My shaggy-dog story.
In April we had a new addition to the family.
Alfie the Labradoodle came into our lives, and for 98% of the time, we haven’t looked back.

Charged with lawn-crime

You can put that 2% down to unscheduled early mornings, a chewed laptop power supply, a hole in the garden – and a very disturbing barefoot encounter on the lawn after dark.  I’ll leave that to your imagination.

The thing I find most remarkable about being a dog owner is that it’s as though you suddenly become visible to people.  I have had more conversations with complete strangers in the last three months than in all the 10 years we have lived here. For the first time in my life, random women approach me with a “hello gorgeous” (OK, not me exactly), parents stop me and ask if their toddlers can stroke him, car drivers stop and ask what breed he is and grown men share their innermost ideas about dog training tips and anti-pull harness choices.

It was a bit disconcerting at first, but it’s actually quite pleasant.  Perhaps this new social norm is what it was like in the 60’s?

So why so people feel OK to engage in conversation, share their experience and impart wisdom in ways that they never would have done before?

We’ll, it’s obvious I guess – because the dog is obvious. Everyone can see that I’m a dog owner, so my membership of the dog-lovers’-club is visible to all, at the end of a lead.  That gives permission for other club members to approach me and ask or share.

This reminds me of Etienne Wenger’s famous definition of Communities of Practice

A group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do, and they learn to do it better as they interact regularly.

You can see where this is going.
How much more effective and productive would our organizations be if we made our expertise, our experience, our concerns and our passion more visible to our colleagues?  Here are six to consider.

  • I’ve written before about the poster culture in Syngenta and how they make their projects and programmes more visible.
  • Expertise directories, personal profiles and smart social media which suggests connections generates a culture of greater disclosure are also helpful.
  • Retreats where you have time, space and informality to get to know your colleagues better are a natural way to make new connections and deepen existing ones.
  • Communities of practice can create a safe place for shrinking violets to flourish, and communities of interest (I’ve seen photography, cycling, food and wine societies, women’s networks etc. in organisations) can also generate the conditions to mix business with pleasure.
  • Finally, Knowledge fairs and offers-and-requests marketplaces create a pause – a moment to browse and discover.

So much better than leaving your knowledge in its kennel…

Alfie in Kennel

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!

Thank you to @susanfrost for sending this my way.

Some great food for thought – literally – from JP Rangaswami, using Food as a metaphor for our relationship with information. It’s an interesting and stimulating comparison, and you have to chuckle when he extends the metaphor to Fox News to McDonalds at the end!

It’s always nice when two pieces of work converge.

I’ve had the pleasure of consulting to BAA’s KM team at Heathrow over the past month, and in parallel, have been researching the knowledge transfer processes which surround the Olympic Games. Both of these are good stories.

I was impressed to see the video below, which was Vancouver’s “knowledge gift” to Heathrow.
Nicely produced, and well received.

Is that sometimes, you just end up creating new ones!

There have been a few threads on LinkedIn KM groups on the topic of “knowledge assets” recently.

It’s one of those words which gets thrown around by KM people without any agreed definition.  For many people, they are interchangeable with the term “information assets”, but sound sexier.  (Much like databases became “knowledgebases” a few years ago.)

Now I’m not going to assert definitions here – rather to give my view on the different perspectives, and share the way I distinguish between knowledge assets and information assets, building on the descriptions that Geoff and I wrote in “Learning to Fly”.

Speaking of flight, there’s something about butterfly collections which always leaves me feeling slightly saddened.   The colours and fragility are still there, but of course the life has gone.

Image courtesy of hoyasmeg on Flickr

I think we do well to remind ourselves that when we capture knowledge and write it down as information, we kill it.
That’s not to say that the information is not immensely valuable, and may even have a long shelf life.

But it is dead.

Knowledge is information with the life still in it!

For me, the role of a knowledge asset is to consolidate the learning from a number of activities, and produce a distilled set of guidelines or recommendations, with (importantly) a clear and well-linked signpost to contact the source, to drill down into more detail and examples, and to contribute further stories to build the asset further.  Oh, and there’s some kind of mechanism for validating the input – ideally via a community of practice.  They keep it alive.

I’ve seen a lot of examples which start out as “knowledge assets”, but quickly become “knowledge graveyards” because there is no community to own and refresh the content, and the links between the information and the authors/sources are not clear or maintained. Once you lose the connection between knowledge and the person who provided it, it’s a bit like switching off its life support machine…

  • There is an “extractionist” school of thought out there which focuses on separating knowledge from an individual, then combining, distilling and packaging in into a convenient and accessible products.
  • And there’s a “connectivist” school of thought which seeks to turn information into an advertisement for a conversation with the source.

I think the best knowledge assets combine these perspectives.   Too much extractionism (is that a real word?), and you can end up a logical but inflexible, self-reinforcing summary of the views of the editor-in-chief.  Too much connectivism, and you can get endless repeating, diverging threads and snippets which can be frustrating to draw insight from, and require too many phone calls to answer the all questions they elicit.

There are some topics which lend themselves to something approaching a “single version of the truth” (we call that known area “best practice” don’t we?), and for them, the logic of an extractionist-oriented knowledge asset will work.

Then there are topics which are more complicated, and benefit from the constant iteration and interaction of a connection-rich asset. (That’s knowable “good practice” in the Cynefin framework).

Simplified Cynefin framework, from MBAworld.com

I suspect it’s in these two quadrants where knowledge assets add value. Shifting further to the left takes us on a journey into emergence and chaos where pre-packaged knowledge is unlikely to fit the bill, although the fragments and stories they contain may well be informative.

One of the LinkedIn discussions asked: “Is a cookbook was an example of a knowledge asset?”

My answer was:

… a cookbook isn’t really a very good example of a knowledge asset because it represents a snapshot in time of a particular recipe, and doesn’t usually provide me with an easy way to ask questions of the chef, or other cooks who are learning/experimenting/adapting… I would say it’s really an Information Asset.  That’s not a bad thing – I have a kitchen full of them!

However, a recipe *blog*, which has all the benefit of the book, but which is socially constructed, grows and develops, commented-on added to by other cooks and enthusiasts who ask and answer questions…  Now that feels more like a *knowledge* asset to me.

We spent some time with extended family over new year, and I overheard one of the younger boys, Ted, recounting his tales of mischief at school – and the subsequent punishments he had received.

I was perturbed to hear him say that the school no longer uses the word “detention” because it has negative connotations (Guantanamo has a lot to answer for…),

No, instead labelling staying late after school or missing break as “detention”, the children in this particular school  are threatened with…..                  wait for it…

 

Reflection!

 

Yes, the biggest threat that you can hold out to an eleven-year old is that of Reflection!

So Ted gets caught copying someone work, and is sentenced to a period of reflection until he’s learned his lesson.

In ten years time, Ted may well enter the corporate world where (if he chooses his employer wisely) he’ll be expected to copy the work of others, encouraged to take time to reflect, and to actively seek out lessons learned!

We don’t make it easy for them, do we?