What Lisbon, Eastbourne, Neil Usher’s book and Knowledge Management have in common: Importance of environment.

Hands up, I wimped out and decamped to Lisboa to work and write when winter (Inverno in Portuguese) hit Eastbourne last week. I had a few people I needed to catch up with, some reading I’d promised I would do as well as prepping for forthcoming masterclasses.

Since my teens I’ve found a change of scenery / the right environment often acts as a catalyst for generating ideas. Indeed one of the questions I ask when trying to determine how knowledge flows in an organisation is “where do you have your best ideas or conversations?” The venue/space is important.

Which rather nicely brings me onto one of the books I vowed to read while I was by the Tejo.

The Elemental Workplace: Everyone deserves a fantastic workplace

I first heard Neil Usher at the SocialNow Event run by Ana Neves in Lisboa in 2017. He gave an entertaining presentation in which he presented his hypothesis that there are 12 essential Elements (design principles) all good workplace designs require. Coming hard on the heels of research I’d conducted earlier that year and a Masterclass I’d run in Asia on Collaborative Knowledge Spaces this was music to my ears. I’ve always believed in the importance of planning for “Orchestrated Serendipity” when designing spaces that encourage the sharing of knowledge. Neil’s presentation struck a chord and I vowed to go and see some of his projects.

I was delighted therefore when I learned Neil had ‘put pen to paper’ and written The Elemental Workplace” an easy to read tome that I imagine will become essential reading for people looking to create a stimulating enviroment in which to work.

Already my copy has plenty of dog ears and I found myself drawn to Part One – Why, and Part Four – What could possibly go wrong?

If you take nothing more away from the book than remembering these three quotes in Part One it will have been a good investment:

An effective workplace is one that is built on the principle of simplicity, an effective workplace is one that inspires and energises and an effective workplace is one that can facilitate learning and development.

Moving onto Part Four and this paragraph under the heading “Build it and they will come” stood out for me:

On your travels and in your research, you will discover amazing physical spaces that just do not work, because the creators believed that was enough. It is never enough. Change has to be nurtured, enabled, facilitated, continued. Build it and you will have just built it, nothing more.”

Perhaps my favourite sentence in the book is on on P36 under the heading “Ether”

A fantastic workplace can make a huge contribution to the customer advocacy of an organisation by creating a natural association with admirable values and looking after its people.

This is a book those involved in Knowledge & Information Management should read a few times. The checklists are great but you will have to work out who owns the collaborative knowledge space topic and where the idea fits in your own programme (if at all).

Murals changing society

And so to Lisboa where I spent a hectic Sunday morning out and about seeking examples of Street / Urban Art. Bear with me as I tell you why. Fortunate enough to live in Lisboa as well as Eastbourne I’ve been struck by the difference in the way some of the less salubrious parts of both cities have dealt with urban deprivation.

As the Head of GAU Lisboa  Urban Art Gallery (GAU) explained:

The Galeria de Arte Urbana of the Departamento de Património Cultural (Department of Cultural Heritage), from Câmara Municipal de Lisboa (Lisbon’s City Council) has as it’s main mission the promotion of graffiti and Street Art in Lisbon, in a official and authorized scope and in a pathway of respect for the patrimonial and landscaped values, in opposition with the illegal acts of vandalism that harm the City.

The district of Padre Cruz is the largest Urban Housing development in Europe with some 8,000 homes. Violence, poverty, drugs and deprivation were rife in 2016 before the Municipality introduced the concept of Urban Art with the active engagement of the local community.  The transformation has been amazing: residents now have a pride in their community and the incidence of crime has decreased dramatically.

I am not comparing today’s businesses with Padre Cruz but I am posing the hypothesis to those who are skeptical about the importance of creating the right environment for collaboration, knowledge sharing and human interactions – Orchestrated Serendipity!

Rua da Gloria Lisboa.

Back in Lisboa I found myself surrounded by numerous visitors all marvelling at the murals that have been painted in various parts of the city at the behest of GAU.

It’s not a coincidence that the resurgance of a vibrant artistic and technologically gifted workforce has at its fulcrum a decision taken by the Municipality to set up GAU at a time of deep austerity.

That they curate the work providing a legacy for future generations is also farsighted.

And finally

Why is this relevant? Because as part of our commitment to our community Bees Homes (the business we set up some 10 months ago) is working with the authorities in Eastbourne to try and transfer some of the knowledge gained in Lisboa and create a version of Urban Art here. We all know that a house ‘staged’ properly with good pictures will attract more buyers and achieve a better price than one that is not. The same surely applies to the environments in which we live and work?

Adapting Neil’s strapline: “Everybody deserves a fantastic environment that inspires and energises”

 

 

How to avoid “drinking from the fire hydrant” at Arup

Taking a break can be therapeutic as well as challenging if the venue is so good it makes you reluctant to leave.

The world as viewed from within the walls of Portugal’s highest hill village Marvao seems different from the 24×7 connected envirnoment we all inhabit: Manners matter; avarice is not the driver for day to day life; food is to be savoured not devoured as a fuel between meetings; conversations are not superficial based on what each brings to the table and; the sky really is blue not pale blue impacted by pollution.

It was good to get away. These last few months have been hectic to say the least:

  • The launch of two new businesses Bees Homes and Bees Homes Financial Services
  • Arranging and planning an Asian Tour in November comprising Masterclasses, presentations and book launches – more soon!
  • Knee and dental surgery in Lisboa

As a portfolio worker you are often spinning plates and managing tight shifting schedules for clients. Yet every so often a ‘gig’ is both rewarding and stimulating as happened this week.

Knowledge in a Digital Age at Arup

A few months back the KM team at Arup asked if I’d kick off Day Two of their Global Skills Network get together. I was happy to accept. Arup get KM and do it as well as anyone being the recipient of a MAKE award. And yet working across generations and managing the risk of critical knowledge loss challenges them as it does everyone.

Like most businesses Arup has gone digital and is trying out many new technologies. It’s not a state secret, they want to be the best in the built environment. My remit was to act as a provocateur for the sessions that followed reflecting on what Knowledge in a Digital Age might look like and how they might respond to the opportunities it presents. I began as follows:

Some 20 years back Tesco Chairman Lord MacLaurin said when he saw the early results from analysis of the Clubcard holders spending patterns:

“What scares me about this is that you know more about my customers after 3 months that I know after 30 years”

Think of the modern digital economy as a massive extension of that Clubcard concept involving far more data points.

Recognising that today’s worker is deluged with ‘stuff’ and that few organisations have created an effective integrated dashboard that iincludes activities, skills, experiences, transactional data and social collaboration I addressed six basic questions:

  • Who or what should I trust? (Which sources, individual and team’s capacity to absorb and the need for trusted curated material)
  • What can I do? (To prevent Critical Knowledge loss)
  • Why should I? (Make better, more informed decisions)
  • Where do I find? (What ‘we’ know about a topic) nb Here I spoke about the recent judgement in the Trant vs Mott MacDonald case around a Common Data Environment (shared Knowledge Base)
  • When should I? (Incentivise / reward and in what format)
  • How do I go about it? (Engaging across generation and virtually)

My summary led into panel sessions whch it would be unfair to document in detail however I am sure Arup won’t mind if I paraphrase a bit since they are not uncommon:

  • People consume knowledge in different ways therefore its important to publish in a variety of forms across different platforms at different times.
  • There is a need to value team collaboration and authorship. Rewarding contributions in an environment where people believe knowledge is for everyone and not tradeable might be counterproductive.
  • There is a danger that in focusing on the digital environment and explosion of tools you lose sight of the importance of the person and networks. A way to prevent this is to develop an incubation lab to try out new technologies with beta users.
  • Knowledge bases and how to guides are important; new entrants rely on them for answers but often fail to ask “is it appropriate?”
  • Today’s youngster is comfortable with the search process having grown up immersed in technology. What can we do to bridge the gap, create effective knowledge transfer mechanisms with experienced Skill Network Leaders who struggle to articulate the question they are trying to ask of knowledge and information people and systems?
  • Knowledge informs research which drives client business.

And finally

Back to the title. It seems to me that although there are huge technological advances in the way individual, team, organisational and external knowledge, information and data is presented and we have access to, we are still struggling to absorb it all let alone keep up with the tools used. Despite technology giving us the ability to analyse data, information and knowledge to a higher level than ever before we are still hugely reliant on search to present the findings. Yet few seem to have cracked the ability to search across internal and external sources concurrently.

In a previous post I talked about the need for Assisted Search . My session this week reinforced that: A Knowledge Base is a form of curated assisted search where those responsible for it have assembled critical knowledge their organisation needs to sustain and grow its business.

The role of the knowledge professional in that remains vital and “curate” is one of the 8 ‘ates I describe in “Navigating the Minefield…” and will be going into more detail on when I visit Asia in November.

 

 

 

AI driven expertise & profiling: hype, hope or déjà vu?

May was a busy month. Apart from helping establish then launch a real estate and mortgage business (Bees Homes) I was in Lisboa for Social Now and London for KM Legal UK.

I attended both in the expectation of learning more about the onrush of Artificial Intelligence and its implications for the Knowledge Management profession.

Specifically, I wanted to see how the encouragingly styled Talent and Knowledge Matching / Profiling systems might tackle the challenges of knowledge loss when people depart, of onboarding when people arrive and identifying / ranking expertise that might otherwise be opaque when pulling together teams.

It’s not a new topic: back in the late 90’s I was Business & Strategy Advisor to Sopheon PLC when we acquired Organik (a technology for identifying expertise) and built systems for US Insurers looking to establish the best teams for clients based upon expertise. We never cracked it even though we knew what the issues were (usually motivation)!

Seeking answers at SocialNow Lisboa while Keynote speaker Ellen Trude watches.

Armed with a list of ‘use cases’ I’d worked on with Martin White I set off in search of answers to these questions from both vendors and KM practitioners?

  • Onboarding: A new employee with many years of highly relevant experience joins the firm. How long will it be before their experience is ranked at the same level as their predecessors?
  • Legal: Is the profiling process compatible with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation? The thoughts of the Information Commissioner on this are worth a look. Profiling & Automated Decision Making
  • Functionality: Do they offer the ability to present a list of people ranked by expertise?
  • Language: In multinational companies where it is especially difficult to know all the experts, how does the vendor coppe with the fact that documents, meetings and social media traffic will be in local languages?
  • Chinese Walls: How does the application cope with expertise gained on projects that are secure, a common issue in law, finance and R&D where walls need to be erected to prevent commercial information being divulged>
  • Testing: What User Testing is undertaken with a client before signing a contract to verify that the profiling system works?

So, what did I discover? Thierry de Bailllon in his closing Keynote put it very succinctly but with a caveat:

Embrace or die? 88% of technologies already include AI.

Self reinforcing bias?

it’s not Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)!

This Twitter exchange between Ana Neves and Luis Suarez prompted by a question I posed of the Workplace (Facebook at Work) team following their presentation is revealing:

May 12 there’s been a few questions about expertise location 2017 I don’t remember that being the case in previous years #SocialNow

May 12 Well, I think people are starting to understand how critical it is to know who is who within the org beyond just content, right?

Replying to totally! It surprises me it took so long. It’s amazing the role #ESN can have in unveiling that expertise #SocialNow

On the surface the case for ESN is compelling. Yet the majority of vendors at SocialNow focus on information exchange and conversation rather than the capturing and cataloguing of it. One,@mangoappsinc, had a neat tool (they won the “coolest app” prize) with the ability to upgrade comments from threaded discussions and posts to create ranked knowledge resources from the mass of information and conversation.

So, ESN can show who has answered what question, conduct searches across conversations and in many cases act as a project management tool, the new Facebook at Work (Workplace) now allows the creation of documents for example.

Provided the application is linked to HR systems it is possible to retrieve profiles and see what expertise an individual might have. As one vendor (@OrangeTrail showcasing Facebook at Work)) who uses bots to generate responses put it:

‘Questions’ is the key to find experts as people don’t keep profiles updated.

I concur and they are great facilitation platforms though with advanced features that will suffice for many. Yet I left Lisboa though feeling organisations will need to rely on assisted search for some time if they want to take a deep dive into expertise

know what you don’t know

Peer Assist “Problems” for discussion

So onto London and KM Legal UK. An interesting Day One ended with a psuedo Peer Assist in which AI was raised a lot.

One observation (facilitation tip): the session failed to commit the ‘owner’ of the problem to action so as a result the feedback loop to plenary became a series of “we said this.”

Again, as in previous years I felt the focus was on operational tools and techniques which means that KIM Professionals in Legal are more at risk from the onrush of technology.

It reminded me of the issue Librarians faced with the arrival of end user search in the mid 90’s which finished their monopoly of being the people who found stuff in organisations.

Day Two took a deeper dive into technology and its potential impact.

AI in Legal today

This slide sets out where AI is making a difference in Legal.

I tweeted having heard Cliff Fluet’s excellent presentation:

Paralegals beware. AI is coming. Adapt or die?

And I questioned:

How wide is scope of AI? More than Doc Analysis / Creation. Opportunity to broaden knowledge base

As yet no one had focused on expertise and profiling so when one presenter cited the case where a newly arrived CEO asked the Head of HR / Talent Management to let him have profiles / competencies of the staff using their system it got my attention.

I asked whether the results the HR head gave the CEO inferred a level of expertise. It didn’t which got thinking that if the data set is incomplete and the issue of self reinforcing bias is not addressed then over reliance on one source for identifying ‘experts’ is dangerous. Imagine your career prospects if for whatever reason your name wasn’t on the ‘expert’ list given to the CEO?

and finally

So where do I see the state of expertise and profiling systems? Patchy!

Yes there are certainly companies who ‘get it’ but can they do it?

I am indebted here to Martin White who in an excellent report “People and expertise seeking – an overview” summarises the predicament thus:

The most important lesson learned is the need for an expertise location strategy that is linked into HR processes, knowledge management, training, job appraisals and social media development. Finding people with expertise is not a ‘search problem’.  Good search tools can certainly help but without attention being paid to profile quality (even if other types of content are being searched) and a commitment by employees to share their knowledge expertise discovery will not be as successful as anticipated or required.

My takeaways:

  • KIM professionals need a clear strategy (working in partnership with other stakeholders such as HR and IT) and be clear on the questions being solved by any system;
  • They need to be clear what they are getting, what’s missing and how it mitigates the potential for self reinforcing bias when they enter discussions with vendors around automating expertise seeking and profiling;
  • They need to recognise the importance of their role in facilitating the adoption of such systems and accept this is just a part of a portfolio of approaches of identifying, capturing and retaining expertise;
  • They need to be clear what critical knowledge actually is in their organisation and who is likely to have it in order to assess the veracity of the results of any pilot;
  • It doesn’t matter what solution you adopt, if your environment is not conducive to the sharing of expertise and people don’t see the value in it then save the money; and
  • In any event you cannot capture everything people know; we learn and share through stories (failures rather than successes) and those often remain hidden.