How to Transfer Knowledge
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Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

We’re going to talk about a way to transfer new knowledge quickly and effectively to a another person or into a work group. We will assume for the moment that the people involved want to learn the new knowledge, and save the motivational issues for another time.
   Ever read one of those science fiction books where people have electronic sockets behind their ears? When you want to see a movie you plug in a chip. When you want to be an expert in something you plug in a different chip.
   An article called Silicon Eyes in Business Week (10/28/98) heralds the uses of new electronic vision chips. Recent experiments with a digital vision chip on eyeglass frames sent images to an implanted chip connected to the optic nerve and the blind patient could see large letters.
   A little more and I won’t have to go to welding school. I’ll just plug in the welding chip and turn that big used butane tank I bought into a barbecue smoker on wheels. And the next time I’m asked to speak to a bunch of rocket scientists I’ll take a rocket chip with me - and sound like I’m one of them. Don’t I wish. But the leap from sensory input to knowledge input appears to be something a lot bigger then feeding a few optical signals.
   Cognitive science tells us that we assimilate new concepts only if they are within a small reach of what we already know - within the zone of proximity, as they say. This is why it takes so long to learn a new subject - we have to do the learning one step at a time, and each step has to sink in before the next can be built upon it.

We assimilate new concepts only if they are
within a small reach of what we already know.


When robotics were first introduced into the factory environment re-training electrical service technicians to the level of competency took a long time - and many never made it because the new concepts of soft instructions and programming logic were just too far from past experience. Those that did found learning new robot models and new brands of robots successively easier. Like the difference between learning to drive your first car and then moving on to the second and third.
   Though the brain can parallel process many input channels, learning appears to be a sequential biological growth process. One way to speed up the learning process is to use multiple channels effectively. Accelerated learning is a body of educational technique that mixes verbal story telling and reading, graphics and visual stimulation, sounds and rhythm, movement and physical experiment, and other forms of appropriate input while teaching a student new material - and significantly speeds up the learning process in both adults and children.
   It isn’t just parallel input at work here, but also the concepts of multiple intelligences and different learning styles. We are not, for instance, all adept at learning by reading, or by listening to a lecture; nor can all of us follow a global top-down explanation equally as well as a piece-by-piece bottom-up presentation.
   In a sense, these accelerated learning techniques employ a shotgun approach, bombarding the student with multiple inputs - at least one is bound to be compatible with the student’s learning style. In reality, many will be compatible to different degrees - since most of us are a mixture of all learning styles - some more predominant than others. And further, it appears that complex interactions among multiple channels promote and enhance learning to an even greater degree. In a sense, this approach presents information in a form compatible with the way the brain processes information into knowledge.
   But we’re not going to explore the concepts of accelerated learning any further here. If you want more you might read Brain-Based Learning by Eric Jensen, Turning Point Publishing, 1996. Here we will explore another form of compatibility in knowledge presentation that builds on accelerated learning, and speeds the learning process even further.
   Plug compatability allows us to hook any brand-name speaker up to a Fisher stereo system, put any producer’s light bulb into the living room lamp, and read almost any email on our computer regardless of where it came from. These three cases work because they share a common standard for both physical and signal characteristics.

The science fiction knowledge chip is a fantasy example that goes one step further - it is "meaning" compatible as well as physical and signal compatible. The chip transfers instantly usable understanding. Think of an American product development manager receiving a Chinese-language email message explaining a product innovation methodology rooted in the Taoist teachings of Lao-Tse - and it was translated perfectly, did not convey any thoughts that were culturally unique, and was similar enough to prior knowledge to make total sense.
   A respected theory is that cognition is shaped by culture in general and language in particular. Think about it - and you’ll think in words - and only those that your socio-cultural background gives meaning to. Add to this the proximal-zone concept - that knowledge is assimilated in small steps. Now think about your culturally diverse, or even global, corporation - and its need to speed up the acquisition and mobilization of knowledge.
   Your organization won’t try to solve this problem by eliminating cultural diversity - that would impair the important innovation potential (see this column Dec ‘98). Language has some possibilities for standardization, though: some global companies, Daimler-Chrysler for instance, are adopting English as the corporate language - though it may be awhile before production workers in Southern California can directly communicate new methods to their counterparts in Detroit, let alone Stuttgart. As to everybody knowing almost what they have to know next - Hah! When it really matters few people know hardly anything about what’s coming next.
   But what if we could take anyone in the flavor they came in - then mix in an additional common culture, an additional common language, and a new single knowledge pattern so universal that everything else they had to learn was only a small step away? Put like that it sounds as far-fetched as the knowledge-chip fantasy; but bear with me as I move from the slightly exaggerated to the demonstrably possible.
   Our objective is a way to package a piece of knowledge so that it can be quickly and effectively transferred from one person to another within an organization. Our method will utilize concepts of language, culture, and pattern proximity. Basically we adopt a plug compatible standard that will require some learning time, but not much, from everyone in the group - and once learned, streamlines the knowledge transfer process.
   Though there are many ways that this might be accomplished, I will use an example that I am familiar with and have portrayed here in some detail in past essays. I’m referring to a knowledge template I’ve called a local metaphor model, a cultural context of change proficiency, and a language of change issues and Reusable-Reconfigurable-Scalable principles structured for systems thinking and communicated simultaneously in textual explanation, bulleted synopsis, graphic depiction, and connected story example. For a quick sample combine past essays: Assembly Lines Built Just In Time, Aug ’97, and Local Metaphors Create Insight and Mobilize Knowledge, Oct ’97 - archived in the library at www.parshift.com.
   This packaging example presupposes that the knowledge we want to transfer addresses some real problem, and that the real problem can be adequately described in terms of the dynamics of change that it presents. We believe that most knowledge of interest to business organizations fits these presuppositions, or can be made to; but we will save further elaboration until another time.
   Let’s look at the language part. We’re not talking about a primary language as rich as the one we all use for thinking and communicating about everything, whether that be English or Swahili, but rather the concept of language as vocabulary and communication structure. Think of it as the plug compatible physical package that allows us to transfer data from one person to another. Like any language it will take some time to master, but not a great deal of time as the concepts we wish to express in this language are very limited.
   As to culture, we all have many already. There is the primary and greater societal culture we belong to as well as the usually-secondary work environment culture we belong to; and maybe the sub-cultures of the soccer team we play with on Saturdays, the church group we meet with frequently, and the hunting lodge we visit in the fall. One may well be a subset of another but there are plenty of cases where seemingly contradictory cultures are embraced by the same person - like the religious physicist or the veterinarian hunter. The point is, we are all capable of embracing another culture. In this case we use culture as a set of values and beliefs that give context and perspective. Think of this common culture as providing our signal compatibility, giving us a means to transfer information, something beyond transferring mere data.
   Finally we come to the transfer of knowledge. Mainly we need a pattern of new knowledge that looks fairly close to old knowledge so that the knowledge receiver has ready-made hooks for attaching new information. Say you want to educate your design engineers on effective ways to gain value from direct customer interaction - something foreign to them. Help them build a local metaphor model packaged in the knowledge transfer format first - perhaps modeling the departmental new-hire interviewing process that they know and respect Then introduce the new knowledge packaged in the same manner - assimilation is much easier because the general concept hooks are all the same. And with the language and culture of change proficiency, one local metaphor model is all that’s needed, no matter how many more and different new procedures, processes, and practices will come their way.

We’ll continue discussing this concept of plug-compatible knowledge packaging in our next essay.


1999 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #049 - Originally Published 1/99 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications

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From: lsherman@casecorp.com (Lee Sherman), Date: Tue, 19 Jan 1999
Rick, it kind of sounds like some of the Richard Bandler neuro-linguistic programming concepts, i.e. getting your audience to agree to your ideas by telling them in a subconscious suggestion that they already agree with whatever it is you are about to tell them. More or less assist in the hooking process. Regards, lee

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From: dove@parshift.com (Rick Dove), Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999
Bandler's NLP utilizes brain-compatible learning theory, so does Georgi Lozanov's accelerated learning technique, so does Seymour Papert's LOGO and his excellent book Mindstorms (1980), so does the material in Maxwell Maltz's Psycho Cybernetics (1960) which taught me how to reprogram my behavior at a very early age, so does....etc....Underlying learning theory about brain compatible communication is being employed to different ends by many people. Our suggestion for a fruitful way to "package" knowledge for high mobility shares this underlying theory with Bandler's work; but I don't see it sharing the technique of subconscious suggestion of agreement you propose. Rather, we are building a universal cognitive pattern that provides the hooks for assimilating a large class of knowledge thereafter - more akin to the approach offered in Papert's Mindstorms and behind the LOGO intent. Recently I'm being influenced by Keith Devlin's work on situation theory and suspect that the evolution of our knowledge packaging concept will benefit as I learn more from his (and other's) development of this formal theory of information communication.

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From: asalsaheel@sabic.com  (abdullah s. alsaheel) Date: Wed, 9 Jan 2002
Dear sir/madam: We have made a contract with system Integrator Company to implement a new working system in my company, and we assign a team from our company to work with these experts from the system integrator company to assure knowledge transfer from these experts to our team, so we can run the system (our self) smoothly in future. Can you help me please to find the right mechanism of making this knowledge transfer, and what is the criteria I could use to measure the progress in that...Thanks.

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From: dove@parshift.com (Rick Dove), Date: Wed, 9 Jan 2002
Abdullah - I have been working with a semiconductor manufacturing company (Silterra) for the last 24 months in Malaysia doing many projects - but one major one was the design and implementation management of a highly adaptable ERP system. We employed outside resources to do the principle implementation work, and needed to have a good knowledge transfer to the inside people for long term maintenance, operation, and improvement. We were very successful with a three phase implementation technique structured for knowledge transfer. It is described in chapter eight of my book: "Response Ability - The Language, Structure, and Culture of Agile Enterprise", available from Amazon.com. I encourage to get the book, but in the meantime, I will send you a pre-publication manuscript copy of the chapter. Rick.

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From: nzainin@hotmail.com  (Col Nik Zainin A.Rahman), Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2004
I'm researching on "people's application of knowledge in unfamiliar situations" through participants on experiential teambuilding courses. The exercises confronting them are unfamiliar to them but could be solved/tackled through their uses of knowledge they already possess such as problem-solving, leadership and team working. Somehow, when so confronted, they usually resort to some of the most basics trial-and-error methods, which waste loads of resources such as time, efforts, energy, etc. I can understand where such inabilities happened only at the first event as maybe being due to the `gap' of their knowledge from those of their workplace (as I understand it from your essay) to that on the course. But when the situation still persist even after we have analyzed the learning points together and a conceptually similar exercise is repeated the very next morning (before breakfast) albeit through an event, and even after another 3 more conceptually similar exercises before the course ends. I'm from Malaysia and glad to know that you've done some work in my country as that would help in some ways, to understand my problem better.  Regards. Nik 

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From: dove@parshift.com (Rick Dove), Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2004
Col. Nik: I recommend that you look into the work of Joseph Novak, especially his book "Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge. His work is based on research that shows three things are needed for a person to learn something meaningfully:

1) The new knowledge must be closely related to knowledge already possessed by the learner, so that it can be linked with something already known.
2) The new knowledge must be relevant and interesting material to the learner.
3) The learner must choose to learn the material.

The first of these three is the most important. Novak has methodology and tools that can help in the process of teaching new knowledge, and these same tools can help a learner relate new knowledge to what is already known. These tools are called Concept Maps. There is good material and even some software to help build Concepts Maps available on the web site http://cmap.ihmc.us. However, I recommend that you read his book before making use of these tools as it will provide useful insight. Rick

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From: nzainin@hotmail.com  (Col Nik Zainin A.Rahman), Date: Sun, 2
7 Jan 2004
Rick, Thanks a lot. The next time you visit Malaysia, I would be honored to meet-up with you. Right now I'm at Cambridge (Wolfson) on this research, and am scheduled to return to Malaysia first week of April. Regards, Nik

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