Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Someone said something very important at a meeting last week in Washington, that got me really thinking.
We were talking about knowledge transfer between two people, and the power of questions in eliciting knowledge. And she said "as a librarian, I have been taught, and made it a habit over many years, never to accept the first question".
She went on to explain that when someone came to her asking for reference on birds, for example, she always asked for clarification. Why do you want to know about birds? Are you a chicken owner, looking for advice on keeping chickens? Do you want to identify a bird on your garden? Are you writing a study paper on bird biology? The choice of books that she recommeded, depended completely on understanding what the person was looking for, and that was seldom apparent in the initial question.
The questioner needs knowledge in a particular context, and if you don't understand the context, you can't answer their question effectively.
Also sometimes the questioner doesn't know what they don't know, and you need some dialogue to help both of you clarify what is needed.
The lesson is clear - always question the question, so you both have a better idea of what knowledge to seek for or to share.
But how common is this as a habit? How often do even the experienced KM people question the question?
I had a quick look through some of the Linked-in question-led discussions in the Knowledge Management groups (KM Experts, CKO forum etc). In what percentage of these discussions do you think anyone questioned the question?
Well, out of the 30 discussions I checked, in 26 cases nobody questioned the question. They just dived in and assumed they knew what the questioner wanted.
In 3 cases, the first reply to the initial question was a return question for clarification. In one more case, the second reply was a question. That's 13% of the examples I looked at. In the remaining 87% nobody questioned the question.
I think this is a habit we are all going to have to learn, if we want effective knowledge transfer to be a more common ocurrence.