Accessing tacit knowledge and building pathways for two-way learning

… Contacts are of very limited value in this changing world — the name of the game is how to participate in knowledge flows.

… Large contact databases don’t particularly help in this quest and, in fact, can subvert our efforts to build the kinds of relationships that matter the most.

… Accessing tacit knowledge requires a learning disposition and an ability to attract, rather than simply reaching out.

… This often requires discussing publicly the issues you are wrestling with so others can become aware of them and seek you out if they are confronting similar issues. This can be very uncomfortable for most of us, because we are reluctant to expose provisional ideas and acknowledge that we are struggling with developing those ideas.

… Do you engage in these types of practices? What lessons have you learned in terms of being more effective at accessing tacit knowledge? What could your company do to encourage and support these kinds of practices?

John agel and John Seely Brown, Networking Reconsidered

Tacit knowledge: what we know but have not yet captured.

I think a lot about tacit knowledge, both sharing and receiving.

I need to share. I can’t help but share. I find meaning and passion in the act of sharing what I know and what I am learning. I work on converting tacit into explicit knowledge by writing things down and sharing them as widely as possible–usually, on this blog. I map my thoughts so that I can see an overview and find gaps. I write, I sketch, I speak. To speed things up, I’ve offered to mentor people. Questions help me access tacit knowledge. Other people’s perspectives help me learn even more.

It takes a village to raise a child, and the Internet is my village. Where there are gaps—the challenges I’m figuring out, the questions I haven’t even formulated yet, the things you can’t find on Google or in books—people step forward and share what they’ve learned. People are generous with their insights. Strangers pass through; some stay, become friends, move on. I remember the IBM ad of all those people teaching a boy, a metaphor for Linux. When I saw that ad, I thought: that is me as well.

Why does this work? Reciprocity? The serendipity of search engines and random connections? The asymmetry of communication? Reciprocity perhaps explains why people who have learned something from me—or from their own mentors—take the time to share their insights. Search engines mean that the knowledge flow doesn’t disappear with the end of a conversation or the geographic limits of physical interaction. Asymmetry means the network isn’t limited by my energy or courage.

I read a lot. I’ve read many, many books on networking. Inspired by those books, I used to set networking goals for myself. 300 “active” contacts that I’ve reached out to in the last six months, and so on. Now I don’t count. I just share.

I have not yet read a book that made sense of this new way of relating. We do something today that could not be done easily in the past. Not with this scale, not with this reach. There are many like me, and tools make our world even more densely connected.

There could be more. I need to find out what I’m doing right so that I can help others learn. I want to find out what we could do even better.

What are the key points of difference?

  • Motivation: I’m strongly motivated by gratitude and possibility: gratitude for what I’ve learned from others, and the possibilities of what we can do if I can help other people build on the foundations of what I’m learning.
  • Focus on creating value: I give first and freely. I’m more interested in how I can help other people than how they can help me. My own goals are straightforward and take time. Helping other people lets me learn more and get even more value out of my experiences.
  • Value: At work, I create value based on my adaptability, my workflow, and my network. None of these derive power from scarcity of information. In fact, the more I share, the better things get.
  • Tools: I focus on tools that scale easily. Writing is searchable. Sketches are quick and expressive. Recorded presentations and slides can be engaging.

How can I connect with people who are learning about sharing and help them share more effectively?

How can I connect with people who are curious about sharing and help them learn more?

(Hat-tip to Aneel Lakhani for sharing the link on Twitter!)