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I have had the privilege of working with  over 100 client organisations over past 9 years. (Where did that time go?)

In each case they have their own definition of Knowledge Management, often their own label, and usually a specific cocktail of disciplines, processes and tools which they choose to place under the KM “umbrella”.

Sometimes the decisions above reflect the specific needs of the organisation, and other times that reflect the focus, background and place in the organisation of any centralised KM resources.
Often it’s a mixture of both, Rum and Coke? Gin and Tonic? Whiskey and Soda?

Some of the pairings  I’ve seen include “Knowledge and Innovation” (R&D oriented organisations) “Knowledge and Information” (that’s a common one in the Public Sector), “Business Improvement & Knowledge” (manufacturing), “Knowledge and Insight” (professional services) and “Knowledge and Learning” (several sectors) and in one oil and gas company: “Knowledge and Collaboration”.

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Each of these combinations gives an interesting twist to knowledge management, and I’m surprised that I don’t see “Knowledge and Collaboration” in combination more often.  It’s always seemed like an ideal blend to me, as it encourages us to think about the practicalities of changing working practices, motivating people to work together in different forms of partnership (see Collaborative Advantage by Elizabeth Lank), and in ensuring that the right conversations happen between the right people, using the most effective supportive technology whenever the need arises.

And if you need to be reminded of what that looks like when it’s not done well, then this brilliant “Real Conference Call” parody by Trip & Tyler will hit the spot.

We’ve all been there!

bingoThere was an article in one of London’s free papers today listing the “top ten most annoying phrases”, and among the usual suspects, holding on at number 8 is “Best Practice”, for which Metro’s plain English translation is “a good way of doing something”.

It caused me a bit of soul searching about the language barriers we build around our own lexicon of tools, techniques and frameworks. I thought it might be fun to come up with my own “KM Buzzzword bingo”  card for use during dull moments at KM conferences and team meetings. I’m not criticizing the featured buzzwords (I’m guilty of many of them myself!) – just pointing out that the KM discipline is more than capable of making your average employee scratch their heads and say “whaaaat?”.
(Feel free to click and download the PowerPoint version if you’d like to adapt it.)

Going back to Best Practice for a moment though, it reminded me of a recent discussion I had with Ian Thorpe on his blog entry “Will I spoil KM if I tell people that “best practices” don’t exist?”, which, incidentally has one of my favourite ever Dilbert cartoons in it.

I think Ian and I ended up agreeing that where Best Practices do exist (whish is much less than people might think, and usually in an operational context – checklists for routinely landing a plan, preparing an operating theatre etc.),  they should  be considered time-bound – Best for today, based on current knowledge – but not set in stone.  The problem comes when we treat good practice unthinkingly as if it were truly “best”, and fail to adapt it for our own context.

So the Metro free newspaper’s translation “a good way of doing something” is probably true of most good practices which are mis-labelled as “best”.

I wonder what their editor would make of the rest of our Bingo card? Perhaps I should reach out to her…

My youngest daughter is going the see “The Croods”  today – it’s the latest DreamWorks production, this time about a prehistoric family about to “leave the cave”.

I”m secretly jealous that I’m not going too, but I’d stick out like a sore thumb among her group of friends.

The trailers look so good that I’ll definitely have to go one way or another – or leave it for the next long-haul flight.
This one in particular is brilliant. It has a lot to say about knowledge, learning, innovation,  improvement and change management – not to mention the reaction of teen-aged girls!

See if you can spot the following – all in 51 seconds:

    • Initial problem with someone feeling the pain,
    • Repeated failure to listen, repeated pain,
    • Failure of conventional wisdom and leadership,
    • Recognition of the need for alternative perspective,
    • Innovation and learning from analogues,
    • Experimentation and adaptation,
    • A trumpeted and hyped solution,
    • Disproportionate excitement followed by immediate sense of loss!

Now, does any of that look familiar in your organisation?

Is that sometimes, you just end up creating new ones!

 

Time I started work on the sequel – “KM – The Musical” perhaps?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined speed dating and knowledge-sharing?

I can’t own up to any firsthand experience of the former, but I’m told by friends who do, that you participate in a merry-go-round of three-minute exchanges on a room full of tables-for-two.  When the bell rings you move around to the next person.  If you like what you’re experienced, you make a note on your score-card, and, if the feeling was mutual, you take the next steps together. Tremendously efficient and less emotionally risky than the traditional approach – although as the video below shows, it can be over-structured…

If that’s piqued your interest, there are websites full of interesting questions that you might ask during your 3 minutes – for example:  “What luxury item would you take on a desert island?” and “What are your favourite words and why?”. Incidentally, “knowledge management” is not a good answer to the second question.
So if speed-dating is designed to reduce the emotional investment, embarrassment and risk of failure  of finding a potential partner – what can we learn from that room-full of tables which we could apply in a KM context?

In my work with communities of practice and networks over the years, I have observed that when someone asks a question in a network, people are sometimes reluctant to offer up suggestions and ideas because they don’t have a complete answer or a polished response.  The longer the silence lasts, the more risky it feels to contribute.  People hold back, worried that they might be the only one to respond and that their idea will be perceived as being too trivial or too obvious – how embarrassing!

If your community feels like this, and you have an opportunity to meet face-to-face, then let me recommend a simple “Speed Consulting” exercise which can help groups to break these bad habits.  (I’m indebted to my friend and consulting colleague Elizabeth Lank for introducing me to this technique).

A quick guide to speed consulting.

Identify some business issue owners
In advance, identify a number of people (around 10% of the total) with a business challenge which they would like help with – they are to play the role of the client who will be visited by a team of brilliant management consultants. Business issues should not be highly complex; ideally, each issue could be described in 3 minutes or less.  Brief the issue owners privately coach on their body language, active listening, acknowledgement of input etc.  Remind them that if they are seen to have stopped taking notes (even when a suggestion has been noted before); they may stem the flow of ideas.

Arrange the room
You need multiple small consultant teams working in parallel, close enough to generate a “buzz” from the room to keep the overall energy high. Round tables or chair circles work well.  Sit one issue owner at each table. Everybody else at the table plays the role of a consultant. The issue owner will remain at the table throughout the exercise, whilst the groups of “visiting consultants” move around.

Set the context
Explain to the room that each table has a business issue, and a team of consultants.  The consultants have a tremendous amount to offer collectively – from their experience and knowledge – but that they need to do it very quickly because they are paid by the minute! They have 15 minutes with each client before a bell sounds, and they move on to their next assignment.
The time pressure is designed to prevent any one person monopolising the time with detailed explanation of a particular technique.  Instead, they should refer the issue owner to somewhere (or someone) where they can get further information.  Short inputs make it easier for less confident contributors to participate.

Start the first round
Reiterate that you will keep rigidly to time, and that the consultants should work fast to ensure that everyone has shared everything that they have to offer. After 15 minutes, sound the bell and synchronise the movement to avoid a “consultant pile-up”.

Repeat the process
Issue owners need to behave as though this is the first group and not respond with ‘the other group thought of that!’. They may need to conceal their notes.

Check the energy levels at the tables after 45 minutes.  More than three rounds can be tiring for the issue owners, but if the motivation is particularly high, you might manage 4 rotations.

Ask for feedback and reflection on the process
Emphasise that the issue owners are not being asked to “judge” the quality of the consultants!  Invariably, someone will say that they were surprised at the breadth of ideas, and that they received valuable input from unexpected places.

Ask members of the “consulting teams” to do the same. Often they will voice their surprise at how sharing an incomplete idea or a contact was well received, and how they found it easy to build on the ideas of others.

Transfer these behaviours into community life
Challenge them to offer up partial solutions, ideas and suggestions when a business issue arises in a community.  Having established the habit face-to-face, it should be far easier to continue in a virtual environment.   The immediacy and brevity of social media helps here – perhaps the 140 character limit in Twitter empowers people to contribute?

So perhaps I should have just tweeted: @ikmagazine http://bit.ly/speed_consulting boosts sharing in communities #KM @elank and waited to see what my followers would respond with!

To be published in the next edition of Inside Knowledge.

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