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🦉 10x curiosity - Knowledge debt


🦉 10x curiosity

April 26 · Issue #250 · View online

🦉 A weekly sample of links that made me think 🤔

Also published in 10x Curiosity
Something I have been thinking of a lot over the years is the balance between book smarts and on the job smarts. Both are important to career success but in what proportion? Are you better taking time to learn something in detail before you have to apply it or just jumping into the deep end and learning as you go. At one end you have the problem where you may learn (and forget!) a lot of material that is not useful to the work you end up doing, and at the other extreme you may find you never actually get a chance to come up for air and completely fail at the job through lack of knowledge. 
So somewhere in between is probably a happy mix.
An analogous concept is long thought about through in software circle of “Technical debt” which is a 
set of old quick decisions for the short-term benefits, but at the cost of the quality and maintainability of the source code in the long-term.
The main consequence of having the technical debt is the difficulty (up to inability) to add new features, new changes, or even bug-fixes. When someone changes the code in one place, another place breaks accidentally, causing frustrations and confusion. (Sergey Vasilyev )
I think of the knowledge debt as a long plank you are continuously walking out on. 

You repay the debt as you underpin the plank with the fundamentals that you learn. Some times you push yourself to the very edges of the plank, far outside your comfort zone:
This can be good in that it quickly forces you to build new knowledge. As long as you have the time to reinforce and internalise it. If not you may find the debt overwhelms you:
Through career development there is a constant tension between trying to push to new challenges upward but keeping a solid foundation of knowhow underpinning your rise. 
Letting knowledge debt accumulate can slowly bring your career and productivity to a halt. If you have a knowledge debt in an area that is essential to your work, you will find that it takes more time and effort to write new features and much, much more time and effort to fixing bugs. The longer you take in returning the debt, the more “time interest” it will cost you.
Great [knowledge workers] don’t settle on not knowing; but they are also not obesessed about learning right now. They are in a continuous cycle of taking on debt, noting it and coming back to it when the time is right.
Identify your knowledge debts today — find out what you need to understand in
You should, intentionally and tactically, decide which piece of information you can do without, for now. But you should also, intentionally and strategically, decide when to pay back that debt.
This becomes interesting as the new challenges often involve moves that at least on the surface require you to take irreversible steps upwards in an organisation. Irreversible for reasons of money, pride, status — it can be very hard to be seen to be taking a backwards step when you stay in the same organisation. Each level involves a complete know learning curve of knowledge — knowledge debt that needs to eventually be paid back. The faster you move up through the levels the less time you have to pay back this knowledge debt, and the harder it become to go back and learn it.
A person can get away with this as long as there are systems or other experience people around to pick up the critical miss steps that inevitably will occur through the new learning curve. 
People and organisations get into trouble however when this support scaffolding does not exist and leaders find them selves exposed. Without the base of knowledge however they are not even aware of what they don’t know and the peril that they may be in (Think Rasmussen’s Boundaries of Failure model). This gets compounded when knowledge dept gaps become structurally build into an organisation hierachy’s — especially one’s with high turnover. People “get away” with not learning something fundamental to the business when the conditions for failure might not present themselves over the same organisational lifetime as people move through new roles. Eventually however when the perfect storm arises, all of a sudden the house of cards is exposed and disaster strikes.
I’m not sure I have a lot of advice on how to manage this well. If you are good enough to learn quickly then go for it, the so called baptism by fire. Maybe you need to be more aware and take your time to make sure this debt doesn’t get ahead of you.
A continuous learning mindset is a good start. Think Warren Buffet’s example of compounding knowledge. Sergey Vasilyev— provides the following advice 
  • Track the knowledge debt. Do not deny it, do not hide it. Notice when you take some new pieces of knowledge, or you make some decisions, especially if they were suspicious and questionable. Write them down to your notes (or to your diary).
  • Self-review your knowledge debt from time to time. Ask yourself a question on each such belief: Do I still believe in that? Were there any conflicts with the reality? What new data have I denied because they do not fit into this mental model?
  • Peer-review your whole knowledge. Regularly, always. Even if it does not look like a knowledge debt. Never hard-wire the new data into your brain until discussed with others. Raise the various topics from your knowledge at the beer-parties. Visit the job interviews, conferences, meetups. Talk to people.
  • Refactor regularly. This is the most difficult part: drop the unneeded data out, forget it, re-adjust the mental models. Meditation can help here (not the classical one, with no thoughts, only the flow; but the intensively thought-full one).
If you are a leader have a think about how you are supporting your people to get the right balance of knowledge debt, without setting them up to fail. With the leaders job not so much to provide the knowledge as much to encourage the environment in which it can be learnt. Writes Otto Scharmer in Theory U 
… Just as the farmer cannot “drive” a plant to grow faster, a leader or change maker in an organisation or a community cannot force practical results. Instead, attention must be focused on improving the quality of the soil. What is the quality of the social soil? It is the quality of relation ships among individuals, team and institutions that give rise to collective behavior and practical results (p23)
Let me know what you think? I’d love your feedback. If you haven’t already then sign up for a weekly dose just like this.
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More like this from 10x Curiosity
Links that made me think....
Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’ | Free to read  | Financial Times
Theodore Roosevelt on the Cowardice of Cynicism and the Courage to Create Rather Than Tear Down – Brain Pickings
Yeap! Finland Will Become The First Country In The World To Get Rid Of All School Subjects
Defining the problem of elevator waiting times – Signal v. Noise
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