Knowledge, information and the power of conversations

Drawing of two people talking, with speech bubbles containing logos of social media platforms

‘A Conversation’ by Khalid Albaih (CC BY 2.0)

On 12th December 2018, I attended the CILIP K&IM Knowledge Management Awards as a representative of NetIKX. As a long-time CILIP member, I’m pleased to see that the organisation is taking knowledge management on board and rewarding the contributions of its members to that discipline. The evening was memorable not only for the well-deserved awards (details of which can be found herebut for the two excellent presentations. The first of these was given by Dr Ray Lester, who spoke on the life and work of Dr Albert John Walford. ‘Walford’s Guide to Reference Material’, in its various incarnations, will be familiar to anyone who trained in library and information management. The CILIP K&IM award for services to knowledge and information management – given this year to Sue Lacey-Bryant of Health Education England – is appropriately named the Walford Award. Walford died in 2000 and printed reference material is viewed by many as superfluous in the digital age, but the importance of a rigorously researched guide compiled by subject specialists cannot be underestimated. In fact, at a time when the provenance of online information is under considerable scrutiny, expertly curated and fact-checked resources are more in demand than ever.

The second speaker was David Gurteen, well known to many in the audience from his popular Knowledge Cafe events. The topic of his talk was ‘Conversational Leadership’, which is also the subject of his online book, or ‘blook’Conversational leadership is about taking responsibility for the changes we wish to see in the world and transforming the way we converse with each other. David defined a leader as ‘someone who has influence’ and stressed that anyone can choose to take responsibility and to engage more: we do not need permission to do so. We live in an increasingly complex world which can be volatile and unpredictable. No single leader can make sense of this world in isolation: we all have unconscious cultural and cognitive biases and overestimate our own knowledge. We need to think in terms of anthrocomplexity – the term coined by Dave Snowden to describe an approach to complex systems informed by anthropology and natural science. 

This may appear daunting on a large scale, but adopting better conversational habits is something we can all do in our personal and work lives. There is still a widespread perception that ‘work’ consists of sitting in front of a screen and ‘office chatter’ is frowned upon as time-wasting. However, research has shown that the most important predictor of success in a group is the amount of social interaction, regardless of the topic of conversation (Alex Pentland, Harvard Business Review 2012). In order to make sense of the world we live in and address the huge challenges we face at personal, social and global levels, we must be willing to learn, change and improve our conversation skills and habits. David invited us to put this into practice by entering into conversation with the person next to us. At the end of the evening there was a further opportunity to network and engage in stimulating conversations. Many thanks to the organisers, speakers and all who contributed to this informative and enjoyable event.


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