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Archive for the ‘community’ Category

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.

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Many of you know Ditte Kolbaek from Oracle.  She will be joining us at Henley on 29th February. Many members will remember she presented her work on Proactive Reviews at the June meeting of the Henley KM Forum.  Members can download her slides from here

Proactive Review is a method of knowledge sharing, knowledge creation and knowledge implementation that results in learning at three levels: the learning of the individual, the learning of the team as well as organisational learning. The method is based on dialogue between the people who have completed a task together. A Proactive Review is a way of conducting a dialogue with a certain structure and a given time frame. Using this structure ensures that the group creates a result within the given time of the Proactive Review.

 

But if you missed it, then why not take a look at her book, which has just been published, or take the chance of talking with Ditte at the Henley KM Forum Conference.

Knowledge in Action Issue 15. Improving the Quality of Conversations

Having talked with Ditte myself, I know that the method really depends a lot on good facilitation skills in generating a very high quality of conversations within the group.  (If you haven’t already, then why not download the Knowledge in Action No 15. which focuses on improving the quality of conversations to enable effective knowledge sharing. It’s free on the Forum web site).   Ditte spends a lot of her time travelling the world and developing and enhancing people’s ability to facilitate high quality conversations in these Proactive Review sessions.

Facilitation is something that is often underplayed as a practice, and there is a lot of debate as to whether those who do it need to be experts in the subject area or not. Having expertise can predispose you to bias, whereas facilitating content free means you are a dispassionate observer and so more likely to be a supporter of the conversation, rather than colouring the process based on your own preferences.  The downside of this is that someone who doesn’t understand the topic may not pick up on the subtleties of the conversation or the critical turning points where the emotional state of the group changes because a particular element of discussion affects the tone or the sensibilities of participants.

One of the other interesting aspects of this is facilitating across cultures. If members of a conversation come from different backgrounds and cultures the assumptions that underpin the way they communicate are going to be very different, and a facilitator needs to be aware of these in order to pick up on the differences.   One of my DBA students is studying the adoption and absorption of certain Western techniques for facilitating and co-coaching. Some Japanese companies are adding training about these topics into their approach to management development because they want to encourage more creative thinking. They seem to feel that they should challenge some Japanese cultural traditions of learning by listening to the voice of age and experience.  Traditionally Japanese education is about absorbing from wise masters in the field.  So challenge and questioning has not been encouraged. It seems that many Japanese managers find our western approaches to management education quite alien. Our Western assumptions that adults learn best from their own experience, certainly can neglect the wisdom of age and experience, but it brings in the contribution of meaning and engagement. In an uncertain world where the past is not always a predictor of the future, there is benefit in learning from the experience of youth, too.  Performance comes from harnessing the diversity of relvant and valid experience and co-ordinating it so that it delivers on some coherent and worthwhile purpose for the business.  What we have to be careful to discriminate against is the tyranny of anecdotal evidence that is opinion without any repetitive pattern, whatever generation the view comes from.  Encouraging learning across generations rather than up and down generations is one way leadership can impact on a climate for knowledge and learning. It’s something which we need to investigate further in this era of social media. Possibly this might be something that comes into our action learning groups this year under the topic of mindsets. Alternatively it might be part of the research project we propose for 2012. Get your thinking hats on and consider what would be most useful for your practice in the coming year.

 

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Better relationships and more productive energy strengthen vital bonds of community. Our opening Key Note speaker, Hubert Saint-Onge is a big advocate of community as the source of speed, innovation and agility, so we’ll learn more about the challenges of building community on the 29th March. But what does it mean?

Community is not another word for communities, which are a core part of any KM toolkit. Of course they are related, but the distinction is important. Business enthusiasm for communities is strong because they are spaces for people with a shared passion or concern to get together to share what they know, learn and improve. This fairly comprehensive summary of their origin, purpose and value, boils down to the fact that communities are social situations for collective learning but the important point is that learning is around a common knowledge domain. Community is about collective being. It is about how individuals find a collective identity despite their differences. That’s much harder, but also much more important. Community provides that sense of connectedness and belonging, which is so often missing in our fragmented, hectic and mobile world. Sounds a bit new age? The hard business value of community is that it facilitates knowledge combination and integration, which is the primary source of innovation.

Valencia City of Arts and Sciences

Creating new spaces for community building

Nonaka warned us 12 years ago that of the importance of creating suitable spaces for knowledge combinations in the knowledge creating company. He called them ‘Ba’ spaces.

They don’t have to be physical spaces, they can be virtual, but in reality they more like a sort of places with different energies that support various alternative knowledge sharing priorities.

Nonaka suggested that the process of creation is a spiral of movement between different spaces:-

a continuous, self-transcending process through which one transcends the boundary of the old self into a new self by acquiring a new context, a new view of the world, and new knowledge. In short, it is a journey “from being to becoming”. One also transcends the boundary between self and other, as knowledge is created through the interactions amongst individuals or between individuals and their environment.’

The beautiful new City of Arts and Sciences  built in the old Spanish city of Valencia is a wonder of different sorts of spaces for knowledge sharing. The architecture is inspiring, and the spaces all have a different feel to them.  One example is shown above.  There is also an Agora,  a modern version of the ancient Greek market place for knowledge sharing and community building. For the Greeks, the Agora was a place for open debate and discussion to further knowledge.

A modern version of the Agora in Valencia

You can’t get to community by sublimating difference; that just pushes negative energy underground to create wasteful tension in relationships and emotional stress on the individual.   Community comes when people identify meaningful connections that surmount their differences; they also have to discover how to bridge the self defining knowledge production systems that evolve as people develop deep specialist knowledge either in community or through education, training and development. In 2011 one of the KM Forum research projects considered this topic. What it is about deep expertise that divides intelligent people. Things like tacit assumptions about what knowledge to value; how we come to know what we know establishes deeply held biases for either objective or subjective knowledge: The language of specialisms which has deep resonance within communities, but is often meaningless outside the close knit bonds of expertise, which have their own epistemic cultures, otherwise known as knowledge production systems. The project then went on to consider how KM techniques could bridge some of the barriers to knowledge sharing created by assumptions about objective and subjective knowledge which are fundamental in different epistemic cultures . Members of the Forum have the guidance document we produced, but anyone who comes along to our the Henley ‘Knowledge Market’  will receive a copy as part of the conference proceedings.

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