Monday, December 15, 2003

A recent supplement to KM Magazine on Collaboration had a handy classification from Tim Butler, CEO Sitecape (looks interesting as a collab suite, by the way)


Library: long life content, many consumers, few creators, littlle or no feedbck
Solicitation: more respondents than requestors. Requestors often hidden (e.g. survey), usually moderated
Team: members share objectives. Read and Create about balanced. Small membership.
Community: self-grouping, larger than a project, some members just read but all encouraged to write too. Moderation common.
Process Support: self-service, routine or complex processes with rules. Peer-to-peer often triggered by exceptions. Often combined with other models.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

KM and Internal Comms
Last week I attended a conference on Internal Communications courtesy of Ark Group. The emphasis was very much on the link between comms and Org Change, but I was struck by just how similar the content was to KM conferences (had I walked in blindfolded I may never have noticed... well, not until I stubbed my tow on a big sign saying 'Internal Communications' anyhow). There were the same messages about 'people matter over technology', there was an interest in getting people to communicate and learn from each other, and, intriguingly there was the same angst about 'how do we get taken more seriously'. It seems Internal Comms people are no longer happy to be the journalist of the company newsletter and now want the ears of the chairmen to advise on how to get the message over. Anybody fancy forming a coalition? One ear each?

Whilst there, I was amused to see a flyer on a whole conference dedicated to 'email management'. My first reaction was that it was way over the top. But does it need bringing under control more or is it merely symptomatic of a deeper set of problems? Tony Quinlan's workshop synopsis struck a chord: "One of the first difficulties is that repetition, often a key component of a communication campaign, becomes taboo". Is it because we work in a world too complex for nice clear processes, so we're all broadcasting to each other in the hope that somebody is on top of it all? Because nobody is, we adopt increasingly extreme strategies (e.g. out of office messages that tell the recipient all mail will be deleted until you return), and force the very repetition we all resent?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

KM Europe 2003
Amsterdam RAI Centre 10-12th November

I attended the first 2 days of this event, which they claim is the world’s largest. The format is a free trade show and a number of free talks, and then a fee per keynote presentation. It was well attended (they had 1500 last year and probably about the same this time) though the vendor booths often looked very quiet. Here are some observations on things that stood-out:

Vendors
None of the products on display really looked like anything new – still the same old search and data management tools on the whole.
Entopia, with its bottom-up approach to KM seems to be taking off. I was disappointed with their Social Network Analysis offering, as its purely about visualising document sharing (probably the least of all possible networks you can map). They didn’t seem to have any proper network analysis tools behind it either. The only good thing is that its updated automatically, unlike the resource-intensive ‘snapshot’ produced by questionnaire methods.
AnswerWeb is a relatively new Dutch player in the Expert Location\Q&A sector (along with Askme and Sopheon – formerly Organik). It seems to lack the automatic profiling of people’s expertise though.

Presentations
(these are now online at: http://www.kmeurope.com/presentations.asp )
KM at Renault: Jean-Marc David
This is the first time I've heard about KM from Renault, but they actually have a very mature programme with roots in AI and Expert Networks in the 80's. Their current programme is “one of Renault's top 100 strategic initiatives” [top 100?!], based in a Business Transformation branch of their central IS/IT function.
Their approach reminds me of Ford, Rolls-Royce or Siemens: a manufacturing R&D best practice database with a mandate that employees contribute. Technical Domain Leaders do quality reviews before publication.

 Renault's suggestion scheme has 350, 000 contributions/year, saving €57M in 2002! This seems very much down to their culture of individual initiative and creativity to try things out.
 Collaboration: they felt it necessary to build an in-house tool to re-use existing systems e.g. Documentum, task management, issue management, news etc. rather than make the case for a whole new suite. In the end they co-built it with Nissan for both internet and Extranet use.
 Renault tried providing different template virtual collaboration spaces to meet the different needs of Communities of Interest, communities of practice, “micro-orgs” and project teams. But they found it didn't work as users were not comfortable with these distinctions, so now they take a more bespoke route of working with each client to define best mix of functionality for them.

David Snowden - Complex Knowledge - IBM Cynefin Centre
Snowden was on fine form, as always:
“We now know enough about group dynamics that we can compress the effects of 3-4 years ad-hoc network formation into 3-4 months of deliberate network creation. [i.e. its not that people are bad at networking, but that they're very often sub-optimal and now we know how to do something about it in a way we couldn't 10-15 years ago]. This is not the same as taking an informal network and making it formal - a mistake CoPs sometimes make, and in doing so kill of what was working already. e.g. one way is to find mavericks and let them self-organise a community.”

On the “US vs. Europe/Asian approach”. The US tries to find practice leaders and replicate wholesale. Europeans try to look at good and bad cases and find common principles. People learn very readily from worst practice because on the whole avoiding failure is a better survival strategy than only focussing on success.

This leads to:
* Rules: try to work out all possible events and define response
vs.
* Heuristics: these tolerate ambiguity but are less clear about when they apply exactly
We do need both, depending on context. [cf. laws vs. ethics]

KM has too often tried to manage by rules: design a system around an ideal set of behaviours and then put in place a change-management system to make people behave in the ideal way.The alternative, necessary for any complex system according to Snowden, is to use 'Boundaries' and 'Attractors'. With kids you have firm rules and come down heavily if crossed, but mostly try to keep kids away from the boundary by attractors such as football and food. When undesired patterns begin to emerge (e.g around vodka) you step in an disrupt the pattern.
“So why do organisations try to manage their employees in the 'rule' sense? When faced with a new task, would you rather go to the Corp. Best Practice database and follow a document, or talk to 4-5 people who have done it before and find out what happened? So why build 'knowledge bases'?” [well, one reason is churn – sometimes its hard to find anyone still available to talk to, let alone 5. Narrative databases may be the right compromise though - Sam].

Social Complexity:“Human Beings are not Ants!” Ants are condemned to always act the same (complex, but 'rational') way. Humans have free will and can choose to behave in a non-complex way by e.g. creating and following structures.

Contingent Complexity:
Snowden, having mocked consultants for their 2x2 matrices, then produced on of his own:
*Visible Order: cause and effect obvious to all (sense, categorise, respond = best practice). OK to manage this by a formal structure because the system is visible to all.

*Hidden Order: Cause & Effect is discoverable by experts (Sense, analyse, respond = good practice). Manage by tightly connected peers as well as central control.

*Complex Un-Order: Cause & Effect is coherent in retrospect (Probe, sense respond). The risk is that this looks like Hidden Order but its not, the C&E is only visible once the pattern emerged. There are just too many possible connections to predict analytically until its over. 9/11 investigations are falling into the trap of thinking that if they just throw enough analytical power in, then they will be able to detect the next patter in advance – they won’t. Manage by tightly-connected peers and loose central control. Worst-practice sharing works well here.

*Chaotic Un-Order: no perceivable Cause & Effect even after event (act quickly, then sense and respond).

In crisis management (Chaotic un-order), usually leaders step in and create a network around themselves to stabilise things (Visible order). But this is very brittle, so its better to move into Complex Un-Order by rapidly creating a peer network, then look for patterns you want to reinforce and ones to suppress as this leads to much more robust order.

IBM found that if employees can create their own informal communities, then the resulting number is roughly half number of staff! There is no way you could formally intervene to design all these, you do it by using attractors so that others 'swarm' round them.

Knowledge Acquisition & Modelling Process (KAMP) - Rolls-Royce
Michael Moss gave an overview of R-R's excellent programme for capturing engineering expertise. They do this by training and coaching graduates in the toolbox of techniques that rose out of Expert Systems (ES) in the 80's/90's. These are effective but little-known in the KM World. They fell into disuse because it was very costly to produce an ES, but if you stop at the documentation stage, its viable. Even better, its time-effective as graduates learn more quickly and experts typically only have to give up about 12 hours over 3 months. They gain by making answers to routine questions readily available, and the organisation gains a lasting resource that gives some protection against loss through retirement or moves.

What really makes KAMP work though is not just the capture bit, but the whole context of doing reviews to identify vulnerable knowledge, securing an owner for the output, having an established dissemination route (the ‘Capability Intranet’ they call it) and an ongoing quality/maintenance procedure. Over 130 have been done so far.

Verna Allee - Knowledge, Networks & Value-Creation
"We're learning that to market its much more effective to target hubs than to try to hit a whole network equally"

"People think Silicon Valley is really innovative but it isn't - which is why few survived the dotcom crash. They are good at technology innovation, but not at social innovation to adapt their businesses (e.g. moving from in-house R&D to network collaboration is what Verna means by social innovation). Nor do they innovate Business Analytics e.g. managing dynamic, intangible systems - they're still trapped in static business models. The survivors like Amazon and ebay are still around because they were innovating on all 3 fronts."

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Great to see so many blog entries around KM Europe - Lilia has collated a few Mathemagenic: learning and KM insights - 15 November 2003 and Lee Bryant has an excellent set of commentaries at Headshift.

Sam Adkins posts a provocative assault on eLerning KM and more in Learning Circuits Blog: We are the Problem: We are selling Snake Oil. Some of the stats on retention are very alarming!

Friday, November 14, 2003

Free social network software

This tool came my way Huminity social networking & chat software. I've not had chance to try it yet, but it looks like the idea is that you give it your address book. It then contacts everyone and invites them to join. You can then see their networks too, and so it grows... I'm not sure I trust it to make my contacts so public yet, but I bet it'd work great with a specific contact set e.g. friends in Ryze.

The Kindness of Strangers
At this week's KM Europe I took part in Dave Gurteen's 'Knowledge Cafe' and, by lucky coincidence joined the table of Ton Zijlstra, a fellow blogger whom I met last year. A discussion on trust we had threw up an interesting insight for me. Why are people altruistic to strangers on the net (e.g. blogging, offering help in discussion groups etc.) but often so reluctant to help in the workplace? Ton pointed out that on the net you are not competing, so have nothing to lose by helping another. Whereas at work there are factors like status, jostling for promotion and potential negative comeback (e.g. for bad advice) that are all deterrents.

more on KM Europe soon...

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

John Barrett's AOK newsletter pointed to a couple of interesting 'virtual workshop' tools. These differ from the likes of Groove or NetMeeting in that they reflect much more closely a workshop facilitator's toolkit where the emphasis is on discussion rather than, say, document collaboration or presentation. Facilitate's Conflict Resolution Technique: Collaboration Software for Mediation I found particularly intriguing. Conventional wisdom is that conflict needs the full 'bandwidth' of face-to-face, but I wonder if the anonymising factor of a PC actually makes it much easier to surface the real issues in a way that wouldn't be socially acceptable in person? Just as some forms of conselling done through computers make it easier for patients to open up. Anyone out there have experience of this?

The other tool to look at is Meetingworks

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Steve Ellis at KM Asia showed one of these video clips from EDS. Some of the funniest business advertising I've seen in ages. Running With the Squirrels -- High Version is great but 'Herding Cats' as the feeling you get doing KM just about sums it up.

Friday, November 07, 2003

KM Asia 2003 Singapore
Tuesday 4th & Wednesday 5th November

This was a lively event organised by Ark Group that attracted over 200 delegates. The original July date was cancelled due to SARS, so it was good to see it back on its feet. I can’t say that Singapore’s Sun Tec centre was a favourite venue (as an event it felt relatively small and lost in such a huge place) and the room layout was awful, but otherwise it all seemed to go well.

Interest in KM in Asia seems very strong. Coming later to it than the US & Europe on the whole, they seemed to have got beyond the na├»ve ‘what is knowledge anyway’ stage much more quickly. One Australian delegate commented “we seem to have gone for initial enthusiasm and post-hype scepticism all at once!”

I was speaking on “How Many KM Solutions do you need?” – how to put together balanced KM programmes rather than one-size-fits all onslaughts based on just doing, say, intranets or CoPs. Most people seemed to ‘get’ the message, a pleasing contrast to, say, KM eXchange in New York 18months ago when a number of people felt they’d settled on a KM strategy and that was that. I'll be doing a repeat performance at KM Europe next Tuesday

Some comments on the talks:
Tom Davenport - Moving Along the KM Curve
Tom argued that it may be a good thing if management stop talking about KM because it means its been embedded into way things are done daily.


Ang Hak Seng - Singapore Police Force - KM Leadership
An impassioned speech, like having Fidel Castro the KM practitioner. Insights into how police had to abandon top-down structures to tackle entirely novel problems such as SARS.


Steve Ellis - HSBC - Changing Organisational Culture
Steve gave a very frank discussion of trials and tribulations of introducing KM to a rather conservative banking culture that went down very well. It did sound like KM was still struggling to stay afloat there though.
 He admitted that they initially made the mistake of trying to sell KM, rather than its benefits.
 He found that a KM Brochure raised awareness and interest, but not buyers [matches my experience too]. Indeed, he commonly found agreement on a NEED to do something, but no action because nobody had free resource.
 They tried KAPs - the Knowledge Acquisition process taken from Rolls-Royce and it has gone down very well, not least because the first person to be debriefed was CEO so subsequently everyone anted to be part of this ‘club’. The process uses structured interviews around experience, strategy & mistakes that are videoed and archived.
 HSBC found Intellectual Capital reporting a complete dead loss - executives just didn't want to know because felt they were measuring too much already.
 HSBC found the 'central' KM team structure didn't work and it has now disbanded.

"Don't set KM targets (nobody really cares how many hits your website gets)"


Jeff Trotter, Director of Knowledge E&Y - Building the Business Case for KM
KM seems amazingly well embedded in E&Y’s culture. They’ve been doing it a long time and the link to their business is very strong (and note this is about accountancy, they no longer consult).
E&Y have a brochure that everyone gets on 1st day, and a follow-up call on day 3 to explain what KM can do for them. They also have a knowledge-sharing agreement document that gets signed by everybody when they join.


David Gurteen
As I subscribe to Dave's handy quote of the day service, it seems apt for me to quote him this time:

"KM in good times means 'knowledge management', in bad times it means 'kill me'"

What is a knowledge worker? Dave got beaten up at a conference last year because people felt he was implying an underclass of non-Knowledge Workers. Good for him he stuck to his non-PC convictions and offered this: the main characteristic of a Knowledge Worker is that they get to decide each morning what their job is and how they are going to tackle it.

The famous "KM is a bullshit issue" still resonates – it’s a powerful re-expression of the knowing-doing gap:
"People choose not to change their behaviour because the culture and the imperatives of the organisation make it too difficult to act upon the knowledge. Knowledge isn't power. Power is power. Most people in most organisations do not have the ability to act on the knowledge they possess" - Michael Schrage

Friday, October 24, 2003

The ever-informative Imaginatic newsletter pointed me to the IdeaFlow Blog . This article proposes using Logic Puzzles in teams as a way to discover each person's strenghts and weaknesses. To me it sounds a more memorable and robust way of disclosing these than the more formal profiling tools like the Belbin Test or Myers-Briggs.

Indeed you could replace all the questionnaires with a Compendium of Games:
* Extraversion-Introversion = Karaoke Night
* Sensing-Intuition = Cluedo
* Thinking-Feeling = Truth-or-Dare
* Judging-Perceiving = High-speed Monopoly

Mind you, there's nothing like a free bar and a session of Twister to get to know what your colleagues are really like, its just that nobody likes to remember it the morning after.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Knet Map from Konverge and Know is another Social Network Analysis tool new to the market. Its simple 'question of the week' format makes it very easy to collect data. Trouble with all these tools is that few companies would appreciate the benefits sufficiently up-front to pay the kind of cash they ask for them.

Mainstream Social Network Analysis
There are a few indications that SNA is being made more accessible to the business world. e.g.
Entopia -- Social Network Analysis is a plug-in for their Quantum Suite. I saw Quantum last year and it takes an individual-up approach to KM (think Personal Knowledge Management that tries to scale). The problem with this approach is that it can lead to lots of duplication and fragmentation as everyone keeps 'their' version of a file (think of how people handle e-mails with attachments).
The great thing about this new module is that it maps networks automatically based on real, rather than reported interests. Downside is that mapping your interests and contacts can trigger 'spyware' reactions in staff. Entopia has some privacy controls, but this is a very delicate area, and I think makes management very wary.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

I've just been to Intracom 2003 in Montreal. A predominantly Intranet-based conference but with a strong KM track. Turnout was good (more buoyant that other KM conferences I've been to recently), though there's still a general sense that KM professionals are struggling to keep the momentum of the programmes going.

Hubert St-Onge was there advocating that we abolish our Training departments. Unable to resist this provocation I cornered him afterwards. To me what he mostly seems to be anti is the politics\inertia of trad training departments that assume putting people in a classroom is the default answer. That much I agree with, though I do feel e-learning advocates understate the problems of motivation in self-paced learning.

Richard McDermott and Marie Eychene (Ericsson) gave a presentation on Virtual Communities that generated a lot of audience interest. McDermott had a nice observation that online quiet is quieter (are people silent in rapt attention or disinterest?) and loud is louder (an argument between 2 people can swamp a discussion forum and there are no social cues like rolled eyeballs to shut them up).

Naturally, there were some misses too - one presenter claimed "Knowledge in the world is doubling every 12 months, perhaps every 10 now". Pah! Content doubling I might believe, but knowledge? We also had the old humbinger of a hierachy of data-information-knowledge-wisdom, as if wisdom comes from knowledge by adding the right meta-tags.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

A lot of people comment that knowledge isn't like money because I can give you knowledge and still keep it myself. Most recently I heard this in a presentation from Loraine Ricino of Siemens where they had a quote from an exec in a promotional video "If I give you an idea and you give me an idea, then we each have 2 ideas, its that simple!". True, but it doesn't mean its cost-free.

"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of the recipient. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention" - Herb Simon.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

"If you lose your job, your mariage and your mind all in one week, try to lose your mind first, because then the other stuff won't matter that much."
Jack Handey The Lost Deep Thoughts

(and the perfect antidote to all that Cheese-Moving Little-book-of-Wibble Mindless-Platitudes-for-the-Soul drivel that floats around).

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Doublethink
Reflecting on my earlier post on
Collaboration, my enthusiasm is more muted that its a Good Thing for KM. What collaboration misses is the learning from the past. Indeed it can be so here-and-now that it encourages teams to try to solve things internally rather than looking outside. You have been warned :-)
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Also in the Knowledge Market vein, but for much higher stakes is InnoCentive. Set up by Eli Lilley to seek solutions for R&D challenges outside the company, innocentive has become a network of seeker companies and over 25,000 scientists providing answers. Rewards range from $5000 to $100,000.

Shame on me for only just stumbling on Google Answers but I love it. The idea is you post a question and the price $2-$200 the answer is worth to you. A pure knowledge market. Its not original - askme.com and themutual.net did something similar, but Google seem to have made it take off.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Workshops

How do you turn a meeting into a workshop? Do exactly what you'd planned for the meeting, but on MUCH bigger pieces of paper.

Is it me or has there been ‘terminology inflation’ around ‘workshops’. Just as information became elevated to ‘knowledge’, it seems that any old get together has become a ‘workshop’. It got so bad at one company I worked with that they let out a collective groan at the mention of the word. “We don’t want another talking session” they complained. It turned out that ‘workshop’ was used for anything as it sounded action-oriented, but had been diluted so that any unplanned, ill-prepared meeting had been re-badged and people were sick of them.

Even when ‘workshops’ really are full, collaborative get-togethers with a proper plan, they still seem to be an abused format. From my experience of running workshops (and participating in many more), my checklist goes something like this:

"When workshops go bad" - what's wrong with workshops?
* They’re too often used to try to create definitive solutions – the result is often hasty and superficial (e.g. trying to generate a new process)
* They can be a very narrow channel (often people stop a debate just to get done by dinner)
* They encourage abstraction to the banal due to the consensus element (summary post-its lose all nuances of individual ideas). Its like one person’s initial idea is a sharp spike, but then everyone else lays blankets on top so it ends up as a vague lump
* There seems to be a macho element creeps in so that agendas are too-tightly packed (“restroom breaks are for wimps!”)
* It’s very hard to learn from outside during a session as this has a different tempo
* Decisions tend to show a primacy/recency (serial position) effect or undue influence of better orators

When are workshops useful?
* To generate initial ideas from scratch to be worked out later - especially from diversity of people. (this was the original format of brainstorming). Another example is risk analysis to get a broad set of ideas out.
* To reach consensus on something already thought-through i.e. an opportunity for dialog to produce a common mindset (don't confuse with a decision meeting) e.g. A proposed organisational restructuring.
* For bonding or other change experiences. The tangible output irrelevant, the issue is shared experience e.g. storytelling or the ‘change as theatre’ events described in To the Desert & Back where employees of a food factory were taken to a huge landfill site and shown the rotting result of the factory’s inefficiency.
* As a learning-by doing session (dissemination of knowledge already established by those who know it to those ignorant of it e.g. role-play to learn influencing techniques).

Don't use workshops to:
* Shortcut real analysis and creation (a Task Force or Working Group is much better)
* Decide anything not thoroughly understood beforehand (i.e. on a new and complex area, though it’d be OK if an appropriate panel of experts were involved)
* Pretend that by holding a workshop everyone has been consulted and has had a democratic say

Finally, my favourite tip comes from the 3M Meeting website on coping with energy dips. They recommended providing mints to boost blood-sugar levels. But why stop there? How about putting a little speed in the cookies, or drop a few E's into the coffee just before you need to reach a consensus for that all-round sense of bonhomie - better workshops through chemicals :o}

Monday, September 08, 2003

I've been following the AOK Star Series Discussion with Patti Anklam recently. A lot of good stuff on Social Network Analysis. I'm very impressed that Patti not only held up her end of the dialog, but carried on blogging throughout: Networks, Complexity, and Relatedness

I've a handful of conference appearances coming up. Its always fun to meet bloggers and readers in the real world, so if you're attending any of the following, do come up and say "hello"\"hello again"\"you know that post you made in June?... well there was a typo on line 5".

* Intracom 2003 October 1-3 Montreal (I'm on Day 2 in the Trends Track)
* KM Asia 2003 November 4-6 Singapore (I'm on Day 1)
* KM Europe November 10-12 Amsterdam (I'm on Day 2)

_________________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, August 28, 2003

KM in Shuttle Disaster

A short article worth a read is Report: Knowledge management failures central to Shuttle disaster. Mostly what went wrong was an over-reliance on systems that failed to break down social silos.

"...This led to a series of discussions that took place in a vacuum, with little or no cross-organisational communication and often no feedback from senior managers contacted by low-level engineers with concerns about the shuttle's safety."

Organisatons have gone through tackling widespread availability of pockets of knowledge - leveling competence - and worrying about knowledge creation\innovation. Much less addressed are issues like this: the right information (I use information deliberately), in the right place at the right time, but nobody is listening to it.

Ironically, the reason people ignore alarm bells is due to over-confidence in their knowledge about a situation. Experts learn what's noise and what's important by refining a mental model of what matters. Sometimes something serious comes along that's outside that model so they erroneously reject it.

Secodly, if an organisation wants to learn, it needs to embed it in process:
"The Lessons Learned Information System database is a much simpler system to use, and it can assist with hazard identification and risk assessment," the board concluded. "However, personnel familiar with the Lessons Learned Information System indicate that design engineers and mission assurance personnel use it only on an ad hoc basis, thereby limiting its utility."

Again, novices are conciously incompetent, so use such databases. 'Experts' almost never do because they never get the trigger to check.

Birthday Blog
A year ago I began blogging with a skeptical post: Intellectual Capital Punishment

Dave Gurteen asked me to give Blogging a go, and then jury-rigged it behind the scenes by telling other people to come visit the site. Despite some lean months, I'm still going, so I'm beginning to waver on the skepticism front. Still not heard from anyone interested in KM for Start-ups though (I can't imagine why in the current climate).

__________________________________________________________________________________

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Collaboration is the new KM?
I refuse refuse to talk about an nth generation KM, as there was a spate of articles last year all claiming that 1st generation was this and 2nd generation was that, according to whatever message the author was pushing. But if I look at whats happening in the industry, I think the tone is changing subtly. We're seeing IT come back into the picture again, for example. It's as if we had to ask it to leave the room while we could have the discussion about the people element, but now its safe to let it back in.

My tip is that collaboration will become the next trendy term. We're going to have to go through the same loop as before: IT will push it, there'll be some initial successes, others will try to follow and fail, people will then say wearily "its all about people" and slowly we'll get it right. Lets just hope we can go through all that a bit faster this time. Why collaboration? I think it appeals because its less fluffy than 'KM' - people intuitively think its good (few CEO's are crying out for their people to collaborate less) - and it taps a current need: in trying to cut costs by e.g. reducing travel, people are feeling the pain of projects failing and mis-communication. 'Virtual teams' as a term has been around long enough, but few companies are getting it right. This is largely because when people sit close-by then you don't need to manage the information exchange. Take them more than 30m away, and you have to start planning (see Ward and Holtham's excellent The Role of Private & Public Spaces in Knowledge Management).

I think this is a good move for KM: it preserves the people+process+technology elements, but is widely understood and still people-centric. The trick will to be avoid reducing it to technology in the imlementation (see your average Portal\Intranet publication, for example)

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Who are we trying to convince?
Not so long ago I attended a seminar that included a panel discussion with some of the big names in KM. Inevitably, somebody in the audience asked "How do I convince management to do KM?". I hear this all the time and people never seem very satisfied with the answer, which usually says something like "make sure its linked to your business's strategy" (they might as well say "make sure its really convincing"). Some speakers then go on to add "...and make sure you don't call it KM".

Here's my hunch and it comes in two parts (like a camel's)
1) It's true that many companies, particularly the ones that had early KM success didn't call it KM, becasue it didn't have a label. And it wasn't done by KM people, because they didn't exist either. Often the old hands look baffled as to why these people are trying to do something unrelated to strategic priorities, and they get baffled looks back from people who feel they're stating the damn obvious and missing the point.

2) A fun thing to do at a KM Conference (not a phrase you'll hear often) is ask people how they got into the field. I've only met one person who said "I studied for it". So nearly all of us are enthusiastic amateurs - "professionaly hobbyists" is how I once heard it put. We're all trying to move away from a job we didn't like into something much more interesting - more interesting because it often involves dablling with things that used to be the domain of more senior people (take it from me, I used to be a janitor ;-)

Put it together and what have you got? People trying to take over "management's job" of launching initiatives by inventing a new profession. So I have to ask myself, is my question "how do I convince management to do KM" or "how do I convince management to let me join in the game?"

Saturday, July 26, 2003

One of Dave Snowden's much used quotes is "We can know more than we can tell" (taken from Polanyi). Intuitively, that feels right, but revisiting Being There by Andy Clark again today I had second thoughts. Clark argues strongly for writing being part of knowing - a thinking support tool. "By writing down our ideas... we can hold them steady so that we may judge them...We can store them in a ways that allow us to compare and combine them with other complexes of ideas in ways that would quickly defeat the unaugmented imagination".

To me the implication is that we can't know some things until we're able to tell them. Those who have had to go from expert to teacher will be aware of how the act of teaching deepens you own understanding.

Why this dichotomy? Well there are many things we call knowledge and different ways of 'knowing' (I know what an egg is vs. I know how to pickle eggs vs. I know what you did last summer) - see my earlier post on FASHEN.

Apologies for the gap in service - please do not adjust your sets. Thanks for all those who mailed me - it's gratifying that somebody noticed! I hope to resume regular postings from now on (one or two a week). Stay tuned...

Monday, April 14, 2003

The hazards of interviewing
"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." -- Alan Greenspan

Not the most original quote I know, but he sums it up beautifully. The trouble with knowledge elicitation is that the knowledge elicitor is usually in the role of dumb chauffer that gets in the way of the person who really knows where they want to go... but can't drive.
Have you ever met the fearsome admin person that you know won't really understand your request but who insists on a full explanation before they'll pass you on to the person you really need to speak to? Have you then spent another 10 minutes undoing the garbled explanation of that that person got from their admin about why you're there?
10 years ago this was commonly called the "knowledge elicitation bottleneck" and the effects of interviewing were well known. Feels like its time to revive some of that. So, here's my own variant Greenspanism.

When you debrief you don't get the 'truth' as such but "an approximate articulation of what people are willing to say on what they think you want to hear, based on their imperfect recall of events they never fully understood."

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

KM in R&D 2003
I took part in this Ark Group conference in London last week. The attendance was disappointingly small, but the round-table feel was a pleasant change from the usual classroom atmoshpere of a big event.

Main Question:
Is KM for R&D a special case? i.e does KM have anything special to say about the innovation process? This was not as well explored in conference as I would have hoped, and from the presentations you'd have to conclude 'no', as there was little that wouldn't apply to KM in manufacturing or sales. Mind you, one thing that emerged in discussions at the end was that if it really were so radically different, then KM would have a hard time encouraging knowledge flows in and out of R&D to other parts of an org.

Best Presentation:
Victor Newman from Pfizer. "Marketing will never understand a truly innovative product becasue it won't fit their mental models of the market".

Useful Concept:
Work out how knowledge would flow in your organization if geography were not an issue. Then look at what you need to do in KM terms to get the same flows going in the real world.

Intriguing Insight:
Knowledge banks, idea boxes, lessons learned databases etc. rarely get 'helped' by workers because there's no warm fuzzy feeling involved. An electronic 'thank you' just ain't the same. So either you need to make it clear that the repository is just an intermediary (e.g. I only Blog because people respond to what I say - eventually) or provide an extrinsic reward (read: cash). The trouble with cash is that people are much more sensitive to how its given, which means rules, which means game-playing by individuals to maximise their return. You don't get this with warm-fuzzy rewards because we have social systems that have evolved to moderate game-playing (i.e we see it as selfish, exploitative, manipulative etc.)

Best supporting Actress:
...sorry, got carried away there.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Braintrust 2003
I took part in the Braintrust conference in San Francisco mid-February. Top marks to the organizers for creating an intimate, friendly atmosphere - one of the easiest settings for networking I've come across. Average participant experience was also very high - it didn't feel like the speakers were something different, they just happened to be the ones talking that year. Highlights:
* Tom Brailsford from Hallmark. They're using online communities for consumer research. Just by actively facilitating online discussions they have built a thriving community that gives them new product ideas and instant feedback on concepts. Even the CEO tests the water with them.
* Verna Allee gave an intelligent workshop on 'value nets', a handy way of visualising problems. What I liked is that after a 3 hour session I felt I had something immediately useful
* Kathy Hagan (formerly Pfizer) covered KM in mergers and acquisitions. It'd be good to see more people promoting KM in this area.
* Wendy Buckowitz (of KM Fieldbook fame) presented on a new survey by Buck Consultants. It's trying to value organizational knowledge by looking at the implied cost of training people. This is a great idea - when we downsize we tend to look at redundancy costs explicitly but bury re-training and role transfer costs. Indeed, if we put realistic numbers on individuals as being an asset anyway, we would probably ditch them less readily.
The questionnaire presents differently shaped learning curves and asks participants to select the best match for a given job. This is an elegant approach and its great that it highlights the time it takes to get learn how to get things done in a new organization - most of it being about adapting to a new culture. BUT the approach has some severe limitations that I fear will get lost in the headlines it will generate. e.g. They can't account for the negative effect of people getting stale - the cost of mediocre ideas may be greater than that of employee churn in R&D, for example. Its also based on judgement of - predominantly - HR folk who rarely think in this way and probably don't have robust data to support their choices.

a better definition
I was amused by an article in my local paper: about a man imprisoned for assulting a fireman. The fireman had the audacity to try and rescue him because his house was on fire. Even the barrister [lawyer] defending him said "His record can best be described as horrendous". He went on to say "Mr X recognises that he has a drink and anger management problem" - so he's not just an aggressive thug then? So next time you do something dumb and you get called stupid, correct them and say "no, I have a knowledge management problem" :-)

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Like banning clocks to save time...
Couldn't resist sharing this with you from the editor of an e-mail discussion group I subscribe to.

"Today I received a nice note from a member who explained that he had to unsubscribe from all [name of discussion group] email because: Unfortunately new company policy dictates that out 'Inboxes' must be drastically cut down, which means I only have room for internal emails (and maybe not even that!)."

Seems and odd reaction to an even nuttier edict. My recommendation would be to immediately delete all e-mails beginning with the letters A-M... or perhaps those received after 2pm as they're clearly from slackers :-)

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Unleash the Grouchy Person!
The Imaginatik Blog references an interesting article titled Why innovation happens when happy people fight. It covers the need for constructuve conflict, but also the evidence for using humour and optimistic people for creative roles. What I really like though is that it advises you to hire a few grouchy people - they tend to be better at identifying risk and weaknesses. But becasue their misery is contagious you should only let them out of their office at tactical moments. I worked with such a person once - he had a brilliant analytical mind and when something failed we often realised he'd been telling us for 6 months, but to follow his thinking took hours so few people had the patience.... that really got him down.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Ultimately, a CKO's job should be to fire himself ...
In his weblog Dave Gurteen has an entry on the role of the Chief Knowledge Officer. It relays the popular view that this should be a temporary role to help organizations migrate to a new way of working. I think this is misguided.

The CKO should champion the knowledge-based perspective of the organization and defend it against all the other perspectives that confront managers e.g. financial, legal, marketing etc. A CKO's first job may well be to bring about substantial KM change, but the organization will always be in flux and you need somebody to keep an eye on the intangibles through any subsequent organizational change.

If you get the place just how you want it from a KM point of view you can bet your dog that the next wave of changes due to e.g. legislation will start to undo half of them as an unplanned side-effect. You wouldn't change your accounting practices and then tell the CFO he was no longer needed for 'business as normal' would you?

Thursday, January 09, 2003

It was ME!
Apparently ICI did an interesting exercise where they took their most successful products and traced back through the organisation to find out where they'd originated. They found that the majority had come from just four people, and they'd never been properly recognised for it. I hope they were promoted to a cubicle with a window as a result.
[Source: Talk by Richard Potter of QintetiQ]

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Happy New Year to all my reader

Forthcoming Conference Presentations
There's a couple of conferences coming up where I'll be presenting. If you're there please come and say "hello" \ "is your talk worth going to because there's another at the same time that looks more interesting" \ "is that soup on your tie?"


  • Braintrust 2003 in San Francisco, Feb 9-12. Great lineup of speakers with John Seely Brown giving the keynote. Braintrust is widely viewed as being the best KM networking opportunity and works hard to keep things intimate. There's a limit of 200 delegates and lots of peripheral activities to keep people connected. I'll be hosting a dinner discussion one evening - a lively debate is promised (especially once we have to split the check between us)
  • Exploiting knowledge management in R&D London 19-21 March. A more targeted conference with empahsising innovation and exploring what it is about R&D that makes its needs different from mainstream KM. download brochure