Storytelling


There are a lot of KM-related words beginning with the letter C.

Connection, Collection, Collaboration, Curation, Conversation, Communities, Culture…

There’s one which you might not have thought of, but which I think is pretty important.

Here’s a clue.

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Image from City A.M.Number 20, Fenchurch Street, London has always been a controversial building.  It has become better known as the “Walkie Talkie”, and was rechristened this week as the “Walkie Scorchie”, because the combination of the curved design, mirrored windows and some bright sunlight created a focus of solar energy which was sufficient to melt parts of an expensive Jaguar XJ parked nearby, and in a non-scientific experiment, to fry an egg!

Unwittingly, the architect had designed a building which worked as a scaled-down version of the solar furnace in Odeillo, France. I remember visiting this whilst on a childhood holiday, and was blown away by the lumps of melted rock on display.  I applied my sunscreen more carefully for the rest of my vacation.

Anyway, I say the architect unwittingly designed a building, but perhaps that’s being generous, because the same Architect (Rafeel Vinoly) designed the Vdara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, 3 years earlier.  The tall, sleek, curved Vdara Hotel, according to the  Las Vegas Review,

 

…is a thing of beauty.

But the south-facing tower is also a collector and bouncer of sun rays, which — if you’re at the hotel’s swimming pool at the wrong time of day and season — can singe your hair and melt your plastic drink cups and shopping bags.

Hotel pool employees call the phenomenon the “Vdara death ray.”

A spokesman for MGM Resorts International, which owns Vdara, said he prefers the term “hot spot” or “solar convergence” to describe it. He went on to say that designers are already working with resort staff to come up with solutions.”

So the same architect has designed two tall, curved, mirrored buildings which have both manifested the same unwelcome side-effect.

Not only that, but the Disney Concert Hall (not designed by Rafael Vinoly) had similar issues back in 2003.

You have to ask yourself, surely lessons learned from the Vdara Hotel should have been applied by the same firm as they designed the Walkie Talkie?  Surely the Death Ray experience would have burned itself into the memory of the firm concerned?

And would it be unreasonable to expect the Architectural profession to be aware of the Disney Concert Hall case, and consequently have prevented the flawed Vdara design sizzling tourists like ants under a magnifying glass?

Is it easier to learn from the failures and flaws of others, of from our own internal failures?  Well, it depends on whether the power of “Not Invented here”, disguised as “It’ll never happen here”, is greater than the professional defensive reasoning and displacement of failure Chris Argyris described in his brilliant HBR paper, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn.”
If you haven’t read it, and you work in the field of knowledge management, organizational learning, improvement or in any medium-large consultancy, then please do.  It’s 22 years old but it could have been written yesterday.

Here’s a taster to wet your appetite:

 “Any company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of [today] must first resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation.

Most companies not only have tremendous difficulty addressing this learning dilemma; they aren’t even aware that it exists. The reason: they misunderstand what learning is and how to bring it about.”

Argyris goes on to distinguish between the single loop learning approach of problem-solving and error correction, and the double-loop learning which addresses how organisations identify, discuss and enact change, and the dynamics, performance measurement systems and behavioural filters which can prevent even the most brilliant (often the most brilliant!) professional from seeing their role in something less than brilliant.

The case of the non-learning professional is not reserved for architects, of course – it’s just that their oversights can be so tangible.  The financial sector, energy sector and public sector have all had their own versions of the “walkie scorchie”.  It’s just that you can’t fry eggs on them.

Egg

As knowledge and learning professionals, we need to make sure that we’re visible, helpful  and active for these fried egg moments.

They are the moments when mistakes are too visible to be missed, and when even defensive reasoning is no defence.   We can help our organisations not just to learn from the specifics of one design error (we can certainly start there, and get our foot in the door), but we also need to have the courage and the influence (and partnership with OD and other functions) to look beneath to the structural and organisational factors which will ultimately determine how many times the organisation gets its fingers burnt.

Oh, and on a related matter, and if you’re thinking of buying one of these – be careful which wall you put it on!

One of my current clients needs to conduct a learning review from a 2-year IT project which, by her own admission, has had its fair share of ups and downs. The project is at its mid-point, so the main customer for the learning is the team itself. They don’t have much time to conduct the review (sadly just 90 minutes), so she asked me for some ideas for pre-work  for the team.

Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of a full day to conduct an exhaustive review, so you have to work with what you have and help the team to quickly connect their hearts and minds to the review process.  It’s the heart bit which interests me here.

When we’re under time pressure, we tend to focus on the facts, the timeline, the plan, the process, contract, technology, scope and the deviations. Intellectual recall. In fact, most project review documents contain little more than this kind of intellectual recall. It usually takes a bit longer to get a team to talk about how they felt, and to draw out some the more people-oriented learning – let’s call that a kind of “emotional recall”.

I combined some ideas from Retrospects, After Action Reviews, Baton-passing and Future Backwards (Heaven and Hell) exercises into this approach. Enjoy the ride!

With thanks to Navcon

Part 1 – the pre-work:

Before the meeting, ask each member of the team to think back over the project timeline and to focus on their emotions at each stage. You can provide them with a template like this, with key dates or milestones marked to give a sense of orientation.

1. Ask them to sketch out their own “emotional rollercoaster”, paying attention to the highs and lows.

2. For the high spots, write down what went well, and why you think it went well.

3. Do the same for the low spots. What was difficult, and why do you think that was?

4. How do you think the rollercoaster is most likely to continue?  Draw the continuing journey.  Bring this to the meeting with your notes on the reasons for the highs and lows.

Part 2 – during the meeting.

Sharing the Past and Present.

  • Collectively, in the meeting, create a large version of the rollercoaster timeline on the wall.
  • Each participant draws their journey up to the present day, pausing to describe the lows and highs, and the reasons for these.   A facilitator should probe these reasons using the “5-whys”  technique to get to the underlying reason.
  • For each high and low, ask the group to express the reason as a recommendation – something that someone else should do to repeat the delight, or avoid the despair – or an action which should be taken in order to change a process such that the good practice becomes embedded.
  • Capture these recommendations on post-its and place on the rollercoaster.
  • Repeat for each member of the project team (towards the end, they can “pass” if someone has already identified a high or low. )
  • This should create a shared view of the past, and “how we got to where we are today”, with some useful recommendations captured. Consider who you might share these with beyond the team.

Creating the Future together.

  • Now ask each member to sketch how they think the project will go from now to the end date. You will probably get a range of options!
  • Focus on the best projected outcome and ask “based on all we’ve learned to date, what actions could we take to make this happen, rather than the less positive options?”. You can take feedback from the entire group, or get them to discuss in pairs or sub-groups first.
  • Capture these actions (with names!).

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, this is the end of the ride.
Please be sure to collect your belongings as you leave and don’t forget to check your photo on the way out.

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Last week I had the pleasure of providing my final virtual webinar for the first of the UN’s KM Online blended learning programme.  Geoff Parcell and I have taken turns over the past 6 weeks.  Last week the focus was on KM Strategy and Implementation, and we had an excellent interactive discussion about different options for implementation.
Here’s a shot of our discussion in action…

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So with particular thanks to Eric, Harald, Svetlana and Miguel who added some great ideas  – here are ten different options for KM Strategy implementation.

1. Top Down, Big Bang.

ImageThis is the traditional “someone at the top has said this needs to happen” approach, usually accompanied by a cascade, a change initiative, communications and engagement plan, brown-bag presentations, training programmes, mugs and mouse mats. We’ve all seen these initiatives in action – and in some organisations they can be the only way to get people’s attention.  The challenge, of course is to find ways to keep people’s attention –  particularly when the board or senior sponsors have moved onto their next big bang.  You might consider setting up a programme board with some of the senior players, which will keep them collectively on-the-hook for your programme.  It’s much more difficult for the whole group to shift their energy away than it is for a single sponsor to become distracted by the next big idea.

So it’s the challenge of sustainability, which leads us neatly to the second approach – Top Down, Bottom Up.

2. Top Down, Bottom Up

ImageThis approach is a sophistication of the Big Bang approach, using the same level of visible senior support to send a clear message across the organisation. The critical difference is that there is a deliberate effort to harness the energy and passion of workers at the front line, and to involve them in the programme, perhaps as group of advisors or a community of practice. These people are key in helping to translate the messages from the top and set them in the right context locally.  BP had a two-year programme with a team of 10 with a brief to define and demonstrate the value of KM.  But it was KM Community of practice – around 200 enthusiasts who recognised the value that it brought to their day-to-day roles – this was the group who helped KM to be more sustainable.  They were also an excellent source of anecdotes and credible stories of where KM had made a difference at the sharp-end.

3. Slipstream.

ImageIn most organisations, you can guarantee that there will be a number of organisational initiatives in flight at any one time.  Rather than wait for a gap in the traffic which will never come, or to launch a competing campaign to capture the attention of an already saturated workforce, there is a third way!  Slipstreaming is about working in partnership with other initiatives or “transformation projects” (don’t you just love that phrase?), looking for ways in which you can feed of each others’ momentum.
The beauty of KM is that it’s such a broad discipline that it is easy to find ways to complement and support other programmes and functions.  I have seen KM effectively slipstream behind business improvement and Six Sigma projects; operational excellence, new project management methodologies, SharePoint deployments, acquisition integration activities, customer management and asset management initiatives, culture change movements and the roll-out of new corporate values. [You might question whether you can change culture with an initiative, or roll-out values – we’ll leave that for a future post – but you get the idea…]

One thing to be wary of, which affects competitive cyclists and athletes who slipstream – is the danger of getting “boxed in”.  If you’re slipstreaming the roll-out of SharePoint with a view to sharing a broader set of knowledge-sharing behaviours and methods, then watch out that the technology doesn’t grab all the headlines and rob you of impact.  It’s always best to agree these things up-front as part of the partnership, rather than “pop out” unexpectedly and assume that you can push KM to the forefront!

4. Outside In.

ImageThis approach is a little higher risk, but does come with its own in-built parachute.
Sometimes things just sound better when they are heard from the outside.   People who would treat an internal newsletter or intranet article with a degree of scepticism will pay attention to  the same story when it appears in a journal or arrives via their RSS feed – or when a friend of customer mentions that it just arrived in their RSS feed.  It’s the power of outside-in.  Geoff Parcell and I found that when we published the first edition of Learning to Fly in 2001, it gave reach, awareness and credibility to the KM programme way beyond anything we could have achieved ourselves.  Rio Tinto experienced a similar unexpected impact when they published their video on Communities of Practice on YouTube.  It just works, and it creates momentum inside the company to fill in any gaps between what is said externally and what happens internally.

And if you do over-reach?  Well, all that publicity should help you to find a soft landing somewhere else!

5. Viral

ImageThis is a variant of the pilot approach and usually involves technology.  BT experienced it with the  launch of their BTPedia internal wiki back in 2007, Russian financial services giant Sberbank encountered it with the launch of their ideas management system in 2011, and the roll-out of many micro-blogging environments  like Deloitte’s Yammer have taken on a life of their own this year.
With a viral approach, you need to be prepared for it to be messy – it’s a case of let a thousand flowers bloom, pick the best ones and do the weeding and gardening later.   However, it’s hard to imagine “lessons learned”, “knowledge retention” or the creation of knowledge products spreading like wildfire.  You’ll need to make the most of the extra momentum and have a plan up your sleeve to connect the parts of KM which spread virally with the other techniques and methods which require more effort to adopt.

6. Stealth

ImageSometimes labels get in the way.

Sometimes  you have to find ways to build  up  your organization’s capability to manage and share knowledge without them realising what your master plan actually is.  You get smart at making small adjustments to processes, spotting political opportunities and allies, tweaking the configuration of information-sharing platforms and the wording of competency frameworks and values;  encouraging networks and facilitating conversations which improve performance and learning.  After a few years, you’ll be able to look back and say to yourself  “you know what, we’re pretty good at managing and sharing knowledge. – but you probably won’t get a plaudit or bonus – just the satisfaction of having helped to build a knowledge-friendly environment which is probably more sustainable than any managed programme would have achieved.

If you like the sound of that, and can live with the lack of recognition, then perhaps a career as an independent KM consultant awaits you!  

7. Copycat

ImageThis is more of a tactic than an implementation strategy per se – but it’s often successful to point to examples of successful KM from other organisations (competitors and customers are particular impactful) to create some “me too” or “me better” demand.  Find a good example and invite them in to tell their story.  Check whether your board members have non-executive directorships or recent prior experience of other companies.  They might be good ones to pursue!
Copycat can work well internally too, encouraging business units to out-do each other in successful knowledge sharing, but make sure that the measures you use to compare and celebrate don’t create a new set of competing silos.   ConocoPhillips’ ‘4G’ awards (Give, Grab, Gather, Guts) and Syngenta’s TREE awards (Transfer, Reuse, Embed, Experience) both focus on giving and receiving – hence they compete to out-share each other – which has to be a good thing!

8. Pilot

ImageA Pilot approach will often take a subset of KM methods and apply them locally – in contrast to the big bang, which usually takes KM as a whole and attempts to apply it globally.  It’s all about lighting a number of fires to see what spreads.  A pilot enables you to try the aspects of KM most likely to make a difference quickly, to build credibility locally, and to learn from each implementation.  That could mean launching a community of practice for one part of the organisation whilst closing the learning loop on major projects and working on knowledge retention for retiring experts.
Criteria for a successful pilot?

  • capable of showing results (measurable value would be good) within 6 months;
  • strategic;
  • repeatable elsewhere;
  • close to the heart of any key sponsor or stakeholder, and
  • ideally a recognisable part of the organisation (not too esoteric) which will make their story easy to understand.

9. The Buffet Menu

ImageThe success of a buffet approach depends on a high level of demand for knowledge. Rather than investing effort in creating an appetite, or a willingness to experiment – this approach works with the demand already present, and provides an array of tools and techniques which the organisation chooses from at will, once their “palate” is sufficiently educated.

The International Olympic Committee is a great example of this.  They set out a veritable smorgasbord of learning processes, observation visits, secondments, extranet platforms, access to experts, databases, distilled recommendations and lessons learned.  A knowledge feast for a future organising committee, who enter the 7-year process with a tremendous appetite for knowledge.
On a smaller scale (and let’s face it, everything looks small compared to the Olympics!), management consultancies operate their KM programmes using the demand for knowledge which accompanies each new assignment.

Demand-led programmes are more likely to be sustainable – no need to persuade people to change their behaviour – adrenaline drives them to it!

10. Phoenix from the ashes

ImageFor a lot of organisations, KM is not a new idea.  For many of them, there have been several historical big bangs, pilots and copycat initiatives.
Talk with people about what has happened in the past and learn from it.  Corporate KM started in the mid ’90s, so you’ll be looking for people with grey hair (working in KM does that to people). Sometimes just having these conversations can rekindle enthusiasm, tinged with nostalgia.  Why didn’t we make more of that?  What did we lose momentum then?  Perhaps now the timing is better?  Perhaps now, with a new sponsor, or now that we’ve addressed that particular barrier?
It is quite possible for KM to rise, phoenix-like from the ashes and fly higher than it did before.

So whether you’re a viral copycat or a phoenix stealthily approaching a buffet from the outside in, here’s ten options to consider, with a little help from the inaugural UN KMOL class of 2013.

Back in 2009, I blogged about some heart-warming examples of cross-industry peer assists,  involving Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Ferrari Formula 1 pit team.  Geoff and I wrote the story up fully in our second book, “No more Consultants“.

The specific example related to the operating theatre team improving their handover processes during an operation called the “arterial switch” – and the insights of Professor Martin Elliott and his colleagues who had the curiosity and the passion to approach Ferrari and ask for help.

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It reminded me of Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” where he wrote:

“I have concluded that in a flat world, IQ- Intelligence Quotient – still matters, but CQ and PQ – Curioity Quotient and Passion Quotient – matter even more. I live by the equation CQ+PQ>IQ. Give me a kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over a less passionate kid with a high IQ every day of the week.”

I was interested to see that Formula One was in the news again this week with another example of curiosity-driven cross-sector knowledge sharing – this time with public transport.  Train manufacturer Alstom, who say that the knowledge they gained has enabled them reduce a 2-day repair job to just 4 hours.

We need more of these “I wonder” moments to bring knowledge together, where curiosity triumphs over the “but we’re different” default reaction of not-invented-here cultures which drives those connections and overlaps apart.

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I came across this post via the Knowledge Flow (thank you Susan Frost!), and was struck by the idea, and its parallels in the world of networks and communities of practice.

It’s the “Little Free Library”.

littlefreelibrary01

Little Free Library is a creative idea, thought up by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, that aims to promote literacy and bring communities together by putting up mini libraries in neighborhoods around the world. Started in 2009, it’s a nonprofit that seeks to place these small, accessible book exchange boxes right in front of a house or on a street corner. (Take a book, return a book.)  What makes the idea so special?

Their website states: “Little Free Libraries have a unique, personal touch and there is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community. These aren’t just any old books, this is a carefully curated collection and the Library itself is a piece of neighborhood art!

It’s great to see the principles and practices  of reciprocity, trust, curation, individuality, creativity, altruism, generosity, adaptation and growth all working together, building a sense of community.

What if you were to ask each member of your community of practice to curate a small library of their favourite resources, links, documents, sources and experts – to make that visible (virtually) and then to borrow connections from each other?

If you get the same result as Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, then it’s just what a successful community thrives on:

“It’s started a neighborhood exchange. It gets people talking and more comfortable with their neighbors,” he said. “This leads to them helping each other.”

That sounds like  a pretty effective knowledge management tool to me.

freelibrary

Last week I had the opportunity to see Matilda  in the West End. Coincidentally, it’s just opened on Broadway to well-deserved rave reviews.
For the uninitiated, it’s a musical production of Roald Dahl’s book of the same name – about a little girl who develops her own knowledge, imagination, stories and her own special powers in some pretty extreme family and school circumstances.  It’s Dahl, (and Tim Minchin who wrote the musical), at their best – my family loved it.  Here’s a 90 second clip:

 

Reading the programme in the interval, I was really  struck by a phrase in an interview Tim Minchin’s Olivier Best Director acceptance speech:

“Denying stories is denying the most human part of being a human.
Without stories we’re just eating machines with shoes.”

I like that.

It challenges me a bit too, as I think about the way in which organisations often treat their employees, focusing only on their current role and failing to surface their stories and experience. It’s like they’re “working machines with shoes” rather than people with a wealth of experience.
Here’s a picture I ask people to reflect upon during my training programmes on knowledge-sharing, networks and communities of practice. I ask them to describe how it relates to their own organisations.

Upturned jigsaw pieces

They usually talk about not knowing who to connect with, not knowing where expertise and relevant experience lies, relying on serendipity, not knowing where to start (no corners or edges), lacking strategy (no picture to copy) etc.
Then we discuss what it would take to turn the pieces over, so that we learn more about each others’ stories.

That then leads nicely into a conversation about social media, or into some practical, no-tech activities like personal social network mapping on paper (thank you Cheryl Cooper), anecdote circles (thank you Ron Donaldson), peer assists (thank you Geoff Parcell) and knowledge cafe’s (thank you David Gurteen) – or a trip to the bar (thank you Stella Artois and Samuel Adams). That way, we move from being eating machines with shoes to drinking machines with stories!

I’m sure Roald would have approved.
Even if Miss Trunchbull wouldn’t.

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