Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bridging perceptions to create common knowledge

One of the first lessons I learned when I started my career was to “manage expectations”. At face value, it is about making sure you communicate what you are working on, and letting people know what they can expect from you and when. However at a deeper level, one needs to start appreciating that your audience, whether it is your boss, client, colleague, friend, family-member, teacher or service provider – all have different views of the world. To communicate effectively with people, you need to understand their agenda. Why they are engaging with you? What are they trying to achieve outside the context of your engagement?

Another way to think about this, is in terms of visualization. When you look at a house from the front, you see one thing, if you look at it from above – you see something completely different. Yet a simpler example is a cone: from the front it looks like a triangle, and from the bottom, as a circle. 

The film industry has been using perceptions for decades to create specific impressions: Gigantic cruse boats sinking (Titanic), wars between nations (Lord of the rings), and perhaps generally speaking - ordinary people and objects showed in unusual proportions or demonstrating unusual abilities.

The use of perception is common in many industries, from judiciary to science, fashion and marketing. What matters at the end is the communication of a single and clear message, and the trick is to know how your audience will interpret your message.

Now, when it comes to common knowledge – there are two things to consider. Firstly, common knowledge by definition requires a consensus for it to be classified as such. Therefore the way common knowledge is defined and disseminated has to take in to account the community’s perceptions. So when you want to generate common knowledge, make sure to position and articulate the information in a way that is clearly understood and perceived as valuable by the community.

Secondly, for information to become knowledge – it must be understood. In other words, the community members must understand how they can apply the information to their specific situation. You can achieve this by giving examples and demonstrating how the information can be applied to generate value. This will allow your audience to create analogies, transfer the application in their mind, and draw a scenario where they could apply the information in their own context. Another way, would be to apply the information to existing common knowledge, and draw specific value for the community as a whole.

For example, if we were all working for one company, and I tell you about a search capability that we have which allows us to find various documents in the organization. By demonstrating how one can use this to find company procedures – you can immediately understand the value and gain the knowledge. If the search capability is limited to a departmental level, then by demonstrating how the “Information Management” team can use the capability to find documents – other members of the organization can think of scenarios where the same capability would be deemed valuable.

The bottom line is that the managing expectations is a vital indicator and tool for governing common knowledge.

That is, at least, my own perception …...

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