Editorial Introduction

It is with great pleasure that I introduce this special EOE Feature of the Week, which is an interview with Ted Kahn. Ted Kahn is the Founder of DesignWorlds for Learning, Inc.http://www.designworlds.com , a new Silicon Valley start-up, with an exciting mission that is quite synergistic to our EOE efforts. Ted has been a key contributor to the EOE, especially in the area of encouraging others to contribute their own Features of the Week to the EOE site. In this interview, I ask Ted to help us understand the importance of the concept he calls "Social Know-Who." This interview helps us appreciate that from a learning perspective, the power of the web goes beyond simply connecting people to content and involves connecting people to each other. The EOE aims to connect people to each other in on-line learning and authoring communities, where people can work together towards a shared purpose: Improving the quality and availability of educational software on the web.

-Jim Spohrer (JS)

Social "Know-Who" for Building Virtual Communities:

It’s both what you know and who you know that count!


Ted M. Kahn

DesignWorlds for Learning, Inc. & CapitalWorks, LLC

UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies




JS: Ted, you've been one of those people who has really helped the EOE in many ways by connecting us with people willing to work together for a shared purpose. In particular, you've helped encourage several people to contribute Features of the Week to the EOE. As a result of this experience and others, you've coined the term "social know-who." What do you mean by this term?


TK: In thinking about what I’ve really done in various companies and projects over the years, I think much of my own role and value has been as a broker or "matchmaker" of intellectual capital resources. At the heart of what we are calling "knowledge work" is the need to identify, develop, and support human talent, creativity, and the capacity for effective lifelong learning. Building successful learning communities is really about enhancing and leveraging what people know, do, and create. So effective learning is as much about people finding and helping other people who can assist them in their own pursuits than it is about just finding and using information

Know-who is a companion to "know-what" and know-how. Using a musical metaphor, it’s a harmonic or contrapuntal line that parallels the other more dominant themes that tend to be more audible. I am using this concept in both of the two companies with which I am involved: In DesignWorlds for Learning <http://www.designworlds.com>, our notion of creating a virtual design and learning studio among schools, homes and community/business partners depends heavily on finding talent and people who are willing to work in new ways to help schools leverage their technology and people resources more effectively. In the workplace arena, CapitalWorks, LLC <http://www.capworks.com>, we are focusing on maximizing human capital performance through applying principles of work redesign (such as work effectiveness) and use of appropriate support technologies to align strategy and everyday behaviors in the workplace.

In both cases, human capital and creativity are really about working with people to help other people. Helping people learn to collaborate in developing and using their capabilities and skills to the highest degree possible is, for me, what effective lifelong learning is all about.


JS: Is "know-who" a skill and how does it relate to other skills needed for learning and knowledge work?


TK: I believe "know-who" plays a very important role in all kinds of learning, work, and creative activity. We usually think of it primarily as a "social skill," but I think it complements and is an integral part of other important skills. In the context of knowledge work, it’s a vital part of finding and knowing how to use resources.

In thinking about what we need for education and for supporting continuous learning in an age where new knowledge creation is as important as knowledge-acquisition, I’ve come up with "Seven Knows" as basic skills:

Know-who (social networking skills, locating the key people and communities where competencies, knowledge and practice reside&endash;and who can add the greatest value to one’s learning and work)

Know-what/ Know-not (facts, information, concepts; how to customize and filter out information, distinguish junk and glitz from real substance, ignore unwanted and unneeded information and interactions)

Know-how (creative skills, social practices, tacit knowing-as-doing, experience)

Know "What-if...?" (simulation, modeling, alternative futures projection)

Know-where (where to seek and find the best information and resources one needs in different learning and work situations)

Know-when (process and project management skills, both self-management and collaborative group processes)

Know/Care-why (reflection and organizational knowing about one’s participation and roles in different communities; being ecological and socially proactive in caring for one’s world and environment).


JS: Can you say more about what’s involved in know-who and how it relates to learning and knowledge creation?


TK: There’s something very intuitive about finding key people who have the right kinds of ideas, talents or resources you need just at the right time. I think this is something that master deal makers or "knowledge brokers" have developed into a fine skill--and their involvement as facilitators of change is largely based on their social networking skills. This is going to become increasingly true as we become more and more connected to the Internet and to each other. It’s also something that has not yet been well documented or researched, although it has been recognized before in some communities as a very important skill. For example, over 50 years ago, Vannevar Bush wrote a visionary article called, "As We May Think," (1945) where he predicted our need for both new technologies (e.g., the "memex," the first vision of a personal hypermedia device) to create and help manage the knowledge explosion. Bush also predicted a new kind of knowledge worker called, "pathfinders," who would help establish linkages and cross-references to information resources that would be accessed by these devices.

A couple of years ago, an electronic document called "The Cybrarian’s Manifesto" was circulated on the Net among the library and information science communities just a few years ago when the Web was still a very new phenomenon. This document predicted a new and very important role for librarians in information space that largely paralleled Bush’s prediction of the "pathfinders" role. One example of an Internet business that takes this notion quite seriously is The Mining Company . It’s one of the few Internet startup companies to recognize just how important people are to the information search and access problem. Rather than rely on just intelligent agents and search engines. The Mining Company has built a network of over 500 real people who help others "mine" their way through information space through their own recommendations, indexing, and organizing of information resources. Effectively, they are really playing the role of information brokers and pathfinders. 


JS: How did you come up with the idea of social "know-who"?


TK: This is really a very old idea; what’s new is how many people in different sectors are coming to realize just how important supporting people’s social and informal learning are their different enterprises. The Institute for Research on Learning <http://www.irl.org> pointed this out in a short document several years ago, called "Putting People First&endash; A New Learning Agenda" (Menlo Park: IRL, 1992). More recently, several authors have noted the value of technologies (such as the Internet) and innovation lies in supporting people to be real value creators (e.g., see John Hagel & Arthur Armstrong’s book, Net Gain (Harvard Business School Press, 1997) or Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, The Knowledge-Creating Company (Oxford University Press, 1995).

When I was growing up, my parents and our family and friends talked about schmoozing. This is a Yiddish word that means talking and "shooting the bull" with friends and colleagues, and getting together to share stories, gossip, and jokes--and just have fun. Since I was a child, my mom has repeatedly told me, "It’s not just what you know, but who you know." I’ve now come to understand she was talking about social networking, and many people from different disciplines and cultures have surely talked about this same idea over the centuries. (I’m sure anthropologists have studied this practice across many different cultures for many years, but it’s only more recently that their insights have begun to spread into schools and workplaces). For example, I remember when I was living in Israel may years ago, I was struck by the importance of the practice of drinking strong coffee together with a business associate as a part of closing a business deal between two parties. Meals, water coolers, and coffee pots are now understood to be extremely valuable occasions and locations for the informal spread of knowledge in organizations.

In Silicon Valley, schmoozing or social networking are at the heart of many of our business practices. This may even be a "core competency" of the whole entrepreneurial ethos of what makes a culture of new "start ups" possible (for example, see a recent article by Sally Richards in High Technology Careers magazine, <http://www.hightechcareers.com/doc698/nextstep698.html >. For example, Sean Griffin, CEO of Studio F/X <http://www.studiofx.com >) recently started a social gathering he calls the Cyber Schmooze (for more info, contact <www.Fenton@studiofx.com>. Just last Sunday, Dan Gillmor, leading technology columnist for Business section of the San Jose Mercury News, wrote, "There’s an incalculable value in the schmoozing, the building of relationships that will last a lifetime." <http://www.mercurycenter.com/columnists/gillmor >

"Know-who" is something most of us take for granted because it’s something we do all the time. "Head hunters," human resource people, deal makers, publishers, and producers base their practices on this skill&endash;and for them, it’s a major business proposition. But for the rest of us, especially in education, we tend to pay more attention to focussing on "know-what" and "know-how," rather than the natural and fundamental social context in which learning is situated.


JS: How does "know who" affect your own work and learning?


TK: Some time ago, I noticed something about my own practices which I started discussing with some friends who had similar practices: When we were browsing or reading new books and articles, we all tended to first pay attention to the names of people whose works were cited or just the names of people mentioned in the works. We tended to track more about the people over time rather than just their topic or content. For example, when I browse a new non-fiction book, I will often look in the index and bibliography before I even start reading. I find I want to know who the author has turned to as his or her resource people. I think this is a byproduct of the information and knowledge explosion that Vannevar Bush predicted 50 years ago. In speaking to some of my research colleagues, several have mentioned they no longer have time to read as extensively as they used to in order to keep up to date in their fields. Rather than doing extensive literature reviews in their fields, when these researchers now want to bring themselves up to date, they will usually call up or email one or two key people they really respect and ask them which books and articles they have been reading lately or which ones they would recommend.

Several years ago, I also noticed that people I had known for many years would show up at professional conferences or other events, but would have moved from one company to another since I had last seen them. Collecting and tracking their business cards over time began to create a map of how some key ideas and technologies were moving through communities here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. So if people are the intellectual capital of the knowledge age where we want to keep creating value, we all need to know how to find and maintain contact with the best people, talent, and expertise.


JS: Is there a conceptual or research basis for social know-who and how it affects development of learning and new knowledge creation communities?


TK: Social know-who starts as a kind of personal or tacit knowledge, something that many people do, but can’t articulate or explain easily. When several people play active roles in using these skills within (and between) different learning communities, it can then develop into a very effective social practice.

These practices have been examined as part of what’s called a "situated" perspective on learning. Understanding situated learning and cognition has been pioneered by anthropologists and other researchers at both Xerox PARC the Institute for Research on Learning for over a decade <http://www.irl.org> and this work has now spread to many other research labs, universities, schools, and workplace settings. It is base on the fact that learning is fundamentally a social enterprise and it is happening all the time; we are often just not aware of anywhere near the full scope or scale of how much learning is taking place&endash;and by whom.

Learning is something people do to become more productive members of various "communities of practice" to which they want to belong (see Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge University Press, 1991) and Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice (Cambridge University Press, 1998). Learning helps people acquire and use the kinds of knowledge and skills that are central to the activities and practices of these communities. For example, if you want to become a good jazz musician, you listen to a lot of jazz, learn to improvise through playing with different kinds of jazz groups and you "hang out" with musicians who have become very good at the kinds of music you like. You can "study" different jazz techniques and de-construct famous pieces or solos--but to really learn jazz, you have to play jazz and become a jazz musician. The same can be said for becoming a world class artist, scientist, writer, or medical doctor.

Since all of us belong to many, often overlapping communities of practice (some of which may include members spread all over the world), social know-who has to do partially with knowing who the brokers or leaders are in these different communities&endash;i.e., which people are most likely to have key connections with other communities where we want to affiliate--and also understanding the "map" of how these communities relate to each other. The social connections between these people and between these communities are a key part of how people create value. In Hagel and Armstrong’s terms, virtual communities add value by enabling information users or consumer to also become knowledge creators--and in order to do this, there must be an authentic audience or user community that is seeking the new knowledge being created.


JS: Do you see on-line communities, such as the EOE and those created with our GOE on-line learning community starter kit, as fostering the development of "social know-who?"


TK: I feel that social know-who is both a necessary component of creating successful learning communities, as well as an important "value added" aspect of what such communities provide its members and participants. Tom Kalil (Director of the National Economic Council) made a very important point when he said that the real value of the Internet is in "leveraging cyberspace"--that is, in expanding and maximizing the "small efforts of the many."

I believe the whole architectural approach that has been taken by the EOE, in actively soliciting and publishing contributions from its members, in structuring resources, and in providing an easy to use GOE structure to help people set up their own local EOE communities, is something that also really encourages people to get to know each other and their interests. For example, MERLOT helps connect Learning Technology Coordinators across the 22 California State University campuses <http://merlot.csuchico.edu>. It is based on the GOE model, and they've taken the basic model of the GOE and done a very nice job in expanding the "profile section." This is a clear case of leveraging the work of a community and adding value for others.

In another example, two colleagues and I, together with three other "mentor coaches," used the Web as "matchmakers" in helping find over 40 key educators from 14 different developing and developed countries to participate in collaborative learning projects. We virtually paired up 14 different sets of partners prior to having them meet each other and work together, face-to-face, at a 3-day international conference/workshop in Israel last year called "The Art, Science and Technology of Learning for the 21st Century" (ASTL) <http:// www.teleproj.com>. One such collaboration that I helped mentor between Edenvale Elementary School, an elementary school in one of the poorest regions of San Jose, CA, and the Idalina School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has now blossomed into a very active collaborative, comparative research and arts project. Elementary school students and middle/high school students who have never met one another, face-to-face are collaborating virtually to compare the water pollution in both countries as they also explore how they can use electronic arts to raise public awareness&endash;and action&endash;around this problem. <www.garlic.com/~lullah/brazilus/water.html >


JS: Social know-who is more than just having contact information for people. What are some of the key ways that people can be of value to each other in an on-line community?


TK: There are several typical functions that people play in providing value to each other in virtual or online communities:

    • Locating or pointing people to good resources
    • Brokering (e.g., helping two parties come up with a collaborative project that truly meets the needs of both parties)
    • Matchmaking (seeing how resources, knowledge and core competencies of different people and communities can help leverage one another--and referring people to other people who can add value or gain from their interactions together)
    • Schmoozing or "kibbitzing" (the kind of informal chatting that goes on around coffee pots, water coolers, in restaurants, bars and coffee houses).


Q: "Firefly" and "Six Degrees" are leveraging technology to help people find others with shared interests and social connections. How do people actually use these technologies? I've also heard of a service in which you register your friends and colleagues names, as well as indicate your travel plans, and it automatically sends out a notification when you will be in the area. Have any of these early experiments resulted in practical payoffs or benefits to those who participate?


Thanks to the reference of a business colleague, I was recently referred to (and have now registered with) the Six Degrees Web site <http://www.sixdegrees.com>. This site is based on the "small world" phenomenon, the idea that everyone is connected to just about anyone in the world through no more than six degrees of separation (i.e., someone who knows/is connected to someone else, who, in turn, knows someone else, etc.) I am exploring how (or whether) this kind Web service really adds value to what I already do informally and socially. However, what really intrigued me was an article by Sandra Blakeslee, "Mathematicians prove that it’s a small world," which appeared recently in the Science section of the New York Times (June 16, 1998). This article summarized recently published articles from Nature and New Scientist on some fascinating mathematical studies of the power of "short cuts" or "linkages" in different kinds of networks. They have shown that by creating these remote linkages in otherwise fairly orderly networks, one radically shortens the time or number of links one would have to traverse in order to reach the kinds of people, information or resources that would normally be completely out of reach. Basically, these studies really support Kalil’s notion of the power of "leveraging cyberspace"--not just with distributed computational resources, but people links, as well!


JS: Ted, you'll recall a discussion we had several months ago, in which we talked about encouraging "exemplar behavior" by members of the EOE, and then providing them a "soap box" to talk about their activities in such a way that others could use as a model for making their own contributions to the EOE. What do you think are some of the exemplar behaviors, and how can we leverage "social know-who" to stimulate more of the exemplar activities the EOE is trying to encourage.


TK: Over the past six months, I have had the privilege of playing broker or "midwife" to three different EOE "Feature of the Week" articles, written by Tristan de Frondeville (School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA), Scott Muri and Bruce Andrews (The Celebration School, Osceola County, Florida), and Boris Berenfeld (TERC and The Concord Consortium, Concord, MA). Each of these authors discovered the EOE in different ways; for some of them, I was their personal host and introduced them to the site; for others, I helped show how their own knowledge (and that of their students) could be leveraged through use of the site and how their experiences could add value for other EOE members.


Just as Howard Gardner helped us all realize there are many different kinds of intelligence, rather than just one, I think this is true for exemplary behaviors in an ever-evolving virtual community like the EOE. Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve Board, recently pointed out that no product or service really has any intrinsic value outside of a need or desire by other people to acquire, use or supplement these products or services. This means that we can’t expect one form of participation by any individual (or group) in a learning communities such as the EOE to be valuable to all of the members. To go back to something that John Dewey said a long time ago, "Knowing is literally something which we do." This means that unless we actively use, question, interpret, augment, supplement, and spread knowledge resources to others, their value is always latent&endash;potentially very powerful, but practically inactive. Here is where social know-who comes into the picture: By creating a "critical mass" of pathfinders, knowledge brokers, matchmakers, and schmoozers, we can help turn the large latent asset value of the EOE into real active value. And, to me, that’s exemplary behavior in any community.



1I would first like to express appreciation to the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), where I spent several years as a member of the research staff absorbing ideas related to situated learning and communities of practice which clearly underlie this article.

I also wish to thank my dear friend, Dr. Sherman Rosenfeld of the Weizmann Institute of Science <ahava@inter.net.il>, and Dr. Uri Marchaim <uri@migal.co.il>, both of whom were my fellow co-organizers of the international educational ASTL Workshop/Conference in Israel in November, 1997 <http://www.teleproj.com>. This conference embodied the practices that are described in this article. It was only through the use of our combined social know-who, augmented by email and the use of the Web, that this conference was ever able to come about. I owe a special debt to Sherman Rosenfeld for these ideas, as we have both been practicing and using them for as long as we’ve known each other (and longer).

And, last but certainly not least, special thanks to Jim Spohrer and Martin Koning-Bastiaan, as well as to John Lilly, Lori Leahy, Lucy Thompson, Anil Srivastava, Jeremy Roschelle, and Byron Henderson for all their interest and encouragement in getting me personally involved with the EOE since its inception.

2 Kalil, T. A. (1996). Leveraging cyberspace. IEEE Communications Magazine, July, 1996, 82-86.



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