Working effectively with others in knowledge creation (Part 3)

Photo of two men doing a high-five at a beach silohuetted by a sunset

When I am asked to help others with knowledge creation (in the many forms it might take) or I am seeking help for myself, I take some time to define what kind of contribution is sought and needed. A key consideration is whether the place of contribution is the Develop or Produce phase of knowledge creation. (I explain about these two phases in A fresh perspective on knowledge creation work.) There is potential for conflict and confusion if the assistance requested is not the same as the assistance given – and sometimes what was requested, is not actually what is needed.

Here’s some examples of taking a fresh perspective in contributing to knowledge creation work.

Three scenarios to examine

Scenario 1:  CV writing

My friend Marta needed to update her CV. She knew it didn’t contain the words, content or structure that she thought it should have to be effective and get her a new job. She was stuck on what changes to make. She asked me to look at her CV and suggest changes to the document.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?


Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe she really needed was in the Develop Knowledge phase. She didn’t know what she wanted to say about herself – forget what words we’d use on the page! It was not the best use of our time or efforts to sit with the MS Word document and edit it.

She is, of course, the source of much of the knowledge (history of her work experience, her description of her skill, and her aspirations for the future, etc.) that could be communicated through the CV but it was raw knowledge, half-baked and forming. She was having trouble getting it out of her head and making sense of it before we could shape it into words that could be used to help her get a new job. Words that might make it into the CV, but also to her LinkedIn profile; what she would say in a cover letter; or at the interview; or in general conversation with people about the work she was seeking.


Scenario 2: Proposal development

Carlos was a post-grad student who wanted to become a consultant. I was his business mentor and we had started a mentoring journey because he had a good idea for a strategy piece of work for potential clients. I was going to help him find his first client to get himself work experience. He had drafted a Business Proposal for a piece of work with a potential client and asked for my feedback to finalise it.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?


Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe he really needed was in the Develop Knowledge Phase. Never having been a consultant before, he had been struggling to keep the content of the Strategy he would produce, out of a Proposal to be engaged to produce the Strategy.

He had lots he wanted to say, and he wanted to show he knew lots of useful stuff but it was not relevant to product nor purpose of the Business *Proposal*. The content may be relevant to later activity, perhaps for an analysis or report.

I challenged the idea that feedback to finalise the proposal would help him achieve his goal. And I took the approach to treat his draft as a Developed document. I didn’t think the content was fundamentally right, so I focused on the ideas for (re)Development and deferred doing any Producing critique.


Scenario 3: Memorandum of Understanding collaboration

I was asked by the CEO to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between our organisation and an external organisation, as a pre-Joint Venture document. Having never written one like this before, I asked the company lawyer for guidance. He provided a couple of templates, plus an example of a finished one. I took the finished one and deleted text that wasn’t relevant, and inserted rough notes for additional content. This was really rough – and not in legalese which he said he would fix once we got input from the other organisation about what they wanted in the Memo.

I sent the document with a mix of rough and finished text to external organisation, with the intent of being collaborative and simply putting in indicative text to get a collective sense of what the content of the document needed to be. I did this purposefully as I wanted them to have a sense that they were equally contributing to the nature of the content. [Side note: There is an argument that the lower the fidelity of a piece of work, the more others will take ownership. Also be prepared to revise and delete aspects rather than simply refine what is there, particularly when deleting is more valid than compromising.]

Was I asking them to contribute in Develop or Produce phases?


Answer: Develop Knowledge phase.

I was seeking feedback on a Developed document. However the external organization gave it to their legal counsel who treated it like I was in the Producing phase. They refined all my rough notes into legalese and added their own polished content. While they acted graciously, I sensed judgement that we hadn’t been ‘serious’ in the quality of the content we sent. It was clear we were operating with different intent in the review process. I wondered what kind of quality of collaboration we might have had if we both had a shared sense of different phases in the knowledge creation process.


The Role of Synthesiser

As I reflect on these experiences, I see the potential of a role and skill set for people who can bridge the gap between the Develop and Produce phases. Someone who can take half-baked content and shape it into a workable draft. A Synthesiser: A mix of a ghost-writer, investigator, interviewer, critic, editor.

Here’s my wish list of the skills and qualities of a Synthesiser:

  • Listening and asking questions
  • Reading
  • Thinking critically
  • Collecting the fragments
  • Processing
  • Digesting, musing and reflecting
  • Validating – with others or against a brief
  • Structuring thoughts, writing outlines
  • Researching for extra details
  • Organising, sorting and ordering
  • Connecting and linking
  • Presenting in synthesised organised form(s)
  • Having, using, and understanding a notation system that differentiates editorial review vs. content review.
  • Abducting – thinking about what is possible and may not be naturally indicated by the existing thought provided

In the three scenarios outlined above, the role of a Synthesiser would have helped shape all the pieces of content, such that they could be ready for the Produce phase. A Synthesiser could bridge the gap between Develop and Produce phases by asking questions to elicit fresh thought, thinking critically, digest and ultimately offering a structured response to elevate the initial piece of work into something better and richer.


Working with clients

When I am asked to play a role in knowledge/content creation – like the creation of a learning programme or a deck of cards – I first have a scoping conversation to understand how far along the process of creation things have got. I then have an informed perspective from which to manage expectations about how I might contribute, and broadly estimate the time and effort of the creation work. The framework of the two phases of knowledge creation is a useful reference for both parties to explore how we might work well together.


Contact me if you’d like to explore how we might collaborate in your knowledge creation projects.


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 Tyler Nix on Unsplash


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