Getting help with knowledge creation

I am frequently asked for (or I seek) feedback on created knowledge with friends and colleagues. Thinking more about the Knowledge Creation phases of Develop Knowledge and Produce Knowledge described in recent blogs, what kind of contribution is sought and needed?

Scenario 1:  CV writing

My friend Mary needed to update her CV. She knew it didn’t contain the words, content or structure that she thought it should have to be effective and get her a new job. She was stuck on what changes to make. She asked me to look at her CV and suggest changes to the document.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?

Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe she really needed was in the Develop Knowledge phase. She didn’t know what she wanted to say about herself; forget what words we’d use on the page! It was not the best use of our time or efforts to sit with the MS Word document and edit it.

She is, of course, the source of much of the knowledge (history of her work experience, her description of her skill, and her aspirations for the future, etc.) that could be communicated through the CV but it was raw knowledge, half-baked and forming. She was having trouble getting it out of her head and making sense of it before we could shape it into words that could be used to help her get a new job. Words that might make it into the CV, but also to her LinkedIn profile; what she would say in a cover letter; or at the interview; or in general conversation with people about the work she was seeking.

Scenario 2: Proposal development

Charles was a post-grad student who wanted to become a consultant. I was his business mentor and we had started a journey because he had a good idea for a strategy piece of work for potential clients. I was going to help him find his first client to get himself work experience. He had drafted a Business Proposal for a piece of work with a potential client and asked for my feedback to finalise it.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?

Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe he really needed was in the Develop Knowledge Phase. Never having been a consultant before, he had been struggling to keep the content of the Strategy he would produce, out of a Proposal to be engaged to produce the Strategy.

He had lots he wanted to say, and he wanted to show he knew lots of useful stuff but it was not relevant to product nor purpose of the Business *Proposal*. The content may be relevant to later activity, perhaps for an analysis or report.

I chose to treat his draft as a Developed document. I didn’t think the content was fundamentally right, so I focused on the ideas for (re)Development and ignored doing any Producing critique.

Scenario 3: Memorandum of Understanding collaboration

I was asked by the CEO to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between our organisation and an external organisation, as a pre-Joint Venture document. Having never written one like this before, I asked the company lawyer for guidance. He provided a couple of templates, plus an example of a finished one. I took the finished one and deleted text that wasn’t relevant, and inserted rough notes for additional content. This was really rough – and not in legalese which he said he would fix once we got input from the other organisation about what they wanted in the Memo.

I sent the document with a mix of rough and finished text to external organisation, with the intent of being collaborative and simply putting in indicative text to get a collective sense of what the content of the document needed to be. I did this purposefully as I wanted them to have a sense that they were equally contributing to the nature of the content. (Side note: There is an argument that the Lower the Fidelity of a piece of work, the more others will take ownership, plus be prepared to revise and delete aspects rather than simply refine what is there, particularly when deleting is more valid than compromising.)

Was I asking them to contribute in Develop or Produce phases?

Answer: Develop Knowledge phase.

I was seeking feedback on a Developed document. However the external organization gave it to their legal counsel who treated it like Producing phase. They refined all my rough notes into legalese and added their own polished content. While they acted graciously, I sensed judgement that we hadn’t been ‘serious’ in the quality of the content we sent. It was clear we were operating with different intent in the review process. I wondered what kind of quality of collaboration we might have had if we both had a sense of different phases in the knowledge creation process.

The Emerging Role of Synthesiser

As I reflect on these experiences, I see the potential of a role and skill set for people who can bridge the gap between the Develop and Produce phases. Someone who can take half-baked content and shape it into a workable draft. A Synthesiser: A mix of a ghost-writer, investigator, interviewer, critic, editor.

Here’s my wish list of the skills and qualities of a Synthesiser:

  • Listening and asking questions
  • Reading
  • Thinking critically
  • Collecting the fragments
  • Processing
  • Digesting, musing and reflecting
  • Validating – with others; against a brief
  • Structuring thoughts; writing outlines
  • Researching for extra details
  • Organising, sorting and ordering
  • Connecting and linking
  • Presenting in synthesised organised form(s)
  • Having, using, and understanding a notation system that differentiates editorial review vs. content review.
  • Abducting – thinking about what is possible and may not be naturally indicated by the existing thought provided

In the three scenarios outlined above, the role of a Synthesiser would have helped shape all the pieces of content, such that they could be ready for the Produce phase. A Synthesiser could have bridged the gap between Develop and Produce phases by asking questions to elicit fresh thought, thinking critically, digest and ultimately offering a structured response to elevate the initial piece of work into something better and richer.

Learnings from reflection

When I am asked to review material now, I have a quick scoping conversation to gauge and set expectations about the nature of my contribution. I seek to best serve the person requesting help, so the framework of the two phases of knowledge creation is a useful reference for both to use to reach a mutually satisfying agreement.


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.

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: 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.

Reduce knowledge loss with Knowledge Transfer Report

Retention of Critical Knowledge (or ROCK) is a popular concern in organisations or groups with retiring workforce or turnover of personnel.

Often initiatives to retain knowledge focus on turning the details of what people know into codified forms or documentation. This makes it more possible for others (maybe unknown today) to read (or watch) in a different place or at a different time.

Codifying knowledge affords an immutability and mobility of the knowledge. Immutability fixes the knowledge in time, preserving it across time. Mobility means it can move beyond its creator and point of creation.

Immutability and mobility are seductive notions for knowledge capture:

  • An upside of immutability is that you can feel certain about codified knowledge as fixed definitive content and this can give rise to a sense of community and continuity. A downside – it probably stopped being definitive before the proverbial ink dried.
  • An upside of mobility is that it can readily circulate. A downside – it needs supporting context to enable decisions about its relevance somewhere else; and if this is missing, its less usefulness is limited or non-existent.

Trying to capture a substantive portion of what a person knows in a codified form is akin to writing a book on the person. And if it gets written, will anybody have the time or motivation to read it?

How about instead writing the Table of Contents on a person’s knowledge?

Enter the Knowledge Transfer Report. A succinct document that lists all the essential important topics and points to where to get details. Those details may be explicitly in a database, website or document; or more importantly, held implicitly (or tacitly) in an individual or group of individuals.

The design of the report addresses the issue of immutability by allowing for micro details (Chapter & Verse) to change while providing macro details (Table of Contents) which are more likely fixed. The form of the report gives a vehicle for circulating the knowledge.

The Table of Contents (ToC) concept embodies an organisation structure with sequence and/or logical groupings with which to traverse a body of knowledge. It’s the map of the territory – rather than detailed step-by-step instructions. It’s scannable and doesn’t need to be ‘read’ for the user to get immediate value. Re-using the form of ToC for the report content, empowers the user of the Report the freedom to explore and discover within useful parameters.

Learn about the technique: the process and template.

Share with us about your experimentation with the Knowledge Transfer Report, and other practical ideas to enable retention of critical knowledge.

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.

Creatively packaging knowledge

A common response to the risk of losing knowledge is to capture or document it.  This is a worthy activity. However, how often is what is captured or documented, actually read or used? One factor may be the format or medium used to present the knowledge. This blog presents some creative  ways you might package knowledge to make it appealing, and more importantly easy to digest and thus apply.

A selection

* Recipe metaphor

One expertise I have and use is in designing and leading the change process for an organisational change.  I like to employ creative ways of engaging with people in change to providing a meaningful experience while also addressing their wellbeing (physical, mental and emotional).  I redefined a ‘go-live preparation’ activity using the analogy of air travel.  In order to share the idea with other practitioners, I used the metaphor of a recipe to explain the essential elements and thus enable others to easily replicate and even adapt the idea for other contexts.

Sample ‘Fly away together – change activity’

* Game show presentation

When the opportunity arose to present a client case-study at a conference on ‘managing change (as a designed user experience)’ , I gave the conference participants their own user experience with a game-show format. I packaged the knowledge of the case study into 12 mini packages (1 slide, 3-4 min of talking points) that become elements of the game-show. The audience chose from the 12 about the aspects of the case study they were most interested in.

Sample ‘Managing change as a designed user experience’ [45 min audio with video of the slide deck]

* Graphical resume with timeline

Somebody has already down the work of curating a small collection of resumes to inspire doing things differently. A key idea is turning your chronological work history into a graphical timeline.

Samples ‘7 Cool Resumes Found on Pinterest’

* Graphical rich report of survey results

Kea New Zealand exists to connect ‘talented Kiwis and Friends of New Zealand’ around the world. (I’m a Kiwi!) One of their activities is to survey expatriates to understand their choices about living away from NZ and engaging with NZ from a distance.  The 2013 report of this survey is visually rich in graphics, colour and icons. How more compelling is this to read and understand than pages of prose, plain tables and bullet points?

Sample ‘Kea Every Kiwi Counts 2013 Report’

* Advice about better practice in an infographic

There are often arguments that if you want to motivate people to change their behaviour you need to offer social proof; or use facts and figures; or use colourful images. Here is an example combining all of these.

Sample ‘Taking Breaks at Work’

Other advice includes provide a compelling narrative (aka story); or a large dose of humour that might trigger awareness of a reality we haven’t been prepared to face – we are laughing at ourselves!

Sample ‘How to lead a creative Life’

* Graphic recording of group conversation

One master of the art of graphic recording is Lynne Cazaly. She offers a worthwhile and recommended learning sessions called ‘Catch-It’. Learn how to visually think and record the conversation of a group in real-time. Rather than read about this – experience it!

Sample ‘Video showing graphic recording by Lynne’ (1:45 min)

Recommended reading

These references in my collection have been a source of inspiration and practical guidance to me in creatively packaging knowledge. .

I hope this selection has got your creative juices humming. As a knowledge worker we often create knowledge products – let’s find and use ways to do this innovatively.  I hope you will share other examples you have created or have seen.

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.

Image credit: Microsoft Online Clipart

Knowledge mgmt and Information mgmt – same-difference?

Knowledge management (KM) and Information management (IM) are different and related. It’s easy to be confused and think they are the same, that KM is somehow a more faddish version of IM. Some would say it doesn’t matter – I beg to differ. To do better KM requires a different focus than to do better IM, and therefore different expertise and approaches.

Here’s my take on the difference.

For KM, the focus is knowledge; which is to say, the focus is people. Knowledge needs a knower. People create and carry knowledge. They learn, they make-sense, they make knowledge part of themselves.

For IM, the focus is information; which is stuff that lives outside a person. Much information starts out as knowledge. But when it gets detached from a person, it tends to lose context and meaning. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, simply it has different value. (More on the knowledge vs. information difference below)

The aim of good KM in an organisation is vitalising your knowledge-base. (Remember your knowledge is in people, so your knowledge-base is what people know, as well as how they come to know it.) Managing knowledge means creating and maintaining the right conditions so knowledge can move and nourish the organisation. And this doesn’t mean putting it into information systems – it’s about harnessing social power: conversation and relationship.

The aim of good IM in an organisation is utilising information to make decisions and explain organisational activities. Managing information means developing and administering systems that collect, organise, process and aggregate information. This can mean using KM to improve people’s knowledge about to know where to get good information, and know how much value to give that information.

Information is a-kind-of knowledge, often referred to as explicit or codified knowledge. Knowledge often gets captured in more tangible forms because it makes it easier to move across time (it can outlive you) and across space (it can go without you). What started out as the knowledge of the knower becomes information, and will remain information, until someone makes sense of it and comes to know it.

Maybe this example will help you sense the difference between knowledge and information:
‘80 Rahera Street’ – As a piece of knowledge, these words represent a location where I used to live, where I shaped my environment and made many memories. My knowledge of 80 Rahera Street is emotional, aesthetic, geographical and functional. This knowledge lives in my knowledge-base and can be used to restimulate memories and facts of use to my family, and potentially real estate agents!
‘80 Rahera Street’ – As a piece of information, is an address to a specific geographical location. This can be put in a database and be used to confirm my identity and to send me stuff.

Often people working in the KM space, attempt to resolve the KM vs IM confusion by stating that they are working on the people-side of KM. Thus distinguishing themselves from the IM part (i.e. information technology and systems) under a KM umbrella.

So next time you are defining or implementing a KM strategy/solution – check: are you doing knowledge-people stuff as well as information-systems stuff? If you are focusing on information-systems stuff, then you are making IM change not KM.

And why does it matter? Because KM approaches and skills are different than IM, and you might be attempting the equivalent of building a house with cooking tools and techniques. (For ideas on KM techniques see The work of Knowledge Mgmt vs Information Mgmt.)

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.