Archive for the ‘attention’ Category

We are busy collecting props for Nick Milton’s session at the Henley KM Forum conference; We’ve also surmounted Henley’s quite natural resistance to plugging untested electrical equipment into our building circuits, and found ways to accommodate about 90 delegates all being active in one space together.  (The session will be fun, I promise you and there are lots of valuable lessons to learn, but I am not going to give the game away!) Nick is a regular blogger so I have been checking out his musings.  A couple of Nick recent Knoco stories focus on the role of asking in knowledge sharing, and the KM techniques that embody the mechanisms for encouraging pull rather than push.  So it was in that context, that I smiled when I saw his blog on the 20th  February.

funnyanimalpictures.netThere’s no text, just this well known picture:-  with the caption, Mother told me there would be days like this!  Nick I sympathise!  Why did it make me though smile? Because the animal that usually pulls the heaviest loads is an ass!    But the metaphor started me thinking about information overload and potential to make a dumb mistake, unless we take the time and energy in this fast paced, social media savvy world to sort the wheat from the chaff.   What stories are the ones that we really need to learn from one, and which are the ones that contain misleading messages for our own specific context?   They may well be valid in other contexts, but often it is the subtle variations shaping the context that make the difference between something that is worthwhile for us to learn from and something that would not make a dent in our own particular circumstances.

Transferability is one of the big issues for qualitative research, and one of the reasons why thinking before adoption is so important for appropriate adaptations. Can the ideas generated through research be readily applied across contexts?    Do we have enough understanding of the detail of the context to see how we can apply them to ours?  This is one of the reasons why networking face to face is so valuable. It’s the opportunity to meet with the experts, quiz them on the detail of their situation and decide how it relates to ours.

But, I’ll dare to suggest it also comes back to the spending some quality time in the slow thinking stream, which Daniel Kahneman talks about in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.   Kahnemann is credited with being the founder of behavioural economics, a field of thinking which brings understanding of real human behaviour and social psychology, to theories of rational economic man, that formed the foundation of economics for a long time.   Together with Amos Tversky he won a Nobel prize for their work on bias in decisions and choices.  Only by understanding the full detail of his work, will you see how to relate it to your KM problems, but those of you who heard Graham O’Connell’s opening session at the November KM Forum meeting will remember him talking about why slow reflective thinking helps us find the patterns, discriminate what is valuable through the extent of resonant connections, cross validate with other evidence and plan accordingly.  In addition there may be the weight of the moral, ethical angle to evaluate.  I have just come across an immediate example related of this last risk of decisions divorced from the detail of context, whilst listening to ‘The Stream’ on Al Jazeera. The issue for their attention was  When should police use Social media to solve crimes? The obvious ethical dimension of this problem is when might the activity affect innocent people’s lives and what protection are in place to ensure that the potential negative consequences of crowd sourcing the search for a suspect doesn’t outweigh the potential public good associated with taking a real criminal off the streets?  Could an innocent person be convicted based on perceptions of observers that may well be biased?  We know from research that people are often inaccurate witnesses.  We also know that weight of perception can be a strong influence on decision making; the risk is that the potential heavy weight attributed to the much larger number of potentially inaccurate sightings of a person, could lead to a wrongful conviction.  Of course it could equally well lead to faster justice.

It’s n


Think slowly when you summon the Social Media Genie

ot the sharing activity that is problematic, it’s whether we have the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure that information overload does not distort our thinking. You may like to download the white paper on Knowledge Sharing 2.0 and the Social Media Genie, which was produced as a result of research project in the Henley KM Forum last year.  In the case of police use of social media I’ve no doubt there are careful rules for when and where this is allowed, and there are certainly many benefits to be gained from a fast and agile response that social media can create.    However, I would also argue that some slow and care-full thinking about the how we use the social media are also vital.  Otherwise we run the risk that for some important decision an unreasonable weight of perception will sway our decisions and those pulling the cart end up without firm ground under their feet!

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I spend a lot of my time doing research. Inevitably that means lots of web surfing to tune into the trends.  Then the inbox is inundated with chances to read papers and attend conferences; twitter and the blogosphere highlight a myriad of opportunities to listen to podcasts, watch relevant videos and attend worthwhile events. After that, it’s time to catch up with the blogs of the key movers and shakers in the field to see what they are up to, contribute a bit to the discussion, and move on to the next thing. It’s very stimulating following the endless trail of intriguing connections.  It’s also rewarding to be busy and seemingly investigating. But then I pause…….. reflect………… Suddenly I notice how much time has passed, how hard it is to remember where I’ve been and what the thread of my thinking was.  Sometimes, it’s a real relief to get back to reading a book, writing notes or wrestling with the logic of an article. I find the time for thinking and reflecting without additional input to distract me has a calming effect .  Yet, when I try to move directly from the exploratory state of hyper-connectivity to a slower more measured activity, I’ve noticed that my concentration is weaker and my desire for distraction increases.    

Of course, my poor concentration could easily be old age, or something more sinister.  So I was relieved  to know that I’m not the only one who has experienced the problem. Nicholas Carr, the author of a book called “The Shallows – How the internet is changing the way we think read and remember” also experienced the same thing. He’d noticed it earlier and  went off to investigate why.

The worrying thing is that research suggests that extended hyperactivity is changing the shape of our brains.  Worryingly the chance to be connected and constantly stimulated can get to be something like an addiction. There is evidence to suggest that hyper connectivity can lead to superficial reading, mistaken understanding of the evidence.  The Web stresses working memory which means we have less mental energy available higher reasoning. The mental activity gets in the way of long term memory and laying down deep mental schemas.  To quote Carr ‘The Web is a technology of forgetfulness’.   The implications for long term decision-making are worrying. If social media is enabling upheaval in societies as in Egypt and Tunisia, but the individual citizens have less capability to think deeply about the taxing dilemmas underlying many of the social and political problems, will acceptable and enduring solutions be more elusive?  If organisational decision makers are less attentive to detail,  can’t connect new information with knowledge in long term memory, then what are the consequences for KM?

As yet there are no easy answers. Some things are clear.

It’s worth applying some discipline over how long we spend in a fragmented state, stressing our working memory and how much time we invest in deeper contemplation and making connections to existing knowledge alongside exploring new input.

 It’s worth consciously devising a personal approach to discrimination.  To cross check the value of new connections and question why the next link adds value. For example, Carr mentions that on-line researchers often bypass the peripheral articles that researchers who are reading would follow up on, because they can more easily identify the trend of opinion, and lock into that. So the risk to innovation and new insight is increased.  

Deliberately schedule some time for your brain to relax.  Either a walk in a natural setting or a conversation with a coach or some personal reflection time .  I’ve tried some basic relaxation techniques and personally I find they help restore balance.  

Tom Davenport’s article in McKinsey quarterly (sign up is free) starts to consider consequences of broadband access to information for organisations and how this might affect knowledge worker productivity.  He explores the challenge of free access to information vs the benefits of more focused structured offerings.  This seems the start of a process for thinking through how KM can help alleviate some of the downsides of information overload.   

On the bright side, the advantage of this blog is that it gives me some discipline to write about what I have been exploring, and forces me to reflect in a way that captures the essence of my thinking, which I hope will start to transfer it into long term memory.  It’s a shame that according to the Pew internet survey the younger generation are increasingly disinclined to blog and in practice, according the table below, the blog is probably the least popular of all social media.

Social media survey Summary of the Pew Internet survey

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