Monday, November 17, 2008

Rules of Thumb for Knowledge Sharing


Heuristics are useful rules of thumb. Coming from trial and error or experimentation, heuristics succinctly describe key principles without elaborating a model or explanation.

A common one is: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning”. Weather systems in the northern hemisphere generally catch a ride on a jet stream travelling west to east. So, a red sunset at evening indicates a clearing sky to the west; whereas in the morning, a red sunrise indicates a storm system is approaching. Which is easier to remember and captures the essence of knowledge about weather and sailing? The rule of thumb of course.

Knowledge management has its heuristics too. There are five that I keep close. When a KM project heads off the rails, or I need to get back to some first principles:

Here are the five rules of thumb (or common sense) about knowledge and knowledge sharing that I keep rediscovering:

1. Knowledge sharing: It’s 80% about people, 20% about tools.
(from Ron Weisenberger, the first CKO in the Government of Alberta)

2. Knowledge can only ever be volunteered, not conscripted.
(from David Snowden, Cognitive Edge Pte)

3. I only know what I know when I need to know it.
(again from David Snowden). David’s corollary: “I don’t know what I need to know until I need to know it” is just as insightful.

4. I know more than I can say and I will say more than I can write down
(The third rule of thumb from David Snowden)

5. People are canny; they will appear to conform.
(from Larry Prusak)

These heuristics of knowledge frame how we should approach knowledge management. I wish I could offer the links to the models of human behaviour and how humans learn. But in the end, it may be more useful to return to these rules of thumb as we try to navigate the seas of collaboration, innovation and learning in our communities and organizations.

I’ll try to summarize what I’ve learned about these KM rules of thumb next time.

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