Social knowledge

– a personal account

'Truth is not to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction' (Bakhtin, 1984, p.110).

Surowiecki’s “The wisdom of crowds” tells anecdotes and stories that illustrate some of the advantages of collective decision making, but my epiphany runs deeper that decisions and problem solving, to the very nature of knowledge itself. The route to working with knowledge lies through people, building relationships & trust, deep dialog and creative abrasion. There needs to be diversity of ideas and an environment where failures and reflection are valued as learning enablers.

"Knowledge is embodied in people gathered in communities and networks. The road to knowledge is via people, conversations, connections and relationships. Knowledge surfaces through dialog, all knowledge is socially mediated and access to knowledge is by connecting to people that know or know who to contact."

Toward Principles

The importance of cohorts

You may obtain information from the 'sage on the stage' a book or CBT, but you learn on the playing field, where your identity is forged, opinions are validated, values mediated, beliefs formed and assumptions are tested. Social mediation is key, and this is where cohorts help you make meaning and gain understanding. We own a social brain and apprenticeship is the natural way to learn. We need cohorts and community to build a shared repertoire of key concepts, evolve tools, craft language, gather stories and highlight sensitivities. This is where learning products reside.

Sharing meaning

Shared meaning is the difference between personal knowing and acquired understanding or social knowledge. This is the power behind language and communication. Points to the essential role of sharing critique, alignment & reflection in learning. Meaning is established through patterning, emotions play a key role. To make meaning explicit and ensure alignment, it is essential to question and test assumptions.

Crafting distinctions

Creating new knowledge comes from bringing forth new worlds, from agreeing and naming subtle signs, symptoms, patterns and perceptions that enable alternative courses of action. Mostly this happens as a natural byproduct of conversations within groups and is recognized by the issues, the values, the beliefs and in the language of a community of practice. Often encoded in the 'slang' and group talk that sets the community apart. Distinctions are closely related to ontologies and to making meaning. They contribute a large measure to identity.

Deep learning, identity and dialog

Knowing is an act of participation, knowledge is more a living process than acquisition of an object, it is closely tied to who we are and emerges in dialog or through copy and practice. Lasting knowledge is knowing more than definitions, concepts and relationships, it is feeling what is right in a particular situation, requires personal engagement, passion and a community to emerge. Learning and knowledge require an ecology to thrive and evolve.

Generative learning

New insights arise at the boundaries between communities, connections and reflections, are key to synthesis and access to new ideas. The learning potential of an organization lies in maintaining a tension and a balance between core practices and active boundary processes. Identity and meaningfulness are the wellspring of creativity, sharing is a natural by-product of belonging. Learning and understanding is more about community than content

Creative abrasion, high challenge and safety

Dorothy Leonard struck a chord talking of creative abrasion. To change your mindset you need to raise the energy levels, increase the attention and focus. This is difficult to achieve in a placid conversation. Exposure to alternative assumptions and frames, some advocacy, deep dialog, strong engagement and a pure clash of ideas help to unsettle, and resettle meaning. Prior beliefs are difficult to change using reading, classroom instruction and teaching as telling. Taken too far, increasing stress levels will reduce the learning opportunity, there is a fine balance to be maintained.

Boundary hopping and busting prototypes

The sweet spot for learning is at the boundaries of individual and community. Here you are less sure and secure , core rigidities are lower, you are flooded with new thought forms, alternative analogies and metaphors. Making connections is key and often follows trusted relationships.

In the knowledge economy, connections and relationships count more than personal know-how and access to content. The environment changes so fast, the optimum knowledge strategy is instant access to people & their ideas and continuous awareness & learning in a supportive community. People and discourse communities provide the 'filter' mechanism for alerting and awareness. This helps to keep your focus, provides market intelligence and affords a platform for negotiating meaning and value. A key heuristic is to: annotate complex documents with contact people who can coach, situate and explain. This is a higher quality connection than hyper-linking to yet more content.

My call

Personal identity and context are key in all forms of knowledge work. They determine your propensity to share, inquire, probe, prototype, experiment and question. Identity regulates your engagement in deep dialog and controls your ability to engage in creative abrasion.

Community is a prerequisite for continuous learning. This does not have to be a CoP, a discourse community is just as valuable as it delivers awareness, helps to sensitize, alter mental models & surface assumptions.

Knowledge needs negotiation imposed (mediated) social values and reflection, separate knowledge from personal knowing and individual competence (skills)

Knowledge is situated some knowledge is present in social ritual, inventions and artifacts. Reification changes the nature of objects turning them into knowledge artifacts (social objects)

Knowledge needs representation, inference, critique and reflection are improved when there is something tangible to work from. This is not the essential aspect of knowledge, but representation & reification are key for building longer term memory, promoting learning and are needed to scale knowledge work. We need to be mindful of what is lost when we represent and need to heed that any representation is a powerful filter.

Reciprocity & engagement is the price system for knowledge within a firm, the route to shared meaning and real knowing