learning as we work

In an essay on cognitive coaching, Gary Klein recommends six mind shifts that trainers can use to help improve cognitive skills.

  1. From criticism to curiosity
  2. From following procedures to gaining tacit knowledge
  3. From getting through the material to encouraging curiosity
  4. From providing thorough explanations to providing focused explanations
  5. From explaining to discovering
  6. From evaluating to training

In section 2, seeing the invisible, Klein recommends several strategies to improve tacit thinking.

  1. Subtle cues
  2. Hindsight perspective
  3. Anticipating
  4. Shifting focus
  5. Fixation
  6. Hypothesis Testing
  7. Workarounds

Klein’s essay is written as advice for trainers but do we really need trainers or coaches to implement these recommendations? I have shown how the discipline of personal knowledge mastery, AKA agile sensemaking, can help people gain better insights and even help see contradictions by seeking disconfirming data. These are based on Klein’s book, Seeing What Others Don’t.

So on an individual basis, outside of formal training and education, while seeking, sense-making, and sharing our continuous learning, we too can improve our tacit (implicit) thinking.

We can develop systems to look for subtle clues by practicing skills we lack on a regular basis. For example, if our grammar is faulty we can get better by reading and looking for examples of good writing. For example, how and when is a hyphen used, as opposed to an emdash or an endash. There are subtle differences but using them appropriately can be the mark of a better writer. We can look for subtle clues to make our customer service better, and even help with our relationships. Noticing these subtle differences may signal to others that we care.

Setting aside time to reflect gives us time to focus on our hindsight. I use my Friday’s Finds every two weeks to go through what I have marked as interesting while online. These reflections, now written down, provide a searchable record of many insights collected over nine years.

We can anticipate potential opportunities by preparing questions or reading ahead of attending a meeting, or a conference. Too often we just show up and expect something to happen. Anticipation can make something happen.

Connecting with others who have a different backgrounds or experience can help us shift focus on a subject. It is what B.J. May did to change his worldview — How 26 tweets broke my filter bubble.

Actively looking for disconfirming data, and making a note of it, is one way to avoid fixation on an assumed model of how we receive a topic or skill. Having colleagues and connections who are willing and able to shake your cognitive tree is one way not to fixate on incorrect assumptions.

When disconfirming data are found, or we fail at something, even a little, then is the time to challenge our assumptions. If one criticizes us, it may be an indication that this time we did something, however small, incorrectly. It’s always best to reflect on this from a calm place of mind.

Workarounds are ways to address things that could go wrong or for which we don’t have all the resources. Preparing several workarounds in advance before doing something important opens our minds, and readies us for complexity.

Personal knowledge mastery is flexible and can incorporate a wide variety of disciplines into our routine so that we can think, act, and work better. PKM is a unified framework of individually-constructed enabling processes to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society.

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