“You have the wrong passport”: KM in Khartoum

I’ve been in Khartoum. I was there as President Trump announced the ban on travellers from 7 countries which included Sudan. The impact on morale (a week after the outgoing Obama administration had eased sanctions on the country) was palpable. Bans don’t hit the powerful they hit ordinary people with families overseas or like many I spoke to who visit the US for work or research.

a week on “Managing Knowledge in a Connected World”

So it was a poignant backdrop to the week long visit as part of the series of events “Managing Knowledge in a Connected World” I’d organised with the Sudanese Knowledge Society.

Those of you who follow the work I do might recall a change of approach this year. Included in a paragraph on my values and approach for 2017 I said:

I am counting my blessings and getting on with doing ‘stuff’ I think will make a difference in different parts of the globe and where less is definitely more.

This was the first opportunity where I felt my presence might act as a catalyst to advancing KM practice while providing encouragement and support. Sponsored by some of Sudan’s leading companies and universities and also the World Bank Group Sudan it comprised four main events:

  • Workshop on Sudanese Internet Content — 28 – 29 January
  • Forum on Knowledge Sharing — 30 January
  • Masterclass on Knowledge Audits — 31 January
  • Reverse Brainstorm Session on Virtual Work — 1 February

Khartoum International Airport

As with any visit where you are reliant on others to make arrangements there is an amount of trepidation as you step off the plane and enter the customs hall: will the person who is going to help me get a visa be there; will the authorities let me in?

After a short delay, while I negotiated with the immigration authorities over paying my ‘entry fee’ in Euros (which I had and they don’t accept) vs Dollars (which I didn’t have and they do accept), my welcoming party arrived to settle the entry fee and ease me through.

Corinthia Hotel Khartoum

I was excited by the prospect of returning to a country I first visited in 2010 and to a hotel (Corinthia) that remains an iconic structure in a prime position overlooking the Nile. My initial impression is Khartoum has changed little since I was there in 2013. It has a feel of Jeddah in the mid 80’s but with a few iconic structures.

The absence of cranes in sharp contrast to Dubai where I stopped en route suggests a country that is struggling economically due to the loss of oil revenues from the secession of South Sudan.

enriching Sudanese intranet content

Day One/Two: Early morning in Khartoum is magical when you overlook the Nile and the view from my suite is amazing.

The call to prayer evokes a fond memory of decades of travel to the Middle East (and Arabic speaking Africa) and the mid to high 20’s temperature a welcome change from the grey cold that is the England I left behind.

I was asked to give the opening Keynote at this event and to set the following two day’s of activities into context.

My laptop is not compatible with the projector despite having the adapter. As always I have backed up my work on DropBox and given secure access to Professor Gada Kadoda the driving force and inspiration behind the Sudanese Knowledge Society.

The two day event is predicated on the assumption that content is key to the success of a country and business. These points emerged:

  • Information and Digital Literacy Skills are in short supply;
  • Slow line speeds make uploading of content in a web based environment difficult;
  • There is limited use of the internet in Sudan but everyone uses mobiles to connect with such as Facebook which is widely embraced;
  • People don’t trust “Facebook News” (or any other) and there is limited content or data. But what there is people don’t know about;
  • There is no recognised and agreed Arabic Natural Language Directory (the base on which software such as Artificial Intelligence might build); and
  • There isn’t a culture of sharing (and storing) content in organisations.

creating a knowledge sharing environment: the role of HR professionals

DAM HR Forum

Day Three and the program shifts from strategic to operational. I am ‘booked’ for an evening with leading HR professionals. I begin by moving everyone around and asking them to make introductions. I repeat the instruction a couple of times. The third time I just ask them to move and the attendees naturally engage and answer the question, “what does KM mean to you?”

In plenary reflection they note how a neutral object (me) created an environment that broke down barriers enabling them to engage in a way they would have not done before.

Three hours fly by. The group has identified barriers to knowledge sharing and come up with a number of ways to overcome them. They leave engaged and animated at 10pm in the evening after I close with a few illustrations of what a Cheif People Officer who looks after the KM function does.  Grateful thanks here to Penny Newman who answered a few questions from me prior to my visit to Sudan.

masterclass on Knowledge Audits: a practical guide

‘Room 1’ Proposed Masterclass venue

Day Four and I am up early to check whether the room we are going to spend a full day in is fit for purpose. As expected there are a few ‘niggles’ to be resolved but its so much better than the room originally allocated.

Theoretically Room 1 may have seated 20 but with no natural light and little space to move around it would have sucked all the energy out of the room.

14 turn up and all really engage as the feedback confirmed.

Actual Masterclass venue

“It was a wonderful opportunity to have participated in a such an informative session, I hope we could get more such opportunities.
I found your Talk and Master Class about KM and KA very interesting and informative.

Was delighted to be among the participants, thanks to Paul to be able to cover all this important material without us losing interest and enthusiasm. It is a novel and rewarding start that we will hopefully plan and implement at our different organizations.”

reverse brainstorm on working virtually

Graduate group in a reverse brainstorm session

Day Five was spent with the future leaders of Sudan and another 3 hour session with graduates and members of Education without Borders Sudan. After showing a few videos and slides about working virtually I asked the 65 people present to get into 6 groups of 10 and discuss what they could do to make virtual working fail. Though not much room to move about everyone jumped at the chance of getting into a practical exercise.

A couple of observations on the facilitation technique I used:

  • Getting everyone’s attention is a challenge. This time if people didn’t ‘come to order’ quickly I made a point of asking the recalcitrant one’s what they were discussing pointing out to the room that often people carry on conversations because they are enthused.
  • It’s good to share. The act of going round the room in a circular fashion to see what the other teams have done creates momentum and illustrates that its not just about your ideas. Some teams ended up using ideas from other teams in their final submissions.
  • Voting (everyone has a sticky dot to place on the issue they think is most important) is a great hit and provides a visual image of how the room thinks

and finally

As is often the case you learn so much about a country and its people from its stories and proverbs. Having read a number before I left Gatwick I kept this in mind for all my sessions:

Our wasted days are the days we never laugh

After a week there and seeing how my visit served to pull many people together this one struck me as being apposite:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.

And so to the title: if there is one abiding memory I took away its the resilience of the population and the young who have had so many doors slammed in their faces yet come back for more. I recall one moving story from a very bright and well qualified woman who was repeatedly told by big western institutions: “You are the perfect fit for the job and we’d hire you tomorrow if we could, we can’t, you have the wrong passport!” She is marooned in Khartoum unable to get a local job that fits her expertise and unable to leave!

Now onto the next ‘mission’ which is to Kuala Lumpur and a Masterclass on “Working smarter in a knowledge world: why space matters for collaboration, innovation and knowledge transfer” in conjunction with the International Islamice University of Malaysia. Much more on that next time.

Helping businesses plan exit strategies and pitch for funds: “when I becomes we”

Ironically a day after the 144th Open Championship I am at the Surrey Research Park in Guildford helping a group of entrepreneurs practice their pitching though not on the golf course! Its part of the University of Surrey’s Investor Readiness Programme that brings together fledgling business owners seeking early stage funding.

The programme, spread over 3 days and featuring a range of accountants, lawyers, former CEO’s and government officials, is one reason why University of Surrey ranks among the top 3 incubator centres in the UK. I’ve been invited along to make the programme more interactive and will be using facilitation tools and techniques often found in a Knowledge Management Toolkit.

My formal brief for the afternoon on Day One is two fold:

  • Get the businesses to think about a possible exit strategy
  • Begin the process of pitiching to investors

My unstated and informal brief:

  • Create an environment that is conducive to sharing knowledge as a community in the future.

Planning for exit

Few businesses begin life thinking about how they might hand it over and transfer their knowledge.  But investors are keen to know what their exit strategy is likely to be and whether it will survive their departure.

Since many embryonic businesses are centred on a bright individual who often holds the key to the Intellectual Property ‘door’ it is essential that good Knowledge & Information governance practices are adopted from Day One so that it can withstand his or her departure.

Simple steps such as cataloguing and storing of formal governance meetings are essential: Due diligence professionals will demand such documentation so better to have assembled it from the get go rather than incur cost later.

I begin by asking this simple question:Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 08.01.45

Regular readers of my postings will be familiar with this technique (Reverse Brainstorm) and the 6 step process I use to run it:

  1. Get into groups (4 is a good #)
  2. List how to make ‘it’ fail
  3. Go see what others have done
  4. Add what you like to your list
  5. Choose the most important 3
  6. Share in plenary

The aim of this session which I ran with the programme director James Macfarlane was to get the businesses to develop their own checklist and key performance indicators (KPI’s) to measure how they are progressing along their journey.

Here’s one of the team’s workings and below the 6 major issues likely to derail an exit prior to and including the due diligence phase:Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.55.51

  • Failure to protect their Intellectual Property
  • Lack of clarity among team over personal and organisation’s exit strategy
  • Failure to plan for departures and who will succeed
  • Failure to meet over optimistic targets
  • Misrepresentation of warranty information
  • Failure to develop testimonials and reference sites

Testing what others heard

Having recognised the importance of at least thinking about the exit strategy before making a pitch for funds James and I now challenged each business to present their proposition in 90 secconds using these headings. I gave these instructions:

  1. Break into pairsScreenshot 2015-07-21 09.00.20
  2. Take 5 minutes to plan what you are going to say
  3. Give the pitch to your partner
  4. Listen to your partner’s pitch
  5. Back in plenary: make your partner’s pitch to the whole group
  6. In 2 groups discuss what you liked about styles and content
  7. Debrief in plenary and vote for the most compelling proposition

IMG_3701Listening (and watching) well is important to presenting well and the title I heard you to say and understood you to mean’ is a pointer to the need to focus on different ways to tell the story of the business opportunity to different audiences.

We encouraged each presenter to think about how the message they are giving will be interpreted and left them with this metaphor.

Imagine you are writing a press release, this part of your pitch is the headline and the synopsis of the article.  The aim is to get questions (in more detail) from interested investors as a result of this (very) brief pitch.

And finally

As always when you work with bright people you learn.

  • The importance of revenue recognition in the software industry when buying or selling a business – for a good description see: SOP 97-2
  • The point at which you do a business plan is ‘when I becomes we’
  • A good strategy should be capable of being represented as a picture
  • When promoting your business remember to say ‘what it does not how it does it’
  • People buy you not the numbers and they buy the story you tell: if you can’t say what difference your ‘product’ will make then investors won’t be interested either

How to begin a project in a new business: collaboration, communication and a dash of KM

A week back someone asked me for a bit of advice about getting projects off the ground so I thought I’d share this with her (and you). At the request of the Executive Chairman I’m doing a really interesting piece of work at the moment with a new management team. If we pull it off it will be a great example of how to embed Knowledge Management principles into a business with the aim of speeding up development and learning as we go.

theoretical and practical underpinnings
Successful project management is dependent in no small part on collaborative team working. Learning Before, Learning During and Learning After (core foundations of what is often called Knowledge Management) can transform the way project and management teams work and how they collaborate. Simple techniques associated with each step will ensure that what we learn as we progress is fed back into the way we work in the future. The techniques associated with each step are tried and tested across a variety of industries and cultures. We are going to begin by creating an environment and way of working that encourages collaboration and openness: where we all share in success and are able to identify and rectify potential failure.

the brief

The funding clock is ticking and ‘product’ (a prototype) has to be at an advanced
stage if not already delivered for Q3 2015.
In short, the new team has to ‘hit the ground running’ from January and rapidly
establish a modus operandi in the first 90 days to ensure:

  • all issues around obstacles to delivery are capable of being surfaced in an open
    and supportive manner;
  • a set of core behavioural norms including communication and a technical
    collaborative infrastructure are established by the team for the team;
  • everyone understands their responsibilities, role and deliverables and is aware
    of the strengths of the rest of the team; and
  • everyone celebrates successes and takes ownership of potential failure

My initial brief was along these lines:

…help create a collaborative team environment with a shared understanding of what needs to be done and by whom…

the backdrop

Without naming the client (I will call them Polyglot)) I can tell you:

  • it’s space age stuff involving energy retention (so green and renewable)
  • it’s a multicultural environment and none of the 6 ‘man’ team has English as a first language
  • none of the team have worked on a project together
  • they have ambitious targets to develop a working prototype

Each was chosen because of a specialism – PhD’s abound – and an ability to go beyond what’s conventional.  But they have different backgrounds, cultures, outlooks and personal value sets. They are hungry and excited about the prospect of creating a product that can change the way we look at energy retention.

Ahead of the meeting I sent them an outline of the session and opened as follows:

You face a tremendously exciting and challenging 2015. A
new company, a new multinational team and a project that
has the potential to change the way energy is consumed,
stored and saved. Few organizations and the people who
work for them can look forward to the coming year with
such anticipation.

 

Project Mobilisation Meeting #1

Its Day Four and most of the team arrived on Day One. We’ve assembled at their new offices which is appropriately housed on a reseach park. In advance I asked each of the team to be thinking about a proud moment when they had enjoyed working in a team.

The aims of the half day session were:

  1. Begin building a Polyglot culture based on collaborative team working.
  2. Understand the respective strengths of the team members and Polyglot.
  3. Help kick off the ‘project’ with a shared understanding of the obstacles, deliverables and timing.

The agenda I worked up for the half day kick off session is below. What I can share is how the opening went (taken from the write up I produced):

Introductions
Everyone had a really interesting story to tell about him or herself and an astonishing array of experiences. Perhaps the most revealing was that nobody had English as his or her first language. We adopted this mantra as a way of overcoming potential misunderstanding:
‘I heard you to say…. and I understood you to mean….’
Further we agreed that whenever anyone did no understand a phrase or word they would seek clarification and record it on a white board along with a glossary of terms.

 

item who comments
Introductions Ask people to introduce themselves with their name and an interesting/unusual fact. Scene setting: why are we here, what the session is all about.give some examples of good (and bad) experiences
Hopes & Fears Exercise In 2 parts. Each person to write down on Postit notes:Why I joined? To plenary and call out.Then 3 hope and 3 fears and put up on the wall.
‘when you look at things differently’ An exercise designed to get people thinking about different perspectives.Split into 3 teams and give each a paper with one of 3 ‘professions’. Ask them to jot down notes about the room through that ‘lens’. Back to plenary for call out and learning’s.
My proudest team moment PC to ask each person to tell his or her story. JM to note down words for each person that sum up emotions, skills & knowledge, outcomes, behaviours.
How can we ensure the project fails? This exercise (a Reverse Brainstorm) will surface barriers/obstacles and solutions. Split into two teams; ask them what can they do to make sure we fail to meet the deadlines and quality standards.
What would you tell your Dad? Ask each person to write down a response to this ‘over dinner question’: So tell me what is it you are doing?Then get everyone to come and put his or her ‘offerings’ onto the wall. In plenary for discussion and agreement.
And finally: ‘Homework’ set the task: present an outline project plan on Friday 16th January. NB We will decide the composition of the teams in advance. There will be no guidance.

Brighton’s Food Waste Collective to run ‘making use of surplus food’ event

I met a woman last week in a cafe in Eastbourne.  Her name was Tam, a young Buddhist with a passion for helping others less fortunate. She is a member of the Brighton Food Waste Collective and she’d come from Brighton to interview me about the ‘making use of surplus food’ initiative I set up in Lewes in 2012.

Tam and her team are going to be running an event in a couple of week’s time which I’d heartliy endorse and not just because Maria Ana Neves of Plan Zheroes (she was a great hit in Lewes) is speaking.

food waste collective event posterTo be held at Brighthelm Cafe in North Road Brighton its going to be a real opportunity for donors and charities to come together and see how they might make use of a host of willing volunteers keen to make a difference.

In the hope it might help others who are thinking about a similar activity I want to share something from the excellent interview notes Tam took and published.

‘He said that there are the two ends, who wants and who has to give but it is the middle that creates the logistical nightmares – the getting the food from a to b. I talked about there having to have leaders and ideas people and the technology of the map but also we need the “foot soldiers” – the bodies, cars and bicycles to move daily food from a to b. This is what our event can find. People! Willing people! Hurray 🙂

Paul then asked if I would like some advice, I said yes please! He said “my experience tells me that…” in a nutshell he suggested starting small and high lighting six charities representing “demand”, and six restaurants or shops representing “supply” then set a finite time scale of six months to put only those twelve into action. Make pilot projects! Then he suggests we re-assess and see what has worked? What has failed? Why? He suggested treating it like a research project. He suggested using Google Groups (?) He said “Don’t spread yourself too thin!” Also, which I adored, “Don’t attempt to boil the ocean!”

Paul suggested making objectives: Can we identify the demand? Can we identify the supply? Develop a picture. Two ends – who wants? Who has to give? Make a brief: identify potential charities to supply to….

Paul talked about reverse brain storming – I love this – it’s a technique where you ask the people at the event “what are the best ways to prevent the food getting from a to b?” “How can we make sure the food is wasted/rots/has to go in the landfill?” “How would you ensure that the surplus food re-distribution chain would not work?” He described how he uses this technique in his professional life to get folks’ brains to work in a different way.’

Plan Zheroes is moving ahead apace with plans to be come a registered charity and I am honoured to have been invited to become one of the founding Trustees to provide a focus on knowledge sharing. This is what sets Plan Zheroes apart.  As its evolving technology platforms get completed it will be able to provide an instant view of where surplus food is located and so match the charities who need it with those who have it to give.  It’s skill is then in coming up with innovative solutions on how to get it from A-B.

And by making the knowledge of how to set up an initiative (and a guide for volunteer management) Plan Zheroes is attempting to help replicate the model (here and overseas) that is working so well in London.

Good luck Tam and the Brighton Food Waste Collective!