Looking back - KM highlights from the last year

The start of a new year is a good time to look back over the previous 12 months and reflect on some highlights – so here are the first five of my ten favourite moments of Knowledge Management Consulting from 2014 - in no particular order - I loved them all! If you ever wondered what I get up to as a KM consultant, it will give you some insights...

1. A whirlwind trip to Iran.  After a number of virtual presentations via Sharif University, I made my first trip to Iran, visiting Tehran and then flying to the beautiful, ancient city of Isfahan. What an amazing appetite for knowledge!  After presenting at the Iran MAKE awards ceremony, I ran (see what I did there?)  a number of simultaneously translated workshops for large audiences who had huge interest and no end of questions.  My host from Sharif had to spirit me away to another room during the coffee times so that I had a chance to draw breath.  Here's a shot of some of some participants conducting the Marshmallow Tower exercise to apply the fundamentals of KM.

iran
iran

2. Ethiopia with the UN.  I have had the privilege of working with the United Nation System Staff college for several years now, and visited Addis Ababa twice last year to facilitate workshops on KM and Appreciative Inquiry with the Economic Commission for Africa. We discussed networking, and learning in depth, and worked up a 10-year vision for KM in the region. The photo below was a fun physical network analysis which brought a smile to everyone's faces!

onaeca
onaeca

3. Google Glass for Knowledge Capture.  I worked with a major Pharmaceutical company on their KM strategy  and had the opportunity to visit their R&D facility on the east coast of the US to explore the connection between KM and Innovation, and encountered the use of Google Glass to capture and really understand the actions of development scientists.  I had my first chance to play with them. Not exactly Raybans, but I still felt kind of cool.

googleglass
googleglass

4. Teaching KM for Programme Managers At Skolkovo Business School, Moscow.  I have been part of the faculty at Skolkovo for two years now, and have enjoyed several trips to deliver modules on corporate leadership development programmes.  The business school was only build in 2005.  As you can see, it's one of Moscow's more innovative buildings.

wywz_moscow_business_school_a140211_3
wywz_moscow_business_school_a140211_3

5. The KDP Consortium visit to the Olympic Museum.   If I had to choose a favourite assignment, I guess it would be the work I did with Elizabeth Lank facilitating the "Knowledge Driven Performance Consortium" programme for 20 KM leaders and champions from  six different organisations. We met three times over a year to share experiences and learn lessons from a set of mature KM programmes. It was lovely to meet up again with old friends from MAKE winners Schlumberger and Syngenta, and to see the experience shared both ways with new clients like the IOC who hosted our meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland and gave us a private tour of their brilliant Olympic Museum. It's a brilliant example of a knowledge asset which you can walk through and interact with.

olympic-museum
olympic-museum

So there are my first five highlights; five more to follow later this week.

What a privilege to have a job which enables me to see so much of the world, and support such a diverse group of clients. I'm counting my blessings.

When Collect and Connect is not enough...

One of the common constructs used to ‘frame’ knowledge management activities is that of 'Collect or Connect'.

'Collect' is often thought of to refer to the KM activities closest to document management and information management. It invokes thoughts of ubiquitous SharePoint, intranets, portals, knowledge assets, content, FAQs, wikis, folksonomies and taxonomies.

'Connect' takes us into the areas of networks, communities, social networking, expertise profiling, knowledge jams, cafes, conversations and randomised coffee trials.

connect-collect_fotor.jpg

There's nothing wrong with either of these domains – any more than there is anything wrong with a bookstore or a coffee shop. But just as there’s more to our high streets than libraries and coffee shops (mind you, there are an awful lot of coffee shops) – there more to KM than 'collect-and-connect'.

So what happens when you put the coffee shop inside the bookstore, then invite an author to sign copies and discuss ideas for new books? That’s one way for new knowledge to be created.

We also create knowledge when we learn from experience, combine and distil existing knowledge, make sense from patterns, collaborate, develop and build upon each others’ ideas. None of this is new, but I'm still surprised at how many organisations build a KM strategy which seems to be entirely fulfilled through SharePoint.  What a lack of ambition!

I ran a workshop last week with a group of programme directors from different organisations who are in trust-building stages of forming a community of practice.  They had already created a self-assessment tool to provide them with a common language - and identified a number of topics within their overall discipline. We found it very productive to run a group table conversation for each topic along the lines of:

  • "What knowledge can we collect - what can we each bring to the table?"
  • "Which sub-topics and specific questions can we connect together to discuss, where a conversation is more appropriate than formal information sharing?"
  • "What are the areas and challenges where we could collaborate and create new knowledge (products, guides, recommendations, processes) together?"

One hour later we had over 100 pointers to the best content, offers to share documents, a whole selection of informal and formal discussion areas, ad-hoc offers and requests - and a set of new potential collaboration projects to learn together, share experience, create new knowledge-based products and challenge conventional ways of working. Now that's likely to energise this community even more than any double espresso!

Mapping the KM Landscape

Knowledge Management has become an ever-increasing suite of interconnected tools and techniques - it's easy to feel overwhelmed without a map. Having bounced some early ideas around with Geoff, and spent far too many idle moments at airports fiddling with PowerPoint,  I think it's time to stop tweaking and start sharing.  So here it is: my rendition of the KM Landscape  (click to enlarge).

KM Landscape
KM Landscape

I wanted to try and show the breadth of techniques and processes, the connections between them, and also some of our neighbouring disciplines and opportunities for boundary collaboration.

It’s far from perfect  (I need more than two dimensions to really do the juxtaposition justice) – but hopefully it’ll illustrate some new places to explore.

Let me know if you find any new destinations, landmarks or pub walks to include.

10 characteristics of a great KM Sponsor

I've been thinking recently about the role of sponsorship in enabling knowledge management, and it took me back to some Change Management principles which I learned from ChangeFirst, when I was responsible for Change Management as well as Knowledge Management at Centrica.The ChangeFirst model was based on Darryl Connor's "Managing at the speed of change", but also had much in  common with the work of John Kotter.  Both excellent reads with similar roots.

Depending on your KM strategy, sponsorship is always important and often absolutely critical to the success of a knowledge change programme - and let's face it, most of our work as practitioners is all about creating change and making it stick.  So here's what I learned from my various Change Management gurus about the ten characteristics of effective sponsors.

dilbert-on-leadership
dilbert-on-leadership

Think about the leaders who sponsors your KM activities as you read then through - or use it as a checklist to help you select the ideal candidate, if you're still looking...

1. Dissatisfaction.  You want your Sponsor to be agitated about the current state of knowledge sharing in your organisation.  They need to be frustrated at the loss of value, the inefficiency, the corporate stupidity, the missed innovations and the embarrassment of re-invention or repetition.  A sponsor who thinks "everything is generally OK, and this KM stuff - well, it's just the icing on the cake!"  is going to struggle to defend or promote your work with any authenticity. If they're not already sufficiently fired up, then you might want to find some provocative horror stories to spark things along.

2. Making resources available.  It's an obvious one - but there's little point in firing up a sponsor who lacks the wherewithal to help you take action.    If they don't have the budget or resource available themselves, can they help you through their contacts and relationships?

3. Understand the impact on people.  Particularly true of Knowledge Management sponsors, because KM is fundamentally a people-based approach.  How would you rate your sponsor's emotional intelligence (or perhaps his PQ Passion Quotient or her CQ Curiosity Quotient)? You will need to be able to engage them in discussions about the culture of the organisation and the behaviours of leaders. If that's an uncomfortable area for them, then keep looking!

4. Public Support.  Bit of a no-brainer, but naturally you will want a sponsor who is willing and able to speak on behalf of your 'programme' at every opportunity.  You may well need to equip them with an 'elevator speech' and some compelling success stories - and remind them of their dissatisfaction.

5. Private Support.  Ah yes.  The authenticity test.  Will your sponsor speak with the same level of passion and heartfelt credibility in a private conversation with their peers - or is it just a mask they wear when they're wheeled out to make positive speeches.  You need a believer!

6. Good Networkers.   Perhaps this should be at the top.  Your sponsor need to be adept at spanning boundaries, spotting synergies and sneaking around the back door of silos.  Their network needs to become your network.

7. Tracking performance.  This is one of the acid tests of interest and commitment.  Is sponsorship of your activity something which is on their agenda, or are you just a medal that they wear to special occasions?  Agree what good looks like, agree the immediate steps and agree on the indicators and measures you need to focus on. Get that meeting in their diary at least quarterly.  If they're dashboard-oriented, then build one for them, but remember Einstein's classic quote:  "Not everything that can be counted  counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

8. Reinforcement when needed.  Sometimes you might need to 'send for reinforcements', so select a sponsor who is willing to challenge, knock heads together, unblock the corporate drains and generally provide you with air cover when you want it. You need a fighter as well as a lover.

9. Focus on the future.  Ensure that your sponsor gets the big picture - and can communicate it compellingly.  What is their personal vision for the organisation five years from now?  Does it match yours? Does it line up with your KM strategy and plan.  If they have a tendency to get lost in the details of performance targets, then make sure that some of your measures are long term.  You don't really want them fussing over how many documents were uploaded into a SharePoint folder this week when there's a demographic knowledge-leaving-the-organisation bubble which threatens to burst 3 years from now.  Help them to lift their heads up - and ask them to lift yours too.

10. Behavioural modelling.  Your sponsor needs to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. When you champion knowledge sharing, you lay yourself open to accusations of hypocrisy much more than if you were the sponsor of systems implementation programme.  It's behavioural.  It's relational.   And people notice. You might want to equip them with some simple questions to ask others which help them nail their colours to the mast.  Syngenta are good at this, and put a number of "leading questions" on a pocket card to help all of their senior champions to verbalise their commitment:

"Who could you share this with?"  "Who did you learn from?" "Who might have done this before?" "Who could you ask for help and advice?"

University College Hospital's After Action Review behavioural programme has taken training to the very top of the hospital tree to ensure that anyone is equipped (and expected) to facilitate an AAR. Would your Sponsor know how to lead a simple period of team reflection?  It would certainly increase their impact if you could help them to become the "knowledge conscience" in the boardroom...

So how does your sponsor measure up?  If you can nod gratefully to most of the above as you read it, then you've not only probably found yourself a Myers Briggs ENFJ, but you're also in for a more effective and enjoyable time than Dilbert ever had!

When knowledge is not enough.

Image Europe and especially the UK have experienced severe flooding during the past month and the future holds more of the same.  As this George Monbiot article from the Guardian sets out – the consequences were predictable and avoidable.  It's not a knowledge problem.

The lessons have been learned, understood, researched and validated for decades.

We have known for years that trees play a vital role in drainage, and that land around tree roots will actually drain at 67 times the rate that grass drains – yet we are cutting tree-planting subsidies and increasing land-clearance subsidies, investing money in dredging and re-engineering rivers and building reservoirs.  We negotiated a mountain subsidy – rewarding farmers for clearing and farming the top of watersheds – precisely where the compacting effect of animals’ hooves will raise the run-off rate the most.  We even fly in the face of the advice we give to the developing world through our own Department for International Development. Do as we say, not as we do?  it's the political knowing-doing gap.

So what’s going on? Is really just ignorance, poor advice and misunderstanding? Or is it a conscious decision to yield to lobby groups, hide behind the Common Agricultural Policy and “evidence-based” national policy-creation which kicks the common-sense can down the road for years – well into the next government.  The Guardian's Monbiot (with an undisguised political standpoint) takes this perspective and it’s hard to argue against it, although I couldn’t limit culpability to the current administration alone.

One commenter on the article put it succinctly:

What is most infuriating about this is that it has all been common knowledge for at least 4 decades - probably longer. By far the most economic use of low grade upland is for flood control, and the cheapest way to do that is to let nature take its course. And natural flowing rivers are almost always more efficient at preventing flood peaks than any engineered routes. This has been standard textbook stuff since the 1980's at least, and usually acknowledged in official documents (local plans, national planning guidance, etc) since the 1990's. They have been re-wilding rivers across Europe since the 1980's as standard anti-flood practice. It is absolutely nothing new to anyone with even the slightest academic or professional interest in the topic. And yet the sheer force of inertia and vested interests has resulted in billions of pounds/euros/dollars in malinvestment across the developed world.

I have consulted with ten different government departments in past years, and in each case, I have met with intelligent, rational, passionately expert civil servants.  There is no shortage of knowledge and insight, no shortage of common sense, and no shortage of commitment to offer the best possible advice to ministers.

It’s not the lack of knowledge, lack of lessons learned, lack of research,  lack of expertise, lack of professional advice or the lack of wisdom.

It’s the lack of moral courage to listen and do the right thing which gives politics a disastrous victory over policy.

In cases like this, knowledge serves us best when it is in the hands of the majority as well as the decision-makers - when understanding amongst the voters is raised to a degree whereby the policy-makers dare not take liberties with a better-informed and increasingly incredulous electorate. So thank you George Monbiot for such an excellent, incisive article which deserves a far wider readership.

Here's hoping that knowledge-sharing truly is power.

What did Confucius know about Knowledge Management?

Confucius is the next in my series of famous leaders on knowledge management, although he spoke much more about learning and wisdom than knowledge itself.

111019_confucius_shanghai
111019_confucius_shanghai

Confucius introduced three key virtues:  Rén, Li and Yi.

Rén relates to humanity, and the relationships between two people. It causes people to remember that they is never alone, and that everyone has these relationships to fall back on, being a member of a family, the state, and the world.

(Or a network, I’m sure we could add today)

Li consists of the norms of proper social behaviour as taught to others by fathers, village elders and government officials. The teachings of li promoted ideals such as brotherliness, righteousness, good faith and loyalty. The influence of li guided public expectations, such as the loyalty to superiors and respect for elders.  Li is sometimes describes as “the way things society expects things to be”.

Finally. Yi is an internal controller which gives the person the ability to make right judgments about the people and situations and to react accordingly. Confucius stated that truth can be hidden sometimes and most common reaction to the situation is not always the best one and the possession of Yi principle helps to define the true nature of things.

You could say that Li will get you to a proper answer, Yi will get you to a correct answer.

renliyi-pinyin
renliyi-pinyin

This distinction between the Li and Yi  in relation to the relational virtue of Rén reminds me of the impact of Organisational Network Analysis  when understanding how people make judgements (Yi) about where to find knowledge which might run counter to the official (Li) organisational hierarchy. 

I often describe it to clients as "taking an x-ray of the organisation to see what really happens, rather than what the organisation chart suggests".

The map below contains such a wealth of insight compared with the organisation chart.  The colours of the nodes represent functional expertise, the size of each node is the length of service, the colour "heat" of the lines represents the frequency of communication and the arrow heads show the direction of technical requests.  No wonder the team spent nearly an hour drawing out conclusions and actions!

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 15.32.18
Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 15.32.18

So getting back to Confucius - what did he say which we would relate to knowledge management?  Here are my top ten - a journey from ignorance to reflection, learning, adopting good practice, double-loop learning and transferring knowledge to others...

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

“Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.”

“Reviewing what you have learned and learning anew, you are fit to be a teacher.”

...and one for you Cynefin zealots out there:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”