When you put knowledge formation or creation under an ethnographic microscope what do you see?
At the heart of knowledge creation lies conversation, shared language, agreement on key distinctions, naming of prime concepts, sharing of experiences or beliefs, the explication and testing of patterns.
We need engagement, deep dialog and creative abrasion to suspend individual mental models, grab attention and overcome inertia, we need purpose, perceived value, common goals and difficult questions to drive inquiry, surface and explore connections, deepen our understanding and make sense of things.
Distinctions are knowledge atoms, the way we separate an object from its background and from similar objects. Once we recognize a meaningful difference and apply a name, we start to seek & make connections, explicate tacit feelings and beliefs, test utility, classify and assimilate, make predictions and examine assumptions.
Questions are the key to turning tacit know-how into social knowledge. Questions help knowledge emergence, test beliefs, guard against personal bias and incorrect mental models. The empowering environment or culture for knowledge formation is one where no one is afraid to ask dumb questions as there are really no dumb questions - just think back on the many times you have benefited when someone else had the courage to ask first!
Metaphor and analogy help with explanation, contrasting, connecting and meaning making. A metaphor establishes relationships, encourages finding obscure similarities, exploring emergent differences and improves communication. Metaphors are how we code experiences.
When you next practice ethnography, looking to discover how knowledge flows, where it emerges, why it is hard to capture, who has it - think: distinction, questions, metaphor and pattern - those building blocks will help you make sense of a difficult task.