Tuesday 22 February 2011

Making the knowledge gaps visible

Invisible Man Sculpture, Harlem, NYOne of the biggest challenges in working with knowledge is that it is invisible.

Nobody can tell what you know by looking at you, and nobody can tell what you need to know either, just by looking at you. Two people can pass each other in a corridor, one of whom possesses the solution to a problem that is taxing the other out of their mind, and they don't even realise the need to talk, because the knowledge and its need are invisible.

I have been in a number of settings where we have made the knowledge visible, and also where we have made the knowledge gaps- the questions - visible. In a setting like this you can just watch the interactions start to happen.

One was in a conference, where we asked people to write, on their name badge, an issue or problem that was taxing them. Then, as people circulated for coffee, others who had ideas or solutions to the problem could introduce themselves, and knowledge exchange could start.

Mars did a similar exercise, using electronic tags which lit up when someone with similar knowledge or interests came near.

Then we have done Knowledge Markets, where people host a poster listing their knowledge issues and their knowledge offers, and others circulate, looking for answers to their problems and problems they can answer.

The ultimate vision will be to introduce a system at work where both knowledge and questions are visible. The first would be a yellow pages system, where people can identify what they know, and where you can conduct searches based on knowledge.  The second would be a system of broadcasting questions, such as a Q&A forum, or using Social Networking status labels. In Knoco we use Yammer as a way to tap into the knowledge of our world-wide colleagues.

The more we can make the knowledge visible, and make the questions, or knowledge gaps, visble, the more we can put people together with others to improve knowledge transfer and solve problems.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

Great post! LinkedIn is the closest and simplest tool I have found for finding who might know what. Even within my own company, I search for experts on a topic through the LinkedIn Advanced Search specifying my own company name, limiting it to current employees, and then putting the expertise I am seeking in the keywords box. It's free and it works.

Best regards,

Nick Milton said...

Linked-In is free, but in my opinion it has patchy coverage, and no clear knowledge taxonomy.

The foremost expert in your company on Internet Law, for example, probably will not have joined Linked-In, and if she has, she may have registered her knowledge as "Online Legal" rather than "Internet Law". Either way you would not find her.

Linked-In is great for publishing personal pages, but in my opinion is poor as a way of finding "the people who know" (at least compared to bespoke solutions). As in most things in life, you can have Free, or you can have Good.

John Day said...

I like the name badge adjunct Nick. What about the practicalities of writing an issue on a name badge for the presbyopic baby boomers like myself

John Day


Nick Milton said...

Hi John

what you do in that case, is take the name label out of the badge, turn it over, and write in big letters on the blank reverse side.

For this exercise "what i need to know" is more important than "what's my name"!

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