Knowledge Structures and Scaffolding — How to Fill in the Stretch Marks as you Evolve


Braden at Loon Lake, outside of McCall, ID

One of the big problems when reading posts like the previous, about empathetic ladders and knowledge structures, is it looks like it just might exist to make fun of your authoritarian friends.  That’s not the intent, because really successful messaging, or social/relational structures, have a diversity of both v-Memes and ways that knowledge is represented that reinforce each other.  It’s nice to come up with a magic ‘super bullet’ that creates all the meaning anyone could want.  But it’s not often easy.

Now what does THAT paragraph actually mean?  What it means is that if you’re working at a Communitarian level, and you’re not wallowing around recognizing everyone as an individual all the time, you’ve also leavened in some Performance-based, Goal-oriented thinking.  And you probably have a good Legalistic rule set that governs your operation, as well as appropriate Authority, and some Tribal knowledge.  And there’s also likely a bathroom on every floor of your workplace — because to Survive, we all have to go sometime.

I call this v-Meme Scaffolding, and without it, evolutionary philosophies often run astray.  Let’s talk about how this works on a practical level.

In the Industrial Design Clinic (IDC), the program I run for students, the main thing I’m trying to do is evolve them socially so they can be solid, goal-based thinkers.  Since the students work on mechanical design projects, we follow a very standard Design Process.  It’s actually a heuristic — a rule of thumb path that most of the students follow in order to complete their projects.  And it goes like this:

1.  Scoping (myself and the company).

2. Specification writing, including development of a House of Quality/QFD.

3. Preliminary Design Development, and Review.

4.  Final Concept Selection and Development.

5.  Manufacturing/Benchmarking/Testing.

6.  Customer Delivery and Celebration.

A graphic of this process is below:


At some level, this looks like an algorithm (Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme), but it’s really a Performance-based heuristic — students roughly follow this trajectory through completing a project.  At the same time, they have to select, mix and match various algorithmic ways of knowing (calculating entropy, or enthalpy, etc.) as well as develop independent relationships with people both inside and outside the university who can actually help them — like our staff machinist, or a technical sales person who might sell a particular kind of specialty adhesive.  Trust me when I tell you the students don’t like getting on the phone — but they have to practice that relationship development, or they won’t get the project done.

So under this heuristic are those algorithms.  As well as lots of engineering specifics (Authoritarian v-Meme) — we can’t reinvent the strength of steel every time we need to do a calculation.  And then there are the important parts of Tribal knowledge — students are, for example, expected to understand the Guest-Host relationship concept (read about xenia here — the ancient Greeks live in my class as well!)  so that everyone has an enjoyable lunch.  Sponsors and students both need to have fun, as well as not commit unforgivable sins.  Finally, students need to know how to deal with the university motor pool if there’s a car accident.  That’s part of their fundamental university Survival knowledge.

At the same time we’re making sure to fill in the scaffolding with all the appropriate levels, I also make clear to the students that all of it is subject to update — that’s the beauty of getting up to the heuristic level.  Procedures and algorithms may change.  Specific knowledge of what hotel to stay in when visiting a particular client also may vary.  Knowledge isn’t always in flux — but sometimes it is.  We keep track of this on a class Wiki, so the students always know how to fill out the relevant university travel forms.  We do work in a bureaucracy.

Scaffolding inventories are great things to do to improve messages or organizations.  For example, with organizations, one could start with understanding what are your rules that govern various functions in your organization.  Do your rules follow accepted ethical standards?  Are there ways to change the rules?  Does it devolve to one person’s singular authority to change them, and is that appropriate?  Could someone with performance or community considerations tell their supervisor and have them listen?  What are the actual channels for empathetic communication in your organization?  Is all communication meaningful, or is it simply pro forma because HR is worried about getting sued?

And on and on.  No matter where you start, however — your organization can evolve.  Scaffolding inventories help make sure that as you evolve, you fill in the stretch marks.

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