Sense-making through conversation

One of our clients referred me to a post by Nick Milton on another great Boston square that pulls “apart the KM world on dimensions of Knowledge Push and Knowledge Pull (which you might call “Sharing” and “seeking”), and the dimensions of Explicit and Tacit. We get 4 quadrants, which we could call Ask, Tell, Search, Share.”

The similarity to PKM with its seek/sense/share processes had me look back on that for any additional insights from Nick’s Boston square (my additions in red).

Sense-making consists of both asking and telling. It’s a continuing series of conversations. We know that conversation is the main way that tacit knowledge gets shared. So we continuously seek out explicit knowledge, in the form of written work or other knowledge artifacts left by others. We then have conversations around these artifacts to make sense of them. Finally, we share new, explicit knowledge artifacts which then grow our bodies of knowledge. Sharing closes the circle, because being a personal knowledge manager is every professional’s part of the social learning contract.

This square is a good model to look at our own processes. Is the (limited) time we spend on PKM well balanced between the four activities? Missing one of them completely would destroy most of the value in any PKM process. Seeking and sharing information without any conversation around it would only serve to create additional noise with no signal. It’s the individual context, gained through conversations, that provides the real value. This is why narrating our work and making it transparent (shareable) is so important in the creative, networked workplace. It’s how the organization makes sense, from multiple conversations.

8 Responses to “Sense-making through conversation”

    • Harold Jarche

      It’s the asking & telling that enable us to try to share our tacit knowledge. Conversation and modelling behaviour (which often involves conversation) are key enablers of social learning. Asking & telling in themselves are not tacit knowledge, of course. Personal sense-making is a way to draw on our tacit knowledge. I’ll stick with my drawing board for now, though it is in Beta 😉

  1. Harold Jarche

    What you describe shows the seeking and sharing aspect of PKM but I don’t see any sense-making. It’s more of a retrieval system or EPSS in my view.

  2. Mario Gastaldi

    Harold, this is a nice description.

    There might be a further dimension that is more emotional.
    The interweaving that takes place among people, who, together, ask, tell, search and share, grows connections that impact extremely well on their engagement and therefore on the quality of the learning itself. Sort of a self-reinforcing process.
    In other words the sense making process grows the content (knowledge) together with the social (emotional) ties thus further improving the content and so on …

  3. Lisa

    I agree with Mario,

    Adults learn socially which includes the intellect, emotions, and doing/action. We learn through interaction which affirms our knowledge, grows our experiences and knowledge, and hopefully makes us critically reflective enough to embody new knowledge.

    This is a cyclical, ever present, ongoing process of both living and learning. Both tacit and explicit knowledge then becomes inherent in our very beings.

    • Harold Jarche

      Of course, Lisa. The big question is what do we do in our organizations to encourage and enable this. Obviously, just offering courses is an inadequate approach. So are standardized HR policies. My focus is on how we can really develop learning organizations in a human-centric way.


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