A fresh perspective on knowledge creation work (Part 1)

Phone of a person sitting crossed legged in a field of grass, waving their hands in a figure 8 pattern in the air which is generating clouds

Everybody’s work involves the use of knowledge. Some people’s work involves the creation of knowledge. Sometimes that knowledge is informally created when you verbally share with people about something you know. Sometimes that knowledge (aka content) is formally created into something tangible that will exist when you are not around and will be referenced by others who will use or apply it.

It sounds like an easy and basic thing to create knowledge. Isn’t that simply writing or recording stuff in some organised format? Depends on what you’re creating, why you’re creating and for whom you are creating it!

Much of my knowledge creation work results in tangible outputs like a course, a learning activity, an article, a podcast recording, a tool or resource (i.e. deck of cards), etc. I have a substantial portfolio of things I have created over a 40-year period.

With all this experience, I’ve identified two different yet related phases in doing knowledge creation: I call them Develop and Produce phases. My appreciation of the difference of these phases has helped me collaborate more effectively with others; enabled me to set appropriate expectations with clients or collaborators; and choose the best context and tools for doing knowledge creation work.


This article is part of a 3-part series. In Part 1, I explain the idea of Develop and Produce knowledge phases. In Part 2, I share practical examples of what I do and use in each of the two phases. In Part 3, I explain/share advice for working with others in content creation.


Characteristics of Two Knowledge Creation Phases

In Develop phase, the intent is to discover emergent ideas; formulate questions; and explore possibilities. In this phase, the knowledge creator is often internalising multiple sources of knowledge, then gestating new knowledge. It can be difficult – and may be unreasonable – to have emotional distance and objectivity as the creator of knowledge during this phase.

In Produce phase, the intent is to refine and polish the knowledge to produce an output that can be used or experienced by others. In this phase, the knowledge creator externalises what they know (or are knowing), and applies contextual criteria to shape the knowledge into a product that fits a purpose and intended audience.

Here’s a table to compare and contrast the characteristics of the two phases.

Develop Phase Produce Phase
Partial form/unformed
Half baked’
Unknown containers
Creates value only for yourself or the internal team
Context agnostic
Discovery for serendipity
Emergent form and function
Undefined focus
Condensed, Crystallised
Constrained to container
Creates value for others (external)
Expression for accessibility
Defined form and function
Focused for an audience and purpose
Prototyping > Publishing


Develop Phase: Content without the pressure of form or style

In the Develop phase, it’s essential not to constrain knowledge creation activity by producing a draft of a final product. It’s best to decouple the emerging content from any potential style or form. Let the idea surface. Formatting comes later when making choices for the audience and the value you want them to gain.

In Steve Johnson’s TED Talk “Where good ideas come from“, he proposes that ideas are developed from slow hunches that take time to evolve and incubate, possibly even remaining dormant for several years. A great description of the Develop phase! Smaller hunches collide with other ideas and they potentially become breakthroughs. When this connectivity occurs, it offers new ways to involve other people who may have a ‘missing piece’ that will build or improve the original idea.

In the Develop phase, you might switch back and forth from a macro to micro perspective of the content. This allows for new ideas to emerge. You revisit where and how things connect together. You may find new ways to frame or connect things — without the pressure to sacrifice anything. It’s an incubation, experimental period. Anything goes!

Develop-phase content looks like scribbles, rough notes, good notes, drawings, collection of facts, bookmarked references or books, half-written paragraphs, outlines, disparate bullet points or lists. In Develop phase you are most likely to start with a blank page.


Produce Phase: Focus on generating value

In the Produce phase, the goal, as Seth Godin would put it, is “to ship”. Knowledge leaving the Develop phase can go out into the world to be used. This is the point where the knowledge acquires value. Value such as revenue; building or enhancing reputation; or enabling others to apply it in their context.

Produce-phase content looks like a blog, a book, a video, a workshop or course, a session plan for the workshop or course, a report, a video, a podcast, a presentation, a slide deck for a presentation.

If you start with a template or form, then you are already moving into the Produce phase; the context will be shaping the content. If you give something a name or title by which it is to be known, you are on the boundary of, or over the line into, Produce phase. That’s analogous to giving a baby a name once it’s born or about to be born. (During the gestation of a baby, i.e. develop-phase, humans don’t tend to assign a name!)

The Produce phase transforms fuzzy knowledge into something is relevant to a person, purpose, place, or context. The context shapes the developed content. As a produced piece of content, its now possible for the knowledge to be Mobile and Immutable (as John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid describe in their book “The Social Life of Information“, pp. 197-205). Mobile because it’s now in a form that can stand apart from the knower, and circulate across people, time and space. Immutable because it’s been fixed into a form that can be relied upon to be consistent and re-usable.


Valuing the Develop Phase

Knowledge creation starts with the Develop phase. Often this is internal and invisible to others. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t get sufficient attention, or isn’t treated as having value in its own right. Content in the Develop phase may appear unordered, incomplete, nonsensical and tentative; and thus socially risky to show or involve others who may expect something more.

Once knowledge moves into the Produce phase, it’s difficult (and often unlikely) to return to or revisit the Develop phase. Knowledge that becomes a Product tends to be resistant to being abandoned or destroyed, in favour of coming up with something fresh and better.

However, with a purposeful mindset, your knowledge creation activity may iterate through a series of Develop and Produce phases – to generate the first viable product, and then across the life-span of the product and any of its derivatives.

Image-D+P Phases Iterations


What does knowledge creation with the two phases look like?

The two phases of knowledge creation activity are illustrated in this advice for Writing a recommendation for others.


Well, that’s the concept! In Part 2: What knowledge creation really looks like take a deeper dive to what’s happening below the surface.



Helen Palmer is Founder of Quello. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people – especially those creating knowledge – can create better things for others. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

This is a variation of an article that was originally posted on rhxthinking blog.

(Amended) Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash


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