Knowledge Management


One of the common constructs used to ‘frame’ knowledge management activities is that of Collect or Connect.

Collect is often thought of to refer to the KM activities closest to document management and information management. It invokes thoughts of ubiquitous SharePoint, intranets, portals, knowledge assets, content, FAQs, wikis, folksonomies and taxonomies.

Connect takes us into the areas of networks, communities, social networking, expertise profiling, knowledge jams, cafes, conversations and randomised coffee trials.

connect-collect_Fotor

There’s nothing wrong with either of these domains – any more than there is anything wrong with a bookstore or a coffee shop. But just as there’s more to our high streets than libraries and coffee shops (mind you, there are an awful lot of coffee shops) – there more to KM than collect-and-connect.

So what happens when you put the coffee shop inside the bookstore, then invite an author to sign copies and discuss ideas for new books? That’s one way for new knowledge to be created.

ccc_Fotor

We also create knowledge when we learn from experience, combine and distil existing knowledge, make sense from patterns, collaborate, develop and build upon each others’ ideas. None of this is new, but I’m still surprised at how many organisations build a KM strategy which seems to be entirely fulfilled through SharePoint.  What a lack of ambition!

connect-collect-create_Fotor

I ran a workshop last week with a group of programme directors from different organisations who are in trust-building stages of forming a community of practice.  They had already created a self-assessment tool to provide them with a common language – and identified a number of topics within their overall discipline.
We found it very productive to run a group table conversation for each topic along the lines of:

  • “What knowledge can we collect – what can we each bring to the table?”
  • “Which sub-topics and specific questions can we connect together to discuss, where a conversation is more appropriate than formal information sharing?”
  • “What are the areas and challenges where we could collaborate and create new knowledge (products, guides, recommendations, processes) together?”

One hour later we had over 100 pointers to the best content, offers to share documents, a whole selection of informal and formal discussion areas, ad-hoc offers and requests – and a set of new potential collaboration projects to learn together, share experience, create new knowledge-based products and challenge conventional ways of working.
Now that’s likely to energise this community even more than any double espresso!

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…

 

 

 

 

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?

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.

I’ve been thinking recently about the role of sponsorship in enabling knowledge management, and it took me back to some Change Management principles which I learned from ChangeFirst, when I was responsible for Change Management as well as Knowledge Management at Centrica.
The ChangeFirst model was based on Darryl Connor’s “Managing at the speed of change“, but also had much in  common with the work of John Kotter.  Both excellent reads with similar roots.

Depending on your KM strategy, sponsorship is always important and often absolutely critical to the success of a knowledge change programme – and let’s face it, most of our work as practitioners is all about creating change and making it stick.  So here’s what I learned from my various Change Management gurus about the ten characteristics of effective sponsors.

dilbert-on-leadership

Think about the leaders who sponsors your KM activities as you read then through – or use it as a checklist to help you select the ideal candidate, if you’re still looking…

1. Dissatisfaction.  You want your Sponsor to be agitated about the current state of knowledge sharing in your organisation.  They need to be frustrated at the loss of value, the inefficiency, the corporate stupidity, the missed innovations and the embarrassment of re-invention or repetition.  A sponsor who thinks “everything is generally OK, and this KM stuff – well, it’s just the icing on the cake!”  is going to struggle to defend or promote your work with any authenticity.
If they’re not already sufficiently fired up, then you might want to find some provocative horror stories to spark things along.

2. Making resources available.  It’s an obvious one – but there’s little point in firing up a sponsor who lacks the wherewithal to help you take action.    If they don’t have the budget or resource available themselves, can they help you through their contacts and relationships?

3. Understand the impact on people.  Particularly true of Knowledge Management sponsors, because KM is fundamentally a people-based approach.  How would you rate your sponsor’s emotional intelligence (or perhaps his PQ Passion Quotient or her CQ Curiosity Quotient)?
You will need to be able to engage them in discussions about the culture of the organisation and the behaviours of leaders. If that’s an uncomfortable area for them, then keep looking!

4. Public Support.  Bit of a no-brainer, but naturally you will want a sponsor who is willing and able to speak on behalf of your ‘programme’ at every opportunity.  You may well need to equip them with an ‘elevator speech’ and some compelling success stories – and remind them of their dissatisfaction.

5. Private Support.  Ah yes.  The authenticity test.  Will your sponsor speak with the same level of passion and heartfelt credibility in a private conversation with their peers – or is it just a mask they wear when they’re wheeled out to make positive speeches.  You need a believer!

6. Good Networkers.   Perhaps this should be at the top.  Your sponsor need to be adept at spanning boundaries, spotting synergies and sneaking around the back door of silos.  Their network needs to become your network.

7. Tracking performance.  This is one of the acid tests of interest and commitment.  Is sponsorship of your activity something which is on their agenda, or are you just a medal that they wear to special occasions?  Agree what good looks like, agree the immediate steps and agree on the indicators and measures you need to focus on.
Get that meeting in their diary at least quarterly.  If they’re dashboard-oriented, then build one for them, but remember Einstein‘s classic quote:  “Not everything that can be counted  counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

8. Reinforcement when needed.  Sometimes you might need to ‘send for reinforcements’, so select a sponsor who is willing to challenge, knock heads together, unblock the corporate drains and generally provide you with air cover when you want it. You need a fighter as well as a lover.

9. Focus on the future.  Ensure that your sponsor gets the big picture – and can communicate it compellingly.  What is their personal vision for the organisation five years from now?  Does it match yours? Does it line up with your KM strategy and plan.  If they have a tendency to get lost in the details of performance targets, then make sure that some of your measures are long term.  You don’t really want them fussing over how many documents were uploaded into a SharePoint folder this week when there’s a demographic knowledge-leaving-the-organisation bubble which threatens to burst 3 years from now.  Help them to lift their heads up – and ask them to lift yours too.

10. Behavioural modelling.  Your sponsor needs to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. When you champion knowledge sharing, you lay yourself open to accusations of hypocrisy much more than if you were the sponsor of systems implementation programme.  It’s behavioural.  It’s relational.   And people notice.
You might want to equip them with some simple questions to ask others which help them nail their colours to the mast.  Syngenta are good at this, and put a number of “leading questions” on a pocket card to help all of their senior champions to verbalise their commitment:

“Who could you share this with?”  “Who did you learn from?” “Who might have done this before?” “Who could you ask for help and advice?”

University College Hospital’s After Action Review behavioural programme has taken training to the very top of the hospital tree to ensure that anyone is equipped (and expected) to facilitate an AAR. Would your Sponsor know how to lead a simple period of team reflection?  It would certainly increase their impact if you could help them to become the “knowledge conscience” in the boardroom…

So how does your sponsor measure up?  If you can nod gratefully to most of the above as you read it, then you’ve not only probably found yourself a Myers Briggs ENFJ, but you’re also in for a more effective and enjoyable time than Dilbert ever had!

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