I have a series of three 3-minute videos presenting the personal knowledge mastery framework. They are supported by the Working Smarter with PKM field guide. The videos and the transcripts, for those who prefer to read rather than watch, are here.
Working Smarter with PKM (3 minute videos)
The nature of work has continuously changed over time. Factories and manufacturing are no longer where most of us work. We work in offices, at home, and often remote from our team mates.
Today, much of of what do is networked via digital technologies. Here is a useful model of working smarter by connecting our work teams with our professional communities and networks. It is based on three practices — seeking knowledge, sensemaking, and sharing our knowledge, or simply put — seek > sense > share
Few of us work alone, as we need to collaborate with others to get work done. Our teams are structured for the tasks we need to do and usually someone is in charge. Collaboration means working together for a common objective, often provided by a manager or a customer. Solving problems together is the focus of most teams.
In a networked world we need to know what is happening beyond our work teams or we become near-sighted. Innovation comes from the edges and our professional networks can help connect with others. Networking expert — Valdis Krebs — says that we should connect on our similarities, and benefit from our differences. In networks we cooperate, which is sharing freely with no expectation of direct rewards. It’s like posting a how-to video or writing a blog post. We give freely, expecting that others will do the same to help make the network smarter.
But how can we connect all those interesting things we find in our loose networks with what we need to get done in our work teams?
Professional communities of practice are safe spaces where we can share what we know with people we trust. In communities there are rules of behaviour. We may not know a person but we are likely to know someone who does. Communities are often open by invitation only, to fellow professionals. One definition of a professional is “anyone who does work that cannot be standardized easily and who continuously welcomes challenges at the cutting edge of his or her expertise.” You know you are in a community of practice if it changes your practice. If you are not in one, find one, or even start one up. What is your profession that you want get better at?
We integrate these separate but connected spaces by seeking connections, sensemaking, and sharing appropriately. Working smarter means connecting in networks and curiously seeking knowledge. We challenge our assumptions and continuously improve our professional knowledge and skills in our communities. This informs our work and as we learn through our work we share lessons and practices. In this way, everyone helps to make their networks, communities, and teams smarter.
In Working Smarter Part 1, I discussed how we need to see and share knowledge across our professional networks, communities of practice, and work teams — in order to make sense of our world and our work.
Now let’s take a look at the Seek > Sense > Share model in more detail.
Personal Knowledge Mastery is like continuously breathing in and out. We breathe in new ideas and information — pause to make sense of them — and breathe out to share with others. We filter knowledge, create new knowledge, and discern when, where, and with whom we share knowledge.
In seeking knowledge we can use machine or human filters. Algorithmic filters, like Google search, use code to determine what we find. Often the algorithm is hidden to the user. Heuristic filters, like Amazon ratings, are based on feedback from many people, and theoretically the best rise to the top. Machine filters are good for simple searches.
Human filters are another way of seeking knowledge. Experts can provide us with knowledge about a topic about which we know little. For knowledge areas that are important to us, networks of expertise are best. We can get multiple perspectives in order to come to our own informed opinions.
Subject matter networks of expertise can help us find the information that is important for our work.
Sensemaking requires effort on our part. We have to do something with our knowledge. Today, work is learning and learning is the work. It is how we keep up in a complex networked world. Adding value to knowledge as we learn ensures that we understand something before passing it on. It may be a book review written in the context of our team, or a curated list of pertinent resources to help with a current project. The key is to understand information before sharing it, and adding our perspective in the context of the workplace.
Knowing when to share requires a good understanding of what the rest of our team is doing. Sharing at the point of need is more effective than constantly sharing bits of information. It requires a system of collecting our thoughts and ideas so that we share them when someone else needs them. This collection system can be as simple as a notebook, or an online social bookmarking system, or the company intranet. By sharing appropriately, we can all help our teams make better decisions to get work done.
The Seek > Sense > Share framework helps us filter signal from noise — to use an old radio term. Our machine and human filters can be tuned to what is important for us to know and learn. We make sense through experimentation and creation of new ways of explaining. By adding value we share knowledge that helps make our professional networks smarter and able to make better decisions. As more of us work remotely, being explicit about the knowledge we share becomes critical.
In Working Smarter Part 2 I described how the elements of the Seek > Sense > Share framework fit together. I will now explain these in more detail.
Once we have established some machine and human filters we will need to do something with these new information and knowledge flows. When a new piece of information comes to our attention, we have to determine if it is important and urgent. But first, we have check to see if it is valid.
A good set of questions to ask ourselves is 1) does it make sense, 2) how does it fit?, 3) are there any obvious biases?, 4) is it based on evidence?, and 5) is anything missing? For example a report may not cite any references to back up its claims, or an author may lack credibility in the field. The most important thing is to read the whole article or listen to the entire audio or video before coming to any conclusions or making any comments.
Our information flows may create quite a list of things to further make sense of. We have to set aside time to file these for later retrieval or to add some value such as making comments, asking questions, or synthesizing the core ideas. This takes time and practice but we can learn from others who are already practicing these methods. Look for people who are already good sense-makers and ask what they do.
We know that we are ready to share our knowledge when we can explain it simply. This often takes many attempts. Making ideas as simple as possible, but no more, takes time and practice. As French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, commented about a letter he wrote, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Brevity and clarity are skills to be developed over time.
Sharing our knowledge is much more than publishing or posting our individual thoughts. As we try to make sense of some new information we might seek feedback from our colleagues. This is why the make-up of our knowledge networks is so important — to get diverse perspectives for our own work. In our professional communities and work teams we should set aside time to discuss new knowledge and ideas. This is how we make our networks smarter. Finally, at some point we may be ready to publish or promote something we have done, either internally or externally.
Finding and sharing information and knowledge is a continuous flow, based on curiosity and a desire to learn. Working smarter is built on a foundation of willing cooperation, open knowledge sharing, and being transparent in our work.