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After 43 years of the Glastonbury Music  Festival, and after much negotiation, the Rolling Stones have finally played the famous pyramid stage.  It happened on Saturday, started with Jumping Jack Flash and ended with (can’t get no) Satisfaction.

What caught my attention though, was the headline that Sir Mick Jagger had spend many hours intently watching DVDs of previous headline performances.”

I was impressed that despite his experience as a performer,  he still saw the need to learn and improve, even after 50 years in the industry and some of the most lucrative and successful live tours of any band in history.

It reminds me of the following quote from L Carte:

Only those who have learned a lot are in a position to admit how little they know.

How many professionals and leaders in your organisation retain that same commitment  to continue learning in order to be the best the can be?

Jagger, a former London School of Economics student, still exhibits intellectual curiosity, so I’ll give him the last word:

“Everyone wants to have done more things in their lives. It is a slightly intellectually undemanding thing to do, being a rock singer, but, you know, you make the best of it.”

Image

Click to download the Knowledgeable BrochureWell, hats off to NASA and their partners for pulling off an amazing feat of project planning, innovation, technological wizardry and collaboration. That MARDI video was quite something. Curiosity has landed – let’s see what it finds.

I’ve been reflecting on the topic of curiosity recently, and in fact it even made it onto the cover of my most recent brochure!

In many respects, it is curiosity which closes the learning loop.  We can invest vast amounts of effort in learning, reviewing and capturing (when we don’t have an immediate customer to transfer newly generated knowledge to) – but if nobody is curious enough to want to learn from the experience of others, then there is no demand – and no marketplace for knowledge exchange.

That’s why Thomas Friedman wrote about the importance of the “Curiosity Quotient”, created the equation:  CQ + PQ > IQ  (PQ is Passion Quotient) and 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.”

As we look to make our organisations more effective in their use of knowledge, let’s keep one eye on how  we can increase the levels of curiosity.
We can do this through any number of means: leadership encouragement and open questions, raising the levels of awareness of projects and activities, curation, gaming, social serendipity, thinking out loud, peer challenge and peer assistance, overcoming “not-invented-here” and making our organisations a safe place to ask for (and receive) help.

If we could accomplish more of this, then who knows what new life we might discover in KM?

Earlier this year I presented at Henley Business School’s annual KM Forum event, on the subject of “Lessons Earned”. They kindly recorded the event, and I have finally got around to editing and posting a ten minute excerpt on YouTube.

Watch it to discover:

  • How Lessons Learned are like the Higgs Boson particle…
  • How project lessons are like a leaky bucket…
  • Why frequently asked questions aren’t frequently right…
  • Why captured knowledge is like a dead butterfly collection…
  • How ‘not hiding’ is different to sharing…
  • And why curiosity is good for business, even if it is bad for cats!

Image accredited with thanks to Paul Sapiano on Flickr

Following on from my last post comparing operational effectiveness with knowledge effectiveness, I’m reminded of the “Choke Model” from my BP days.  The choke model was a way of modelling production losses at every stage in the process, for example during the refining of crude oil to produce the raw materials and refined products which customers want to buy.
Starting with 100%, every step in the process was analysed, and the biggest “chokes” were identified and targeted for improvement.  There is a belief in BP that the total of all of these small percentage production losses across all of its refineries was the equivalent to having a brand new refinery lying dormant!  Now when you focus it like that, it’s one big financial prize to get after.

I think there’s a similar perspective that we could take looking at the way in which knowledge is lost during our efforts to “refine it” and transfer it to customers.  Sometimes we are so upbeat about “lessons learned” and “learning before, during and after”, that we start believing that we’ve got organizational learning cracked.  Well I don’t believe that we have!

Let’s take a walk through an organizational learning cycle and see where some of the “chokes” in our knowledge management processes might be.

Imagine that you’re working with a team who have just had an outstanding success, completing a short project. There’s a big “bucket of knowledge” there, but from the moment the project has completed, that bucket is starting to spill or leak its lessons.  (On a longer project, the leakage will start before the project has ended, but let’s keep it simple for now and say that memories are still fresh).

So from this moment, your lessons start to leak.  The team will be disbanded, team members join other projects, and people start re-writing the history of their own involvement (particularly as they approach performance appraisal time!).

Leak!

Let’s have a project review or “retrospect” to capture the lessons.  Good – but not a “watertight” process for learning everything that might be needed.

  • Are the right people in the room?  Team?  Customers? Sponsor? Suppliers?  Partners?
  • Are you asking the right questions? Enough questions?  The questions which others would have asked?
  • Are people responding thoughtfully?  Honestly? Are people holding back?  Is there politics or power at play which is influencing the way people respond?  Is the facilitator doing their job well?  Are they reading the room,  pressing for detail, for recommendations, for actions?

Leak!

And then we try to write-up this rich set of conversations into a lessons learned report.  However hard we try, we are going to lose emotion, detail, connections, nuances, the nature of the interactions and relationships – and all too often we lose a lot more in our haste to summarise. Polanyi and Snowden had something to say about that.

Leak!

And what happens to that report?  Is it lost in the bowels of SharePoint?  Is it tagged and indexed to maximise discovery?  Is it trapped on someone’s hard drive, or distributed ineffectively by email to “the people we thought would need it”?

Leak!

And of course, just because it’s stored, it doesn’t mean it’s shared! Sharing requires someone to receive it – which means that they have to want it.  Are the potential users of this knowledge thirsty? Curious?  Eager to learn?  Encouraged to learning rather than reinventing?  Infected with “Not invented here”?  Believe that their new project is completely different? Willing to root around in SharePoint to find those lessons? Willing to use the report as a prompt to speak with the previous team, and to invite them to a Peer Assist to share more of their learning?

Leak! Leak! Leak!

So you see, it’s a messy, leaky, lossy business,  and I think we need to be honest about that.  Honest with ourselves as KM professionals, and honest with our colleagues and customers.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work hard to address the leaks and losses – quite the reverse.  We should be anticipating and responding to each one.  Whether that means having a “knowledge plan” throughout the lifetime of a project, engaging leaders to set the right expectations, providing support/training/coaching/facilitation/tools etc.   There’s a lot we can do to help organisations get so much better at this.  They might not save the equivalent of a Refinery’s worth of value – but they might just make their workplaces more fulfilling, increase staff engagement and reduce their dependence on external consultants.

I think it starts with the business answering the question:

 

“Just how valuable do we really believe this knowledge is?”

 

 

If you look at the picture at the top of this blog and imagine it’s happening on a beach somewhere, then it’s just part of the fun in an environment of abundance.  You can fill the bucket up again and again…

If the picture was taken in a drought-stricken part of the world – an environment of scarcity – well that’s a different story.

One of my favourite moments from one of my favourite films comes in “The King’s Speech”, when Bertie (King George VI – Colin Firth) confronts his speech therapist, (Lionel Logue, played by the brilliant Geoffrey Rush), revealing that he now knows that Lionel – who has been treating him for some time – actually has no formal qualifications.

Lionel:
It’s true.  I’m not a doctor and yes, I acted a bit, recited in pubs and taught elocution in schools. When the Great War came, our boys were pouring back from the front, shell-shocked and unable to speak and somebody said “Lionel, your’ very good at this speech stuff.  Do you think you could possibly help these poor buggers”.  I did muscle therapy, exercise, relaxation but I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening.  That must ring a few bells with you Bertie?

Bertie:

You give a very noble account of yourself.                  

Lionel:

Make inquiries.  It’s all true.

Bertie:

Inquiries have been made!   You have no idea who is breathing down my neck.  I vouched for you and you have no credentials.

Lionel:

But lots of success!  I can’t show you a certificate – there was no training then.  All I know, I know by experience.  And that war was some experience.
Lock me in the tower.

 

That’s the bit:   All I know, I know by experience.

As Knowledge Professionals, I believe that one of our most important tasks is to discover, surface, and give voice to experience.

When I’m explaining or facilitating a Peer Assist process, I make a point of emphasising the difference between people giving opinion and people sharing experience.  We can Google for opinions; they are cheap and easy to come by.  Experience, in contrast is a more precious commodity.  It’s earned, it’s won, it’s personal, and it’s unarguable.

This is why story is such an effective medium for the transfer of knowledge.  People tell stories about their experience.  If they presented or wrote them down, they inevitably filter, over-summarize, and post-rationalise with opinion and analysis – and it’s in that process when the waters get muddied, the purity of experience is lost – along with messages embedded in the tone of voice and body language.

I’m not denying that there is value in KM processes and tools which elicit opinion and advice.  Lots of discussion forums work well on that principle. Great.  Let’s bank that.  But let’s not confuse giving opinion with sharing experience.

How many opportunities do people in your organisation have to share experience, or listen to others sharing theirs?

Tools to support this include Peer Assists, Appreciative inquiry, Knowledge/World cafes, Anecdote Circles

How many experience-sharing tools are in active use in your organisation?
And do they, as Lionel Logue might have said – give you “Lots of success”?

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post on Polanyi and Snowden’s “We know more than we can ever tell, we tell more than we can ever write down”, what should I see in my local shop, but this little red notebook:


Not sure what Polanyi would think about that!

Or whether he’d write it down.

Sometimes I come across organisations which have a way of working which naturally encourages the sharing of knowledge – so naturally, in fact, that they don’t realise that the way they operate is different from most other companies.

Posters – perhaps the most effective (and overlooked) social media?

I spent most of last week with a knowledge-friendly Swiss company which has developed a “poster culture” over the past 5 years.  Corridors, office walls – pretty much every piece of available  wall-space has a poster describing a project, initiative, programme, summary of an event, description of a team and its responsibilities.  Every corner you walk around, you pause and think “hmmm, that’s interesting!”.  They prompt interaction and conversation.

It’s a surprisingly simple low-tech thing, but it goes a long way to helping people discover what’s going on. No surprises. No closed doors.  It puts clear labels on the silos. (see my earlier post – “in defence of silos”)

The same company ran a workshop/conference to update the group on progress on several projects. Rather than using PowerPoint, went to the trouble (and expense) of producing large posters so that people could be walked-through their story.  I joined the groups who were circulating between different poster sessions, found myself reflecting on the dynamics.

Yes, in many cases, the posters looked a lot like several PowerPoint slides arranged side-by-side.  But even where that was the case, as the reader, I was still in control of which ones I read.  Whilst the presenter was talking, I could still flick my eyes back to the material she had just covered, and get a sense of what was still to come.
If she’d showed me exactly the same slides, but in the more conventional linear sequence, projected on a screen, driven by the presenter – it would have been different – and I would probably have lost the plot.  In the poster environment, I had more control over my own journey through the story.  Pointing and asking “could you just clarify what you meant in that bit”, is much easier than interrupting the flow with “could you go back 4 slides – I think it was 4, perhaps 5 – no one more…”

In other cases, the poster-makers took full advantage of their canvas, and drew timelines, rollercoasters and journeys to illustrate their talks, and provided pockets of depth and detail in parts of the poster.  You just can’t do that with a conventional 4×3 slide.

Did it cost more?

Yes – $100 per poster – and large posters are unwieldy, require space and take time to put up.  Most companies don’t have 2A0 chart-plotters/printers in house – but don’t let that stop you.

Did it add more value?

Disproportionately yes, I would say.  Spend the money.  Plant some trees to offset the extra paper. Revel in the fact that you don’t have a projector in the room.

Did it make best use of the knowledge in the room and encourage dialogue?

I hardly need to answer that.

Yes.  After my poster renaissance moment last week in Switzerland, it’s a +1 from me for this form of social media.

Came across this courtesy of npr via John Allan.

Nice post, interesting research. It got me thinking about social media, and the exuberance (now perhaps that’s a collective noun for social media?) of sources available stimulate us, if we choose to be stimulated.

See what you think.

He rocks. He rolls. He sucks. He kicks. He tongues. He handles. He flips. He touches. There’s not a single item in this living room that 9 month old Charles-Edward (aka Edward) doesn’t explore (for a while I thought he’d ignore the chair in the upper left corner, but no…).
Edward (son of Quebec City journalist/photographer Francis Vachon) is a rolling demonstration of what the neuroscientists call “synaptic exuberance.” You can’t see what’s happening in his brain, but he is forming ten, twenty thousand new connections every second. Watch him go.

Here’s the thing about babies. When we’re born, we get the brain cells we need, but the connections between cells haven’t formed yet. In those first few years as we explore the world, the cells begin to link up at a dizzying pace, forming tens of thousands, even millions of new links. When you watch Edward you can almost feel it happening.

Look inside a baby brain and you can see the brain cells getting bushier with more and more links to other cells.

But the strange thing is, we babies overdo it.

All of us, not just Edward, form more connections than we need. Then, later on, (different regions of the brain do this at different times, but it goes on into our teen years) there’s a strange reversal. Millions of connections start to die. Why does this happen? Why do babies have a sudden burst of synaptic exuberance around Edward’s age and then start losing the connections?

Why does a child’s brain demand twice the energy of an adult’s brain? Why do some areas in the brain mature before others? And what about one of the most fascinating aspects of brain development — the discovery that the brain produces “too much” of various neural elements and then eliminates the excess? In some ways, this is analogous to the sculptor who begins with more material than is required and then subtracts the excess material to obtain a desired form. Unlike the sculptor, however, who eventually achieves a final form, the brain is able to undergo some remodeling throughout life.

…This way, brain circuits are created and strengthened, in part, by whatever environment and experiences the baby encounters.

This allows for a fine-tuning of neuronal circuits, based on early exposure and environmental nurturing, that makes the neuronal architecture of each person unique.

What he’s saying is babies go wild making connections and then, as we grow into our preferences, our personalities, life is like a scalpel. We slowly shed what we don’t need or use or want. Having watched Edward for those time lapsed four hours, it’s hard to imagine what he’s going to give up later in life but he’s got to give up something. We all do.

So, for example, a spell in Twitter can feel very much like young Edward’s 4 hours – rolling around between information sources, picking some up, putting some down, clicking-through, retweeting, favouriting…

I’m most struck by the idea that we “go wild making connections, then as we grow in our preferences, we shed what we don’t need or want”.

So even though we’re all significantly older than Edward (although he shares my hairline), does it still work for us when we roll, crawl or toddle around the information playroom?

Does the same principle of “shedding what we don’t need or want” help us to develop a new set of preferences and personalities which can handle an explosion of information sources and stimuli without suffering overload?
Or does social media do the scalpel work on our behalf, so that our synapses don’t need to re-live their childhood?

I’d like to think so. That floor looked hard!

Hannah, my youngest daughter clearly has me down as the kind of Dad who has his head in the clouds…

Father's Day

…but I’ll forgive her; ever the diplomat, she has blessed me with a full head of hair!

Another excellent and innovative video short from Commoncraft.  Keep ‘em coming… 

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