Connectivism


My post on “What did Einstein know about KM” last week seemed to go down well, so I have continued my search for KM musings from great figures.

This week, we’ll hear from the Leonardo Da Vinci.  It wasn’t until I read Gelb’s ambitiously titled book How to think like Leonardo do Vinci that I appreciated just how multi-talented he was.  Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, writer and no mean athlete  – you name it, he could do it.  Curious then that one of his quotations (one of the few which I disagree with) states “As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.“.  I guess you can make yourself an exception  when you’re the archetypal Renaissance Man Polymath.
I wonder what he would have made of the ubiquitous availability of information and possibilities which we enjoy today?

So my curated top-ten quotes from Da Vinci will take us on a journey through different facets of KM: from knowledge acquisition, the way our perceptions filter knowledge, the superiority of expertise over opinions, the power of learning, seeing and making connections, the challenge and value of expressing knowledge simply and the criticality of seeing knowledge applied.

Yes, I would have had him on my KM Team.

  • “The knowledge of all things is possible.”
  • “The acquisition of knowledge is always of use to the intellect, because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good.”
  • “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”
  • “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
  • “Experience is the mother of all Knowledge. Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”
  • “Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.”
  • “Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”
  • “Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
  • “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
  • “Knowing is not enough; we must apply.”
  •  

carillas-da-vinci

I couldn’t find a suitable infographic to illustrate these (I’m sure Leonardo would have produced a very good one if he’d not been so busy), but the book I mentioned earlier insightfully looks at the seven different deliberate practices he drew upon.  They’re an excellent set of frames through which to consider our approaches to life and work.

How does your Knowledge Management practice measure up against these?

  1. Curiosita:
  Approaching life with insatiable curiosity and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.
  2. Dimostrazione:
  Committing to test knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
  3. Sensazione:
  Continually refining the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.
  4. Sfumato:  Embracing ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.
  5. Arte/Scienza
:  Balancing science and art, logic and imagination – ‘whole-brain thinking’.
  6. Corporalita:
  Cultivating grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  7. Connessione:  Recognizing and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things – ‘systems thinking’.

Leo, you’re not just on the team; you can write the KM Strategy!

There have been a few threads on LinkedIn KM groups on the topic of “knowledge assets” recently.

It’s one of those words which gets thrown around by KM people without any agreed definition.  For many people, they are interchangeable with the term “information assets”, but sound sexier.  (Much like databases became “knowledgebases” a few years ago.)

Now I’m not going to assert definitions here – rather to give my view on the different perspectives, and share the way I distinguish between knowledge assets and information assets, building on the descriptions that Geoff and I wrote in “Learning to Fly”.

Speaking of flight, there’s something about butterfly collections which always leaves me feeling slightly saddened.   The colours and fragility are still there, but of course the life has gone.

Image courtesy of hoyasmeg on Flickr

I think we do well to remind ourselves that when we capture knowledge and write it down as information, we kill it.
That’s not to say that the information is not immensely valuable, and may even have a long shelf life.

But it is dead.

Knowledge is information with the life still in it!

For me, the role of a knowledge asset is to consolidate the learning from a number of activities, and produce a distilled set of guidelines or recommendations, with (importantly) a clear and well-linked signpost to contact the source, to drill down into more detail and examples, and to contribute further stories to build the asset further.  Oh, and there’s some kind of mechanism for validating the input – ideally via a community of practice.  They keep it alive.

I’ve seen a lot of examples which start out as “knowledge assets”, but quickly become “knowledge graveyards” because there is no community to own and refresh the content, and the links between the information and the authors/sources are not clear or maintained. Once you lose the connection between knowledge and the person who provided it, it’s a bit like switching off its life support machine…

  • There is an “extractionist” school of thought out there which focuses on separating knowledge from an individual, then combining, distilling and packaging in into a convenient and accessible products.
  • And there’s a “connectivist” school of thought which seeks to turn information into an advertisement for a conversation with the source.

I think the best knowledge assets combine these perspectives.   Too much extractionism (is that a real word?), and you can end up a logical but inflexible, self-reinforcing summary of the views of the editor-in-chief.  Too much connectivism, and you can get endless repeating, diverging threads and snippets which can be frustrating to draw insight from, and require too many phone calls to answer the all questions they elicit.

There are some topics which lend themselves to something approaching a “single version of the truth” (we call that known area “best practice” don’t we?), and for them, the logic of an extractionist-oriented knowledge asset will work.

Then there are topics which are more complicated, and benefit from the constant iteration and interaction of a connection-rich asset. (That’s knowable “good practice” in the Cynefin framework).

Simplified Cynefin framework, from MBAworld.com

I suspect it’s in these two quadrants where knowledge assets add value. Shifting further to the left takes us on a journey into emergence and chaos where pre-packaged knowledge is unlikely to fit the bill, although the fragments and stories they contain may well be informative.

One of the LinkedIn discussions asked: “Is a cookbook was an example of a knowledge asset?”

My answer was:

… a cookbook isn’t really a very good example of a knowledge asset because it represents a snapshot in time of a particular recipe, and doesn’t usually provide me with an easy way to ask questions of the chef, or other cooks who are learning/experimenting/adapting… I would say it’s really an Information Asset.  That’s not a bad thing – I have a kitchen full of them!

However, a recipe *blog*, which has all the benefit of the book, but which is socially constructed, grows and develops, commented-on added to by other cooks and enthusiasts who ask and answer questions…  Now that feels more like a *knowledge* asset to me.

Geoff Parcell pointed me in the direction of this brilliant RSA Animate video, featuring renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist.  There is so much in this 11 minutes that you’ll want to watch it two or three times to take it in, and a fourth, with the pause button to appreciate all of the humour in the artwork.  Just superb.  Do watch it.

It got me thinking again about parallels between how the brain manages knowledge and how organisations manage knowledge.
Ian debunks a lot of myths about the separate functions of left and right hemispheres and emphasizes the fact that for either imagination or reason, you need to use both in combination.

  • Left hemisphere – narrow, sharply focused attention to detail, depth, isolated, abstract, symbolic, self-consistent
  • Right hemisphere – sustained, broad, open, vigilant, alertness, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate.

We share some (but not all) of these left/right distinctions with animals. However, as humans, we uniquely have frontal lobes.

  • Frontal lobes – to stand back in time and space from the immediacy of experience (empathy and reflection)

I think a holistic approach to knowledge management which mirrors the brain will pay attention to breadth, depth, living connections and reflection. This has implications for the way we structure and navigate codified knowledge – moving between context and detail, abstract to interconnected – and also reinforces the relationship between KM and organisational learning (the frontal lobe bit).

I believe that an effective knowledge management strategy will creatively combine each of these components in a way which is balanced to the current and future needs of the business.

In a way, a lot of first generation KM was left-brain oriented.  Second and third generation KM have combined the learning elements of the frontal lobes with the living, inteconnected right brain.  That doesn’t mean that first generation KM is no longer relevant – I would assert that the power is in the combination of all three – see this earlier posting on KM, Scientology and Top Trumps!

It’s probably the last minute which is the most challenging.  Does your KM strategy,  led self-consistently by the left hemisphere,  imprison your organisation in  a hall of mirrors where it reflects back into more of what it knows about what it knows about what it knows?

The animation closes with Einstein’s brilliantly prescient statement:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We live in a society which honours the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”

(more…)

I spent yesteday at Henley Management College in a research workshop facilitated by Richard McDermott.  We were exploring a number of research topics relating to the development, transfer and retention of expertise.  We tabled a number of topics, including mentoring,  aging workforce, knowledge harvesting and salvage, lifelong learning and communities…  we’re going to have to focus!

Then I came across this recent post on Connectivism from Helen Nicol, who has talent for spotting good stuff in this arena. 

Helen’s thesis is that “any community of of practice must have a mix of novices, experts and all those in between, which in itself has implications for the moderation or management of communities to gain the best result for organisations.”

…which is consistent with Wenger’s definition:

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

I wonder, though whether there are some limiting thresholds which illustrate Helen’s idea – a community with large gaps in the continuum of expertise can generate frustration, elitism, “dumb questions and smart flaming”; whilst a communtiy with access to a great diversity of expertise can remain untapped if not well facilitated.

With apologies to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, here’s an attempt to illustrate this…

Flow and connectivism in communities