Man talking with other man in uniform, by Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The title is a quote from Euan Semple’s book, Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do. The first few chapters of this thought-provoking book are being discussed this week on Twitter under the hashtag #lrnbk.

On its face, the author’s assertion is simple. Knowledge that remains forever tacit has no value. Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, has value because it’s shared. Euan compares knowledge with money, and the metaphor of intellectual capital makes sense. Knowledge, “has to be moving to be valuable,” he says.

At this point, the conversation diverges with two questions:

  • Knowledge has some value on its own, so how much more value comes from sharing?
    and
  • Who realizes the value of shared knowledge?

How much value comes from sharing?

I’m addressing this question first, because it has great importance to the discussion of social learning. Euan advocates that each of us should share what we do as we’re doing it; in short, blog as we work. He writes:

“Let the world know why you did what you did and what you were thinking while you did it.”

Euan continues:

“The more we all open up and share our thinking…the more we will all learn.”

But how much value is there in writing what we do as we do it? In many ways it’s similar to sage-on-stage instruction because it’s essentially one-directional communication. The sender gathers information, selects the medium, and crafts a message as best they can for the given medium. But writing (and reading) misses two important elements of sage-on-stage: body language, and tone of voice. Combined these have been estimated as making up well over 50% of face-to-face communication. Receivers are left to interpret the message as best they can, bringing their own culture, context, bias, and preexisting knowledge into that interpretation.

Good communication goes both ways, and in this process much of the interpretation by the receiver can be enhance, improved. The sender still has the role of crafting an effective message for the medium but the receiver, after interpreting the message, seeks to clarify or challenge the message by providing feedback to the sender. The process is iterative and interactive. It’s far more effective than one-directional communication.

This where there is leverage in social learning, where interaction is critical. Interpretation is not left entirely up to the receiver, because there’s feedback. The sender learns in the process as well, possibly refining ideas or developing entirely new schools of thought. At a minimum, the sender learns how to craft better messages.

These are only a few reasons many people say that learning is inherently social. While some learning can be asocial (reading, studying written work, watching videos), real learning happens more effectively when interacting with others.

Who realizes the value of shared knowledge?

I’ll suggest three stakeholders:

  • The individual doing the sharing
  • The members of the community
  • The community itself

The individual shares for a number of reasons. Our ideas and thoughts get challenged and/or they get supported. Either way, it’s feedback that comes in the form of challenges or questions. We gain from the experience by developing more confidence in our ideas, and by modifying and adjusting them into better, larger, and (hopefully) more effective ideas. In short, they become more powerful.

As a member of the community, access to the knowledge of the sages is of great value. Access to the sages themselves is of even greater value. Interaction with the sages, open dialogue, developing new ideas together, and changing the way we work is priceless.

The community itself gains. The collective knowledge of the community is essentially forever archived, or can be. We build on the knowledge of our predecessors only when we have access to it, seek it out, and learn from it.

Knowledge has to be shared to have value.

It seems true on its face, but how much it’s valued depends on how widely it’s discussed. Following Euan’s money metaphor, intellectual capital circulated yields tremendous dividends and substantial returns on its investment in the community.

Thanks for reading! @tomspiglanin


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