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Archive for the ‘Sense Making’ 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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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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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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Lessons Earned?

I love this title, which is from Chris Collison’ssession at the Henley KM Forum conference.   It reminds me of an anecdote I heard a little while back about a very well known organisation that I won’t name and shame. They were frustrated because they had all the KM good practices under the sun, but still organisational learning wasn’t really happening as well as they hoped.  It was while listening to a presentation about knowledge work that the light bulb came on.  For all the effort they invested in collecting lessons learned, for all the fact that collection and dissemination was so deeply embedded into organisational routines, did they ever go back and look at what had changed as a result, did they ever deliberately drive through the consequences of these lessons into changes that improved results, or was it just a matter of serendipity that the lessons learned translated into lessons earned?  Lessons learned from someone else don’t have the same impact as lessons earned for yourself.  I suppose it’s the reality of the human condition.

Learn or teach? Who cares about your lessons?

Someone telling us from their experience what to avoid, has less impact that learning from our own experience.   We always say that in leadership development, 70% of the learning comes from experience, not from education and training.  Yet even experience doesn’t always make the lesson stick.  For example, if I shine this light back on myself as a parent, the experience of being hugely irritated and probably rudely irreverent in the face of my parent’s advice didn’t teach me enough of a lesson.  l know I knew much better. After all they didn’t understand the modern world.  Yet nowadays, I still find myself assuming my experience would be a helpful guide for son, who is 27 now and has had plenty of experience of his own! I haven’t learned and nor has he. So why bother?  I suppose if we care we want to share and prevent someone having to relive our own painful experiences. The most enduring lessons are often earned through personal failure.  But, collectively, as Tim Harford tells it in his book Adapt Why success always starts with failure, however much we pool our lessons earned and assemble many different experts for advice, when it comes down to it, the world we inhabit is too complex and constantly changing for us to be able to analyse it and find simple and accurate solutions to the problems we face.

So what can we do? Do we simply have to recognise that change emerges as a result of the collective set of adaptations over which we have no control, so our job in the organisation is simply to ensure that failure is survivable?  Well yes apparently, that’s what co-evolution is all about. We find our niche, thrive for a while, things change as a result of our collective contribution to conditions and either we adapt or become redundant.   But in organisation life that would make the KM task simply one of risk management.   Tim has other useful principles too, and I won’t steal his thunder here, because you need to read the book or come to the conference to hear what he has to say.  What I can say though is I learned a lesson from thinking about earning learning. For me and I imagine for many with years of experience, the fact that they know something well, doesn’t mean it translates into behaviour. I guess the impact of the failure must be stronger than the caring about what you know in order for if it to act as a stimulus to personal change. On a larger scale, history may identify some useful patterns, but its easy to be blind to the lessons they offer if they feel quite distant from your own reality.

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Sense-making is one a key leadership practice that gives the organisation agility. But it is a tricky one, when we are bombarded with so many different stimuli.  As Sarah Grimwood the practitioner co-champion for the research on building agile leadership capability told me

 “Organisations need leaders that can adapt to a rapidly changing world (and can take others with them).   The volume of information that we can now access instantly online, including on social media sites, requires leaders to be able to quickly assimilate what is really important and to communicate this to their teams.”

Sarah is KM Lead at MWH and is also talking about communities as the basis of organisational learning at the conference.

Co-ordinating different leadership activities

The issue is what is required to co-ordinate all the sense-making of all the leaders of communities, projects and cultures so that they feel connected to a direction that keeps the organisation competitive and flexible?  As long as the organisational identity is defined sufficiently broadly it can offer a meaningful collective purpose for a whole range of dynamic capabilities.  Community can also mitigate risks associated with communities of practice becoming so strong that they won’t let go of what they know.  After a while the emotional reward of being in a successful and close knit group, can create blinkers to accepting new ways of framing what people do. Dynamism is lost.  We often argue that communities have a life. But if they don’t disband naturally, they can keep refining knowledge beyond what adds value; they become so invested in the specialist knowledge that made them distinctive, that unlearning is not considered. With no external market pressures the organisation is at risk of stagnation, despite the evident value of communities as learning mechanisms.  This is where diversity pays dividends in challenging thinking. It is also why senior leaders have an important role to play in asking questions about where renewal will come from.  Structurally this may be a good time to introduce some inter group competition to challenge the value of existing know-how for the future, it may be when mergers and acquisitions create a different rhythm for renewal.  Obviously that creates all sorts of discomfort and tension for change recipients. In a world where it is easy to become overwhelmed by new ideas, innovation and change, bounding the possible with bonds of collective identity that make sense to all involved provides a stake the ground that helps people adapt and decide how to integrate new regimes with what is valuable from the organisational knowledge bank and the historical legacy of reputation. Coaching is another context specific integrating mechanism, but depends heavily on the quality of the people acting as coaches, and their ability to both recognise and deal with the tensions that arise and communicate well with others one to one and one to many.

The concept of a community of influence is a novel development that also works across boundaries to use knowledge diversity. Organised as a set of loose association of other organisations and key stakeholders, it offers a fluid mechanism for adaptation that takes into account multiple voices and uses them to accumulate learning and change through practice in very large scale problems. By connecting smaller communities, that retain their specific identity and purpose, but can work from different perspectives on a common cause, a powerful body for influencing decision making emerges at the societal level. The network then can influence the particular external conditions which limit each smaller organisation’s ability to create the necessary change.  It is harnessing difference, beyond the focus of the specific collectives that contribute.  I am looking forward to hearing more at the Henley KM Forum conference about how MacMillan Cancer Care have overcome the challenges of making this work across different interests to realise a more joined up and innovative approach to this very important form of healthcare.  If you are coming to the conference you’ll get the chance to really explore the challenges of creating and sustaining communities of influence.  If you are not attending, then Alison Donaldson, Elizabeth Lank and Jane Maher have written a book, which tells the story of how these relative loose associations of professionals, specialists and patients can over a long period of time produce durable learning and change through conversations and relationships.

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