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Unlocking Your Organization’s Most Valuable Resource – Knowledge and Wisdom
Every company has both information and knowledge. What’s the difference? Knowledge is something that’s actionable and that generates value for the receiver. Information, on the other hand, is not actionable. It’s simply compiled data.
For example, if you received a list of all the sandwich shops in your state, you’re now informed, but you don’t have any real knowledge of which one is the best sandwich shop to have lunch at. However, if someone you trusted who knew your tastes recommended one of the sandwich shops, you now have something actionable. The person shared with you some knowledge based on his or her experience. You now know exactly what action to take. That’s knowledge.
The good news is that knowledge increases in value when it’s shared. Think about it… have you ever learned from a customer? Of course you have, but you didn’t learn by giving them data and information. More than likely, you were in a dialog; you shared your knowledge and they shared some of theirs. In the process, you both learned something new and valuable.
Unfortunately, human nature is to horde and protect knowledge because we subconsciously think we only have a certain amount of knowledge in our head. If this was a fact, then we’d certainly want to covet it dearly. In reality, each person is a fountain of new knowledge and ideas based on insights from personal experiences, meaning the knowledge well is deep and won’t run dry. Additionally, when you share your knowledge, you don’t lose it. You still have your ideas, and by sharing them in dialog with someone, you have the potential to improve those ideas beyond what you previously thought possible. That’s why knowledge sharing is so powerful.
Knowing that knowledge is valuable, it makes sense to develop knowledge sharing networks within your organization. The question is, how do you create one?
People tried knowledge sharing in the 1990s and early 2000s, but few had luck with it. Most of the knowledge they were sharing was really just information, and many companies made the sharing process too complex. To make knowledge sharing work, you need to engage in a process I call “knowledge pull,” where you create a shared understanding of what knowledge is, and then pull the knowledge from them.
First, realize that all knowledge needs both context and content. For example, a good storyteller can’t just give you the punch line. They have to set it up first by giving you context—the punch line that follows is the content. The same is true with your knowledge pull approach. You have to get people to share the context before the content has any meaning.
So let’s suppose you have a sales team and you want to pull knowledge from them. To begin, you’d set up an internal secure private cloud for your sales force knowledge base that all the salespeople have access to. Then, you ask them for two short paragraphs a month.
Why only two paragraphs? You don’t want to take a lot of their time. Additionally, the paragraphs you’ll get will be so powerful that you’ll have a lot of knowledge to learn from and act on. If you have 100 people on your sales team, you’re getting 100 knowledge entries a month—that’s a lot of knowledge!
The process is very easy. Each paragraph is answering a question. The first is a context question; the second is a content question. Here’s an example of how the questions would work in terms of setting up the context and content:
° Question One: “What was the biggest mistake you made last year with a customer?” This sets up the context. Let people know that you only want one short paragraph for a reply.
° Question Two: “What did you learn from your mistake?” This is the content—where the real knowledge lies. Again, request just one short actionable paragraph.
To encourage participation, give examples from the company’s executive team, showing the CEO’s, CFO’s, and other C-suite executive’s biggest mistakes and what they learned from them. After all, if the company leaders won’t share, why should anyone else? But if the top executives are sharing, then everyone else will feel compelled to share as well. The executives’ participation makes the process both “safe” and powerful.
If each of the 100 salespeople posts their biggest mistake and what they learned from it, you now have 100 bits of knowledge and powerful lessons that you can categorize. Then, the next month, you ask two more questions.
° Question One: “What was the most important personal strategy you implemented last year?” (Context)
°Question Two: “What did it do for you and your customers?” (Content)
Keep doing this two-question approach every month and your company will quickly have a wealth of actionable knowledge that can be used to rapidly solve problems and spread innovation.
Does anyone lose any of their knowledge by sharing it? No. Does the entire organization gain exponentially through the knowledge exchange? Yes! And if people leave, due to retirement or other reasons, at least you’ve captured some of their best knowledge instead of letting it all walk out the door. When someone new comes on board, you simply have him or her access the sales force knowledge base network and start learning, engaging…and contributing.
Once you get your knowledge network growing, you can take it a step further by tapping into your company’s wisdom and creating a wisdom base.
What is wisdom versus knowledge? I define wisdom as a guiding principle that can usually be expressed in one sentence and that tends to be timeless and cultureless. For example, the saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has been around for a long time. It’s one powerful sentence that many people use as a guiding principle. If you’ve ever read a quote that resonated with you, it was likely a one-sentence message that helped guide your thinking and actions.
You can tap into the wisdom your team holds by creating a wisdom base where everyone shares the guiding principles they use that help them rapidly solve problems and accomplish their work. The process is simple: Tell everyone that you want their guiding principles and wisdom stated in one sentence. Ask for one sentence a month. If someone can’t articulate their wisdom yet, that’s okay. Allow them to post a quote that contains a guiding principle they find highly useful from someone else such as Einstein, Gandhi, and other great thinkers.
The fact is that each person has a wealth of wisdom inside. However, most people don’t keep track of it, much less write it down. Here’s a great way to start tracking some of the wisdom you share every day: When you’re speaking with someone, you often say some powerful personal wisdom that flow off your lips naturally. You know it when you hear it, and you probably wish you could stop and write it down. But if you’re like most people, you don’t want to interrupt the conversation, so you keep talking, thinking you’ll remember that great quote you said later. However, the powerful sentence goes into a part of your brain that’s short-term memory, and unless you say it again or write it down immediately, you’ll forget it.
Next time when you’re talking and you say one of your powerful guiding principles, stop and repeat it. By doing so, you’re shifting the words into a different part of your brain that gives you more time to write it down later. By saying it a second time, you’ve given yourself five to seven hours to write it down before it’s long gone. As a side benefit, the listener gets to hear the wisdom again, which helps make it stick in his or her mind too.
Again, everyone is loaded with wisdom. You simply have to pull it from yourself and others so everyone can learn and benefit from each other’s experiences.
Information is static and can be kept in a filing cabinet. Knowledge and wisdom are dynamic and need to be in motion—they need to be set free. By sharing knowledge and wisdom using a secure digital network, everyone in your organization can get smarter faster. As a result, those in your company will generate more and better ideas, develop more meaningful relationships with each other and with customers, and ignite the spark for true innovation and long-term profits.
DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash Foresight.
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
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Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.
In recent years there have been exciting breakthroughs in wearable technologies, like smartwatches that can monitor your breathing and blood oxygen levels.
But what about a wearable that can detect how you move as you do a physical activity or play a sport, and could potentially even offer feedback on how to improve your technique?
And, as a major bonus, what if the wearable were something you'd actually already be wearing, like a shirt of a pair of socks?
That's the idea behind a new set of MIT-designed clothing that use special fibers to sense a person's movement via touch. Among other things, the researchers showed that their clothes can actually determine things like if someone is sitting, walking, or doing particular poses.
The group from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) says that their clothes could be used for athletic training and rehabilitation. With patients' permission, they could even help passively monitor the health of residents in assisted-care facilities and determine if, for example, someone has fallen or is unconscious.
The researchers have developed a range of prototypes, from socks and gloves to a full vest. The team's "tactile electronics" use a mix of more typical textile fibers alongside a small amount of custom-made functional fibers that sense pressure from the person wearing the garment.
According to CSAIL graduate student Yiyue Luo, a key advantage of the team's design is that, unlike many existing wearable electronics, theirs can be incorporated into traditional large-scale clothing production. The machine-knitted tactile textiles are soft, stretchable, breathable, and can take a wide range of forms.
"Traditionally it's been hard to develop a mass-production wearable that provides high-accuracy data across a large number of sensors," says Luo, lead author on a new paper about the project that is appearing in this month's edition of Nature Electronics. "When you manufacture lots of sensor arrays, some of them will not work and some of them will work worse than others, so we developed a self-correcting mechanism that uses a self-supervised machine learning algorithm to recognize and adjust when certain sensors in the design are off-base."
The team's clothes have a range of capabilities. Their socks predict motion by looking at how different sequences of tactile footprints correlate to different poses as the user transitions from one pose to another. The full-sized vest can also detect the wearers' pose, activity, and the texture of the contacted surfaces.
The authors imagine a coach using the sensor to analyze people's postures and give suggestions on improvement. It could also be used by an experienced athlete to record their posture so that beginners can learn from them. In the long term, they even imagine that robots could be trained to learn how to do different activities using data from the wearables.
"Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have 'skins' that can provide tactile sensing just like we have as humans," says corresponding author Wan Shou, a postdoc at CSAIL. "Clothing with high-resolution tactile sensing opens up a lot of exciting new application areas for researchers to explore in the years to come."
The paper was co-written by MIT professors Antonio Torralba, Wojciech Matusik, and Tomás Palacios, alongside PhD students Yunzhu Li, Pratyusha Sharma, and Beichen Li; postdoc Kui Wu; and research engineer Michael Foshey.
The work was partially funded by Toyota Research Institute.
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.