Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) Part 2: Start with Self-Awareness 

Part one in this series introduced Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) as a method to improve workplace learning in the network era. Before thinking about the tools and the people that will help you practice PKM, consider how your own mind can best support this process.

Grants management has been evolving from a transactions and compliance role to one that is helping convert data into information into knowledge. As we manage the systems and processes that enable sense-making in this new context, new tasks may require new ways of thinking. The usual linear procedures of grants management may not be effective against complex contextual problems that appear from nowhere. Creative solutions to such challenges cannot always be conveyed thru procedure manuals or white papers. They come from new mental connections that form over time thru networked social learning and sense-making, both important practices of personal knowledge management. Raising your self-awareness of the habits of mind below will provide the soil from which these practices can grow.

Habits: Habits build over time with the tools we use, the roles we take on, and our comfort with the status quo. Fear of failure and lack of time to experiment are common blocks to improving on our habits. Some old habits can have hidden and higher opportunity costs in the long run. Tools that were originally meant to improve efficiency can become problematic. Habitually reacting to every email notice, smartphone beep, and online distraction can decrease our productivity.

Some tools can now be streamlined and seamlessly integrated with other tools. It just takes time to learn about these new features and incorporate them into regular practice. Techniques such as the “No.Right.Now” method can help you break away from old patterns and crutches. Try scheduling time for exploring new tools and methods. Small chunks of practice can incrementally open up space for experimentation, focus, and reflection.

Attention: Although it continues to be a buzzword in some business circles, multi-tasking is not always conducive to staying on track with your most important goals. Clearing your mind (and your desk) of distractions can promote a more positive state of flow. Psychology professor Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term flow to describe the combined levels of skill and challenge where the mind is optimally engaged and productive.

Are you feeling overwhelmed and far from flow? Practicing meditation, even for just a few minutes a day, can improve your awareness of mental distractions and your ability to calmly refocus. For an introduction to mindfulness meditation and its many benefits, check out a CBS 60 Minutes news report on mindfulness. Social learning extraordinaire Beth Kanter wrote a nice blog post with a curated list of attention training techniques and her own 10-question self-assessment.

Bias: There are many intentional or hidden biases that can influence information providers as well as consumers. Articles full of opinion and statistical spin are easier to believe when they come in a nice package, come from a well-known source, or concur with our own opinions. Review this visual compilation of biases based on the work of Dr. Daniel Kahneman. Take note of the biases that could be at play within yourself, the people you interact with, or your sources of information. Awareness of these potential biases improves critical thinking.

Tools are available to determine credibility of information sources. Virtual community pioneer Howard Rheingold wrote about some of these tools as part of an important digital literacy he calls crap-detection. (Future posts in this series will cover how other PKM techniques help filter out biased and bad information.)

Self-directed Learning: Clearly-defined career development pathways are now rare. It is mostly up to us to proactively match our own strengths, values, and interests with growth opportunities. And motivations for workplace learning are also moving from the outside in. Author Daniel Pink reviewed decades of scientific research on motivation. He found that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the key drivers of performance and satisfaction with creative and knowledge based roles.

Grants management professionals are fortunate to work in a sector that is already brimming with purpose. Therefore, wouldn’t goals that align with your team’s mission be naturally satisfying? According to Pink’s view, that may depend on how much autonomy your role has. If you have no input on when and how to apply your best skills in support of mission, your motivation may wane. Or if you repeat the same tasks with no opportunity to improve or expand on them, boredom can easily set in.

Where do you find opportunities for reaching mastery in a sector with limited professional development and advancement opportunities? Personal knowledge management engages with your usual trusted networks and resources but also expands your reach to include peers and experts outside your normal circles. Diverse perspectives can help you expand (and challenge) your current knowledge. They can offer feedback that will help you access that desirable state of flow found between boredom and peak mastery.

Goals: Time away from the digital world (and your desk) can help you reflect on what is most important today and how your goals might need to change. Engage with peers and supervisors to help you set achievable goals. Set up a feedback loop by writing down your goals and then measure progress versus expectations along the way. This should help you reflect, adjust, and maintain motivation. When you’re designing goals, give them dimension by making them S.M.A.R.T. or C.L.E.A.R. Personal knowledge management is a personalized process, so it is adaptable to wherever your goals or changes in technology may take you in the future.

Starting out with PKM can be like planning a garden. Think about what will grow in your given climate and soil conditions? What seeds should you gather? In the next post in this series, we will consider which neighbors and experts may have the advice and garden tools you’ll need. So be prepared to get your hands in the soil. Let your curiosity lead the way. And be patient in watching it all grow.


Chad Gorski

Chad Gorski is grants and finance coordinator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @chadgorski.

2 Responses

  1. […] that we’ve introduced the idea of personal knowledge management (PKM) and shown how it starts with self-awareness, some may think it is time to dig into the technology. But not just yet – a PKM process is built […]

  2. […] Parts two and three of this series described how you can improve focus by aligning purpose, goals, filters, […]

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