2 types of knowing – awareness and acquaintance
Acquaintance requires experience, but KM can accelerate the gaining of experience
If someone asked you “do you know Nick Milton”, what would you answer?
You might say “I know the name”, or you might say “I have read his blog”, but the chances are that you would not say “Yes, I know Nick” unless we had met, or at least talked.
There are shades of knowing – degrees of knowing – from awareness of someone, to acquaintance with them, but generally you would not say you “knew” someone without having met them (in British English, we say “made their acquaintance”).
Similarly, if I asked you “do you know Amsterdam” you might say “Yes – it is a large city in the Netherlands” or “I know where it is”, or even “I went there once for a weekend” but you would not say “I know Amsterdam” without having stayed there for a while and become acquainted with the city.
With people and with places (and with many other topics) we do not claim “knowledge” without acquaintance-ship, and without experience. We are talking here about deep knowledge – understanding – familiarity. We are talking about intimate knowledge.
It is this deep knowledge which is the most valuable asset to an organisation. Deep knowledge goes beyond knowledge as a series of facts, or knowledge as a compiled set of information, to the knowledge worker’s true knowledge of their role and of the business processes. The sort of knowledge like “never visit that client on a Monday morning – she’s going through a divorce, and her weekends are traumatic”, or “before you drive down that track to check the outstation, always call the landowner first, or she will follow you with a shotgun”, or “that compressor always runs hot for the first 30 minutes, then settles down nicely”. Intimate knowledge that allows you to operate effectively, and efficiently. Knowledge that is on the way to Mastery.
If deep knowledge requires acquaintance – requires experience – then how can knowledge management help transfer deep knowledge to people before they have any experience?
- Firstly, you can prepare them in advance.
I am sure you have had conversations where people meet you for the first time, and say “I have heard so much about you – I feel I already know you”.
That knowledge will not be perfect, but because of the stories they have heard, they have “made your acquaintance” in proxy, though the stories, before making it in person. They are halfway to knowing you. We can do the same at work – we can share the work stories and the “war stories”, so that people become acquainted in proxy before they start the work. Through Peer Assists, through Communities of Practice, by sharing Lessons and Experiences, we can prepare others.
- Secondly, you can share the experts’ experience and acquaintanceship, to accelerate others’ learning curves.
If I am travelling to Amsterdam for a week, one of the most valuable things I can take with me is a good guidebook, written by someone who really knows the city. The author will share their knowledge of the city with me, and help me accelerate my own knowledge of Amsterdam. The book gives me shallow knowledge – “knowledge about” Amsterdam – but helps me gain my deep knowledge much faster. Similarly at work we can compile the knowledge assets that act as the reference and the fast-start for people.
- Thirdly, you can work with a mentor.
If I really want to get a head start in developing a deep knowledge of Amsterdam, I spend a few days with a local, who can show me the ins and outs of the city, takes me to all the secret spots, the hidden gems and the great restaurants where the tourists never go. Through sharing his or her deep knowledge, I become acquainted with Amsterdam much more rapidly, and my own knowledge deepens quickly. At work we can build the communities of practice that allow people to mentor each other informally, we can define the process owners who act as the “tour guides” for their topics, and we can develop more formal mentoring and dedicated learning programs.
Deep knowledge requires acquaintance and experience, but Knowledge Management can help with the preparation for, and acquisition of, deep knowledge. KM need not just be about presentation of facts, it can be about developing an acquaintance as well.