Last week a group of us from Servant Partners gathered for a workshop on Knowledge Management, ably led by a dear friend to our organization. When our executive director introduced Jason, she shared with us about his ministry involvements in Northwest Pasadena through an organization called Northwest Neighbors. And then, almost as an afterthought she said: “Oh, and he is a rocket scientist.” We all laughed.
As he led us through a great discussion about how knowledge transfer is happening in our organization, he would regularly use examples from his own workplace: JPL. To illustrate a point about distinguishing explicit knowledge from tacit knowledge he would say something like: “You know, like when we were receiving all of the data from the first images of Mars…” Or to make a point about key staff members who hold some specific piece of knowledge: “Like if there is one guy on the team who is just really exceptional at calculating orbits…”
Honestly, I couldn’t help laughing every time he did this. And while we could perhaps argue whether building a spacecraft or church-planting in the world’s slums is more difficult, I felt a sense of awe at what is for him another day at the office.
There was one example from his presentation that struck me and has pressed my imagination a bit the last few days. He said that, at JPL, one of the most successful ways they have fostered a culture of knowledge transfer is through a kind of story hour. Senior engineers are invited to simply tell the stories about designing this spacecraft or calculating that orbit or solving some problem, and the junior engineers bring their lunches and just sit and listen to the older guys tell their stories.
Jason said that part of what makes this effective is that people like to both tell and listen to stories (as opposed to being given some textbook-like document or a bunch of data), and there is an emotional impact that helps binds the knowledge being presented. And the emphasis isn’t as much on the actual results as it is the process of discovery and problem solving.
I confess that I’m really not interested in hearing theories anymore. I want to know how the missonal profundities emanating from the particular guru are applied in their own lives – right now. Not last year, last century or last millenium. But. Right now.
His question resonated with me a bit and I thought about how hearing someone discuss competing theories about rocket science would stack up against story hour at JPL. Scot McKnight recently highlighted a post by David Fitch on “picking out a house missionally”, and as I read it in the context of this larger discussion I thought it was a good example of someone sharing their story of process and discovery; of calculating a missional orbit of sorts.
I have thought before that maybe I should try to write more “theory” here, and there are any number of reasons why that is not what this blog has become. But I have sensed that, in the Christian blog world, theory is elevated. Strong opinions and arguments get readers, links and comments, and while I don’t blog to acquire those things, I have wondered about what unique contribution I am making here.
I think I’m pretty happy being a story hour kind of girl, though often enough I don’t feel very far along in the journey. But then I remember the kind words Rebecca spoke and I am reminded that stories that don’t have all the orbits calculated can useful too:
This is why I was glad to find The Margins. Because the story is being told while it happens, there is no over-arching thesis to be proven. Her brain has not had time to protect her from the memory of being scared for herself and her children. Because of this, her faith in the midst of all she is going through shines all the brighter. Read especially Erika’s post A Walk in the Park to see what I’m talking about. She doesn’t know yet that it will all turn out to be OK. But she does it anyway.”