12 things every knowledge worker should know how to do

As a knowledge worker you are a site of production. You are ‘plant and machinery’. You are a knowledge ‘engine’. Your capability and capacity for knowledge work is a function of the condition of YOU and the conditions you create for yourself. What should you know how to do to be the best functioning knowledge engine?

Here’s a list of twelve things.

Manage self

1. Know your own learning style/preferences (try Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles); your personal knowledge management style (try Six Cs of Personal Knowledge Management by Straits Knowledge).
2. Know your strengths and what to do to play to these (try Clifton Strengths Finder).
3. Use personal resources like Time, Attention, Energy and Relationships effectively (try Activity Time Budget, Honest Digital Calendar, Attention Filter).

Manage information

4. Title documents meaningfully – follow a naming convention that makes good sense. Use Properties and meta-data whenever you can to enrich the information, and enable quick easy discovery.
5. Setup, maintain and use an information organisation system; both for a collection of items, and with the structure within a single item. (i.e. Headings/Sections, Table of Contents, Cross Referencing, etc.).
6. Curate information; manage a collection of useful resources for self and/or others.

Develop knowledge

7. Use reflective practice including after-action reviews, to Think about what you’ve done and what could be done and what you are going to do.
8. Set an intention and test hypothesis; experiment to gain insights. Sometimes you need to Act to discover useful Thoughts.
9. Summarise and distil a set of knowledge (try Notebooking or Mindmapping).
10. Recognise knowledge creation and distribution opportunities and leverage them.

Produce knowledge

11. Create produced knowledge to address different learning styles, with communication medium appropriate for the audience.
12. Package knowledge creatively for production/publication (e.g. document, presentation, slides, session outline).

Learn more about Develop knowledge and Produce knowledge phases in knowledge creation.

If you can do all these, you have the foundations for being knowledge-savvy.


Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  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.


Two knowledge creation phases: Develop knowledge & Produce knowledge (Part 2)

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: Self unLimited – A vocational adventure for the 21st century

This is a Product that has come from creating the ‘Self unLimited’ body of knowledge. [As at 2017  a Learning Program and a book have emerged. The journey over past five years has involved contexts that triggered 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.

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.

Turning off, tuning out work email outside business hours

I recently broke one of my knowledge-work rules: Do not receive, read or send business emails outside business hours.  As with many rules, exceptions are made.  So in making the exception, I told the colleague who was the recipient of said ‘exceptional’ email, that I was breaking my rule and not to expect future email correspondence outside business hours.

He responded: “I have to learn your secret for having the discipline to stay away from work emails outside of business hours!”

My first thought: My secret is discipline. He had it in one!
My second thought:  If he wants to make a change, it would probably be useful if I explained the substance of my discipline.

So here goes …  My discipline consists of three interrelated parts: conditions, techniques and precepts.


1. I have separate email addresses for work and personal email. Work emails go to work email address. Personal to personal.

2. I utilise two separate computers: work and home. My work computer is setup to receive work emails, not personal. My home computer is setup to receive personal emails, not work. When I finish work, I turn off work computer. When I am at work (or in work mode at home), I don’t access my home computer.

3. I don’t have constant delivery of work email. I’ve turned on the software option to Send-and-Receive messages when I explicitly request, or to automatically Send-Receive on 45 minute cycle rather than instantly. This helps me limit my attention to incoming email.  (I’ve also turned off the You’ve-got-mail alerts.)


4. I don’t receive, read or send emails outside business hours. Except on very rare occasions when I’ve agreed to break the rule.
I don’t work on a global scene, and I appreciate that some people have the 24/5 challenge of a constant business day somewhere in the world. Still, I think there is room to turn-off for a period at weekends (or when you decide is down-time.)

5. Sometimes, outside business hours, I think about an email message I want to compose (either new or in response to an existing message). On such rare occasions, I may quickly create an email message with some rough points … BUT I save it to Drafts, and finish and send it when the next business-hours window opens.

6. I consciously write emails to fully address a matter, with an aim to reduce the back-and-forth message traffic that often results from quick and often incomplete emails.

7. As email correspondence is collaborative, I’ve informed others of my email practice. I’m aware that I am going against convention, so I’ve had to repeat myself and stick to my desired behaviour to be believed.
This means a) telling family and friends to use personal email address for personal matters;
b) not sharing personal email address with professional contacts;
c) not providing personal email address to professional social networking sites, i.e. LinkedIn;
d) sometimes moving the errant message from the ‘wrong’ account to ‘right’ email account, so it gets the appropriate attention;
e) setting the Reply-to option in the reply-message to the ‘correct’ email address, so future correspondence from the ‘other’ is routed to the right email account.
The last two actions can be a bit of work at first, but necessary to ‘train’ myself and others in the desired email habits.

8. I tune-out from incoming email correspondence inside work hours as well:
• I don’t have my email account open during meetings.
• I don’t rush to read emails between meetings (I’m probably using between-meetings-time to reflect or make notes about the meeting).

9. I have limited scheduled period of time per day for processing incoming work email. (Processing = read, decide what action is needed, and organise appropriately). Email received after the current processing window, is mostly likely to get attention during the next processing window.


10. I hold the following to be true:
• Email correspondence is not instant messaging.
• Business email is business correspondence and is managed as business-time work.
• Email is not my core work, it serves my core work.
• Email serves me, I don’t serve email.
• Email is communication with intent – there is an effect to achieve, i.e. persuade, inform,  entertain, enable, arrange, etc.
• Other people’s lack of planning and organisation should not have an undue influence on how I plan and organise my work.

If you adopt these ways, then expect to have to be vigilant and not afraid to inform (and repeatedly remind) people of your stance.

For people with whom I have a limited or initial correspondence, I’ve considered writing a short manifesto to put in an email signature, as a way to set expectations. I’ve yet to figure out a simple, succinct and inoffensive statement.  A link to this blog entry may well be an interim solution.

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 tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

The work of Knowledge Mgmt vs Information Mgmt

Another way (see previous post Knowledge Management vs Information Management – Same Difference?) to understand the difference between Knowledge Management and Information Management is to consider the typical Objectives and Activities of each. KM and IM are both organisational functions. Both can be constructed as programmes of initiatives – though with different expected outcomes. From an enterprise view, here is how I think they differ.

Knowledge Management

Typical Objectives

  • Adaptability and agility to quickly achieve competitive advantage
  • Retention, growth and circulation of institutional memory
  • Creativity generating innovation
  • Organisational effectiveness in collaboration and coordination
  • Liveability and credibility of organisation for insiders

Typical Activities

  • Establish, facilitate and promote Communities of Practice
  • Conduct Knowledge Audits to identify knowledge that is needed to do work, and is difficult to replace or replicate
  • Establish and facilitate Lessons Learned approaches to capture after-the-fact knowledge from particular process, project or event
  • Establish and facilitate Storytelling approaches to transfer context-rich knowledge
  • Facilitate Mentoring and Apprenticeship programs to leverage subject matter experts tacit knowledge
  • Enhance and facilitate integrated knowledge transfer practices within employment life cycle, e.g. Induction program, professional development, exit interviews
  • Facilitate and promote enterprise knowledge transfer events, e.g. Knowledge Fairs (“look what we know or did”)
  • Facilitate and promote enterprise knowledge sharing and retention tools, e.g. Human Yellow Pages, Lessons Learned logs, Handoff/handover documents
  • Define and teach best practice for knowledge transfer and retention
  • Facilitate extraction of subject-matter-expertise knowledge and integrating this into targeted learning programs and tools

NB: I haven’t explicitly mentioned technology … On purpose! I think too many KM programs get focused on intranets, social computing and virtual collaboration tools at the expense of the people connecting, sharing and conversing activity.

Information Management

Typical Objectives

  • Compliance with regulations and standards (internal and external)
  • Organisational effectiveness in collaboration and coordination
  • Preservation of critical institutional information
  • Minimised organisational risk with non-repudiable evidence of activity
  • Better quality responsive decision-making

Typical Activities

  • Define and manage enterprise Information Architecture and meta-data to organise information and data
  • Define sources and destinations of information
  • Develop and implement new and upgraded IM systems (systems = people, process and tools)
  • Develop and manage integration of multiple IM systems
  • Manage interfaces for users to search and create data, content and information
  • Develop and implement data and content administration Manage retention, revision and retirement of enterprise information
  • Define and manage security and accessibility of information
  • Extract, aggregate and analyse data and information to provide business intelligence
  • Define and teach best practice for information capture, organisation and disposal

And both functions have activities in common like other organisational functions e.g. financial management, human resources. For example:

  • Understand the KM or IM needs for executing corporate business strategy
  • Define enterprise KM or IM strategy, policies and standards
  • Assess the KM or IM implications of new technologies
  • Define stewardship and responsibilities for KM or IM
  • Maintain KM or IM services and solutions including managing risk, compliance, funding, etc

Do they seem the same to you?

One reason for confusion about the difference may be that IM and KM both involve people, both exist for people, and should be designed for and with people. However KM addresses the tacit knowledge that is inside people that isn’t, and sometimes can’t or shouldn’t be, documented. KM’s focus is on retention and transfer of knowledge between and within people, rather than between people and information systems or within information systems.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and ways to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.