Blog Post

Funny, ethereal stuff is knowledge

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 27 August 2013



Funny, ethereal stuff is knowledge
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 158
Posted DateTuesday 27 August 2013 12:51 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://www.jarche.com/2012/09/dont-worry-nobody-can-steal-yo ... 
http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2011/04/conversations-that-sha ... 
http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2013/08/we-know-more-than-we-c ... 
CategoriesKnowledge Sharing; Knowledge Management
PeopleHarold Jarche , Nancy Dixon

A few thoughts of mine on the nature of knowledge inspired by this blogpost Don't worry - nobody can steal your knowledge from Harold Jarche.

We talk all the time in the KM world about sharing, transferring or capturing knowledge. But we can't really do this.

Knowledge only exists in the human mind. On paper, or in a database or even when encoded in our voice it is information - a fuzzy, poor representation of our knowledge at one moment in time, incomplete and lacking full context.

It means that I cannot give you my knowledge directly and you cannot give me yours. It is always transferred via some encoded form of information. Knowledge is encoded as information and then knowledge in the mind of the receiver is used to reconstruct that information back into knowledge. A funny kind of process in which so much gets lost and distorted along the way. Yes, you can argue that knowledge is ultimately shared or transferred but it is far from a perfect process.

When we talk or interact, neither of us has any control over what the other pays attention to or takes away in their heads. Its the same with reading, two people will read the same book or report and learn and draw very different conclusions from it. It may be a lot. It may be nothing at all. It may be the opposite of what we were trying to convey. It may even be confusion.

We know this but we still talk about knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer. We simply can't transfer knowledge in the true meaning of the word. Its the wrong metaphor to describe the process that takes place though we seem to be stuck with it.

All we can do is to help each other develop each others knowledge. Knowledge is not static. It is not a thing. It is dynamic and ever changing.

In conversation, new knowledge can emerge. Knowledge in my head and knowledge in yours. It will never be the same knowledge. And as we go away and reflect on things and connect things it will change. And each time we recall it, It will emerge a little different.

Funny, ethereal stuff is knowledge. No wonder we find it so difficult to "manage".

David Gurteen
Theodore Zeldin sums it up nicely here:
Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits.

When minds meet, they don't just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, and engage in new trains of thought.

Conversation doesn't just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.

Our most effective tool for sharing knowledge is conversation as Nancy Dixon explains in this blog post from 2011 Conversations That Share Tacit Knowledge and this more recent one We Know More Than We Can Say: The Paradox of Tacit Knowledge - Part One which several people on Twitter retitled "Why can't we just write it down?"

Both these posts are well worth a read.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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