Lessons Learned


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:

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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?

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.

Minecraft is a phenomenon.  It has around 40 million paying players worldwide, and probably tens of millions more when you count those using free or pirated versions of the game. Merchandise bearing its logos – hoodies, wallets, necklaces – can be found wherever computer game spin-offs are sold. Its Swedish creator, Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, is rapidly becoming the kind of celebrity who needs a bodyguard for public events.

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If you’re not one of the 40 million enthusiasts, Minecraft is a popular online “survival” or “sandbox” game that puts players in a randomly-generated world where theycan create their own structures and contraptions – It’s often compared to a kind of infinite virtual Lego set, which can be played in creative mode, alone or socially, or in  survival mode, where the players have to defend themselves against attacks from various creatures.

Gaming website G4 describes it in an interesting way, which caught my eye.

“In a way, Minecraft is the exact opposite of most games out there. The focus is on exploration, not accomplishment. You can dig all day and find some gold, but the game isn’t going to reward you with anything but some gold. The presentation is secondary to the gameplay itself — your imagination fills in the blanks as opposed to an army of highly paid texture artists.  Minecraft doesn’t lead you through the same experience every other gamer has.  What you get is yours alone.”

Hold that thought, whilst we swap the world of Minecraft for the world of knowledge management.

I’m just finishing an assignment working with one of the largest construction programmes in the UK, advising and helping them with their approach to knowledge and learning.   It’s one of those times when there is no  immediate “customer” for the knowledge – to there is nobody to request a peer assist, hear a set of stories or receive a baton.  In this case, it’s collect rather than connect.

Here are the steps we’re taking together.

  • We designed some good open questions and a relaxed interviewing approach to elicit stories, examples, the basis for decisions, rules of thumb, documents, references and further contacts.
  • The interviews were framed a chance to send a “message to the future”, which helped gave a forward momentum and practical edge to the advice and examples.
  • Each interview was recorded and fully transcribed.
  • The interviewees concluded each session by providing a short video of their message to the future and top recommendations.  The most effective ones explained their points on a flipchart whilst on camera.

That gives us a significant resource of half-a million words, hundreds of recommendations, stories and examples, documents and connections to individuals.

The trick now is to avoid the temptation to weave everything together into a single version of the truth, complete with ten commandment top tips and a clearly defined path which leads the learner.  Instead, we need to take a leaf (block?) out of Minecraft’s book  and create a resource for which the focus is on exploration.

That will be the best way to serve a future team with as yet unknown knowledge needs – to help them find some gold.

Golditm

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(I know that technically it’s a bit early for this but here goes anyway…)

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Twelve knowledge assets

Eleven open questions

Ten strategies

Nine knowledge cafes

Eight AARs

Seven deadly syndromes

Six social networks

Five lessons learned

Four knowledge jams

Three anecdotes

Two peer assists

And a tweet from the APQC

Click here to sing along from the start!

How the Beatles Share Knowledge!

I’m currently co-facilitating a series of consortium meetings with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Lank  for six leading organisations, all well known and well-respected for their KM capability.

One of the more light-hearted activities in preparation for the next meeting is for each of the participants to select a suitable “track to share knowledge by”, which has generated some fascinating insights, as well as providing us with a background soundtrack for some of the activities we have planned.

One band which cropped up repeatedly was the Beatles, which got me thinking, and digging through my own collection of Beatles singles – and I thought I’d share the outcome here (there and everywhere…)

Image

This is of my favourite exhibits at the Tate Modern Gallery in London, sculpted (if that’s the right word) by Giuseppe Penone. Here’s a summary from the description:

Out of processed planks of timber the ancient technique of carving draws out the shape of a tree, wood removed ring by ring until twelve metres of tree – bottom to top and top to bottom – is exposed within two sawn pieces of wood, initially intended for construction.
Sculpture is engaged in a reconstruction through deconstruction, a turning back of the clock, pulling back to reveal the raw within the contained.

I love this work because it speaks to me of the stories which lie within. It says that with careful skill, the layers of what looks on the surface to be an unremarkable object can be peeled away to reveal years of history, detail and in this case beauty.  In the case of the tree on the left– it revealed truth that the world was actually the other way up!

If you’re anything like me, there will have been times when you have looked through the write-up of a post-project review, or lessons learned summary, and wanted to ask questions of the document in your hand, or on your screen.   And when we try to ask a document a question, it will always be a one-sided conversation!

Asking the right questions is the core activity for anyone facilitating a learning review.

Naturally it’s better to learn whilst doing, rather than try to get a team to remember at the end of a significant project (and not post-rationalise events!) – but all too often you are confronted with a “learning after doing” scenario.  So how do you make the best of that situation? So what types of questions should we consider?  Here are 20+ questions and some techniques which I find helpful.

Questions to establish the facts and re-set the context.

  • Can anyone talk me through the original plan and objectives of the project?
  • Did these change over time?  (When, How, Why?)
  • Who was responsible for this task, and did this responsibility change? (Why, How, Who?)
  • How well did the project achieve its aims?
  • What were the areas of deviation from the plan, and what were the reasons?

Questions to surface the notable high and low spots.

  • Think back over each phase of the project: What did the team do well during this time?
  • What was the most professionally satisfying part of the project for you?
  • What should have gone better?
  • What were the most frustrating parts of the project?
  • Were there any early warning signs which we should have spotted? What should we look out for in future?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the project, what would you change?
  • If you had to give a mark out of 10 for the project outcome/output – what would that be? What would make that a 10?
  • If you had to give a mark out of 10 for the project process – what would that be? What would make that a 10?
  • How many marks of 10 would your customers/contractors give it?
  • Consider the Emotional Rollercoaster as a technique.
  • Michael Greer’s PM Resources article has a number of more specific questions for design and implementation phases.

Questions to dig deeper

  • Why?  The 5-why’s technique is a very powerful way of peeling away the layers and getting closer to the root, but try not to be too mechanical about it! There’s more than one way to ask “why” to make it sound less like an inquisition –  for example:
    •  “What makes you say that?”,
    • “What led you to that decision?”,
    • “Why do you think that might be?”,
    • “Was there a reason for that?”…
  • Can you give me an example of that?
  • Can you share a story which illustrates this? (Capture these on video/audio if possible.)

Questions to construct advice, recommendations or principles for the next team.

  • What would you say to a colleague about to start the same kind of project, to help them repeat your success?
  • Imagine you were having a drink with a close friend, and they mentioned that they were about to take a similar approach to the one you took – what advice would you give them to help them avoid the pitfalls you encountered?  Specifically, what should they do or not do?
  • If you could go back in time to the start of this project and shout something in your ear, what three pieces of advice would you give yourself

Questions for de-risking discussions about failure. (Works best with multiple projects represented.)

  • Imagine for a minute you were writing a guide on how to screw up projects of this type – what would your top tips be?

 

The truth is in there, if we can ask the right questions…

Young Tree Carved Inside Old Tree

Confucius is the next in my series of famous leaders on knowledge management, although he spoke much more about learning and wisdom than knowledge itself.

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Confucius introduced three key virtues:  Rén, Li and Yi.

Rén relates to humanity, and the relationships between two people. It causes people to remember that they is never alone, and that everyone has these relationships to fall back on, being a member of a family, the state, and the world.

(Or a network, I’m sure we could add today)

Li consists of the norms of proper social behaviour as taught to others by fathers, village elders and government officials. The teachings of li promoted ideals such as brotherliness, righteousness, good faith and loyalty. The influence of li guided public expectations, such as the loyalty to superiors and respect for elders.  Li is sometimes describes as “the way things society expects things to be”.

Finally. Yi is an internal controller which gives the person the ability to make right judgments about the people and situations and to react accordingly. Confucius stated that truth can be hidden sometimes and most common reaction to the situation is not always the best one and the possession of Yi principle helps to define the true nature of things.

You could say that Li will get you to a proper answer, Yi will get you to a correct answer.

renliyi-pinyin


This distinction between the Li and Yi  in relation to the relational virtue of R
én reminds me of the impact of Organisational Network Analysis  when understanding how people make judgements (Yi) about where to find knowledge which might run counter to the official (Li) organisational hierarchy. 

I often describe it to clients as “taking an x-ray of the organisation to see what really happens, rather than what the organisation chart suggests”.

The map below contains such a wealth of insight compared with the organisation chart.  The colours of the nodes represent functional expertise, the size of each node is the length of service, the colour “heat” of the lines represents the frequency of communication and the arrow heads show the direction of technical requests.  No wonder the team spent nearly an hour drawing out conclusions and actions!

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So getting back to Confucius – what did he say which we would relate to knowledge management?  Here are my top ten – a journey from ignorance to reflection, learning, adopting good practice, double-loop learning and transferring knowledge to others…

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

“Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.”

“Reviewing what you have learned and learning anew, you are fit to be a teacher.”

…and one for you Cynefin zealots out there:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

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