I've been enjoying Nick Milton's KM-related stories and quotes lately. He has What to do if you don't know the answer? in a post today that had me smiling. It's based on a story about grade school students answering the same question, and Nick has re-cast the questions to a more business context, thusly:
- Analyse the problem.
- Stop and think: what could be going on here? What are the facts, the ground truth? What could be the root cause?
- Look in your mind for the answer.
- Can't find it? Look again!
- Look at the problem again ... have you missed anything?
- Have you come across something like this before? Does this give you any insight?
- Look it up (wiki, corporate knowledge base, technical guidance).
- Ask the community of practice for help.
- Finally ask the expert.
Have a look through that list again. How much of that is technology-mediated? How much could even be technology mediated? To me those first six topics are all about personal learning and knowledge. Sure, there are elements of technology that can help your recall and with data collection, but nearly all of KM discussions ignore these aspects. This isn't only for the individual, but groups of people who have a question/problem and are trying to solve it together. Imagine what your organization would look like if it explicitly talked about learning and thinking and reflecting?
In reading through these questions, I am reminded of a comment by Tom Davenport (I believe) that people spend most of their time looking for answers locally before they seek help "outside." The balance of this may be shifting with people tweeting out questions or for those who favor Googling everything. But there is still a lot of value in stepping back for the difficult questions and being more methodical.
There is another dimension to this thought process - that of being a lifelong learner or a learning organization. Once you've answered the question, loop it back and let everyone who helped you get to the answer know what you discovered. Really test that answer (with colleagues, in the lab, in the world) to see if it makes sense, particularly as it the answer is applied and develops over time. There is never One Right Answer to complex situations - they should always be checked and examined for improvements.
[Photo: "Questions" by Tim O'Brien]