Fueling Knowledge with Feedback

Posted on March 12th, 2013 at 5:33 pm by lmoulton

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Other activities have kept me away from blogging about my knowledge fascinations but I have plenty to write about and will put in more time this year. The pressure to participate in and engage with others online mounts, and for me there are just not enough hours in the day to share, debate, discuss and socialize. My work requires using an electronic device more than twelve hours every day. Just to stay current, read what needs reading, responding to correspondents in thoughtful ways, learning new tools, learning about people and absorbing their work output, and writing for clients and professional publication is a perpetual endeavor. But I wonder, how does all the electronic communication contribute to one’s knowledge-base?

As it is for many others, my work life is too often more reactive than proactive. In order to invent, contemplate, evaluate and analyze, I need to build a moat around the inflow. But that moat can be isolating and limit access to new communiques and interactions. When I am in a reactive mode, allowing anyone and anything to interrupt my thinking and creative space, the agenda changes and the proactive brain skips from task to task. Sometimes that spontaneously inserted activity is OK, or even pretty good, but there are days when it is soon forgotten, does not accrue to me any new knowledge or expertise.

Requests, inquiries or questions imply that the inquirer places some value on my expertise or opinion, and that is flattering. However, there is concern for the possibility, or even probability that my response does nothing positive for the requester. That suspicion is borne out by the result of some recent exchanges, which are fueling this commentary.

The types of requests that I routinely receive fall into four broad categories: general information about a topic, request for an introduction or name of an expert, help solving a problem, or an opinion.

Responses to my responses also fall into four categories: thanks, thanks with relevant commentary, no thanks but notes with irrelevant or nonsensical commentary, or no acknowledgement whatsoever. I learn something positive from the first two types of responses, but register only negative thoughts from the last two.

Now, I am the first to acknowledge that I do not always respond to every piece of correspondence immediately. Remember the “moat” I have built? When it is filled with “water” or anything that demands full and complete concentration and attention, I do not let email in. Usually, it is a matter of hours but may be several days. However, when I have been asked and respond with information, an opinion, help solving a problem or the names of people to whom I would refer someone, the kind of feedback I receive is important to me.

Early in the life of each social media tool, I was a joiner: LinkedIn, Facebook, NING, Twitter and others, long lost amid the madding chirps and cheeps of so many choices and voices. Most are now neglected except for those instances when I need a diversion, a trigger for new ideas, or a specific topic to research. Content and comments that get pushed to me via email still dominate my daily information feeds, primarily because I find that professionally generated content is more meaningful, easier to digest and well-formed. It takes a lot of energy to decipher and contemplate short passages, to follow obscure links, or to wrap my head around bad grammar and typos (not purposeful abbreviations but real mistakes that change the meaning of a snippet).

This brings me to the main point of this post; it takes energy to engage and mental work to analyze, evaluate, think and correspond thoughtfully. When I do all of these things in response to an inquiry, I’d like to know that my time and thoughts have been received and my effort respected.

Not everyone is going to agree with what I send back to them, and I don’t expect it will always “hit the mark”, but at the least I would like an acknowledgement that the missive was received and my time is appreciated. If everyone who pops a question to “friends,” “contacts” and the world-at-large would also make sure they take the time to let a responder know “message received” or “you’ve given me something to think about” or “your thoughts on the matter are appreciated,” perhaps they would begin to have more respect for the time spent answering. Because they would then be busier responding themselves, it might also curb their passion for casual inquiries that they have no genuine interest in pursuing or the responses that come back.

In work situations, sharing knowledge among our colleagues is considered an important responsibility. When we are asked for help, we try to share, teach, coach or guide, appropriately. We know that our own understanding and learning is enriched by teaching others what we know and this is one way our own knowledge accrues. When we work closely with others, in physical proximity, it is pretty easy to see and sense whether our communications are well received, welcomed or useful. But when we are increasingly in virtual space, that feedback we would have received in person is much harder to come by. Everyone will benefit if we make a little more effort to react more personally and thoughtfully to incoming digital signals. Short and pithy is fine but, please give me something more than a thumb up or three stars. What are you really thinking and why?