I’ve been reflecting on the dangers of “staying with the herd” when it comes to knowledge sharing.  It’s easy for our organisations to reinforce this mentality, and lead to people feeling exposed as “tall poppies” is they step out and share a good practice – or professionally incompetent if they are seen to be asking for help.  I think this leads people to cluster in the middle ground of mediocrity, or to put it more kindly, a place where good is the enemy of great.

This leads me to the words of AA Milne, in his poem, “Halfway down the stairs”.

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where I sit.
there isn’t any
other stair
quite like
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
so this is the stair
I always

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else

There’s a charming version sung by Robin the Frog from the Muppet’s Show on YouTube, which takes me back to my childhood!  (I’ll post it at the end as a treat for you)

The River Diagram is has now become a fairly well established tool, combining the principles of positive deviance with knowledge sharing.  However, less people are familiar with its companion tool, the Stairs Diagram.

The Stairs diagram shows levels of capability (often derived from a common self-assessment tool or maturity model) plotted against the size of the improvement goal.  The example below (fictitious) shows the results of a number of healthcare-related networks who have all used a common self-assessment tool to discuss and agree their levels of networking capability against a number of practices.  They have also identified a number of targets for improvement.
One of the practices in the self-assessment was “Network Leadership & Facilitation”.  This is the Stairs Diagram for that practice.

Stairs Diagram

  • The Diabetes Network is at level 5, and clearly has something to share.
  • The Quality Improvement Fellows network is at level 1, but has a desire to improve by two levels.
  • The Cardio-community is at level 2, and hasn’t chosen this practice as a priority for improvement.
  • There is a cluster of networks at level 3 with no aspiration to improve, including the Health Informatics network.
  • Finally, the TB Network is at level 3, but still seeking to improve by two level.

The power of the stairs diagram is that it maps out the potential connections of highest value – connecting those who have something to share with those who have something to learn.  This is shown in the green and red areas respectively.

Having a common measure (in this case, a self-assessment tool) enabled this group of networks to identify not only the positive deviants, but also the networks with the greatest aspiration to improve.  For each “staircase”, the group can be coached to use an appropriate knowledge management tool to help those in the nursery to improve, and those in the town to share. That might be a Peer Assist, offers and requests, a knowledge cafe, knowledge fair, storytelling approach, or the capture and sharing of a distinctive or excellent practice.

So with the right motivation, the right leadership and the right methods, you can help people avoid the stair where they always stop.

You thought I’d forgotten?