Web 2.0

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined speed dating and knowledge-sharing? I can’t own up to any firsthand experience of the former, but I’m told by friends who do, that you participate in a merry-go-round of three-minute exchanges on a room full of tables-for-two.  When the bell rings you move around to the next person.  If you like what you’re experienced, you make a note on your score-card, and, if the feeling was mutual, you take the next steps together. Tremendously efficient and less emotionally risky than the traditional approach – at least for most people!

speed dating

To save a praying mantis experience, there are websites full of interesting questions that you might ask during your 3 minutes – for example:  “What luxury item would you take on a desert island?” and “What are your favourite words and why?”. Incidentally, “knowledge management” is not a good answer to the second question. So if speed-dating is designed to reduce the emotional investment, embarrassment and risk of failure  of finding a potential partner – what can we learn from that room-full of tables which we could apply in a KM context?

In my work with communities of practice and networks over the years, I have observed that when someone asks a question in a network, people are sometimes reluctant to offer up suggestions and ideas because they don’t have a complete answer or a polished response.  The longer the silence lasts, the more risky it feels to contribute.  People hold back, worried that they might be the only one to respond and that their idea will be perceived as being too trivial or too obvious – how embarrassing! If your community feels like this, and you have an opportunity to meet face-to-face, then let me recommend a simple “Speed Consulting” exercise which can help groups to break these bad habits.  (I’m indebted to my friend and consulting colleague Elizabeth Lank for introducing me to this technique).

A quick guide to speed consulting.

Identify some business issue owners In advance, identify a number of people (around 10% of the total) with a business challenge which they would like help with – they are to play the role of the client who will be visited by a team of brilliant management consultants. Business issues should not be highly complex; ideally, each issue could be described in 3 minutes or less.  Brief the issue owners privately coach on their body language, active listening, acknowledgement of input etc.  Remind them that if they are seen to have stopped taking notes (even when a suggestion has been noted before); they may stem the flow of ideas.

Arrange the room You need multiple small consultant teams working in parallel, close enough to generate a “buzz” from the room to keep the overall energy high. Round tables or chair circles work well.  Sit one issue owner at each table. Everybody else at the table plays the role of a consultant. The issue owner will remain at the table throughout the exercise, whilst the groups of “visiting consultants” move around.

Set the context Explain to the room that each table has a business issue, and a team of consultants.  The consultants have a tremendous amount to offer collectively – from their experience and knowledge – but that they need to do it very quickly because they are paid by the minute! They have 15 minutes with each client before a bell sounds, and they move on to their next assignment. The time pressure is designed to prevent any one person monopolising the time with detailed explanation of a particular technique.  Instead, they should refer the issue owner to somewhere (or someone) where they can get further information.  Short inputs make it easier for less confident contributors to participate.

Start the first round Reiterate that you will keep rigidly to time, and that the consultants should work fast to ensure that everyone has shared everything that they have to offer. After 15 minutes, sound the bell and synchronise the movement to avoid a “consultant pile-up”.

Repeat the process Issue owners need to behave as though this is the first group and not respond with ‘the other group thought of that!’. They may need to conceal their notes. Check the energy levels at the tables after 45 minutes.  More than three rounds can be tiring for the issue owners, but if the motivation is particularly high, you might manage 4 rotations.

Ask for feedback and reflection on the process Emphasise that the issue owners are not being asked to “judge” the quality of the consultants!  Invariably, someone will say that they were surprised at the breadth of ideas, and that they received valuable input from unexpected places. Ask members of the “consulting teams” to do the same. Often they will voice their surprise at how sharing an incomplete idea or a contact was well received, and how they found it easy to build on the ideas of others.

Transfer these behaviours into community life Challenge them to offer up partial solutions, ideas and suggestions when a business issue arises in a community.  Having established the habit face-to-face, it should be far easier to continue in a virtual environment.   The immediacy and brevity of social media helps here – perhaps the 140 character limit in Twitter empowers people to contribute?

So perhaps I should have just tweeted: @ikmagazine http://bit.ly/speed_consulting boosts sharing in communities #KM @elank and waited to see what my followers would respond with! To be published in the next edition of Inside Knowledge.

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…

Thanks to Helen Nicol blogging CommonCraft’s excellent video-shorts…

All three of their “plain english” videos here for those of you  who suffer with corporate Youtube filters, and below for those of you who don’t!

I got back yesterday from the second meeting in a “Learning consortium” series of four events that I am co-facilitating with Elizabeth Lank, supported by TFPL.

We’re working with a group of Public Sector organisations who want to improve their capability in the fields of Communities and Collaboration by meeting, sharing, storytelling and developing new approaches.  Naturally, working with such a group requires that we invest time in building trust levels – and also in having some fun together.

Tuesday evening’s lighthearted community-building exercise involved our participants each recommending a music track which linked in some way (some of them tenuously!) to the Collaboration/Communities theme of our consortium.  Thanks to John Quinn at the Learning & Skills Council for stimulating the idea.

With the magic of iTunes, a colour printer and CD-writer, we were able to present each delegate with their own copy of “Music to Collaborate by…” at breakfast the next day. This compilation will now become the soundtrack for use our next two meetings.   
Finding a way to co-create a tangible, unique and enjoyable product is an important milestone for this particular community.

Here is a selection of the tracks…

Pulp – Common People
Sham 69 – if the kids are united
Bill Withers – Lean on me
Primal Scream – Come Together
Al Green – Let’s stay together
U2 – Somehow you keep me hanging on
Better together – Jack Johnson
The Beatles – I’ll get by with a little help from my friends

I must also take the opportunity to thank Rowan Purdy from CSIP, who gave us one the most engaging and clearest presentations on social computing that I have experienced.  Thanks Rowan – Inspirational stuff!


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