Monday, March 02, 2009

I know what I know when I need to know it

"I know what I know when I need to know it" is another of David Snowden's heuristics, rules of thumb, about knowledge management.

Even more insightful is David Snowden’s corollary: “I don’t know what I need to know until I need to know it”.

Contrast what you know with what a computer knows about its information. Indexes, directories and lists of files. A computer knows instantly what it knows. Can you image what it would be like to be continuous aware of what you know? Insanity? What we know is more closely related to how this guy knows than to a computer. Malcolm Gladwell leveraged off David Snowden’s rule of thumb to write a book. “Blink” is about instinctual knowledge and how we make decisions and then construct reason trees to justify the decision we arrived at instantaneously because “I know what I know”.

David Snowden’s rule of thumb makes more sense of how we discover what we know (or don’t know) than the more famous and convoluted “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know. ” from the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in a 2002 press conference.

Worst of all, there are “unknown knowns” (Donald Rumsfeld missed this one). These are the things that we don’t know that we know, things known by part of the organization but not by the rest. This happens frequently in families, illustrated by the shriek from a teen-age daughter: “I didn’t know that you needed to know that!!”. To our chagrin, this also happens in organizations, sometimes with the same level of consternation and generally identified as a “lack of communication” at a future date during the retrospective.

The problem is that technology and knowledge libraries and frequent communications help but do not solve this problem. This is the way we are wired as primates to know what we know.

As a species, we have been communicating knowledge for a very long time and have gotten very sophisticated about it. Which leads us to the next rule of thumb.

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