A few years ago, I completed the Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) programme by Harold Jarche. I was then struck by how well thought through his training programme was. I could immediately use many of these ideas to improve how I develop, nurture and organise my knowledge on a daily basis.
One key idea that Harold promotes is the idea of sharing emerging thoughts and ideas, even if they are half-baked. He calls this “living in perpetual beta”. He predicts that our future will require much more of this mode of knowledge creation. For several years, I followed his advice to live in perpetual beta here on this blog site and elsewhere. However, somewhere along the line, I stopped sharing my half-baked ideas and concepts. It felt to me as if I should rather write about ideas that I am fully convinced about and concepts that I have thought through.
As many of my readers noticed and commented, I blogged less. When I blogged, the ideas were already further developed, language edited and almost final. Some complained that my posts were too long. I forgot about living out loud. I became afraid of making a mistake in public, of sharing a half-baked idea that was dumb! Of making silly grammar mistakes in my excitement to capture and share an idea. I was afraid of writing in my own voice!
It was not as if I have been short of ideas during the last 6 months. I have been living in perpetual beta behind the scenes. I have been pondering how societies and communities can make more decisions in decentralised ways. This was emphasized to me in the way the South Africa government handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole lockdown in South Africa was managed in a very directed top-down manner. Dialogue, feedback or critique was (and is) simply avoided or suppressed. There is almost no focus on building credibility, trust or information flows. Even though I believe decisive action was needed to avert an even bigger crisis, I am disappointed that building trust and resilience never became a priority. Along these lines, I have been brooding on ideas about how to get institutions (like local governments, or small enterprise support organisations) to be more sensitive to the challenges their constituencies are facing today and in the near future. It feels as if distributed knowledge, decentralised decision making, and being more sensitive to weak signals and emerging trends were all connected in a very messy way, and those local institutions that are close to communities must play a central role. Thinking about how we can get institutions and organisations to adapt, make transparent decisions and think about the future filled my days and my restless dreams. Yet, I have little to show except lots of loose ideas. I started to worry that I would lose some snippets of knowledge along the way.
I wrote to Harold to ask for some advice, and he replied by promptly enrolling me to take his course again. For free! (The option to re-enrol is a standing offer to his alumni that I had completely forgotten about). I was sort of hoping he could give me a one-sentence solution, or a link to an app….
The idea of another on-line course during lockdown was daunting. Even though I am used to working from my home office, I have been feeling frustrated by my output and productivity during this lockdown. To my relief, others could better describe how I felt, as novelist Amy Sackville so brilliantly put it here in the Guardian. It felt like I had holes in my thinking, and also in my calendar.
As a result, I approached the course with some apprehension. At first, I rushed through the course. I skipped some of the exercises. Every now and then I would pause at an idea or an insight that I realised had already become part of how I develop new ideas and concepts. I was searching for a simple solution and hoping it would be described in the next lesson.
After rushing through the course, I realised that there were also some key ideas that I had not adopted that could enhance how I work. Some topics required more thought and changes in my habits. For instance, the course contains great concepts on curating information flows and sensing weak signals. I could immediately use these frameworks in my current research.
After a few days of simmering in the back of my mind, I decided that I had to give the course more attention. I went back through the material a second time, this time paying more attention to the ideas that I could adopt to improve my practices. I followed the many links to other sources and authors and managed to only get a little distracted along the way. I immediately made changes to some of my folder structures, how I recorded notes, and how I organised my snippets of ideas.
In addition, I decided to take Harold up on the invitation to his learners for a 30-minute coaching call. Our scheduled 30-minute call turned into almost 2,5 hours of reflection and coaching. Not only did Harold provide me with some useful pointers on personal knowledge management, but he also shared his experience on time management. He listened to the research I am busy with, and connected me to the work of Marshall McLuhan and some others. Thankfully our call was on a Friday afternoon, so I did not have to rush into something else afterwards.
After pondering our conversation for a few days, I decided that my first blog post in five months should be to publicly thank Harold Jarche for sharing his thinking so persistently. I really hope that some of my friends and clients would also take his course. I do not get a commission if anybody signs up. I think that Harold’s ideas are fundamental to what we are trying to get right in economic development and in building more knowledge-intensive economies, and therefore I want more people to know about Harold’s resources.
The answer to my concern that I feel incoherent and overwhelmed with these many loose ideas is to simply share them with my friends and my readers and to allow others to contribute to the refinement of these ideas. Instead of hoarding ideas and snippets and then writing it up when I confident about their coherence, I must be courageous and put my ideas out there. I will better curate the ideas I find interesting.
My intent with this blog is to help the people I care about to make better decisions or to make better sense of their options and potential strategies. I feel better equipped now to share frameworks and material that can achieve this aim.
Harold, you have set a high standard with how you develop, write and share your thoughts. You are a master curator. I will follow your blog more diligently going forward. There is still much for me to learn, and many new habits for me to cultivate to improve my perpetual beta and personal knowledge management.
I guess there are many people that using your ideas without giving you due credit. Despite this selfish behaviour by some, you still continue to develop, refine and share your material. I thank you and I want you to know that your ideas and concepts are valued and are helpful to many.
Thank you for being a role model worth following!
PS. My mid-August resolution is to live in perpetual beta mode. I will share my half-baked ideas more frequently. Watch this space.