from knowledge worker to master artisan

A Foundation for Modern Work

My Personal Knowledge Mastery model of Seek > Sense > Share is focused on helping individuals work better in teams, and contribute to professional communities by developing and engaging their social networks to continuously learn. This approach has been used in several organizations. Today, it is critical to take control of your own learning and build a professional network. Engaging with other people, especially those different from us, is the key to making sense of information.

One reason the PKMastery framework is getting attention now is because work in the network era is changing the nature of the job. PKMastery requires that individuals take more responsibility for their learning, and that organizations give up some control. Automation is removing routine work from people’s jobs, leaving only non-standardized and more complex work. In this network economy that thrives on creativity, people have to not only stay current but create unique ways of operating and connecting.

The discipline of PKMastery helps to ensure that we remain connected to our human networks in order to maintain our curiosity and develop empathy for others. It is only by empathizing that we can truly understand the relationships in our social networks. Machines can analyze but only humans can feel.  The network economy is seeing the rise of knowledge artisans, who create new meaning through cooperation and building value with their peers.

Learning is the Work

Our basic approach to education is obsolete in an age of pervasive networks. Developing a standardized curriculum is completely inadequate to prepare for non-routine work and complex problem solving. One person, or group of experts, cannot decide that some minuscule percentage of knowledge is what we should teach everyone. Courses are like stock that is out of date as soon as it is published, while implicit knowledge is like flow, that requires constant interactions to make sense. There are no cookie-cutter recipes for non-routine or complex work. Each person and organization has to find its own path by seeking out information, making sense of it, and sharing it. Each path is unique.

Engaging through PKMastery is a journey. I currently offer a 60-day online program to give participants time to start new habits, but even this may not be long enough. I have often described PKMastery as the layers of an onion. While the simple of framework of Seek > Sense > Share is on the outside, there are many layers beneath them. For example, there are different ways to curate information, multiple tools available, and a variety of ways to express oneself. PKMastery is easy to understand, but like learning a language, takes time to become fluent. And like a language, PKMastery changes the way we think over time.

One challenge with implementing PKMastery in an organization is managing expectations for immediate results. Everyone develops their skills at their own pace and it is often not until they have an ‘ah-ha’ moment that things click.  It is best to start by developing seeking and sharing habits. Sense-making takes more time and this can develop after the initial network learning habits are put in place.  Implementing PKMastery in an organization will usually take a minimum of six months of concerted effort, and often several setbacks.

Each person needs to develop seek, sense, share habits that work for their particular context. PKMastery is different for everyone, which is why any singular technology or approach will fail in the long run. I have collected a number of examples of PKMastery in practice, but these are descriptive, not prescriptive. The key lesson is that you will not know what works for you until you try. I suggest that people should try to share something every day. It’s a good way to start, and time will tell if you want to to do it more or less frequently. Again, empathy is important. Think of what others might need or find useful. Look back to when you were learning something new, and ask what might have been helpful.

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We are only as Effective as our Networks

Today we have almost too many machine filters to help us seek information. These filters, algorithms and heuristics, can help discover new information but many of these are gamed by either the operators selling sponsored content, or users gaming the system. People are better information filters but only if in aggregate they provide a requisite variety of knowledge, experience, and perspective. We need to get outside of our knowledge bubbles and echo-chambers to build our knowledge networks. Tim Kastelle has identified three types of human filtering:

  • Naive filtering – asking the person closest to you, or the first to mind, for advice.
  • Expert filtering – finding the recognized expert on a subject, often with credentials from a recognized authority.
  • Network filtering – developing a network of experts with differing perspectives on an issue or in a field.

For important issues, such as our professions, networked experts are essential. Developing these network filters takes time. But once these networks have been developed, they become part of the value we bring to a team, an organization, or a community. Today, we are only as effective as our knowledge networks. Building networks through cooperation, which is freely sharing without expectations of direct reciprocity,  builds trust. In trusted networks, knowledge flows faster.

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Our knowledge networks should provide us with a diversity of views.  Often, mapping our networks and then examining the visualization can help us identify gaps or opportunities. We have to ensure more signal and less noise in our networks. In many organizations there is fire wall between internal and external social networks. Most people are engaged in professional social networks outside of their company. However, many have no way to connect what they learn and do in their external networks with the work they do inside the organization.  This is a glaring opportunity for those in leadership positions or in OD, KM, HR, and L&D departments: close the gap. This means identifying and supporting the creation of trusted spaces (communities of practice) to test out new ideas and ways of working.

Leading is Learning

Most of the tools to support PKMastery are not learning-specific. Look at Jane Hart’s top tools for learning and you will see that thousands of professionals have identified general web and productivity tools for professional development. Too often, learning-specific tools constrain more than they enable, as they are not part of the work flow. We should let people engage with the complexities of work and use whatever tools they need, in the fashion of true knowledge artisans.

Developing PKMastery at all levels of an organization, including the CEO, scales much better than developing courses for every aspect of work. In complexity, centralized planning does not work. CEOs have to model PKMastery. Often executives will see that PKMastery is a good idea for the organization but they do not adopt it personally. But CEOs need PKMastery more than others, as we noted in our HBR article last year. The primary role of connected leaders is to help the network make better decisions. Supporting knowledge artisans is the new challenge for the connected organization.

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