My chairman’s presentation looking at a decade of KMUK: the importance of managing for serendipity

It took me a while to think about what I was going to say to the first full house KMUK has enjoyed for many years as I detect a palpable sense of excitement among the organisers.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been at Social Business events in Lisbon and London and came away feeling that the phenomenal adoption of collaborative social technologies and the clever use of Big Data has the propensity to fuel the resurgence of Knowledge Management.

We live in a world now where: Philips have the ability to log when any light bulb is being switched on and where; testimonials and consumer recommendations (on sites such as Trip Advisor) are the most trusted form of advertising & marketing; the art of sales is about a long tail engagement (consumers publicly telling family and friends what they’ve done and bought); and in effect, performance improvements come from making the invisible visible. All of these characteristics are likely to be found in a knowledge driven organisation.

Its  reaffirmed in my mind: the importance of personal contact and facilitation; a  need to be clear about why this critical knowledge ‘stuff’ is being captured and harvested; the importance of the right environment (and culture); and the idea of focusing on Ambassadors / Champions especially in global organisations.

the address

Good morning and welcome to the 10th anniversary event of KMUK. I said in the event flyer that I thought there was a stellar speaker line up with MAKE winners and some of the most influential thought leaders in the Knowledge Management space.

Over the next two days you are also going to have the opportunity of spending time with your peers as well as engaging directly with the speakers in the breaks and at the speaker clinics. And for the first time at KMUK the opening Keynote will have two carefully selected respondents.

It promises to be an interesting and stimulating two days: a number of the speakers will be using KMUK as the launch event for ideas, techniques and groundbreaking partnerships.

There is a twitter hash tag KMUK and Ark will be consolidating all of the tweets into a Storify record of the event.

Back to 2003

It being the 10th anniversary, I want to take you back a decade to the last KM Europe held in the UK at Alexandra Palace in 2003. Many people wrote blog posts about the keynote speech. I’ve selected a few quotes:

  • …much of our current knowledge management practice is being locked into content management,
  • …we are all engaged in a constant process of sense-making, where we try to find the best available explanation for something based on previous experience rather than the perfect logical solution. This is why he favours “narrative management” and story-telling as more appropriate vehicles for knowledge sharing than replicating best practice
  • Conventional Knowledge Management has been too concerned with codifying explicit knowledge to aid replication, and with using categorisation (where we construct data around a framework), rather than exploration (where we construct frameworks around the data).
  • innovation springs from emergence in complex systems, which means that we should be “managing for serendipity” by creating the conditions for creative innovation to emerge.

Again it’s worth returning to what was said back in 2003

  • Too many people focus on managing knowledge rather than managing the channels through which knowledge flows. Just connecting or linking people can be a major knowledge management activity.
  •  … new tools now allow us to telescope five to six years of social networking down to five or six weeks, albeit with less  density. Such programmes aim to create linkages where no linkage currently exists and are particularly useful during re-organisations and activities such as merger and acquisition.
  • Attempts to engineer a network through design and allocation of staff to groups generally fail as they create artificial relationships that are not  sustainable. Self selecting social network stimulation replicates, but in a shorted timescale, a natural process.

At that event horizontal km software vendors were much in evidence as they had been at all of the previous ones.

  • Intranets were into their 2nd wave, people were struggling with enterprise search, decentralized publishing and SharePoint, some 2 years on from its launch, was competing with other document management systems and had yet to achieve the ubiquitous enterprise status it has today wherein in many in senior management say ‘we do km, we have SharePoint!
  • Android Inc was being founded and would become the largest mobile operating system inside a decade mirroring the dramatic growth of mobile smart phones.
  • WordPress too was launched bringing self-publishing to the masses. It has recently been the beneficiary of an exodus from Tumblr following its acquisition by Yahoo – more of them and Marissa Meyer later.
  • IBM were undertaking a 72 hours ValuesJam, for all employees in a debate about the very nature of the company and what it stood for.
  • The 2nd Gurteeen Knowledge Management conference was taking place – its themes: ‘knowledge, networking and communities’. And it was all about conversation. One delegate’s key soundbite: “Knowledge is not something you keep in your head, it’s a behaviour”’
  • In 2003 the book Knowledge Asset Management was published. It recognized critical knowledge as an asset to be nurtured.
  • Also that year my colleagues and I at Sparknow were using the traditional techniques of a postcard as a prompt to ask delegates at KM Europe about their work spaces and what the new virtual world would do to the traditional office and ways of working. We collected but never published a number of very insightful comments.

when space matters – looking at workspace

So since in my view worPostcard front coverkspace (physical and virtual) plays a critical role in all things Knowledge Management we decided to repeat the exercise a decade on and asked the speakers if they’d take first stab at answering the same half a dozen questions.

 

Postcard page oneI’ve collated their responses and contrasted them with some of those we had in 2002/3.  The report is available on line along with the conference proceedings. It would be great if you could add to the body of work by filling in your own and putting them up on the wall.

KMUK 2013

Social vs. Knowledge Management

You are going to hear a lot about community, collaboration, culture and change. Also context, champions, conversation and communication. Your challenge over the next two days is to work out when and how to harness the array of social tools and use them in context/ tandem with other initiatives. Here’s a really interesting and recent extract from a Gartner blog post:

  • Knowledge management is what the company tells me I need to know based on what they think is important.
  • Social media is how my peers show me what they think is important based on their experience in a way that I can judge for myself

Knowledge should be like water — free flowing and permeating down and across your organization filling the cracks, floating good ideas to the top, lifting everyone in the organization.

Knowledge management, in practice, reflects a hierarchical view of knowledge to match the hierarchical view of the organization.  Knowledge may originate anywhere in the organization, but under knowledge management it is channeled and gathered together in a knowledge base (cistern) where it is distributed based on a predefined set of channels, processes and protocols.

Social media looks chaotic in comparison. There is no predefined index, no prequalified knowledge creators, no knowledge managers, ostensibly little to no structure.

Where an organization has a roof, gutters and cistern to capture knowledge, a social media organization has no roof allowing the rain to fall directly into the house collecting in puddles wherever they happen to form.  That can be quite messy and organizations abhor a mess.

Last week I was an invited guest at the Dachis Group’s Social Business Summit.  A month previously I’d been helping to run a similar event in Lisbon at which social vendors presented their wares to a fictitious company.

Both events threw up so many crossover points with Knowledge Management and I shared a number of the tweets on the #KMUK twitter site. Here are a few sound bites to reflect on as you are thinking about it

  • Social interaction accounts for 50% of the performance of the team We are now consuming more content generated by each other than generated by media companies
  • Brands are a natural community of people identifying with each other, with a shared set of belief /Advocates are the ‘tribe’ who need motivation/incentives. – Employees are the most important and need empowering to do so
  • social helps to drive savings where knowledge management comes in’

The two that stood out for me and reappear as a theme this afternoon

  • A dead sale is one that’s not shared.  People must be incentivized to share.
  • Who can add value to the data?  Data will tend to migrate to where it will be most effective.

Paul J Corney

For KMUK June 2013

“four legs bad two legs better”: when people leave they take their knowledge with them…

One of the big topics that comes up time and again in conversations with businesses is how to handle the loss of knowledge when people leave or get relocated. I took these notes during an interview a couple of months back with a former CEO about how he felt having exited the business after 8 years at the helm:

Too often an outgoing official feels let down by the process: using an analogy from Animal Farm, he described the environment in the aftermath of his departure as being ‘four legs bad two legs better’. The new team had little interest in understanding how decisions had been reached and maintaining the networks he considered it vital to maintain.

I remember reading Animal Farm a couple of times: the pigs take control and the mantra changes from ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ to ‘four legs good, two legs better’ as they adopt the practices of the old regime they’d previously rubbished.  It was a vivid illustration of how damaging a process leaving a business can be.

It’s not just about suddenly making provision to capture knowledge for people about to leave. Effective knowledge retention starts when a new member of staff joins: they bring fresh ideas and in many cases experiences that can be valuable additions to an organization’s corporate memory. It continues throughout their tenure (when they are involved in projects, have to make decisions, handle difficult situations, engage with stakeholders, develop policy, etc) and beyond – when they leave to become part of the alumni network.

As part of my ongoing association with Sparknow we are going to be running a knowledge retention masterclass in Singapore. To find out more about that and look at the latest blog on this subject posted today on Sparknow’s site please go to ‘knowledge retention in Asia’

It promises to be an exciting few months.

the role of narrative grids in knowledge retention & knowledge sharing

In a recent discussion about how to surface issues that need addressing as part of a km strategy the subject of timelines and objects came up. Here’s a post I wrote for Sparknow at the end of a working session:
At the back end of 2010 Victoria, Carol and I were in Barbados helping to develop a knowledge management strategy.

The strategy needed to be reflective of the institution yet grounded in the reality of the changing nature of the economic marketplace in the Caribbean where the alleviation of poverty remains a core objective of most developmental efforts.

People have become dismissive of the value of km after years of failed attempts to institutionalize it in organizations. Yet the principles of working towards a knowledge sharing/transferring culture remain valid especially in development. And the potential for improvement in operational efficiency cannot be underestimated even if at times is not easily quantifiable.

We began by looking for good examples of knowledge sharing; using a structured framework for the initial assessment has benefited the client (as well as us) and provided an organizing mechanism for reporting.  Adopting a critical decision interviewing approach has also made it much easier to unearth some of the stories that illustrate how knowledge flows. Perhaps our biggest (re) learning is the value of a neutral object in acting as a catalyst for conversations around the working practices of organizations.

Most people feel uncomfortable talking about something intangible, they need a hook to hang their conversations on.  In much of our work we’ve asked people we are interviewing to draw a time line to help ground them in chronological events; that tended to be a good launching point for dialogue and stories. It was especially effective in our mission to Darfur back in March where the enormity of the problem tended to obscure people’s specific recollections unless they had just occurred.

In Barbados though we were looking for evidence of how knowledge and information flows across an organization and how it is used to inform decisions.  Drawing on the excellent tome Working Minds by Gary Klein et al we combined a critical decision interviewing approach with a timeline approach to create a Narrative Grid.

Perhaps most importantly we built on previous work with Royal Mail and others to ask our interviewees to describe what was going on in the formal and informal channels (“above and below the line”) while a decision was being made.

image

Did it work?

  • As a conversation piece and in a 1:1 situation it was extremely effective and moreover became the neutral object that the interviewee was happy to channel their thoughts into. We learned a lot about the use of the right pen and of the value of the subtle prompt. It was also very effective as a way of assessing different cultural types; there were those who instantly took the pen and began writing; those who would take the pen after we had begun writing; and those who were happy to have us do the writing while they “dictated”.
  • In a group session the Narrative Grid shone. Teams would gather round correcting each other and while the outputs were often anything but neat the results of a genuinely collaborative effort were not purely visual. Getting each group to summarize was especially useful since it often revealed similar patterns of behaviors, good examples/stories of knowledge sharing and areas ripe for process improvement.

Over the last decade Sparknow has experimented with many techniques to capture organizational stories. For helping to identify organizational knowledge and information flows around events and decisions the Narrative Grid has proved among the most effective.

insiders view on knowledge in the Middle East

In 2011 I spoke at the inaugural KM Middle East event about a knowledge survey we created for the event and drawing on recent diagnostic work and the knowledge management strategy and implementation framework it spawned.

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photo | Tom Spender

One of the tools Sparknow has used before as a way of raising awareness of, testing the receptivity for and measuring the impact of, a knowledge initiative is an online questionnaire. We usually keep it to about five sets of questions and ensure it takes no more than five minutes to complete – about the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee!

It often kicks off a diagnostic process and provides useful pointers/insights into what an organization understands knowledge management to be as well as highlighting ‘the way we do things around here’ through snippets and anecdotes.

KM Mid East seemed like a good opportunity to stimulate a debate through an online questionnaire: knowledge management roles are beginning to appear in quasi government organizations and some recognize that the way ‘stuff’ is stored today will impact on its potential reuse. And this is being conducted against the following backdrop:

  • Libya has descended into a civil war.
  • The outcomes of the Bahrain protests are by no means clear.
  • The Saudi authorities have just handed out over $37bn in pay rises and improved conditions to its inhabitants having reportedly adopted rough tactics with protesters.

The response from within the region’s commercial organizations has been to take a good look at disaster recovery, contingency planning and risk evaluation; assess their value of portfolios. Few would instantly associate this ‘burning platform’ moment with knowledge management but it’s totally relevant. In fact it’s what got me into this business two decades ago when a bomb blast took out the paper records my organization had and I led an ambitious programme in a Middle East focused investment bank to capture what we knew and make it available for reuse electronically. It was our attempt to create a one-screen view of a client and the forerunner of what today people call intranets.

So what has emerged from the Sparknow Knowledge Survey?

  • The majority of respondents were from government organizations.
  • Most people felt lessons learned were best examples of knowledge sharing at work.
  • The spectre of poor records management looms large.
  • Learning and by implication knowledge transfer are the areas many people believe KM should be addressing.
  • While cash incentives are attractive carrots for some to share knowledge the majority wanted recognition and a sense of ownership in the outcomes.
  • Unsurprisingly given the astonishing technological revolutions this region has been witness to, most answers to the question ‘the thing I always carry with me to help with knowledge…’ focused on technological solutions.

KMUK12 opening: taking the plunge

How do you set the tone for a two day event (KMUK) with a large gathering of skilled km practitioners many of whom can do such sessions in their sleep? Over a cup of tea at the National Gallery, Victoria Ward and I recalled an exercise Philip Gibson had run a few years back for an EDRM event I’d chaired.

‘Taking the plunge’ is intended to

  • Get people involved
  • Get them to interact with colleagues outside their immediate teams
  • Generate energy at the start of an event

Here’s how (with Philip’s help) I ran it:

I had six large signs, placed conspicuously around the room, reading:

pool side
changing room
diving board
shallow end
deep end
bar

I introduced the exercise with a picture of a swimming pool (actually Pells Pool in Lewes where I live which is the oldest outdoor pool in the country)

image

I then said:

I’d like you all to imagine that you’re at the KMUK swimming pool. Where would you be?

at the pool side – for those still observing rather than being involved

in the changing room – for people who are preparing but not yet ready to take on their km role

on the diving board – for those who are about to ‘take the plunge’

at the shallow end – for those who are ‘testing the waters’ and not too sure if they want to get deeper

at the deep end – for those who are already well and truly ‘immersed in’ their km role

at the bar – for those who are celebrating achievements.

Now please would each of you go to the sign which you feel best represents where you personally have got to with your km role. You have two minutes to do this. Go to the stations which best represents where you think you are now in your role and NOT where your colleagues are going to!

At this point there was a lot of tooing and froing as the delegates decided where they should assemble. Once order was restored I invited them to:

Please take a minute to reflect in silence about why you’re where you are.

And then

I’d like each of you to pair up with someone near you, preferably someone whom you don’t already know well and take a minute or two each to share with them your reasons for being where you are. Let the first person in the pair begin while the second listens.

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Some of the delegates (including Arthur Shelley and David Gurteen) at ‘the Bar’

After a couple of minutes I asked them to switch and repeat the process. At the end of the first round (which took 6 minutes) I invited them to:

Now pair up with someone else near you whom you don’t already know well and repeat the exercise.

The session concluded after 15 minutes with this

I hope that’s got you thinking about your km role as well as helping you to get to know a few of your colleagues a bit better. I also hope that all of us will get further along through the day ahead. Now please take your seats.

Over the course of the 2 days many of the delegates and speakers referred back to the swimming pool and the individual locations became a good metaphor for discussions.