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" :-)