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Archive for the ‘coincidences’ Category

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, when you are thinking about topics for blogs. In one weekend I got three lucky breaks.   Last night, I was catching up on the BBC I player with the second instalment of Super Smart Animals.  One item struck me as very relevant to KM.  Nine minutes into the programme we meet  Dr Mike Chase who has spent a decade using GPRS to track African elephants in a bid to learn from them about what is important in their habitats.  Such an understanding would help us reduce the havoc an expanding human population can wreak on these magnificent and intelligent animals.   Elephants need 200 litres of water and 150kg of food a day. Protected areas like the Serengeti National Park are not enough. To survive elephants  have to know where to find food and water in vast landscapes where borders and human structures may affect territory that they learned about decades ago. Elephants are social animals; their survival depends on the matriarch of the herd, the oldest wisest female in the tribe, using her memory to lead them to sites where food or water may have existed over a decade ago. This sort of long term memory has evolved to overcome problems of annual and seasonal variations, though not man-made climate change.  The astounding thing is that, at certain times, 1000’s of elephants from many different tribes congregate at a single water hole simultaneously. You can see them coming in this you tube video below (The video is apt, but I suspect the contributor hasn’t ‘herd’ of a dictionary!)

Elephants may trek over 100 miles to come together at this particular spot, and somehow they know when to arrive. It appears that these are meeting points for knowledge sharing and communication, a place to update and spread new insights that might keep them alive as a species, as well as a place to build the bonds and ties that unite family groups.   Mike Chase’s maps of elephants trekking patterns show that watering holes for elephants are just like water coolers for humans.

Having just made the connection between elephants and KM, I had another stroke of luck.  I was delighted to find that David Griffiths, who is speaking at the Henley KM Forum conference, has just written a fascinating blog about the importance of legitimising water cooler conversations.

Then the third connection was even more fortuitous. The writer of the article David is citing went from a discussion of research about how proximity improves the quality of knowledge sharing to some reflections on Steve Job’s reconfiguration of workspace at Pixar.  Paul Aitken, Bill Rainey and I are presenting the outcome of this year’s research on Developing Knowledge Driven Leadership Agility. The project set out to identify which leadership practices contributed critically to a conduce climate for knowledge sharing and learning, and then design a leadership challenge to help more people in the organisation understand what sort of social and organising behaviours are required for effective knowledge work.  We decided two weeks ago to use the Steve Jobs story as an example to illustrate some of the leadership practices in the conference presentation.  Three relevant connections in two days!  Synchronicity? Serendipity? Or simply sensitivity to surroundings spurred by my specific situation?  I think the latter, but it’s amazing how valuable those close encounters at the water cooler can be.

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Leap for KM

Leap for KM

In good KM fashion, I’m going to steal with pride. I want to adapt an idea I heard on Radio 4’s PM programme on Monday.  Eddie Mair has launched a ‘Leap for PM’ initiative. Listeners were asked share and commit to doing something with the extra day that leap year offers. The Henley KM forum Conference starts on the 29th February this year, so fortuitously you can spend it advancing your insights about organisational learning, without losing any of your normal working year in the office!

So, since you have all that extra time, I thought it would be good to start a Leap for KM initiative. With that extra day in 2012, what knowledge and learning challenge could you commit to which would help you do more with less.

2012 is a fascinating year As well as the Queens Jubilee and the London Olympics, it’s also the 200th Anniversary of Charles Dickens birth. As Mr Mickawber said in David Copperfield

“Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Make a commitment to complete what you have been putting off, or plan to do to use the extra day to leap forward in your KM activities, by commenting on this blog, and we’ll see what a difference collective inspiration can make.

I’m going to make a commitment to blog about conference related themes between now and the 29th, rather than living with my blogger’s guilt, for not sharing enough of what I am learning.

By the way if you want to hear what PM listeners are planning, for the next few days only you can listen again to the episode on Monday 6th at 5pm. The item is 26.41 minutes into the programme.

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Lighting up the day for me

Light-bulb moments are precious things.   How you get to them is often a bit of luck, usually something to do with synchronicity.  When timing helps you make the connection between different areas of knowledge and mentally put two and two together.

Yesterday I was blessed with some of that good luck. At lunch time, I gave a webinar on knowledge in decision making. I was sharing some research we’d completed in 2009 with a very diverse audience sitting as far apart as South Africa, USA and the Middle East. Being filmed talking to myself was a new experienced, but it was interactive and actually good  fun. If you feel inclined you can watch a recording of the webinar,  just register via this link.  Immediately after that I went home to prepare for a Breakfast Briefing event that Christine and I are doing in London on 20th October (sorry the event is full, but you can get details of future events in the Leadership@ henley series here). The topic for the 20th is is Developing ambidexterity: How leaders create the conditions to engage both sides of the organisational brain.

To prepare for the webinar I was revisiting some well established research on decision biases, and also some work by Dave Snowden on how decision makers need to change the way they respond according to whether they are facing a complex, complicated, chaotic or simple problem situation. One of the biases in any situation is the fact that how something is communicated has a strong influence on the recipient’s decisions, simply because we feel as well as a reason. I used the example of patients being told about a major operation. If you try to give them confidence by telling that the operation only has a 15% failure rate, they are much less likely to go for the operation, that if you tell them it has an 85% success rate.

Then I came home a started to think about some ideas from a Harvard Business Review article called The Ambidextrous CEO ( Tushman et al 2011 full reference at the end), and how they might relate to the research we did on organisational ambidexterity. Ambidextrous organisations are those which know how to manage their performance in the short term through efficiencies and cost control, whilst at the same time looking forward to where the organisation needs to be in the future by maintaining their focus on innovation. It sounds straightforward. But the process of exploiting current knowledge and optimising its value generation relies on repetition, reducing risk and structures which tend to introduce rigidity, whereas exploration of unfamiliar ways of doing things as the basis for innovation needs flexibility, determination in the face of uncertainty and entrepreneurial judgement. That in itself creates several tensions around organisational priorities. One is around identity, what is the organisation all about. If you define it too narrowly as the authors of the article explain, you limit perspective on what is possible. If you define it too broadly the decision making boundaries about what is included and what is excluded from organisational capabilities become fuzzy, decisions are more complex, and efficiency goes down. And what is more, people don’t feel they belong to something coherent. Another tension arises around timing: what matters now and what will matter in the future in terms of knowledge and expertise that support business capabilities. How do we reconcile the pressures of meeting targets now and giving resources to something that only promises of some future ill-defined returns? A third is learning, or more specifically unlearning, when do you turn away from the knowledge that has been the source of your success and put your faith in knowledge that is fresh but untested The article suggests is that often the CEO is the only ‘friend’ of innovation, yet may end up with trade-offs between core business and innovation by default, because they delegate responsibility to unit heads and the unit heads are focused on performance targets. Far better to ensure the top team is targeted to deal explicitly with the tensions inherent in the dual demands, both in terms of their personal responsibilities and their procedures for negotiating solutions. Even then, if times are tough and the pressure is on to deliver quarterly results, often the potential failure rate of new innovations can loom large. A quote from the article illustrates the enormity of the challenge

“As Cray Computer’s Pete Ungaro told us, “We had to convince ourselves that spending 50% of our time on something that is delivering 5% of the company’s revenues was worth the effort.” Nonetheless, the results speak for themselves. Once near death, Cray has fought back to profitability, and in 2010, revenues grew by more than 6%.”

So what was my insight? Well it was small, but maybe useful. If decision makers are generally better disposed to the positive messages – the 85% success rate communication, rather than the potential of 15% failure, then even if they structure the top team to hold and examine the tension, conversations about the contradictory demands of efficiency and innovation will always have an inherent bias towards efficiency, because top team members will have much more experience of success compared to innovation. In addition the ambient economic climate at present is full of pessimism rather than optimism. Consequently, because of the timing, learning, resources and structuring challenges, the exploration of risk probabilities will probably be seen as compounding. Still it is important not to shy away from innovation to fuel future economic growth. To overcome the negative bias, it seemed to me that it might be worthwhile adopting a discipline in top team negotiations focused on the ambidexterity paradox, which requires everyone to pay particular attention to the successful risk mitigation strategies from previous innovation projects. By considering what they can learn and apply from positive events in the past, perhaps the temptation to can another innovation project in the face of immediate performance pressures, will be lessened and the top team may feel more comfortable holding the tension.

Reference 

TUSHMAN, M.L. SMITH, W.K. and BINNS, A. (2011). The Ambidextrous CEO. Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business School Publication Corp.,

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Life is full of co-incidences. Last week, we journeyed an hour into the mountains to visit a spa bath in Fortuna, and then a restaurant called El Paraiso, to be recommended for anyone travelling that way. A year ago we had spent a pleasant summer evening listening to a chap do a tribute to Elvis and Neil Diamond, so we went back to check it out again. The restaurant had been updated and the performer no longer worked there, but we were told by his neice that he now worked in Benimar, which is right on our doorstep in Spain. We went down to Benimar today to find a freebie local paper, and asked where we could find it. Someone pointed us to a bar we had never visited before and lo and behold there on the wall for that evening was the very person we had seen up in Fortuna. Just another example of small world connections. We did go and listen to the guy, but actually he was not as good as we had remembered. Somehow the setting wasn’t as good and he didn’t sing as well. Or looking back made it seem better than it was. I wonder how that process affects the quality of our reflections in business?

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