The importance of fika

Do you fika? Fika (fee-ka) is the Swedish word (used both as a verb and as a noun) for a coffee break that’s more about socializing than about drinking coffee. According to the “Fika Report 2013” the Swedish spend 9.5 days per year on coffee breaks, during which they share information and comment on what’s happening.

coffee_break

Most business presenters will agree that sharing information with the people listening to you is (one of) the objective(s) of delivering a presentation. But there’s actually more to achieve. Each time you address an audience, you get a unique opportunity to “make them think” and help them create new knowledge.

English writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) described knowledge as “a subject we know ourselves, or one we know where we can find information upon.” Let me illustrate this with a contemporary example from everyday life:

  • You may open any encyclopedia or launch a search on Google and you will quickly learn that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable – so this is the information you can find.
  • You may however ask every housewife or hobby cook if they have ever mixed (cherry) tomatoes in a fruit salad and expect them to stare at you as if you were coming from a distant planet. The fact that you DON’T put tomatoes into a bowl of fruit salad is an example of information that is (probably only) available in the mind of the beholder.

This premise that there are two types of knowledge is also one of the fundamentals of Japanese professor Ikujiro Nonaka’s knowledge spiral (also known as the SECI model), as described in his book about “the knowledge-creating company.”

  • Explicit knowledge is the objective, factual and rational knowledge that can be expressed in words, numbers and formulas. Bits of information that can be easily synthesized onto slides. Such as “tomatoes are fruit.” Full stop.
  • But each single member of your audience also holds a massive amount of so-called tacit knowledge. The subjective and experience based (and often also context-based) soft-facts that are stored in people’s minds and memory. Tacit knowledge may also include mental models, cognitive skills and technical skills, such as know-how and how-to. “No right-thinking human being would ever put tomatoes in a fruit salad.” Which planet are you coming from?

Information can be converted into knowledge, and each type of knowledge can be transformed into the other one: tacit knowledge can be made explicit (externalized), and explicit knowledge may be absorbed (internalized) and combined into new tacit knowledge. Nonaka models these handovers into a spiral, as they are facilitating a continuous learning process within a community of people, a company or an organization.

This is why you need to take time for fika. When you, as a public speaker, limit your interaction with the audience to externalization, i.e. standing in front, delivering your talk, and doing a Q&A at the end, you’re going to miss every opportunity to socialize with them.

nonaka_spiral

So, break up your monologue from time to time and join the people who have listened to you for coffee breaks and networking drinks. Because each of these breaks may power a new cycle of the knowledge creation spiral. Fueled by a cup of coffee, with – if you don’t mind – some sweets on the side.

Some background reading related to this post:

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