In meetings at work today, the term "context" has come up a number of times. As I dove into my interest in knowledge management, context was clearly one of the most critical elements of enabling knowledge transfer.
Do you ever get into a discussion with someone and realize five minutes later than you are both talking about something slightly different? For me, I get more-and-more agitated in these conversations, and then the realization is a total tension-releaser. Frequently, I have to stop the conversation and start over with this new realization - take a deep breath and spend the time to create a common ground. Multiply that feeling of frustration a few times when this is happening over email (or IM). Add a few more multiples to that frustration when an unknown person at some unknown time gets in touch with you.
The thing that brings you back in sync is the context: the context of your conversation partner and your own context if this communication about some past event.
What about the opposite problem. I'm operating in one mental context or framework, and someone comes to me with a question from another mental context. How long does it take to gear up my brain for the other context? It depends on all sorts of factors, but it's unlikely to be instantaneous. At the very least, I need to place mental bookmarks on what I've been doing. This is "context switching," and it can be a hidden trap for people who get frequent interruptions -- or let themselves be interrupted in the midst of key activities.
It may feel like context setting eats up a lot of vital time, but unless you can be guaranteed the person you're working with is up-to-speed, it is going to save you time in the end.