A few weeks ago I wrote a post about touch which generated a few comments on my blog, and posts elsewhere from Matt, Johnnie, Brad, David that I know of. I was suggesting that touch – physical touch – was something we should consider more when talking about knowledge management (and actually I was thinking about knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer in particular). I was intrigued at the reactions – people either seemed to like the idea or dislike it. Brad Hinton pointed out that “touch is a touchy subject” and he’s quite right. Johnnie Moore suggested it was an elephant in the room that needed to be talked about.

So we talked about it yesterday, Johnnie, Mark Earls and me. Here’s Johnnie’s post with the podcast and a great time-tagged summary of our conversation. And a link to an earlier related article I wrote some time back on “The Autism of Knowledge Management”.

Why do I think this is important for knowledge management? I’m not completely sure yet, but I have a very strong feeling that we need to examine much more closely the notion of knowledge as embodied and human. So I’m playing around with some representations, of which this is one. Notice where the really difficult stuff is with high stakes attached (performance, expertise) and where the majority of our effort is typically devoted? Any wonder why KM is not taken seriously in so many places?


7 Comments so far

Shawn Callahan

I can’t quite remember where at the moment but I was reading about the concept of virtual distance and how one can feel closer to someone who you have never met f2f though intense virtual communications.

I thought of this looking at the diagram and thinking that the x-axis might not be linear.

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 04:40 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Yes this is something I’ve been wrestling with… from one perspective the linearity is useful, from another it isn’t, because in real life we often shuttle between modes of interacting and relating. But as an abstraction, it seems helpful to clarify some aspects of why closeness matters. For example, I think “touch” distance (and touching) makes it much faster and easier to get to a state of trust (or non-trust), caring (non-caring), familiarity and rich knowledge sharing. That’s why I ended up having the Y axis being a “think about” axis.

On virtual interaction there’s also a lot of documented cases of perceived closeness through online interaction which does not successfully translate into emotional closeness on physical meeting. There’s a strong role played by the imagination (simulating/imagining physical closeness through the proxy of language) I think. Sometimes that works (with time and effort), sometimes it doesn’t. What strikes me however is that in touch-distance, that sort of ambiguity is much less evident. As I said in the podcast, touch is never neutral.

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 04:55 AM | Comment permalink

Eva Schiffer

Working in an inter-cultural organisation but being located in the US I have a lot of discussions with colleagues from South America, Europe (I’m European) and Africa, about the different levels of closeness or distance that we feel comfortable with and a tendency that seems to be general: We agree to conform with the standards of those who want the greatest distance and the least touch. This is great on the one hand, because it means that no-one is getting into the position of feeling harassed. On the other hand though it means that those of us who come from cultures that generally live in closer contact with each other, feel like we are slightly freezing the whole day (and I do feel for my African colleagues in that respect...). I think this issue goes beyond the actual physical touch and includes everything that we summarize under the label “human touch”, such as using humor, talking about not strictly work related issues, sharing food etc.
Thanks for this food for thought

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 05:56 AM | Comment permalink

Great to see this topic up again.

There are some very interesting psychological studiesa round touch and well being.  I have seen some which are related to mental health and the elderly.  this is where we have elderly people, particularly in nursing homes etc, where they do not get touched enough - or hugged etc- and how the impact of someone regularly hugging, holding their hand etc makes a huge difference to their everyday well being.

Maybe the concept of touch in the workplace related to the concept of happiness and well being in the workplace.  i work in a small organisation where people will often give a hug of reassurance, congratulations etc and it seems to be very acceptable to do this.  Such a good sign in a government organisation
More food for thought

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 06:25 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Thanks Eva, Nerida. I like the link to well-being, this must have some sort of impact on the effectiveness of working relationships.

Eva, you have reminded me of Edward T. Hall’s work on high context and low context cultures - high context cultures (such as Japan) are very socially oriented, where knowledge transfer depends on a shared social knowledge (largely tacit) and common ground which makes it hard for “outsiders” to relate and access information readily. Low context cultures (as in white middle class America) work very much on explicit coded information, which makes them very accessible to “outsiders” but lack mechanisms for building shared tacit knowledge easily. There are benefits from each, but with the benefits also come costs.

Posted on March 21, 2008 at 09:57 AM | Comment permalink

Luke Naismith

NLP has a fair bit to say about touch as well Patrick. The ability to anchor a request of someone by touching them at the same time (such as a hand on their upper arm) as giving them that request in particular.  The receiver is more likely to complete the request if they are touched than if not. 
The whole notion of complementary therapies is aligned here.  The importance of massage for a physical connection with others - even if the physical connection does not have remedial benefit.  Nerida’s holding hands is similar.
I think that you are on a winner here Patrick.  We need to progress KM away from simply the taxonomic or technological bits and pieces and extend it into the personal domain - but not just intellectual but also physical and dare I say emotional as well. 
Through this interim step, we might be able to get on the path to Knowledge Reiki that we started to talk about at actKM a couple of years ago!

Posted on March 23, 2008 at 04:07 PM | Comment permalink

Anytime I see Trust, I also think Identity…

Posted on April 11, 2008 at 04:13 AM | Comment permalink

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