to know is to do

Do we really understand tacit knowledge?, asks Haridimos Tsoukas in a 2002 paper. He bases his position on the work of Michael Polanyi in that all knowledge is personal and all knowing is through action. Tacit knowledge [I use the term implicit knowledge as it is easier to understand for non-native English speakers] is not merely explicit knowledge that has yet to be codified. Knowledge is personal.

Tsoukas states that:

“we do not so much need to operationalise tacit knowledge (as explained earlier, we could not do this, even if we wanted) as to find new ways of talking, fresh forms of interacting, and novel ways of distinguishing and connecting. Tacit knowledge cannot be ‘captured’, ‘translated’, or ‘converted’ but only displayed, manifested, in what we do. New knowledge comes about not when the tacit becomes explicit, but when our skilled performance – our praxis – is punctuated in new ways through social interaction.”

This is important for anyone working in training, education, knowledge management, and the various growing fields of ‘artificial intelligence’. Knowledge cannot be transferred. We can observe how people use their knowledge but even they cannot explain all of it.

“Although the expert diagnostician, taxonomist and cotton-classer can indicate their clues and formulate their maxims, they know many more things than they can tell, knowing them only in practice, as instrumental particulars, and not explicitly, as objects.”

It only when we no longer think about something, like hammering a nail, that we can concentrate on the next level, like fixing the roof. We are constantly creating mental black boxes to lessen our cognitive load.

“Knowledge has, therefore, a recursive form: given a certain context, we blackbox – assimilate, interiorise, instrumentalise – certain things in order to concentrate – focus – on others.”


curious and fractal

Some people seem to be naturally curious. Others work at it. Some just lack interest in learning. You can notice this when traveling. Some people can describe many aspects of their local vicinity while others don’t know anything about why certain features exist. They say that the most interesting people are those who are interested in others.

This is what I wrote about connected curiosity two years ago. Basically, curiosity about ideas can foster creativity, while curiosity about people can develop empathy (not sympathy). We get new ideas from new people, not the same people we see every day. We get new perspectives from people whose lives and experiences are different from ours. (more…)

teaching in higher ed podcast

I was recently interviewed by Bonni Stachowiak, host of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. The subject was my personal knowledge mastery framework which Bonni uses in her university teaching. You can listen to or download the podcast. Here are some lightly edited highlights of a very pleasant conversation with Bonni.


We can talk about knowledge bases and things like that, but for me, knowledge is that human sense making of experience, and exposure, and everything, and messy interactions, and feelings, and culture and all and all those kinds of things. And that’s really what knowledge is. Knowledge is the stuff that we use from which we take action. I use my knowledge to do whatever it is I’m going to do, to go to work, to make a decision, to do anything like that. Maybe it’s not a wonderful dictionary description of it, but it’s kind of a fuzzy place to start. (more…)

knowledge-sharing paradox redux

Knowledge-sharing in the Enterprise

An effective suite of enterprise social tools can help organizations share knowledge, collaborate, and cooperate – connecting the work being done with the identification of new opportunities and ideas. In an age when everything is getting connected, it only makes sense to have platforms in place that enable faster feedback loops inside the organization in order to deal with connected customers, suppliers, partners, and competitors. It takes a networked organization, staffed by people with networked learning mindsets, to thrive in a networked economy.

Getting work done today means finding a balance between sharing complex knowledge to get work done (collaboration), and innovating in internet time (cooperation). (more…)

we become what we behold

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” —George Orwell

“As the preliterate confronts the literate in the postliterate arena, as new information patterns inundate and uproot the old, mental breakdowns of varying degrees–including the collective nervous breakdowns of whole societies unable to resolve their crises of identity–will become very common.”Marshall McLuhan (1969)

The Illuminations of Hannah Arendt: NYT via @leadershipabc

In her 1951 work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote of refugees: “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, but that they no longer belonged to any community whatsoever.” The loss of community has the consequence of expelling a people from humanity itself. Appeals to abstract human rights are meaningless unless there are effective institutions to guarantee these rights. The most fundamental right is the “right to have rights.”

Why Trump’s Baby Jails Strategy Backfired, Unleashing Waves of Empathy by @GeorgeLakoff

“As I’ve written before, the conservative moral system is based on the metaphorical idea of a Strict Father Family. In this metaphor, the strict father figure makes the rules and enforces them. It’s the job of everyone else to do as he says. If they don’t, it’s his job to punish them painfully enough so that they will do as he says in the future. Zero tolerance! Authority is justified. Winners deserve to win; losers deserve to lose. Winners are better than losers.”

Kleptocracy and kakistocracy

“It is also a mistake to think that it is only in countries with weak institutions and immature political systems that thieves and goons can reach the most important positions. What we are seeing today in the United States and in many European countries that have long democratic traditions simply shows that no nation is immune to the rise of a kakistocracy. Internet searches for this word, derived from ancient Greek, have seen a huge boom since Donald Trump got to the White House.

Like all good illusionists, the kleptocrats know how to distract us from looking at their misdeeds and the kakistocrats know how to distract us from their ineptitude. They do it by talking to us about ideology and attacking those of their rivals. While we watch and play our part in these ideological circuses, they steal. Or tinker with government policies they don’t really understand.”

Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy by Siva Vaidhyanathan – review

“Although Facebook has become a leviathan, that simply means that it can only be tamed by another leviathan, in this case, the state. Vaidhyanathan argues that the key places to start are privacy, data protection, antitrust and competition law. Facebook is now too big and should be broken up: there’s no reason why it should be allowed to own Instagram and WhatsApp, for example. Regulators should be crawling over the hidden auctions it runs for advertisers. All uses of its services for political campaigns should be inspected by regulators and it should be held editorially responsible for all the content published on its site.”

Reclaiming RSS by @aral

“Before Twitter, before algorithmic timelines filtered our reality for us, before surveillance capitalism, there was RSS: Really Simple Syndication … RSS was an essential part of Web 1.0 before surveillance capitalism (Web 2.0) took over.”

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” —Father John Culkin (1967) A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan, Image by @BryanMMathers

internet time alliance award 2018

The Internet Time Alliance Award, in memory of Jay Cross, is presented to a workplace learning professional who has contributed in positive ways to the field of Real Learning and is reflective of Jay’s lifetime of work.

Recipients champion workplace and social learning practices inside their organization and/or on the wider stage. They share their work in public and often challenge conventional wisdom. The Award is given to professionals who continuously welcome challenges at the cutting edge of their expertise and are convincing and effective advocates of a humanistic approach to workplace learning and performance.

We announce the award each year on 5 July, Jay’s birthday.

Following his death in November 2015, the partners of the Internet Time Alliance (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Clark Quinn) resolved to continue Jay’s work. Jay Cross was a deep thinker and a man of many talents, never resting on his past accomplishments, and this award is one way to keep pushing our professional fields and industries to find new and better ways to learn and work. (more…)

leadership is not taking it all

I have quoted Charles Green before, as he shows how our systems ‘get set in concrete’. Once they are set, they don’t change. After a while, nobody remember anybody who remembers the old ways. So it’s just the way things are.

“Ideas lead technology. Technology leads organizations. Organizations lead institutions. Then ideology brings up the rear, lagging all the rest—that’s when things really get set in concrete.” —Charles Green

Our current triform way of organizing has been set in concrete for a few hundred years. Tribes are families (family values), institutions are set (loyalty to country & company), and markets are the dominant economic form (offshoring, outsourcing, and automation for profit). But we are entering a possible quadriform era where the network form will not only dominate but will change the older forms, once again: T+I+M+N. (more…)

learning for the next industrial revolution

Jesse Martin has posted a good article on Learning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the era many say we are entering. It appears to be an era driven by “cyber-physical systems” . So what will the new learning systems look like in this era?

“I see a learning system that will arise based on the technologies that are forming the basis for the fourth industrial revolution. I believe that learning will play a central role throughout our lives, and the basic foundation will focus almost entirely on the general higher order thinking skills. The skills that teach us how to think, be creative, keep an open mind about what is going on around us, and provide us with the self awareness to know what we need to know and do to succeed.”


work & place

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“The better the state is established, the fainter is humanity.” —Nietzsche, Notes, 1874, via @surreallyno

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” —W.B. Yeats, via @FishinWaterProd

“When he laughed, respected senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.” —W.H. Auden, Epitaph on a Tyrant (more…)

tech career advice

Here are some questions I was asked by the organizers of the Landing Festival in Lisbon, where I will be speaking on 28/29 June 2018.

How do you keep up-to-date with all the changes in the tech market?

I use my professional network to help filter information for me. For example, Valdis Krebs is an expert on social network analysis. Thomas Vander Wal has deep knowledge on enterprise network technologies. Jane McConnell understands the digital workplace in large multinational companies. All three of these people are fellow members of one of my online communities of practice. By engaging in these communities, and developing a diverse network of perspectives on Twitter and LinkedIn, I am able to stay abreast of the tech market, without being an expert myself. I practice personal knowledge mastery — a sensemaking framework for the network era — that I also teach to others. (more…)