Sunday, December 09, 2012

What does standing in curiosity have to do with knowledge transfer?

'Standing in curiosity' is a term I use often, especially when working with clients around knowledge transfer.  Let me explain first what I mean when I use that term and then why that is a critical component to knowledge transfer.

First, let’s talk about curiosity.  To me, the word invokes a sense of wonder, of non-judgmental exploration, of a mind open to new ideas, of being willing to not know while wanting to learn.  Curiosity means that you do not need to think you know everything, instead that you would like to find out more, to see new things and that you are open to possibilities.
Being curious then means that you are ready and willing to learn and explore and that your mind is open to new possibilities. What an incredible place from what to learn and gain knowledge.

Why do I say that we need to stand in curiosity? I intentionally use the word ‘stand’ to evoke the sensation that your body is involved, not just your mind. I use the word to create imagery that lets you feel present, that curiosity is all around you, that you are standing IN it. Now not only is your mind open, but your somatic self, your entire self, is also involved.  Standing in curiosity means you are as open as you can be to learning.
Now why is that so critical to knowledge transfer?

Let’s think about what is happening when we are transferring knowledge. First, there is the holder of the knowledge with their experiences, their background, with years of building up their expertise from all of the accumulated decisions, actions and observations. Let’s call them the expert.
The learner is often someone with their own experience in the area, their own background and years of learning—it does not matter if that learner is young or older, they bring their own level of understanding to the experience.
It could be very possible for the learner then to judge what they are hearing or learning or observing from the expert through their previous experience BEFORE they are able to try it out, to ponder it, to assimilate it.  The learner may dismiss new ideas or ideas they might build upon because they are not open or curious but rather letting their own experience close their mind to the possibility that there is more to learn from what is being transferred.  They may say to themselves “that’s not how it really works” or “I don’t do it that way” or “I’ll let them talk but I know better”.

A learner who stands in curiosity does not take everything that is being told them or transferred to them as absolute or true without question. Instead they are listening, pondering, finding out how it all works together and listening to the whole story, the context, the background and rationale.  They are turning it all over in their mind and taking out what works for them, what the nuggets are to build upon, adding to their own repertoire and understanding.  They are open to the possibility that there is something new, some novel approach or idea, some helpful background for them in what they are learning.
For the expert, having a curious learner makes sharing knowledge much more fun, more of a give and take, a more engaging experience.  The quality of the experience can be enhanced and what’s more, the outcome can be a shared learning, a bigger aha.
Standing in curiosity takes nothing more than an attitude shift, costs nothing to the learner and creates an experience more valuable for expert, learner and the organization

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Is Disagreement a Form of Knowledge Sharing?

Many of you will be familiar with 'TED Talks,' which is such a great way to share ideas, insights, viewpoints and learning virtually. As with everything, quality varies and the measurement of what is interesting is a subjective thing.
Another vehicle used in the ‘TED’ series are the TED Conversations, allowing people to post questions and have others respond, similar to what LinkedIn allows. Usually however, these comments on 'Ted Conversations' are thoughtful and provocative, meant to add value not necessarily add to one’s popularity, as can happen with LinkedIn.

Gowtham Reddy of Hyderbad India posted an interesting question: “In what ways may disagreement aid the pursuit of knowledge in the natural and human sciences?”
I love this because I believe discourse is a way to build on what you are learning. No one can learn from simple and continual agreement, no one stretches in that way. But honest and respectful disagreement, dialogue, discussion, now that is where you start to build, to uncover context for people’s viewpoints, to integrate new ideas. Honest and respectful—those are key terms.

That doesn’t mean the exchange can’t get a bit heated, emotional or passionate. None of those words has to rule out being respectful. Passion is a good thing, where dominance or disrespect are not useful and can be quite hurtful.
Of the 26 responses Gowtham received, many stated that they thought it critical to have disagreements and that disagreements can build knowledge, but only if open communication and open-minded attitudes are present.
Why then are we so afraid in many of our organizations to disagree? If an organization wants to thrive, to be the best it can be, to move forward quickly and intelligently, there must be enough variations of opinion to ensure all avenues of knowledge and information are considered.  If you must agree, there are no checks and balances and you can be assured missteps and mistakes will be repeated. No organization can afford that. And yet, people in many companies feel disagreement puts them at risk.
As a consultant I have witnessed this first hand. I have seen people allow research projects to continue even when they know they are not going to succeed because they are afraid to disagree. I have seen money spent needlessly on decisions that are not effective because people thought their jobs might be at risk if they brought forward another viewpoint.

Shouldn’t it be just the opposite? Shouldn’t people who do not bring forth another well considered respectful opinion when they have it, be fired for not speaking up?
And why should this even be a consideration? Time. That is what I have heard from leaders—we don’t have time to disagree.
Can you imagine? You have time to redo, you have time to start over, but no time to disagree.
What that tells me is that people do not know how to respectfully and concisely disagree, have a dialogue about the problem they are trying to solve, express the various viewpoints and make a good solid decision. They don’t know how to do that efficiently and effectively, so they fear that disagreement and decision making take time.
Sometimes when we are off path, it can be so obvious from the outside and so consuming when you are in the middle of it.

For knowledge to be shared fully and completely, we must be allowed to disagree. We should be expected to have varied opinions. We must be each other’s check and balance.
To express disagreement effectively and respectfully we must know how to present our arguments and how to determine what factors are critical in decision making.
Yes, knowledge sharing happens during respectful, honest and concise disagreement. And building the competencies to get there can only help an organization thrive