Sunday, February 29, 2004

Its the last straw man that broke the camel's back

Though much-used, I'm fond of this quote:
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong (H.L. Mencken)

Something keeps happening to me quite regularly now: business friends who are not in the KM world confidently give me critiques of where KM failed. Their critiques are correct, but they're based on the hyped version of KM with a strong IT bias of the "everyone put their knowledge in a database" variety that I never subscribed to in the first place, and always heard people within the KM field dismiss as well.

The style of denouncement is very similar to how many KM articles began about 8 years ago explaining why BPR, TQM and similar fads had failed. How did KM fall into the same trap? KM, TQM & BPR all have at their heart some good ideas, but they're tackling difficult problems and therefore it takes considerable work to fully understand them. Those who did understand them couldn't give a short explanation because they knew it was inaccurate, but this makes it hard for the idea to fly. Those who didn't fully grasp it happily came up with snappier explanations that did take off - the hype. The hype version is much more mobile - infectious - than the full version, so it cannot be stamped out by patient explanation. Eventually people see the flaws in the hype and reject it, but by then they're sadly immune to catching the proper version instead.

Friday, February 27, 2004

The trouble with reading old history books is that the past has chaged so much since they were written

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Diversity and Homogeneity (Part 2)
[Following on from yesteterday’s post].

We're social animals that innately classify tribal membership - in-group and out-group. If I spend an hour on a bulletin board on cycling helping a complete stranger, its partly because I enjoy the topic, but also because its a 'fellow cyclist' (note the affinity language in the cliché) - one of my tribe.

Where do these boundaries lie and how should an organisation react? I probably help other KM practitioners as readily as a fellow employee. Should my company be concerned?

Goodheart describes 'calculus of affinity', the sum we all do when deciding to help. "[its] easily mocked in media reporting of disasters - two dead Britons will get the same space as 200 Spaniards or 2000 Somalis. Yet everyday we make similar calculations in the distribution of our own resources. Even a well-off, liberal-minded Briton who already donates to charities will spend, say, £200 on a child's birthday party knowing that such money could, in the right hands, save the life of a child in the third world." would we equally decide to spend an hour helping somebody at the next desk to save 4 hours when we could help an unknown colleague save 2 weeks by using that our instead to write up some guidelines?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Diversity and Homogeneity (Part 1)

An article in The Guardian (24th Feb 04) "Discomfort of strangers" by David Goodheart made me think back to my comment on weak ties, but applied to the “What’s in it for me?” issue in knowledge-altruism in organizations. Goodheart calls it the "Progressive dilemma"

Goodheart quotes David Willetts (a politician) "The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves might face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask "why should I pay for them when they're doing things that I wouldn't do?". This is America versus Sweden... Progressives want diversity, but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests."

Now replace 'tax' and ‘welfare’ with "Knowledge sharing" and state with "organisation" and you have the 'codification' strategy where the 'state' acts as knowledge broker. The implication is that if your company lacks strong common VALUES or you're deliberately encouraging people diversity (different from knowledge diversity, which is fine) then don't try to create things like knowledge pools. If you really need them at this time, implement 'state subsidy' where you ease the tax burden by assigning dedicated knowledge officers to make helping easier.

The alternative to state-controlled welfare is individual charity. This is where 1:1 brokering comes in - both social networking and expert location techniques factor out the state by connecting individuals: reducing the "people like me" equation to "person like me" so its easier to trigger a sense of individual social obligation. In plain English: most people will help you if you ask them directly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Break the Silence provoking commentary on the silence\consensus culture that builds up in some orgs.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I was struck by this candid comment from Dave Pollard on the AOK discussion Group

"I left Ernst & Young LLP last month after 27 years, nine of it as CKO Canada and Global Director of Knowledge Innovation. My job was to keep E&Y on the leading edge of KM, continuing to win awards for what we actually implemented. In recent years I had become increasingly frustrated because E&Y management was ideologically wedded to centralized Knowledge Management and the need for 'submission' (the choice of word alone is telling) of personal knowledge to massive central repositories which had become increasingly irrelevant, devoid of critical context, and hopelessly cluttered."

It's sad to see a company that once seemed to really 'get' KM to go so off the rails. This, to me, is counter-evidence to the "CKO's task is to "do himself out of a job" argument. Organisations change constantly, and the KM aspect needs to be renewed and championed through that change. Nobody would say "right, we have our financial processes defined, everyone subscribes to them, so we don't need a CFO or auditors anymore".

Sunday, February 15, 2004

A colleague of mine, Edward Jones, mailed me with an answer to my post on Innovation & The Strong Tie Dilemma:

"You might like to take a look at: How Breakthroughs Happen: Technology Brokering and the Pursuit of Innovation

The central point of the book, backup by case studies of 'ideas factories' such as Eddison's Menlo park is that this is how innovation can effectively take place - recombination of ideas from different small worlds by individuals who are plugged into different groups, bringing in ideas an opportunities but without being so embedded within a world that they are 'locked' into a way of thinking, calling the concept 'technology brokering'.

One specific example discussed is how a 'pump' training shoe was developed by combining previous work in shoes, medical fluid bags and small valves, with the design agency IDEO

The book goes on to comment that a common patten is that as these ideas factories get some good solutions, they become more closed, with a major challenge being to always retain both the sense of exploration and the partial connectedness in a way that is meaningful for all sides".

Superbly put Ed - thanks!

Friday, February 13, 2004

No Science is better than bad science

I recently attended a talk by a well-known KM presenter. He opened by telling us about his wife, who was a school teacher, getting her pupils to do co-ordination activities such as rubbing their stomach and patting their heads at the same time. This, he explained, used both sides of the brain at once, so stimulated neurons to grow across the corpus-callosum. In doing so, pupils were allegedly more receptive to learning. Now I'm not sure where along the line the tosh was introduced, but this kind of pseudo-psychology immediately turned me off. There is no evidence at all that learninng a basic motor skill has any affect on other kinds of learning (though just waking somebody up with some exercise might, of course). Moreover, we're constantly using both sides of our brain in unison - e.g. every time we look at something the 2 half-images are combined by both hemispheres so each has a full image). Shame - it was a good talk, but it made me question the truth of other claims he made that I wasn't able to judge for myself.

If this kind of unvalidated 'knowledge' is passed around in KM, what hope is there of it ever progressing? No wonder to outsiders it seems to go around in circles year on year.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Intellectual Capital Punishment now with Syndication Feed

Quite a few people have asked me for an RSS feed to this Blog. Though I barey understand the question, I think Blogger have provided an alternative through Atom.

A feed link can be found in the sidebar.

The Spreadsheet for the Perfect Party

I recently read "The enigma within the knowledge economy", an article in the Financial Times (p.9 2nd Feb).

The FT reports on the "Information Work Productivity Council", set up by Microsoft to measure intanngible benefits. According to the article, it's a reaction to customers requiring more evidence of the value of IT investment in leaner times. No suprises there. What did disappoint me though, was the quote from HP's CKO, Craig Samuel: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it". Shame on him for using such an outdated cliche. It reinforces the view that management is something you do with spreadsheets. He should be pushing an agenda that changes expectations about what information you need to manage, relying much more on trusting perceptions and qualitative evidence. Have you ever been in a relationship? Do you feel you have any influence on how well it goes? Yet have you ever measured love? Loyalty? When you throw a party what do you put in the spreadsheet to make sure its a success? Actually, anyone who pulls out a spreadsheet in the middle of a party probably makes it likely to fail. Managing knowledge workers, I feel, is much the same.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Fads and Failures in KM
To say KM has failed is a bit like saying Nutrition has failed because people are still overweight. What people mean is that diets often fail: those pre-packaged, over-promising fad-inclined recipies for weight loss fail. Similarly, the IT-heavy, Knowledge-base ridden, one-size-fits-all approach to KM fails. But even that, I would say, is a little unfair. Most diets work if mindset and behaviour change happens at the same time. But this is tough to achieve, so when it fails its much easier to blame the diet and try the next fad.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Innovation & The Strong Tie Dilemma

Here's a puzzle: Strong ties mean a common mindset and can inhibit innovation and reinforce the status quo (members' mental models converge and reinforce each other, making them very hard to dislodge). But innovation requires a 'high care' environment according to e.g. von Krogh. This because we need to trust to reveal half-formed ieas without fear of reprisal and to take risks in experimentation. Also a common language and high reliance on shared tacit knowledge allows is necessary to have an expert debate. Both of these factors imply strong ties.

So what's the ideal for innovation? Sounds like to really change things you need to nurture people who are recognised as part of a group but nevertheless sit on the periphery or are equally strong members of other groups too. A CoP seeking to innovate therefore needs to ensure it cycles members and conciously tries to bring in some of those that challenge it.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Turning the Landing Lights On

Anders Hemre of Ericsson Research in Canada kindly mailed me in response to my Jan 21st post to share an account of his own experiences:
The point about bad CoPs and innovation from yesterday is right on. When we started with CoPs we also had an innovation cell [IC] going on. I put a question to both the innovation cell manager and the CoP leader about linking the two entities together. Great said the CoP leader, not sure about that said the IC manager. This is not surprising. More interestingly, I asked the IC manager what his biggest challenge was. He indicated that it was not about building stronger networks or getting better ideas, it was about landing the new innovation in the organization. To prepare and create conditions for a successful "delivery" was the biggest challenge. This is for senior management to address he added.

More on Anders work