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Archive for the ‘Meaningfulness’ 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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David Gurteen’s blog on 23rdFebruary suggests that the aim of KM should be enabling better conversations.   He’s right, we shouldn’t muddle KM and IM. It’s not about sharing information, but helping people make sense of it. But I would argue it goes even further than that.  We have to help people work with what that means for them, so that feel more connected, know how they can contribute and can perform better.

http://www.mostinterestingfacts.com/art/top-10-most-famous-paintings-in-the-world-ever.html

Conversation spaces are places full of meaning

Meaning is a really important factor in engagement as this presentation by Professor Katie Truss shows (Katie is a highly respected researcher in the area).   Things that are meaningful to us, are far more likely to move us to do something about them, and the more connections we find to an idea the more meaningful it becomes.  Although of course really strong connections to singular issues can be very meaningful if they have had a  big impact on us, perhaps in a relationship or as a result of a highly emotional experience.  Maybe this is the source of Positive Deviance that David is going to encourage us to talk about over dinner.

I like the word conversation. It comes from the Latin word meaning to turn things around. It can be transformative.  Two way interaction is also vital, because the speaker can only know these things when they engage in a dialogue with the receiver, not when they push out information.  Which is why I also why I really love this timely if unsettling educational tweet from Donald Clark which David included in his newsletter.

 “Show me a Professor of Education … who lectures, and I’ll show you a hypocrite who doesn’t read the research

Donald Clark is right, interactivity is key to understanding and learning too.  I am somewhat sensitive to this in the run up to a conference, at which I will be ‘speaking’ about the results of this year’s research project for some 30 minutes. My excuse? We are trying to share a year’s worth of conversational learning within the research project group. I would add that I have always felt that KM Forum members get more from participating in the research projects than from just sitting and listening to the results presented at the conference, so I’ll take this chance to encourage you to suggest a topic and sign up for the next round of research.  In addition, for this year’s project, we will be running a much more interactive workshop on 29th May.  So the conference session is just a taster. Anyone who is really interested in developing knowledge driven leadership agility can really get to grips with what it all means for their organisation in this session.  In addition, I hope you will ask lots of questions of me and my co-presenters.

To be fair, most conferences have to contain a fair amount of lecturing. However, at Henley, we really do try to include plenty of “white space” for networking and lots of opportunity for conversations with peers and presenters.  If you decide you want to twitter and extend the conversation more widely then do please include the #HenleyKMF in your tweets.

Looking forward to two days of great conversation, lots of mental stimulation, and time to make sense of it all afterwards.

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