Social media

Having been working in this field for over 15 years now, I’ve finally got around to recording a short video which describes what’s “under the umbrella” of  knowledge management!  David Gurteen has been asking people this question for years and recording their responses, but never seems to have his camera when we meet….  (at least, that’s what he tells me!)
It’s harder than I thought – KM is such a “broad church” now, so I’ve done my best  to be reasonably succinct.  There are still bits which I missed, like the contribution it makes to ideas generation and innovation – but perhaps I’ll leave that for another video, another time!

Here’s the transcript:

Knowledge Management is a set of tools, techniques, methods, ways of working, even behaviours – that are all designed to help an organisation to be more effective.  Simple as that.

So how then does knowledge management differ from other toolkits or management movements like SixSigma or Lean?

To me the difference is that Knowledge Management focuses on the know-how and the know who – how do you put that to work more effectively in an organisation.
How do you share the key points, rules of thumb?
How do you ensure that the right contacts are made such that people have the conversations they need to have at the beginning of  a project, before everyone gets into action?
So for that reason Knowledge management is quite a broad church of techniques and approaches (for me, that’s what makes it so interesting!).

So you could  find yourself looking at tools which help you to identify and support the networks or communities of  practice in an organisation, ways of mapping how people are connected, ways of improving  those connections – looking at who talks to whom, who trusts whom, and how you can optimise that.

You could equally look at how good an organisation is at learning – learning before activities, learning after activities.  How do you ensure that the lessons you capture after a project are meaningful and full of recommendations and useful actions points for somebody.

It could be about how you encourage a team to learn continuously, rather than waiting until the end of major project before they take the time to pause and reflect.

It could equally well be about how we capture knowledge such that the value can be multiplied.   How do you take a nugget or insight and capture it in such a way that people are intrigued, interested, want to read more and want to get in touch with the person who wrote it.
How do you package that up in a way which doesn’t destroy all of the emotion, the context, but seems to carry it with it . Much more use of multimedia, much more use of connections to some of the social media tools, so that you’re only ever one click away from a conversation.  Finally it has a lot to do with the way we behave, the way in which we work, the culture which we establish and support or nurture, or come against as leaders in organisations.
How do you come against a “Not-invented-here” culture?
How do you support and make it safe for people to share their experiences and learn from those, to share their failures as well as successes?

Knowledge management encompasses all of these things, behaviours, technologies, processes. learning, networks – and for me, that’s what makes it such an exciting discipline.

A sneak preview of my up-coming column in the next edition of Inside Knowledge

During my childhood, I wiled away many an hour with school friends and a pack of Top Trumps cards. For the initiated amongst you, Top Trumps consists of a set of cards based around a particular topic.  (In my day, it was ships, racing cars, Olympic medallists or dinosaurs. Today, it’s more likely to be X-Factor contestants or Harry Potter characters).  Each card contained statistics about the car or dinosaur in question, which enabled you to compare scores with your friends and – if you chose the right category – to win their favourites until you possessed all of the cards.
One of the side effects of overdosing on Top Trumps would be the ability to recall facts and figures about any card.  To my slight embarrassment, I can tell you without pausing that the 0-60mph acceleration of a 1978 Lamborghini Countach is 5.6 seconds.  Too bad my short-term memory is  unable to recall  where my own car keys are right now!

Last month I had the opportunity to work with a network of business improvement professionals (the I&I Network) who wanted to understand where knowledge management tools and techniques could complement their world of LEAN, Six Sigma and Kaizen.  Sensing an audience of potential Top Trumps sympathizers, I made up packs of “KM Trumps” for them to play with in pairs for ten minutes.   For my categories, I chose:  Cost, Return on investment, Learning curve, Geek Factor and Engagement Effect.  I had difficulty stopping their game to continue the workshop with them! I found that even in those few minutes, everyone picked up on the breadth and variety of tools which we place under the KM banner.  When all 36 cards were laid out, with their categories visible it was easy for my group of improvement specialists to make an informed selection about the tools and techniques which might best fit their own organisations.  They could tailor their own custom toolkit with just the right amount of “Geek Factor” and not too much learning curve.

One of my bugbears in KM circles is the way in which the labels KM 1.0, KM 2.0 and even KM 3.0 are used – as though knowledge management is only allowed to exist in a number of quantum states; or it’s a branch of scientology…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan and big user of social media, and I think it has brought energy, connectivity, serendipity and a real-time edge to the field of knowledge management.  What it hasn’t done is to supersede the fundamentals of KM – the value of conversation, the importance of learning and reflection, the power of communities of practice, the need to both summarise and provide stories to preserve context.  Superceded?  No.  Provided a welcome shot of adrenaline?  Absolutely.

I believe that as KM professionals, we have a duty to remain aware of, and open to, the new tools and techniques which come our way.  Where we add value is in explaining how and when an approach or combination of approaches can have the biggest impact.   That might mean that this year, your organisation is KM 1.6, and next year it’s KM 2.17.  It’s our job to find out what number our organisations need

Sometimes we might be surprised that a simple, established KM tool has the biggest impact, just like I was surprised when my school friend trumped my prized Lamborghini card with his Isetta Bubble Car.  All because he was smart enough to choose fuel consumption as his category, rather than acceleration!

I came across this image by Joe Pemberton in Flickr the other day.  It (and the discussion attached to it) sums up my predicament of the blurring of boundaries between public and private social networks.


This is some thinking I’ve been doing lately about the ecosystem of social networks and the problem of managing it all and of keeping the personal separate from the professional.

Some overlap will happen in social networks but maintaining boundaries helps you keep professional contacts eyes off of your private matters, your personal goings on, your family status, your childrens’ accomplishments, etc.

Public. Your personal brand awareness happens here. Create digital acquaintances. Network. Be a person, but be sure to balance out your travelogue with your sharing of insights.

Professional. Limited to people you‘ve worked with. Don’t dilute this network with digital acquaintances.

Keep these limited to friends and family. These are not professional networking tools. Avoid the urge to accept every friend request. Do you really want to connect with old high school acquaintances?

Keep these close; limited to people you hang with. Old high school buddies and people you met at conferences don’t need this layer of your digital life.

This is not a prescription for others but is pretty much a diagram of my own social network. And yes, as lame as it sounds, that’s how I have to view it, as a brand exercise. After all, careers have become brand management of your personal expertise, experience, insights and beliefs.

 As one of Joe’s Flickr respondents said,   “I have a real concern with recent professional contacts having access to some of my oldest goofiest friends”.  

But the prospect of “de-friending” a number of professional contacts out of Facebook seems pretty tough too. 

And then there are the true boundary people – the professional contacts who have become friends.  What have I got myself into!?

It’s probably far too late. 

 Perhaps it’s just a fact of life 2.0 that we have to live with?   Transparency. Trust. Thinking our loud.  

And getting comfortable that that the rest of my social-media life will feel like my big four-o birthday party would have done last year, had I had the bottle to have one that is…  and  mix family, friends, colleagues, schoolmates and clients in with alcohol for several hours! 

Perhaps I’ll save that for my 50th.  By then someone will have figured out the social media boundaries of politesse…

Came across this creative view of social networking on Flickr today.

I wonder how the plate tectonics of social networking have changed the landscape since this was drawn a year ago?

We’re enjoying a few weeks break on Dartmoor, and I’d planned to give the blog a rest too but I was struck by some parallels between social media and a local activity that my children have enjoyed here in the moors – “letterboxing”.  Geoff joined us for the day, and encouraged me to blog some of our observations

Dartmoor covers nearly 400 square miles, and has a large number of tors (high spots with heavily jointed granite outcrops).  Over the years, enthusiastic “letterboxers” have hidden a number of weatherproof boxes around Dartmoor, in which a notebook and an ink stamp are stored. (It’s a kind of low-tech geocaching)  The idea is that you seek out these boxes – there are estimated to be 1000+ on Dartmoor (some better than others – much like the Blogosphere!).  On finding one, you write a note in the book, and leave your own personalised “stamp” in their notebook.  You then stamp your own notebook with their stamp, and hide the box for the next person to find.

Kind of like writing on someone’s wall in FaceBook, and exchanging invitations in LinkedIn?

letterbox3.jpg  letterbox2.jpg  letterbox11.jpg


If you are the owner of a letterbox, you return periodically to see who has discovered your box, read the messages, and (I guess!) bask in an inner glow that can only come from knowing that a number of complete strangers have written encouraging messages to you.    Sounds a bit like MySpace?

The official “rules” for letterboxing preclude just anyone leaving their own box – no, you have to prove that you are a responsible and dedicated letterboxer by first collecting 100 stamps in your notebook and having these validated. Then, you can hide your box, and have clues to its location officially added to the official list of official letterboxes.   In practice of course, people are far too impetuous to collect all 100 before hiding their own boxes, so a two-tier system of “official” and “unofficial” boxes has emerged, with official boxes clearly marked with their “authority”.  Letterbox Technorati and Social bookmarking?

It’s interesting to see the balance between regulation and emergence, rulemaking and rulebreaking.  I wonder what the future will hold for Dartmoor’s letterboxers – and whether we’ll manage to find our 100 and leave our own box (see what a compliant soul I am?) before the holiday is over…

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