Monday 25 August 2014

Two ways of Knowing - Facts and Familiarity

It has been a long running thread within this blog, that the English language is inadequate when it comes to talking about Knowledge. 

Where other languages describe two forms of knowing, we have only one word for both. It is this inadequacy that is at the heart of many disagreements about Knowledge Management. 

We use the same word when asking "Do you know her name" as when asking "Do you know her". However we are describing two types of knowing here - the first is a Fact, the second is a Familiarity.  If you know someone's name, then you can recall a fact about them. If you know someone, then you are familiar with them.

There is a big difference between these two types of knowing, even though we can hold both types in our heads. There are equally big implications for Knowledge Management, as the two types of knowledge will need to be managed in different ways.

The table below shows some of the differences.



Facts are memorised - they come through instructionFamiliarity is acquired, it comes through experience (your own experience, or shared experience from others)
Facts are "know-about"Familiarity is "know-how" as well as "know-why" and "know who"
Facts can be transmitted easily through written meansFamiliarity is difficult to transmit through written means, although context-rich instructions and stories can help to share experience
Machines and IT systems can store facts faithfullyMachines and IT systems cannot (or at least cannot easily) store familiarity - Familiarity is primarily a human attribute
Facts themselves do not facilitate action.Familiarity facilitates action. If you are familiar with a situation, you know what to do. If you are familiar with a person, you know how to interact with them.
Facts are information as well as knowledge, and can be managed through information management systemsFamiliarity is not information, it is only knowledge, and it cannot be managed through information management systems
Facts have value to an organisationFamiliarity has MASSIVE value to an organisation

In Knoco, we tend to focus our Knowledge Management support on ways to develop Familiarity (without losing sight of the need to provide access to facts), for example;

  • Using knowledge management to allow new staff to become rapidly familiar with organisational processes
  • Developing a shared familiarity of an operation or activity through discussions within a community of practice
  • Using team learning processes such as Peer Assist and After Action Review to help a team "climb the learning curve of familiarity" more quickly
  • Applying a Knowledge Retention Strategy to ensure that an organisation does not lose familiarity with crucial processes, practices and relationships when key people retire
  • Using Lessons Learned to ensure that teams become familiar with pitfalls and workarounds from previous projects.

Keep this difference in mind as you plan your Knowledge Management strategies. Knowledge is not a simple thing, and you will need to pay attention to these two ways of Knowing.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting point. I am leaning Rubic's cube, it takes me weeks to learn the beginner's solution, and now I can restore it within 3 minutes, But the tutorial is just one sheet, Facts are so easy to get, and familiarity is so difficult to learn.

Those top performers, using advanced solution, can restore a cube in 15 seconds or less, And the solution is also just a piece of paper, Easy to get and difficult to learn.

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