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.

Knowledge management: the latest battle between the neats and the scruffies

I’m off to participate in a panel session (B105 – Changing/Resetting the Enterprise With PKM & Social Software Tools) this week at the KM World 2009 conference in San Jose. I thought I would rerun this post from a couple of years ago, as it reflects some of the thinking I plan on sharing. If you’re there, let’s hope we manage to connect.

 

"There are two groups of people, those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t." – Robert Benchley

Years ago, when I was doing work in the field of AI, I came across one of those binary splits that continues to be useful for my thinking; the split between "neats" and "scruffies." In the field of AI, the split differentiated between those favoring highly structured, logically precise approaches and those who preferred something more along the lines of "whatever works." Wikipedia offers a nice summary of the debate from that field.

Back in my school days, I think I was a neat (philosophically, not in terms of my room or study skills). When I first delve into new areas I am drawn to those who argue the neat case. As I get older and, I hope, more experienced, however, I find myself increasingly scruffy.

Much of the recent debate in the narrow field of knowledge management can be interpreted as one more recapitulation of the neats vs. scruffies argument. The technologies of blogs, wikis, and social media that collectively comprise the emerging notion of Enterprise 2.0 celebrate scruffiness as the essence of success in knowledge-intensive enterprises. The claim, backed by appropriately messy and sketchy anecdotal evidence, is that a loose set of simple technologies made available to the knowledge workers of an organization can provide an environment in which the organization and its knowledge workers can make more effective use of their collective and individual knowledge capital. Grass roots efforts will yield value where large-scale, centralized, knowledge management initiatives have failed.

Several implications flow from adopting a scruffy point of view. For one, "management" becomes a suspect term. If you can manage at all, you must do so at another level of abstraction. You aren’t managing knowledge; instead you are trying to manage the conditions under which knowledge work takes place and within which valuable knowledge might be created or put to use. At that point, it becomes more productive to think in terms of leadership rather than management; particularly if you subscribe to Colin Powell’s characterization of a leader as someone you’ll follow to discover where they’re going.

Second, you will need to deal with the problems that the neats have created in previous runs at knowledge management without alienating them at the same time. In most large organizations, knowledge management has been characterized as a technology problem or as a analog to financial management; placing it squarely within the purview of the organization’s neatest neats. This is a recipe for disappointment, if not outright failure.

It might possibly be an open question whether knowledge management can be eventually reduced to something as structured as accounting or library science. But it is a lousy place to start. Most organizations aren’t yet mature or sophisticated enough about knowledge work issues and questions to be obsessing about taxonomies or measurement and reward systems for knowledge work. But those are activities that are neat and specifiable and only superficially relevant. They lead to complex efforts to get to the right answer when we would be better served by simpler efforts to focus on productive questions.

C-words of knowledge

I’m working on a report for a client about knowledge management and knowledge sharing and I am deliberately avoiding the question of defining “knowledge.” I’ve learned that it’s a rat hole of interesting coffee shop conversation that ultimately produces little of value. On the other hand, I started playing with the idea of words that you might use during the conversation. Combine that with Twitter, constrain the problem, and see what results. I posted the following Tweet yesterday to start things off:

image

So far that’s led to contributions from @shifted, @hjarche, @hylton, @coyenator, and @rsukumar. Here’s the list as of this morning, which I’ve split between verbs and nouns (we seem to be a bit short on the noun side):

Catalog
Categorize
Cite
Classify
Coalesce
Codify
Collaborate
Collate
Collect
Comment
Communicate
Conceive
Connect
Consult
Constrain
Construct
Convert
Coordinate
Craft
Create
Critique
Crystallize
Community
Construct
Conversation

What would you like to add to the list?

JP Rangaswami on KM … “Clear, Transparent, Searchable, Archivable, Retrievable”

This has been lurking in my RSS aggregator for quite a while, courtesy of Jon Husband. There is really a lot of highly condensed insight in this post.

Thanks to JP Rangaswami for distilling social computing (in the context of work) to an essence.

From his post “Facebook and the Enterprise, Part 5: Knowledge Management“.

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“More and more, knowledge management is going to be about reducing the cost of, and simplifying the process for, letting someone watch what you do. Nonintrusively. Time-shifted. Place-shifted. Searchable. Archivable. Retrievable.”

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Via Dave Pollard via Nancy White

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JP Rangaswami on KM Clear, Transparent, Searchable, Archivable, Retrievable
admin
Tue, 02 Sep 2008 13:08:06 GMT

Some links on social media applications within organizations

As part of my talk yesterday at the Social Media Strategies conference, I made passing reference to a number of stories, blog posts, bloggers, thinkers, and writers. It’s an occupational hazard of being a former professor.

I’ve written about different elements of yesterday’s talk over the course of various blog posts over time. Here are links to some of the most directly relevant together with links to other items I referenced:

Finally, I drew on a number of smarter people than I on the topics of expertise and organizational change. Here are some good entry points for further reading.

Seeing Organizational Patterns : A New Theory and Language of Organizational Design, Keidel, Robert W.
Keidel is an organizational theorist/designer who builds a very practical way of thinking and talking about organizations around the simple observation that all interactions in organizations can be understood in terms of the blend of control, cooperative, and autonomous ways of relating that organizational members can engage in. For the sports-minded, Keidel maps these three basic relating choices to the sports of American football, basketball, and baseball. He builds a nice case that organizational design choices can all be understood in terms of how these three fundamental relationship choices are mixed and blended.

Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Lave, Jean
Jean Lave is an ethnographer working as part of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. In this volume, Lave explores learning as primarily a social phenomenon and builds a very practical theory of how apprenticeship forms of skill acquisition and learning work in the real world.

 

 

 

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, Hunt, Andy
I’ve become a general fan of Andy Hunt’s pragmatic programming series of books. They are useful well beyond the narrow area of software development. In this new book, Hunt offers a useful introduction to the Dreyfus model of expertise and how it applies in the general context of knowledge work.

 

 

 

Quality Software Management (V1) : Systems Thinking, Weinberg, Gerald M.
The first of a four-volume exploration of the particular and peculiar challenges of managing the development and implementation of software. The first volume introduces fundamental notions of how to model and think about complex systems and how they respond to change. Weinberg adapts Virginia Satir’s family therapy theories to the environment of complex organizational environments.

 

 

 

Quality Software Management (V3): Congruent Action, Weinberg, Gerald M.

While all four volumes of Weinberg’s work are valuable, this volume on what Weinberg describes as “Congruent Action” is the most useful for understanding organizational change in concert with Volume 1.

Dueling philosophies: social media vs. knowledge management

Venkat Rao of Xerox recently introduced an important argument about the underlying differences between social media and knowledge management approaches inside the Enterprise. Here’s the way I described them at delicious. Both are worth a look, a read, and some thought.

Ray Sims is collecting definitions of knowledge management

Combine two slippery but important words and it’s little wonder that you can find such a proliferation of definitions. For some reason, this reminds me of Danny Kaye’s Choreography number from White Christmas.

43 knowledge management definitions – and counting

Before I really get going on my day, here is an entertaining (or sobering) list of 43 knowledge management definitions – and counting from Ray Sims, who is heading back into the world of being an official KM’er as I head out to do product management.  It might have been funnier had he stopped at 37.

For many years I’ve been saying that I didn’t like the term “knowledge management” as (a) it was fundamentally an oxymoron, (b) there was no consensus within the industry as to what the term meant, and (c) in many companies the term carries negative connotations due to a perceived lack of value from earlier so-called knowledge management efforts and/or belief that knowledge management was a fad that we have moved on past or has been absorbed into other disciplines.

I like a number of these and have used variations of them in the past.  As someone on the Act-KM mailing list noted, there are easily as many definitions of knowledge.  Ray or another enterprising individual might want to stack these definitions into buckets about how “knowledge” is perceived by the people using the definition.  Process-centric definitions would look at knowledge-as-verb.  Storage-centric definitions might think of knowledge as a thing to be controlled.  People-connection definitions might think of knowledge as appearing via interaction. etc.  Ray has already created a couple tag clouds of the definitions.

The problem of emergence

Andrew McAfee’s Sloan Management article defining Enterprise 2.0 is available for download, so I took the opportunity to reread it, after a recent chat over coffee with Jordan Frank of Traction Software.

Enterprise 2.0 is Now Free

The article, at least.  MIT Sloan Management Review, with support from IBM, is making a set of ‘classic’ (thanks!) articles freely available to all comers. So the full text of my original SMR article “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration” can be downloaded here.

I don’t know if this is a temporary or permanent arrangement, so I’d suggest acting quickly.

One of McAfee’s central arguments is on the importance of emergence in successful Enterprise 2.0 initiatives. Here’s the way he puts it:

Second, the technologists of Enterprise 2.0 are trying hard not to impose on users any preconceived notions about how work should proceed or how output should be categorized or structured. Instead, they’re building tools that let these aspects of knowledge work emerge.

This is a profound shift. Most current platforms, such as knowledge management systems, information portals, intranets and workflow applications, are highly structured from the start, and users have little opportunity to influence this structure. Wiki inventor Cunningham highlights an important shortcoming of this approach: “For questions like ‘What’s going on in the project?’ we could design a database. But whatever fields we put in the database would turn out to be what’s not important about what’s going on in the project. What’s important about the project is the stuff you don’t anticipate.” [p.25]

In an accounting or ERP system, the system’s designers specify all aspects of workflow, database design, and information structure in advance. Users are expected to select from among pre-defined choices and enter only such data as the designers have provided for. In designing a system for emergence, the designers leave a number of these decisions open; waiting for users to fill in the blanks. So, for example, instead of locking down a taxonomy for categorizing documents, the designers might provide a tagging system to allow a folksonomy to emerge from the idiosyncratic choices of each user.

The attraction of emergence is twofold. One is the realization that conventionally structured approaches have generally failed when tackling knowledge intensive problems. Knowledge work and knowledge workers don’t mesh well with the structuring techniques appropriate to industrial work.

The second is the perceived success of emergent approaches behind current Web 2.0 success stories on the Internet. It’s easy to see the power of emergence in such examples as flickr, facebook, and technorati.

Transplanting those experiences inside the boundaries of the organization is no simple task. What works at the scale of the public internet may not generate sufficient momentum within the confines of a single organization. Moreover, Internet success stories ignore or gloss over the failures and also-rans. Failure in the market is tolerated in ways that don’t translate well inside organizations. 

You want the energy and creative outcomes that can come from a successful emergent approach, but you can’t simply rely on unaided market forces to fuel the process. “Unaided” is the key notion. Emergent successes in the market benefit from scale and viral strategies, but they don’t happen by accident. For starters, there is a marketing strategy and plan that exists in parallel with a technology implementation plan.

Enterprise 2.0 efforts within organizations also need a marketing plan to accompany their implementation plans. Like any marketing plan, this plan must identify and characterize its target market of potential users. In particular, the plan needs to identify those potential users who are most likely to benefit from the new capabilities and whose successful use of the technology will be interpreted as an endorsement to be emulated.

Is a marketing plan, by itself, sufficient to allow the other aspects of an Enterprise 2.0 implementation to emerge from use? Appropriate scaffolding and careful seeding of content will prove more useful. A complete taxonomy, for example, may overwhelm a small set of potential early adopters. On the other hand, an empty tagging system will prove too much of a blank slate for users more accustomed to the structures of conventional systems. Providing a sample of suggested tags or categories coupled with some live content can point users in the right direction.

Supporters and early adopters will also benefit from coaching and mentoring on how to use selected technologies to accomplish their goals. This coaching would focus on working out strategies for how to use the technology to accomplish specific business and organizational goals. This requires a different kind of engagement between the implementation team and the target user group. In particular, it entails introducing the user population to key design questions and issues that would typically have been dealt with by the implementation team.

In some respects, “emergence” is a fancy organizational development word for “messy.” The more our systems must deal with the complexities of the real world, the messier they must be to accommodate that messiness. Large scale organizations in general, and IT organizations in particular are not generally comfortable with messiness. Calling it emergence helps. But the fundamental need is to acknowledge that it is more useful to learn as we go and build our systems accordingly, than it is to force fit these systems into structures that cannot contain them.

 

 

Pushing for simpler knowledge management

Dave Snowden’s blog Cognitive Edge has rapidly become one of my top sources for insight into the subtleties of managing knowledge in the organization. Earlier this summer, he packaged up some of his insights and advice on the connections between learning and knowledge that reflect his bias that “narrative material, anecdotes, pictures, fragments of stories is more valuable than structured documents and closer to the way we naturally share and create knowledge and learning.” [Learning lessons or lessons learnt? ]

For example, here is one of his action recommendations:

Learning lessons or lessons learnt?

  • Make capture continuous and a part of the job, not a post job after action review. The more capturing stories is part of the way we do things around here, the better it is. The other advantage is that you can then see trends emerging in the way that people index the story material which allows early intervention. This sort of switch is key to moving from a retrospective and codified set of documents, to a dynamic narrative based learning ecology.

We need to be learning lessons continuously, not documenting lessons learnt.

If many earlier approaches to knowledge management were technologically over-engineered, Snowden is essentially arguing for the power of simplicity.