Information is global. Pervasive.
Information can be measured, weighed, classified and categorized. It’s everywhere, served up by the exabyte (that’s a lot of bytes). And it’s growing… in fact, the amount of information is growing faster and faster as more people generate more information, and as build we build technological systems that multiply any single person’s ability to generate information.
Knowledge is different.
Knowledge is an ineffable quantity. Knowledge is personal. Knowledge cannot be measured, it cannot be classified, weighed, measured or organized.
Knowledge can only be evaluated by the fruits of labor, by it’s exercise and application.
Someone having “information at their fingertips” will never be as productive as someone who’s knowledge allows them to actively leverage that same information to produce tangible goods and services.
How to turn information into knowledge
Turning information into knowledge isn’t difficult in concept:
- Execute: take the information and create something with it.
- Teach yourself. Memorize if necessary.
- Teach others to help yourself learn. When you can explain something several different ways, you know it.
The difference between information and knowledge has real-world implications. Consider the following: Human Resource (HR) departments have a real problem here, because it’s really easy for HR to evaluate information (the computer can filter buzzwords out of resumes) and really hard for HR to evaluate knowledge and competence.
4 techniques for turning information into knowledge
- Keep very detailed and accurate “to do” and task lists.
- Write summary paragraphs on completed projects, using a template to describe who, what, where, why, when, and how, etc.
- After finishing a task, find a way that you can repeat that task in some other context as soon as possible. I do this on a regular basis for maintaining web sites. Once I figure out how to do something on one web site, I try and do the same thing on several web sites very quickly, then I write out the procedure on a private wiki.
- Memorize. Yes. Memorize what’s necessary. I am not very good at mathematics because I have a poor memory for definitions. And if you can’t remember definitions precisely, it’s really hard to prove theorems. This applies to technology as well. Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) rules are difficult for me in the same way because I find it difficult to remember all the rules… and I find it difficult to remember where to find the rules! In the long term, CSS mastery is made easier by simply memorizing the basic rules as fast as possible. Once you memorize something, put it work immediately to lock in the neural pathways in your brain.
Memorization: 1 billion people set an example
Consider the Chinese system of writing, using characters. Simply put, you have to memorize them. And memorization is a severely under appreciated ability in the modern, Western world (it didn’t used to be). Here’s how you can learn to memorize quickly:
- Find an isolated fact. Write it down, perhaps on an index card to create your own flash card. Get it into short term memory. This is actually pretty easy.
- Create a series of true/false questions about that fact.
- Create a series of exercises about that fact.
- Find a closely related but different fact. Repeat.
My friend Sean just rediscovered the joys of memorization, and explained it very well as Bad Deacon’s Super Amazing Memorization Method. You should read it. It’s good. Come back later, we’ll be waiting.
Learn by Teaching
There’s an old saw that goes: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” That’s a dangerous generalization.
If you really want to learn something, teach it to someone else!
Effective teaching requires mastering your material in more than one way. Your first step is personal mastery, understanding for yourself. The second step is understanding in a way that makes sense to your students. This is not always the same thing. Writing out a lesson plan (or a blog post) is the first half, personal mastery. The second half is “debugging” the lesson, teaching the material to someone else such that their understanding matches your own. In my experience, this second process exposes gaps in my knowledge as well. Students ask questions that I haven’t considered.