Great illustrations: valuing Knowledge, Orchestrated Serendipity & Immunity Management

I’ve been in Iran and Dubai. And as often happens when working collaboratively great ideas emerge.

Valuing Knowledge

Firstly to Tehran and an issue which so many organisations struggle with: how to describe the true value of Knowledge to an organisation?  We are good at valuing fixed assets but poor at applying similar criteria to intangible Knowledge Assets or Intellectual Capital.


This story, the keyboard and the patent, might change perceptions:

A few weeks back a new keyboard costing $20 was delivered to the Director. After a couple of days a lady from premises appeared to place a sticker on it to denote it was an asset of the company and henceforth will appear on the company’s register of assets. The asset is managed!

Coincidentally the same day as the premises lady appears the Director gets notification of the award of a US patent which costs in excess of $20,000 to acquire.

US Patent

US Patent Certificate

The patent will need to be protected and if necessary enforced yet in most organisations that patent is not shown as an asset of the company on its balance sheet even though its value (in terms of future revenues) is very significant.

By way of a further example, if I lose my Macbook I can replace the hardware (at a cost) but the value of the intangible ‘Knowledge’ stored on it (documents, emails, presentations, videos, contacts) can’t be replaced instantly unless I’ve taken steps to back it up on an external hard drive or in the cloud in which case I have managed my Knowledge!

Orchestrated Serendipity -creating a physical Knowledge Sharing environment

On my way back from Tehran I stopped in Dubai to catch up with a number of old friends which is why on Wednesday I spent a couple of hours at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) located in Dubai Academic City who:

… is responsible for the growth and quality of private education in Dubai. We support schools, universities, parents, students, educators, investors and government partners to create a high quality education sector focused on happiness and wellbeing.

Having arrived at my hotel in the early hours I was not at my best when some 5 hours later the cab dropped me outside KHDA’s offices.  I was early for my meeting with Luke Naismith Director of Research so thought I might see if I could find a coffee shop.


KHDA’s Reception

I was warmly greeted by two very affable Emirati who ushered me to a seat whereupon coffee was served. Over the next 15 minutes my whole demeanour changed.


Luke demonstrating the presentation ‘lectern’ in the boardroom.

‘Abdullah’ one of the Excellence Team responsible for ensuring adherence to the  Dubai Government’s Excellence Program showed me around as Luke was in a meeting.

I saw senior people conducting meetings in very transparent meeting areas; the Head’s PA was arranging appointments from the lobby. There was a relaxed yet professional atmosphere despite the presence of budgerigars flying around.

What caught my eye (apart from the boardroom) was the merging of the old and the new.


The Clipping Service

Each day KHDA compiles a clipping service of relevant news that it sends to all employees.

In addition it houses them in its downstairs work area so that all visitors and employees who choose to work in the communal area can keep up to speed.



Luke emerged and showed me around. I noted the layout promoted an environment of transparency so that people share and can find others.

The boardroom was an eye opener. Everyone can see what’s going on and the strategy appears as a set of diagrams as the picture shows.

PowerPoint presentations do take place and Video Conferencing but the emphasis is on brevity, agile working and rapid empowered decision making.

Paper is absent from most areas, people are treated like adults and act like them.  And staff turnover is low though if people leave the collaborative team working nature of KHDA means their loss is covered.


Upper floor: Collaboration and Training Area

Interestingly Enterprise Social Networking Tools such as Yammer have not yet had the impact I thought they might even though the whole physical environment is geared up for collaboration.

Immunity (Risk) Management

The most visible illustration of KHDA’s positive approach shows in how the board manages risk (often the driver for KM initiatives).  One of the team coined the term Immunity Management as a way of anticipating future ‘bumps in the road’. So they have an Immunity Register not a Risk Register that is reviewed regularly by the board. The simple act of taking a positive view has resulted in very innovative ideas.

And finally

In Dubai the imposition of quality standards permeates organisational thinking and sets a blueprint for organisations to follow. At its best (Emirates Airline) service is exceptional; at its worst strict adherence to standards can stifle creativity. KHDA is an illustration of how the pursuit of customer service excellence can change the way an organisation delivers it.

Where the above examples meet is in the need for identification and maintenance of Knowledge Assets or Intellectual Capital. More on that in future postings.

‘…they must put something in the coffee…’ from KM Mid East

A quote in conversation with one of my fellow speakers at KM Mid East Abu Dhabi 2011.  We were talking about why people like working in her organisation; she herself has been there many years and now has a Knowledge Management (KM) brief.

That sense of pride was evident among many of the delegates I spoke to. It was borne out in the results of the Knowledge Survey conducted by Sparknow in advance of the event wherein the majority of people said they’d contribute for a sense of wider acheivement suggesting that monetary rewards are not motivators for knowledge sharing.

If I’m honest I was surprised by the number of people in the audience who put their hands up when I asked at the start of my address ‘how many of you are in a KM role?’ Over half of an audience of 120 plus drawn from across the region said they were.


The event was a delightful mixture of formal and informal in a way the the Arab world excels at. Held in the splendour of the Intercontinental Hotel Abu Dhabi it brought together a mix of KM practitioners and wannabees.  The organisors will be posting speeches, videos and photos here; these are my observations on the people and customs and what might or might not work in KM.

There is great respect for the views and opinions of others and people are listened to attentively; delegates were happy to contribute personal experiences for this is very much an oral culture.  And we were reminded by one of the presenters that

the Koran pushes us for more knowledge

which would suggest KM is pushing against a door that is at least adjar.

The event was a reminder to me of how there is no one size fits all for a KM initative (KM ‘Project’ was fiercely debated and dismissed by the delegates). It was vividly illustrated a day later in a conversation I had in the offices of a government agency when it emerged that it is not uncommon for an employee to be called half a dozen times a day by his or her boss.  Contrast that to Western cultures where interactions usually take place via email or instant messaging. And the option of spending a day working at home to focus uninterrupted on a challenging issue is not one that seems to have permeated practices in the Gulf.

These were my takeaways for those running KM initiatives in the region:

  • An organisation’s culture is the sum of the culture of its individuals
  • Introducing financial incentives for sharing is counterproductive
  • The process of transferring knowledge between expatriate workers who still make up a large part of the workforce and nationall staff works best when additional time is built in at the end of a contract for that process to occur
  • More information does not make for better decisions; a case of paralysis by analysis?
  • Pictures stimulate conversation and brevity in written communication is preferred
  • Formal peer to peer dialogue usually requires approval of superiors which means informal ‘water cooler’ coversations often yield most benefit
  • Stories amplify KM and are readily understood as a way of exchanging lessons.

Here are some of the distinquished speakers (John Girard, David Gurteen, Dr Allam Ahmed, Luke Naismith plus yours truly)