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Archive for the ‘mindfulness’ Category

On reflection it's a fine balance


Good judgement is more in demand than ever before. In our intricately connected technologically advanced society where information travels faster than we do, but expert knowledge about its implications may take years of experience to interpret, for most of us certainty is hard to come by. So most decisions involve some element of judgement.  Take today for instance.  I got up and opened my hall cupboard to get out my yoga mat. For the first time in 7 years living here I smelt gas.  I called my husband. He couldn’t smell a thing! Shrugged and walked away.  Now I have to make a judgement. Call the emergency helpline? Or is my nose just over sensitive? So I shut the door, do my yoga, go back and repeat the process, half an hour later. To me the smell is stronger:  my husband still can’t smell a thing.  Having just read the book Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz, I know my brain could be am bias. Our brains leap quickly to assumptions when fear is involved, their designed to. We have a natural confirmation bias, to confirm our own beliefs.  But I know my husband is far better at practical things than I am, and he was an engineer before he retired, so he’s more likely to be right.  Then I remember the smoke filled room experiment!   If I call National Grid, will they think I am wasting their time? What constitutes a leak worth reporting? If I don’t do anything will I be able to sleep tonight? It’s coming up to Easter and weather is getting colder, so I want my heating working. How quickly can National Grid fix a leak?  Will I just end up with gas shut off and a miserable Easter?  No-idea of the answer to any of those questions! How can I assess risk when I’ve never faced this situation before?  Simple example, but poor judgement could have relatively small or relatively large consequences.  Inevitably I weigh the risk of being cold against going up in flames and decide to err on the side of caution.  The gas man cometh!

We expect sound judgement from leaders in business, politics, the legal system, public institutions; we hope parents, teachers, members of society will exercise sound judgement.

According to Tom Davenport (an early KM guru) and Brook Manville, (forward by Larry Prusak) in their new book on Judgement Calls ,

“…the belief that the traditional paradigm of decision making – where an all-seeing and wise CEO ‘makes the call’ alone- is being superseded by more participative and data-intensive approaches”.

About 18 months ago, we ran a KM Forum themed day on these data-intensive approaches, inspired by Tom Davenport’s books Competing on Analytics and Analytics at work. It certainly plays an important part in providing evidence to support sound judgement. But of course you have to have the data to look at before you can find the patterns, or identify the insights on which to base your judgement.   But the mathematics of probability, normal distribution and the like, only work when you have a large enough sample and the anomalies aren’t paradigm breaking.  If you listen to this Analysis, 10 Downing Street appears to be influenced by Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s counter arguments about the impact of the highly improbable.

Of course, it may not have been concerns over the impact of the highly improbable that encouraged the government to make suggestions about topping up your tank to create a petrol shortage before any strike ever got off the ground?  Maybe it was an insight from the Nudge Unit?  Who knows, but to my mind that experience certainly leads you to think twice about the Wisdom of Crowds where self interest is concerned.  I listened to the news in dismay as people said how it was madness that everyone was rushing to fill up, were irritated at the chaos, and then admitted that they wanted to be sure they could get around!

Collective judgement is a tricky issue as Tom Davenport’s final chapter suggests. It’s a knowledge issue at heart.

“The great advantage of a more collective information and knowledge intensive approach is that done well, it offsets the litany of pitfalls one person making a decision can fall into “Chapter 13

That is provided we can

  • Learn from success, but then recognise situations where the lessons no longer hold true
  • Reframe the rather concrete notion of decisions instead think about an ongoing collaborative process of evolving a solution to a problem, through small experiments and frequent feedback.
  • Invest in developing collective leadership judgement through experience with real problems and repeated practice, with some time for reflection on lesson learned, and some coaching on how to improve.

Members of the Henley KM Forum can access our guide to better organisational decision making produced in 2009, from the members’ website. There is also a complementary publication on coaching for better decision making. Those who are not members may want to download free our Knowledge in Action brochures Issue 21 and 22.

Just in case you are worried about my status over Easter, the gas man arrived, used his analytics (a neat little sniffer machine) found a leak – yes my nose was right, replaced the regulator, and all for free. Great service, lesson learned, rely on my judgement and ignore my husband’s sense of smell which is clearly not helpful in this small collective of marital bliss!

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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

treasuretroveblog.com

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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forgetwyh.blogspot.com

Look forward now to the future of KM

One of the things that will be going on in the exhibition area of the Henley KM Forum conference is some progress sharing on the research that Victoria Ward and Paul Corney form SparkNow have been working on. It’s about the evolving role of the knowledge manager.     Paul’s recent blog about one of the stories may whet your appetite.  Having spent 11 years working in the field, Christine and I were also invited to participate in this project last year. I blogged about the Essay in Two voices method we used to write up our perspective.  I still find it an interesting and different way of using dialogue to create a more balanced story.   You will have a chance to add your perspective on where the knowledge manager will be in 20 years time, using postcards this time.

I wrote this blog to encourage you to look forward now! Then, when you get your chance to have a say about how KM can influence bigger issues and make a real difference, you’ll have had time to think.  After all, evolving the role of the knowledge manager is a subject dear to all our hearts; if we don’t evolve and adapt, we could be out of work!

Evolution is a big topic, often associated with survival of the fittest.  The New Scientist instant expert on evolution ( link above) defines co-evolution as

http://www.sepa.duq.edu/darwin/muralseries-posters.shtml

Spiral II. Plant and Animal Co-evolution. Centre for Image in Science and Art

When the evolutionary history of two species or groups of species is intimately intertwined. “

KM’s history is often linked with HR, and IT, but where is the future heading.  Dave Snowden (who has spoken many times at the KM Forum) and David Griffiths, who is speaking this year engaged in a little sparring about this very topic.  It all started because David was rather frustrated by yet more rumours that KM might be dead. Obviously it is not, but it will be evolving along with everything else!  KM is a big and complex topic as David’s Meta-model of KM shows. You might want to download the model and keep a copy on your wall, if you have a wall big enough. It’ll be an excellent reminder of all you have to achieve!  Maybe you might find there the leap for KM you need to make this year. It certainly got me thinking.

I am getting a sense of at present of a subtle shift in orientation for KM.  I’m hearing about KM people moving to head up change management programmes or teams, sit in corporate communications or start from more market facing roles. Either that or they are being subsumed by priorities like digital innovation, or something to do with strategic organisational development needs. Personally, I’m encouraged if the narrow ties with IT are diluted, because I think this association tends to cast some unhelpful shadows on the influencing ability of KM: e.g. it’s perceived as too closely related to information management, too much about knowledge capture and not enough about face to face and human behaviour, or it’s seen as a expensive infrastructure project that might not fit end user needs.

In reality, leadership in change is a role that KM practitioners should be well adapted for.  KM roles hone influencing skills, because practitioners have to achieve a lot with very limited resources. They succeed in making a difference by persuading others to think differently and adopt alternative ways of working.  People who do well in KM seem to have had very varied career paths, which have led them to operate in several different domains;  moving people around and exposing them to many different experiences is a well trodden development path for helping leaders learn to adapt their approach to suit the needs of the situation.

I was coaching a very impressive leader recently, whose career had been very varied, both in terms of the work he does and in terms of where in the world he has worked, and the organisations he has worked in.  His style was very enabling, very focused on listening and supporting knowledge sharing, quite transformational for his team, but in his organisation he was unusual. The general culture was far more command and control, which is often counterproductive for knowledge based activities.  We explored the evolutionary path from command and control, hierarchical organisations to more networked based organisations in a two year research project called Transformational KM. You can read more about it on the Henley KM Forum members website. If you are not a member of the Forum, then you can download an article called Knowledge Management (KM) for a Changing World: Challenges for Third Generation Knowledge Practice published in 2008 here.

Although KM has a whole toolkit of routines, techniques and technology that support learning and change, how well they work depend on how much buy-in they get from the broader constituency of management leadership. I’m not talking senior leadership, but leadership at the line management level, who are known to be the strongest influence on the climate for knowledge and learning.  To my mind the future of KM depends on bridging the communication and engagement gap created by differences in priorities – in other words resolving the paradoxes and tensions that make knowledge work so challenging.   For example, people in functional areas tend to have developed through specialist routes, which re-enforces depth rather than breadth.  They are trained to focus attention on detail, which for their contribution to be effective is more important that the connections in the big picture.  But when you are trying to make sense in uncertainty, and to adapt and change, you have to reconcile the tension between now and the future, and between what you have identified with as truth and priority, and what a new regime requires if it is to thrive in a changing world.  Tension is part of any healthy system. It can be creative. In is an important catalyst for adaptation and evolution.  But if it leaders don’t manage it well in organisational life, it translates into unproductive conflict, dysfunction and wasted energy.  That’s why this year’s project on developing knowledge driven leadership agility started by looking at all the tensions that affect KM activity. We will be sharing this on March the 1stat the conference.

The more leaders who know how to handle these, the more KM can support evolution and change in partnership with them!

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Following on from yesterday’s musing, I was further reminded of the title of Tim Harford’s book Adapt: Why success always starts with failure, when I visited the National Space Museum in Leicester and saw this picture.

Apollo 13 deemed a successful failure

The Apollo 13 mission was considered a successful failure in the overall timeline of Space Exploration.  There certainly were some hard lessons earned when the three astronauts said “Houston we have a problem!”  Yet the spirit of innovation and determination that got these men home did not endure as NASA changed its orientation from space exploration to space exploitation.  With the developments of the space shuttle and the space station, the notion of what space flight meant changed from novel and exploratory to routine and repeatable.  What people identified as NASA’s purpose changed with it. These collective assumptions resulted in disaster when Columbia lost a tile on take-off and blew up on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere.

The findings of the inquiry into the Columbia disaster concluded that despite the successful failure of Apollo 13 and despite the O ring disaster that resulted in the explosion of the Challenger shuttle, when the tiles fell off on this Columbia mission, organisational learning failed.   One could argue that NASA’s change of identity contributed to a change in focus by all the members of the team.  An analysis of the leadership behaviours exhibited by the mission managers could lead you to conclude, that individuals did not create conducive conditions for listening and learning, yet the inquiry did not blame any one person. They considered it a systemic failure.  Yet all the necessary knowledge sharing and learning processes were well established and designed to surface the different perspectives on the problem. Different teams with different expertise and responsibilities reported into the mission manager on a regular basis, but somehow the different levels of concern were sublimated in the complexity of all the day to day management of this particular shuttle mission and the pressures to keep up with the schedule of future shuttle missions.

In fact the collective learning dynamics in any system can be inherently myopic.  As we are thinking a lot about organisational learning at the Henley KM forum conference, I thought it would be worth revisiting this classic article by Levinthal and March. They identify three sources of myopia.

When faced with complexity, unless we deliberately and intelligently deal with the problems of uncertainty, conflict and ambiguity, learning in organisations will tend to

  1.  Ignore the long run and privilege what works in the short term; by simplifying and specialising we assure short term survival, yet the very learning we gain can be a constraint when external conditions change. It may even compromise the organisation’s ability to adapt because distinctive competencies create traps by defining where it can exert influence or decreasing awareness of the need for adaptation
  2. Neglect the big picture; for example components in the system fight for survival but their success may not help the system as a whole thrive. Components could be organisations in an economy or competing projects within an organisation. The health of the system depends on collective fitness, and fitness means adaptability.  Overall the economic returns to knowledge are higher, the higher the knowledge development activity of the components. The more generative the system conditions the more it attracts further knowledge generating activity in a self re-enforcing spiral. Conversely, the more sparsely distributed  innovation is, the more likely that knowledge seeking will be lower; improvements that only refine existing knowledge ultimately become less valuable and the organisation stagnates because it loses the capability to search and the confidence to manage the risk. We also tend to ignore distant events in favour of nearer lessons and experience.
  3. Overlook failures. Organisation learning is naturally biased towards what worked in the past. The successes from past learning generate confidence in dealing with particular situations, so they become self confirming. But this may be a poor predictor of future success when dealing with rare events.  People are more likely to think it was ability that produced success but luck which produced single failures.   It is only persistent failures that lead us to revise our assessment of risk; persistent successes tend to mean we underestimate risk.

Those of you who came to the KM Forum day, that Mike Palmer ran, will remember we  explored the knowledge implications of the Columbia disaster. Perhaps you recognise examples of all three types of blinker in NASA’s organisational learning system. The strongest elements for me were the fact that NASA started to think of the Shuttle as a routine transport between earth and space. They simplified and specialised which privileged the short term mission management but ignored the fact that in larger scheme of things NASA were still working with many unknowns that they had never experienced in the past. Over time they lost the exploratory, innovative mindset that was the hall mark of the Apollo missions. Having completed many transport missions to space and back, gave them confidence in their routines, so they overlooked the lessons to be learned from the failure of Challenger. They had also seen tiles fall off the space shuttle before without the Shuttle breaking up on re-entry, so past success led them to categorise this incident as an ‘in family’ problem rather than a serious anomaly that needed more attention.  Overconfidence in past learning and knowledge meant they under estimated the risk.

So what’s the lesson here?   Success often comes from failure, but unless leaders keep in mind and offset the traps that cause myopia, over time lessons learned can also become lessons lost.  In the long term, the knock on effect of myopia is that exploration and risk taking is harder to sustain and organisation capacity to adapt to unfamiliar and unpredictable events is compromised.   The Levinthal and March article suggests it is important to offset myopic tendencies with a compensating increase in resources to encourage exploration. Incentives, structures, managing beliefs and perceptions about risk and internally selection of mavericks or people who have failed in the past are typical levers to balance the fact that organisational learning naturally tends to be biased towards repeating past successes and neglecting future risks.

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Astounding ! The top news story of today was the Twitter furor about which footballer took out a super injunction to block news of his affair. The topic of conversation at my tennis club on Saturday was the same. Whilst there are clearly profound issues of personal privacy and international law that need to be resolved, I find it worrying that surrounded by the serious and intractable world problems of recent times, so many people are fixated on something that really matters mainly to the families involved. Perhaps it’s easier to be distracted by lives of the rich and famous than to think about the far more challenging problems of economic crisis and human suffering.

Of course, I know that Twitter has also helped people to come together for more important conversations. The demands for democracy in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria arose because suddenly oppressed people have a broad band freedom to speak collectively about something that matters to them. I started to ask myself what is it that attracts people to these radically different topics? What gives these themes momentum? I wonder if it comes down to what seems meaningful at the time?

Recently I read a book called the Pursuit of Meaning, by Joseph Fabry. I started to worry about the consequences of the freedom Twitter brings, when I read statements like

“‘the meanings of today become the values of tomorrow.’

Twitter gives people a voice and freedom to speak. That conversation becomes meaningful to vast swathes of people. Should we value freedom to simply to have a say, or should we using that democratic freedom for something more constructive? Is freedom from restraint without responsibility for the consequences good for us collectively? Ill informed, or unreflective use of freedom can be a dangerous thing. We live in an age where knowledge is multiplying faster than we can keep up with it. Universities are doing an excellent job of developing scientific knowledge in the fields of physics, chemistry, engineering, medicine. All that knowledge makes so many more things possible. So we gain more and more degrees of freedom. But we also live in an age where the disruption of many traditional values have left many individuals feeling isolated , insecure, confused and dare I say empty if their inclinations are to focus energy on the trials and tribulations of the rich and famous, rather than more meaningful activities.

Generally it seems that humans find deep meaning in three things,

  •  Creative activities – Doing something worthwhile at work, in our hobbies, tasks that we are passionate about
  • Experiences that are valued– relationships with other human beings, connections to art, nature or something that resonates with a fundamental value that touches us
  •  Attitudes – the freedom to take a stand against some fateful or momentous issues.

 Plato suggested that the purpose of education was to ensure that rulers were the well informed sensitive to the needs of the day and responsive to conscience. Effective democracy relies on everyone who is going to given a say meeting the same standards of care. It seems to me that our educational system which is good at delivering facts and technical knowledge and analysis also has a responsibility to develop people who care about the way they use their freedom for something worthwhile and more meaningful than twittering about other people’s private lives.

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Just recently, I’ve had quite a lot of experience caring for elderly parents. It’s caused me to reflect a lot on the challenge of joined up approaches to problem solving in organisations.

Imagine the scenario. From the family’s perspective, a sick relative is a whole person. They don’t turn into a bag of disconnected bits, just because one part isn’t functioning well. When you care for a whole person, it’s natural to consider how basic needs like eating, drinking, personal safety interact with their medical conditions. Yet, the structure of the support systems actively discourages that sort of joined up thinking. The divisions in the system lead to fragmented judgements that put the patient at risk. Each specialism focuses on a different aspect of the patient needs. Doctors and nurses respond to immediate medical problems, social workers support social care needs, occupational therapists provide mobility aids and equipment for easier living, assisted technology experts provide alarms and fancy gadgetry. Then there are the physiotherapists, podiatrists, pharmacists, and paramedics, moving and handling specialists, mobile oxygen suppliers, meals on wheels and individual carers who are under pressure to care for a whole range of complex conditions that beset the elderly, with only limited knowledge. Lots of care available, but all of them have different aims and objectives, different targets to meet, and different policies to comply with. Most of them seem to have only a superficial connection with one other, and little agreement about what is possible. If you compound that problem by allowing your relative to fall ill away from their home community, then you are in deep trouble! No-one knows who to speak to and procedures prohibit the delivery of service in other locations. So joining up the various procedures and rules between different councils and spending areas becomes nigh on impossible. For example, the rules say care can’t be provided until the nurses and social services have assessed the needs in the patient’s home, but the patient is unsafe to go home until care is in place!

Of course, each of them has the interests of the patient at heart. Yet they system as a whole has more holes that a piece of Swiss cheese!

When the holes line up catastrophes can happen

What has this to do with knowledge work you might ask. Everything, I would argue. Similar scenarios arise in a business context too. If I replace the word patient with client or customer, the words health with well-being or satisfaction, and health services with value chain, we have the same complex problems involving hand over from one area of expertise to another.

It’s not much of a stretch to think of the customer as a whole person and the international business as the organisation dedicated to their well being. The same problems of joining up interests and intent relative to incentives and procedures apply to commercial activity as well as public sector service. Knowledge work is simply people, processes and technology working together to deliver end results. Processes and technology only work well if people apply them appropriately and in concert with one another to solve the real problem, rather than satisfy the narrow targets or singular objectives in their own little niche. The key is in the judgement of the individuals and how effectively people work together and communicate across a complex system that has to adapt to changes in context.

A visualisation of Crossan Lane and Whites 1999 perspective on organisational learning

Holes exist due to poor communication. More holes arise because contradictory targets and conflicting policies constrain flexibility and responsiveness. Further holes occur where processes are incompatible. Human error is unavoidable however tightly one specifies procedures. Perhaps tighter specifications even encourage mistakes, because they detract from the fact that people may care about a meaningful outcome Any of these problems happening in isolation may not be life threatening, but as Professor James Reason argues, when the holes are aligned the consequences for the patient or the customer can be significant, even life threatening. Risk is compounded and catastrophes happen. This is the basis of his analysis of Professor Reason’s many major catastrophes like the Columbia Space disaster, Chernobyl and other major disasters. Recent bank failures may also be in the same league.

The biggest problem seems to be the lack of incentive to focus on the big picture outcome that matters. Professor Reason’s recent book places more emphasis on the Human Contribution, the behaviour of heroes who are able to adapt to context because they are mindful of the consequences of their actions not only for their singular targets and objectives, but also for the more interconnected results of collective action. Processes and procedures can be useful guides, technology can solve many problems but ultimately it is human care and judgement that makes use of knowledge in a way that is truly beneficial for the end user. Surely that sense of being connected to the larger implications of one’s actions and the care for the consequences is what we have to get back into organisational life for knowledge to really work effectively and for organisations in their role as knowledge integrators, to create real value?

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