Identifying invisible knowledge mapping by watching other people work


Colleagues at work are a great source of knowledge

Occasionally at work you may need some information so you visit a colleague and ask them for their help.

Sometimes they have the knowledge at their finger tips and can recall the details right off the top of their head, or perhaps they will try to locate a copy of a document that has the information requested.

It can be very instructive to watch how they search on a busy desk, a set of in-trays or a filing cabinet.

They are not exactly doing a “google” search, but first identify a broad contextual area  “I’m sure it will be it will be in this drawer, or that filing cabinet.”

Good, that invisible mental geography narrows it down. “It’s not on the desk, nor in the bookcase over there nor in the store room”,

Then with just a moment delay for reflection, they narrow the search area further and select a bulging folder. As they flick through this they are applying some elements of an unconscious geographic system -an interior GIS, shape recognition, and an internalised history matching heuristic.

As they progress in their search, they are able to skip past reams of paper, making slight glances at an occasional sheet, sometimes accompanied by a diversionary – “Oh that’s where that got to – I’ve been looking for that for ages. That can be slightly discouraging.

Occasionally, after a frustrating hunt they abandon the search before you both lose the will to live. They turn to you with a resigned “I’m sure it’s here somewhere, let me get back to you on that”

But more often, and sometimes within a matter of seconds they find what you have asked for and present it with triumph.

Of course there are many variables in play here; the office hierarchy, the level of team work, the shared understanding of the context, recognition of the importance in finding the information, and alternative demands on their time.

An alternative might be to go and ask the newly arrived temp to find the information for you.

“It’s a piece of paper with this specific information printed on it, and it’s probably in this office somewhere.”

That is not likely to be a very productive strategy. It highlights the difference between the fast access to contextual knowledge gained through utilising experience compared with the ignorance of the new arrival, however eager to please, tempered by the tedium of the task and their engagement with the enterprise.

Which is adding more value to the business – the old dog, or the new start?

By the way – You don’t happen to know where my Vehicle registration document is, do you? It’s a long greenish bit of paper with my car number on it. It’s probably folded up, or tucked in with an old MOT or insurance certificate..

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