Thursday, 7 February 2013


Beginners and experts


Great Meadows Fishing Day 2010Confucius said "Yu, shall I tell you what true knowledge is? When you know, to know that you know, and when you do not know, to know that you do not know—that is true knowledge". So the true expert is the person who knows what they know, and what they don't know.

This means that before you get that true knowledge, before you become an expert, you don't know what you know, and you don't know what you don't know.  That's a description of a beginner, or a novice. 

In knowledge management terms, that means you have to treat the beginners and the experts differently. Experts, and budding experts, will become fully involved in Communities of Practice - gaining knowledge through discussions and through questions., When they need knowledge, they will ask for it, and receive answers. Their questions are clear and focused, because they know what they don't know. They won't tend to use the Knowledge Base so much, as they already know what they know, and are looking to "fill in the gaps" in their knowledge.

The novices, on the other hand, will not take part in the community discussions (although they may "lurk" - read the conversations but without taking part). Because they don't know what they don't know, they don't know what questions to ask. When they do ask questions, they tend to be general and basic, rather than specific and targeted. However the beginner will find the knowledge base - the wikis, the FAQs - very useful, because it gives them the full picture. It shows them all aspects of the knowledge, so they can understand the full range of the things they don't know.

The demographics of the workforce determines which knowledge management tools to focus on. A company with large numbers of experienced staff will get huge value from communities of practice, and from question-led discussions among the experts and budding experts. A company with large numbers of new staff and inexperienced staff may get more benefit from building FAQs, knowledge bases and wikis. 

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