Monday, 11 March 2013

Knowledge - need to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

So what has a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, written nearly 600 years ago, got to do with Knowledge Management? Read on - it's all about the Internalisation step.

The Book of Common Prayer was first written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1539 - before the birth of Shakespeare - and it's words strike a  resonance for anyone brought up in the conservative Anglican tradition. They are deep, sonorous words, very close to poetry, anchored into the collective consiousness. The Collect (prayer) for the second Sunday in Advent contains the Phrase below
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them....
It struck me recently that these five verbs represent a breakdown of the final step in Knowledge Transfer - the step that Nonaka and Takeuchi call "Internalisation." This is the most difficult transition in Knowledge Management, where people take the words of others and convert them into inner understanding, and the step which is most commonly overlooked.

Lets look at Cranmer's phase in more detail, and see how it breaks down the act of incorporating and internalising new knowledge.

  • Hear. When Cranmer wrote these words, most people could not read, so hearing was the only way to acquire knowledge from documents. We still need to hear about new knowledge - we need to be notified of it before we can read it. Any effective KM system which aims at knowledge re-use needs a notification mechanism, and something more targeted than "send to all".
  • Read. We need, once notified, to go and read the new knowledge, whether it is a CoP posting, or a new Lesson. This needs to be easy to do - the notification should contain a link that takes you straight there. 
  • Mark. "Mark" means "Take notice". It means "pay attention". It means "read this as if it is something important". It means, don't just skim-read; read it and look for what it might mean for you. The writer of the knowledge can help here; they can make their post, their lesson, their contribution more mark-worthy (see here and here for how to do this). 
  • Learn. Marking is the beginning of Learning. However there are ways in which that learning can be accelerated and deepened. You can learn as a team (learning is seldom a solo activity!) by discussing with your team. You can learn through finding out more; through asking questions of the person who wrote the knowledge - on their blog, in the community, or over the telephone if you can find their contact details (which is one reason to ensure that every piece of knowledge should be tagged with the contributor's name).
  • Inwardly Digest. This is the Internalisation step. This is where the reader considers "what does this mean for me", or where the team consider "what does this mean for our project?" This is the big deal - this is where the rubber meets the road, this is where knowledge potentially leads to action. Again this is probably best done as a group process, through discussion.

So Cranmer has written for us a hierarchy of interaction with documented knowledge, moving from first awareness to action and internalisation. We need to ensure that our Knowledge Management systems allow, or promote, or facilitate  such a hierarchy  so that valuable knowledge is not missed, or skim-read, or ignored, or overlooked, but instead leads to action, to improvement, and to enhanced performance.

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