apple-watch

Like hundreds of millions of others, I enthusiastically  tuned in to watch the Apple Launch event yesterday.

And like hundreds of millions of others, I was frustrated by a the spectacular failure of the live-streaming of the event, which stuttered, error-messaged restarted, over-dubbed Chinese real-time translation, and regularly reverted to a bizarre test-card of a Truck Schedule.

Very un-Apple-like. Very embarrassing.

Needless to say, Twitter was in uproar baying for retribution; this tweet summarising the mood.

applefail

When things go publicly wrong, this is so often the reaction.  We look for the fall-guy and take ‘decisive action’.

Does this change anything?  Does it reduce the risk that the source of the failure will repeat it in the future?  I don’t believe so.
Somewhere out there, there are one or more totally committed Apple employees who have experienced the most agonizing, unforgettable public professional moment of shame.  They probably worked through the night for weeks in advance to make this a success – and somewhere, someone screwed up, in front of one of the largest audiences in the world.  Does anyone really think they would want to re-live that experience? Does anyone  think that they  – more than anyone else – will want to know who, when and why this failure happened?

So why would any sane organisation want heads to roll after such a one-off failure?

Because the trouble is, when heads roll, knowledge and experience rolls too.

All this reminds me of an apocryphal story from IBM – one which I often use to illustrate true cost of failure – failing to learn from it.

A sales executive was working on a big deal for IBM – around $10m of potential value. Somewhere along the way, they screwed up and lost the deal to a competitor. That was a big deal.

The salesperson was summoned to Lou Gertsner [or perhaps his predecessor CEO, John Akers?] to explain himself.  After hearing the  explanation, Gerstner asked the salesperson, “What do you think I should do?”.

“Well, I guess you’re going to fire me.” came the faltering response.

“Fire you?  Why would I fire you when I’ve just invested ten million dollars in your education?” retorted Gerstner.

Now that’s knowledge leadership in action.

I hope that today, intelligence triumphs over indignation  at  1, Infinite Loop, Cupertino, and Apple are smart enough to do the same.

 

I’m always embarrassed by my inability to speak another language, having never really progressed beyond my schoolboy French and Spanish. I’m frequently humbled by clients and friends around the world whose command of English and desire to learn more puts me to shame. I guess it’s one of the disadvantages of being a native speaker of the world’s accepted business language; it has led to linguistic laziness.

When we think about the field of knowledge and knowledge management, the English language has particular limitations. The verb “to know” has to be stretched in a number of directions, and masks some important distinctions that other languages make.

Whilst the English know things, know facts, know people, know what just happened and know their onions – our neighbours in France and Spain separate knowing into two areas:

Connaitre/Conocer: These are used ot express knowledge about something or someone where we have some experience with the thing (or person). You can know, or be acquainted with, a book, a movie, a place, or a person.

Savoir/Saber: These are used to talk about learned skills. You can know how to swim, draw, speak a language, etc. It is also used to ask about knowing about something, or knowing something by memory.

Think about it for a moment – who would you rather get travel advice from: someone who knows about Madrid, or someone who is acquainted with Madrid?

The conversations would be so different wouldn’t they? One is more transactional – almost a Google search. The other feels more like it would be a dialogue – a relational conversation.

It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s a powerful one and one which needs to be embedded in our approach to managing knowledge holistically. We need to address conocer and caber, and find ways to bring them together.

conocer

Interestingly, in my research for this post, I discovered that in Spanish, there are cases where conocer and saber are used interchangeably:

When you are expressing the fact of having knowledge or ideas about a subject or science, either saber or conocer is acceptable. It is also acceptable to use either saber or conocer to express the finding out of new information or news

Where is the best place to bring together knowledge, ideas, new information and news about a subject? Well, a community of practice or a network seems like a good place to start.
If this sounds familiar, and you’re a reader of “Learning to Fly” with a good memory, then it should do!

ltf

So I guess we knew about this all along – we just weren’t fully acquainted with it.

A while back I blogged about the value of experience from the film “The Kings Speech” – and the statement from self-styled speech therapist, Lionel Logue who, when cornered by the establishment about his lack of professional credentials, stated: “All I know, I know by experience”.

o-MUSHY-570Last year, the BBC TV series “Educating Yorkshire” was broadcast in the UK. It was a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a state school in the North of England, introducing us to the reality of today’s education, and the challenges for teachers and students alike.
The most memorable moment came when English Teacher, Mr Burton was helping Musharaf (aka “Mushy”), a student with a severe stammer, to prepare for his oral examination.  This was something of a lost cause, or so we thought, until Mr Burton had the courage to try something that he’d seen on the Kings Speech. He asked Mushy to try speaking whilst listening to music to through headphones – you can watch it here – it’s a heart-warming 5 minutes, and it went viral at the time. I challenge you to watch it and not shed a tear!

I recently read an interview that Mushy gave, where he said something that tingled my KM antennae.

“I thought Mr Burton was a genius until he lent me The King’s Speech afterwards, and then I realised he just copied that other man!”

Isn’t that interesting? He just copied that other man.

Applying someone else’s good practice in a new situation isn’t clever or innovative, at least, not in the conventional sense – but it still takes intelligent courage. In the clip, you can see Mr Burton is almost embarrassed to suggest that they try to  “just copy the other man”, and suggests it laughingly.

Whether it’s copying ‘best’ practices, or adapting good practices to a different context, we sometimes underestimate what it takes it takes to do this.
In some ways, the organisational motivation to innovate a ‘genius’ solution is greater than the recognition gained for copying or adapting. Something a bit like this?

failure matrix_Fotor

How much more effective would we be if we celebrated re-use and re-purposing of knowledge as much as we prized innovation?

Is there a way we can make is safer for the ‘Mr Burtons’ in our organisation to adopt and adapt what has worked for others?

It’s got to be worth a try…

 

 

 

 

I’ve been musing on the traditional approach to performance management, and how management-by-objectives could release so much more value if it was more transparent. I’ve seen so many examples where people rely on serendipity to discover a colleague or a project with an aligned objective. And they often discover it too late!

Objectives

OK – most of us know our own objectives, but Dilbert has a point…

Perhaps this is all a bit obvious, but, inspired by a recent talk from Euan Semple not to eschew stating the obvious, I thought I’d pose the question:

Why is is that even in enlightened organisations who emphasise collaboration and connection, personal performance objectives still seem to be treated with the same level of protection and secrecy as personal salaries?  It’s like we are asking people to complete a jigsaw with all of the pieces upside-down.

What if everyone’s profile page carried their objectives by default?

You know the kind of thing: “This is me and this is what I’m directing my energy into, to make our company more successful this year. Are you doing anything that might complement or align with me?”

Naturally you’ll need to conceal the ones which are commercially, personally or legally sensitive – but I would suggest that the majority of individual objectives could be shared, but remain barricaded into performance management silos.

Do you know of any examples of organisations where individual performance objectives are generally visible to all, and where people look for synergies?  I’ve started to discuss this on the Gurteen Linked-In group too  – getting plenty of agreement, but no mould-breaking examples yet.

Grateful for pointers or examples from anyone.

 

So let’s push this a bit further…

  • What if not just our objectives were visible, but also how we’re progressing in meeting them?
  • What if I could reach out and offer to help a colleague to prevent them from missing a target?
  • What if we could remove the perceived need to out-perform and compete with our colleagues, focus on being greater than the sum of our parts,  like the HBR article on T-shaped management, but on a truly corporate scale?

And to be truly revolutionary,

  • What if we could bury forced-ranking and focus on releasing best from our people; start managing talent collectively rather than individually, and reform closed performance management into collaborative knowledge sharing?

Now that sounds like the kind of courageous company which I’d like to work for.

Perhaps it’s time we discussed some what-if questions with our allies in HR?

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve come to appreciate(!) the connections between my world of KM and organizational learning, and the  philosophical mindset which underpins Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) pre-dates Knowledge Management. It has been around in its current recognised form since the mid 80s, and was first published as a discipline in 1987 when David Cooperrider  and Suresh Srivastva wrote their seminal paper for Research in Organisational Change and Development.

 

The video below sums it up nicely when he describes the conventional approach to improvement as viewing the organisation a “problem to be solved” –and how over time, a problem-resolution mindset can sap energy, goodwill and enthusiasm from the workforce.

I’ve heard accusations made that AI is somehow ‘dangerous’ because it artificially views the world through rose-tinted spectacles. My response?

Who are we to say that the lesson-learning, problem-discussing, improvement orientation which strongly influences us doesn’t come with its own pair of KM-branded Reactolite-tinted glasses?

Perhaps we just don’t realise that we’re wearing them (and perhaps that’s why some are so quick to look for the danger in other techniques!).  Our default perspective is not necessarily neutral and perfectly balanced, and it’s good to take a look our favourite tools and techniques and ask ourselves whether they reinforce a deficit view of the firm.

Having facilitated a number of KM-related workshops using an AI, I can vouch for the positive engagement power of the approach.  It’s still rooted in the reality of what we can learn from our own practice, but the conscious focus on what does it look like when we’re at our best gives a different kind of energy to the group, and expands their vision as to what is possible.

The four steps of an Appreciative Inquiry “4D” Summit are surprisingly simple:

a1
1. Discover. (Inquire into what works.)

This is a filtered process of reflection and storytelling to set the context for what is possible, building a “positive core” from the sharing of stories.

  • 2. Dream. (Imagine how good it could be.)

This is a creative vision-building step – constructed by amplifying the reality of the examples from the discovery step. The photo to the left  is from a UN KM and AI workshop in Addis Ababa , showing the positive core, and an engaged group creating their dream, stimulated with some inspirational photos of Africa.

3. Design. (Agree how good it should be.)

This is a prioritisation process, finding ways to connect the colourful hot-air balloon of a long-term vision to the ground with some actionable propositions.

4. Destiny. (Commit to what will be.)

Identify specific actions and start to plan for success.

An approach which combines Reflection, Storytelling, Visioning, Prioritisation and Action and generates positive energy for change  –  why would I not want to employ that?

So if you’re a knowledge professional who hasn’t considered or explored Appreciative Inquiry, let me commend it to you as a valuable mindset to integrate into your KM toolkit.

Or to put it another way, provided we understand the perspectives and mindsets which can lie behind the techniques we recommend – then we can help our client organisations to maintain a nutritionally balanced diet of savoury lesson-learning, palate-cleansingly neutral sensemaking and sweet appreciative inquiry.

What’s not to like?

Last week the Daily Telegraph published an article about the “truth behind British politeness” which revisited the phrases which we British often use, the real meaning, and what (as the Telegraph charmingly puts it) “foreigners” understand.

I’ve seen it printed off and pinned on the walls of several offices over the years – usually within easy view of the telephone.  It’s a great (and humourous) way to help create understanding, enhance conversations and prevent people talking past each other.  I’d even to so far as to say that it’s not bad!

Talking past each other

 

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY  WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN  WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided

 

The idea of a common language – a frame of reference to support better understanding and more focused conversations is what lies at the heart of the creation and use of self-assessment models.  Whilst they are similar in concept to maturity models, the purpose is less to track and measure – and more to create a shared vocabulary to enable more targeted knowledge sharing.  I’ve seen them used to great effect in a wide range of organisations and topics:  Engineering, Energy, Operations Maintenance, Safety, Environmental Performance, Supply Chain Management, Collaboration and Health…

There are some health-related examples here which grew out of  work with the UNAIDS programme, and has  been reapplied by the Constellation into self-assessments for Malaria and Diabetes as well as HIV.

(please check the advice page for usage guidance)

I like to think of them as scaffolding for knowledge sharing.  It’s scaffolding which enables people to climb higher and faster to have richer conversations with deeper understanding.

 

 

In each case the self-assessment tool was created by the group who would ultimately use it. That’s an important principle.  They can recognise their own words – and the results of their discussions – in the practices chosen and the  levels and language used to represent each practice.
Creating a model together ia a tremendous way to have a group make explicit some of their  knowledge, stories, assumptions and unarticulated rules of thumb.  It gives a great sense of achievement – having rigourously discussed something they care about  and understand deeply – and created an artefact which they can then use.

We talk a lot about Communities of Practice – but sometimes communities never work the detail together on what their practice really is, and what good might look like. What a missed opportunity!   
Building a self-assessment model with members of a community forces a lot of helpful discussion, gives the group a product to be proud of  and provides a very easy way for members to self-assess and then share their relative strengths and weaknesses in a knowledge marketplace. it also gives them a framework against which they can store share artefacts and examples (see the AIDS Competence knowledge asset example).

Tools like the River Diagram and Stairs Diagram and reciprocal sharing techiques like Offers and Requests help to map out the dimensions of the marketplace ready for knowledge exchange.

All of this sounds a lot more purposeful than hoping that needs and responses will serendipitously collide whilst we’re talking past each other…

So with the greatest of respect, do you hear what I say?

 

 

 

 

Knowledge Management has become an ever-increasing suite of interconnected tools and techniques – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed without a map.

Having bounced some early ideas around with Geoff, and spent far too many idle moments at airports fiddling with PowerPoint,  I think it’s time to stop tweaking and start sharing.  So here it is: my rendition of the KM Landscape  (click to enlarge).

KM Landscape

I wanted to try and show the breadth of techniques and processes, the connections between them, and also some of our neighbouring disciplines and opportunities for boundary collaboration.

It’s far from perfect  (I need more than two dimensions to really do the juxtaposition justice) – but hopefully it’ll illustrate some new places to explore.

Let me know if you find any new destinations, landmarks or pub walks to include.

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