Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Negotiating with a 4-year old (or, how knowledge assets can help us all)

Everyday knowledge assets

Regular readers of this blog will know that a 'knowledge asset' is a term used by those of us working in knowledge management (KM) to describe a tool containing key knowledge on a critical topic.  We create such assets using knowledge capture processes (i.e. Interviews, Retrospects etc.) and then display and structure the knowledge in as 'user-friendly' a way as possible.

The aim of a knowledge asset is not to create a record for posterity or for knowledge-holders to 'dump' everything they know into one place.  Rather, it is aimed at the 'knowledge customer' - i.e. the person who needs certain knowledge in a format that will help them when they need it.

The following are examples of everyday knowledge assets:
  • 'How to' guides
  • Assembly instructions for newly-purchased tools, toys, equipment etc.
  • Recipes
  • Etc.
We can all think of examples of when we have used such resources and found them to be unhelpful.  Often this is because they:
  • Lack sufficient detail
  • Contain only text where images would help, especially on key processes
  • Use terms that don't make sense to us, the user
In short, these issues all have the same root cause - namely, that the guidance material has not been produced with the end-user in mind.  Or at least, has not been proof-read by someone that knows nothing about the topic.  This 'ignorance' is helpful because it reveals any hidden assumptions on the part of either the person with the knowledge or the person creating the asset (they are often not the same person - did you think Gordon Ramsay wrote his own recipes?!).

You will recall that I described the main beneficiary of a knowledge asset as "the person who needs certain knowledge in a format that will help them when they need it".  This is a broad definition and rightly so - knowledge assets can be vast, complex, structured works that take a project team from a bare piece of land to a complete and full-functioning new airport, or they can simply save someone a bit of time and a bit of stress - it depends on the need, the value, and the resources and time available.

Below is a simple example of how a knowledge asset can be used to save a bit of time and quite a lot of stress....

'Pictures paint a thousand words'

Picture the scene - a family getting ready for a day out, to meet far-off relatives:

Mother: "Come and sit down and let me do your hair!  How shall we do it today?  Shall we do the fish-tail plait?"
Daughter (aged 4): "What's that?  Doesn't sound very nice..."
Mother: "It's lovely.  You like it.  It's where the plait has two sides to it that meet in the middle....come and sit down, we haven't got much time!"
Daughter: "What does it look like?"
Mother: "I've just told you.  Sit down!"
Daughter: "Show me...."
Mother: "I can't show you!  I can only do it and then show you in the mirror.  Sit down!"

And so on for far longer than one would want, with everyone getting frustrated....

It was at this point that I had a brainwave (he adds, modestly).  Once my wife had finally negotiated the finishing of
said fish-tail plait, I took a photo of it for future reference.  Since then, each variation of hairstyle (i.e. plaits, pony-tails, bunches etc.) has been photographed such that now, it takes only a few seconds for Mother and Daughter to agree on the style of the day, without the noise and commotion and disagreement that we all suffered before we used this very simple knowledge asset.

Of course, for the analogy to work 100%, we would need to add guidance notes, diagrams, FAQs, videos etc. all of which would help others perform this 'essential task'.

Now, remove hairdressing scenario with a four-year old daughter and replace with any high-pressure situation where details need to be communicated to a workforce lacking fluent English - diagrams, photos and other imagery can help convey methods, finished products and variants thereof.  It's not hard to see how a little bit of effort up-front can make things so much easier further down the line.

For a chat about how knowledge assets can help save you time, money and reduce stress, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

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