Complex knowledge

Last week I spent several hours each day, for four consecutive days, trying to share complex knowledge. I had my understanding of communities of practice, personal knowledge management, leadership, and innovation that I wanted to share. My friend and colleague Christian Renard had his knowledge about marketing, business, and digital power to share. From the time I was picked up at the Gare du Nord we began to share our knowledge through many conversations. But it was not easy, simple, or direct.

Gare du Nord
Gare du Nord and Metropolitain Entry, Paris
Source: User: ‘Jorgeroyan’, Creative Commons A-SA 3.0,

What proved helpful in our coming to a common understanding was that we both practice a form of personal knowledge management. Each of us has written articles, and more importantly, created images to describe many concepts. These visual metaphors accelerated our knowledge sharing.

Sharing information and viewing it through our individual filters is the best that we can hope for in terms of knowledge transfer. It is a very inexact process. Christian and I shared many stories over the four days and these too helped us come to some common understanding. Most importantly, we trusted each other and did not judge. We were both on similar journeys of understanding and were not trying to sell our ideas.

I was reminded once again of how much time it takes to share complex (implicit) knowledge. Four days, some long car rides, a few meetings with others, and several wonderful meals later, I think we came to a joint understanding of certain concepts. In the hurried pace of many businesses today, this would have been nearly impossible. If most organizations have a real need to share knowledge, which I believe they do, then they have to make time and space available for deep conversations. This may be one of the greatest challenges for organizational redesign as we enter a creative economy.

The aim of knowledge-sharing in an organization is to help make implicit knowledge more explicit. It’s important to understand that each of us only has an approximation of knowledge in our understanding. Knowledge should be seen as a fluid, not a solid. The cumulative pieces of information, or knowledge artifacts, that we create and share can help us have better conversations and gain some shared understanding. Our individual sense-making can be shared and from it can emerge better organizational knowledge. For organizations to share knowledge, even organizations of just two people, individuals have to have the bits necessary to put together. Knowledge is like electricity, with many small particles that enable flow. PKM helps to create the bits that will enable the conversational flow.

To really share complex knowledge takes a willingness to listen as well as the time and space to do so. Jon Husband’s definition of wirearchy is an excellent framework for organizations to start with:

Wirearchy – “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology.”

1 thought on “Complex knowledge”

  1. It is indeed sad how the increasing pace of modern business directly conflicts with the time for proper shared understanding. I believe the frustration of never getting to shared understanding is driving natural collaborators into solo projects, feeding empire-building and risks either shutting down creativity or forcing people into isolated independence.

    There’s nothing wrong with that as a free choice but if it’s not then there must be a big cost in lost opportunities from the multiplying power of many minds and free sharing.

    I propose that Google’s famous 20% time (whether it is real there in practice or not) become a core practice for all organisations – but not only to innovate at will: with the explicit mandate to practice listening (another underdeveloped skill, share ideas and understanding) through a series of self-structured interventions based on sound principles.


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