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David Eagleman Explains Why Getting Off Autopilot Will Improve KM

Knowledge, regardless of how we eventually slice, dice, or splice it, starts in a brain somewhere. So if we want to “manage” knowledge, we ought to understand a bit about how the brain works. Fortunately, neuroscience is having a moment…well, more accurately a decade. Cool tools like fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) let neuroscientists peek into your brain without poking holes in your skull to get a picture of what is happening in there, real time. Experts like Dr. David Eagleman, neuroscientist and best-selling author and speaker, are helping us make sense of it.  I recently interviewed David as part of APQC’s Big Thinkers, Big Ideas series on tacit knowledge, how we learn, and why getting off autopilot is good for your brain and for your organization.

So what do chicken sexers have that you probably don’t?  Tacit knowledge. Here’s what David said when I asked him.

David: There are two ways that the brain learns. The main way is it picks up on information unconsciously, and you don’t even know exactly how you’re doing it. Once you pick things up and have expertise on them, that knowledge is usually ineffable. In other words, you can’t pass it on to someone else how you do it.

Carla: We call that tacit knowledge, in the knowledge management game.

David: That’s right. In the neuroscience game, we call it implicit knowledge.

David: One of the examples that I use in Incognito is about something called chicken sexing. On poultry farms, when the little chicks are born, they are divided into the male and female chicks because they have different uses. Chicken sexers are people that look at the chicks and put them in the male or female pile. It’s a famously difficult problem because chicks of two-days old look identical. It turns out that Americans tried to figure out how to do chicken sexing for a long time and they couldn’t really figure out a good way to teach it. 

They went to Japan where there was a very famous school on chicken sexing. The way it works there is you pick up a chick, you make your best decision about whether to put it in the male or female pile, and the master stands over your shoulder and says yes or no. That’s all the feedback you get. Each time you make a decision, you get positive or negative feedback. After a while, people get quite good at discriminating male and female but they don’t know how they do it, and even the master doesn’t even know how he does it. It’s a knowledge that’s passed along through the generations this way.

Dr. Eagleman will also be a keynote speaker at the 2015 APQC Knowledge Management Conference April 30-May 1.

You can go to the APQC Knowledge Base to read more of my interview with Dr. David Eagleman, or listen to entire podcast here.

You can watch the full interview with Dr. David Eagleman on The APQC YouTube Channel.

To subscribe to the Big Thinkers, Big Ideas podcast on Itunes click here.

You can connect with me on Twitter @odell_carla and Dr. David Eagleman @davideagleman.