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Knowtability on the Lift

She was animated. Almost excited to be talking with me up there–where she worked. Maybe because having someone listen to her ideas on clean parts storage wasn’t something that happened every day. The small-framed, smocked, mid-fortyish lady talked quickly as she maneuvered the lift controls 20 feet in the air. We stood together on the small platform, winding our way through tall warehouse “racks.” I was impressed with her navigational skills and her obvious dedication to the details of her job. Mostly I liked that she was excited about her ideas.

My assignment: learn what I could learn in a few days’ time about “clean” parts storage. Clean—because many of the thousands of boxed, bar-coded parts we were passing through—would eventually find their way onto sub-sub, then sub-assemblies, then entire go-into-space satellite assemblies—assembled in very large, six-story tall, also very clean spaces about ¼ mile down the hall. A lost, damaged, or oxygen exposed part—could seriously delay a seriously expensive project.

As an instructional designer, I work with all shapes and sizes of content and all shapes and sizes of subject matter experts (SMEs)—I couldn’t do what I do without SMEs. Many of my training and curriculum development projects involve observing work places, and talking with experts about how they work, what they’ve learned, and how their work connects with other people’s work and end users.

Initially my clients ask how I can design training on topics in which I have no expertise. A totally valid question! I fall back on Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Anxiety: The minute we know something, we forget what it was like not to know it.Many experts do have difficulty remembering, making it hard for them to organize the training and sometimes hard to do the teaching. That’s where instructional designers come in. We ask lots of questions, then edit and organize the answers into training pieces that are knowable and learnable to others.

Over my instructional design career, across a range of industries and project types, I’ve met a variety of terrific experts; acknowledged, appreciated, and well paid for their expertise. I’ve also met wonderful, probably less recognized experts like my friend on the lift. Less recognized, but also builders and holders of special expertise, special knowledge, good (sometimes brilliant) ideas that are never documented in a training program, or passed forward to a mentee, or contributed in brainstorming sessions (for lack of storming, probably).

Instances of high knowtability™ for sure, but lower notability.

Recognized or not, knowtability is vulnerable at transitions. Those short windows of time and opportunity between someone’s decision to move on and the actual move–after which many knowtable things are no longer accessible or collectible. It takes TWO willing parties to leverage that window, to enable smart dots to do their best connecting. Party One is the person doing the work, who could be leaving, and who knows things. Party Two is the person or people staying on, who smartly know that they don’t always know what they don’t know about the work going on around them, or good ideas about improving the work.

I created Duly Knowted® as a set of practical, downloadable, ready to use tools that make it easier for Party Two people to do the asking. And, for Party One people (contributors) to organize what they choose to share in the way of best practices, insights, day-to-day tribal knowledge—all forms of knowtable things.

My mission and challenge is several fold. First, encourage owners and managers to ask more questions about the work and what’s been learned, especially when a contributor is on the verge of a transition. Second, make the process relatively simple to accomplish, especially when time is short.

In the process of asking, Party Two is also acknowledging and respecting the person moving on—or staying. Always a knowtable idea.

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