Wednesday 30 July 2014

The knower and the learner, and how to turn one into the other

"What's wrong with being a Knower?

"Being a Knower is about Knowing stuff, so in KM we should all aim to be Knowers, right"?

Wrong - we should all aim to be Learners.

Knowers and Learners are two archetypes within Knowledge Management, representing two end-members of one of the ten cultural dimensions of Organisational Learning.

The difference between the two is fundamental to the Knowledge Management culture shift, and is well illustrated in an old issue of System Thinker magazine, in a piece entitled "Confessions of a recovering knower" by Brian Hinken. 

In this article, based on typical recovering-addict stories, Brian talks about the difference between knowers and learners.
The difference between a knower and a learner, very simply, is that a learner is willing to admit "I don't know", and be influenced. Knowers believe they know all they need to know to address the situations they are responsible for. But at an even deeper level, Knowing is so central to who they are that they sometimes act as if they do know something, even when they don't.
These two archetypes of Knower and Learner are the same two as Sir Clive Woodward, the great sports coach, describes as Rocks and Sponges.

We can see easily how an organisation of Learners/Sponges would rapidly develop habits and mechanisms for Knowledge Management, while an organisation of Knowers/Rocks would block any KM culture change efforts.

Moving from Knower to Learner

Brian goes further in his article and discusses both how he changed his own stance from Knower to Learner, and how others can do the same. He describes 5 areas which the Knower needs to "let go of" in order to become a learner. These are as follows (I have changed the wording slightly);

QuestionKnower stanceLearner stance
1. Are you producing the desired results?Yes, of courseNot necessarily
2. Can you take responsibility for changing things?NoYes
3. Could you try other ways of doing things?No - I know the right way.Yes, I am open to alternatives
4. Might there be approaches you currently don't know?Of course not; I am the expert.Of course.
5. Are you willing to be influenced?NoYes

This shift from knower to learner is one of the most fundamental transformations you may need to encourage and support in your organisation.

Through promoting the team-learning tools such as Retrospect and After Action review, you may begin to help people address the first two or three questions (indeed these processes are in themselves culture change agents).

Through introducing communities of practice and  Peer Assist you can help people address the fourth question.

 Finally with Knowledge Management pilots and proof-of-concept exercises we can demonstrate that a Learner mindset delivers step-changes in performance, and benefits both the individual and the organisation.

Don't be a knower - be a learner, and support others in being learners too.

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