How to break down knowledge barriers with video

How to break down knowledge barriers with video

Posted on: 13 January 2017

I was recently sent a study about how people can collaborate better and it made me think about the importance of video content as a way of achieving this. Here’s the lowdown.

The story of Beta Motors

Beta Motors are best known for their off-road bikes, which they’ve been manufacturing since the 1940s. For decades, when engineering new off-road vehicles, their ideas were tried and tested using clay models.

Using a clay model in product design.

Using a clay model in product design.

But by the mid-90s, this method was causing disputes between the vehicle styling, climate control, engine/power train, and safety design teams.

In one instance, the engine/power train group engineered a bigger, more powerful engine. They were satisfied with their work, but the vehicle styling group were left fuming when the bigger engine raised the level of the hood, ruining the look and feel of the vehicle.

This is known as a knowledge boundary. Each team is working in their own areas of specialist knowledge that they’ve got the experience of applying, and they’ve invested years of their lives in learning it. It’s no surprise that they might be protective of their work and unwilling to compromise with other teams.

However, there’s more than just professional pride at stake - these issues in the early design stages were slowing down production and were proving very expensive to fix further down the line in vehicle manufacturing.

To deal with the problem, Beta looked to find ways of getting these teams to share their expertise and communicate better with each other. The goal was to spark innovation by finding practical ways of making sure these teams collaborated closely during product design.

They called in Dr. Paul Carlile, Professor of Curriculum and Innovation at Boston University, to look at how they could break these groups out of their silos.

Carlile specialises in communicating knowledge across boundaries and how boundary objects - ways we communicate such as drawings, models or video content - can help overcome these obstacles.

His work is particularly useful when we think about how we communicate complex topics with other people so that we can work together towards a common goal. That could be a financial adviser explaining how they will manage a client’s investment portfolio, sharing a revolutionary type of protective sports gear with product designers, or raising funds for companies in an emerging scientific field.

Carlile created a framework that looked at three boundaries and processes to overcome them.

Knowledge boundaries, and how to overcome them

Prof. Paul Carlile's framework for managing knowledge across boundaries.

1. Define basic terms (Syntactic / transfer)

The first step is to develop a set of standard terms that everyone understands and can use to feedback on each other’s work.

A lot of this will sound like stating the obvious but it’s the foundation for any discussion. For the Beta engineers, it meant agreeing on key characteristics - size, shape, weight, functionality - before they started designing.

Another example was when a patient asked their doctor what "magazines" they read to inform their medical practice. It was met by bemusement - Hello! or Closer are usually a little thin on the latest medical research. Instead, she asked what journals her doctor read. She got a better response. Understanding and using the right terms can make all the difference.

2. Translate what it means for others (Semantic / translation)

With a defined set of shared terms, the next stage is to have shared meanings. Information can be interpreted in different ways depending on a person’s background, so we need to look at how our understanding will impact on others and agree shared meanings. In other words, information requires translating.

The engine power train group will want a higher horsepower engine but it will have implications on the vehicle styling, safety, and climate control.

Our series for AHDB Potatoes on SPot Farm is a good example of translating scientific findings into practical advice for farmers to apply on their own farms.

Understanding how what we know can affect others and what it means for them is key to a productive working relationship.

3. Agree a set of common goals (Pragmatic / transformation)

Finally, once we know the terms and what they mean, we can negotiate with one another. This is usually where political and self-interests come into play because it involves setting what you know against other people’s knowledge - Carlile describes it as our knowledge being “at stake”.

So, establishing a common goal is important. For the Beta engineers, it was the shared interest of designing a bike that inspired a natural and instinctive riding style for its motorcyclists.

In his homepage video, Tim Baker, CEO of Timonier, explains the goal of working with his clients is that they can live an authentic life and focus on what they want to experience, not distractions from other people. If that’s the client’s goal as well, there’s a good grounding to build a working relationship.

Once a common goal is agreed, you have grounds for negotiating and understanding the difference your expertise can make to those you are working with.

Bridging the knowledge gap

For most of us, tier three is the level that our day-to-day work takes place. Professionals use their specialist knowledge to solve problems for clients or to assist developing products and ideas.

Illustration of Carlilie's boundary objects

But, it can’t happen effectively without establishing tiers one and two. We often take these tiers for granted. Communication is key throughout these three stages, which is where “boundary objects” come into play. A boundary object is a bridging tool to help groups of people work together despite differing or conflicting interests.

For Beta, it ended up being a particular collaborative engineering tool. But for professionals in other sectors, video content and social media can be a great tactic for overcoming knowledge boundaries - in other words, the communication and marketing challenges that their organisation is facing.

Before you start to tell people about the difference you can make for them, make sure there’s a shared understanding of what you do and why. If it’s complicated and requires prior knowledge, build this into your marketing and communications strategy. Ask yourself:

  • What is my target audience interested in? What do they want to achieve?
  • What does my expertise mean for the target audience?
  • What do they need to know in order to understand the difference we can make? 

It’s also a useful exercise for coming up with new ideas for content. Take the time to help your leads and prospects understand - a key aspect of content marketing. Video content is an excellent resource in this instance. When looking to work with others, video content can establish a common language, define what knowledge means in the given context, and help to align common goals and interests. Only then can they understand the remarkable difference you can make for them.

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How to break down knowledge barriers with video

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