Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Dark Side of Web 2.0

I recently attended a good environmental scan / overview presentation about what's happing "out there" in terms of information management, technology, and the internet. As I was listening to the speaker, my mind turned, somewhat uncharacteristically, to a "dark side" perspective. Many speakers / thought leaders extol the virtues/promise/potential about Web 2.0 and social technologies, but perhaps there really is a down side, or at least a few considerations for a more balanced view:

The rise of the opinionated - Emerging technologies gives a voice to all participants (yes, like me). But not every voice is worth hearing. And since these voices are manifested in an explosion of content in a wide variety of types and formats, determining best quality and value is a significant challenge.

The rise of aggregation vs. new and innovative thinking - We first heard about it in the context of students plagiarizing internet content for projects, but now it’s rampant. On the internet, content is so easy to find that there is a tendency to copy and re-use, often without citing sources, rather than create / innovate something new. Granted, re-use saves time and money, but not in all circumstances. Sometimes new and innovative approaches are required to solve problems created by status quo thinking.

The rise of aggregation and fall of awareness / access to original, authoritative sources - The technological capabilities to aggregate content, not to mention the broad re-purposing/re-use of content without attribution, makes it very difficult at times to identify the original, authoritative sources. True, content should be evaluated on its own merit, but often part of that evaluation requires context and source of origin.

Rise of the net evangelist - Over the last few years, the internet and Web 2.0 have been the new "cool thing" to talk about. As a result, there is no shortage of evangelists who are willing and able to take money and talk about the value of Web 2.0 and social technologies in a number of abstract, theoretical ways, or reflect retrospectively/summatively on experiences of organizations who've used some of these technologies to impact their business. Many of these evangelists miss an important point - social technologies are only useful if people use them. Crowd sourcing / wisdom of crowds only works if a crowd is participating. Most of the statistics I've seen around about participation in social technologies (e.g. How Do People Participate in Social Media), and my meagre personal experience online and with in-person groups, point to only a small percentage of any group actual participates. It's a little hard to get wisdom from a crowd when there is now crowd.

Rise (re-glorification) of the speaker not the listener – Early KM initiatives mistakenly focused on the information provider / creator and not the consumer / learner, evidenced in the many stories about unused “knowledge repositories.” Two camps seem to be emerging. I find much (thankfully not all) of the rhetoric around the promise and potential of emerging technologies seems to again focus on the provision / availability of content, and not the individual / group learning and collaboration that takes place, supported by the content. The underlying assumption is that people individually and groups will do the right / logical thing as a matter of course. A bit misguided perhaps?

I certainly agree with those who say that emerging social technologies for joint content authoring, networking, linking, sharing, commenting etc. present opportunities not previously possible in the organizational context. The real challenge from my view is how to deal with the many complexities associated with people – individuals or groups – in examining, choosing, and harnessing the opportunities to integrate social technologies to create productive work environments.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Serendipitious Information Discovery

I was reading a John Tropea's Library Clips blog entry about My recent article on KM Review - When Two Worlds Collide and noticed that he had used a service called Scribd to put a copy of the actual KMReview article directly inline with the blog post. Interesting, I thought. (I'm wondering the value of this type of approach to providing easy access via blogs, wikis etc. to corporate documents in a document management system.)

But, what I wanted to point to is that once on the Scribd site with John's article on my screen, I scrolled through the Related Documents list and uncovered Belonging Networks, a 217 page document that explores the people and technology sides of implementing social networking inside organizations.  Very interesting.

Belonging Networks Corporate Social Networking

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The National Institute for Mental Health in England's definition of knowledge management:

Knowledge Management (KM) is the cultivation of an environment within which people want to share, learn and collaborate leading to individual, team and organisational improvement.

The first one I've come across with a primarily cultural focus.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What Traditional Management and Economics Theories Have In Common

In a recent news article titled We Told You So, author Dan Gardner writes about Robert Shiller's books (The Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance) and the author's accurate predictions of both the housing crisis and the tech crash. Gardner's article points to Shiller's positioning of two flaws in conventional economics thinking that was a major factor in both economic events (and the Dutch tulip mania of 1637 as it turns out):

  • Flaw number one - the premise that people are always rational, and make rational decisions based on facts and what is in their best interests as opposed to "buy a house at grossly inflated price and expect its value to keep rising."
  • Flaw number two - "efficient markets theory" - prices are always reasonable and correct based on all publically available information, and markets are never wrong.

Gardner also references the emergence of behavioural economics over the last 12 years or so, and coincidentally I just stumbled across a Tom Davenport article titled Voting for Behavioral Economics (And Against My Own Self-Interest) that references same.

I haven't ready any of the above mentioned books yet, but what I find fascinating in the article is the link between what is referenced as conventional economic theory, and traditional management thinking that leading management writers and thinkers like Gary Hamel and Henry Mintzberg are attempting to break away from - that the world, its systems, and people are predictable.

It would appear to be the contrary.

(PS: Mintzberg talks about the current economic situation as a A Crisis of Management not Economics, and states that "... everything was short-term and everybody is under pressure and everybody is meeting their targets for each short-term period and so they were not managing. It is a management problem from beginning to end, and I do not think this is a banking problem or a finance problem. "

Friday, November 07, 2008

Understanding the Millennial Generation

In a recent blog entry, Shawn at Anecdote posted a link to this YouTube video titled Generation We. The book by Eric Greenberg is available for free download on the web site.

Generally, I find discussions about the impact of this generation in the workplace fascinating for the variety of opinions espoused by the boomers Gen "x"ers, conflicting research on similarities and differences between the generations, and the sheer volume of conversations about the topic. I'm looking forward to reading the book, and seeing how it compares.

I do admit, though, thinking a bit to myself that this is very professionally done, and wondering if it was marketing to either encourage people to vote, or to market the book. What a cynic I am. But I got over it.

I think the messages in the video are right on - boomers and the preceding generation are leaving the world in a mess, and it's up to the millennials to fix it.. unfortunately. I also like how that generation is portrayed in the video - concerned, involved, energized, engaged. That's been my experience. And a very positive one.

Sometimes I wonder if business managers are doing themselves a disservice by generalizing group characteristics to help "deal" with demographic change, rather than dealing with the individuals as such.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Role of Marketing and Communications in Knowledge Management

The implementation of organization-wide knowledge programs or strategies are often plagued by the same challenge - finding interested / willing partners or clients. This is less of a challenge when a new core technology like a document or content management system is being implemented and driven by a central "owner" with funding, authority and control. But as numerous case studies published in various journals demonstrate, many KM- related initiatives are change initiatives launched after looking at how work is done (process and practice) through the "lens of KM." Examples come to mind like evolving a more knowledge sharing culture, globally instituting practices such as peer assists, after action reviews, and project retrospectives, or integrating various social/collaborative tools in the workplace that fundamentally affect how people work and require effective collaborative practices and behavour to deliver value.

Voluntary change in any form must be driven by a desire to move away from an undesirable current state and / or a desire to move towards a desired future state. This requires recognizing and acknowledging that the current situation is undesirable on one hand, and the ability to envision a more desirable future on the other.

Internal communications plays a vital role in most organizations by keeping employees informed of what is going on around them - events, appointments, jobs posted, announcements, and even human interest stories about colleagues. Vehicles tend to be internal newsletters, broadcast emails, RSS based news feeds, "ticker tapes" and content published on corporate intranets. And often, internal communications groups are involved in organizing hosting employee events for special occassions, whether social, like a holiday party, or business, like the launch of a new strategic plan.

In the context of a knowledge program or strategy, internal communications can play a more vital role well beyond the traditional, somewhat transactional role of communicating things of more immediate interest - that of marketing communications.

Looking at the strategic view, internal communications can assist knowledge programs / strategies by:

  • helping identify, define and characterize target markets within the organization
  • educating the market about key concepts and business drivers that underly the program or strategy, and increase receptiveness for further, deeper conversations about problem identification and resolution
  • helping the target market become more aware of or identify their own explicit needs and opportunities / possibilities (creating intolerence of the status quo)
  • encourage members of the target market to seek out represenatives of the knowledge program / strategy for assistance dealing with current or imminent needs
  • assisting with positioning / differentiating / aligning the program/strategy/initiatives relative to other work in the organization
  • reputation management (sometimes "KM" has a bad reputation based on misunderstandings or unusccessful projects)
  • situating / orienting the program/strategy with new employees and newly minted key stakeholders and steering committee members
  • promoting an internal services group that compliments work done at a strategic or programatic level

Another view occured to me in the context of the traditional sales cycle, of: suspect -> prospect - > educate -> propose -> close -> deliver. Communication can play a key role in enabling program / strategy representatives to reach out to receptive potential clients and offer solutions.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Value of Visual

XPlane does it again. A great, easy to understand video explaining of the US financial crisis.

Value of Visual

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Neglected Human Element in Web 2.0

Most of the talk around "Web 2.0" rarely touches on the human element. There is lots of rhetoric about the promise and potential of emerging social / collaborative technologies, but no one connects these as tools that enable human processes / practices. There seems to be an underlying assumption of "build it and they will come" or "give the group these technologies and magic will happen."

I think this is a problematic and potentially costly assumption.

Example. Wiki technology enables a group of people to jointly create and edit a document, track who made what changes, and have a related on-line discussion about the document/content. A much more productive tool than using only Microsoft word and those ugly revision marks.

But without common purpose and motivation to contribute, the required skills and knowledge to contribute, agreement to basic ground rules and processes, clear decision making around what content stays and what goes, and a transparent, agreed to arbitration process in the case of irreconcilable conflict -- all the basic things guide group work even in the absence of technology - the tool in and of itself is ineffective and desired outcomes will not be reached.

Related to this idea is that the word "collaboration" has become a generic term to refer to ANY form of interaction between individuals and groups. Yet there are multiple forms, including consulting (asking for input), co-operating, coordinating.

In each one the motivation, process and outcomes are different than real collaboration, which can be defined as exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities, sharing resources, and enhancing the capacity of another to achieve a commonly agreed to outcome through an agreed to process.

Common, explicit understanding and agreement about the outcome / goal, and HOW a group will interact together is important for establishing roles/responsibilities and rules to govern the interaction, and the choice of technology or tool.

I think when "collaboration" is used generically it leads to multiple interpretations and assumptions, which causes breakdown in processes/practices and prevents groups from achieving their potential.

Adding technology in the mix only multiplies the risks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Information Persistence in a Networked World

I was thinking back to a Google presentation at the APQC KMEdge conference, where the presenter challenged the need to delete information, and suggested that with the current and anticipated future state of search technologies and capabilities, there is no issue finding the right information.

Of course, that proposition tends to make Information Management professionals react quite strongly, in particular around the issue of ensuring that business is properly documented by retaining accurate, relevant corporate records and deleting transitory information from corporate systems.

But what about in the "networked world?" Imagine a not-so-distant future when a range of social technologies are in use inside the organization, and individuals link to internal/external shared content, others' personal / team spaces, URLs etc., very much like what is happening on the Internet today. They build on the ideas /information in those links, and presume that if a reader chooses to follow the path of precedence, they can. Multiply this by the number of people using these linking strategies, yielding an exponential rise in a "network" of connected information.

So, what happens if a number of links in the chain break because they are to information considered transitory in one circumstance, but provided a great foundation of ideas in another? What happens if the originating source is not longer available? (Perhaps a bit like a research paper footnoting another paper or book that ceased to exist.)

In a future of social technologies in the enterprise, can organizations afford to delete any information, regardless of its value, or lack thereof, as a corporate record?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Important Nature of Context in Learning and Knowledge Sharing

Back in 1982, the first half hour animated televised special based on the Garfield comic strip was aired - Here Comes Garfield. In it Desirée Goyette sings So Long Old Friend as a vehicle for remembering Odie before he is to be euthanized at the pound (he's rescued of course.) In the context, it's a real "tear jerker" of a song that never fails to tug on heart strings if you transpose the song/lyrics to your personal experiences of losing a friend or loved one. I was touched by the song, and have remembered it ever since.

Interestingly, the song was also used in the recently released Sweeney Todd movie featuring Johnny Depp. I rented the movie and watched it at home. Because of the context of the movie, I believe, I never connected the song in Sweeney Todd with the Garfield special until someone mentioned it - though it is exactly the same song performed in both instances by Desirée.

Perhaps it's a little like meeting up with an acquaintenace in a totally different/new circumstance and not recognizing them. I've heard many people share that experience.

Below are YouTube clips of the song in the two circumstances if you too need a reminder.
(Apparently it was also used on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Defining a Commitment Management Protocol

In today's fast paced work, we are all negotiating with suppliers, partners, colleagues, subordinates, managers etc. I had in my hand Stephan Haeckel's book titled Adaptive Enterprise, and dropped it on my desk. It opened to page 148 and a section titled The Commitment Management Protocol, an a few lines grabbed my attention:

"Its rigor imposes clarity on processes that may otherwise be rife with ambiguity and misunderstanding. "

"The commitment management protocol consists of four task phases - define, negotiate, perform and assess - and seven communications of a special kind - offer, request, agree, report, accept, reject and withdraw."

And on page 150 the author mentions "The commitments made must also be authentic. By authentic I mean two things. First, both parties must mean what they say and say what they mean - they must be sincere. Second, each party must know and understand what they mean - they must be competent."

Perhaps this could be the root of a protocol that enables collaboration/cooperation/coordination across hierarchical boundaries.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

KM as an Enabler of the Agile Enterprise

I just started reading Response Ability: The Language, Structure, and Culture of the Agile Enterprise by Rick Dove and it promises to be a very interesting read.

What virtually jumped of the page for me was his working definition of agility - the ability to manage and apply knowledge effectively so that an organization has the potential to thrive in a continuously changing and unpredictable business environment. He suggests that agility is derived from "both the physical ability to act (response ability) and the intellectual ability to find the right things to act on (knowledge management.)

Over the last number of years, threats and risks of retiring baby boomers was often suggested as the hook upon which to hang KM's hat (to demonstrate the value of KM.)

In only reading the first few pages of the book, it looks to me that increasing agility is a far more value add for KM, which would also include dealing with knowledge continuity in the face of retirements.

Rick Dove's book also looks at agile enterprises in the context of culture, structure, frameworks, change and management.

If you're interested, you can read the Table of Contents and synopsis of the chapters on the Paradigm Shift International web site.

On a final note, Rick Dove seems is well versed in organizational agility, flexibility, decision making and change management. This book is well worth the read.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Wordle View

Ok .. I'm guilty of a "me too" here.. Patrick Lambe Posted July in Wordle that had a tag-cloud like view of his July blogs (the more prominent the use of the word, the larger the word is in the cloud). It looked cool.. so I thought I'd try the same. Perhaps it's one way to check a blogger's pre-occupation?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Open Source Community Development Challenges

A colleague of mine pointed me to an interesting post titled Resource Fetishism by Jono, who is Ubuntu Community Manager for Canonical, and looks after the world-wide community of Ubuntu contributors and developers. (Ubuntu is a community developed Linux-based operating system).

In his post, Jono paints this common problem:

Its funny how the same approximate process seems to happen for many communities, and sub-communities in projects. It happens a little like this:

  • A new team forms from a small group of enthusiasts.
  • They create a raft of resources - version control, repositories, mailing lists, IRC channels, bug trackers, councils, forums etc.
  • A discussion happens on the new mailing list about which website CMS to use.
  • The discussion lasts approximately a month. There are many opinions. Bickering ensues. It turns into a Drupal vs. Wordpress war.
  • Two months pass, little has been achieved other than yet more CMS arguments archived to the Internet.

The problem here is a lack of focus on what is important - building a team.

So, obviously the challenges of "community" building exist as much in the open-source world as inside organizations.

One of the advantages of Web 2.0 inside the enterprise is how reportedly easy the tools are to use for a variety of purposes. Emerging best practice studies point to bringing together a tool "suite" and letting users pick the right one for the situation / task at hand, but there is potential for debate on tools/technology & configuration to overshadow the whole point of a group coming together.

As Jono's story illustrates, more important than the tools is focusing on connecting people, community development, and good group process for the community to maintain momentum, activity and value.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dynamic Knowledge Transfer Capacity

(Via Paul McDowall of the Canadian Federal Government's Interdepartmental Knowledge Management Forum)

Dynamic Knowledge Transfer Capacity: A Systems Thinking Framework for Effective Knowledge Transfer, was published last year (Journal of Knowledge Management. 11(6),81-96) based on research by Robert Parent, Mario Roy andDenis St-Jacques, through the University of Sherbrooke in Canada.)

"The article proposes a new knowledge transfer paradigm that views knowledge as a systemic, socially constructed, context-specific representation of reality. The proposed knowledge transfer model is in sharp contrast to past attempts, focusing attention on the capacities that must be present in organizations and social systems as a precondition for knowledge transfer to occur."

I find the model interesting for a couple of reasons. First it extends the traditional model of knowledge transfer that focus on "generate" and "disseminate" to also include the capacity to absorb. Knowledge transfer should focus first and foremost on the learner, or, to use one of Nancy Dixon's terms, the "neglected receiver."

And second, one of the key hurdles faced in implementing knowledge strategy, plans, methods, tools, techniques etc. is change "readiness" - on the part of the organization, work group, or individual. Unless there is readiness to change (acknowledgement of the need being one dimension), the ability to change (knowledge and skill), and the peer, environmental and organizational support for change, it's a loooongggg harrrdddd rooooaaadddd!

All in all, a good, thought provoking paper.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Visual Representation of Complex Concepts

As some of you may know, people process their environment in line with one or a combination of three learning modalities/styles;

  • Kinesthetic: learning based on hands-on work and engaging in activities.
  • Visual: learning based on observation and seeing what is being learned.
  • Auditory: learning based on listening to instructions/information.

A confession - I'm highly visual and since the early '90s I've been loosely tracking a company called Xplane. I think I first read about them in Business 2.0 or Fast Company magazine. I found that since then, at least based on what they've made public, xplane has been consistently excellent at generating visual representations of complex information - often required for people to collaborate effectively.

Most recently I received an email from Parker Lee, vp marketing & business development, with a link to a visual they created to explain ... "Barack Obama is the first major candidate to decline participation in the public financing system for presidential campaigns. He has found a more effective way to raise money by leveraging the power of the American people through online Social Networks." Here's the link

If you'd like to see examples of some of their work, you can go to the Publications section of their web site and click on XPLANATIONS in the sub menu, or you can go to the problems we solve section of their site.

As organizations, contexts, processes and practices become ever more complex, the work of companies like xplane becomes even more valuable to inform, educate, sense make, and align work and decisions.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Drumming and Collaboration - a Conversation with Derek Debeer

After hearing about him by reputation for quite a few years, I had a most memorable conversation recently with Derek Debeer. You may know him as the drummer/percussionist often connected with Johnny Clegg, and who has also performed with Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Robert Palmer.

Over the last few of years he has turned his wealth of drumming and life experience into very unique team building exercises/workshops using drums and other percussion instruments. One statement from his web site: "Today more than ever, work life centres on projects, rather than jobs. Projects, by their very nature require a diversity of skills and expertise to be successful. Great teams, whether internal or between client and supplier, are built on trust and built for life." At the risk of sounding "so '70's," Right ON!

So, Derek and I talked about how he transitioned from musician to facilitator - it evolved gradually based on responding to increasing demand, reflecting on each experience, and evolving his work and thinking over time. I find he has made a very good connection between group / artistic drumming and how people work together in teams, and in particular how people create something new in an "emergent" fashion.

(Dare I say "collaborate.")

I've not yet experienced one of Derek's workshops (really looking forward to making an opportunity though), but during and after our conversation I've imagined some interesting lessons for collaboration inherent in his group drumming work.

  • It all starts with a common objective - creating something together.
  • We all bring our unique selves / talents and (sometimes) tools to the group and situation - what and how we hear, our individual musicality, and different drums and percussion instruments.
  • Someone leads - establishes some ground rules, sets the basic beat and tempo, and encourages participation.
  • Others identify where they can contribute and engage - other players listen closely to what is being played, identify an opening / opportunity and jump in with their contribution.
  • Some people play their role over the entire collaboration, while others come in and out, and / or pick another role - some drummers in the group stick to their beat / part, while others change it up (improvise) or stop and restart in a different place in the music.
  • Because of a variety of internal and external influences, and learning, the outcome is sometimes not exactly as planned - the tempo and sounds are not exactly as they started (or expected) but often more intricate, involved, innovative.

I wonder if Derek has ever done this...

Imagine that he has led everyone through the process where they've created a very complex, innovative sound where all parts and percussion instruments are working in harmony together. Then, he stops and asks the participants to put in ear plugs that block out the sound from virtually everything except the individual's drum or instrument.

Then he turns on a tape recorder and leads everyone through the process of drumming together again. With only visual cues to guide participants, I expect that when Derek stops the tape and plays it back, the result wouldn't sound too good.

That experience would go a long way to reinforcing some of the key concepts behind effective collaboration, and the importance of being attuned / sympathetic / adaptable to the context and what others are doing to effectively contribute to the overall process /intended outcome.

I personally really like the idea of using Derek's concepts and unique skills to improve teamwork and collaboration - I can see how it would appeal to a variety of situations, and a wide variety of people. I also find him personally a very interesting, unique and fun individual to talk to.

(BTW: Derek appears to be quite a creative furniture maker.)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Using Narrative to Evaluate Knowledge Programs/Activities

A few posts ago I wrote briefly about Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management and a few things I'd heard at the APQC conference in May. I had a short but provocative conversation with Kirby Wright about this challenge, and after speaking quite succinctly about the futility of using traditional measures and biased surveys to measure KM impact in complex environments, he suggested using Sensemaker and the various methods from Cognitive Edge / Dave Snowden's work for narrative elicitation, capture and analysis to uncover the real impact of KM work.

A very interesting idea. After all, do we not look very carefully at comments fields in traditional surveys for richer information. Do we not wish more people would fill out the comments field more? Are we careful not to act on one comment alone, but look for trends across multiple comments - and sometimes have difficulty doing that?

I wonder how one would go about convincing decision makers to embrace the foundation principles and try a pilot?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dr. Kirby Wright on Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)

On Friday I attended a presentation and discussion by Dr. Kirby Wright titled "Succeeding as a Knowledge Worker" where he discussed knowledge work from both the individual and the manager's perspective (how managers can support knowledge work). He described the nature of knowledge work, referenced working in simple, complicated and complex environments, and then outlined how improvement in knowledge worker competencies would improve knowledge work. Some of the competencies he touched on were sense making, creativity, searching, networking and reflecting.

I was impressed by how he's drawn on some key thinkers in knowledge management, blended it with some of his own perspectives, and come up with a relatively free strategy for knowledge workers.

When I think of the list of competencies Kirby presented, it would see a good idea for organizations to create developmental opportunities for knowledge workers in these areas - perhaps making them part of an "official" competency dictionary and curriculum.

You can download Rethinking Knowledge Work from Kirby's Blog that touches on his core PKM principles.

I also found a synergy between Kirby's competency list and Karl Albrecht's Practical Intelligence "macro-skills":

  1. Mental Flexibility
  2. Openness to New Information
  3. Capacity for Systematic Thought
  4. Capacity for Abstract Thought
  5. Skill at Generating Ideas
  6. Sense of Humor
  7. Positive Thinking
  8. Intellectual Courage
  9. Resistance to Enculturation
  10. Emotional Resilience

PS: I HIGHLY recommend Karl Albrecht's books Social Intelligence, Power of Minds at Work, Practical Intelligence. They contain excellent thinking, provocative & entertaining writing. For example:

Albrecht's Law: Intelligent people, when assembled into an organization,
will tend toward collective stupidity.

PKM references:
Stan Garfield's Weekly KM Blog lists a number of references - scroll down this page a bit.
Jon Husband's blog post "But I just don't have the time!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Principles for Good Presentations

I just stumbled across a SlideShare presentation titled Brain Rules for Presenters based on John Medina's book Brain Rules. It's very well done visually, and does a good job highlighting key points from the book. Bravo to Garr Reynolds who developed the presentation.

The author's web site is also a good source of background about the book and contents.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Look for Commonality Between Generations Not Differences

Since returning from the APQC KM Edge Conference in Chicago, I've been thinking about one of the themes that came out of some of the keynotes / presentations - differences between the "boomer" / older generations and the "younger generations" - such as millennials' ability to time-slice, their ease with technology, and focus on development rather than long relationships with a single employer. (60 Minutes had a provocative article titled on this titled The "Millennials" Are Coming)

There is no shortage of emerging research and commentary about differences between generations, and the challenges that could result. But, why not focus on the similarities?

Time to reflect seems to figure prominently in the learning process, whether the reflection is conscious or unconscious, conducted alone or in a group setting. The need for reflection would seem to be one thing that is important for all generations. Though we may do it in a few different ways, we all need time to need to let new ideas "soak in", absorb them and blend them with what we already know, and eventually act on them. Or in the case of a practical skill, we need time to practice to improve competence.

(By the way, Bob Wendover from the Center of Genrational Studies recently blogged about Generation Y: Do They Know the Value of Reflection? He also delivered a great keynote presentation at the APQC KM Edge Conference titled From OJT to DVD: Knowledge Management and the Emerging Generations.)

Finding time to reflect and learn in the corporate world, which we are all challenged with in today's constantly changing world, could be common ground for cross-generational work.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management

Prior to the launch of this year’s AQPC KM conference, I attended the pre-conference session titled Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management, led by Cindy Hubert. Quite a “juicy” session, but if anyone was looking for a magic bullet, they were disappointed. As in typical organizational performance management, which the session aligned well with, measuring KM impact is equally challenging and highly contextual to the business objectives and outcomes of the organization. As well, the conversations held during the process of designing and implementing measurement are as valuable as the final measurement and associated learning itself.

APQC has done a good job in exploring performance management in the context of KM implementation and through Cindy’s presentation provided:

  • Tips – such as “tie new KM measures to already accepted process measures and metrics,” align measures with stakeholder needs, “start thinking about measurement from day 1, KM performance management is a “thinking problem” not a “data problem, select few vital measures, align expectations with realistic outcomes, don’t establish metrics without a measurement process
  • Thinking models and frameworksAPQC’s Measurement framework, which leads to the positioning of KM activities in business process to impact business outputs and outcomes, the APQC KM Maturity Model, and most interestingly, a Value Path Analysis thinking model.
  • Tools – measurement alignment tool, examples of measures for KM programs, some case studies, and APQC’s Measurement Information Worksheet.

As well, Cindy had a few interesting observations from APQC’s work and research such as:

  • Best practice organizations do not include content management costs in measurement of KM effectiveness – a heavy up front investment takes a long time to prove value
  • Top five objectives for KM Programs across best practice partners are productivity, quality of products and services, increase profitability and cash flow, avoid redundancy and reinvention, and improve customer service.

The one thing I wish we would have had more time to discuss is the real tough part – attribution, and establishing causal links between KM activity measures and proxy measures to business outcomes when there are many other initiatives and activities underway that feed into those outcomes. And one final observation – through much of the language Cindy was using, I got the impression that “knowledge is an object” was an underlying assumption for much of what she presented. Unfortunately there was not enough time to explore this a bit to see if I was mistaken, and to look at some specific cases where the impact of tacit knowledge was being measured, which to me, would be as challenging as measuring the impact of learning and development.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Anecdote on Collaboration

Anecdote has just released a new white paper titled Creating a Collaborative Workplace that explores the nature and value of collaboration from a practical perspective.

I find it a very nice piece of writing. It's jargon free enough to use as a tool to align goals and actions across the spectrum of KM partners (HR, IT, IM, strategic planning, facilities etc.).
I like the definition and contexts they've laid out for collaboration, the "cause" for collaboration, and the focus on culture - implying that how things are done are as important as what things are done.

It might be interesting to supplement the ideas in the paper by moving into an exploration of what collaboration is not - or if you're inclusionary, the full spectrum of collaborative processes and practices. Why I'm saying this is that for many people collaboration is synonymous with coordination, cooperation, co/joint creation, debate, co-evolution, and a variety of other interaction processes. I do hate to get overly definitional, but I do believe that for people to work together they need to share some common language, and an understanding and agreement about the process to get things done. This type of agreement can provide a framework to evaluate individual and group performance, and mitigate situations where "buddy" trumpets his collaborativeness, while all he does is criticize others' ideas and contributes none of his own.

I'm reading Albrecht's book The Power of Minds at Work, and he maps out 10 learnable macro-skills related to what he calls 'practical intelligence':- mental flexibility, or "tolerance for ambiguity"- openness to new information- capacity for systematic thought- capacity for abstract through- skill at generating ideas- positive thinking- sense of humour- intellectual courage- resistance to enculturation- emotional resilience or "emotional intelligence"

This reads to me like a list of collaborative skills, which could be a good idea supplement as well.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Role of Colleagues in Careers

A perceptive quote from a colleague today: "In my career, there have been people along the way whose greatest value was to remind me of what not to become."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Influencing Others With Transparent Dignity

I was again struck in a recent meeting how people seem to think about "change management" as communications - if people are told something over and over again, maybe in a few different ways, they'll do something different. We certainly can't deny the power of mass communications, as evidenced by its impact on our society over the last number of generations. But we also can't overlook all those instances where, despite the evidence that a clearly communicated message has been understood, people do not change what they do - some examples include "smoking is hazardous," "speed kills," "reduce, reuse, recycle," "a heart attack is looming if you don't change your diet and get some exercise."

True, effective communication of relevant information is vital for everyone to make good decisions, but change takes much more.

I've just finished a brilliant book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything that provides a very useful, proven framework for change that can be applied to virtually type of personal or organizational change initiative - the scope of the case studies included in the book are powerful proof.

What I've taken away from the book is that enabling change requires:

  • a clear understanding of current behaviours and what is supporting /encouraging them
  • a clear identification of target vital behaviours - just the few that matter
  • personal motivation and personal capability to change
  • peer / social support, and the knowledge and capability of the peer group to provide the support
  • appropriate rewards and recognition (called structural motivation in the book)
  • removal of organizational barriers to the new vital behaviours (called structural ability in the book)
Enabling and encouraging changes is certainly not a "quick fix" as case studies and many of your own personal examples no doubt demonstrate. The authors point to the need to combine a number of strategies to encourage change when the status quo is very deeply rooted in a complex situation.

I found the book very consumable, easy to read, with surprisingly clear connections between theory and practice. Most importantly to me is the tone of the book - it does not imply or present change as something you do to others, but instead something that we can all engage in and benefit from. I highly recommend it.

For more information, visit a web site created by the authors, which contains a chapter preview, and good supporting resources.

Joseph Grenny, co author, is also featured in a Business Week Interview.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Launch of a new KM community - APQC's KMEdge

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in conference call and pre-launch look at APQC's new web site, which will be officially launched at the upcoming APQC KM conference. More than just brochure-ware or an exercise in self promotion, APQC is attempting to bring together a community of people interested in knowledge management from a full range of client and practitioner perspectives. Yesterday's conference call, which was also an opportunity for interested parties to suggest and influence features and functionality, was certainly a good step - people support what they help create.

I also like what I perceive to be APQC's "let's try it and see what happens, and learn from it" approach. This initiative has the potential to be very interesting to participate in and watch unfold. APQC has built many solid relationships with client organizations and thought leaders who could contribute actively to the community. And, with their wealth of documented information and expertise about KM, they are in a great position to seed the community with thought and conversation provoking ideas.

I find a certain admirable degree of courage in an organization who, after researching, analyzing, informing and promoting communities and their expertise in this area, are taking the initiative to launch and "garden" such a highly visible one. No pressure there!

Bravo and I wish the APQC team much success.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Want Employee Engagement - Re-humanize the Workplace

There are a couple of topics I've been muddling about the last few weeks, and I've come to realize that there may be a connection.

First, "employee engagement" has been emerging as a hot topic in recent years, most notably as extension of the typical human resource professionals' mantra of "attract and retain." What concerns me somewhat is the tone of conversations that seem to take place about engagement - that it is something that can be managed, controlled or commanded, and that it is some target state that employees need to get to 100% of the time.

In his book Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty, Tim Rutledge defines engagement as the state of being attracted, committed, and fascinated, which is obviously different than simply being involved, and which Tim also differentiates from satisfied (feeling good, fine, comfortable.) By this definition, engagement includes some strong, positive emotion, and also seems to imply a high degree of focus.

I don't think it's possible for employees to be "engaged" all the time.

Organizational contexts and situations changes constantly, including but not limited to colleagues and managers, project and initiatives, organizational structure, policies, practices, work processes, company direction. Some of these changes attract, and others repel.

As well, I've met very few people who are so good at compartmentalizing as to completely exclude external / personal distractions during work hours - whether ailing family members, looking forward to an upcoming vacation, or obsessing over the state of global economy, ecology, poverty, or conflict.

And engagement as Rutledge defines it is very tiring! I don't imagine that too many people can maintain peak mental/emotional energy on an-ongoing basis without some down-time.

I'm not saying that employee engagement shouldn't be a target. I think employees and companies benefit from staff and managers "attracted, committed, and fascinated," and applying the full extent of their knowledge, and expertise to issues and opportunities in the workplace. I also think that in some cases, other states like involvement or satisfaction are perfectly acceptable and all that can/should be accepted.

So, for the second topic I've been thinking about - how can employee engagement be encouraged (if you agree that it can't be mandated/controlled/managed?)

I suggest managers spend some time thinking about "re-humanizing" the workplace by doing things like:

  • balancing accountabilties for achieving outcomes with how employees treat each other
  • banishing toxic behaviour in the work place (see McKinsey article Building the Civilized Workplace, and Bob Sutton's work) and treating everyone with dignity and respect
  • effective recognition practices
  • recognizing a set of cultural practices (behaviours) that engender trust, productive relationships, information sharing, being productively candid, collaboration, learning, innovation and fault tolerance
  • rewarding and recognizing managers for creating humanizing work environments that support and encourage everyone to "be there," and apply the full extent of their learning, knowledge and experience to the work at hand
  • referring to people by name and not purely as aggregated numbers on a spreadsheet so as not to disengage from the human consequences of decisions and actions

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Wisdom of Crowds" - The Right Answer is Somewhere in the Middle

In Could Twitter Threaten Free Speech, Tom Davenport has for me tabled an interesting point in his last line: "We have to balance the idea of unfettered self-expression with civility. If we’re not civil, it will probably lead to less free speech, not more."

Once again it proves that social / emerging technologies are about people - who they are, how they work, and what they do, and though technologies enable some new behaviours, behind it all are still the promise and peril of human nature. We humans often lack civility in a wide variety of circumstances in the face-to-face world, and it's not unexpected that it also translates into the online world.

People who are reluctant to explore / approach using new social technologies inside organizations could point to this article as a reason for "why not to, " or as a rationale for continuing to exercise deliberate, innovative-killing controls on information creation and flow.

True, social technologies have the potential of making lack of civility more visible, but at the same time this visibility can also encourage greater personal accountability. If individuals know that their colleagues and managers can track their comments and contributions, I think a bit of "auto-policing" takes place - who really want's to "shoot themselves in the foot?"

One of the best overall strategies I've heard for organizations is not creating a 'wild wild west' through indescriminate unleasing of social technologies, but instead a purposeful, guided implementation with built-in continuous learning and improvement for system users, service providers, managers, and the organization as a whole. Most organizations have resonable code of conduct / conflict of interest guidelines that easily apply to new technologies, provided the guidelines have been well socialized with new and existing employees.

Yes, despite these seemingly resonable measures, some people will behave in an uncivilized or disrespectful way, as we all tend to do from time to time. Fortunately, social technologies also present an opportunities for colleages / peers / community members to self-police through feedback and support, all the way to potentially harsh consequences - exclusion from important conversations, inability to access information, ostracision from a community.

Managers might just find this a refreshing alternative to being solely responsible for dealing with lack of civility / respect in the workplace.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Howard Rheingold Talks About Collaboration

Via Paul McDowall on the Interdepartmental Knowledge Management Forum discussion group. Howard Rheingold suggests that "pure" self interest is not the predominant motive we think it is, and explores new (economic) forms of cooperation that move human interaction beyond the "prisoner's dilemma". Rheingold references open sourcing, opening up patents to competitors, passing on knowledge and capability to suppliers who also supply competitors. He points to real world organizations and examples. A very interesting listen. And some of his slides are funny too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mysterious Art of Collaboration

In a recent presentation about linking knowledge management and the Balanced Scorecard, a colleague pointed to "focussed dialog" as necessary for any effective business planning / management framework and process. Part of the conversation turned to the general observation of how a lot of planning and management activities arrange for the right people to be in the right room for the right reasons, but there often seems to be an implicit assumption that when the doors close "magic" happens - productive conversations take place, issues & problems are well identified, cause is effectively determined, decisions well made, and innovative thinking takes place.

Granted that some of this magic must take place, or we would not have the many successful organizations we've seen in the public, private and NGO sectors. It safe to say, then that in many cases the opposite is true and there are ample opportunities for improvement?
A few very interesting blog entries have touched on the topic of collaboration:

I think that for people to collaborate effectively they need the following:
A) Common understanding of what is meant by collaboration and what distinguishes it from other forms of interaction
Himmelman has some good basic, incremental definitions:
  • Networking - Exchanging information for mutual benefit
  • Coordinating - Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities to achieve a common purpose
  • Cooperating - Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities and sharing resources to achieve a common purpose
  • Collaborating - Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities, sharing resources, and enhancing the capacity of another to achieve a common purpose
  • Co-Evolution - An interesting term I stumbled across after discovering "Beyond Partnerships" report on the Really Learning web site, it defines Co-Evolution as "... the ‘deepest’ form of partnership. It can consume considerable time from key players, so it is not for the fainthearted! It should, therefore, not be attempted if one of the other forms is more appropriate. It requires new thinking, new insights, new generosity about opportunities or problems, and these problems or opportunities are as yet unarticulated or not understood. As the outcomes aren’t at all clear, neither party can simply pursue their existing goals; they will need to be prepared to develop new goals as they become apparent. Thus it will be important to be able to examine assumptions, invert thinking, acknowledge where things (or thinking) have gone wrong, and where partners may need to let resources go in order to achieve the greater good. "
Dave Pollard also defines collaboration as "... finding the right group of people (skills, personalities, knowledge, work-styles, and chemistry), ensuring they share commitment to the collaboration task at hand, and providing them with an environment, tools, knowledge, training, process and facilitation to ensure they work together effectively." A fairly holistic view.
B) A reason to collaborate - where there are issues / problems that cannot be tacked by a single group acting alone.
C) Defined, explicit, facilitated group processes roles and responsibilities for fundamental processes - planning, cause analysis, decision making, issue identification & prioritization, and innovation / idea generation.
E) A collaborative attitude (you could call this principles / values), which I suggest comes directly from Roger Schwartz' work on Facilitative Leadership, specifically:
  • seek to collect and share valid information. Valid information includes all the relevant information you have on the subject (whether it supports your position or not)
  • seek to encourage free and informed choice so that people agree to do things because they have the relevant information and because they believe the decision makes sense, not because they feel manipulated or coerced into it.
  • seek internal commitment to the decisions, which often flows from the first two values—with this level of motivation, people will do whatever is necessary to implement the decisions.
  • value compassion, which means temporarily suspending judgment in order to appreciate others’ perspectives. It means having empathy for others and for yourself in a way that still holds people accountable for their actions rather than unilaterally protecting others or yourself.
Robert Hargrove's work in Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration includes a Collaborative Model that points to key collaborative behaviours including:
  • designating new possibilities, seeking creative & entrepreneurial results
  • building collaborative networks and new patters of relationships and interactions
  • showing authenticity and vulnerability
  • showing attitude of learning, and equating success with questions
  • balancing advocacy of views with inquiry into own and others' thinking
  • listening to understand others
  • acknowledging talents and gifts of others and providing an enabling environment
Collaborative-oriented competencies in areas such as active listening, written & verbal communications, coaching, facilitation, negotiation, empathy, analysis, synthesis, creativity, and too many to go into here.
I think that improving how people interact, both the processes and the way people work together (approach, attitudes, principles, values), are fundamental to meaningful success in knowledge management. Its also fundamental to ACHIEVING success in KM and any other change initiative.
And yet, it seems to often be the last thing considered. I expect that's because, since we humans are involved, it's complicated, challenging, time consuming, frustrating, difficult, often requiring somewhat different skills and perspectives.
But in terms of outcomes, the rewards are "priceless."
(BTW, Collaboration: What Makes It Work from the Wilder Research Center includes a Collaboration Factors Survey/Inventory that is well worth a look.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

What does a Creative Generalist Do?

Via Daryl at Anecdote ..

Steve Hardy has a wonderful post on his Creative Generalist blog titled "What Specifically do Generalists do?"

I won't do you or the author a disservice by trying to ... interpret ... it. I strongly suggest you read it yourself.

Perhaps what Steve describes is a "facilitative leader?" Or that role/individual in organizations intent on improving how knowledge and information are managed?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What I Would Like in a Corporate Library System

How well do you know your librarians? I think I know the ones in my organization quite well. As has been my experience all the way back to high school, librarians are a wealth of knowledge, and not just about subjects and collections, but often what is "going on" in the organization. And they're pretty terrific people too.

If you'd like to have an interesting conversation, bring a book on a general business topic back to the front desk and ask, "Can you tell me the names of the last 20 people who borrowed this book? I'd like to talk with them about their thoughts on the book, what they learned from it, and how they are thinking about applying what they learned to their work context."

That type of question is typically met with "We can't give you that information! That's personal / private!"

So, this scenario started me thinking about what I would like to see in a library system or related functionality. Here's what I've come up with so far:

  • see who else is interested in particular topics based on the books/ articles / references they access
  • find out (discover & ask) what they thought of the books, what they learned
  • use this information to tap into / form a community / discussion group about the book/article/reference or general topic area
  • maintain a compose a "wish list" of what I'd like to read, share it with others, and have library acquisitions teams automatically acquire access to popular requests based on popularity/frequency across multiple lists
  • have a personal list of books / resources accessed / read / currently reading that I could share
  • find out who is reading what now
  • easily generate automatic bibliographic references for writing papers/reports/documents etc.
  • include, and share (aggregate) references in a different context (e.g. on a blog/wiki etc.) for all external/internal, reference links, documents, presentations, graphics, photos, podcasts, video clips, charts etc.
  • access an organized / grouped subset of these in various contexts (general responsibilities, projects, communities etc.)
  • have references suggested to me based on identified interests roles / responsibilities / activities, existing references, interactions with others, search patterns etc.
  • "references" I define here as quality, relevant links / actual content of all types, in internal systems, library collections, external / 3rd party collections & content, blogs, news media, social media, etc.

I suppose this list is a bit like Amazon meets LibraryThing, meets EndNote, meets Delicious, meets Slideshare, meets RSS, meets Facebook etc.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More on Community Leadership

In December of last year (2007) I posted on community of practice leadership, and offered a few questions in that context.

Stan Garfield, on the HP Weekly KM blog has done a very good job summarizing a number of conversations /emails that took place as a result(on community leadership) and has offered a few links as well. Well worth reviewing. Thanks Stan.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Best Practice Knowledge Transfer - Practical Ideas

I participated in a recent SKIM Leaders community conference call, featuring a presentation by Kent Greenes about best practice knowledge transfer.

I captured a number of interesting explicit/implicit ideas that have merit.

  1. "Best" or "better" practices are not adopted, they're adapted.
  2. A very interesting quote: "You don't have a better or best practice until someone else is using it." - Jack Welch
  3. The leaner is important, and making learning (identifying, accessing and adapting) easy is critical, or people will re-create "good enough."
  4. There is high value in focusing on general, broadly applicable practices first, rather than choosing highly specialized practices.
  5. Do something, see what works, then broaden the scope.
  6. Peer Assist is a critical tool to begin, and even conclude, the process.
  7. Uncover success stories, communicate the stories, and assist learning and adaption process.
  8. Facilitation is critical to the process - both the role and the capability.
  9. Documentation / video / audio artefacts are the starting point for discovery and productive conversation - it is vital to put people with the learning needs and the people who have the leveragable practices together to enable transfer.
  10. To facilitate discovery of best/better practices, short (<1>Leverage communities wherever possible - knowledge transfer is what these forms are all about.