The constant knowledge gardener

If we live in a true knowledge ecology (and the idea is not new as you can see here and there), nature lets its children grow naturally. Yet gardening can help boost some results – without going into the ins and outs of a possible knowledge conservation agriculture.

Knowledge is not just a tree but a whole orchard - it can blossom and give, or rot and doom us

Knowledge is not just a tree but a whole orchard – it can blossom and give, or rot and doom us

Time to revisit the gardening metaphor perhaps and to think about cultivating knowledge? This is the job of the constant knowledge gardener, a job whose demand is in constant progression.

Gardening knowledge means cherishing certain varieties or ‘cultivars, that is the general strands of knowledge and specific themes that matter to us (as individuals, groups or initiatives such as projects). What are the areas we want to see blossom? These varieties and cultivars may become tall trees under which we rest, smaller and fluffier bushes that bring about a diverse biodiversity or beautiful flowers that come and go.

Planting knowledge seeds means actively labeling the themes we want to keep abreast of by thinking about it, conceptualising it (by means of describing that field and why it matters to us), referring to it with keywords and meta-tags and inviting others to visit those knowledge cultivars. And as much as seeds require careful attention as they are too fragile to be left on their own, these new cultivars need to be attended to carefully or they may never see the light.

It further requires trimming and weeding. To keep the cultivars blossoming throughout the years, we need to keep the stems strong and to manicure our knowledge flowers, bushes and trees and get rid of dead leaves: data management, information management, personal knowledge management are all manifestations of that. We need to keep the information that is out there clean and easy to process – for us and for others – and to remove the ‘noise’ that we have created (dead links, bugs, out-of-date information, untagged products, uncontextualised information). This allows us to keep focusing on the gems of the garden rather than lose focus in the clutter of an organic mess.

For the more innovative knowledge gardeners it means to take cuttings and cross breed cultivars. Replicating the themes that matter in other areas of an organisation can be a useful way to create clout for those themes and to ensure more people are on board. Bringing the edge of our themes close to one another allows new connections and is the basis for innovation.

For even more effective results, we can try and fertilise the varieties and cultivars. This can be done by pouring in some fertiliser (additional expertise from a recognised source – though which source will really strengthen our knowledge plants might be difficult to assess). It can also be done very effectively by mixing and mingling cultivars. Some plants grow better when brought closer to certain trees. There are natural ways to fortify our garden. Mixing fields of expertise and themes together is a great way to innovate too and to re-instill vigour in a specific theme and in the conversations that go around it.

If we want to keep our garden beautiful for a long time, we probably need more than one gardener to do all of the above and contribute to a year-round show of nature. In our knowledge garden, this means working in teams and with networks, keeping our edge sharp and expanding the base of people who care about that knowledge garden.

However, and perhaps most importantly, a knowledge garden – whether humanly manicured or otherwise – requires a soil that is appropriate for it. The graft of knowledge seeds does not always work out. And the reason is that certain knowledge plants are not appropriate for a given soil. Certain themes are not adequate for some areas, certain conversations are not ripe yet for a certain crowd, certain contexts are not ready to work around new ideas. The knowledge garden soil needs careful preparation and has to work symbiotically with the themes that are put onto it. This will make or break the planting of knowledge seeds. We may plant these seeds anyhow but they may never bloom – or they might but then wilt and vanish only a tad later. The context of knowledge interactions is key and should be prepared with extreme precaution. This is the essence of successful development interventions too.

As we experience different gardening seasons, we also need to remain critical and focused on what we are learning from our interventions with the garden. It is what will allow us to make the right dosing, cutting, weeding and breeding. A strong learning focus is essential for knowledge gardeners to remain good, and that usually happens more easily in combination with other knowledge gardeners.

If our constant knowledge gardeners bring love (the passion and energy for the field or theme) and expertise in paying attention to the above, then our knowledge garden is likely to remain strong and giving, with the capacity to renew itself continually and to reveal the full potential of knowledge ecology, combined with the beauty of dedication.

Shame though it is for a frog like me, I have to confess I am more inclined towards English gardens and their careful mimicking of nature’s organised chaos, rather than the pompous vanity of ‘jardins à la française‘. And my observation of those French knowledge gardens confirms what sounds true in my own heart of constant knowledge gardener: our garden needs a sensible dose of ‘let it be’.

Related blog posts:


The path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

― Confucius.

Wisdom features highly in the world of knowledge management. One of the biggest heresies it has produced, the erroneous DIKW pyramid (which I also questioned here and here), is putting wisdom at the pinnacle of a pyramidal meaning structure starting with data.

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

I want to find out what wisdom really might mean in (agile) KM. Much has been told about wisdom. Yet it is a very elusive definition.

My going in position? Wisdom is accumulated experience and expertise which allows us to activate our knowledge in a more effective way, both in terms of the intervention (the content of it) and of the process to bring it about (the process of that intervention). It is a reflection of an ingrained practice of triple loop learning which helps find a more appropriate response to a challenge we’re facing, an issue we’re grappling with or an idea we’re battling with.

In some ways, if we consider that in a field we accumulate some experience (some knowledge – as the sum of insights we have about that field), it looks as though we are exploring that field as if we were unraveling the map of that field, bit by bit, with some recognized borders and ‘unknown lands’. In the process, we are unraveling the complexity of all the interactions in that field – the horizontal connections between different items, actors and factors of that field as well as the vertical connections, the deeper understanding of the structure of things and how they work in and of themselves – and across, with adjacent fields.

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known... on the quest to wisdom?

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known… on the quest to wisdom?

As we explore that field, we progressively understand its arcane principles, its ‘buttons and levers’ which when activated produce the best results, the political economy of that field, the chain of consequences that might be set off by an initiative, or for lack of causal relations the bigger picture of that complex and fine mess. We also keep on making the ‘known unknown’ known and to turn the ‘unknown unknown’ as a ‘known unknown’ (see the graph).

This is perhaps where I think wisdom might be nested, or easier to perceive: wisdom gives us both a) shortcuts to relate to the greater over-arching principles, the sources of power and the ways to activate a field b) a finer perception of how difficult that is and what consequences are and perhaps more importantly c) another reality call to understand that really what we have to put up with is a whole lot more complex than we first thought it was and d) an appreciation of the inputs from others and interdependencies that matter in the field (we get more socially connected or at least warmer to others’ efforts).

Wisdom thus helps us get more effective, more thoughtful, more humble and more empathetic. And as Confucius says there are various ways to sharpen our wisdom. But in the end perhaps Socrates got down to the essence of it all:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates.

As such, this teaches us that wisdom management is a complete aberration and that what matters is to carry on trying and reflecting. Learning has no end indeed.

Related blog posts:

And while at that, here’s a selection of supposedly wise quotes from supposedly wise men.

Social media: why bother? A French misunderstanding

I spent last Chrismas holiday in France, my birthplace, my homeland, a place that I am so estranged from in many respects. A people for which social media sound so strange too – apart from a few isolated voices and some interesting articles. Among others, Jay Cross also found out about the chasm between France and the rest of the world in terms of  learning, social media, agile KM and so on.

Social media face skeptics, in France and elsewhere (credits - Spiral16)

Social media face skeptics, in France and elsewhere (credits – Spiral16)

This post is addressing some criticism I heard in my own country about social media, more as an illustration of how they miss the point about it rather than about bashing France at that.

In Voltaire’s craddle, social media are portrayed – particularly by traditional media – like futile media where ego-maniacs describe every second of their mundane habits (all the way down to toilet matters) and spurt out the dirt and stupidity of the narcissistic divas and divos that form the ranks of the French social media fans.

Why do the media miss the point so entirely about social media and why do I believe in them?

I find the gems of the world on the social web

Clay Shirky got it right, in this age of knowledge, we don’t have problems with information overload but with filter failure. Social media are extremely precious to make out the wheat from the chaff and to find the gems of the web brought forward by my online friends. Mind that gardening your social network is key to make it work though. A lot of the key information in my field (knowledge management, learning, communication etc.) I  actually find through Twitter and Yammer. The system of retweets and likes does wonders to single out great stuff passing by.

Others can find the gems of the world thanks to social media through me

If I come across great stuff, others can benefit from it too, since everything is transparent and easily accessible. A lot of us can simultaneously benefit from social media, including (and particularly) Twitter… Be around, engage and you will also come across wonderful finds. The online content curation trend means that it’s super easy for others to find stuff that we have all been finding, collecting, saving, collating, tagging, documenting, commenting etc.

I reflect and get better thanks to the social media

I hear and read a lot that social media are fastening the pace of information sharing and consumption, and therefore reducing our space and time for genuine engagement and reflection. That is true. For some social media. Blogs are part of social media, however, and they really stimulate our reflection and sense of deeper connection with matters that indeed matter to us. Paradoxically, even micro-blogging platforms force us to reflect and synthesise information so they help reflect too.

In addition to reflecting on our own, the social nature of social media means that we get more feedback more often. That is a true foundation for reflection and improvement.

Social media help me strive ever more for excellence and relevance

As I explained in a previous post about knowledge ego-logy, the very fact that we are attracted by social feedback is a key factor to make us want to get better. If we want comments, ratings, retweets and the likes, we need to deliver good content. On the contrary, every egomaniac ego-logist will harvest the scorn that their narcissism sowed.

I keep track of my assets much more explicitly

This is the benefit of information management. By saving information in social repositories such as, Pinterest, YouTube, wikis, Slideshare etc. I can always find back information that matters to me. It’s much easier to build upon it and reuse it ad infinitum, than reinventing the wheel.

And my assets are not just the information I have, they’re also my expertise (LinkedIn), my network (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) and my personal outputs (Mendeley, Zotero,… What is the alternative?

What about the skeptics?

Granted, the egocentric nature of social media is plaguing some parts of that sphere and too many people probably use social media for very futile purposes. But perhaps it’s part of their trajectory of development in using social media (remember: don’t be too quick to judge).

To let the French (and other skeptics) understand how social media can work, here are some of my guiding principles:

  • Care for your network. relentlessly – prune it and expand it where you see pockets of (ir)relevance and energy (sucking) pop up;
  • Use social networks professionally before you judge them personally;
  • Take some time to explore and accept it’s not perfect straight away. Social media (and any new activity for that matter) always take a bit of time to get the hang of. Networks also take time to grow and reach relevant proportions and depth;
  • Accept that there’s no blue print for us all. Social media don’t work for everyone. We all need to give different social media a try, see what works or not for us and adapt our practice accordingly – and certainly to do that before we feel free to judge if theyr work or not;
  • Reflect and improve: As for pretty much anything, ongoing reflection about social media is what makes the difference between good and bad practice…

History shows that every great empire that started to shut its interest and borders to external influence lost its edge (medieval Japan, feudal China, The United States of America in the 1920’s). This holds wider lessons – something that many of my fellow countrymen would be well advised to remember, in a phase when France clearly shows all the signs of decline and over-anxiousness and might be about to miss out on the biggest (r)evolution since Gutenberg’s press.

Related blog posts:

Phew! Agile KM is not dead… That means more hopes, fears and posts in store…

They got us with the apocalypse hoax - all the better for this blog!

They got us with the apocalypse hoax – all the better for this blog!

The Mayas got it all wrong. Or rather we got it all wrong about our Maya lore. Who would have thought… that they were going to be right, anyway?

That gives me another year to let my blogging run free – and to let you question, challenge, inform, criticize, appraise, appreciate or prevent another year of my online ramblings.

About a year ago I was at the same junction, wondering what the new year would have in petto for this blog.

But let’s have a different take this year.

No prediction – too many people have been giving theirs already (this one is in French and quite interesting though).

No ranking or top XYZ from last year – I did it at the end of last year. And the web is full of these (if you’re a ranking junkie check the Research to Action top 10 blogposts and this smart review of ODI’s success insights in 2012).

No New Year resolution, I hardly ever tried them and never really believed in them – and it seems with good reason.

No! This year, since we managed to survive, here are some reasons to hope or get inspired in the world of agile KM – and because we are in the infosnacky world of ‘pictures-that-say-more-than-1000-words’, most of the links below are infographics!

  • The social web and social enterprise is gaining more and more ground – a good opportunity to connect sharp minds and big hearts. And that is a really big plus! More people are getting connected, and more people are connecting deeply too… Online translation services are helping bridge gaps between linguistically divided communities too.
  • And bad social media marketing is not going to undo this, quite the contrary even… we are too far in our online social interactions to take steps back. No counter movement can really curb the progress of the social web so badly that we give it up.
  • There seems to be more and more momentum to nail down eternal problems of assessing knowledge and of showing the value (and costs) of social learning – understanding it all better to use its potential better – certainly in the circles I evolve in.
  • The age of networks and communities is clearly recognised and means organisations and (these revealing statistics: according to this recent infographic, 56% people surveyed said they wouldn’t accept a job that didn’t allow access to social media and one third of under-thirties value social media freedom over salary).

And here are a few reasons to get concerned…

  • The Agile and Big Data movements are gaining ground (great!) but they are still much in their infancy and run the risk of being one more largely missed opportunity if the people driving those movements do not pay attention to the autistic and silver-bullet-like tendencies of any big buzz. And other traps have been identified, both for big data as for agile.
  • Education has improved. Much. But it still remains a top challenge everywhere, at all levels, both in terms of attendance and drop-out. Education gaps still prevent many young people and particularly young girls and women to get higher exposure to other ideas and knowledge sources. Education gaps are not only about quantity but also about quality. Education should particularly focus on helping people educate themselves through critical reflection. Yet even smart people are still making many mistakes from which they are not learning, because they are still not sharpening their (self-) critical questioning skills.
Fight racism, it doesn't make daily sense (Credits: The Idealist)

Fight racism, it doesn’t make daily sense (Credits: The Idealist)

  • Racism seems to be on the rise in various parts of the world. Perhaps acceptance of racism is rising. At any rate, intolerance is certainly stirring up in better off parts of the world, contradicting the social movement mentioned above and the day-to-day reality of these racists (see image here).
  • Among us internet addicts there is arguably still too much egoism, too little listening, too little curiosity about each other (especially the ‘different’ others) in the social media world. And perhaps too little attention to cherishing face-to-face moments against the tantalizing charms of our smartphone/tablet/PC-padded ego-isolating fortresses. The ego tracking tool bonanza is only one example of this self-centred movement which is paradoxically antisocially social.

All in all, this should give me enough inspiration to get this blogging year going! Despite some concerns, I’m optimistic this year will be yet another great one. Oh, I was about to forget: Happy 2013 – and ‘Jach Dyos bo’otik’ (thank you in Yucatec Mayan) 😉