Knowledge Management and the Divided Brain

Geoff Parcell pointed me in the direction of this brilliant RSA Animate video, featuring renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist.  There is so much in this 11 minutes that you'll want to watch it two or three times to take it in, and a fourth, with the pause button to appreciate all of the humour in the artwork.  Just superb.  Do watch it. [youtube=]

It got me thinking again about parallels between how the brain manages knowledge and how organisations manage knowledge. Ian debunks a lot of myths about the separate functions of left and right hemispheres and emphasizes the fact that for either imagination or reason, you need to use both in combination.

  • Left hemisphere - narrow, sharply focused attention to detail, depth, isolated, abstract, symbolic, self-consistent
  • Right hemisphere - sustained, broad, open, vigilant, alertness, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate.

We share some (but not all) of these left/right distinctions with animals. However, as humans, we uniquely have frontal lobes.

  • Frontal lobes - to stand back in time and space from the immediacy of experience (empathy and reflection)

I think a holistic approach to knowledge management which mirrors the brain will pay attention to breadth, depth, living connections and reflection. This has implications for the way we structure and navigate codified knowledge - moving between context and detail, abstract to interconnected - and also reinforces the relationship between KM and organisational learning (the frontal lobe bit).

I believe that an effective knowledge management strategy will creatively combine each of these components in a way which is balanced to the current and future needs of the business.

In a way, a lot of first generation KM was left-brain oriented.  Second and third generation KM have combined the learning elements of the frontal lobes with the living, inteconnected right brain.  That doesn't mean that first generation KM is no longer relevant - I would assert that the power is in the combination of all three - see this earlier posting on KM, Scientology and Top Trumps!

It's probably the last minute which is the most challenging.  Does your KM strategy,  led self-consistently by the left hemisphere,  imprison your organisation in  a hall of mirrors where it reflects back into more of what it knows about what it knows about what it knows?

The animation closes with Einstein's brilliantly prescient statement:

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We live in a society which honours the servant, but has forgotten the gift."

Smart man, that Einstein chap.

The Genius Test

My 10 year old daughter caught me with this one this morning, it comes from the "Girl's Book of How to be the Best at Everything" (I don't know where she gets her competitive spirit from!). Here's the test. Ask a friend to count the number of Fs in the following text:





What did you get? I got three.

My younger daughter, aged 6 found all six.

I'm claiming being half-asleep as my defence, but the truth is that I was actually trying quite hard!

It's interesting how by jumping ahead to where we think the answers lie - in the more complex areas (longer words) - we subconsciously ignore the familiar (those three "ofs", in case you are still trying to find them!). My six year old is still young enough to give equal weight to every word, so she got it right and jumped up and down on our bed laughing at me, declaring herself to be the family Genius! I'll get even with her later...

It's hard to unlearn how to screen things out, isn't it? I wonder how much insight and learning passes us by in business because it's "cloaked in familiarity"?