Working Smarter – With Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM)

By Harold Jarche and originally published on

This is an extract from a paper titled: Working Smarter with Personal Knowledge Mastery This work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution — Non-Commercial — Share Alike licence — CC-BY-NC-SA1. 

Introduction by EE Magazine

The full paper addresses an issue very relevant to self-managed teams in Teal organisations. How do you think this process is subversive to/disruptive of common current management methods?

The Changing Nature of Human Work

For the past several centuries we have used human labour to do what machines cannot. First the machines caught up with us and surpassed humans with their brute force. Now they are surpassing us with their brute intelligence. There is not much more need for machine-like human work which is routine, standardized, or brute.

But certain long-term skills can help us connect with our fellow humans in order to learn and innovate — curiosity, sense making, cooperation, and novel thinking.

Automation of routine and standardized work is forcing people to do more nonroutine manual and cognitive work. If any piece of work can be mapped and analyzed, it will be automated. As non-routine work becomes the norm, work environments will have to become more open, transparent, and diverse because trust is absolutely essential to ensure that knowledge flows.

Finding the right information is only part of the challenge of non-standardized work. Sharing complex knowledge requires trusted relationships. People have to trust each other before sharing and only then can they work effectively on difficult problems and take informed action.

Standardized industrial work was focused on reducing errors to ensure quality of similar products and services. This is still important in manufacturing, though production lines are often shorter and re-tooling happens more frequently today. But error reduction is not enough. We also need to increase insights.

In 2010 Jay Cross — futurist and champion of informal learning — published The Working Smarter Fieldbook with his colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance.

Working smarter is not working faster or more efficiently. Working smarter is about increasing insights.

“Visualize the workflow of a physical job: produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce.

Now visualize the workflow of a creative knowledge worker: nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, flash of brilliance, nothing, nothing, nothing.” —Jay Cross (1944-2015)

A focus on reducing errors assumes that a work environment is complicated — production. However, a focus on improving insights understands that most work environments involving people are complex — creativity & innovation. So what should knowledge workers do between flashes of brilliance? They should be engaged in learning socially and informally in order to see what others don’t.

Learning informally and socially means connecting our individual work with our teams, communities, and networks. It requires honing our curiosity and seeking out different perspectives and ideas. It takes more than individual sensemaking to understand complex situations, so we have to find others to challenge our assumptions and learn at the edge of our professional abilities.

But most importantly we need to use what we have learned in order to resolve challenges and co-create value. As we do this, we continuously share in order to make our communities and networks more resilient and able to make better informed decisions. This discipline is personal knowledge mastery.

Note by EE Magazine: The remainder of the paper addresses Finding and Sharing Information and what Personal Knowledge Sharing (PKM), looks like in practice.

You can read the full Paper here

Republished under Creative Commons licence.

Featured Image and some paragraph spacing added by Enlivening Edge Magazine. Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay