I have now migrated the content from the “All of us are smarter than any of us” blog to my new site: www.chriscollison.com/blog   – please update your favourites/bookmarks/links.

All of the new posts are there too!

Thank you!

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.”


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!).


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?


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.


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”?


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.

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?


You give a very noble account of yourself.                  


Make inquiries.  It’s all true.


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


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.

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