Earlier today I participated in the weekly KMers.org tweet chat. This week’s discussion was hosted by Kate Bower, discussing the role of self management and self regulation in personal knowledge management (PKM). There was some dissent as to whether PKM required a certain level of obsessive compulsive disorder — OCD — or whether there it was possible to use more of a mad scientist approach to PKM.
To answer the question, you must first define personal knowledge management. What exactly is PKM?
Wikipedia defines PKM as: “a collection of processes that an individual carries out to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his/her daily activities and how these processes support work activities.”
In my view, there are three dimensions to personal knowledge management.
First, you need an awareness of your knowledge. You have to know what it is that you know. This is challenging for many people, whether out of modesty or a lack of self-awareness, but technology is helping. Tools like desktop search and word clouds can help surface the subjects that we have a keen interest in — our likely areas of expertise and knowledge.
Next, you need to be open to learning. Equally important to knowing what you know is knowing what you don’t know, and being open to learning and growing. None of us have a monopoly on knowledge. Some might argue that PKM devalues the need for knowledge sharing with others, but the opposite is closer to the truth. As we understand what we know — and do not know — we see where we can contribute to the larger group. At the same time, we see how we can leverage the knowledge and expertise of others in that group where we have gaps in our own knowledge.
Finally, you must be open to sharing. Unless your tacit knowledge is applied, is it really knowledge at all? What is the value of knowledge that goes unused and unshared? And the beauty of knowledge sharing is that there is an infinite supply. If I give my knowledge to you, I still retain possession. It’s simply multiplied.
As personal knowledge is shared, the entire organization grows and benefits.
During the course of our chat, several members (myself included) described their approach to PKM as that of an mad scientist. I’m not particularly rigorous about folders, hierarchy and information organization. I’d much prefer to leverage technology to help percolate my knowledge to the top.
There are two excellent tools that can help with this.
First, personal search. Simply being able to search my hard drives for the information is often much faster than navigation down a series of folders, especially since search can look beyond file names into the actual content. Search is built into both my Windows 7 PC and my Mac. For email, I use Gmail, which provides super-fast searches through my entire email archive. There are also third-party search tools that will index your hard drive, but I’m quite content with the simplicity of the built-in search.
Second, word clouds. Wordle.net will take your blog or your Delicious bookmarks and automatically create a word cloud based on the topics that appear most frequently. Word clouds are a great way to visualize the relative importance of topics, as the size of each word is determined by the number of times it appears.
These tools are simply aids that will help you divine your interests (and theoretically areas where you might have some budding expertise). The next steps — growing and sharing — are up to you.
What does PKM mean to you, and what tools and techniques have you found useful?