ONA


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.

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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.

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I’ve been looking back on the highlights of the past year, and previous years, and it’s got me reflecting on the power of making KM engaging, fun and tangible in some way.

Back in 2010, I wrote about KM Top Trumps, and how I used them with a group of business improvement professionals to help them get to grips with the breadth of KM tools and techniques available.  I still use these today with groups.

Two happy memories from the past year:

Social Network Mapping with the UN in Ethiopia. 

For several years now I have worked with the United Nations System Staff College on a KM leadership programme.  This year saw me out in Ethiopia working with representatives from across the continent.  Communities, Networks and Networking featured heavily in one particular module, and having contrasted the sharing and networking habits of birds, bees and sheep, we engaged in a practical Network Analysis exercise which brought the room to its feet, and put smile on every face.

Each participant was given 5 coloured ribbons and asked to give one end to another colleague – the different colours indicated different relationships:  for example: – Who have you known the longest?  Who would you ask for technical advice? Who would you share an innovative idea with first?

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Energy levels rose instantly, accompanied by smiles and laughter.

Once each ribbon had been shared, the group carefully lowered them to the floor and stepped out of the web, replacing themselves with their placenames from the tables.

As a group, we could then stand around the pattern and discuss what it told us about the relationships, collaboration and knowledge flow.

Snakes and Leaders – a creative way to explore the first 100 days of a community of practice.

Syngenta have been a client for a number of years now, and have been looking for new ways to up-skill the core teams of their networks, especially in the early stages of growth.

We worked together to document the ups and downs of network development during the first critical 100 days, and created a familiar-yet-different board game which embedded these critical moments, with one or two additional twists and turns. Creating the game together, and tailoring the rules for different parts of the business caused us to think critically about the non-negotiables and key principles of networks; probably one of the most enjoyable codification exercises I’ve been involved with. Thank you Syngenta!

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I’m looking forward to hearing how the game has gone down (or up!) this year.

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.

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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.”

I’m a big fan of organizational network analysis.  I think it’s one of knowledge management’s unsung heroes.
I don’t know of any other KM or OD tools which can be as informative, revealing and engaging for clients, from a small amount of research input.
I’m in the middle of an assignment now with a business who are looking at how one of their business functions really works when it comes to understanding how expertise is distributed, how technical advice is requested and how it flows, and how new ideas surface and are nurtured.  This particular  client is an agri-chemicals business, and has led to some interesting discussions as we have worked together to understand clusters of connections and outliers.  One of the more humourous moments for me was when one of the members of the team loudly exclaimed “look at that isolated cluster over there – they must be the vegetables!”   Needless to say, he was referring to people in the vegetable-related business stream…

Coincidentally, later that day my daughter, who is a big fan of food science, showed me a fascinating Ahn Yong-Yeol article from nature.com which used network analysis to illustrate the connections between different ingredients used across thousands of recipes, based on their chemical similarities.  “This looks like those pictures you create, Dad” she said to me.

Isn’t this cool? (Click to enlarge)

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A more interactive infographic based on this data is provided in Scientific American here (snapshot below). The data is sorted to show the foods who share the most chemical compounds with others towards the top. Roast beef proves to be the food that does this the most, with strong chemical overlaps with coffee, soya-bean, peanut, beer, wheat bread and butter. In a way, it’s the grand-daddy of flavour.   So next time you go into a pub, have some peanuts with your beer, some bread to start, with a tasty steak followed by a coffee – then chemically speaking, you’ve had a whole less flavour variety than you might think!

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The social-food-analysis research gets more interesting when they look at the data through a regional lens.  It turns out that the North American palate prefers foods with strong flavour overlaps (steak with a coffee rub anyone?), whereas the East Asian palate prefers food with lower overlaps (mmmm, prawns with lemon…)

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So where am I going with this?

Well, I see parallels with assumptions we make when we bring people together to share knowledge. Whether formally through structured networks and  communities, or informally as people cluster around content, discussion and other attractors – my suspicion is that by default, we tend to align and gather with people with similar experience rather than different experience.  In the metaphorical world of food chemistry, that means our knowledge-sharing is built on the assumption of a North American palate, rather than an East Asian one.

This is why a well-planned peer assist will include sufficient diversity to avoid group-think, and why the design of communities of practice should thoroughly explore their purpose before they start recruiting members.  A community focused on continuous improvement and giving and receiving technical help will benefit from being built from members with the same field of expertise – their shared practice.

I often use this simple model when helping organizations characterise their networks:

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Communities often move along the axis at the bottom, shifting their mode from ad-hoc help and continuous improvement, to phases when the group is engaged in delivering something together (a policy, a white-paper, a set of recommendations, a good practice guide). This requires a temporary shift in leadership style, from social facilitation towards project management, but the membership is broadly unchanged.
If the purpose of the community is re-defined as innovation or the generation of ideas, then you will probably want to extend the ingredients of the group to include people with a greater range of experience and different perspectives.

So if we see ourselves as trusted organisational chefs (I quite like that analogy), then there are times when we need to satisfy the established tastes of our customers, and there will times when we need to educate their palates with new fusion dishes too.