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

Have you heard the story of Billy Ray Harris?  It’s a heart-warming one.

Credit: KCTV5Billy Ray is a homeless Kansas man who received an unexpected donation when passer-by Sarah Darling accidentally put her engagement ring into his collecting cup.  Despite being offered $4000 for the ring by a jeweller, he kept the ring, and returned it to her when, panic-stricken, she came back the following day.  Sarah gave him all the cash she had in her purse as a reward, and as they told their good-luck story to friends – who then told their friends –  her finance decided to put up a website to collect donations for Billy Ray.  So far, $151,000 have been donated as the story has gone viral around the world.  Billy Ray plans to use the money to move to Houston to be near his family.  You can see the whole story here.

On closer inspection, it turns out that this wasn’t the first ring that Billy had returned to its owner.  A few years previously, he found a  Super Bowl ring belonging to a football player and walked to the his hotel to return it.  The football player rewarded him financially, and gave him three nights at that luxury hotel.   So the pattern was already established for Billy Ray, who also attributes it to his upbringing as the grandson of a reverend.

Whether you see this story as an illustration of grace, karma or good-old-fashioned human nature,  it illustrates the principle of reciprocity.  

Reciprocity is an important principle for knowledge management, and one which underpins the idea of Offers and Requests. 
Offers and Requests was a simple approach, introduced to make it easier for Operations Engineers at BP to ask for help, and to share good practice with their peers.  The idea was for each business unit to self-assess their level of operational excellence using a maturity model, and identify their relative strengths and weaknesses.   In order to overcome barriers like “tall poppy syndrome”, or a reluctance to ask for help (“real men don’t ask directions”), a process was  put in place whereby every business unit would be asked to offer three areas which they felt proud of, and three areas which they wanted help with.  The resulting marketplace for matching offers and requests was successful because:

i) The principle of offering a strength at the same time as requesting help  was non-threatening and reciprocal – it was implicitly fair.

ii) The fact that every business unit was making their offers and requests at the same time meant that it felt like a balanced and safe process.

 

Like Billy Ray, one positive experience of giving and receiving led to another, and ultimately to a Operations community.  A community website for offers and requests underpinned the process, enabling social connections and discussions.

This is played out in the Kansas story, where the addition of technology and social connections created disproportionate value – currently $151,000 of it. 

In the words of Billy Ray, “What is the world coming to when a person returns something that doesn’t belong to him and all this happens?”

Last week I spent a day in The Hague, delivering a KM training programme to a group there.
As part of the day, after an experiential exercise adapted from the Marshmallow Challenge (which was great fun!), we had a more detailed discussion about the Peer Assist technique.

A Peer Assist, as Geoff Parcell and I said in “Learning to Fly”  is

…a meeting or workshop where people are invited from other organisations and groups to share their experience, insights and knowledge with a team who have requested some help early on in a piece of work.

Whenever I teach how this works in practice, I always emphasize that the invitees to a Peer Assist are there to share their experience, rather than give their opinions.  Experience, you see, is a precious commodity, an earned reward because someone was present, involved and personally learned from an event – and hence can share their story first hand.

Opinion is cheaper and easier to come by.  I can google for opinions; I can give/receive opinion in a LinkedIn group;  I can email you my opinion. I can receive opinions on a blog posting or a tweet.  Sometimes the opinion given is rooted in experience, but not necessarily. It’s often “retweeted” opinion, amplified from someone else.  This video where members of the public give their opinion on the new iPhone (or so they think!), is a classic example of retweeted opinion – the unwitting stars of the show have absorbed so much of the iPhone 5 hype that their received opinions distort their personal experience!

The language we use around Opinion and Experience is interesting.

“Do you want my opinion on that? Let me tell you what I think…. ”

Opinion is something which is given.  It’s transactional.

It’s like me buying a coke from a vending machine.

Coke vending machine

In contrast, we would never say “Let me give you my experience”!

We usually ask “Can I share my experience with you?”

As you share your experience with me, I begin to enter your world. I can feel how you felt, see what you saw, think what you thought, and then ask about what I don’t understand.

Sharing experience isn’t transactional – it’s a conversation. It’s relational.  It’s like we are sharing a meal together.

Why is this important?
We have seen a dramatic rise in the number of social channels which surface opinion – within and beyond the boundaries of our organizations.  For people like us, who work with knowledge, this is a good thing. We need to put that opinion to work and make sense of the patterns and sentiment available to us.

But all that experience is also still available for sharing….

This post is a plea for us to remain ambidextrous – let’s continue to be smart at working with opinion, and let’s also strategic about learning from experience.

As we immerse ourselves in transactional tide of opinion, let’s make sure that we can still see the richer, personal knowledge available through the sharing of experience. We need to spot the relational opportunities as well as the transactional ones.

Take a closer look at the bottom of that coke machine, and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s the real thing.

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?

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

Image

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day with a Chemical manufacturing company, working with their business improvement (BI) community, 50 miles south of Milan.  The welcome was very warm, but the fog was dense and cold as we donned hard hats and safety shoes for a tour of the site.

One of the key measures which the BI specialists monitor is that of Overall Equipment Effectiveness – which is defined as:

OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality.

Availability relates to production losses due to downtime; Performance relates to the production time relative to the planned cycle time, and Quality relates to the number of defects in the final product.

It set me thinking about what a measure of Overall Knowledge Effectiveness for a specific topic might look like?

How do we measure the availability of knowledge?  Is that about access to information, or people’s availability for a conversation?

What about knowledge performance?  Hmmm. This is where a linear industrial model for operational performance and cycle times begins to jar against the non-linear world of sharing, learning, adapting, testing, innovating…

And knowledge quality?  How do we measure that?  It is about the relevance? The degree to which supply satisfies demand?  The way the knowledge is presented to maximise re-use?  The opportunity to loop-back and refine the question with someone in real-time to get deeper into the issue?

Modelling how people develop and use knowledge is so much more complicated than manufacturing processes.  Knowledge isn’t as readily managed as equipment!

If we limit ourselves to the “known” and “knowable” side of the Cynefin framework – the domains of “best practice” and “good practice” – are there some sensible variables which influence overall knowledge effectiveness for a specific topic or theme?

So how about:

Overall Knowledge Effectiveness = Currency x Depth x Availability x Usability x Personality

Currency:  How regularly the knowledge  and any associated content is refreshed and verified as accurate and relevant.

Depth:  Does it leave me with unanswered questions and frustration, or can I find my way quickly to detail and examples, templates, case studies, videos etc.?

Availability:  How many barriers stand between me and immediate access to the knowledge I need.  If it’s written down, than these could be security/access barriers; if it’s still embodied in a person, then it’s about how easily I can interact with them.

Usability:  How well has this been packaged and structured to ensure that it’s easy to navigate, discover and make sense of the key messages.  We’ve all read lessons learned reports which are almost impossible to draw anything meaningful from because it’s impossible to separate the signal from the noise.

Personality:  I started with “Humanness”, but that feels like a clumsy term.  I like the idea that knowledge is most effective when it has vitality and personality. So this is a measure of how quickly can I get to the person, or people with expertise and experience in this area in order to have a conversation.  To what extent are they signposted from the content and involved in its renewal and currency (above)

Pauses for thought.

Hmmm. It still feels a bit like an “if you build it they will come” supply model.  Of course people still need to provide the demand – to be willing and motivated to overcome not-invented-here and various other behavioural syndromes and barriers, apply the knowledge and implement any changes.

Perhaps what I’ve been exploring is really “knowledge supply effectiveness”  there’s a “knowledge demand effectiveness” equation which needs to be balanced with this one?

Hence:  Overall Knowledge Effectiveness is maximised when

(Knowledge Supply Effectiveness) / (Knowlege Demand Effectiveness) = 1

Not sure whether the fog is lifting or not.  More thinking to be done…

Geoff Parcell pointed me in the direction of this brilliant RSA Animate video, featuring renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist.  There is so much in this 11 minutes that you’ll want to watch it two or three times to take it in, and a fourth, with the pause button to appreciate all of the humour in the artwork.  Just superb.  Do watch it.

It got me thinking again about parallels between how the brain manages knowledge and how organisations manage knowledge.
Ian debunks a lot of myths about the separate functions of left and right hemispheres and emphasizes the fact that for either imagination or reason, you need to use both in combination.

  • Left hemisphere – narrow, sharply focused attention to detail, depth, isolated, abstract, symbolic, self-consistent
  • Right hemisphere – sustained, broad, open, vigilant, alertness, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate.

We share some (but not all) of these left/right distinctions with animals. However, as humans, we uniquely have frontal lobes.

  • Frontal lobes – to stand back in time and space from the immediacy of experience (empathy and reflection)

I think a holistic approach to knowledge management which mirrors the brain will pay attention to breadth, depth, living connections and reflection. This has implications for the way we structure and navigate codified knowledge – moving between context and detail, abstract to interconnected – and also reinforces the relationship between KM and organisational learning (the frontal lobe bit).

I believe that an effective knowledge management strategy will creatively combine each of these components in a way which is balanced to the current and future needs of the business.

In a way, a lot of first generation KM was left-brain oriented.  Second and third generation KM have combined the learning elements of the frontal lobes with the living, inteconnected right brain.  That doesn’t mean that first generation KM is no longer relevant – I would assert that the power is in the combination of all three – see this earlier posting on KM, Scientology and Top Trumps!

It’s probably the last minute which is the most challenging.  Does your KM strategy,  led self-consistently by the left hemisphere,  imprison your organisation in  a hall of mirrors where it reflects back into more of what it knows about what it knows about what it knows?

The animation closes with Einstein’s brilliantly prescient statement:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We live in a society which honours the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”

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