling better conversations rather than lassoing stray knowledge doggies, you end up focusing on breaking down the physical and class barriers to conversation. And if that's not what Knowledge Management is really about, then you ought to be doing it anyway.
We have been trained throughout our business careers to suppress our individual voice and to sound like a 'professional', that is, to sound like everyone else.
This professional voice is distinctive. And weird.
Taken out of context, it is as mannered as the ritualistic dialogue of the 17th-century French court.
Our voice is our strongest, most direct expression of who we are.
Our voice is expressed in our own words, our tone, our body language, our visible enthusiasms.
The Internet is a place where people get to speak in their own voice about what is important to them.
Knowledge management has become a hot topic precisely because we silently recognize that our information isn't yielding understanding.
But information is unsatisfying because it's managed; to make it manageable, we strip out context and voice.
So, if we identify something called knowledge and then insist on managing it, we'll repeat the problem that gave rise to our desire for knowledge.
Conclusion? If you want to get past information, you have to give up all hope of managing your - and others' - understanding of the world.
Also, you can't do it yourself: all understanding is social by definition.
05:57 PM GDT