In Part 1 of a two-part blog, I explained two separate but related phases in Knowledge Creation: Develop, where raw ideas are created as malleable knowledge elements; and Produce, where the knowledge is refined into polished deliverables to be valued and used by others. In this blog, I go deeper into what my personal knowledge creation practice looks like in these two phases.
Develop Phase – what happens!
I observe and note things that capture my attention. I read or listen to inspired or intelligent people and think about what they are sharing. I talk with others in stimulating conversation. I sit with pen and paper and write what comes to me – a stream of consciousness. I reflect, and mix and merge form new thoughts and ideas. In this phase, much of my knowledge creation work is internal within me. And while some of the thought is encoded in my notes, the bulk of the knowledge is not yet available or accessible by others. It is knowledge in tacit and implicit forms. Only when I start to encode my thoughts into symbols, or form them into concepts or models, can they can be tentatively explored in interaction with others.
Time spent in the Develop phase can be long – and that’s okay. It’s about quality, not speed. I like for my ideas to marinate and be iteratively explored. Albert Einstein had a analogous view about proportions of time in problem-solving: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
Practices I follow in the Develop phase :
- Be as free-form and raw as possible when documenting the emerging knowledge. Use rough forms to capture ideas: sticky notes; phrases (not sentences); and bullet points (not prose).
- Outline ideas to frame emerging thoughts. If a template artefact is involved, I extract the outline decoupling it from its format and prescribed order. (Once knowledge is structured in a working outline, it can be more readily considered for various production formats.)
- Use modular or elemental form. Having ‘parts’ allows reorganising and trying different connections and couplings. (It’s like what my aunt does when she’s quilting. She prepares her fabrics and squares so she can play with them to explore possible quilts products, all without having to stitch it together.) Such flexibility means I can test combinations for different situations or formats. And with the non-diminishing characteristic of knowledge, from one batch of developed content, multiple products are possible!
- Keep the content as raw as possible. The more finished the content is, the more difficult it is to cull or reorganised. It’s an emotional barrier rather than a functional barrier because of the perceived loss of effort invested in word smithing, polishing and refining. This refinement also tends to ‘fix’ the content making it harder to be repurposed or re-used. I remind myself I have permission in the Develop phase to stay loose, and be messy!
- Seek old products (my own or others) to harvest for knowledge I can repurpose or reuse. I have to resist the temptation to Save As on finished products that I am re-purposing – I might unintentionally lock myself into a Production format too early or that is wrong fit.
- Use non-production tools like MS OneNote, sticky notes and scrap recycled paper (it’s not clean and fresh on purpose) and pens/pencils. Learn more about how I use MS OneNote. (I’ve got a colleague who’s working on a new tool for collaborative knowledge creation: TribalMind – it’s in beta so why not play with it and share your thoughts with the creator.)
- Give myself permission to keep the knowledge close and not release it widely, if that’s what I feel comfortable with. Sometimes I have been accused of not sharing, of playing power games or being a perfectionist. I’m believe that knowledge in the Develop phase sometimes simply isn’t ready to be shared, and may not be sharable because it’s not yet in forms or symbols that others can access or read.
- Set good expectations with collaborators about the kinds of input or ‘feedback’ that are acceptable in Develop phase (compared to Produce phase). Censorship or editorial judgement is not appropriate for Develop phase content. Appropriate treatment is critical thinking: Is this a good idea? Is there a better idea than what I’ve got? What knowledge is missing?
A challenge of the Develop phase is making some of the knowledge Mobile (across space and time) so others can collaborate. Mobile forms of knowledge start to take on the forms of particular genre, e.g. a blog, a report, a document. Then the knowledge starts to look like a Product or the thing that would come from the Produce phase. And things that look Product-like, attract Produce-like behaviour, e.g. a critique or proof reading.
Produce Phase – what happens!
In the Produce phase, I firm up the Developed thoughts for the purpose of making it of value to others. I turn words and images into finished product with an audience in mind and a defined purpose or context. These constraints filter which parts of raw and half-baked material will make it into a product that can exist apart from me. It becomes knowledge in an explicit form that can be readily accessed and used by others.
The time required to move through the Produce phase depends on the type and quantity of products – more than one product is possible for different audiences and purposes. Arguably, if the Develop phase was thorough, then Production can be quick. The Produce phase is about packaging the knowledge, and the quality of the package depends on the quality of its original content.
Practices I follow in Produce phase:
- Use models about communication and learning styles to shape the nature and format of the finished product.
- Get creative about the way I might package the knowledge. Check out some example’s to stimulate your thinking.
- Use templates to quickly shift raw material to publication ready in the desired format. (For a workshop, I’d use a session plan.)
- Test the draft product with the intended audience and their intended use/context. Use their critique to refine to a polished product.
- Use production-specific tools and leverage their production-specific features. For example, word processer like MS Word and Styles, Table of Contents and Cross-referencing features; and Adobe Acrobat PDF creator which preserves hyperlinks and Table of Content/Outline features.
- Engage a collaborator who writes in Plain English to rewrite raw content with a fresh perspective and a talent for simplification.
There are many examples of my Produced knowledge you can access and share, that were created to be of value for knowledge workers:
1. A tool to use in your day-to-day work: Making and applying an Activity-Time budget
This blog post is one Product that has come from creating this particular knowledge. There is also a Module in a Learning Programme and a stand-alone Workshop. And that knowledge creation is nested in a broader knowledge creation activity on the concept of ‘Practices for Effective and Productive Knowledge Workers’.
2. A concept to reset your mental paradigm about your and work: Me Inc. – A vocational adventure for the 21st century
This blog post is one Product that has come from creating the ‘Me Inc’ body of knowledge. There is another iteration underway back to the Develop phase for this, as I have been challenged to supplement an existing Learning Programme, with a Book, and a Podcast series. These contexts are triggering thoughts about gaps or opportunities to redress with new developing content.
Rubber Hits the Road
This blog you are reading now was written in two phases. The Develop phase started two years ago! I intentionally wrote some rough notes to start to capture and organise my thoughts. Then I shared the concept in conversation with different people. And as new insights or refined concepts occurred to me, I added to those notes. From time to time, I would re-read the notes. Then months passed as I waited to see if the tentative knowledge felt right, or a fresh realisation had emerged.
The Produce phase for this blog started two months ago and involved me and one other. In moving to Produce phase, I created headings and initially organised the content into a logical flow, dumping some parts altogether, and putting some parts aside for another blog (and its own Develop phase). Then I sent it to my friend who turned rough blocks of text into meaningful prose – simplifying meandering sentences and refining bullet points and phrases into polished succinct text as fit a ‘blog’ format. This friend was a ‘Synthesiser’ helping me with the Develop-phase-to-Produce-phase transition. With a really excellent draft, I then played my final part as the author of the concept, to fine-tuning nuance and flow to arrive at a blog ready to publish. And this is what you are now reading.
Phew! Knowledge creation work is hard work.
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.