How to Know

Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

Have you ever made a breakthrough mental connection, an A-Ha!, and then felt pain and depression? According to Paul Messier, president of the National Learning Foundation, the brain is a natural meaning maker, and actually congratulates itself chemically when it learns something. As a meaning maker: "The existing knowledge bank is used to interpret incoming information; the brain seeks meaning and comprehension; linking old information to new equals comprehension; the brain plays on metaphors, analogies and similes." As a congratulator: "Using neurotransmitters, the brain rewards itself and the entire organism with feelings of well-being when new meaning and comprehension are achieved. For the brain, learning is intrinsically rewarding." This explains that subtle but wonderful feeling we get when the pieces fall into place for us.
   Messier and the National Learning Foundation are on a mission to foster the environment that will create and maintain what he calls the life-long Agile Learner, starting from the premise that we all have the raw material to achieve this joy in learning. You can see the characteristics of the Agile Learner and his eight-point brain-based learning model among the Guest Speaker columns.
   Carla Hannaford, a neurophysiologist and educator, believes that all people start out as natural born learning machines. Many, however, get their works gummed up in early-life educational activities mismatched to their individual learning styles, and close that part of their minds - often forever. Hanaford’s enlightening and practical book on how this happens and how to change this is called Smart Moves [1995, Great Ocean Publishers].
   Echoing Messier, Hannaford explains the neurophysiology of learning as: "Evolving [neuron] patterns become base reference points to understand new information....We continue to elaborate and modify the patterning throughout our lives. The base patterns, 90% of which are acquired in the first five years of life, give us the template on which to attach all future learning."
   Both of these people are concerned with the growing amount of knowledge people are required to deal with and the stagnant learning capabilities most people exhibit. I used to think it was the old-dog-new-tricks problem, taking it for granted that learning-laziness was programmed into all of us just like cell death. I know different now.
   Learning and innovation are very closely intertwined. "A man becomes creative, whether he is an artist or a scientist, when he finds a new unity in the variety of nature. He does so by finding a likeness between things which were not thought alike before, and this gives him a sense both of richness and of understanding. The creative mind is a mind that looks for unexpected likeness." [The Creative Process, J. Bronowski, Scientific American, 9/58].
   Bronowski, Messier, and Hannaford all place heavy weight upon the human brain’s reliance on metaphor, analogy, and simile as a (if not the) principle learning and creative mechanism. New knowledge is both created and assimilated naturally when it shares some common pattern with old knowledge.
   This series of essays since May 97 has been exploring a learning process we call Realsearch, and its ability to create new knowledge at the depth of insight about highly adaptable business practices. The objective is to teach old dogs new tricks, and the methodology makes strong use of metaphor. The methods and success in five 1997 industrial test environments were presented at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March ’98 as "Realsearch: A Framework for Knowledge Management and Continuing Education", available on the web site.
   This essay is the seventh and last in a series exploring a business practice design toolset and methodology. In these last few months we have applied the methodology to the design of a core competency knowledge management practice. If you look at the Realsearch paper you will see a strong pattern similarity. Little wonder - both deal with many of the same issues and objectives: capturing, renewing, and mobilizing knowledge under conditions of changing knowledge values. Don’t trip past the word mobilizing too quickly - that is the part that transfers explicit knowledge from one head to another - the part that relies on learning techniques most directly.
   We close the series by putting the tools and methods exposed over the last few months into a summarized perspective. As in virtually all design efforts, good designs emerge from a spiral pattern
of activities, where the designer learns and returns to earlier stages frequently in order to steer the final result to the bast possible outcome. Nevertheless, there is generally a linear progression through a sequence of stages - though experienced designers may well pursue different sequences to fit their own personal style.
   The accompanying table provides the sequence we are employing in the 1998 series of Realsearch workshops - each of which engages mixed groups of people in the design of a critical or strategic business practice. In a three-day workshop exercise there is no time for spiral design, and the objective is generally to learn as much as possible about bold possibilities.
   A workshop design activity cannot go as deep as the eventual real design efforts must go - and so workshop techniques are somewhat different. In the workshop the design models are sparsely populated, but generally with rich ideas - ideas that can be employed subsequently by a small dedicated design team.

We need ways to differentiate our businesses, not conformity that eliminates competition.


   The essays published here have hit most of the key process and tool concepts employed in our field tests last year. Those who have studied the discourse here may note some loose and unfinished ends - like we never discussed how to build performance metric valuations for change issues, nor did we build a final metaphor model diagram of the knowledge management practice we spent so much time designing. A complete and integrated description of this knowledge management design example is used as an operating manual for our 1998 workshop series and is required pre-reading for participants. It is available to the general public through our web site.
   Does the Realsearch process produce a facility with new knowledge that has the depth of insight? How long does that take? Comments from repeat participants in the 1997 Discovery Workshops say yes.
   My observations are that little is evident after a single workshop, the light goes on during the second workshop, and something approaching insight occurs for some in the third and for many in the fourth exposure. At three days per workshop that's something like 9-12 days invested in high-leverage business-related learning with immediate application. Our sampling experience at this point is too small to make any strong claims, however.
   Though Realsearch is structured, it is not a recipe driven concept by design: 1) we need ways to differentiate our businesses, not conformity that eliminates competition, 2) the nature of the complexity our businesses deal with requires a complexity-compatible response, 3) though people are generally uncomfortable in the hard work of deep thinking and learning activity, that is what produces insight.
   We will continue to evolve the strategic themes of Realsearch and refine the application process. We want to find effective ways to expand to larger groups and deliver insight-generating Realsearch experiences across the Internet. We are still learning, but common ground revolves around a focus on real and interesting problems, mixed participants, running parallel workshop teams, building local metaphors, utilizing an issue-focus and principle-base, and making people think and create new insight patterns.
   Directing business process reengineering projects is one immediately practical application for Realsearch. Another is the capture and mobilization of corporate core competency knowledge. A third important application is in what we now call continuing education - at all employee levels.
   This year we expect to refine the Realsearch methodology further to employ some of the brain/mind/body learning research findings that promises to revamp education as we know it. It is our intention to help marry the concepts of learning and innovation into a simultaneous process that will serve the needs for continuing education when there is no time out for learning.

Integrated Sequence1 of Business Practice Design Steps and Tools

Design Sequence Objective Example2 Tools
1. Review case literature relevant to the problem. Introduce fresh relevant thinking. May 97: Bell Labs professional productivity experiment. Case literature.
2. Analyze a known thing and build a metaphor. Build/refresh the pattern of principles and insight. Aug 97: JIT assembly.
Oct 97: Metaphor model.
Metaphor template.
3. Examine and define the problem issues. Define the problem and solution valuation3 criteria. Dec 97: Knowledge management issues. Change Domain template.
Value template.
4. Develop strategic themes and activities. Establish the enabling architecture. Dec 97: Modules.
Jan 98: Framework.
Activity Map template.
Metaphor template.
5. Design critical activities and validate solution. Focus on the issues and employ the principles. Feb 98: Activity design.
Mar 98: Closure.
Apr 98: Principles.
Activity Map template.
Closure Matrix.
RRS Principles template.
6. Build integrated model iconic diagram4. Identify the main points of the solution model. Dec 97: Iconic diagram. Metaphor template.
1 Sequence used in 1998 Realsearch workshop environment - experienced designers will alter sequence to individual styles.
2 Examples drawn from
monthly essays designing a Core Competency Knowledge Management practice.
3 Valuation performance metrics not covered in monthly essays, see Realsearch Operations Manual 1998.
4 For final metaphor model diagram of Core Competency Knowledge Management example see Realsearch Operations Manual.

1998 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #041 - Originally Published 5/98 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications

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