Latent Knowledge – what is it and why is it important?

 

Guest post by David C Roberts

Physics may or may not have been your favourite subject, however I am sure you will remember the lessons about latent heat and how when steam condenses it gives up heat (latent heat)  a heat so potent that it can easily burn you. Even if you cannot remember the physics lesson then you will be well aware that putting your hand near the steam that comes out of the kettle is a very bad idea. In the simplest terms latent heat is heat that is released or absorbed by a substance when it changes state (for example steam to water)  without changing temperature. The word latent was born from the Latin word latere meaning to lie hidden.

So what is ‘Latent Knowledge’ ?

Latent knowledge is the knowledge that we have that we have not yet harnessed. Like the latent heat contained in steam latent knowledge has substantial power and  potential yet it lies hidden in the history of our experiences. The power of  latent knowledge lies in the understanding that a considerable amount of energy has been expended to gain this knowledge, but only a small amount of effort is required to access this knowledge  (we can compare this with the huge amount of energy that is required to boil a kettle and then how easily the resultant steam can condense and burn) .

Why might  knowledge lie latent?

In theory we learn from our experiences ( hopefully).  Something happens, we reflect on what has happened, and then we change our future actions as a result.  But do we really learn from our experiences all that could be learned, or do we learn only part of what can possibly be learned?  Thinking of an example from a failed business. The business owner was asked what went wrong and he answered ” The Bank was unhelpful, there was a slump in the economy, and it was difficult to get good staff.”  When asked what did you learn from the experience he replied “You can’t rely on banks, and I’ve learned  I’m never going to go into business again.”

At this point the business owner’s learning is little more than rationalisation and blame, yet the experience, the considerable effort, and the energy that had been expended in running his business must have resulted in much more learning. So where has this learning gone? Where is the knowledge?  It has gone nowhere; the knowledge is lying latent awaiting the time when it can condense and release its potency.

How can Latent Knowledge be released?

A way of releasing latent knowledge may be to recognise that during episodes when we expend a considerable amount of energy  it is likely that there is a significant amount of potential learning and therefore creation of latent knowledge (the more difficult the episode seems the more likely that an increased amount of latent knowledge has been stored).  By asking the question “what could I have learned from this experience?” may allow the process of unlocking and releasing some of the latent knowledge that you have accrued.

 

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