Lessons Learned


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Is it true that the best things come in small packages when it comes to knowledge?

I came across this helpful framework for thinking about the way we approach the packaging and sharing of knowledge. (Thanks Elizabeth for spotting it).


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Just in Case.   That’s been the unspoken but underlying mantra of many KM programmes. Let’s capture everything – all of those documents, lessons, transcripts and store them in a folder, just in case we need them in the future. It’s like archiving, but without the indexing rigour that a professional would apply.

So when that moment of need does arrive, it’s often too difficult to extract than insightful nugget or reusable example. It can be like rummaging through the rubbish bin to find that set of keys you dropped. You get messy and frustrated trying, then you give up and get a new set cut.

 

Now of course, there are often procedural and legal reasons why we do need to store everything associated with a particular individual or process – but we should watch out for tendencies to become Organisational Hoarders!

 

Just in Time.   One of Dave Snowden’s truisms is “you don’t know what you know until you need it”. We need a way to harness current knowledge and recent experience right in our moment of need. We’re not going to do battle with the SharePoint search function, and we’re not going to read through a pile of case studies or lessons learned reports in order to separate the signal from the noise.

And how do we know that yesterday’s lesson will serve today’s problem? We don’t have time for that – we have a real need, a desire to satisfy that need right now and we can’t ask questions of our documents!

How do we best respond to that? Just-in-time points us towards the tapping of formal communities and informal networks, inside and outside organisations. It’s the domain of knowledge jams on Jive and Yammer, questions to our Twitter networks. Face-to-face, it’s a great place to use techniques like Peer Assists and  “Speed Consulting”. Sometimes those interactions will point people back to content and documents, but they cut through the noise and provide access to a willing army of experienced volunteers – when faced with a cry for help – are often only too willing to help.

 

Just enough.   I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one. Lack of time, and lack of strategic focus are two reasons why we end up with a Just-in-Case approach to content and documents.

Curation takes time, and it requires expertise. It’s best played as a team sport rather than an individual perspective – but it makes a huge difference when it comes to creating an asset which educates and informs the reader/learner.

Are we planting vast fields of information assets? Or are we harvesting fruitful knowledge assets?  The latter is designed to provide just enough – and also to enable digging on the specifics details

 

Just for me.   Perhaps that should be the ultimate goal of our work an KM professionals.  To be able to mine the riches of just-in-case knowledge, to deliver it  at the moment I need it, to hone it down so that it’s the perfect fit (not too much or too little) for my knowledge gaps and can be easily applied… and to do it in such a way that it’s tailored for my personal needs.  Now that’s quite a proposition.

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The start of a new year is a good time to look back over the previous 12 months and reflect on some highlights – so here are the first five of my ten favourite moments of Knowledge Management Consulting from 2014 – in no particular order – I loved them all!

If you ever wondered what I get up to as a KM consultant, it will give you some insights…

1. A whirlwind trip to Iran.  After a number of virtual presentations via Sharif University, I made my first trip to Iran, visiting Tehran and then flying to the beautiful, ancient city of Isfahan. What an amazing appetite for knowledge!  After presenting at the Iran MAKE awards ceremony, I ran (see what I did there?)  a number of simultaneously translated workshops for large audiences who had huge interest and no end of questions.  My host from Sharif had to spirit me away to another room during the coffee times so that I had a chance to draw breath.  Here’s a shot of some of some participants conducting the Marshmallow Tower exercise to apply the fundamentals of KM.

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2. Ethiopia with the UN.  I have had the privilege of working with the United Nation System Staff college for several years now, and visited Addis Ababa twice last year to facilitate workshops on KM and Appreciative Inquiry with the Economic Commission for Africa. We discussed networking, and learning in depth, and worked up a 10-year vision for KM in the region. The photo below was a fun physical network analysis which brought a smile to everyone’s faces!

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3. Google Glass for Knowledge Capture.  I worked with a major Pharmaceutical company on their KM strategy  and had the opportunity to visit their R&D facility on the east coast of the US to explore the connection between KM and Innovation, and encountered the use of Google Glass to capture and really understand the actions of development scientists.  I had my first chance to play with them. Not exactly Raybans, but I still felt kind of cool.

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4. Teaching KM for Programme Managers At Skolkovo Business School, Moscow.  I have been part of the faculty at Skolkovo for two years now, and have enjoyed several trips to deliver modules on corporate leadership development programmes.  The business school was only build in 2005.  As you can see, it’s one of Moscow’s more innovative buildings.

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5. The KDP Consortium visit to the Olympic Museum.   If I had to choose a favourite assignment, I guess it would be the work I did with Elizabeth Lank facilitating the “Knowledge Driven Performance Consortium” programme for 20 KM leaders and champions from  six different organisations. We met three times over a year to share experiences and learn lessons from a set of mature KM programmes. It was lovely to meet up again with old friends from MAKE winners Schlumberger and Syngenta, and to see the experience shared both ways with new clients like the IOC who hosted our meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland and gave us a private tour of their brilliant Olympic Museum. It’s a brilliant example of a knowledge asset which you can walk through and interact with.

olympic-museum

So there are my first five highlights; five more to follow later this week.

What a privilege to have a job which enables me to see so much of the world, and support such a diverse group of clients. I’m counting my blessings.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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!

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