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Today I was intrigued by a programme on inspiration and genius.  Intuition is often mistaken for inspiration because it is that fast recognition of a connection between one thing and another, a couple of ideas, or notions.  But most people agree with Einstein: Intuition is simply the sum of all your experiences. As the Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman points out in his recent book , intuition is fast thinking. It evolved so that we could respond without delay to threats, but it can be very misleading, and needs to be used carefully in conjunction with our slower thinking processes, to double check the evidence. But inspiration is different from intuition. Certainly , it always comes to people who are well prepared, who have spent hours and weeks, even months pondering a problem. So the idea that it is 99% perspiration is probably valid. It’s not just a fast response based on past experience either.  When people try to study others who have been inspired, they also find that the unconscious plays a big part in effective processing. Why because often that is where we reframe the way we understand  the world. To cope with the world  on a day to day basis, we have to put boundaries around events, ideas, abstractions, concepts.  We grasp what is important about situations and have a sense of the limitations. But if we change the shape of those boundaries, new connections and possibilities have a chance to emerge. We see things in a different light, look at them through a different lens, figure them in a novel way.  We make connections ACROSS categories, and go beyond previously understood constraints.  That’s why dreams are often a helpful process for inspiration. Another alternative path to inspiration is a change in context combined with a change in the type of mental activity you are engaged in.   Some scientists get break throughs when, after hours of mental focus, pondering, researching and examining a problem, they change state. That can involve sitting peaceably in a garden or in the countryside. Marcus de Sautoy in one of the recent BBC TV programmes called the Story of Maths admitted that he often solved apparently intractable mathematical puzzles as a result of talking a walk.  All of that seems within the bounds of possibility, for many of us.  We can certainly imagine how all the detailed information and stimulus to thought, the multiple alternative perspectives, challenges to boundaries, opportunities for distraction offered via the social media would do a good job of supporting these aspects of inspiration.

But that isn’t all, apparently. A powerful driver for the inspiration behind genius seems to be something akin to extreme introversion – the desire to spend long periods in intense and singular concentration, in isolation with one’s own thoughts. This is often combined with the ability to tolerate the deep anxiety associated with uncertainty and searching for something unknown.  Creative people often pursues their interests alone, they have the courage to see the world differently and look for ways to challenge accepted beliefs and boundaries. Some may feel that the associated sensations are almost the edge of madness.  Certainly great inventors admit to being so devoted to their search that they drive themselves almost to the point of illness, working with such focus that everything else becomes inconsequential.  However, I wonder if these final pre-conditions for inspiration and genius are damaged by continuous participation in the social media?  In these times where being social seems to have become an essential facet of identity, where constant activity is valued more than slow thinking, intensely pondering a problem, will societies produce less inspiration? Will genius be even more rare?  If you read Nicholas Carr,’s book the Shallows, perhaps the answer is yes. Carr’s argument is that the internet is rewiring our brains, so that we are excited by continuous new input, but less able to concentrate for long periods of time; more disposed to follow prevailing opinion, but less interested in marginal ideas; we prefer to externalize problem solving, rather than internalise the anxiety; we spend hours socialising with others on line, but less time close to nature or in quiet contemplation with lack of stimulus.  Daniel Wegner’s research suggests that dependence on computers is affecting our memory (thanks to Susan Frost for that link). One can only imagine the long term consequences for knowledge economies that do not invest time and effort in encouraging contemplation, spending less time with the computer and more in physical activity.

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Something that is pre-occupying all universities at present is impact. Does the knowledge which academics generate in their research translate into something valuable for society? It’s a worthy challenge to evaluate whether public money is being spent wisely. For universities it can have a significant impact on their future, because some portion of government funding will be allocated based on each institutions ability to demonstrate that they have invested previous research money wisely and produced ideas that are useful and worthwhile.
Of course, in the KM world we know that judging the contribution of knowledge is fraught with difficulty. For example, a finding in some scientific domain, maybe maths, or physics may contribute to thinking, but ultimately has to be combined with other findings and the process of translating it into a commercially useful invention may longer than the period in which the assessment. There’s issues of conversion from lab to commercial product. I used to work for Porton International, a biotech company with the rights to commercialise research from Porton Down. The company faced enormous difficulties because the protocols for research development may have been different to those required to commercialise the results. In addition the interests and motivations of the researchers were totally different to those of a business. And that is in a science subject where the findings are evidence based and related to physical or biological phenomena. If you turn your attention to research in business and management and more particularly knowledge management, . As a domain of practice, Knowledge Management (KM) is fragmented, cross disciplinary, diffuse in impact and highly context specific. One size does not fit all. So how can you isolate and evidence the contribution of research in a topic like that.

As Daan Andriessen, someone who has long been studying “Weightless Wealth” value is in the eye of the beholder, and a lot depends on context and timing. The Intellectual Capital world has been trying to come up with metrics to improve judgement about the value of knowledge and still not solved it. The result is an enormous number of mechanisms which all produce an array of different evaluations, depending on why they are used, how they are used and who the end user is.
However, after many hours of careful thought and discussion with all the different knowledge domains in Universities the assessment process is here. So one thing is for sure, we will all need to get better at the knowledge transfer process. Christine’s research project in 2011 had some valuable insights about why it is hard to bridge the gap between different domains of practice, and hence why effective knowledge sharing needs considerable work.

  • It depends on whether people see knowledge as abstract so codification is enough for the transfer or whether it is situational and context specific, so hard to capture and largely transferable only through conversation and person-to-person dialogue.
  • Then there’s the question of how much knowledge is enough? What do you need to know to make a decision and take action? Different domains have different views on what it means to ‘think about things properly’. Are experts giving definitive answers, or are they offering well informed opinion? I was listening to someone in Forensic Scientist Angela Gallop talk about the presentation of evidence to a jury. Often juries see scientific evidence as incontrovertible and definitive but the forensic scientist knows how complex and judgement based it can be.
  • Finally we all have a different view of what ‘evidence’ means, which means we expect different mechanisms for approval and evaluation. This affects how willingly we learn lessons from others. For some the evaluation depends on the credibility of the evidence for other it’s about whether it feels relevant to the current context.

Being in a more subjective and context specific domain, in the KM Forum, we believe in conversation, deepening know-how through practice, experimentation and feedback, and relevance to context are key criteria.

So one tool we use to support knowledge mobilisation, (we don’t expect pure knowledge transfer) is action learning. It’s a way of relating various research outputs to real life business problems, and facilitating peer learning discussions about the application of insights as people are going through the process of formulating problem solving ideas, experimenting with them and refining them through feedback. On the 17th April we will kick off this year’s Action Learning Groups. Two themes emerged as areas our members want to focus. The first is “Changing behaviours, mindsets, motivation, commitment and customer service”, the second “Creating, growing and sustaining connections”. Clearly of the 43 research projects completed in the Forum so far, there will be several that fit into each heading, and it will be interesting to see the challenges which the various delegates set themselves under each heading. I imagine social media will come into the latter, but relationships, partnering and mental connections for creativity and innovation could equally well fit under that heading. As always we will have a meeting in January 2013, where everyone can learn what sort of impact the Action Learning groups have had, and hopefully we’ll also learn more about how the research has translated into useful thinking. Our Action Learning Leaflet will give you a flavour of past projects and the potential value of this approach.

On reflection it's a fine balance


Good judgement is more in demand than ever before. In our intricately connected technologically advanced society where information travels faster than we do, but expert knowledge about its implications may take years of experience to interpret, for most of us certainty is hard to come by. So most decisions involve some element of judgement.  Take today for instance.  I got up and opened my hall cupboard to get out my yoga mat. For the first time in 7 years living here I smelt gas.  I called my husband. He couldn’t smell a thing! Shrugged and walked away.  Now I have to make a judgement. Call the emergency helpline? Or is my nose just over sensitive? So I shut the door, do my yoga, go back and repeat the process, half an hour later. To me the smell is stronger:  my husband still can’t smell a thing.  Having just read the book Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz, I know my brain could be am bias. Our brains leap quickly to assumptions when fear is involved, their designed to. We have a natural confirmation bias, to confirm our own beliefs.  But I know my husband is far better at practical things than I am, and he was an engineer before he retired, so he’s more likely to be right.  Then I remember the smoke filled room experiment!   If I call National Grid, will they think I am wasting their time? What constitutes a leak worth reporting? If I don’t do anything will I be able to sleep tonight? It’s coming up to Easter and weather is getting colder, so I want my heating working. How quickly can National Grid fix a leak?  Will I just end up with gas shut off and a miserable Easter?  No-idea of the answer to any of those questions! How can I assess risk when I’ve never faced this situation before?  Simple example, but poor judgement could have relatively small or relatively large consequences.  Inevitably I weigh the risk of being cold against going up in flames and decide to err on the side of caution.  The gas man cometh!

We expect sound judgement from leaders in business, politics, the legal system, public institutions; we hope parents, teachers, members of society will exercise sound judgement.

According to Tom Davenport (an early KM guru) and Brook Manville, (forward by Larry Prusak) in their new book on Judgement Calls ,

“…the belief that the traditional paradigm of decision making – where an all-seeing and wise CEO ‘makes the call’ alone- is being superseded by more participative and data-intensive approaches”.

About 18 months ago, we ran a KM Forum themed day on these data-intensive approaches, inspired by Tom Davenport’s books Competing on Analytics and Analytics at work. It certainly plays an important part in providing evidence to support sound judgement. But of course you have to have the data to look at before you can find the patterns, or identify the insights on which to base your judgement.   But the mathematics of probability, normal distribution and the like, only work when you have a large enough sample and the anomalies aren’t paradigm breaking.  If you listen to this Analysis, 10 Downing Street appears to be influenced by Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s counter arguments about the impact of the highly improbable.

Of course, it may not have been concerns over the impact of the highly improbable that encouraged the government to make suggestions about topping up your tank to create a petrol shortage before any strike ever got off the ground?  Maybe it was an insight from the Nudge Unit?  Who knows, but to my mind that experience certainly leads you to think twice about the Wisdom of Crowds where self interest is concerned.  I listened to the news in dismay as people said how it was madness that everyone was rushing to fill up, were irritated at the chaos, and then admitted that they wanted to be sure they could get around!

Collective judgement is a tricky issue as Tom Davenport’s final chapter suggests. It’s a knowledge issue at heart.

“The great advantage of a more collective information and knowledge intensive approach is that done well, it offsets the litany of pitfalls one person making a decision can fall into “Chapter 13

That is provided we can

  • Learn from success, but then recognise situations where the lessons no longer hold true
  • Reframe the rather concrete notion of decisions instead think about an ongoing collaborative process of evolving a solution to a problem, through small experiments and frequent feedback.
  • Invest in developing collective leadership judgement through experience with real problems and repeated practice, with some time for reflection on lesson learned, and some coaching on how to improve.

Members of the Henley KM Forum can access our guide to better organisational decision making produced in 2009, from the members’ website. There is also a complementary publication on coaching for better decision making. Those who are not members may want to download free our Knowledge in Action brochures Issue 21 and 22.

Just in case you are worried about my status over Easter, the gas man arrived, used his analytics (a neat little sniffer machine) found a leak – yes my nose was right, replaced the regulator, and all for free. Great service, lesson learned, rely on my judgement and ignore my husband’s sense of smell which is clearly not helpful in this small collective of marital bliss!

Language often makes things quite concrete, but I think at times it’s worth reflecting on the plasticity of language. It evolves over time, and as it evolves meanings change, subtly, but with quite large consequences.  Information is an everyday case in point. We all understand what it means, or do we? Relative to data, it’s more structured, more analysed, less raw (or more cooked?). Some experts argue that explicit knowledge is simply information, because it becomes detached from the richness of context and know-how about how it is usefully applied. Even though I was once a Latin scholar, I often neglect the underlying roots of the word. I was reminded of that the other day. It was one of those serendipitous light bulb moments because as words were spoken, I happened to be thinking about information as evidence. Some-one was talking about doing things in formation. Of course they meant in a regimented, structured way, like flying or marching in formation. Even though I know very well that the Latin verb ‘informare’ means to give form and shape to something, (maybe an idea, a conception of some sort or a disposition that shapes something else) I was still falling into the trap of viewing information as something more objective, permanent, solid and reliable than I should be. There is no suggestion that in forming something it becomes set in concrete, in the original meaning of informare. ‘In formation’ means under development, ie forming, tentative. The word conform comes from the same root, but has more permanent implications, perhaps because conform is about forming together with others and over time, the meaning gets agreed and so becomes more permanent. When more people together have considered the information, evaluated its relevance and utility in context, then perhaps there might be more reason to conform. Still, not a certainty for me though, as I rail against conformity much of the time!

http://blog.29daysto.com/2011/01/20/ten-things-thou-shalt-do-or-not-do-to-thy-fellow-man/

How do we receive information?

Quite simply though, if we thought more about information as potential knowledge in formation, would we be so obsessed with capturing it, storing it, protecting it? For some information, yes, we still would. For example, where it has enduring personal value – my bank details, mother’s maiden name, birth date and address are a package of information, I would expect businesses to protect very carefully. The consequences of not doing so are obvious and expensive. But that’s because the formation of those particular items together has a very specific, repeatable use in many contexts related to my identity. But there are many, many situations, where the information we capture in reports has been formulated into an argument, but the argument is still formative. In other words it is subject to change, refinement, interpretation. As Alison Donaldson points out in the chapter on the social life of documents, in this book about communities of influence they are important as stimuli for conversation and dialogue, and to represent ones reasoning at a particular moment in time. Unfortunately once the words are on the paper, often we neglect that social life, and they become set in stone (a historical metaphor that probably explains a lot about why information is NOT seen as in formation).

I often take a walk and while I do I listen to podcasts to pass the time.  The movement also helps me think. Following my last blog, I was pondering communication elements which gain traction by permeating a discourse, and catching up with some of Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In our Time’ podcasts. I came across one on metaphor.  The experts weren’t directly exploring the  business application of metaphor; the conversation was about the history of metaphor in literature.  Yet it struck me that we can learn some valuable lessons for leading change when we examine the power of metaphor in our cultural history, because it they have a lasting impact. Here are just a few of the ideas that emerged as I listened,

  • Metaphor energises people an emotional level. They work by establishing a connection between the circumstances we want people to engage with and something else that resembles it, which that may be more familiar and accessible.  Pick the right metaphor, with positive associations and it could be a way to the unknown and the uncertain more palatable during change communications.  In KM we often talk about knowledge flows, and so the metaphors of water, waves, hydro electricity, are powerful in helping people understand the possible benefits of making knowledge more fluid and less sticky are all useful associations.

    A watery knowledge ecology, courtesy of Sergej Todeush

    Here’s an image from a poster prepared by Sergej Todeush, a past MBA student, which shows where you can take a water metaphor, because water exists in many forms, is part of a larger ecology, can create force when harnessed by dams pipes, build structures when frozen, and be deconstructed into its elements.

  •   Metaphors are often related to natural phenomena. Historically, in the Henley MBA, we have asked people studying Knowledge Management to describe it to a lay person by using a visual metaphor and preparing a poster to convey it’s essence to others.  We did an analysis of the metaphor’s they used, and the ones that seemed to arise frequently, be most evocative and encapsulate more dimensions of KM, were those based on ecologies and natural phenomena.   (If you want to read more you can get a copy of the paper here.)  What I hadn’t realised was why natural systems metaphors might be so prevalent, but Brian Arthur’s book about how technology evolves explains it quite powerfully. Humans instinctively trust natural phenomena, from experience we know the consequences and can relate to them through experience. But we are less trustful of man-made technologies. They are as complex nowadays as natural phenomena but we don’t instinctively understand the consequences.  Technology is rapidly shaping our lives and our economies but the changes can feel alienating, or disruptive.  When Brian Arthur talks of technology he also includes management processes, and economic systems, so KM would fit into his definition of technology within organisational life. Instinctively we may not trust its complexity.
  •  Metaphor resonates at the local level, but they also encourage people to consider the big picture, so it simultaneously captures context and the detail that matters to the individual. That is important for change, when the individual needs to be able to see how they fit into the organisational change process.
  • Metaphors can be generative. Help us be creative. They can help us look at the domain we apply them to in different ways. We can unpack and unpick our understanding of the source of the metaphor and apply that to the new domain so that we get a different perspective on it.  That can help us reframe long established assumptions of the way the world is. Some time ago we ran a KM forum day using jazz as a metaphor for management. How would it be if we started to describe management as improvisation and what can we learn from jazz musicians? If that seems to haphazard to you, then can you think about the management as orchestration, the ability to interpret and conduct a symphony from the expertise available amongst your key players? How does that affect leadership of change?
  • Metaphorical associations can also be shocking, but more safely so.  Wallace Simpson said that reality is a cliché that metaphor helps us escape from.  We know that often change needs a shock or a crisis to propel people out of their comfort zone, and start to re-envisage how reality could be different. We think of organisations as legal entities that have an existence independent of the individuals within it. Much of our management thinking evolved out of the Industrial Revolution, so we think of organisations as machines, so people become cogs, and the aim is to leverage their knowledge. As, Alison Donaldson said to me at the conference, it’s worth being more sensitive to the consequences of the language we use, because it shapes our reality. Otherwise, we can unwittingly perpetuate many of the old clichés about management which may be dysfunctional for knowledge related activities.  What if we were to talk about organisations as galaxies or constellations of planets, suns and stars and black holes? How would this alter our more bounded rational  view of supply chains, alliances, and mergers?  Would it change assumptions about how easy it is to integrate to cultures or to communication between partners?  Metaphors can hint at a sense of something without making it concrete so encourages us to explore a risky context indirectly, which can be less immediately threatening and a more comfortable way to stimulate change.
  • Metaphors can be more encompassing. Much of management is focused on analysis and reason, evidence and facts, and whilst these are still necessary and helpful, evidence and facts refer to what exists only.  Reason uses the language of distinctiveness, precision, more refined and determined categories of ideas which can actually put boundaries and limits on the opportunities and possibilities of change. Analysis breaks things down into smaller parts to give us insights, but if we aren’t dealing with a machine, but a living system,  re-assembling the pieces from the dissection doesn’t regenerate all the properties of that system. So we lose something that is tacit in the interactions between the parts.  Don’t get me wrong, analysis makes a valuable contribution. But its worth thinking about using the right tool for the job.   Metaphors tend to look at wholes within contexts, so they give us a different perspective. By not classifying and deconstructing, they create links, open up connections and ideas, (here’s another possibility in previous blog KM as cooking); granted those links may be transient, and inherently unstable, but feelings and sensations are not grounded in permanent thought either. The potential is that they help trigger timely associations that help people shift perspective whilst holding on to the things that matter to them.

Henley KM Forum conference 2007

Over the years we have used many metaphors in the KM Forum activities. Vanessa Randle’s pictures that we used to capture the conference themes were full of metaphors – bridges that spanned rifts, journeys, reaching for the stars. The small pictures don’t show the detail, but click on them to get the full screen view and you’ll see what I mean.

KM in a changing world Henley KM Forum conference 2008

Why not share the metaphors that you have found useful in conversations about change, so others can learn from them? It would be interesting to make a collection of them, particularly if you have stories associated with them.

Inspirational Relationships?Image: tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Relationships are a core concern for anyone interested in knowledge and learning.  The word relating is interesting in that it can mean connecting with others in a way that is meaningful for each party, or it can mean verbally telling or explaining an experience or a set of events via the medium of story.  What’s common to both is a concern for communicating meaning.  I think what is different is the depth of meaning each type of relating achieves.   Relationships create meaningful bonds between people, relating stories helps sense-making, but the meaning derived may not be shared. A fine distinction; but just as meaningful as the distinction between information and knowledge, if you are thinking about the quality of KM activities, and their impact on community.

As an aside, it’s ironic that John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s book was called the Social Life of Information.  It’s one of the few instances when blurring the distinction between information and knowledge made good sense.  (Connecting to Amazon to create the hyperlink above, I was reminded that I bought the book on the 13th March 2001, just in case I had forgotten!) By challenging to the glory of IT storing and shifting information, at the turn of the millennium, Seely Brown and Duguid seemed to presage something of shift in the KM world.   Relationship capital became more prominent in the Intellectual Capital arena. The priority of people relating and Nahapiet and Goshal’s concept of social capital became of practical interest to organisations. Although some people still confuse information management and knowledge management, many organisations are shifting from capture to collaborate and accept the limitations of the ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality.  Probably just co-incidental timing, as the web became more ubiquitous, social media started to develop.  We started to hear about Web 2.0 around 2002, and Stanley Milgram’s six degrees of separation quickly became four or less. This you tube social psychology lecture from Yale explains the principles at about 3 minutes into the video and goes on to explore the foundations of social network analysis.  If you want to read more the Duncan Watts also published an relative easy read on this important topic.

People relate to one another in many ways. We all have a mixture of close connections and loose associations in our relationship network. From a knowledge perspective, each serves a different purpose; the former give us a strong sense of belonging, deep tacit knowledge sharing opportunities, and more meaningful feedback, the latter provide timely access to ideas, insights and trending topics, better responsiveness to external dynamics and greater reach.  In the    All of the ties that bind need some form of maintenance, it is up to us as individuals to decide what proportion of our time we invest in networking compared to revitalising community bonds.

We talked a lot about relating stories at the KM forum conference; they are a popular means of conveying ideas in a way that others can relate to. But it is worth asking, by relating stories do we cement our relationships? Historically, perhaps.

http://public-domain-photos.com/search/campfire

The campfire was the 'Ba' space for storytelling

Before the written word, stories were a form of knowledge sharing that bound the community together, and helped them survive. They were crafted and distilled from the best of collective experience and the telling was associated with times of safety and warmth– you don’t tell a story when a sabre tooth tiger is bearing down on you, shouted instructions are far more useful!  Culturally, the campfire is the equivalent of Nonaka’s ‘Ba’ space for story telling. That image resonates across many cultures.  A collection of stories was a wellspring of learning, and an oral history that gave the community a sense of identity and purpose, re-enforcing principles and values that mattered. That makes them powerful.

Nowadays stories are still good for finding points of connection. But in modern society community ties are much more fragmented, and stories can be interpreted outside of the context of belonging to some collective that assures our survival.  A well crafted story can be the communique of choice for gifted politicians, influential speakers and educators; it grounds concepts in real life challenges and adds human interest.  Taken out of the intimate context of a community, stories can have a different side to them. Undoubtedly, it’s human nature to relate instinctively to stories, which means that once recognised, this can become a tool of deliberate influence. I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  Just that story tellers have choices. Stories can be used care-fully or manipulatively. Until it became too expensive, advertisers loved ‘serials’, stories around a theme – remember Beatty and the BT phone ads that ran for years?   If you have to convince someone of your ideas, and can get a quick win with a story told with integrity, then, why not follow the principles of different types of story-telling and use them to achieve results?  Two books worth studying are Tell to Win  or Steve Dennings book the Leaders guide to Storytelling. Stories are memorable, emotive packages of words that do an effective job of conveying context with fact and interpretation. But in my view we have to think beyond one off stories and consider how stories become ongoing and evolving narratives – connected, purposeful and thematic. Steve Denning talks of narratives as a secret language of leadership

It is the patterns of discourse which are interesting if we are trying to effect durable change.  Isolated stories make relatively simply points. In some ways they are blunt instruments; to effect lasting change in organisations they have to become narratives to spread and as they spread they evolve.  Discourse, -the ongoing stream of dialogue, debate and conversational dynamics over time is what shapes how organisations either adapt and change or stagnate and die.   It is this we in the KM profession need to be aware of.  I would argue that we need to study this more than stories in the future if we are going to understand how to increase the agility.  Shifts in discourse are subtle signs of collective mood swings, they will signal how tensions are affecting groups, highlight the emotional resonances in the tensions which may become contagious, and so give us a sense of emerging trends.

In the past month, all we have done is think about the KM forum conference. I’ve learned so much studying the speakers’ slides, reading their papers, and then writing about the topics on the blog.  Yet even though all that mental activity was intense and fascinating, it’s not until you actually feel the buzz in the room, hear the speakers bring their slides to life, and have the conversations with them and all the delegates that intellectual comprehension becomes impactful knowledge, which will shape my plans, or reactions in future.  Cognitive knowledge has nowhere near the same impact as the deep connection and resonance that lived experience brings.  It can be a real jolt.  Knowledge in the written word is weak, the spoken word in conversation is stronger, but experience has a more lasting effect on how knowledge changes our perspective and behaviour.  The huge power of experiential learning was something that seemed to crystallise for conference delegates too as the conference progressed.

Sparking ideas and colouring experience

A strong sense of its importance seems to have been sparked when David Gurteen shared his interest in Positive Deviance (How unlikely innovators solve the world’s toughest problems) over dinner on Wednesday!

The following morning, Professor Jean Bartunek fuelled the fire when she talked about how emotions colour experience either energising or de-energising peoples’ response to change. Feelings are contagious, which means change leaders have to work with a much more finely hued picture than rational analysis can outline.

These implications were brought to life in Nick Milton’s Bird Island Workshop. It was fabulous to watch 10 teams hand on, down on the floor building brick towers. Thanks to everyone who participated so enthusiastically. And thanks to Nick for the courage to venture into untried territory and work with so many groups. It was worth it.

Knowledge in Action building experience and relationships

The inspiring thing was to feel the buzz when so many people realised the difference between what a team can achieve and what an organisation could do when everyone has access to knowledge assets AND are inspired to extend themselves beyond their self imposed constraints. Eyes lit up and ambitions over what was achievable grew. But even more importantly much more was achieved.

In the afternoon, Tim Harford added a dose of realism with his stories about how complex the world is, how hard it is to unravel the real nature of a problem and how small events can have enormous unforeseen consequences as they cascade through highly connected economies and organisations.  It’s hubris to imagine we can control events.    The only way to navigate the turbulence is trial and error, refined by frequent feedback.  (Enjoy Tim’s views on the God Complex again here)

The problem is that trials always involve incomplete knowledge and error means failure. So experiential learning comes with an emotional health warning. Don’t get despondent, we just have to try, try, and try again, whilst, as far as humanly possible, taking care to ensure we and our organisations fail safe. That way you have the chance to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take another learning trip!

Undaunted, In March, we set off into our 13th year of learning in the KM Forum. We hope it will be enlightening even with the ups and downs of trial and error.  Join us in the experience if you can.

If the conference experience inspired you to do something different or changed your perspective, then please do share below.  If you missed the experience, even though we know the written word is a poor substitute, we will be writing up the whole event in a report, so watch this space.