Three Ways to Stay Smarter than the Machines: Harold Jarche Interview

Harold Jarche

Harold Jarche is the expert behind the Personal Knowledge Mastery Model of seek > sense > share. Focused on helping individuals, teams and networks continuously learn, the approach is in use in many organisations, including the NHS, Domino’s Pizza, and Bangor University. It’s a big inspiration to us at Anders Pink, and we’ve shared our take on seek > sense > share here. We caught up with Harold to find out more about the approach and what it means for teams, individuals and L&D. We cover

  • Why it’s more important than ever to take control of your own learning and build your network
  • Why you need human filters as much as machine filters to make sense of information
  • How teams need to |cross the moat” to share better at work
  • Three steps to stay smart that you can start right now with seek > sense > share

Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) and Seek > Sense > Share seems to be everywhere – why is it taking more hold now?

I think one reason PKM is getting more attention now is how because jobs are changing. At its core PKM is about individuals taking more responsibility for their learning, and organisations giving up some control. And you have to take control as an individual. Automation is eating up jobs everywhere – as Ben Hammersley puts it, any work that can be put into a flowchart will be automated. So you really have to build your own personal mastery discipline in the new economy. As the economy changes it’ll be more about the individual becoming what I call a “knowledge artisan”. The power of your network becomes more important within that. Machine Learning is great, but machines can’t cooperate and exchange value in the way that humans can in networks.

“You have to take control as an individual – automation is eating up jobs everywhere, the power of your network becomes more important.”

What’s your view on the focus on courses and the curriculum in learning versus this approach?

Having a curriculum is wrong. Someone decides that 1 percent of one billionth of the knowledge in the world is what we should teach people? Well how do you decide on what to cover? How do you keep it relevant? Courses are like stock, they go out of date – knowledge is more like flow. It can be scary for people to realise there are no prescriptive recipes. But courses don’t work for complex issues. You have to find our own way and build your own habits around seeking out information, making sense of it, and sharing it. Try lots of different practices and tools to find what works for you. I blog fairly frequently, others write more, others write less, others use mind maps to make sense of things – but there’s no right practice. It’s whatever works for you.

“Have a curriculum is wrong….they go out of date. You have to find your own way and build your own habits around seeking information.”

How long does it take to build good Personal Knowledge Mastery habits?

Seek/sense/share is a journey. I use a 40 days framework to give people time to get into the habit, and for some that may not be enough. PKM is like an onion, seek > sense > share is on the outside, but there are lots of different ways of setting up your networks, using tools, developing habits, different ways and times to share. So it’s easy to understand but it’s more like a language – you have to speak it to embed it. Once you do that, it changes the way you think, but the only way to get there is to do it.

Don’t expect immediate results when you start building PKM in your team – everyone gets an Ah-Ha! moment at a different time. You may not find a piece of information relevant today, but you might find it relevant in 6 months when you’re trying to solve a new problem. That’s why developing sharing habits is so important, touching base with your network every day, sharing one thing – otherwise you slip back into old behaviours. And you have to expect that it will take time to build up the knowledge base. You won’t get results overnight, you’re building a network and a knowledge repository, and that takes time.

How much time does it take in practice?

You need to develop seek, sense, share habits that work for you. It’s different for everyone. Beth Kanter suggested spending 15 minutes twice a day to seek content, then an 30 mins a day for sensing, 15 minutes twice daily for sharing, and that works for some people. My habits are different on the road and at home. I force myself to write my Friday Finds posts every two weeks, I go through my social bookmarks and write a blog post sharing what I’ve found. Sometimes I see a pattern, sometimes I don’t. But I force myself to write it, that’s how I make sense of things.

You should share something every day. Sensing and sharing means working out loud. For me working out loud feels so natural, but I’m a blogger. Working with clients, we try to create habits, so for example share one thing a day. If you don’t know what to share, put yourself in other people’s shoes. If you know something, someone else might not, so share and tag it. Even if they don’t use it today. Working out loud and sharing become more like Group Knowledge Mastery. Working out Loud helps to create knowledge artefacts for groups.

“You need mechanical and human filters to help you seek new information.”

There’s a lot of information out there – how do you avoid getting information overload when you start to seek?

You need machine and human filters to help you seek. “Seek” is about bringing in new information. There is a risk when you do this of information overload, or filter failure as Clay Shirky puts it.I think you need two types of filters, mechanical and human filters. Mechanical filters, algorithms help with discovery, but the risk with relying only on these is that they can be gamed, the stuff at the top of Reddit is what people are paying to get it to the top rather than what people think is most valuable. So you can’t rely just on machine filters. You have to rely on people, so you need human filters too.

Where do you find the “human filters” to help you sift through content?

Well, you need go to beyond the next cubicle to build your network. Tim Kastelle identified three types of human (judgement) filtering:

  • Naive filtering – just asking the person nearest to you, in the next cubicle. That’s not very reliable.
  • Expert filtering – find the expert online and rely on their view, googling an expert.
  • Network filtering – using a variety of people to filter information. That’s more resilient and diverse.

Developing those network filters is key. People who have diverse networks have high value. You build those networks through cooperation and building trust in people.

So let’s say you’re interested in knowledge management. Are you connected to a network that will give you a diversity of views, can you make decisions about how you want that
diversity to work, for example by location, experience? You need to map your network, visualise it. And then you have to question your network: keep asking: are these people
adding value or just noise, why am I following them, should I follow different people? For your core professional topics, I think you need resilient, diverse network. There’s a course from Howard Rheingold called Crap Detection 101 – we all need that. We need to build trust in people in our networks. That might be a social network, which is wide, or a community of practice, which is a tighter network, or in work teams.

“People engage with social networks outside work, but they’re missing a trusted place at work where they can bring in ideas from outside and ask questions.”

What’s the relationship between seeking and sharing content on social networks, like Twitter, and then bringing that to share in the workplace? There seems like there’s a gap there.

I think there’s a moat between the two. Most people are engaged in professional social networks outside of their company. And of course they’re engaged in getting their work
done. But those things are disconnected. There isn’t really a place at work where they can bring in ideas from outside, ask questions in a non hierarchical way. That’s the missing link in lots of
organisations – a trusted space to ask what ifs, float ideas, ask questions, get feedback from colleagues. If you do that on a wider social network, you might get some troll who whacks it
down. But in a tighter network, like within a team, where you have shared deadlines and deliverables, you can or should feel more confident to work out loud in that way.


What are the tools like for helping people to seek/sense/share?

I don’t think the L&D vendors have created good tools to support it. When you look at the best tools for Learning on Jane Hart’s list, how many of them are actually L&D tools? Twitter and Google aren’t. So I think we let humans figure out the complexity and use the tools for whatever purpose they want. I recommend you try a range of them and see what works for you. I personally use Slack to keep in touch with my communities of practice, Twitter for my social network, less so LinkedIn. My Blog for making sense and sharing ideas, Skype for conversations, Diigo for social bookmarks, Feedly (RSS reader) for aggregation.

You’ve said that L&D should be asking “How can we help you work” – what does that mean for seek > sense > share?

I worked with CIGNA insurance in the US, and they were moving from their corporate university to a performance consulting model. We helped developing L&D staff into performance consultants to find opportunities and help people do their jobs better. They moved to a ‘Do it Yourself’ learning model, and PKM was a key part of that. But for L&D to change, you have to first model that new behaviour. We helped form a team to apply the seek > sense > share framework for themselves. I find L&D are not always the best people at applying PKM and modelling the behaviour. Maybe they’re less willing to do new things, less curious, maybe they think it will put them out of business. But if you don’t internalise it, it’s not going to happen. PKM scales a lot better than course production anyway, you don’t need a whole centralised planning function to make it work.

What’s the role of the CEO?

CEOs have to model seek > sense > share. I sometimes work with CEOs or C level people who say it’s a great idea for the organization but it’s not for them personally, but in my view it has to start with them. The senior executives have to embrace it. Leaders have a vital role in helping people, they have to model the behaviour or otherwise it’s just lip service. That’s about connected leadership – your role as a leader is to make the network more resilient, by helping to build connections.

Finally, what are some quick ways to get started if you’re new to PKM?

First, use an aggregator and set up a number of feeds to look at regularly. Collect the things you’re interested in in one place, that reduces cognitive load.

Use social bookmarks, get them out of your browser so you can share them if you want to. Clip a piece and add tags and add comments. Collect stuff in a place which is searchable and taggable.

Engage in social networks. Twitter is still the best. But ask why you’re using it, what subject are you interested in. Follow 20-30 people in that field, and check in once a day, and look for patterns. Remove people less valuable, refine the signal, but you need to concentrate on specific topics.

Find out more about Harold’s Approach and consultancy and workshops at
Buy his Perpetual Beta book series here.

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