Experience + Education + Time + Reflection = Knowledge: Understanding the Formula for Knowledge

The newest baby in the physical begins life with urges, desires, but must learn everything, and along the way discovers a fact as incontrovertible as the rising sun, knowledge requires effort.  From the desire to be dry instead of wet, the baby cries.  From a desire for food, the baby cries.  Thus, physical life begins.  Muir (1930) makes clear that “Thought is matter; thought rules the world.  Thinking is intelligence (knowledge) at work.”  Please keep in mind, this topic continues to be fiercely debated and time does not allow a full exploration of each nuance; however, from seminal thinkers the following attempts to simplify the debate and showcases why the formula for building knowledge is the way portrayed:

Experience + Education + Time + Reflection = Knowledge

Returning to the baby analogy, the baby experiences light, but cannot describe why their eyes hurt from the light.  Thus, the first step in learning is an experience.  Through experience, choices are made, but the lack of understanding of consequences and communicating leads the baby to cry in frustration.  Thus, we can conclude that the first step in knowledge creation is experimenting and the resulting experience teaches preferences (Muir, 1930).  The movie “Teacher’s Pet” provides a quote solidifying the role of experience “… knowledge is the horse experience rides” (Perlberg, Seaton & Seaton, 1958).

Partanen, Kujala, Naatanen, Liitola, Sambeth, and Huotilainen (2013) conducted research on babies in the womb and stated that it is logical that the baby in the womb is learning a language.  Thus, providing the conclusion that the first education lessons are taught and experienced in the womb.  Upon birth, everything is being taught, smiling, laughing, crying, etc. are all lessons to be experienced with educational lessons.  For example, a baby responds to parental cues, smiling when they smile, laughing to make them laugh, crying when the parents are upset or angry.  All learned responses ever before a formal classroom.

Education and experience provide the first step in knowledge, often referred to as A Priori or knowledge gleaned from the world.  For example, the preference to have a dry diaper over a wet diaper.  No one has to explain to the baby that being wet is uncomfortable, creates pain, and is not desirable.  Epistemologists continue to debate whether education and experience are both involved in A Priori knowledge, but common sense tells the student that knowledge that we cannot describe where we learned it, is A Priori knowledge (Moser, 1987; Williamson, 2013).

The next type of knowledge is referred to as A Posteriori or knowledge that comes after a lesson (Moser, 1987; Williamson, 2013).  Consider the difference between hot and cold; how many babies touch something hot, get burned, have pain, and then learn the difference between hot and cold?  A Posteriori knowledge requires the next element in the formula for the full lesson to be taught, reflection.  A Posteriori knowledge requires time to reflect, and time and reflection bring more nuances of the hot/cold lesson to the enquiring mind.  For example, burns have blisters, scabs, pain, and so much more is experienced through the senses.  The smell of burning flesh stinks.  The redness, when touched brings back pain.  If the burn is severe enough, there are hospitals, nurses, doctors, and so much more added to the lesson regarding the difference between hot and cold.

The remaining types of knowledge are as follows, with a brief description:

  • Explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. A Priori and A Posteriori are opposite ways to learn, so too are explicit and tacit knowledge opposites.  Explicit knowledge is recorded data that can be accessed through books, videos, recordings, and is generally found in formal classrooms and upon the Internet (Collins, 2010; Smith, 2001).
  • Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that is both difficult to translate into words and difficult to separate from emotions. For example, music performed by a young performer may be technically correct, but the emotions are stripped from the performance.  A master musician, in concert, translates the emotions effortlessly, while remaining technically accurate, and is astute to the audience during the performance.  If a junior musician asks a master how to translate emotions, the master musician will find it very difficult to explain how but will encourage the junior to explore their own emotions and continue practicing (Collins, 2010; Reber, 1989; Smith, 2001).
  • The next two opposing classes of knowledge are propositional and non-propositional. These classes of knowledge are also referred to as descriptive or declarative knowledge (propositional) and procedural (non-propositional).  Propositional knowledge is the knowledge that is passed through declarative or descriptive statements, where the teacher knows something is true, but cannot adequately detail how they know it is true.  Propositional knowledge is generally found in closely held beliefs, religions, opinions, and is the embodiment of experiential knowledge.  Propositional knowledge is embodied in formal education (Klien, 1971).
  • Procedural knowledge is usable knowledge. For example, technical manuals are full of procedural knowledge or step-by-step instructions to complete a task.  Procedural knowledge is the only knowledge that can be cited in a court of law and is the fundamental description behind intellectual property.  Procedural knowledge can be bought, sold, traded, protected, the rights to procedural knowledge can be leased, all because of the usefulness of procedural knowledge.  Procedural knowledge is all about gaining experience (Corbett & Anderson, 1994; Willingham, Nissen, & Bullemer, 1989).

To gain knowledge in any of the classes identified, we have shown that experience and education need time and reflection to empower the knowledge gained into usefulness.  Each of the classes of knowledge has learning theories to aid the student to explore that class of knowledge and more fully draw out lessons for future use.  For example, procedural knowledge could be learned through cognitive learning theories (Atherton, 2009; 2010), through Pavlov’s classical learning theories (Clark, 2004; Bitterman, 2006), and many more theories.  There is no explicit right or wrong in knowledge attainment, the formula provided simply reflects the steps to creating knowledge, and each individual will reorder these ingredients based upon needs, desires, and personal application.  A master artist in sculpture might have a different order for their knowledge attainment than a master painter or musician; however, all the masters will be able to communicate due to their mastery, not the order they place the ingredients in knowledge attainment.  Key to the knowledge attainment formula provided is that learning never ceases.  Each experience provides new lessons that will require time and reflection to completely master, or attain.  Hence the need to know how knowledge is created and the importance of the formula for future experiences, formal and informal educational opportunities, and desires for new knowledge.

A final aspect of knowledge is that knowledge can be gained and lost (Howells, 1996).  A lack of choosing to learn or experience robs time and costs knowledge.  For example, the ability to read can be taught, but when not practiced, it becomes harder and harder until the ability to read is lost.  Understanding what is read, can be taught, but the harder reading becomes, the less the words are understood until all understanding in the written words has been lost.  Due to the nature of gains and losses in knowledge creation and retention, it behooves the individual to choose to be continually learning, experiencing and employing time and reflection to capture the available knowledge (Teece, 2000; Tough, 1979).

References

Atherton J. S. (2009) Learning and Teaching; Cognitive theories of learning [On-line] UK: Retrieved from: http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/cognitive.html

Atherton, J. S. (2010, February 10). So what is Learning? Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/whatlearn.html

Bitterman, M. E. (2006). Classical conditioning since Pavlov. Review of General Psychology, 10(4), 365-376. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.365

Clark, R. E. (2004). The Classical Origins of Pavlov’s Conditioning. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 39(4), 279-294.

Collins, H. (2010). Tacit and explicit knowledge. University of Chicago Press.

Corbett, A. T., & Anderson, J. R. (1994). Knowledge tracing: Modeling the acquisition of procedural knowledge. User modeling and user-adapted interaction, 4(4), 253-278.

Howells, J. (1996). Tacit knowledge. Technology analysis & strategic management, 8(2), 91-106.

Klein, P. D. (1971). A proposed definition of propositional knowledge. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(16), 471-482.

Moser, P. K. (Ed.). (1987). A priori knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Muir, L. J. (1930). The upward reach. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Press.

Partanen, E., Kujala, T., Naatanen, R., Liitola, A., Sambeth, A., & Huotilainen, M. (2013). Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(37), 15145-15150. doi:10.1073/pnas.1302159110

Perlberg, W., & Seaton, G. (Producers), & Seaton, G. (Director). (1958). Teacher’s pet [Motion picture]. USA: Paramount Pictures.

Reber, A. S. (1989). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 118(3), 219.

Smith, E. A. (2001). The role of tacit and explicit knowledge in the workplace. Journal of Knowledge Management, 5(4), 311-321.

Teece, D. J. (2000). Strategies for managing knowledge assets: the role of firm structure and industrial context. Long range planning, 33(1), 35-54.

Tough, A. (1979). Choosing to Learn.

Williamson, T. (2013). How deep is the distinction between A Priori and A Posteriori knowledge? The a priori in philosophy, 291.

Willingham, D. B., Nissen, M. J., & Bullemer, P. (1989). On the development of procedural knowledge. Journal of experimental psychology: learning, memory, and cognition, 15(6), 1047.

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

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The Call Center Leader Part 5 – Tacit Knowledge Combined with the Power of 4-C’s Produces Competitive Advantage

Tacit Knowledge, as a competitive advantage, remains a highly misunderstood topic in business due primarily to the difficulty in spotting, acknowledging, and then measuring this form of knowledge.  Because managers, who preempt application, see tacit knowledge as a threat, leadership is required to implement its benefits.  Tacit knowledge relies upon people implementing daily processes and procedures.  Tacit knowledge as a competitive advantage requires freedom to improve those processes and procedures of daily work to understand how to improve.  The principles of tacit knowledge are discussed and enhanced by Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) providing excellent discussion material for leaders to contemplate.

In detailing an operational definition of tacit knowledge, Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) designed a definitive definition for tacit knowledge as “context specific, … [generally] acquired on the job or in particular situations.”  Proceeding further, Nonaka (1991) reiterated that tacit knowledge is “… deeply rooted in [both] an individual’s action and commitment [to] a profession, product, market, work group, or team.”  Tacit knowledge contains elements of “practical knowledge” and remains “difficult to describe” unless the knowledge is described as a “process” to perform work.  Taken together, tacit knowledge is a person’s commitment and knowledge gained in experience to understand processes and improve the same.

Let’s use an analogy to drive this point home.  John works for call center A; Mark works for call center B.  The leadership in call center B is very demanding, but rewards those who meet the challenges and provides freedom for front-line personnel to meet customer needs.  Call center A does not demand much from front-line personnel except to perform their jobs as dictated, and managers are in place to ensure the job is done and nothing more.  Both call centers have high employee churn numbers, both call centers are matrix driven, and performance is measured in seconds; both call centers compete with each other for the same customer base.

Because Mark has freedom and call center B is willing to reward, Mark has been focused upon improving daily operations and customer support.  Mark sends several ideas to his manager and onto senior call center leadership.  Several of Mark’s ideas find their way into organizational change and are implemented.

John has a personal desire to see call center A succeed and develops ideas to improve customer support while decreasing organizational inertia.  John’s manager sees these ideas, discovers the ideas are good, and decides to take them as their own.  John is pressured to leave call center A over the next 8-10 months; by this time, the ideas are practically worthless and cannot be implemented due to shifts in business conditions.

Tacit knowledge was at play in both scenarios.  Call center B employed tacit knowledge to compete.  Call center A employed tacit knowledge to thwart and denigrate.  Herein also lies the leadership challenge and the need to understand and implement the principles of combining competition, collaboration, compromise, and cooperation, also referred to as the “Principle of 4-C’s” (4-C’s).  Thomas (1992) extols the virtues of combining competition, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise as a tool to achieve success in conflict resolution, organizational improvement, and people development.

The continued application of all four principles, cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and competition, provides fertile ground for resolving problems and advancing organizational objectives.  These 4-C’s must work together with no single principle more important than the other.  Like the four-legged stool my grandmother used to reach high cupboards, the stability of the stool depended upon all four legs to ensure strength and flexibility to work exactly.  Compromise and competition do not work without collaboration and cooperation.  They are all interconnected, and the business leader, wanting to lead well, would remember this relationship.

Collaboration is strengthened by cooperation, compromise, and competition.  Competition must end in collaboration, cooperation, and compromise; in fact, competition will breed collaboration and cooperation to reach a compromise, before those being competed against provide collaboration, cooperation, and compromise, and remain attached and honored as successful means to reach the desired win-win agreement.  The fires of competition are crucial to purifying those collaborating, compromising, and cooperating into a single honed unit that can more effectively work together.  Cooperation can do nothing without the shared responsibilities of collaboration and compromise; when competition is added, the cooperation is strengthened.  Compromise without cooperation or collaboration is ineffective, and competition is an added value to ensuring stronger compromise.  None of these can stand alone without elements of the others to support, edify, and multiply; along with the stated relationship comes the knowledge that if the agreement is not win-win the agreement is a straight lose scenario.

The inherent discussion above is condensed from Thomas (1992), who advocated this combined approach to organizational design as a masterstroke to getting people working together.  The same basic philosophy can be seen in the writings of Goldratt and Cox (2004), Lencioni (2002), Lundin, Paul, and Christensen (2000), Boynton and Fischer (2005), and Boylan (1995), among many others.  Notably, these principles have been understood throughout time.  Jucius (1963), in speaking of the broader issues in personnel management, understood the combined power of collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and competition and wrote extensively about how to use these effectively in the organization.  Cruickshank and Davis (1958) understood these principles to be a combined and more effective tool than separate strategies of the same general direction and strove to ensure business leaders understood the practical application and inherent need for the organization to adhere to these principles as a combined effort of all organizational members.  McNichols (1963) endeavored to keep these items combined in the minds of executives; thus, empowering them to discover solutions employing all the strengths in the consolidated collective use of competition, collaboration, compromise, and competition.  The empowerment felt combining these tools elevates the individual focus into a collected focus, and the solutions for an organization are improved dynamically.

Examples of the combined efforts of collaboration, competition, compromise, and cooperation are found in the writings and research of Collins (2001 & 2006), Collins and Hansen 2011), and Collins and Porras (1994).  These books contain many organizational examples of companies employing the combined strategy as outlined and collectively harnessing the power in cooperation, compromise, collaboration, and competition to make the long-lasting change from “Good to Great” organizations.  Collins (2001) discusses Walgreen’s transformation and employs the combined power into the new highly successful Walgreen’s store model.  Mitchell (2003) discusses the same principles as CEO of Mitchells/Richards Clothing Stores.  By embracing the combined power contained, this CEO has kept the family business growing.  Both organizations, Walgreen’s and Mitchells/Richards, embraced the energy of collaboration properly supported by compromise and collaboration and invested in internal and external competition to drive the needed organizational changes.  What Collins proves is that the collective power is not particular and rare, but available to all who choose to combine not separate, collect not disburse, connect and retain not divide, partition, and mutate.  Leadership demands higher practical performance than management (Robinson, 1999; Punia, 2004; and Mintzberg, 1980).

The ability to rise higher must include all the attributes, strengths, and collective power found in collaboration, competition, cooperation, and most especially compromise.  Having standards does not mean compromising personal or organizational standards for collaboration.  Having standards is the discovery of common ground in collaborating for a common goal, enhanced in the fires of competition.

How does a leader begin to take tacit knowledge and combine it with the power of cooperation, competition, collaboration, and compromise, to achieve positive results; the answers are quite simple.

  1. Allow and encourage idea submission. As a small business consultant, I am continually amazed at how many ideas are already in the minds of current employees to improve the organization.  Open lines of communication in the organizational hierarchy for ideas to percolate.  Train the employees to use these lines of communication.  I cannot count how many times I have heard frustrated employees say, “I do not know who to submit my ideas to.”
  2. Train people to think and improve. Quality control is not just for the quality group to monitor.  Quality assurance is a minute-by-minute process every employee should be engaged upon to help the company improve.  Train this principle from day one with new employees and revisit this idea at least quarterly and every time idea submission drops.
  3. Competition is for external forces, but the 4-C’s principle is for everyone internally. Why have customer service teams competing against each other creating division and chaos inside the company?  While sometimes healthy, many times petty in-house competition does nothing but destroy, denigrate, and deride already stressed and harried people.  Stop tearing the company down in the front-line; cease the petty competitions between teams.
  4. Rewards and awards must contain value to the individual or they are meaningless. I worked with an employee who had an award from a previous employer on his desk.  The award was a horse’s rear-end in bronze, and the employee was exceedingly proud of having been part of the team that won that particular award.  The employee had not worked for that company in 20-years, but remains proud of that award and the reward that came along with it.  I was also part of a call center that handed out awards that went into the trashcan before the end of the award ceremony.  Rewards and awards must be valuable to the recipient.  To make this happen, choose to build people by showing the award and reward.  Why is the Stanley Cup in the NHL so coveted? Individual teams and players are inscribed permanently as a reminder of greatness; more importantly, everyone in the NHL sees the cup.  This is a pattern that can be and should be replicated in the call center; just do not let the competition become chaotically competitive or meaningless and petty.  Remember, many teams in the NHL have never won the Stanley Cup.
  5. Tacit knowledge has value. Cherish this knowledge as the genetic power of the company to thrive.  Ask questions, listen to the answers, and remember the person providing input.  Too often the person providing input is not recognized, and this failure to recognize contributions does tremendous harm to morale, dampening desire to contribute, and removing further access to potentially amazing results.

Finally,

5.5 Let the tacit knowledge and award/reward systems live.  Tacit knowledge has a life cycle as sure as every product, service, work process, and daily procedure.  Allow change to live, allow knowledge to live, and allow the freedom to change to meet new needs.  This is probably the most important point in this list of actions leaders can take to employ tacit knowledge as a competitive strategy.  Recognize the life cycle of ideas and stop being afraid of employee freedom and change.

References

Ambrosini, V., & Bowman, C. (2001). Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for operationalization. Journal of Management Studies, 38(6), doi: 0022-2380

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Boylan, B. (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

Boynton, A., & Fisher, B. (2005). Virtuoso teams: Lessons from teams that changed their worlds. FT Press

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Collins, J. (2006). Good to great and the social sectors: A monograph to accompany Good to great. London: Random House Business.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck: Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Collins, J., & Porras, J. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York: Collins Business Essentials – A Collins Business Book: An Imprint of Harper Collins.

Cruickshank, H., & Davis, K. (1958). Cases in management (2nd ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Goldratt, E. M., & Cox, J. (2004). The goal: A process of ongoing improvement. (Third Revised ed.). Great Barrington, Massachusetts: North River Press.

Hickman, G. (2010). Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Jucius, M. (1963). Personnel management (5th ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Lundin, S. C., Paul, H., & Christensen, J. (1996). Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. New York, New York: Hyperion.

McNichols, T. (1963). Policy making and executive action; cases on business policy (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(3), 322. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/205849936?accountid=458

Mitchell, J. (2003). Hug your customers: The proven way to personalize sales and achieve astounding results. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Punia, B. K. (2004). Employee empowerment and retention strategies in diverse corporate culture: A prognostic study. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 8(81), 81-91. doi: 10.1177/097226290400800107

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved