Social: location, listening, connection, reciprocation

As happens from time to time, there is a bit of a backlash against Twitter and other forms of social media at the moment. Jon Ronson is publicising the paperback edition of his book, so the headlines focus on his ‘disenchantment with social media’. Ed Sheeran has chosen to concentrate on some new experiences ahead of releasing his third album, so he has turned away from social media. In highlighting these examples, we run the risk of misunderstanding what being online can mean. Despite the stories we are told, it is more important that social media are social, rather than media.


A city street might have many purposes, and see many forms of human behaviour: teenage shopping, adult drunkenness, coupling, casual conversation, protest, police brutality, acts of charity, theft, commercial deliveries, commuting by car, walking, running, sports events… the list is potentially endless. But we rarely define the street by one, or even a small group, of these activities. We are more likely to talk about the activity itself, with the location either ignored or sidelined.

We have yet to reach that level of maturity when talking about online interactions. Too often it is still the case that the medium in which something happens is identified as a cause of that something. Our understanding of these platforms is thereby impoverished.

I have been ‘online’ in some form or another for almost 25 years, starting with places like Usenet and CIX. Over this time, I have noticed some recurring patterns in the way people become social online.

Where to go?

As we become familiar with our own towns and cities, we learn quickly where the best places are for particular types of gathering. There is no point in holding a protest where we can’t be seen or heard. Likewise, an intimate dinner isn’t likely to be found in a casino. There is a huge range of online places, each of which supports different kinds of interaction. Some are also specialised as to the topics they cover. On the larger platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, everyone needs to create their own community.

When things start to go wrong online, the cause is often a lack of common understanding about the nature of place. If one person thinks they are in the right place for a contemplative discussion about life, but someone else considers that their agressive responses about the government’s political choices, there is no common ground. Sadly, this kind of mismatch still happens too often — often because people forget or don’t know about the next point.


This step is one that many people do instinctively, but is sometimes missed by those who don’t understand its importance. Euan Semple wrote about this very well today:

We’ve all had that situation of having agreed to link with someone on LinkedIn and then second message they send is trying to sell us something. Or maybe we’ve been reading that influential industry blogger’s posts for years and, thanks to their easy going style, feel like we know them – but how would they react if we reach out and try to connect with them?

This is why lurking matters. Finding the people you want to connect with, working out where they spend time and watching how they behave. You need to learn the ropes, get to understand the rules and the etiquette of people and situations. Think about the person you are about to connect with. What are their challenges and priorities? What sort of language do they use? What is your motivation for connecting with them and is it mutually beneficial?

For many people, it is enough to listen. Nearly a decade ago, Jakob Nielsen drew together a number of strands of research to suggest that as a rule of thumb, 90% of participants in online communities merely observed the discussion. (Of the rest, 9% contributed occasionally and 1% were responsible for most of the contributions.) This 90-9-1 rule has been challenged more recently by researchers at the BBC, but their data was gathered by survey rather than from monitoring actual community usage.

Whatever the figures, lurking is a natural human behaviour. As we circulate round a drinks party, we listen to the conversations around us and familiarise ourselves with what is going on before joining any of them. And we only join in when we have something interesting to add. Listening skills are valued as a means of generating trust. The same should be true of lurking. Learning about a community by sitting respectfully and observing what it does and what the key norms are only helps when the time comes to join in.

Making connections and sharing

When the time comes to speak up, rather than listen, normal social convention requires that one adds some kind of value to the conversation. That is true online just as it is in the pub. Commenting on a blog post or joining a Twitter conversation is most meaningful when the original participants benefit and the remaining audience gets something they might not have had without the intervention.

This cycle of connection and reciprocation is common offline, and is reinforced by all sorts of social and implicit norms. It is often harder to express (let alone enforce) similar norms online, which is why trolling can become a problem. Online, it is also much more likely that there is no homogeneous audience. The troll’s audience is almost certainly completely different from that of the person he attacks.

I have no deep-seated aversion to ‘content marketing’ — after all, this blog is probably an example of the genre. However, there is a growing body of material that is pushed willy-nilly via various ‘channels’ with no real appreciation of the way other people interact in those fora, and with little engagement by way of conversation. I do have an aversion to that because it uses a social medium in an unsocial way, and thereby taints it.

[In January, I will be running a workshop aimed at PSLs, but possibly of wider interest, on good social media use. Sign up on the Ark Group website if you’re interested.]

Law libraries: The heart of legal practice

The library has historically had a central position in the life of the law. The popular view of legal practice links it strongly to dusty tomes. Law is bound to texts as closely as theology is. Library at Calke AbbeyUntil recent years, large law firms and barristers’ chambers would often present their library holdings as a mark of their seriousness. National and local law societies established libraries as a priority for their members.

Some modern lawyers have forgotten the significance of libraries in their legal practice. They point to the ready availability of online and portable electronic resources as a better alternative to bound volumes. They resent the space that those volumes occupy at a time when property costs are rising. They encourage their firms, chambers and professional bodies to treat libraries as just another expense: to be trimmed when necessary.

It is true that libraries cost money to establish and maintain, but these costs are different from others that burden legal practice. The value of a library is often as much in its historic holdings as in its current content. Once lost, the older material can rarely be replaced. Like professional reputation, a good library depends on goodwill and credit accumulated over many years.

One of London’s Inns of Court, the Inner Temple, has proposed a major upheaval to its own library. David Allen Green has eloquently noted why these proposals are wrong-headed. He concludes:

A good law library, as I said at the head of this post, is a Public Benefit.  It provides a lawyer – any lawyer – with the same access to the very same legal resources as his or her opponents, however well-resourced or expensive those lawyers are.

And in every lawyer’s case there is a client; and so the access a lawyer has to first-rate legal resources benefits the client.  And the public benefit too: cases which are properly argued are more likely to be properly decided, and the output of our courts has an effect on society generally.

David also links to the Inner Temple’s library committee’s response to the proposals. That document contains many submissions by eminent library users decrying the erosion of the library.

Amongst those submissions, there are a couple of points that are not often enough made about the purpose of libraries, and which I think are particularly important in modern legal practice. Libraries are not just about books and resources — they offer a community focus, and a kind of space that may be missing elsewhere.


A good library is not just a space for books; it is also a space for people. In particular, it is a space for people to focus on a specific task. That is now unusual in the workplace. Technology (whether desktop or mobile) is built around the assumption that all a lawyer’s needs can be provided through the same screen. That might sound useful, but it also leads to distraction and thence (in all likelihood) to poorer quality work. The ability to remove oneself to a desk in a library, to focus on a single task, may improve the quality of work.

This opportunity to find a dedicated working space is particularly important in open plan offices. Firms sometimes forget this. Some lawyers have also lost the habit of working away from their desks. Their fear of missing a particular communication ties them to their technology and renders them more susceptible to distraction. Firms often point to lawyers’ habits as grounds for reducing the space available to libraries, without considering whether those habits are the right ones. Often they aren’t. Designing good working spaces shouldn’t just be a reflection of what people do — it should lead them to do things that are better.

Steve Jobs knew this:

Then there’s our building. Steve Jobs basically designed this building. In the center, he created this big atrium area, which seems initially like a waste of space. The reason he did it was that everybody goes off and works in their individual areas. People who work on software code are here, people who animate are there, and people who do designs are over there. Steve put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center—which initially drove us crazy—so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. He realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.

Just as Pixar’s building is designed to connect people, shouldn’t legal businesses lead their people to work better? Libraries can help to do that.


In addition to being good dedicated workplaces, libraries can become a focus for communities. This is one explanation for the existence of law libraries run by law societies and the Inns of Court. Those institutions were established at a time when the typical legal enterprise was too small to sustain a meaningful library of its own. Sole practitioners or small partnerships need all kinds of support — starting with access to books and other resources.

As larger legal businesses have become prevalent, many local law societies have struggled to maintain their investment in libraries. Many have closed.

There is no guarantee that large law firms will remain the norm. Cheaper technology (amongst other things) allows smaller organisations or individuals to compete on equal terms alongside the leviathans. The communities supported by thriving law libraries should help that happen.

Although they might appear to hark back to historical legal traditions, law libraries have changed alongside the rest of the legal world. They remain the unsung heart of legal practice.

Working with intent

San Gimignano towers

“Why?” is the question of the moment.

  • Why do you want me to do this?
  • Why are you doing that?

Fewer and fewer people accept what they are told at face value. Many organisations, professions and individuals are treated with a modicum of mistrust. Until we know and accept why someone is behaving as they are, we may be suspicious of their motives.

In particular, the way we think about work is changing. After a century of treating work as a mechanical activity, typified by the Taylorist school of management, we are being guided by a number of critical thinkers to wonder why things are organised the way they have been for so long. We know that even a simple instruction will often be freighted with meaning — the bigger picture. Until we know and accept what that picture shows, we may be cynical about the task.

San Gimignano towersThere are many reasons for this suspicion and cynicism. Everyone will have their own combination of factors. But one stands out for me. The pervasiveness of alternative sources of information means that it is harder to conceal the impact of decisions made.

These sources of information are not the traditional media or sanitised official channels, but networks of individuals sharing items of genuine interest. And in that sharing, as Euan Semple pointed out earlier this week, intent is critical.

Intent also came up in an article by Eric Kraus on Medium, “Social Intent:
Interested vs. Interesting”. Eric’s article is particularly illuminating in the way he distinguishes between the core intent prevalent in public social media and that which is most useful in the use of social tools within organisations.

Facebook and Twitter are social networking platforms I’m sure many of us are familiar with. They were created and became popular during the Culture of Personality. It’s not surprising these social platforms define success by things called “Likes” and “Favorites”. While there are many great benefits to these platforms, many people use them to share personal information. And on these tools…they strive to be the most “interesting” or liked person.

In our professional careers, having a message ‘Liked’ by our peers doesn’t necessarily have a great correlation to our success. So, it doesn’t make a lot of  sense that the way we use Facebook and Twitter today would be helpful in collaborating with or leading our teams.

I argue, it’s actually not a problem with the tools. It’s a problem with our intent. I’ve heard from many leaders who say they struggle with enterprise social because they fear posting messages that are not insightful to their team… Their intent is to be interesting. I think they have it backwards.

The ‘Culture of Personality’ that Krause refers to was posited by the historian Warren Susman as a development resulting from the 20th century decline in natural communities in favour of larger cities and organisations where it was hard to know people well.

During this time, we think of people with qualities like knowledge and communication skills. People valued “personality” more so than ever. Are you outgoing? A good public speaker? Are you liked among your peers?

In prior times, when small farming communities were more prevalent and people had real connections within and to those communities, Susman identified a ‘Culture of Character’.

We think of people during this time as having qualities like being helpful. People valued, above all else: “Character”. Were they good people? Were they generous? Did they benefit and provide value to their community?

Kraus argues that meaningful use of social tools within organisations demands that people use them with the kind of intent that comes with a culture of character.

This resonates with something I have linked to before — Pixar’s ways of selecting people to work well within that organisation. The key factors are described by Randy Nelson (then Dean of Pixar University and now Head of Artistic Development and Training at DreamWorks Animation) in this video clip.

The key section for now is transcribed below.

What we’ve gotta find is people who are extremely broad. And the predictor there, we want somebody who is more interested than they are interesting. Yeah, anybody can have a pink Mohawk and enough piercings so that wind blows, you whistle without pursing your lips.

That’s interesting and that’s easy to get. Interested is tough. That’s a real skill and I’m sure all of you have that sense, somebody in your life who you just always think of when you think, that’s the person I want to talk to. Why? Because they’re so bright? Yeah they’re bright. But what they do is they amplify me. They give me what I need. I say, I’ve got a problem and they lean in. They don’t say, “Oh yeah, I got problems too. I bet my problems are more interesting than your problems.” No. They want to know what you want to know. They want to know what’s bothering you.

That’s the kind of intent that builds an organisation where people should be less cynical and suspicious because they understand why others are behaving the way they are — their intent is clear.

Surely that is a meaningful goal for any organisation? Increasingly, good people will move away from the places where being interesting is valued more highly than being interested.

[Picture note: this is a view of the famous towers of San Gimignano, built for no other purpose than to express the power of rival Guelph and Ghibelline families.]

All change!

2014-05-22 18.23.58Thirteen years ago, I packed my bags and left academia. In doing so, I swapped one type of institution (where I had been for almost 18 years: undergraduate, postgrad, teacher) for another: a law firm. At the end of May, I left that firm and institutional life altogether. I am now in the third stage of my career — working as a consultant helping businesses find ways to use their knowledge more productively.

It will take a little while for me to settle to the new role. There will be some changes here too. My intention is to build a set of pages for the business on top of the old ‘Enlightened Tradition’ blog. If WordPress works as described, any old links to the blog will still work as before.

I hope also that the frequency of posting will pick up too. The past few years were very busy for me, and it became harder to sustain the blog. I regret that — I have many draft posts that are now too old to be useful.

The blog is important to me because the new venture will build on the thoughts and ideas I have developed here as well as on the institutional experience I have had.

The key point there is that my thoughts and experiences have been shaped by the hundreds of people in my network — those I have worked closely with, as well as the looser connections that come through comments here and on Twitter and LinkedIn. Over the past few weeks, many of those people have also assisted and guided me through the process of parting from employment and into consultancy. There are too many people to thank individually, but I hope they each know that I am immensely grateful for all of their support. The network is indeed powerful, and beneficent.

The nature of the firm, and why it matters

Jordan Furlong‘s justified question, “Why do law firms exist?” is something that isn’t just relevant to partners (or potential investors in firms). Those who support the core functions of the firm need to be aware of its implications. I’ll come back to Jordan’s question, but first I want to reflect on something else.

Thanks to the generosity of Headshift, I was able to attend the Dachis Group’s London Social Business Summit at the end of March. One of the most interesting sessions that day was the presentation by Dave Gray of XPLANE. Dave outlined his current thinking about the nature of the company, which can be found summarised in the initial post on his new site, The Connected Company.

Dave is concerned about the short life span of the average company:

In a recent talk, John Hagel pointed out that the average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped precipitously, from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years in a more recent study. Why is the life expectancy of a company so low? And why is it dropping?

He is also worried about their productivity:

A recent analysis in the CYBEA Journal looked at profit-per-employee at 475 of the S&P 500, and the results were astounding: As you triple the number of employees, their productivity drops by half (Chart here).

This “3/2 law” of employee productivity, along with the death rate for large companies, is pretty scary stuff. Surely we can do better?

I believe we can. The secret, I think, lies in understanding the nature of large, complex systems, and letting go of some of our traditional notions of how companies function.

The largest complex system that still seems to work is the city.

Cities aren’t just complex and difficult to control. They are also more productive than their corporate counterparts. In fact, the rules governing city productivity stand in stark contrast to the ominous “3/2 rule” that applies to companies. As companies add people, productivity shrinks. But as cities add people, productivity actually grows.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that as the working population in a given area doubles, productivity (measured in this case by the rate of invention) goes up by 20%. This finding is borne out by study after study. If you’re interested in going deeper, take a look at this recent New York Times article: A Physicist Solves the City.

Drawing on a study of long-lived successful companies commissioned by Shell Oil, Dave spots three characteristics of those companies also shared by cities:

Ecosystems: Long-lived companies were decentralized. They tolerated “eccentric activities at the margins.” They were very active in partnerships and joint ventures. The boundaries of the company were less clearly delineated, and local groups had more autonomy over their decisions, than you would expect in the typical global corporation.

Strong identity: Although the organization was loosely controlled, long-lived companies were connected by a strong, shared culture. Everyone in the company understood the company’s values. These companies tended to promote from within in order to keep that culture strong. Cities also share this common identity: think of the difference between a New Yorker and a Los Angelino, or a Parisian, for example.

Active listening: Long-lived companies had their eyes and ears focused on the world around them and were constantly seeking opportunities. Because of their decentralized nature and strong shared culture, it was easier for them to spot opportunities in the changing world and act, proactively and decisively, to capitalize on them.

The whole post is worth reading and reflecting on. Dave’s prescription for success, for companies to be more like cities, is to shun divisional structures, and to build on networks and connections instead. This has been refined in a more recent post into a ‘podular’ system.

A pod is a small, autonomous unit that is enabled and empowered to deliver the things that customers value.

By value, I mean anything that’s a part of a service that delivers value, even though the customer may not see it. For example, in a construction firm, the activities valued by customers are those that are directly related to building. The accounting department of a construction firm is not part of the value delivery system, it’s a support team. But in an accounting firm, any activity related to accounting is part of the customer value delivery system.

There’s a reason that pods need to focus on value-creating activities rather than support activities. Support activities might need to be organized differently.

This idea appears to be closely related to Steve Denning’s notion of Radical Management, as described in his latest book. It also reflects the way that some professional service firms organise themselves. That’s what brings us back to Jordan Furlong’s question.

Why do law firms exist? Or, more properly, why should law firms continue to exist? (One important reason why they exist is that their history brought us to this point. What might happen to them in the future is actually more interesting.)

Jordan’s post starts with Ronald Coase, but also points to a number of ways in which law firms might not meet Coase’s standards.

Companies exist, therefore, because they:

  • reduce transaction costs,
  • build valuable culture,
  • organize production,
  • assemble collective knowledge, and
  • spur innovation.

So now let’s take a look at law firms. I don’t think it would be too huge a liberty to state that as a general rule, law firms:

  • develop relatively weak and fragmented cultures,
  • manage production and process indifferently,
  • assign and perform work inefficiently,
  • share knowledge haphazardly and grudgingly, and
  • display almost no interest in innovation.

That’s an inventory of defects that would make Ronald Coase wonder exactly what it is that keeps law firms together as commercial entities.

Worse than that, Jordan points to a range of recent commentaries suggesting that things aren’t getting any better. I think he is correct. In fact, it is interesting to note that John Roberts spotted the germ of the problem in his 2004 book, The Modern Firm.

Many authors, including Ronald Coase and Herbert Simon, have identified the essential nature of the firm as the reliance on heirarchic, authority relations to replace the inherent equality among participants that markes market dealings. When you join a firm, you accept the right of the executives and their delegates to direct your behaviour, at least over a more-or-less commonly understood range of activities. …

Others … have challenged this view. They argue that any appearance of authority in the firm is illusory. For them, the relationship between employer and employee is completely parallel to that between customer and butcher. In each case, the buyer (of labor services or meat) can tell the seller what is wanted on a particular day, and the seller can acquiesce and be paid, or refuse and be fired. For these scholars, the firm is simply “a nexus of contracts” — a particularly dense collection of the sort of arrangements that characterise markets.

While there are several objections to this argument, we focus on one. It is that, when a customer “fires” a butcher, the butcher keeps the inventory, tools, shop, and other customers she had previously. When an employee leaves a firm, in contrast, she is typically denied access to the firm’s resources. The employee cannot conduct business using the firm’s name; she cannot use its machinery or patents; and she probably has limited access to the people and networks in the firm, certainly for commercial purposes and perhaps even socially. (The Modern Firm, pp.103-4)

The benefits Roberts identifies are almost always missing in a law firm. The firm’s name may be less significant than the lawyer’s and there is little machinery or patents. In the seven years since the book was published access to networks and people has become infinitely more straightforward, thanks to developments in social software and similar technologies.

Joining Roberts’s insights with those of Dave Gray and Jordan Furlong, I think it is likely that we will see much more fluid structures in law firms in coming years. Dave Gray’s podular arrangement need not be restricted to one organisation — what is to stop clients creating their own pods for specific projects, drawing together the good lawyers from a variety of firms? Could the panel arrangement now commonly in use by larger companies be a Trojan horse to allow them to pick off key lawyers whenever they need them? Technology is only going to make that easier.

So that leaves the support functions. In Dave Gray’s podular model, support is provided by a backbone, or platform.

Podular platform

For a podular system to work, cultural and technical standards are imperative. This means that a pod’s autonomy does not extend to choices in shared standards and protocols. This kind of system needs a strong platform that clearly articulates those standards and provides a mechanism for evolving them when necessary.

For small and large companies alike, the most advantageous standards are those that are most widely adopted, because those standards will allow you to plug in more easily to the big wide world – and the big wide world always offers more functionality, better and more cheaply than you can build it yourself. Platform architecture is about coordination and consistency, so the best way to organize it may not be podular. When it comes to language, protocols, culture and values, you don’t want variability, you want consistency. Shared values is one of the best ways to ensure consistent behavior when you lack a formal hierarchy. Consistency in standards is an absolute requirement if you want to enable autonomous units.

Interestingly, there is often little variation between different law firms in terms of their technical standards. In some practice areas, these are dictated by external agencies (courts, industry associations, etc.), whilst in others they converge because of intervention by common suppliers (in the UK, many firms use know-how and precedents provided by PLC) or simply the fact that in order to do their job lawyers have to share their basic knowledge (first-draft documents often effectively disclose a firm’s precedents to their competitors). It is a small step to a more generally accepted foundation for legal work.

Will clients push for this? Would they benefit from some form of crowd-sourced backbone to support lawyers working for them in a podular fashion? Time will tell, but don’t wait for the train to leave the station before you decide to board it.

Knowledge sharing: it may not be what you think it is

John Tropea is one of my top Twitter friends for sharing interesting links and insights. Yesterday, he unearthed a great blog post from Patrick Lambe dating from 2006 (“If We Can’t Even Describe Knowledge Sharing, How Can We Support It?“). Patrick’s post starts calmly enough:

A combination of two very different incidents reminded me this week of just how incompetent we still are in KM at capturing the complexity, richness and sophistication of human knowledge behaviours. In the first incident I was asked to do a blind review of an academic paper on knowledge sharing for a KM conference. In the second, knowledge sharing was very much a matter of life and death. Although they shared a common theme, they might as well have represented alien universes.

From there, he becomes a bit more immoderate:

Let’s look at the conference paper first. After working my way through the literature review (a necessary evil), I started into the research proposal with my stomach starting to knot up and a growing sense of incredulity.

Although the authors had adopted Davenport & Prusak’s perfectly respectable definition of knowledge as a “fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight” it was becoming increasingly apparent as I worked my way into the paper that what they really meant by “knowledge sharing” was confined to contributing to and consuming from an online KM system. The research being described was designed to identify the factors that would indicate propensity for or against said behaviours. A knowledge sharing system that could, theoretically, be engineered.

Shame on them. After a good decade of practical effort and research focused on KM, how can people still think so mechanically and bloodlessly?

Justly immoderate, I think. Read on to see why.

Tonderghie Steading

It has to be right that knowledge in action is more valuable to organisations than inactive knowledge. Rory Stewart’s walking and engaging with people, as I wrote yesterday, shows one way in which high quality insight into complex systems can come from simple interactions rather than formal organised learning and knowledge. This is a point that Patrick made at greater length in an excellent paper he wrote in 2002 called “The Autism of Knowledge Management” (it’s a 23-page PDF downloadable from the linked blog post).

It depresses me that I have only just discovered this paper. Patrick wrote an incredibly useful critique of some traditional and ingrained organisational attitudes to e-learning and knowledge sharing. It should be much more widely known.

Here is his starting point:

There is a profound and dangerous autism in the way we describe knowledge management and e-learning. At its root is an obsessive fascination with the idea of knowledge as content, as object, and as manipulable artefact. It is accompanied by an almost psychotic blindness to the human experiences of knowing, learning, communicating, formulating, recognising, adapting, miscommunicating, forgetting, noticing, ignoring, choosing, liking, disliking, remembering and misremembering.

Once he has expanded on this, carefully defining what he means by ‘autism’ and ‘objects’ in this context, Patrick then presents and deals with five myths that arise as a result of this way of thinking. These are the myths of reusability, universality, interchangeability, completeness, and liberation. Of these, the one that struck me most was the myth of completeness:

The myth of completeness expresses the content architects’ inability to see beyond the knowledge and learning delivery. Out of the box and into the head, and hey presto the stuff is known. The evidence for this is in the almost complete lack of attention to what happens outside the computerised storage and delivery mechanism – specifically, what people do with knowledge, how it transitions into action and behaviour. How many people in knowledge management are talking about synapses, or the soft stuff that goes on in people’s heads? Is it simply assumed, that once the knowledge is delivered, it has been successfully transferred?


Knowledge only has value if it emerges into actions, decisions and behaviours – that much is generally conceded. But few content-oriented knowledge managers think through the entire lifecycle of the knowledge objects they deal in. Acquiring a knowledge artefact is only the first stage of what’s interesting about knowledge. We don’t truly know until we have internalised, integrated into larger maps of what we know, practised, repeated, made myriad variations of mistake, built up our own personalised patterns of perception and experience.

I can think of few more succinct and clear expressions of the process of knowing. In the organisational context, we need to be sure that everyone takes responsibility for developing their own knowledge — they cannot just plug themselves into a knowledge system or e-learning package. This statement shows why. The impact of this personal responsibility becomes clear within the section on the myth of interchangeability, where Patrick makes a valuable point about information and insight that resonated especially given my blog post from yesterday.

Beyond a basic informational level (and value added knowledge and learning need to go far beyond basic informational levels), when I have a specific working problem such as how to resolve a complex financial issue, the last thing I want is a necklace of evenly manufactured knowledge nuggets cross-indexed and compiled according to the key words I happen to have entered into the engine. Google can give me that, in many ways more interestingly, because it will give me different perspectives, different depths and different takes.

What really adds value to my problem-solving will be an answer that cuts to the chase, gives me deep insight on the core of my problem, and gives me light supporting information at the fringes of the problem, with the capability to probe deeper if I feel like it. Better still if the answer can be framed in relation to something I already know, so that I can call more of my own experience and perceptions into play. Evenness and interchangeability will not work for me, because life and the situations we create are neither even, nor made up of interchangeable parts.

We do have an evolved mechanism for achieving such deep knowledge results: this is the performance you can expect from a well-networked person who can sustain relatively close relationships with friends, colleagues and peers, and can perform as well as request deep knowledge services of this kind.

I suspect that (whether inside our organisations or otherwise) we can all identify people whose personal networks add significant value to their work and those around them. (And probably plenty whose silo mentality brings problems rather than focus.)

In his conclusion, Patrick presents “six basic principles that seem to work consistently in our knowledge and learning habits; principles that knowledge management and e-learning technologies need to serve.” These are:

  1. Highly effective knowledge performers prefer knowledge fragments and lumps to highly engineered knowledge parts.
  2. Parts need to talk to their neighbours.
  3. The whole is more important than the parts.
  4. Knowledge artefacts provide just enough to allow the user to get started in the real world.
  5. Learning needs change faster than learning design.
  6. Variety is the spice of life.

I need to read this section again — it didn’t resonate as well for me as the rest of the paper. That said, reading the paper again will be a delight rather than an imposition. I recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in knowledge and learning processes, and the systems we create to support them.