Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Language as a tool
I've just been reading Being There by Andy Clark. Clark argues for the importance of understanding cognition within real environements i.e. that we manipulate what we have around us to help us think, what he calls 'scaffolding'. He argues that language too isn't just for communication but is also a valuable tool for individual thought.

For example, when putting together a chapter for his book, he used many papers, online references and so on to pull it together. Its not that it existed in his head and just needed to be transcribed "instead it is the product of a sustained and iterated sequence of interactions between my brain and a variety of external props. In these cases... a good deal of actual thinking involved loops and circuits that run outside the head and through the local environment" (p207)

KM implications?
1) That to transfer knowledge we sometimes need to understand how an expert uses loops and artefacts to support their cognition, perhaps on an ongoing basis (e.g. a spreadsheet for playing around with models, a favourite template, doodles and sketches)
2) Be wary of mistaking the loops outside the brain for explicit knowledge. Templates are no more explicit knowledge than giving somebody a knot in your handkerchief as a memory aid.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Mark McElroy´s New Knowledge Management
I had an email from Mark McElroy on my posting of November 7th regarding his talk at KM World on Macroinnovation. I rather bluntly said I couldn´t see why he called this 'The New Knowledge Management' when Nonaka had addressed this in '95. Mark very courteously explained that he was trying to change the way we view business knowledge from Nonaka's use of "Justified True Belief" to one based on business knowledge being seen as claims open to challenge (falsification for those who know Karl Popper's work). An appealing extrapolation of this is what McElroy & Firestone call the "Open Enterprise", where much more of what happens in management is open to the scrutiny (but also the opportunity for improvement) of other employees.

If you're interested, there's a detailed presentation on Mark's website about the differences.

Mark and I are still having a dialog about his concepts. One thing I asked was if Popper's falsificationism ideas, mostly devised to explain the nature of scientific enquiry, really applied to business knowledge. i.e is business knowledge really the same kind of beast. I was reminded of a colleague once lamenting "knowledge isn't what it used to be - it used to mean science that had been tested and re-tested. I took decades to produce. Now knowledge seems to be anybody's experience or the gut feel of some poncey marketing manager".

Friday, December 20, 2002

Those interested in innovation with a KM bent may want to keep an eye on Imaginatik Blog, an experimental blog from Imaginatik who specialise in ideas management. I saw a talk by Mark Turrell, their CEO who began by thanking the Little Mermaid (!). It was Disney´s policy of selling videos by limited release (thereby compressing 7 year's of sales into a few months and making very efficient use of their manufacturing) that gave Imginatik the insight of doing the same for soliciting ideas: they found it was much more effective to have short campaigns for ideas than to have an ever-open "suggestions box" on a given topic.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Lonely Knowledge Manager Seeks Trusting Relationship, maybe more...
And here´s another quandry: in the past I´ve always rated virtual team working as a poor substitute for face to face (though better than nothing at all). Many KM articles assert the same - people need to see a face, shake a hand and all that before they´ll really open up. Ergo, virtual teams should meet at least once before they can operate successfully using collaboration tools like Groove.
The case against: There are now many accounts of people meeting electronically who fall in love and run away together before they ever meet. I read about one couple that exchanged 30,000 words in email in the space of a month. How many of your teams interact with even 10% of this intensity?

So clearly trust (and a whole lot more) can be established without face-to-face first. What matters is that its much easier to damage emergent trust online. So much more is missing (the bodylanguage, tone, chance to re-phrase when you see someone scowl etc.) so messages are more ambiguous. With dating-type scenarios, people are motivated to try much harder to get things right, to repair misunderstanding and keep the tempo up. You´ll never get that level of motivation in the office (not about work anyhow), but in the absence of motivation, education can go a long way.

Too often we just give people tools and expect them to get on with them. But Groove isn´t just another bit of MS-Office, and much more could be done to help people manage online working-relationships. People have managed this, stumblingly, with e-mail where emoticons (smileys etc.) replace some of the missing emotional bandwidth, but this is still missing from collaborative working rituals (not least because we don´t like to acknowledge emotions in the workplace at all!).

Must go - I´ve a chat going with this gorgeous blonde, 23, blue eyes who seems to know all about cars, soccer and hi-tech gadgets. Its almost too good to be true...

Monday, December 02, 2002

Knowledge Flow through Plastic Cigarettes
We know that strong ties between individuals provide a rich conduit for knowledge flow. The problem is that strong ties normally occur between people who are co-located. Eventually, the knowledge pool reaches homogeneity and stagnation sets in (just like an old married couple who think alike and have nothing new to say to each other). Managers try to make new strong ties with things like cross-functional teams that spend a weekend in a forest or trying to cross a river using boats made of flipcharts and drinking straws. This creates a strong common bond in the form of shared loathing of outward-bound events, but there's no evidence that it has a lasting effect back in the office.

What's needed is an ongoing ritual that reinforces a sense of shared adversity and encourages cross-functional encounters. Smoking seems to be the ideal solution. If you want to know what's happening on the grapevine, ask a smoker. Secretaries seem to be particularly over-represented, the ideal scenario for boundary-crossing knowledge events (i.e. gossip). Building-wide smoking bans enhance the effect by forcing smokers into a freezing huddle near the doorways so they can share bodyheat (the most basic form of tacit knowledge). Once you've gone this far, talking about a project failure hardly seems like you're going out on a limb.

The implication of this is that KM strategy needs to balance an overt discouragement of smoking (punitive official policy) with a tacit encouragement of the practice. As this would have health implications, I suggest that plastic cigarette substitutes would be ideal. Plan for January with a series of notices inciting employees to take up giving up smoking as a New Year's resolution.

Friday, November 29, 2002

-One school says necessity is the mother of invention, so great progress comes from adversity and pressure. Look at how war progresses technology.
-The other school says that real innovation comes from having space - no pressure, freedom to let your mind wander, in other words Slack.

Which is right? I think they're not actually the same sorts of invention. One is creative problem-solving within given constraints (ie. best with what we have), the other seems more apt for step change (i.e. best thing possible). It may also be that the wartime thing's a red-herring, because war also leads to massive investment, management decisiveness and a clearer set of priorities. at Henley KM Forum yesterday it was also suggested that managers should focus on creating space and let the pressure come from inside the innovators. I suspect managers need to be more nuanced than that depending on the personalities of their people.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Is KM optional? Yes!
Yes, in the same way that if you look at a city and imagine removing all the parks, the theatres, the interesting architecture and replacing it with prefab buildings in concrete and vehicle-only roads.
In the same way that your house is best served by stainless steel walls and concrete floors, plastic chairs and vynyl tables, without paintings, texture, patterns or mementos.

...things still work. You can still cook in the kitchen, still travel from A to B and live in your building. But what's happened? The onset of a slow decay.

Is KM an option? Yes, in the same way that an athlete can stop training. He won't die. He won't suddenly stop being able to run. But in thhe long term, can he compete? So what do YOU expect? Why should I teach you to run faster than anyone else if all you want to do is stop limping? Does you mission statement talk about sprinting ahead of the pack? Of course it does. So do your leaders act like this is the mission, or do they only react to injuries and limps?

Friday, November 22, 2002

This decision-support software is on special offer and a fraction of its old price Assistum .If you're interested in knowledge mapping, it could be worth a play. In effect its a rule-based system with the rules laid bare. So long as you're only reasoning over one case (e.g. the risk in one project) that's fine.
What I like about it is that it challenges your subjective rating of things. e.g. you may say to yourself "The risk of doing this project is medium". Assistum guides you through assessing the individual factors like market changes, innovation risk, your company's ability to run projects etc. When you finally return to the aggregate risk it may well say "You rated: medium risk, the engine rates: high risk because of the ratings you gave to factors X,Y,Z" You can then reflect on the mismatch.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Slack by Tom DeMarco, excellent new book by the author of Peopleware. The antidote to all the Fast Company, Lean and Mean, 24x7 macho posturing drivel that characterised most of the 90's.
CHoice quotes:
* Lister's Law "people under pressure don't think faster"
* "managers (good managers at least) are the lifeblod of an organization. Cutting them out is like giving blood to lose weight"
* "in fear organizations, authority has more force than reality... for a while"

One of the better talks at KMWorld 2002 was by David Gilmour of Tacit on ROI and Measurement. The gist is that most people askign you to prove ROI are faking it: they rarely demonstrate ROI for the thigns that really matter to them, they just go ahead and do them. Hence its much more important that KM shows how it impacts ont he important stuff, than it is to show some pseudo-accountancy.

My own thoughts are that saying 'Whats the ROI' is one of those stalling questions that sounds like a legitimate request when said in front of the board but is really a way of saying "I don't believe in KM" that sidesteps getting into a debate about it. I suspect no senior managers ask the ROI question of things that really matter to them, i.e their real core values rather than their espoused ones.

So here's my list of "Expensive things that never get asked to show ROI"
* Global workshops where execs jet in from all over
* Most training courses
* Furniture beyond the bare necessities (including the ROI of carpets, plants and large desks)
* Most downsizing programmes (they show apparent savings, but they imply one investment strategy over another, and nobody works out which ultimately yields more)
* Attractive buildings vs. concrete monsters
* Public parks
* Travelling non-Economy class
* Owning a cat
* Calculating ROI
I'd welcome more suggestions!

NB I'm not saying nobody ever challenges the cost of these, only that thay have huge intangible impacts that nobody has a handle on. It all comes down to what accountants see as assets vs. costs. Sadly employees are generally seen just as a cost, so investing in them is impossible unless your organisation uses some form of Intangible Assets accounting. So the next time you're asked to show ROI, say "sure, just show me how you assess intangble assets and we can discuss where KM fits in".

Friday, November 08, 2002

Wonderful! JIT Delivery comes to Knowledge Management in HBR. Davenport describes a classic expert system that could be 20 years old and gets away with claiming that this is the future for KM because its 'embedded knowledge'. Not that I'm compaining about expert systems getting a nod as still having value in very particular circumstances, it just doesn't deserve this kind of dressing up.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Apologies for the silence - I've just got back from KMWorld 2002 in Santa Clara. I was a bit concerned that it'd merged with Intranets 2002 but in fact the combination worked rather well. e..g sometimes the KM tracks felt like the same old stuff, but there was something more engaging on the Intranet side. About 450 people showed up, mostly from multinationals. Dominant themes:
* CoPs and networks (done to death, if you ask me)
* Expert profiling and location - good talk from Aventis on their use of Tacit's tools
* Collaboration\vitrtual teams

Interesting emerging areas:
* Social Network Analysis (hardly new per se, but uncommon in KM conferences still)
* Innovation Management - especially ideas management. (Mark McElroy was claiming this was 'new' KM though really KM linked to innovation is what Nonaka was on about all along).

David Gilmore from Tacit also gave an excellent talk on ROI (actually more Not-ROI and why it was a trap). I'd been thinking exactly the same thing and it was great to hear it so elegantly articulated.

I was speaking on KM for New Ventures - a topic that drew a small crowd in a vast 600-seater theatre. On stage it was was like viewing through a fish-eye lens and all my jokes fell horribly flat (guess I should've included substance in the talk as well so I had something to fall back on ;-). I did give this blog a plug though, so if you came here as a result - WELCOME!

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Knowledge is Power!
I often get asked to demonstrate the value of KM, or show the return on investment. Tools like Benefit Trees are quite handy in this respect - they allow you to construct the response as a string of impacts from intangible things like 'improved customer understanding' to more traditional territory like 'increased customer retention rate'. It allows more constructive discussion around, say, the case for transferring knowledge between different parts of the organization. This is equally powerful in reverse - e.g. when people tell me I should be giving away my knowledge to others. Like hell I will - "What, you want me to write my own resignation letter too?" I ask. Oddly, these same tree-huggin' hippy KM types don't understand the source of my resistance and think I need culture change. Tsk. I find it helps to run them through the 'Knowledge Sharing Chain':

* share your knowledge
-> credit to somebody else
-> passed over for promotion
-> depression
-> alcoholism
-> marital breakdown
-> destitution
-> die a bum

Inspired by : Innervation by Guy Browning the only management book you can talk about at parties.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Anybody planning to attend KM Europe 2002 ? I expect to go down for a day, see the free talks, check out some of the vendor stuff. If you're a Blogger it'd be nice to put a face to you - get in touch s.marshallATbigfoot.com [if you're not a spam crawler you'll know what to do with the AT]

While I'm at it, anyone interested in Personal Knowledge Management may want to look at:
Book review: Know your value?

When I started this Blog, I didn't believe anybody out there read them, so challenged people to get in touch. In fact a number of people have done just that - notably all of them bloggers themselves. However, nobody bit on the 'KM for New Ventures' angle. Pity, as I'm sure much of it translates for project teams, autonomous departments or fast-growing SMEs. An article of mine came out this month - hope it'll whet your appetites more on this:
Knowledge management for new ventures. Comments very welcome.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Air Traffic Control Couldn't resist linking to this The Social Life of Paper (though its Stephen Dulaney that brought it to my attention Digital Dashboards). Gladwell talks about the paradox of air-traffic control using bits of paper all the time. It reminded me of some cognitive psychologists doing research on just this area - situated cognition they called it. They spent weeks observing ATC operators and began to build up a picture of what they did. But one thing puzzled them - ocassionally the controller would ask the pilot to make an unexpected change in flight path. "Why", they asked, "did the pilot need to divert his course?". "Well", explained the controllers "When 2 planes are stacked up at different altitudes we can't read their labels on the screen, so we make the fly apart to reveal the code underneath".

Permalinks added by popular demand. Messy business.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Reading further into Extreme Programming, my impression is that it's the most comprehensive attempt to address the requirements of Wicked Problems I've seen so far. Given Wicked Problems are not confined to software, I'm sure many of the practices translate to e.g. developing consumer products or delivering a consultancy service. One concept in XP, for example is ClearTheFog (apologies for the lack of spaces, its a programmer thing). In a sense nothing radical,it just says produce something - anything - that will help clarify requirements. But how often do knowledge workers get a vague request and respond by doing the quickest thing possible to test if they're on the right track? In business we may call it a straw man, but I've seen people spend months producing straw men - that's a huge risk to carry. So its not that people outside sopftware development don't intuitively know these practices, but that in XP their use is enshrined.

Note too that many XP principles are entirely conter to the trajectory most organizations are taking their knowledge workers. While most business publications talk about tele-working, virtual teams, global teams, hot-desking and outsourcing parts of your business process (e.g. services to your employees), XP advocates putting all developers and a customer representative in the same room, collaborating by sitting side-by-side, sympathetic desk arrangements and 'stand up' meetings.

The implication? If you are responsible for a workplace that tackles wicked problems, do you have a strategy that's moving towards XP principles or away?

Friday, September 20, 2002

The Costs & Benefits of Pair Programming
Excellent article on pair programming, a key feature of Extreme Programming - XP. It set me thinking about the wider implications for knowledge work. The claimed benefits are:

* fewer bugs so cheaper overall
* more fun
* people learn best practice from each other
* project gainst robustness can can survive losing people - (nicely put as upping a project's 'truck number' - how many team members must a truck hit to take out the project?)
* programmers can 'tag wrestle' problems so that as one person't energy fails, the other can take over.

For me, as a KM practioner not working with software developers, I'm wondering where else it could be applied. I've had some great 'lock yourself in a room with a colleague' sessions. But these involved us working in parallel on different parts of the same task. Benefits were easy communication to clarify ideas, align interpretations and help out with blocks. They also reduced my tendency to find distraction tasks whenever I get stuck just out of a sense of social obligation. However, I find, say, drafting an e-mail with somebody else at the keyboard excruciating. I'd only do it when absence of errors and immediate consensus were so important that it was worth the agony (memo-type e-mails have to be right first time).

The article also makes a link to apprenticeship and the legitimate peripheral participation concept of Lave and Wenger. If you consider non-IT work there are some good examples. It'd be quite natural for the apprentice salesman to work with the old hand on a pitch, for example, or think of apprenticeships in plumbing, building etc. What seems to be the barrier is that knowledge-workers are wedded to the solo-user norm of IT interfaces.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Can you really debrief people to reduce the impact of them leaving? I've just been on a trip to help part of my organization debrief a retiring expert. Now, if I had put it to them bluntly, they were well aware that 20+ years of accumulated knowledge could not be conveniently extracted for them in a day - knowledge can't be tinned like tuna. However, it was certainly the fear of that loss that had prompted action. I had mixed feelings - helping out reinforced the misconception that it was feasible, yet surely it was better than nothing?
I tried to focus on assisting dialog with 'apprentices', rather than codifying anything. I also did a quick 'expectation' setting of why 'flavour' of knowledge could be transferred ('FASHEN' adapted from Snowden's model) - %ages represent how much of that flavour we could hope to transfer.
Facts - declarative knowledge. Yes. But most people know it in the field. 50%
Artefacts - documents etc. Yes. focus on structuring and context of when others should use. 25%
Skills - could be taught, but only over a long period 0%
Heuristics - rules of thumb, 'natural' theories. Depends on expert about how well they can articulate these. 5%
Experience - can be reflected in stories, say 5%
Natural Talent - non-starter 0%

Not a very encouraging picture. I was left with the feeling that what people value in an expert is not the depth of their knowledge but their ability to articulate just the right bit at the right time when asked a question. So its not the content at all, but the skill of retrieval that makes the difference.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

I took a nostalgic look at the Aion Rule-Based System. I used to be a consultant for this tool. Masses of potential for e-commerce, but few people seemed to 'get' what if offered. Looking back, the big problem was that programmers weren't brought up to think this way, so it wasn't that the software model was flawed, but that the organizational change of replacing database-thinkers with rule-based thinkers was too great. The more acttive companies like Firepond and Inference (now called e-Gain) are wisely positioning themselves in CRM for the timebeing.

I was recently chatting to a conference organizer looking for new angles on KM. I mentioned that I thought the field had failed to carry over much of what was learned in the early days of Expert Systems (akak Rule-Based Systems and Knowledge-Based Systems). Its been a while since I worked in the field myself and I was alarmed to discover just how dead my network was.
However, there are still some good products out there (e.g. Firepond) and Aion that ares till being put to good use behind the scenes. Anyone driving a B2C website or call centre that has high training costs would still do well to look at this technology as a way to automate knowledge-rich processes.
Philosophical -aside: Expert Systems are about the only case where computers are doing more than storing and manipulating information\data, for those that get hierarchical about such distinctions.

Rats! My lack of faith in Blogging has already been shaken by David Buchan who responded to my request for people interested in KM & XP to contact me. He has a lively KM-related blog of his own - watch that space.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Just finished reading
Boo Hoo: A Dot Com Story about one of the first and biggest .com crashes. Its an entertaining read, and changed my sympathies for the founders. I'd love to say their downfall had a KM basis, but from what's reported it seems largely financial. Mind you, there's no way that their rate of expansion could have supported inter-office learning. Some transfer happened by good old fashioned 'people flying around'. So I'm sure poor KM at least contributed to their scary burn-rate.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Personal Knowledge Management
I've just finished reviewing Mick Cope's 'Know Your Value?' (see www.wizoz.co.uk or Amazon) for KM Magazine. To me KYV is about the only book that tries to take KM principles and scale them right down to what inividuals should be doing. It appeals to me more than, say, all the Me plc and personal branding stuff that comes from (mostly) the USA.

However, I'm disappointed that the Personal KM movement doesn't seem to have taken off. I thought it was almost inevitable as people grappled with the 'culture' question that we'd have to more-or-less have a conversation with everyone about what it means to be a knowledge worker. Only a few (e.g. Rumizen in 'The Idiot's Guide to KM - best intro there is by the way) and Gurteen in his workshops (www.gurteen.com) seem to have picked it up. Some are saying that Blogging is the practical tool that PKM has been missing so far (OK, by 'some', I mean me, just then, but I'm sure that's what the 'blogging=KM' articles elsewhere mean). But to me the bigger issue is that Copes book sets out why people should share ideas (vs. never Blog in case my ideas are stolen), get over 'Not Invented Here' syndrom and be more creative in working out 'what's in it for me?'. In short, all the barriers to making KM work that are usually labelled culture.

I wanted to call this Blog 'Not Invented Here' but I see its already taken - more apt than I realised.

My starting premise is that I don't believe in Blogs as a useful thing to do. Largely because they're so unstructured that it seems like too much effort to get any value out of somebody else's Blog. However, I promised Dave Gurteen I'd give them a go and see if it changed my mind.

What I want to see, then, is evidence that anybody reads this stuff. Whereas most Blogs try to attract readers by telling them useful things, I'm going to go straight in there with a plea for you to tell me stuff instead (or at least to get in touch with me at sammarshall@yahoo.DELETE-THIS.com [anti spam thing - sorry])
* anybody out there looking at how extreme programming relates to teamwork or KM?
* anybody interested in knowledge management in start-up companies or new ventures?
* anyone else work in a large R&D department as a KM specialist?

Thank you for your attention.