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It Is Human Nature to Nurture

Alison Tucker, a practitioner in knowledge management has coined the phrase,
“ Communication is human nature, knowledge is human nurture.” Alison is part of a growing number of professionals in the field of knowledge management. Today’s business community is interested in knowledge management from a productivity and efficiency perspective. It is a matter of survival in a highly competitive world. Author Carla S. O’Dell provides insights on knowledge management in her book If Only We Knew What We Know. She talks about formal and informal knowledge and defines knowledge as information in action. Becoming aware of this emerging field and exploring its fundamental principles, triggered reflection on how these same principles apply to non-business aspects of society.

An important aspect of knowledge management is cultivation of communities of practice. A community of practice is a group of people who share concern, problems, or deep commitment to an ideal and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by ongoing interaction. Communities of practice have been existed throughout human history from the corporations of Ancient Rome and guilds of the middle Ages to the civic organizations and hobby clubs of today.

In a era where we have three or four generations interacting for the first time in human history, there seems to be great value in examining this idea of knowledge management in the context of everyday life. Each person has unique knowledge that may be formally or informally stored. For example, a family recipe that is written down is an example of formally stored knowledge, while a family recipe that only one person knows how to prepare is informally stored. It is pretty clear that for a family, let alone a community, to benefit from this valuable information, a community of practice needs to be established to insure that the information about preparing the recipe is not lost when the holder of the information is gone.

There is a three-step process for knowledge management that individuals can employ. The first step is to identify the knowledge they hold that they do not want to be lost. Second is to identify an opportunity to create an informal or formal record of their knowledge. The third step in to create a way to transmit the knowledge to others.

Fishing, camping, hunting, gardening, quilting, carpentry, auto repair, strategies for financial or business success, and cultural practices are kinds of knowledge that individuals in families and communities possess. Many of these kinds of knowledge can be stored formally in printed forms, however the knowledge is best transferred by human interaction or nurturing. Information is most likely to be retained if transferred to the right person at the right time, which makes the ongoing interaction aspect of communities of practice so important.

It is easy for those who hold knowledge , which can sustain power or assure success, to allow barriers to keep them from transferring the knowledge. These barriers are mindsets or presumptions like:

  • No one is paying attention to what I am saying.

  • I can’t believe they need to be shown how to do that!

  • That is a family secret.

  • It will take too much effort to record the directions.

  • I don’t think anyone else really needs to know this.

  • If I give up this information I will no longer have the power of saying I’m the only one who knows.

There is a business theory that contends that increased access to knowledge produces 20 times more benefits. Assuming that is true, how can a person allow their knowledge transfer to be hampered by these mindsets or presumptions?

Some ways these mindsets or presumptions keep the people with family or community knowledge from transferring the knowledge are:

  • Telling children not to bother us as we prepare food for family celebrations.

  • Not participating in the caucus system or in advisory groups at one’s place of worship.

  • Launching into diatribes about how unskilled and unworthy the younger generations are.

C.G. Jung wrote, ”In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.” Based on this, the challenge is to identify the knowledge that must not be lost and take advantage of every opportunity to show and tell that knowledge. In today’s technologically centered world there are so many ways to show and tell. Photographs, emails, and video diaries are just a few examples of ways to show and tell if person-to-person and face-to-face are not possible for all those who are interested. Visualize twenty members of younger generations developing a passion for fishing or becoming accomplished quilters or twenty new people becoming politically active. Start today to assure that all your unique knowledge will produce a twenty-fold increase in family and community benefits instead of being lost completely.

- Janet Benavente

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