New Friends and New Perspectives from KM World 2009

One of the best parts of participating in KM World 2009 last month was the opportunity to catch up with some long-time friends, turn some long-time e-friends into face-to-face friends and to make some new friends.  One of those new friends was Allan Crawford, who directs an online master’s program in knowledge management at California State University Northridge. He’s put together a brief video post capturing the spirit of the conference:

Perspectives on KM World 2009

At this year s KM World conference I had a chance to talk to several of the participants and ask them the question what stood out for you from this year s conference.

Listen to what  stood out for Carla O Dell, Jim McGee, Patrick Lambe, Stan Garfield and others.

Here are a few of the responses:

Carla O Dell (APQC): Video will make a big difference in how we share knowledge YouTube has changed the world of KM

Jim McGee: The return to the organizational dimension of KM and the shift away from being enamored with technology

Bob Wimpfheimer (Dr Pepper): It has shifted how I think about KM.  Previously it has been storing documents and making them available I ve come to see it s much more important to connect people with people

Jon Husband:  After years of taking about how to reuse knowledge, optimize it and classify it, people are beginning to understand that it s really not very useful if people can t access it, share it and build upon it and that involves learning.  We are going to see blending of the disciplines we now know as learning, KM, personal development, organizational change

Eric Mack (ICA): The talk about social tools and social media the primary value of these social tools is in the connection they provide between other peoples knowledge and the work we do social networking tools allow us to bridge the connection between our experience and knowledge and that of others.

Patrick Lambe (Straits Knowledge): KM is in a long pause.  It has reached the limits of what it can do based on how we currently understand how knowledge is use in organizations.  It is still focused on individual transactions and individual pieces of knowledge .it needs to get to grips more with how organizations work as organisms as thinking organisms.  It is touching that with the collective intelligence and wisdom of crowds stuff but it is nowhere near sophisticated enough to show results and I think that is where it needs to go.

Stan Garfield (Deloitte): KM is definitely not dead it s alive.  But we still have a lot of things to do the things that I think are more important than the technology is the leadership the things we need to do to get people to behave in a certain way to get communities to take off.  These are leadership issues not technical challenges.

The consistent themes appear to be that KM is about connecting people to people KM is social and success is dependant upon behaviors.  Even with the emergence of E2.0 techology is an important enablor for the connections ( YouTube has changed KM ) but is not the center of KM.

If you were at the conference what stood out for you?

Perspectives on KM World 2009
Allan Crawford
Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:46:34 GMT

Socializing and knowledge management

Before Lotus Notes or SharePoint we had Happy Hour. Arthur Andersen/Accenture grabbed an early lead in knowledge sharing because it recognized the value of a liquor license long before there was even a technological environment capable of supporting the likes of Notes or SharePoint. Their efforts demonstrate why successful knowledge management is rooted in the social, not the technical. It’s a lesson we keep needing to learn.

I started my professional career in the consulting arm of Arthur Andersen & Co. years before the divorce that led eventually to the creation of Accenture. When I joined, the consulting group was known as "Administrative Services" and I spent a fair bit of time explaining to friends and prospective clients that I had nothing to do with office supplies or janitorial services. In those days, Andersen was justifiably known for its large investments in training its people in the skills and knowledge they needed to work effectively. It was one of the selling points that convinced me to join.

I joined Andersen shortly after it had invested in St. Charles. One of the primary training expenses was housing and feeding the hundreds of junior consultants being trained. It was the second largest expense item after the people costs themselves (both for instructors and for the students who weren’t generating revenue while being trained). Booking blocks of hotel rooms in Chicago or New York or London wasn’t going to be sustainable as Andersen continued to grow.

Just outside of Chicago, in St. Charles, was the campus of a recently failed Catholic girl’s college. Andersen’s partners bought the campus and transformed it into a center to house their training efforts. It made a great deal of sense and provided a smooth transition for all those young larval consultants; most of whom had just left similar campuses.

St. Charles was isolated and remote; an hour’s drive to the semi-bright lights of Chicago’s Rush and Division Streets. Few of us had the wherewithal to make the trip and courses were designed to provide little or no time to do so anyway. As a consolation prize, St. Charles had its own bar on campus. What the nuns who had run the college thought of this remains a mystery to me. What I have come to believe, however, is that getting this liquor license was the single most effective investment in knowledge management that Andersen ever made.

The bar at St. Charles was a safe place to share stories and a place where those with good stories mixed freely with those who needed to hear those stories. Better yet, the bar wasn’t a classroom. In a classroom, the teachers feel compelled to teach and the students feel compelled to feign wakefulness. In the bar, there was no teaching going on to interfere with the learning.

Before we started dressing things up in fancy terms like knowledge management and knowledge sharing we "talked shop." The bar was a natural place to talk shop. It was also a place where people came from all around the world. It was a place where we could start building the personal relationships on which future knowledge sharing would depend.

Today, of course, we operate in a more complex and widely distributed world. It can be harder to create and sustain the interactions needed to create those relationships. But keep that image of the bar in mind when you’re designing for your environment.

Hacking complex knowledge problems: Van Halen and Brown M&Ms

I had never actually heard the story about Van Halen and brown M&M’s before I came across this Boing Boing entry. Of course, Boing  Boing is always a good for fun stories. Here’s one that also has a useful point about dealing with complex knowledge problems between organizations.


Spotted via Andrew Baron’s tweetstream, this fascinating — no, really! — snopes article on why Van Halen had that line in their concert rider about ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN M&Ms EVER. Van Halen Brown M&Ms. The actual 1982 rider was first published online at in 2008.


Van Halen had good reason to ban brown M&Ms in their concert rider.
Xeni Jardin
Wed, 05 Aug 2009 23:49:58 GMT

Take the time to check out the Snopes article ( Van Halen Brown M&Ms). It presents a design problem of how to ensure that an organization you’re contracting with is exercising the appropriate attention to detail. It reminds me of a similar design hack/lesson I learned first back in the 7th grade. A version of that lesson is, of course, available courtesy of a moment’s effort with a search engine(Directions Test).

What makes this example important is that more and more of our work gets done through other organizations. That increases the problems of incomplete contracts where the tasks in question are sufficiently complex and the environment indeterminate enough that it is difficult, in not impossible. to specify all the relevant conditions in advance. "Brown M&Ms" provides an excellent reminder that the point of the contract is to ensure a successful outcome for all parties.