How it begins
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Josh Lobel to speak at KA Connect. Josh is an architect with a deep interest in the impact that digital tools have on architectural practice. A mutual friend had introduced us and had mentioned to me that Josh was a big fan of “The Craftsman” by Richard Sennett. I checked “The Craftsman” out from the library and have been recommending it to people to ever since. Here’s what the New Yorker has to say about it:
“Sennett considers an array of artisans across different periods, from ancient Chinese chefs to contemporary mobile-phone designers, in this powerful meditation on the "skill of making things well." The template of craftsmanship, he finds, combines a "material consciousness" with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is ten thousand hours) and a strategic acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism.”
Sennett discusses the history of knowledge transfer throughout the book. Organizations have always wrestled with best practices for educating the next generation of craftsmen, whether they be the guilds of medieval Europe or modern design firms. In addition to exploring the history of organizational learning, Sennett explores what humanity has gained (and lost) from introducing machines into our workshops. Sennett specifically focuses on the impacts of using CAD tools in architectural practice.
Josh and I started our conversation by discussing “The Craftsman.” Our conversation was energizing and fun. As we jumped from topic to topic – discovering that each of us had been thinking about history and process and tools and practice from different perspectives – I kept thinking one thought to myself:
“Damn I wish I was recording this.”
Interviews as knowledge assets
I sent Josh an e-mail the next day to pitch him on the idea of conducting an audio interview for the KA Connect blog. He wrote me back to say that he was in. Awesome. We’d produce it as a podcast, perhaps the first in a series. The wheels were turning now. I thought of all the other people I could interview, the sponsorships, the glory.
As the days went by I kept thinking about great having a podcast series would be – I’ve advocated interviewing as a great knowledge management technique for years. A good interview helps to tell someone’s story. If you ask the right questions, your interviewee will often share insights that they had not previously articulated, even to themselves. (The knowledge management intelligentsia calls this “Latent Knowledge.”) Best of all, you can capture an interview and leverage it as a reusable asset – whether as a blog post, podcast, or video.
Perfect. I’d lined up the essential elements for a new knowledge management initiative – create knowledge, capture it as a reusable asset, and then share it via multiple channels. There were only two problems with my plan:
- I didn’t have any experiencing interviewing people.
- I had never put together a podcast.
How I acquire new knowledge
Most of the writing I’ve done on this blog has focused on organizational learning, not personal learning. In addition, I’ve focused on leveraging existing knowledge, neglecting acquiring new knowledge.
My desire to create a series of interview podcasts got me thinking about how I learn new skills. Unlike the apprentices in “The Craftsman,” I’m not in a guild. There is no master to pass down knowledge honed over generations. In addition, many of the skills I want to acquire (i.e., podcasting) were invented in the last few years.
Founding Knowledge Architecture has required me to develop the ability to rapidly acquire new skills. When I reflect back on jumping into sales and marketing, accounting and finance, product marketing and development and the countless other new things I have begun to learn over the last year – I can tease out three sources of knowledge which I repeatedly target :
People. Books. Blogs.
People – It turns out that I’m lucky. Josh’s sister Mia is an audio producer and journalist who specializes in podcasts. She and I talked last week and she gave me a wealth of advice and pointed me towards a long list of resources. (Talking to as many people who have knowledge on the topic in question is always my first step in learning a new skill.)
Books – I’m headed to the library this afternoon to pull a couple biographies of interviewers. I’ll probably also pick out a couple “best practices”-type books. (In general, I tend to prefer biographies to best practices books. The insights tend to stick with me better.)
Blogs – I’ve already started adding blogs about podcasting to my Google Reader. Blogs are a particularly good tool for learning modern skills such as social media and emerging technologies. However, blogs work equally well for learning “old-school” skills like marketing, business development, and writing. (The evidence of prior knowledge acquisition sprees is clear in the image below.)
“Do not hurry; do not rest” – Goethe
Once I’ve gathered some interviewing and/or podcasting experiences from other folks, books, and blogs, it will be time to to just try it. Record my first interview. Share it. I can refine and tweak from there. I’ll probably even write about podcasting and interviewing to help me crystallize my thoughts on the subject.
I like what Goethe says about pacing yourself in life – “Do not hurry; do not rest.”
I think his quote also applies to learning a new skill. Take a bit of time to do some research – but get on with it. The doing is where the real learning happens.
What about you? How do you acquire new skills? Feel free to share in the comments below.