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.