Thursday, 28 January 2016

Want to know how? Ask a London cabbie

"The difference between what can be learned from a map and the knowledge gained by walking over the territory is profound".  So observed the Guardian in a recent editorial entitled 'Knowledge in the information age: take it to heart'. London cabbies imprint their memory by spending months driving the streets, learning every one of 20,000 landmarks and turning by sight. In the age of Google Maps,  smartphones and of course Uber, why bother?  The reason is that the act of driving the route aids learning and most importantly adds context. Want to know the best driving lane approaching the congested Hanger Lane Gyratory system on a Friday afternoon? Ask a cabbie; Google Maps won't help.
In education, there is ample research that shows that the act of writing (rather than typing) aids learning and imprints knowledge. Discussing a topic in class similarly improves understanding and recall.
Both examples of imprinting have applicability in organisational learning activities.  In my work in facilitating knowledge transfer for highly experienced individuals, it's thankless asking them to 'capture' what they know. Think of the golf pro. Ask them to write down their perfect shot and they can't. Ask them to describe it and they find it very difficult (an exception to this is the London cabbie, who must be able to verbally describe to an examiner any one of 320 routes through 25,000 London streets to pass 'The Knowledge'). Observe the golf pro in play and you can see their know-how.
Too often handovers resort to easily retrieved and codified information - files, org charts, contact lists . Not only do these age fast, but they don't have the context for the recipient that emerges from a dialogue or from observation. 
Ironically, there have recently been calls for the London taxi 'Knowledge' to be scrapped. As the Guardian concludes 'Whatever can be looked up instantly, can instantly be forgotten'. 
Photo credit: Bloomberg
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