KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space

On 12 April (2011), I finally facilitated the KMers’ chat about balancing quick sharing of information and reflection in a slow space – a paradox that most knowledge workers have to come to terms with at some point, usually repeatedly. This blog post set the scene for the discussion.

It was not a straightforward chat because at first sight the discussion topic is not a typical or indeed topical KM issue, unlike using social media, exit interviews, monitoring KM, data/information/knowledge or the likes… Instead, the focus shifted on a deeper background issue: the pacing that shapes our engagement with knowledge work.

And what came out of the chat is really rich – hence this post. It also replaces the transcript which I failed completely at getting in time for software issues (see note 1). The discussion meant to address three questions:

  1. What is the value of fast versus slow information & reflection?
  2. How do you balance the desire to consume and share and the need to think and create?
  3. How do you deal with different information pacing with your relations?

Of course – and luckily – the discussion went in all directions. At the heart of it though, we covered most questions and stressed four elements: (contextual) purpose, (strong) relation, (deep) reflection and (agile) execution… and some reflections about what this all means to us (conscious knowledge workers) and where we might be headed.

How to deal with the maze of time? (Photo credits: Robbie73, FlickR)
How to deal with the maze of time? (Photo credits: Robbie73, FlickR)

The issue of speed was very familiar to all of us, as we acknowledged that knowledge helps people reach the right decision faster (@JeffHester), be it for quick decisions in the heat of the action, or long term strategic orientations… And while we’re grappling with KM, “all the social networks and other offshoots are always “faster” than KM” (@Swanwick). So as knowledge professionals, we just have to deal and juggle with slow and fast information, knowledge and learning. But not just for the sake of it…

Purpose in context

Whether we communicate more quickly or not is irrelevant; purpose dictates pacing. Fast information flows are useful for product management – to get quick information from customers and prospects though e.g. in the pharmaceutical industry, “slow and steady may be the best bet” (@Vivisimo_Inc). @NancyWhite’s gut feeling on this was that: “fast is useful for tactical decisions and reflection for strategic decisions”. Planning helps decide what are strategic goals that require reflection and what operations then need to take place rapidly. “Not every task requires the same attention/care. So minimize time on low impact tasks” (@VMaryAbraham).

And in spite of a society that seems to be driving us ever faster, we also reckon there is a problem with that attitude: as @4KM put it: “KM exists–in part–because of costs associated with fast. Knowledge & opportunities lost” – to which @JeffHester tacked along: “YES! Speed does not equal effectiveness”. This is particularly true when it comes to our working relationships.

Strongly related?

Working in a symbiotic way (Photo credits: Jillclardy, FlickR)
Working in a symbiotic way (Photo credits: Jillclardy, FlickR)

Speed and relations cross over at least at two junctions: In adjusting to each other’s pace and most importantly in building the relationship. Adjusting the pacing is no easy task for many of us because our partners and clients are sometimes entangled in a maze of procedures, distracting opportunities and resistance to change.

A few tips to adjust this: Focus on one big project rather than “100 pinprick projects” (@VMaryAbraham), use “reverse brainstorming” and “future backwards” to identify organisational prioritisation (@NancyWhite) and generally “helping them reflect on their priorities, their passion and related knowledge is critical” (@4KM). The same Alice McGillivray further stresses that “many clients are craving a few successes rather than constant activity. Again, systemic work is needed”.

We all recognise that beyond that pacing adjustment, “there may be something to building relationships, time, and community curation that all benefit from “slow” (@JeffHester). Nancy stresses that “the key is to act in a way that enhances relationships. Strong bonds have a time element.”Sometimes, crisis can lead to quick strong bonds too, but the crux in the matter is that “good relationships yield better results” (@VMaryAbraham), and taht is the first quality step, deep reflection is the next one…

Reflecting in the deep

Rather than slowing down which may feel negative (an interesting question for later), we might refer to “standing down to avert problems” (@BarbaraFillip). Alice neatly captured the problem: “our society has reflection-deprivation disorder, so (we) can’t easily overdo (it)”.

We need to reflect deeply, whether because we find ourselves “following the herd too much” (@Swanwick), because we have to set priorities for systemic change (@4KM), to find the 20% that Pareto says is useful to focus on, or to consider a wider range of issues/possibilities.

There are many ways to reflect deeply: using mindmapping (@VMaryAbraham); using a pen because it’s slower than typing and reflection requires that slow writing (@BarbaraFillip); encouraging shorter interventions such as shifting traditional meetings to open space sessions or even following this example (via @4KM): “There was a Deputy Minister (highest level public servant) who’d put his feet on his desk and reflect for short chunks of day. Radical”.

At any rate, “stepping “out of the flow” needs to be scheduled. Otherwise, it will be forced on you when standard operating procedures fail (@VMaryAbraham) – so we need to cultivate our reflective space by figuring out “at least a few things to STOP doing!” (@NancyWhite). And even if there is a culture of deep reflection, it needs to be taught and can be refined (@VMaryAbraham).

The real point of reflecting deeply, though, is to recognise patterns. This can happen through fast and slow knowledge flows, but “without reflection, we might miss value of patterns?” (@4KM). To do this, it might be a good idea to have “small, quick frequent reflections to capture stuff “in the flow” – (and make them) later available for more thoughtful, slow reflection” (@NancyWhite). In the same vein, @Healthieststate introduces the lean/kaizen approach: “info flows quickly, then at regular intervals (daily, weekly, etc.) hold retrospectives to integrate learning”. This is where deep reflection meets agile execution…

Acting on the dot

Provided we focus on the context, have good relationships at hand and in mind and heart, and we have spent moments of deep reflection, we need to execute our actions with agility. @Swanwick explains: “Agile execution should always be following a priority stack. That priority stack should be carefully (slowly) considered”. Better preparation makes acting effectively with speed possible states @cdn. And @VMaryAbraham reminds us that “iteration speed is helpful — as long as someone is reflecting on results”. Agile support moves go hand in hand with detailed strategic planning (@4KM). This is also the lesson that Kanban offers us, as stated by @OurFounder: “I believe that kanban actually notes the natural constraint of work flow & stops us from artificially exceeding it”.

@Healthieststate raises a tricky issue: “Serendipity happens fast. But, does it take slow reflection and consideration to put ourselves in a position where it can strike?” Is this the path to using intuition in our decisions? An unanswered point for later perhaps. On the other hand, @ourfounder reminds us that “speed specifically thwarts effectiveness, as it promotes multitasking”.

What is sure: We get faster > we get more work > we reflect to find more efficient ways to work (delegate or improve systems) and with this statement, @VMaryAbraham opens the door to all kinds of scenarios about the future…

Where are we headed?

We shared a few perspectives: @Swanwick: “I feel our society is moving towards maximizing efficiency. I don’t see that trend turning” and later “All the little decisions add up to making big decisions that don’t necessarily take us where we want our lives to go”. @NancyWhite echoes this by urging us to “maybe rethink how we evaluate/value things”, following @JeffHester, who is (rightly) pondering: “Do we really want to live our lives as efficiently as possible?” Nancy is also worried that: “it is not just more slow or more fast, but also quantity of work”.

Although Nancy further points that throughout the discussion we are “making a compelling case for the “yes, AND”, for slow and fast”, the last few words that resonate with me are from @healthieststate: “the slow hunch” is the untold story of breakthrough ideas and innovation according to Steven Johnson. Even if info flows quickly…” – there goes a point for thinking of slowing down.

Now is the time to make choices that matter (Photo credits: Swamibu, FlickR)
Now is the time to make choices that matter (Photo credits: Swamibu, FlickR)

Throughout this rich discussion, Nancy led us to a small experiment: to take our hands off the keyboard for 60 seconds to reflect. Alice McGillivray bravely said she’d done 20 seconds. I didn’t take my hands off the keyboard. Hey, I was moderating too so that has to count for something, right? No? Well, I guess we still have some way to go to find that balance between slow space and fast flow.

All I know is: the Twitterchat felt like it went in a split second, but it certainly took me quite some more time to compile this overview. Will it be consumed quickly? And digested slowly?


In the chat, we shared a couple of links:


(1)    What the Hashtag would help generate a twitterchat transcript easily but the service is down. The Twitter advanced search menu is a good alternative but its server kept crashing – and tweets are only archived for a week. Finally I used a mix of going through the Twitter timeline of some discussion participants to recover all their tweets from that time and used Topsy to recover further tweets. The broken transcript is to be found under:

Related posts:

Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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  1. Thanks again for leading this Tweet Chat, Ewen. I really enjoyed the discussion.

    Ultimately knowledge management is all about navigating that space between the fast and slow space, but on the enterprise level. One of the goals of most KM efforts is to deliver strategic business value, often in the form of better decisions (improved quality) in less time (improved speed).

    Knowledge curation — when done properly — is a slow process.

    Knowledge consumption — the application of said knowledge — is (often) a fast process. And most would agree: it’s at the consumption where the primary value of KM is derived.

    Your fast flow/slow pace paradigm fits KM perfectly!

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