Eclectic Curiosity

Problems Are Solved by Seekers

Posted on September 27th, 2005, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

Just came across record of an outstanding keynote address by author (Common Knowledge) and consultant Dr. Nancy Dixon at an event called The Learning Summit held somewhere in Canada in 2001. The presentation was titled “Problems are solved by seekers” (cached) and it’s loaded with great ideas and examples of how to improve organizational learning. Pertaining to this, Dixon’s four main propositions are:

* start with the seekers of knowledge, not with the providers
* knowledge can only reside in the mind
* to acquire new knowledge, the seeker has to connect it to existing knowledge
* people are delighted to share what they know

“I think we’ve paid too much attention to finding experts,” Dixon says. “We’ve ignored the people who need the knowledge, people that have a problem.” These are “seekers” in Dixon’s lexicon.

She offers three seeker prototypes: the peer-assist, gardeners, and problem-solving meetings.

The peer-assist involves finding trusted advisors to consult with on a particular problem, not to tell us what to do but rather to answer, “What do you know that fits our problem?”

Gardeners are simply people tasked with finding out what various members of larger organizations are doing so as to facilitate knowledge sharing and avoid “reinventing the wheel” due to internal ignorance.

Problem-solving meetings were opportunities for people within an organization to work through one of their problems with the benefit of having other people in the room to ask questions.

There’s more. Dixon also touches on connecting new knowledge with existing knowledge, harnessing the knowledge of communities, and encouraging people to share what they know. Delicious.

Most of our systems, she argues, have been designed for situations where we hire people and tell them what to do and how to do it. But, increasingly, we are hiring people for their judgment. “We’re in such a changing situation that we can’t rely on knowledge that exists; we have to have people continually inventing it,” Dixon says. “We can’t manage these people the way we managed in the past.” Surgeons work with x-ray technicians, for example, but a surgeon can’t tell a technician how to interpret an x-ray. “Increasingly, the people we manage have their own body of knowledge and are in a community of other people who also have that knowledge. There’s a community of x-ray technicians who learn from each other, but they can’t learn from their managers, because their managers don’t have the knowledge.” …

Most knowledge is only acquired when people are seeking solutions to problems, Dixon contends. And, because knowledge only resides in people’s minds, the seeker can only learn by connecting new knowledge to existing knowledge. That means having a conversation with someone else who has a tacit knowledge of the territory. Which is not difficult, because those who have that knowledge are happy to share it when they can see that it’s appreciated. For managers, what it all boils down to is building a community. “Find out who the communities are, what they need, what problems they have, and what knowledge would help them resolve those problems,” Dixon says. “Then assist them: help them connect, help them improve the conversations they have.”

(via Theory of Everything)

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