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.