Archive for the ‘reflection’ 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’ve just enjoyed a lovely lunch and an all expenses paid trip down the river at Henley Regatta. The price I paid was minimal. It was Journalists day at Henley, so to build everyone’s appetite faculty were asked to stand up and say something for five minutes before lunch. The general theme was improving, individuals, organisations and society. They asked me to say a bit about how knowledge affects decision- making.  I thought I’d share the extended version of what I said here.  

So, in Wimbledon fortnight and being a keen tennis player, I decided to tell a tennis ball story.

Last year, they used 54,250 Slazenger balls in Wimbledon fortnight. It was an odd year because of the marathon 11 hour Isner/Mahut match. But that only used 123 balls. Useful information if you’re ordering balls, trivia to a player. They change balls every 9 games, because of wear and tear. Someone must have done the cost, benefit calculation, to reach that conclusion. But, professional players inspect the balls at every serve and reject ones that don’t suit their needs. They know that choice affects their performance. I can’t say it would affect mine! Maybe their fussiness is simple superstition! But when you learn that a BLINDFOLDED professional tennis player can accurately tell whether tournament balls were used on clay, grass or hard surfaces, simply by feeling them, it starts to say something about how knowledge works in decision making.
In decisions about service performance, tennis pros combine knowledge of an opponent’s ability, ball placement, spin, the wear on the ball, how they work on the court surface, their own level of confidence, the score at the time. In a few seconds they make a judgement i.e. a knowledgeable decision.
I heard Dave Snowden at KM UK talk about the 4 E’s of knowledge which made me think how do they affect how anyone uses knowledge in decision making.
Knowledge is Embodied – We imagine decisions are rational. Input facts and evidence, reason through some analytical process and you get sound output. But neuroscience has shown knowledge is a whole body experience. It involves hormones and muscles as well as the brain. Researchers asked young men to walk across a rickety bridge. Afterwards a young woman approached them to ask them to fill out the questionnaire. She gave them her phone number under the pretext of doing more research. 65% of the men phoned her after to ask her for a date. When exactly the same woman approached men sat on a bench with the exactly the same spiel, only 30% of them phoned her later. Why? Because the former were energized by the rickety bridge and attributed their excitement to the woman who met them on the other side! A picture of a smiling woman has more effect than a 5% reduction in interest rates on male loan decisions!

You can’t blame them. All decisions have an emotional and a subconscious element. With damage to the emotional centres of their brain, people can’t make even the most basic decisions. Emotions sensitise us to the consequences in context; the subconscious allows us to read subtle signals to respond to good or bad situations. Without that sensitivity, we don’t recognise opportunities and risks quickly enough.
What does that mean for business decision making? People are profoundly influenced by context, so there are more biases in most individual decisions than we generally imagine.
Initial information biases behaviour. Read words like, Bingo Florida and old, to a group of people and when they leave the room they walk more slowly!
All judgement is relative to something else. Have you noticed web sites generally present products from highest to lowest price? Offer someone the most expensive option and work down to what they want and, on average, they spend more than if you show them the cheapest and work up. This is called anchoring.
How you frame something affects decisions. Patients told a surgical procedure has a 15% failure rate are more likely to decide against it than if they’re told it has is an 85% success rate.
People prefer to maintain the status quo if they can, so inertia affects decision making. People actively look for things that confirm their initial assessment; they avoid loss and won’t admit to being wrong part way through.
Some people have a strong aversion to loss. This can mean they adjust forecasts down to be on the safe side, but it also means that they can prevent radical new innovations progressing if it looks like it will mean they lose existing business. Experts are often overconfident about the accuracy of their predictions and forecasts suggesting outcomes that best fit the data without taking into account real probabilities

Unaware of these biases, decisions makers can fall into serious traps. No wonder Peter Drucker estimated that only a third of business decisions were right: a third were minimally effective and the rest, outright failures. That’s a 67% chance that business decisions won’t deliver. A study on decision making effectiveness found that 40% of decisions are never fully implemented.
Which brings me to the second E.
Knowledge is Enacted. Intelligence comes from acting in the physical world. Doing things changes the way the brain works. Experience is both the source of learning and the basis for expertise, but only if you reflect on its implications. If you keep repeating the same activity without examining how well it is working, you embed errors. Practice makes permanent as my old tennis coach used to say. Research suggests that in any field, top performers devote five times longer to becoming great, than average performers devote to becoming competent. Coaching helps them examine precisely what they are doing. Do we devote that sort of time to developing expert business decision makers?

Third E coming up. Knowledge is Embedded – We are the only species that can change our environment. We create ways to store knowledge and capability. Models and principles are mental scaffolding to support better judgements. Physical artefacts augment capability to manipulate our environment – the iPhone for example. Organisations are artefacts, knowledge stores with a unique identity that will exist long after we retire. They all shape possible decisions.
The last E is perhaps the most important. Knowledge is Extended. It brings results through collectives. We are social animals. For most of our genetic history we’ve lived in tribes. So the structure of our brain evolved to thrive in communities. Communities are sources of meaning. Knowledge per se is neutral; it can be used to the benefit or detriment of society. Meaning and value are the consequences of how it is used. In principle, organisations are economic tribes who integrate knowledge into something worthwhile for society – products, services, new inventions that we value in monetary terms to facilitate exchange. Organisations should be better at turning knowledge into value because the community context guides decisions towards something meaningful for those who belong. In a shared context, transactions costs are lower; Individuals can specialise. Specialisation delivers more bang for the buck in knowledge terms than being a jack of all trades. Collectively we should make less mistakes, so be more efficient. We can learn more so we can be more innovative. We can do more to combine expertise by creating the conditions for co-operating with other experts. More people are sensing changes in the outside world, which the collective needs to adapt to, making the community more responsive to change, more competitively distinctive and better able to contribute more value to help society grow and advance. Of course, collectives are prone to groupthink. Present satisfaction can obscure future prosperity. And over the past two years we’ve seen many examples of how major shifts in collective confidence, trust , fear and greed produce bubbles, crashes and global crises in the Middle east, Iraq, and across the financial world.

Decisions are part of organisational life. Knowledge should prevent the consequences of ill- informed decisions. Sound decision-making affects the value business contributes to society, so it has to become a core strategic capability. Organisations can give people responsibility and authority, assuming they can make sensible decisions simply because they have done so in the past, but in our volatile connected world, past experience is also becoming less of a predictor of future success. Key decisions are becoming more complex (they have to take into account more variables, are surrounded by uncertainty and much of the available information is highly ambiguous ). The dilemmas involved in competing through knowledge are hard to resolve because people take opposing positions in the decision making process. So what can we do about it.
So what can we make it happen?

It’s 11 years since I began exploring how knowledge affects organisational performance. Much of what we research in the Henley KM Forum is about strategy, innovation and change. How leadership creates the conditions for performance. How mobilising knowledge can improve efficiency, reduce waste, increase innovation. All involve decisions. Our research, much of which has been assembled in our book Knowledge Works, suggests that knowledge managers have a key role to play in supporting and improving organisational decision quality. Key aspects of their role which came out in the research we did on knowledge enabled decision making include
• Identifying valuable knowledge,
• Developing and retaining expertise, and bringing the diversity of thatr know-how to bear in significant decisions.
• Introducing technology to give easier access to expertise and extend the reach of expert knowledge.
• Developing the relationship capital of the organisation by introducing ways for people to collaborate more effectively internally AND externally with customers, suppliers, competitors and other stakeholders. Then the organisation has the intelligence that it needs to respond to change.
But most importantly knowledge managers have a key role to play in developing organisational capacity to learn how to make better decision. This requires two things: Institutionalising processes like coaching and mentoring that encourage mangers and leaders to reflect honestly and carefully on their approach to decision making and its successes and failures. And helping everyone collectively to review and learn from different types of decisions, to build an appropriate repertoire of responses to the various contexts.

Perhaps it’s overpaying the tennis metaphor, but I’ll leave you with a question. Why the deuce should we be satisfied with amateurs batting decisions back and forth? Shouldn’t we make a ‘racquet’ about developing expert leaders and managers who ace the decision making process so that organisations produce more value for society?

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Last Thursday was a quiet day, devoted to a dialogue in which no word was spoken. Christine and I had agreed to contribute “an Essay in Two Voices”, as part of a research project that Victoria Ward of Sparknow initiated. The aim is to explore the Evolution of the Knowledge Manager.

In the words of one of the researchers Sandra Higgison:

“Sparknow has observed and played a part in the evolution of the knowledge manager since the mid-1990s. To map this journey, we have embarked on a project to collect the words, experiences and artefacts of the practitioners who have lived it. “

It will be a fascinating project, when complete, because the end result will be a collection of stories that

“ will connect knowledge managers to the experiences of their peers and illustrate how narrative research provides the colour, flavour and texture that make knowledge transfer real.”

Why not take a look at the posts so far on the Sparknow blog.

I guess you could say Christine and I have lived the practitioners’ journey a bit vicariously through our conversations and interactions with KM Forum members since 2000, and through the research we have done, but anyway we set aside the day to try to create one of those artefacts that Sandra mentions. I sat in the sun in Spain. Sadly, Christine had her head down in her home office in the UK.

The Essay in Two Voices (or Ei2V for short) technique was developed by Madelyn Blair. It involves two people in a structured process of writing together, apart on a previously agreed topic. 

Our contribution was

If a knowledge manager’s role is to help join up the organisation, what does it require?

There are six rounds in the dialogue. Each participant has an equal voice, because for each round they have a fixed word allowance. At the end of each round participants exchange what they have written, and without discussion, read, respond and develop their views on the topic further. The final twist in the process is that the word allowance is cut by half each time. We started with 500 words in the first round and finished with a 140 characters. (I suppose you could tweet the outcome if you wanted, although I think we cheated a bit because we each counted 140 characters without spaces, and for twitter we would have had to count spaces).

Being academics, we realised before we started that we would want to refer to some of the big thinkers in the field, but the word count could be blown out of the water by referencing, (on the web all it takes is a hyperlink to acknowledge others’ ideas, but bibliographies consume hundreds of words!) So we were given special license not to include references in the wordcount and to be ourselves. We also chose to operate according to a timetable, so we were writing simultaneously and exchanged at a pre-agreed time. A structured timetable wasn’t part of the requirements, but personally I found it helpful. Once I got started, I was keen to see how Christine would tackle each round, and what would emerge in each response. Dedicating time to concentrate only on the topic at hand helped me keep focus and make the mental connections between the elements. The side effect of timing it was to give us both equal thinking and typing time. I can see this could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who is involved. If you’re a slow typist, or you find it hard to write, (fortunately neither apply to us) it could be a stumbling block. If you are deep thinker you may find the time pressures and then need to focus on word count is a little inhibiting. We both agreed that for a complex topic the simplification process needed care, if it was going to remain meaningful. Christine thought that it would be important to pick a topic you really cared about in order to really get the most from the exercise.

The experience provoked different responses in each of us. Of course we know each other’s thinking reasonably well, having worked together for around 11 years, and published books and articles together. But we still have different views on things. Christine is intrigued by how different people absorb knowledge in different ways, and reflecting on the experience, she felt it was harder to relate to what I was ‘saying’ when it was textual rather than verbal, whereas I don’t absorb verbal material so easily, but I enjoy playing with the written word. Both of us found that in the middle our thinking diverged, as we homed in on different things, and surprisingly, by the end, we had reached separate views. I found that towards the end, the requirement to keep reducing the word count was quite tricky to handle. First I had to decide when to stop adding in ideas, and secondly it was harder to relate to the Christine’s thinking without simply repeating it. Plus, it was at this point that we started to find our points of difference, but we’d run out of words to explore them. As always, our points of difference provide a basis for a further discussion. With the conversation conveniently captured, we will have something to refer back to, when we want to explore further. That’s quite helpful.

To me the process is a good reflective discipline for distilling a significant amount of thinking, without excessive verbiage. It’s something others can refer to. I did feel that the final artefact covered quite more territory, in under 2000 words than we would have face to face. See what you think, Essay in two voices CVW and JMCK final

It would certainly be a very different experience if you did not know your conversational partner, I’d like to try that too. I’d also be interested to hear from others what they think about the process and the results. If you want to know more and read some other examples, then Madelyn has published a book  which is available through Amazon. SHe will be blogging about the process and I’ll add that to the blogroll when she starts.

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The last blog was a bit frustrating, ending as it did without an answer to joined up decision making.   It hinted that people need to feel more connected to the consequences, but without a suggestion as to how.  

In 2009, A Demos report questioned the possibility of silver bullets, but offered some guidance for connecting the dots to address complex problems at the level of policy. The conclusion was that it is a mistake to define the problem too quickly or too narrowly.  Time to think is crucial for considering the interconnected risks; learning and adaptation in the actual decision making process is also vital to achieve a meaningful outcome for all the various stakeholders.   

 In our book, we define five factors that shape the quality of organisational decision making.  Practices for deploying expertise, technology and collaboration (internal and external) are three elements that bring rich and varied input to problem definition and exploration.  They are also the areas where knowledge management has made significant progress.  Through these channels, decision makers can frame the problem broadly and bring to bear a depth of understanding to the problem space. Relevant and diverse input is vital for well informed decisions.  Organisational learning is the fourth factor. This encourages collective evaluation of decision outcomes and processes. The critical relationship between learning, adaptation and agility means many firms give this attention, through techniques like after action reviews.   Yet, at root, the seeds of organisational learning lie in individual decision makers learning how to improve their personal practice.

Learning spirals and builds in repeated phases. Spiral text courtesy of Inkscape

The personal learning process is often explained as a four phase cycle of experience, reflection, mentally organising thoughts into meaningful concepts followed by trial actions to test existing understanding. This produces new experience on which to reflect and so it goes on.   Sad to say, practitioners in the KM Forum felt strongly that in the rush and pressure of high-paced business activities, reflection is the one thing that is often neglected.   Action is usually the priority.   Experience may be valued, but reflection gets squeezed out as a luxury. There is not enough time to think.    In my experience, in programmes of post graduate learning, reflection is always something that needs to be encouraged. Often programme members find it harder than absorbing theory or doing things.   Perhaps that’s because it can be uncomfortable to reflect on mistakes, perhaps because it feels more productive to be doing something rather than thinking. But more likely it seems a nebulous activity that feels less productive; some even think of it as time wasting.  In reality it is crucial to both relating new knowledge to past experience, changing mindsets, embedding understanding and imagining how to do things better.   All the after action reviews in the world won’t change behaviour unless individuals spend time reflecting on the meaning for them personally.   Jennifer Moon  calls it mental housekeeping.  The process of re-organising what we know to accommodate new input and experience.  Without it we don’t modify our practice, but we go around and around the learning cycle, spinning our wheels repeating the same mistakes without improving.  And practice makes permanent, as my old tennis coach used to say. Practice only makes perfect if we are open to thinking about how we need to adapt and change.  The problem is often management knowledge is tacit.  If something is hard to express, it’s going to be even harder to modify. Without reflection, all sorts of emotional filters, implicit sense-making, assumptions and judgements remain unexamined.  Reflection is a discipline you can explore in this short slide show.

 As Chris Collison points out it doesn’t really take much time. You can do it on an aircraft in that enforced break from the online buzz created by the need to switch off all electronic equipment.  Peer assists, in and after action reviews are collective versions of these learning principles. It’s really about questioning the known.  The advantage is that practice can ‘make deeper and better considered knowledge available” (Moon 2010).  

Journal writing is a well trodden route for reflecting.   The list of benefits is long.  It is a way of bringing into consciousness some of the tacit mental connections.  Getting thoughts down, they are more readily available for examination.    More than just recording experience, writing is an opportunity to be critical of one’s own thinking and approach to learning; it can increase personal ownership as the writer works with the meaning of what they write. Over the years, many people have argued that reflection improves problem solving skills, increases creativity, is therapeutic, helps behavioural change, and gives the writer a way to understand their own view of the world and get a sense of who they are becoming in the process of learning.   Writing is a different means of expression to speech and engages different emotions and parts of the brain.    Overall it has potential for helping people feel more connected to the consequences of their decisions.  

The modern day equivalent of journal writing is the blog.   Sadly, of all the social media tools it seems to be the least appreciated and used.   Of course there are risks with open publication and business decision makers are rightly nervous of over exposure.  But used judiciously, leadership blogs can offer a way for decision maker to simultaneously reflect on decisions before, during and after, and at the same time engage key stakeholders, gauge their views and opinions and influence their thinking.  This might prevent problems being defined too narrowly or too quickly leading to poor decisions and bad outcomes.    

Just a reflection!

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