In our culture, not to know is to be at fault socially… People pretend to know lots of things they don’t know. Because the worst thing to do is appear to be uninformed about something, to not have an opinion… We should know the limits of our knowledge and understand what we don’t know, and be wiling to explore things we don’t know without feeling embarrassed of not knowing about them.
~ Sir Ken Robinson
“I don’t know” must be one of the most stigmatized sentences in the history of languages. Yet, these simple words are the gate to mind expansion, discovery and thereby growth. Embracing the possibility of not knowing is the first step into exploring and eventually knowing. I couldn’t put it any better than Wislawa Szymborska, 1996 Nobel prize in literature when he says:
This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job.
That is why I decided to create an “I don’t know” manifesto, so we can all remember that it’s ok Not to know, we just have to adopt the right attitude about it.
“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said, “I don’t know.””
Astronomy 101: A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. ~Wikipedia
“Birds of a feather flock together” is commonly used to express how natural it is for people of similar taste/interests/area of expertise… to congregate in groups “silos”. Our instincts as humans suggest that the denser our groups, the more powerful we are. We’d rather spend our time socializing with people who think the same, read the same, sometimes even dress the same as us. And of course such behavioral patterns are brought along to our workplace.
In fact, it has been proven that people at the office are inclined to communicate and discuss ideas with other people from the same silo. Ronald Burt has observed that information circulate within groups before spreading across groups. Leaving thus, big gaps between those silos that only few “connectors” tend to cross. The fragmentation of the information flow within organizations can cost them their survival in an economy as complex, competitive and changing as today’s. These critical gaps are serious inhibitors of collaboration, effective problem solving and innovation. These gaps are what I like to call “Organizational black holes”.
An organizational black hole is a department/division/team/group… that absorbs information and siloes it inside its boundaries preventing it from being shared to the outside.
How to identify organizational black holes?
Organizational network analysis (ONA) can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization — a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible. ~Rob Cross
How to close organizational black holes?
The use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) within organizations has proven to be of great added value for businesses. ONA’s perspective of an organizational network gives great insight on the connections among and between different entities. Most companies don’t even have a comprehensive picture of their employees’ capabilities, how information flows, who are the go-to experts within their organization… X-raying their inner workings helps organizations uncover these black holes and hence, remedy to the situation.
Once the picture of the information flow/collaboration/decision making… network is clear and the gaps pinpointed, focused actions can then be taken. The idea is not to have a massive hairball connecting everyone to everyone else. It’s not realistic and clearly not very efficient. The idea is to create targeted connectivity.
Step 1: Identify key network members -the few people who cross the gaps- and connecting them together. This can help enhance the flow considerably.
Step 2: Insure that these handful of people champion initiatives that build communities (an internal social network for instance), encourage networking and tap into the knowledge of the communities’ key members by making that knowledge available and sharable. Some organizations tend to bring employees together to work on a project when they wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Step 3: Recognize boundary members who bring insights and perpectives of one community to another.
Step 4: Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Networks are very dynamic and the need to measure the progress every step of the way is essential to keep the implemented actions on track. Isolated nodes aren’t welcome but neither are over-connected ones.
“The ability to see how something obvious in one field (such as bicycle chains) can be applied to a problem in another field (such as how to transfer power from an engine to a propeller) is often how new knowledge is created. Membership in multiple communities enables that.” ~Tharon Howard, Design to thrive.
Are you willing to let such knowledge slip out of you hands? We know you can’t afford to.