Two knowledge creation phases: Develop knowledge & Produce knowledge (Part 1)

In Knowledge Management, there are various lifecycles naming different stages in managing knowledge, like:
create > represent > share > utilise;
create > clarify > classify > communicate;
conceptualize > create > apply; and
create > share > retain.

See the common word? Create!

I’ve observed two different yet related phases within Knowledge Creation: I call them Develop and Produce. Appreciating the difference can help you collaborate more effectively with others; set more appropriate expectations with your clients or collaborators; and choose the best context and tools for doing knowledge creation work.

Part 1 of this two-part blog explains the idea of Develop and Produce knowledge phases. Part 2 shares practical examples of what I do and use in each of the two phases.

Characteristics of Two Knowledge Creation Phases

In Develop phase, the intent is to discover emergent ideas; formulate questions; and explore possibilities. In this phase, the knowledge creator is often internalising multiple sources of knowledge, then ‘gestating’ new knowledge. It can be difficult and may be unreasonable to have emotional distance and objectivity as the creator of knowledge during this phase.

In Produce phase, the intent is to refine and polish the knowledge to produce an output that can be used or experienced by others. In this phase, the knowledge creator externalises what they know (or are knowing), and applies contextual criteria to shape the knowledge into a product that fits a purpose and intended audience.

Here’s a table to compare and contrast the characteristics of the two phases.

Develop Phase Produce Phase
Partial form/unformed
Half baked’
Unknown containers
Creates value only for yourself or the internal team
Context agnostic
Discovery for serendipity
Emergent form and function
Undefined focus
Condensed, Crystallised
Constrained to container
Creates value for others (external)
Expression for accessibility
Defined form and function
Focused for an audience and purpose
Prototyping > Publishing

Develop Phase: Content without the pressure of form or style

In the Develop phase, it’s essential not to constrain knowledge creation activity by producing a draft of a final product. It’s best to decouple the emerging content from any potential style or form. Let the idea surface. Formatting comes later when making choices for the audience and the value you want them to gain.

In Steve Johnson’s video “Where good ideas come from“, he proposes that ideas are developed from slow hunches that take time to evolve and incubate, possibly even remaining dormant for several years. A great description of the Develop phase! Smaller hunches collide with other ideas and they potentially become breakthroughs. When this connectivity occurs, it offers new ways to involve other people who may have a ‘missing piece’ that will build or improve the original idea.

In the Develop phase, you might switch back and forth from a macro to micro perspective of the content. This allows for new ideas to emerge. You revisit where and how things connect together. You may find new ways to frame or connect things — without the pressure to sacrifice anything.  It’s an incubation, experimental period.  Anything goes!

Develop-phase content looks like scribbles, rough notes, good notes, drawings, collection of facts, bookmarked references or books, half-written paragraphs, outlines, disparate bullet points or lists. In Develop phase you are most likely to start with a blank page.

Produce Phase: Focus on generating value

In the Produce phase, the goal, as Seth Godin would put it, is “to ship”. Knowledge leaving the Develop phase can go out into the world to be used. This is the point where the knowledge acquires value. Value such as revenue; building or enhancing reputation; or enabling others to apply it in their context.

Produce-phase content looks like a blog, a book, a video, a workshop or course, a session plan for the workshop or course, a report, a video, a podcast, a presentation, a slide deck for a presentation.

If you start with a template or form, then you are already moving into the Produce phase; the context will be shaping the content. If you give something a name or title by which it is to be known, you are on the boundary or over the line into Produce phase. That’s analogous to giving a baby a name once it’s born or about to be born. (During the gestation of a baby, i.e. develop-phase, humans don’t tend to assign a name!)

The Produce phase transforms fuzzy knowledge into something is relevant to a person, purpose, place, or context. The context shapes the developed content.  As a produced piece of content, its now possible for the knowledge to be Mobile and Immutable (as John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid describe in their book “The Social Life of Information“, pp. 197-205).  Mobile because it’s now in a form that can stand apart from the knower, and circulate across people, time and space. Immutable because it’s been fixed into a form that can be relied upon to be consistent and re-usable.

Valuing the Develop Phase

Knowledge creation starts with the Develop phase. Often this is internal and invisible to others. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t get sufficient attention, or isn’t treated as having value in its own right. Content in the Develop phase may appear unordered, incomplete, nonsensical and tentative; and thus socially risky to show or involve others who may expect something more.

Once knowledge moves into the Produce phase, it’s much more difficult (and unlikely) to return to the Develop phase. Knowledge that becomes a Product tends to be resistant to being abandoned or destroyed, in favour of coming up with something fresh and better.

What does knowledge creation with the two phases look like?

The two phases of the knowledge creation activity are illustrated in the blog post, “Let others know – generating goodwill for your contacts“.

Iteration through phases

Knowledge creation may iterate through a series of Develop and Produce phases.

Image-D+P Phases Iterations

I wrote the blog post “Let others know – generating goodwill for your contacts” to test (and make visible) the theory. It was a Minimal Viable Product (MVP); a first release of the creation of ‘Develop-Produce Knowledge Phases’ knowledge during one of the iterations. And I expect more iterations as I find new Product opportunities (potential users with a need), or think of new or modified ideas to influence the raw in-development content.
Well, that’s the concept! Read Part 2 to see how I apply this.


Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams get best value from their people and knowledge.


2 thoughts on “Two knowledge creation phases: Develop knowledge & Produce knowledge (Part 1)

  1. The list of attributes in Develop and Produce are so handy. I was trying to explain this concept to a colleage the other day and referred to this list. Thanks for sharing, Helen!

    • I too find myself explaining the concept to others; now that I’ve written a blog post about it, I’m hopeful that this knowledge is much more mobile, and others can take their time to digest it and apply it. “Handy” is a great quality to have achieved – thanks for letting me know Lisa that this content has hit the spot.

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