Technology provides almost limitless access to information. If you can get to a computer, you can “Google” anything. Here are some examples:
School transformation: 176,000,000 results
Leadership: 763,000,000 results
If you are looking for effective leadership, then you get 19,800,000 results
Even when you search for something relatively specific the amount of information out there is overwhelming:
Effective leadership in public schools for school turnaround: 382,000
The result is Information Glut! Here is what we know: Information is useless without the knowledge of how it applies to context and how to use it.
Consider this scenario. You need heart surgery. You go to a friend and he or she “Googles” heart surgery and reads and studies all about the procedure over a course of several months. Would you trust them to do the surgery? They have all the information, right? Of course, you would not. Information is not knowledge-they have not been able to apply the information within the right context. It doesn’t guarantee skill development. That has to happen through use and practice.
Defining some terms:
Different people define words and terms differently (I know, I rival Captain Obvious). For the purposes of this post, we are going to find definitions that Michael Fullan provides us in his book, “Leading in a Culture of Change,”—one of my favorites.
- Explicit knowledge is words and numbers that can be communicated in the form of data and information
- Tacit knowledge is skills, beliefs and understanding that are below the level of awareness (think intuition)
Here are some clarifying points:
- Explicit knowledge is fact and figure (what we got when we “Googled” terms earlier)
- Knowledge expressed in words and numbers represent only “the tip of the iceberg”
- The Japanese view knowledge as primarily tacit (not easily visible and expressible)
- Tacit knowledge is highly personal and hard to formalize (this makes it difficult to communicate it to others)
- Tacit knowledge is deeply roots in a person’s experiences as well as their values and beliefs—trust has to be established before they share)
One of the goals of effective leaders is to help their people turn information into knowledge.
What’s a leader to do?
How does a leader facilitate knowledge sharing? We already determined that it is not just sharing information (explicit knowledge—remember the heart surgery example).
A question I often ask educators is, “Tell me a time in your career when you learned the most.” The majority answer, “When I was a student teacher.” When pushed for why they reply that it was the immediate feedback, the exchange of information that was applicable to what they were doing at the moment and access to the experience of a master teacher who gave them practical information on the how and why. What can we learn from these answers? Turning information into knowledge is a social process. Leaders NEED to have good relationships with their people and cultivate a culture where staff members can establish good relationships with each other.
Here are some actions leaders can take:
- Commit themselves to constantly generating and increasing knowledge inside and outside of their organization
- Provide people with a moral purpose that compels people to share information
- Keep the user in mind. What are their needs and how will knowledge sharing benefit them
- Help staff understand and accept the need for change and the importance of knowledge sharing to that change
- Provide opportunities for learning by thoughtfully embedding appropriate activities in their day that will prompt knowledge sharing. Create a situation or product, and/or set goals that necessitate people talking and sharing to be successful
- Create environment in which people feel safe to communicate and share
- Identify knowledge sharing as a responsibility of each staff person
- Be active and lead the process—but don’t dominate it—allow opportunities for other leaders to evolve
- Model effective and productive questioning, listening and feedback
Creating a knowledge-sharing culture is work and can’t be done from the top down. The leader can be the catalyst, but it is the people that ultimately effect change and in turn change the culture. Provide embedded activities to allow for sharing, and enable people to share. Such changes can’t be mandated or managed. They are grown.
Changing the context:
All of us have been participants in training—as participants, as trainers and more than likely as both. One of the frustrating facts for both the participants and the trainer is the realization that no matter how good the training, how enthusiastic the participation and all the good intentions, most of the information presented will never find itself into the workplace. There are several reasons, but today we are going to look at just one.
If you went to a course to learn a new language and you mastered that new language, but when you returned to your work or home nobody else was speaking that language, what would happen? You would find no use for it and your new skill would fade away. That is what happens when people return to their workplace.
Leaders must be thoughtful in planning change and professional development. In addition to ensuring staff is getting the best information possible, they must also ensure they are returning to an environment that has been changed to allow staff to practice this new skill.
Fullan writes, “Information is machines, Knowledge is people.” Information without application or context is confusing. Knowledge is information examined, digested and applied. It is shared.
Convert tacit to explicit
We already have established that we live in a time of information glut. It is everywhere and accessible --thanks to the internet. Now that is not a bad thing or a good thing. The good or the bad is how well it is used to help us achieve our goals-- to create purposeful change that has a positive impact.
Points to consider regarding the use of knowledge:
- It must be focused and aligned with the change desired
- It should bring clarity to the situation-information glut brings confusion
- It should shared across the organization with different people with different backgrounds and perspectives
- It should motivate and excite—generate an internal commitment within individuals that carries over to the group
- It should facilitate relationships and communication-both formal and informal conversations about how it can be used or what happened when it was used
What happens when we share knowledge?
- People rely on others to listen and provide input
- People are enabled to share their insights freely and discuss concerns
- Groups form and self organize
- Trust and hope emerge, satisfaction increases
- People feel safe to explore new ideas
People are the factor that converts information into knowledge that can be used. Real Leaders model knowledge sharing. They make it a valued and integral element of their culture. It should become part of a rubric of how teams and their members are assessed.