Managing networks and Working Out Loud: Collaboration and Knowledge Matchmaking skills

The world is shrinking. At any given moment I know where many of my friends and colleagues are. Technological footprints are heavy and long lasting.

This week for example I see that Arthur Shelley is in Moscow with Ron Young at KM Russia, Donald Clark is in Belfast picking up an award, Phil Hill is getting fit (ter) in Thailand, Patrick Lambe is having breakfast in Lisboa. Gregga Baxter and his wife are supporters of WaterHealth in India.

Through cultivating personal networks I also know what’s happening this week in Khartoum, Tehran, Dubai and Harare. To many that may seem frivolous information; to others (including me) its valuable and if I don’t know then I know a man (or woman) who can. Let me illustrate the issue with a true story.

the art of network management

Many years ago I was charged with setting up the forerunner of a Knowledge Management function for a financial services business in the City of London. It struck me how badly senior officials shared diaries let alone knowledge about clients.

One day I was in the office of the Treasurer of the national oil company of a prosperous Middle East country. As I was about to leave he asked me to stay for the next meeting.

In came four suited bankers. My client took the lead introducing himself and me (as his Advisor). He then asked each one to introduce themselves. And to everyone’s surprise they were from different offices and areas of the same institution. They had all flown down on separate planes to see the same client.

The Treasurer said his diary was open to meetings with the institution but not multiple visits. They lost face not to mention the cost of the travel and opportunity cost.

So knowing what I did I came back to London and, with the support of the CEO, developed and introduced Visit Information Centre (VIC) which showed all visits to our organisation and all meetings outside of it.  Embedded in the day to day workflow the aim was to maximise the valuable time our organisation spent with a client and make sure those in any meeting were briefed on the latest activity. Today this is or should be standard practice; then it involved a shift in mindset.

So fast forward to 12th December 16; its 2pm and I am having an exchange on Facebook with Patrick Lambe about Lisboa where he is spending a week. Concurrently I see that Ana Neves (founder and organisor of SocialNow and “Mrs KM” in Portugal) is online on Skype. I know Ana lives a mere 15 minutes train ride from where Patrick is spending the afternoon. I also know both of them well and believe they would benefit from meeting each other.

Using Messenger I hook them both up and they meet later that afternoon to discuss inter alia an idea I thought both might profit from.


Tea by the Tejo

I coined the phrase “Orchestrated Serendipity” to describe occurences such as this. I have also used the term “making correlations between seemingly unrelated pieces of information”.

In this example I have nothing potential to gain other than knowing that two people I like and respect are now acquainted so my network grows stronger.

Here’s an example of how one thing can lead to another.

an example of ‘Working out Loud’

A few weeks back out of the blue Martin White of Intranet Focus shared a draft white paper on Digital Workplace Governance with myself, James Robertson, Jane McConnell, Sam Marshall and a couple of others. His invitation, which left it up to us as to how we might respond, read:

The attachment is me working out loud on digital workplace governance on a Friday afternoon

Our approaches were different. Some came back immediately. Others took their time. Some used comments in Word, others rewrote paragraphs. As Martin said, “the responses always challenge your own thinking.”

I am sure John Stepper (who is widely credited with kicking off the Working out Loud movement) and Ana Silva who is a great proponent of it would be enthused.

Knowledge Matchmaking?

These two exchanges got me thinking about the way I work, the organisations I’ve worked for, the clients I’ve worked with and the networks I am involved in. I have never acted as an introductions broker seeking reward so do organisations and people see value in it?

Previously as a Senior Manager charged with developing new business, my ability to match a need with a solution was prized and rewarded even though the correlation was opaque to my bosses. More often than not the intuition paid off. But does the same apply today in a Knowledge Management environment where logarithms and Artificial Intelligence are making the correlations I used to make?

Perhaps more importantly do people in Knowledge Management have the time, the confidence and the knowledge of the business to be able to put forward ideas and broker connections?

If they do then here’s a few tips:

  1. You have to be in it to win it: if you sit on the sidelines this will never happen.
  2. Be willing to take a risk: yes you might fall flat on your face! But experience tells me that if you go the extra mile people will come back for more.
  3. Be willing to do this without expectation of reward: it’s always difficult to measure the impact in a world of KPI’s. You have to play a long game but be willing to cut if you feel you are being taken for a ride.
  4. Be willing to acknowledge the contribution of others: from personal experience I’ve found there is nothing worse than someone taking what you’ve suggested and packaging it without attribution. A photo is a great way of saying thank you!
  5. Build trust so people are willing to confide in you and trust your judgement: unless you are willing to find out about people and what they do you will never be able to make these connections.
  6. Be clear about why you are making the introduction or sharing Knowledge: I used to be in the cc camp that so many inhabit believing that by informing everyone I was covering all bases. People are too busy and ignore ‘junk mail’.
  7. Develop your internal filtering mechanism: you have to know your business and identify who is going to be a taker vs. a reciprocator.
  8. Respect the contribution people make if you ask for advice: whatever you get back from people is important. They have committed scarce time and each time you ask for a response you are drawing on your reserve of credibility.
  9. Develop a skin as thick as a Rhino: you will be disappointed when others don’t follow your lead and use the contacts or information without acknowledgement. And remember 90% of people online are lurkers so will not go public with their thanks.

And finally

To prove that this is a reciprocal situation. In August I attended an Improvisation event in Oxford. It wasn’t on my radar but Nancy White had posted a comment about it so based on her recommendation I decided to attend: As a Quid pro Quo I wrote up my experiences for the greater KM4Dev community.

If you want good reading on collaboration, Martin and Luis Suarez have been exchanging comments on a fascinating blog post from Luis: “Stop blaming the tools when collaboration fails”.

future of work: ‘cooperation not collaboration…’: takeaways from SocialNow Lisboa 2013

Ana Neves

Ana Neves

I’ve been in Lisboa at SocialNow 2013.

It’s a unique format event, the brainchild of Ana Neves, wherein social tool vendors present their products to a to the senior management (expert panel) of a fictitious company (CableInc) in the presence of an interested audience.

Expert Panel

Expert Panel


Here are my favourite tweets:

And a few tweets from me:

  • @stoweboyd idea of future archetypes compelling. World of tomorrow: Freelancers, Generalist, Followers and Cooperators


    Archetypes of Future Workers








It being Portugal where food and wine are essential for networking it had to be first class and it was – this is the Day Two lunch menu!


Day Two lunch menu

If you’d like to see the #socialnow twitter streams I consolidated them into a Storify account which you can find here.

knowledge management is dead but it won’t lie down: a 10 year review of a KIM initiative

In the past few months I’ve heard talk of a resurgence in knowledge management.  km conferences are once again burgeoning; the UK’s Civil Service now has knowledge & information management as one of 22 recognised professions; last week while in Portugal I learned that the legal industry is now km aware; and many of my peers in the industry are finding themselves busier than ever providing advice to help organisations set up km initiatives across the globe.

One downside of providing external advice and assistance to organisations is that you are not always around to see the outcomes of your work especially when its  knowledge and information management related.  Occasionally you get the chance to get back under the covers and see how clients have implemented km style tools and techniques.

back under the covers

Such an opportunity took place at the end of December when I went back to the 7th largest global reinsurance broker (BMS) to see Phil Hill the Chief Information Officer I first worked alongside in 2001.

Reinsurance brokers are arbitrageurs: they place risk on behalf of large global organisations. They use knowledge of a client’s specific needs and apply that to find the best market to take the risk. They must know about clients and markets and manage relationships in both.

At the turn of the Millennium BMS was a top ten broker with aspirations to grow internationally and make better use of the combined knowledge of its dozen or so operating entities. It was dipping its toe into the document, records and information management waters and attempting to provide a technological backbone to support a growing demand for relevant and timely information. It had a very embryonic intranet.

Today BMS has broadened its business focus; it has expanded beyond reinsurance into underwriting working with a number of trusted partners. And it has focused much of its activity on building US based business development and transactional processing capability.  Seamless connectivity and access to internal and external information on clients, markets and BMS’ own resources are support prerequisites.

So how has it managed this transition and what are the significant milestones in its journey that has seen it become one of the most admired and technologically advanced practitioners in the market? One that is:

  • at the forefront of electronic placement; is regularly up for awards for innovation;
  • whose CIO Phil is a frequent and sought after speaker and panellist on industry platforms?

BMS is now an institution where joiners get a preloaded iPad with 24×7 access to the latest global and internal information as well as the ‘big data’ (catastrophe modelling in BMS’ case) that has become must have software in the insurance/reinsurance industry.

a decade reviewed

In the 2001 knowledge and information audit I conducted I noted that:

  • More than 60% of all items saved on the common H drive had been put in the ‘miscellaneous’ folder; there was no common terminology about how documents were to be named or catalogued; and no central place to find information on markets and clients.
  • As was common around that time there was limited collaboration between the various businesses and as a result potential for pursuing the same clients.
  • New joiners relied on traditional role shadowing and a tour of the building (s) to get up to speed.
  • BMS was spread out across a couple of locations and on different floors in a building at Aldgate which discouraged informal interactions.
  • Recognition of the concept of critical knowledge assets was a long way off and the words knowledge management dismissed as being jargon.  Busy people at the business end had no real interest in filing documents let alone thinking about how they might be reused; even in 2001 everyone expected the system to do it for them and the idea of ‘drag and drop’ from one platform to another was still in its infancy.

The shocking events of 9/11 in the US provided the ‘burning platform’ moment for a change in attitudes. Everyone wanted up to date consolidated news and opinion. The Intranet, website and content management system were approved as a combined project and with my assistance the newly formed Marketing & Communications (Marcoms) Team set about creating BMS Today and building up a cadre of volunteers willing to help identify the critical knowledge and information that should be captured and stored.

A definition or aim for the system emerged:

adopting a publish once use many basis provide a one screen view of activity with clients and the markets in which they operate and a central hub for knowledge and information on the organisation and its operations.

Here’s what BMS Today eventually became:

Intranet Home Page

Corporate Calendar

Though at the cutting edge of intranets BMS Today was not enough. The Marcoms team needed to go further to encourage knowledge sharing so concurrent with a relocation to One America Sq they began a series of Learn@Lunch and Breakfast Briefings aimed at showcasing different aspects of the business.

Still collaboration was a distant objective though the move to One America Square in 2008 did throw up an interesting opportunity to introduce social media.  One of the team (who been enrolled on a journalist programme) was deployed among the builders and fitters on site to provide a regular ‘blog from the battlements’.  Widely read at the time it provided an insight into life at the soon to be occupied premises and a metaphorical bridge to help people acclimate to the new surroundings.

One America Square enabled BMS to plan collaborative physical spaces in which to hold breakfast briefings and learn@lunch sessions. There was a lot of discussion about the efficacy of such a space.  ‘Connexions’ as it became known was a hub for meetings and with a business lounge in close proximity it enabled serendipitous meetings at the coffee machine (and water cooler) to continue in a relaxed but more formal setting.Connexions 600x400

And of course the best coffee, subsidized snacks and rapid internet access were made available to encourage traffic to the site and make external visitors feel welcome.

changing focus & new technologies

A change of focus combined with the arrival of disruptive technology proved a challenge and an opportunity. The broking teams needed improved access to information on the move and an easy way to demonstrate the modelling systems that enable risk to be better evaluated. But technology costs and the benefits of investment are not always easy to quantify. So CIO Phil (aided and abetted by Philip Gibson of Sparknow) used a traditional storytelling technique and the idea of developing a set of personae as a way of illustrating what BMS’ world might look like in a few years time if some technological improvements were introduced. Here’s an extract from one of the scenarios:

Jade Thompson is 35 and has worked in the London Market for 14 years. She has agreed to join BMS as a senior underwriter, moving on from one of the big managing agents. She wants to work for a company that really supports her initiative and drive – not one that swaddles her in red tape.

The week before Jade joins, she receives at home via courier a package from BMS.

Inside she finds an iPad, with a BMS logo with the slogan: “Using clever technology”. There’s also an iPhone, also with a BMS logo and her name.

She reads the attached note, welcoming her to BMS and giving her the logon and password information she needs to use the equipment. “Wow!” she says to herself, “this is great – they really know how to make you feel special.” Jade switches on the iPad and logs on as instructed. There‘s an icon on the first screen, “Welcome”. Touching the icon starts a video of the CEO welcoming her to the company. Various members of the board and HR provide insights into BMS and what she might expect in her first few days.

There is also a pointer to other information on the iPad, such as all aspects of the induction procedure including health and safety. Thrilling, she thinks to herself…

This scenario has come to fruition thanks to the investment in technology (in this case iPads) made by the BMS board which has continued to support further development on BMS Today and a decade on, this is where many of the ideas and initiatives outlined above merge.

BMS Box Office Soon all 9 BMS offices will be able to log into the new intranet irrespective of domicile. It will meet the original aim of providing a one screen view of all activity with a client as well as providing real time access to the latest social media applications and real time information.

Submission to the corporate document storage system is a simple drag and drop process that recognises and acknowledges peoples preference for an Outlook Mail style filing BMS Searchstructure. ‘Stuff’ can be easily located via a search engine that accesses all operating systems via iPads which permit electronic placement.



The team and I drew on techniques found in business development, communications, marketing, information and project management, engagement, facilitation as well as knowledge management to provide an infrastructure and ways of working that formed a backdrop to the continued expansion and development of the business.

Many who work in the knowledge & information arena would recognise most of the above activities, its what they do on a regular basis.  Yet at no point during the years I worked alongside the team at BMS was km used as a phrase or established as a discipline.

That a decade on BMS is thriving is an illustration that km by any name takes time but has value.

And finally by way of acknowledgement I should mention the names of those people with whom I worked most closely during my time as Advisor.  They were from BMS: Phil Hill, CIO; Roger Cooper, COO; Jeff Martin, Director; Anne-Marie Hawtin, Manager; and John Spencer Former CEO. From Intranet Focus: Martin White, CEO.