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.




Collaborative Knowledge Space: Asian reflections & beyond

International Islamic University of Malaysia Kuala Lumpur

I’ve been back a couple of weeks since the Masterclass I ran at the International Islamic University of Kuala Lumpur.

Today I received some of the photos of the event so figured now is a good time to reflect and provide an update on the survey analysis and the timing of the report I promised to write.

It’s also a good time to remind Eileen Tan from Asia and Ciaran Joyce from Europe that they have not yet given me their addresses so I can send them “Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion” which is being printed as I write this.

survey report:

Last week I met with Professor Clive Holtham and Ningy (Jonny) Jiang at Cass Business School to review some of the responses.  We are now working on a report and paper to appear in May when I will share some of the findings at the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of NetIKX.

survey analysis in KL

Among a number of practical exercises the KL masterclass group undertook throughout the day was to look at the questions and 120 responses and decide which they thought most compelling.

One group chose Question 7: “What do you understand by the term digital workspace?”

They were asked to share their findings with the rest of the group which made for a very interesting discussion. Alongside is what they chose.

This one also stood out:

My office has all the things I need to work, computer (obviously), tools, my old notebooks, reference documents, books, address book/name card
case, telephone, toys, post it notes with reminders. Scrunch that all up and make it available anywhere and anytime via the internet and an interface.

What I found interesting: there were more definitions than you could throw a stick at!

What was also revealing from Question 2 Where do you have your most interesting work conversations: informal space is really important but there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that will work since people are people and have different styles and ways of working.

masterclass takeaways:

The takeaway session

I was particularly delighted by the delegates response when I asked them to list 3 things / learning’s they would take away from the Masterclass.

Here’s what they said:

A conducive collaboration workspace can encourage innovation

Increase collaborative hub / breakout spaces

(I must) Go out of my room and meet more people

Technology is critical for virtual collaboration

(An understanding of) The digital space success factors

Mind shift is important to make change work in an organisation

Ask specific questions to area experts

Issues on establishing digital space including the importance of establishing it in promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing

The kind of approaches to establishing digital space.

How to create effective virtual team space and collaborative space

(An understanding of) The drivers for knowledge space

Understanding on the concept of an effective knowledge space design for collaboration and innovation

Space matters, either physical, digital or neutral and we are dealing with people.

Methods of sharing:

·       Postcards to the future

·       “let’s go for a walk”

·       Memory page to explain experience

How to make collaborative space work:

·       Conducive space (online/face to face)

·       The hybrid of both is important

Know the culture to avoid culture barriers and communication breakdown.

Virtual collaboration can only be effective if it is properly planned, everyone provided full training risks clearly identified.

A conducive collaborative workspace can encourage innovation.

Technology is critical for virtual collaboration.

Knowledge sharing can improve productivity.

It is important to know how to create the environment to encourage knowledge sharing.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration can happen anywhere, any time, any device.

It felt like everyone went away having had a great day. I certainly enjoyed it and am already looking forward to returning in November while I am in Asia for KM Asia.

Paul and the Masterclass delegates