Why transferring knowledge through discussion is over 10 times more effective than written documents
Connecting people is far less efficient than Collecting while being far more effective – but how much more effective?
Knowledge can be transferred in two ways – by Connecting people so that they can discuss, and Collecting knowledge in written (explicit) form so others can find and read it (see blog posts on Connect and Collect).
Connecting people is less efficient than transferring documented knowledge, but more effective. We can never be sure about the absolute effectiveness of knowledge transfer without some good empirical studies, but there are 2 pointers towards the relative effectiveness of these two methods. These pointers are as follows;
First, the often repeated (and sometimes challenged) quote that “We Learn . .
- 10% of what we read
- 20% of what we hear
- 30% of what we see
- 50% of what we see and hear
- 70% of what we discuss
- 80% of what we experience
- 95% of what we teach others.”
This is similar to Media Richness theory, which ranks media on the basis of it’s richness, with unaddressed documents as least rich, and face-to-face as most rich.
Second, David Snowden’s principle that
- We always know more than we can say, and
- We will always say more than we can write down
- I know (100%)
- I say (50%)
- You learn through discussion (70%)
If you connect people through video (seeing) the effectiveness drops to 15%. Through hearing only (eg podcasts) it drops to 10%. The most effective way to transfer knowledge would be to work together, so the knowledge donor does not need to tell or write, they just have to show, while the knowledge receiver learns by experience. That way you minimise the filters.
- I know (100%)
- I write (50% x 50% = 25%)
- You learn through reading (10%)
Therefore transferring knowledge through Collecting is 14 times less effective than transferring knowledge through Connecting people.
we always know 3 times more than we can say, and we will always say 3 times more than we can write down, Collecting becomes 21 times less effective, and so on.
- Because of these relative efficiencies, Knowledge should shared in explicit form (the Collect route) only when it is relatively simple and when it can be codified with minimum loss of context.
- Where efficiency is more important than effectiveness (i.e. broadcasting relatively straightforward knowledge to a large number of users), the Collect route is ideal.
- The Collect route is also necessary when a Learner (a recipient for the knowledge) cannot be immediately identified, so no Connection is possible (see “speaking to the unknown user“).
- Even then, it is worth “keeping the names with the knowledge” so that readers who need to know more detail can call the originator of the knowledge and have a discussion.
- Where knowledge is more complex or more contextual, it should be shared through discussion (the Connect route) – for example through conversational processes such as Peer Assist.