Thursday, December 13, 2007

The 8 Principles of Fun

The adventures of managing knowledge have kept me quite busy the last few weeks. Blogging did not have it's due during this time. To make it up to you, I'd like to introduce you to a wonderful little movie called 'The Eight Principles of Fun' put together by Michael Bungay Stanier, principle of Box of Crayons. The movie is a wonderful little reminder of what is important as we move through life with some great quotes.

It also is a reminder of how we can take what we have learned and share it with the world. Want to engage your staff or your group? Get them to write their most impactful lessons of the last week and share with each other at the end of the week. Better yet, have them written down without an authors name and guess who learned which lesson.

Want to create a strategy that people can really get behind? Write a story of the future as if that strategy were actually implemented. What would the world, your organization, your family, look like if that strategy had been put in place. Now, put it in the format of a Life Magazine article or a Newsweek column. In other words, make it real. What an impact that kind of story telling can have.

Don't sit back and wait for someone else to tell the truth. Have the courage of your convictions and do it. You are the role model for sharing experience, knowledge, wisdom....and doing it with honesty and without an agenda. Do not manipulate....communicate! And be willing to accept the consequences.

And in the meantime, have a great weekend. Glad to be back on the blog!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Productive Thinking and Fossil Ideas

Have you ever wondered why we do what we do in life, both professionally and personally? Do you have patterns and habits you are so stuck in that you don't even know they are patterns and habits-- you simply think it is how things are done?

A new book by Tim Hurson titled 'Better Thinking (your company's future depends on it ... and so does yours)' has just been published and the Innovation Network did a sort of review. I was impressed and want to share it with you.

Hurson looks at productive thinking and how we do or do not utilize the concept. So much of how we do things in our organizations is by automatic pilot, that we can be like lemmings going off a cliff. And why? Because we are not questioning why things are done as they are, what new ideas are available, or asking for the real reasons things are done in the way they are done.

We are reactive and passive. Why not take the time to ponder, to wonder, to question?

The following is a short piece from Chapter 3 of Tim's book. This is well worth the read.

Excerpt from Chapter 3

"If you work in a large organization (unless it's Google, Apple, or the like), all your common meeting rooms are probably mini-boardrooms with tables surrounded by chairs. Why? Are you planning to have dinner? Come to think of it, why are all boardrooms modeled after private dining rooms? Why is the top row of your telephone keypad labeled 1 2 3,whereas the top row of your calculator is 7 8 9? Because both the telephone company and the calculator company say, "That's the way we do things around here."

There is plenty more where that came from. When we use lessons learned, reflective learning, and the other KM interventions in our tool kits, we begin to break through some of the 'fossil ideas' that keep us from innovating and challenging the way things are. We haven't the luxury of being stuck any longer. Why would we choose to be?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Penny Per Search and Writing through the Night

Two sites I came across today I'd like to share with you. Yes, I promised more about the basic steps of knowledge sharing, and I will do that. Soon. Honest. But first, you won't want to miss these sites....

November is National Novel Writer's Month. This concept has spawned a wonderful idea--- to have novel writers write all month, without worrying about quality, concentrating instead on quantity. You might well say there is enough bad writing in the world, why encourage more?

Writing is not easy. We all think we are writers because we use words to communicate all day long. However, how often do you write in a way which changes how someone thinks, puts on paper an idea the reader understands but could not articulate and is so touched they stop to ponder?

That depth of skill takes time. And it takes a lot of words before you get there. There are times writers simply are stuck, can not begin. Precisely that experience of 'how do I start' is what the National Novel Writer's Month program is about. Just go. Just start. Don't worry and do not edit while you are writing. Take a look...

Within this site I found another concept to share with you. The site is called GoodSearch, and the idea is a simple one, yet profound. Each time you search, GoodSearch gives one penny to the charity of your choice. Want to support the Young Writer's Program, put it into GoodSearch. Have another charity in mind? Put it into GoodSearch.

Get started, write that novel, or whatever else you wish, write and when we are writing and searching, let's do it mindfully. We can use what we do day to day to help those who may not be fortunate enough to have the time...or the resources...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Workforce Transitions and Knowledge Management

Workforce transitions are a way of doing business in our current environment. As companies relocate, reorganize, restructure, revise business models and review and change current employee numbers and responsibilities, they forget about the hidden impact of loss of knowledge.

I recently was the guest lecturer at a Knowledge Management class taught by Mani Subramani for Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. The students had studied the issues of managing knowledge during this time of business transition. I gave them a view as to what it's really like on the ground as you are applying the theory to real life situations. And I was struck again by how important the nuances can be, as well as cultural issues such as trust.

I am contacted almost every week by a company going through a transition. Sometimes the transition is the retirement of workers and the need to transfer knowledge to a younger and smaller workforce. Always the issue seems overwhelming to the companies involved.

Yes, identifing and transferring knowledge is a big undertaking, but it need not be overwhelming. Part of the issue is that somehow we think of managing knowledge as separate from business processes. Yet, is that logical? The knowledge we need to manage and transfer IS business knowledge. Transferring knowledge in context is the most successful and easiest way to do so. Adult learning theory bears that out. But we want to make this work separate from our day to day operations. That is our first mistake.

Trying to do too much at once is often the second mistake. We can not take on the entire enterprise. We can do well in the transfer of knowledge in one area and apply the learning to build momentum and create success in another area of the organization.

There are many ways to make the identification and transfer of knowledge across boundaries (generational, geographic, cultural, etc) workable-- and to help our businesses not only survive but thrive. A well crafted plan, leveraging opportunities as they arise, knowledge of how organizations and people change, TRUST, and good old fashioned common sense are the key points to remember. We'll take on the basic steps in the next blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Expertise shared online for the rest of us

Want to know how to stop that wobble in your ceiling fan? Learn how to belly dance? Whatever your 'need to know', you need to know about

'Experts' share their knowledge via video on a wide variety of topics. Easy to access, easy to contribute to, easy to learn from. This site allows each of us to share and learn from the rest of us, much like what we are trying to do with expertise in our organizations. Decide for yourself, perhaps we make it all too complicated.

Learn a skill, solve a problem, teach what you know....Sounds like knowledge management to me!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Principles of KM, Leadership and Life

The principles of managing knowledge do not deviate from the principles of good leadership.
Many organizations (and people) want a quick fix to their KM issues. What the following demonstrates is that without these basic principles, we will fail or at the very least falter, at our efforts in managing knowledge, leading people, and building solid and authentic relationships.

The leadership Center of Franklin University website discusses the three principles of leadership they think to be critical: Passion, Communication and Integrity

These three principles apply also to Knowledge Management and to those who practice it.

It takes passion for us to identify the opportunities to apply KM, to hold the torch as we facilitate behavioral and organizational change, and to continue onward through long term implementation.

Communication can make or break the effectiveness of KM as we build awareness, drive toward acceptance and finally motivate the organization to take action.

The principle of integrity is what I find most intriguing today. We often don't discuss integrity as a key component to managing knowledge. Integrity is a key component to all we do, especially as we affect the lives of others. It is integrity and the consistent practice of it, that allows people the freedom to take what they perceive as professional and personal risks in sharing knowledge, and sharing themselves.

As Jane Robinson, Chief Talent Officer writes in Leadership: The Relationship Perspective on the Franklin University website:

Correct principles are like compasses – true north does not change. People expect leaders to stand for something and to have the courage of their convictions. A leader that acts with integrity will model consistency in their behavior and will make the same choices and decisions regardless of their audience.

When actions are in alignment with principles, honest communication will be a trademark of their leadership. Integrity enables a leader to remain committed to honesty, reliability and confidentiality. Staying in alignment with one’s principles provides “notice” on those non-negotiable issues. There will be no uncertainty regarding what guides motivation. It will be very clear to a person of integrity what she will not do. Followers of a leader will not be surprised; her actions will be consistent.

In addition to acting in ways that are consistent with underlying principles, an effective leader will engage in forthright honest communication. Members of the team won’t hear bad news somewhere else in the organization first. They will hear it first from their leader. There are no surprises.

Integrity demands that leaders address performance-related issues quickly and openly, offering appropriate alternatives. A leader of integrity shares information and does not hoard it, encouraging two-way participation in achieving the goals of the organization. A leader shares the “secrets of success." Jane Robinson, Chief Talent Officer, Franklin University

Applying these concepts to KM and to life is critical to sustainable success, to building solid healthy professional (and personal) relationships and to moving KM forward. And we find again and again, the principles needed for managing knowledge, as for leadership, are those for living an authentic life.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I did something I have not done before, this last week. As I drove through Nebraska, from Kearney up through the Sandhills, through the rolling hills, valleys and plains of Eastern South Dakota, back into Minnesota, I stopped at every historical marker I saw. Why, you ask (with good reason) would you do this?

Well, for those who are efficiency minded, it did add time to the trip. A good amount of time. But it also added context. I was driving across territory I had never before seen and I wanted to understand the land, the history, the context of the vast territory upon which I was driving. I wanted to learn, to understand what knowledge and wisdom was to be shared with me, from the past.

What I learned, one more time, is that everything is contextual and is portrayed through the lens of one view. I was amazed, actually, and saddened.

I stopped at historical markers all along the way that spoke of the conflict between the Native American and the soldiers who were assisting in the 'settling' of the land back in the 1860s. Each told a 'story'. I soon came to understand the voice, the view, the point of truth of that story depended completely on who erected the monument, who wrote the inscription, who paid for the piece. And who won the war.

I read continually about the bravery of the soldiers, but little about the plight of the Native Americans. There was little context behind the conflict except that this was a 'wild' land and that the soldiers bravely fought to ensure the settlers were safe. I will admit that I may have missed something along the way, but I found no markers that described how the world of the Native American was ripped apart, changed, without any understanding of why or to what.

One of the places which most impacted me on this trip was called Fort Release. There were two markers designating 'Fort Release'. One, a large obelisk in the middle of a circular drive, described the release of 269 hostages, held by 'hostile Sioux', to General Henry H. Sibley after a 'signal victory' at Wood Lake.

The second marker, a black and bronze sign standing by itself just across the driveway, talked about a Dakota peace faction that kept watch over the hostages, risking their own lives to keep the hostages alive. This marker described how the Dakota peace faction saved the lives of the hostages.

These two markers were not more than 20 feet from each other and told different stories of the same event. My guess is that the truth does not fully lie in either marker.

We must be aware of the issue of point of view in all of our work in managing and sharing knowledge. The truth does not lie in the view of one person, it lies in the mixture of many, and the context of each. You might think this makes sharing knowledge impossible. No, not at all. But it does mean there is a deep responsibility for those of us in the field to check our assumptions and the assumptions of those around us. We must check facts, stand in curiosity and not in ego. We need to remember there are reasons why things happen. Be curious, be mindful and be respectful of what is being shared to whom.

I know we can do this well. I have seen it done, experienced it myself and worked to build processes to assist others share knowledge authentically. But I know it takes thought. It should. That is the responsiblity that comes with our work. We must hope none of us are responsible for two markers, so close together, telling two totally different stories.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Of Storytelling and Joan Didion

I have been listening to the CD edition of 'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion. As I listen, I am myself literally on a glorious adventure, driving through some of the areas of the country I know little of. The backdrop of Didion's writing, as read by the incredible Barbara Caruso, is not only an enhancement to my attitude of exploration and diving deep, but provides learning I will apply to the knowledge transfer work I do. I am driving, feeling, learning, and loving this experience.

I find Didion's writing so descriptive and emotive that I lap it up like a thirsty golden retriever at a watering dish. Verbs and nouns and turns of phrase splash out all around me. Didion has a courage in her writing so strong as to inspire courage in the reader as well. And there are moments in this book so real, the reader needs courage to continue to read. Didion ponders the details of each event, each action or thought so vividly that the reader is anchored in that exact time and space.

(And yes, this will come back to knowledge management and storytelling.)

Once anchored in the details, Didion is able to describe with word pictures how she felt at that time and you are with her, you understand her. You can not help but make sense of the emotion she describes as you too have had those emotions, even if not as well articulated.

She unflinchingly compares the experience from the past to how she feels about that same event or moment some two years later, as she is writing the book. In that comparison is a leap in learning and healing, both for Didion and for her reader.

She then uses her gifts to describe what she is doing physically at the time of the emotion, and what people around her are doing, which has an amazing impact of the scene. The way in which her physical actions or those around her is described either underscores the truth in the emotions she has stated, or that her judgment of what she was feeling is off. In other words, if she has stated that she was a calm customer, handled the news of the death of her husband well, she will tell you that her heart is racing, she is forgetting which room or city she is in or she presents another indication that she is truly not the cool customer she considers herself. She allows you to see the truth in a way she could not immediately do herself.

You get, from this, the whole story. And, you understand the event, the background or context, the rationale, the intended outcome, the actual outcome and as much as humanly possible, the truth. Joan Didion is showing us the art of storytelling at it's finest.

Think of those experts who hold many years of deeply held knowledge, aha moments, and lessons learned which you wish to transfer. What a challenge to not only get the full understanding of how the innovation or action came to be, but also what a challenge it is to keep the learner fully and completely engaged. Can we not learn from Didion and use her formula?

Consider this: Have the expert describe the background and context leading up to the innovation or event as completely as possible. Have them think about where they were, what they had just read or spoken of which influenced them, what they were wearing even, to help anchor and jog their reflection. Then, in detail, consider the intended outcome, what truly had they hoped or assumed they might learn or do, what they trying to achieve or change. Next ask for the same deep description of the actual outcome, to understand what really happened, why the gap exists and how it came to be. Now, have them consider what they really learned from that, what they will do with that learning or what others might do with that learning.

Perhaps this all sounds too much for one story. But if you want to understand how the inventor of laser surgery decided to go from lasers for non-human uses to repairing burns in a hospital in Vietnam, or how someone inventing a drug which failed for one disease realized she could now apply it to save lives in another totally different area, you need to uncover and develop a deep understanding of that moment. We need to learn how to learn these things from each other. Not to be mired in the past but to apply the new ideas to the future. And I know of no better teacher than Joan Didion.
Now, I must get back to the drive and the adventure which awaits!

Monday, October 01, 2007

You say tomato, I say tomato

Today's New York times had an interesting column written by Verlyn Klinkenborg titled 'Watching the Full Moon Rise Over the Northeast Corridor'. Verlyn wrote about taking the Acela up the Coast from Washington D.C. to New England, something I am familiar with. Though the column's focus was the rise of the full moon during that trip, the first paragraph is what truly caught my attention.

'Riding on the Acela I was surrounded by the sounds of business—the young women whose voices ring out like high heels on marble, the false laughter of a young executive talking to a headhunter on his cellphone. (He makes 175, going up to 200 in December, and is happy to relocate.) Everyone around me was speaking managese, that strange dialect used among the shepherds of other humans to communicate an enthusiasm for communication.'

Well said. Especially that last sentence.

I write in this blog often about being authentic. Yet, communication is simply so much more complicated. Your words can be profoundly authentic, but if not heard that way by those around you, miscommunication will reign. There is so much more to our communication, and to sharing knowledge, than simply telling the truth. We must also consider the listener, the receptor. Where are they in their own experience? Can you be heard, at that moment? Is there a way to describe what you need to say in the language of the receptor, instead of your own language? Is there a more opportune time or location to share what it is we need so desperately to share?

Our work, as knowledge sharers, as communicators, as humans on an authentic path, is complex. We need to identify what it is that is critical to share or to illuminate, how to do so, where the listener is, what language they use, how the message might be perceived, risks involved, risks involved in not sharing and how the information can be shared more broadly. And even this list is simplistic.

We expect much of ourselves and others. Yet, we can not give up. We must strive to clearly communicate, to seek first to understand before being understood, to drive towards sense making. We are the Shepards Verlyn refers to. Let us never stop being the best we can be at what we do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Critical knowledge for sustaining life

Once in awhile you come upon a site that has a huge impact on your world. OK, I admit, that is a strong statement. I mindfully wrote it to be strong.

Consumer Consequences is an interactive game which brings you along through a journey to help you understand the impact each of us has on our environment and the lives of those around us. The site, created by American Public Media, is very well designed and highly interactive. You choose your avatar and your home, and begin your journey.

Be prepared, you won't be the same at the end of it. There are many other opportunities in our work and our world to apply the type of interactive learning this site utilizes. There are few with so many surprises and ah ha moments. Go, try it, apply the learning/teaching style to your work. And, please, let us each apply the environmental learning to our way of life.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Knowledge for the fun of it

Sometimes we all get so caught up in the serious side of our work that we forget to have fun. Or, at least I can forget. And fun is what truly makes the work worth doing. Fun and a sense of being of service to the greater good, I believe.

Anyway, I have been heads down in life and projects. Both can be a bit too serious sometimes. When I found the site I will describe here in this posting, I thought 'this is just what the doctor ordered.' Literally almost true!

A site for nothing but fun. And not just any fun, but creative, use your hands and build it, fun. Fun that is new and nostalgic at the same time.

Do you remember building paper airplanes when you were a kid? What else did you try to make out of construction paper and a bit of glue. Well, look no further. Our friends at have given you many different kinds of paper toys to build, AND shared their knowledge of how to do so.

Ever thought of building the White House out of paper? They have! Along with almost everything else imaginable. We all know it can be difficult to share knowledge like this in writing. It requires some deep thought to ensure all of the instructions are as complete as needed. Take a look, take a learning, make a toy and enjoy!!! We all need it!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The class of 2011 mindset

The Class of 2011: what Berlin wall?

Just think, most students entering college in September were born 1989. Ok, excuse me, but wasn't that the day before yesterday?

Beloit College has published the Beloit College Mindset List for the 2011. The list has 70 factoids for this group of freshman. The list gives you an incredible snapshot of how context is everything. Let me give you a few examples:

1. What Berlin wall?
8. General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
9. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
10. Pete Rose has never played baseball.
11. Rap music has always been mainstream.
13. “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.
15. Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
23. Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM

And we wonder if we need to do cross generational bridging in our organizations? I wonder how we are able to communicate at all. We should take heart that we have done as well as we have but we must focus on the multi-generational workforce (as well as multi-cultural). This is to our sustained success...we must learn not only how to work together with different viewpoints, values, ideals...but we also need to know what knowledge is critical to transfer and how we can do it with relevance.

Given the above list and what you will find at the Beloit website, it amazes me that we are so shortsided as to think we can learn to collaborate cross generationally without any assistance. Let us learn to take the best of the best, whatever age they are, and share it with zeal in a way others can absorb. We are not all the same. Thank goodness. Let's work with that and move forward by leaps.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Learning how to identify trends

I am one of those people who is always looking for trends and patterns in data. I don't necessarily mean to, I'm just wired like that. Trendspotter is an e-publication I have previously mentioned that spots and describes new business concepts which may change business as we know it, and shift some of the trends and patterns of business or commerce.

In this listing they actually work to help the reader learn how to spot a trend. What a tough concept to teach! Complex and complicated at the same time. First they set a common language (what IS a trend) and they set context (know WHY you are looking for trends) and the learning continues from there. I think this site does a great job at sense making of a difficult subject.

I also think if we are willing to consider the same format for teaching our colleagues (and ourselves) how to look for trends and patterns in our own data, at work or at home, we might find this method very worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The fun and creative side of sharing knowledge

One of my favorite people, Dorothy (Dottie) Black, the Pepsico K-12 Technology Mentor Program Coordinator for Duke University, turned me on to a blogger you just have to read.

All of us are aware of animated cartoons. Many of us boomers remember the old stuff, when line drawing was prevalent and Daffy Duck ruled.

The history of this genre is multi-layered and complex, and at the same time fascinating. The blogger I want you to read shares his deep understanding of animation in ways that catch your attention, make you think and remember, all with a wry smile on your face. Thad Komorowski is his name and he seems to be quite a leading character in the blogging world of animation. His site is well worth the time to read and come back to.

And, Thad is 19 years old.

Yes, Dottie, the power of Web 2.0. Amazing. Well done Thad. And for those of you who want to see knowledge management in action-- visit the blog, read the comments and enjoy.

Varied viewpoints frame expertise

The deeply held knowledge we have accummulated over time through experience is what we use to make sense of the world and to make good decisions time and again. That knowledge is hard won and many people think it is also hard to transfer. I had a conversation about this today, and I thought it might be interesting to share my experience in why people find transferring deeply held knowledge so difficult.

For one thing, there is a lot of it. For another, it is not all created equal -- it is not all of equal value. Why transfer what is not useful or needed? If you have long term experience and expertise which you want to share with others, you will understand what I mean.

There is experiential knowledge which helps you determine what factors are important in making decisions, identifies your current context, how that context influences your decisions, and how to make sense of what you are about to do. If you had to tell me exactly how you made your decisions and what part of that was most useful to be transferred, it would prove to be quite challenging.

But what if I asked those around you, those influenced by your decision or resulting activity, what they thought was most unique about the knowledge you held and what they turned to you for? Wouldn't that help you determine what knowledge was priority for you to transfer? One view of a subject, issue or challenge is only one view. It can not help but be skewed. How do you know if that view is correct? Or useful? Checking with others helps to frame the knowledge most useful and important. And if knowledge is not useful, why bother?

There is enough information floating around to overwhelm all of us. We need to transfer what is most important, not forgetting the contextual aspects, but to consider what would impact the most if lost. We need to make knowledge transfer as simple and useful as possible. What are your viewpoints?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Methods of sharing deeply held knowledge

Some types of knowledge are harder to transfer than others. For example, teaching your children the life skills they need as they get older is quite complex. Knowledge and experience in such areas as how to build trustworthy relationships, how to make decisions, and how to handle finances can be challenging to convey. Each of these are examples of the types of knowledge we all accumulate and often wish to share with others, at home, on the job or in other contexts.

Two websites dealing with teaching kids about finances, entrepreneurship and leadership do a pretty good job at categorizing, articulating and sharing knowledge and experience to this young audience. The sites keep in mind various forms of learning such as visual, auditory and so forth. The two site vary. One is more 'child-like' for example, and they both do a pretty good job of helping children experience as they learn the concepts and practices.

These sites, one from L.A, the other from South Africa, are meant for a young audience. But once again, if you are willing to look at how they have been organized and written, how the information has been conveyed and the methods used, there is learning to be gained for all of us wishing to share deeply-held experiential learning. I am glad these subjects are being well addressed for the young.

On another note: There are have been some excellent comments to this blog on new technologies and ideas as of late. I appreciate the feedback and will feature these in future blog postings. Thanks again to those who are interested in the collaboration-- sharing our learning is what this is about.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More knowledge than you can manage

Even as our time is more restrained, the amount of information coming at us is exploding. It is often said by my clients and colleagues that they have more than 200 emails to be read yet that day.

And we wonder why it is so difficult to get our work done when most of our day time hours are spent in meetings, answering emails and yes even once in a while, the old standby of the telephone call.

Gail Richards, founder of a website and company called, addresses this issue in today's supplement of her enewsletter. She suggests that we do not answer our email first thing in the morning but wait until later in the day between other scheduled tasks. How many of us might have the discipline to do this? Could you wait until mid-day to answer your emails? And, could your culture handle that?

To me this also says we are working most often in a mode of reaction, not action. We begin our day checking emails partly to see what it is we will handle that day. Presumably our day would have been planned somewhat at the end of the day before. But we are now so programmed to immediate reaction, that we check our emails first to see what our day holds in store for us.

And we get taken off track by the new links, the new connections and the new information we find in those notes to us. I rather like Gail's idea to not check email first thing. At least I want to have the experience and to understand what might make that behavior such a challenge. Do we have too much knowledge coming at us at one time? Can we not find the discipline to deal with this?
I'd like to know your thoughts.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Using creative new ideas: Crowdsourcing

I've written before about the concept of crowdsourcing. For those of us who are boomers, it can be an interesting challenge to keep up with the new concepts, technologies and online options. This one I find intriguing for Knowledge Management.

British Director Alex Jovy is using the concept of crowdsourcing to not only draw publicity to his in-production movie, but also to allow the audience to participate in the entire project.

You can upload your online audition (which is reviewed by a seasoned group of movie types), review scripts, provide creative input, become an investor and so forth. A very interesting concept.

How does this apply to managing knowledge?

What if your organization has 30-40-50 years of research or other history and no way to bring it forward. Why would you want to? To ensure future decisions are informed by past experience and mistakes are not needlessly repeated as one example.

Would crowdsourcing(with a bit of expert review), not be an excellent way to pull various viewpoints, experiences, areas of expertise, innovative ideas not used, forward by using an interesting vehicle the younger generations of workers would view? It might sound outlandish but I think it has possibilities.

The organization would not have to create a movie, but could create other crowdsourced experiences to share contextual yet critical knowledge.

We are moving fast into social networking technologies and we need to be prepared to use and embrace those technologies as we transfer knowledge between generations. And, we have little time to do the actual knowledge transfer. This can be one way to address the knowledge transfer challenges.

I am not saying this is the silver bullet for KM-- there is NO such thing. However, open minds will find ways to use new concepts to meet current and future needs. I think this is worth a quick review. If nothing else, you could become a star!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


There is a report just out published by the The Social Issues Research Center (SIRC) in Great Britain on belonging in the 21st Century. The concept of belonging is changing. There are many viewpoints of what it means to belong and how that differs with belonging in the past. The report, commissioned by the Automobile Association of Great Britain is quite interesting. What has changed and how will that impact our future?

Whether you agree with the information included in the report, the issue of belonging is relevant to our organizations and society and is well worth consideration.

The SIRC website provides interesting data on other topics as well, and as a receipient of their updates and newsletters, I always take time to review them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Abandoned But Not Forgotten

How often in our work as Knowledge Managers do we hear people say they are afraid the context or stories of what truly happened in the organization are at risk of being lost?

When we do lose the context or rationale behind decisions or actions, we usually make up stories to fill in the gaps. Often without meaning to do so. Somehow people feel uncomfortable simply 'not knowing,' and so we make something up. We create a myth.

An illustration of this is a site I've just found called 'Abandoned But Not Forgotten'. This site provides pictures of places around the world, sometimes even entire villages, which are abandoned. One interesting example is a village in Italy, completely abandoned.

So, how do we come to understand the context behind villages, dams, factories, and so forth now completely abandoned. We make up stories. Yet the context, the actual decisions and rationale behind these pictures would be fascinating. I believe there are other sites such as this as well, though I've not yet visited them. The pictures do help you think about the stories lost, the stories made up, and the aftermath. Myth can become reality simply by telling it over and over.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Many Forms of Infrastructure

It has been a difficult week here in Minnesota. The collapse of the 35W Bridge has left many people devastated and taken a number of lives. Pictures of this tragedy have dominated the news and touched many Americans. I know the people of Minnesota have pulled together not only during the crisis, but to show support to the families of the victims as well as to each other in the aftermath.

Now, in the wake of this tragedy we must learn what went wrong and understand how to apply the lessons to keep other lives from needlessly being lost. We must identify and share key lessons. We need to work on the underlying physical infrastructure of our country. This was known previously but until it became a crisis once again, we lived in denial. Actually this is only one type of lesson to be learned.

We must also recognize that we are human. As a society we have been traumatized by events such as 9/11. Seeing those events again and again on TV and the internet, feeling helplessness, fear and sorrow....all of this has left scars. The collapse of the bridge a few days ago was re-traumatizing as we again saw devastation and watched good people lose loved ones.

Our emotions are the infrastructure of our own lives just as the highways, pipelines and bridges are part of the infrastructure of our physical lives. We need to ensure our emotional infrastructure is sound and that we are giving it the time, the focus, the energy we need to continue to be strong and solid.

In Minnesota, when the bridge collapsed, I saw people with that same look in their eyes as I did when in the tri-state area near NY during 9/11. There is a glassy quality, a bit removed, dazed and almost vacant. The look of trauma and sadness so profound it is hard to express much less experience.

Let us not forget that we need to take time for each other, take care of our emotional selves and heal, just as we work to rebuild the 35W Bridge or the rest of our physical infrastructure. We need to look for signs of fatigue in our selves, as we do in the steel structures around us. And if we find them, we must not be afraid to take the time to heal, and to heal each other. We need each other, and we need to learn our lessons together, with kindness and compassion.

Let's learn together that we need to be allowed to be human, to feel what we feel in a healthy way, and to deal with each other in compassion. Take the time to repair the infrastructure around us now, so that if and when another crisis hits, we will be able to withstand it. I am thankful for the people of Minnesota who pulled together during this time and proud to be in their presence.

Managing Upwards

Recently a reader asked a question concerning how to manage a KM initiative when all of the other people they need to engage for success are at a higher level... stak.

Since this question comes up quite often, I am including my recommendations here...and they are open for discussion!

A great question, and a situation that is quite frequent. Well worth some good dialogue. I will do this top of mind-- and will be glad to be more specific with any additional questions you have.

First, without knowing more about your situation I say congratulations. You have a golden opportunity to increase your name recognition and have impact on the organization. This is an opportunity to use influence to manage upwards. Not easy, but I'll bet you are up to the task.

I would first consider who the major stakeholders are in the initiative. Which directors and above will be most directly impacted by the KM work? Which of those have you had contact with in the past or built a relationship with? I would start there.

It is important to understand what the stakeholders have on their minds. I would want to ask them --if this KM work is successful, how will you know? What does success look like to you? You will need to manage expectations so first you need to know what they are.

When you have those conversations, it will help you to have a very concise, brief and well crafted communication to explain what you are doing. You can have a slide deck (argh, I am such a consultant!), a project description or a story to tell them. However, give them room to provide the feedback you are asking for.

When you speak with them, stand in curiosity and hear what they have to say. They will notice. Do not make promises you can not keep, and do things in bite sized pieces. Set realistic expectations.

Ask them how they want to be kept informed-- do they want emails, meetings, voice mails, etc and how frequently do they want updates. Also, do they have people who could learn from this initiative, who may be willing to give a small percentage of time? That would keep them involved.

Lastly, remember you move people from awareness to acceptance to action and can't move them much faster then that. Create a communications plan for the stakeholders to facilitate them through those steps.

Ok, that is a lot of info...and the question is just general enough that I am not sure I have given you what you need. Please feel free to ask more-- and I will create a blog posting about it. You have a great opportunity, and if well leveraged, you can change your organization!

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Power of Words

I receive an e-newsletter from Genius Catalyst which I always read. How often do we actually say we read an e-newsletter each time it arrives?

This one is well worth the time. I am attaching part of yesterday's edition.

I put it forward to you today as a reminder of how critical our choice of language is as we work to manage knowledge. The experiment provided here is a powerful example of how our language builds trust, and how trust impacts our work, our relationships and our organizations. Trust is a primary component to managing knowledge.

Enjoy, and when you have a chance, take a look at Genius Catalyst.

"The greatest gift we can give our children is a yes that means yes and a no that means no."
-Bill Cumming

Many times, in our desire to leave options open or in an effort to be polite, we say "maybe" to things we know in our hearts we do not really want to do (or will simply not follow through and do).

The problem with saying "maybe" when we actually mean "no" is that we begin to learn that what we say is not to be trusted - that far from our word being our bond, it's just "noise in the machine".

How would your relationships with others (and your relationship with yourself) change if you suddenly began to not only mean what you say but also to say what you mean - that is, if you not only walked your talk but began to talk your walk?

Today's Experiment:

1. Choose a day this week where you do not have any "earth-shattering meetings" during which changing your habitual communication patterns might be hazardous to your long-term future.

2. When that day arrives, resolve to speak ONLY when you can put yourself 100% behind each and every word you utter.

3. Decide when else it might be appropriate to experiment with the power of your word.

As my friend and mentor Bill Cumming says, "If someone doesn't get that you mean what you say when you say "No", they won't think you mean what you say when you say, "I love you."

Have fun, learn heaps, and talk your walk!

Copyright info for the following: This newsletter and all content within it is (c)2007 Michael Neill and Genius Catalyst Inc. except where otherwise noted.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Are we ready for the wonders of communication and technology

Do you find it hard to keep up with all of the new technologies and uses of them? I wonder on occasion if we as humans are actually ready to keep up with the myriad of possibilities laid out for us. Do we know the basics of communications well enough to do it in real time, immediately, between cultures and languages and traditions?
My question really is, if we are not yet superb at the subtleties of face to face communication, how do we think we can do it real time, around the world, using short text and never meeting.

And if we are that good, why are we not applying it to making our organizations work effectively, addressing global issues or communicating between countries to create common language and understanding.

I am perplexed. We can use sites like Twitter to share what each of us are doing at exactly this moment, yet can not find a way to stop bloodshed or increase across cultural communication or even to help feed our neighbors when in need.

Maybe I am the only one who wishes we would apply our new found communication to issues which will bring us forward rather than creating videos of babyies acting as little landlords to allow a comedian to be seen around the globe. We don't just need the tools, we need the common sense and set of priorities to use them. We need to keep the motto "Do the Right Thing" in mind as we build and use the streams of communication we work so hard to create.

Being talked at is not a good use of your time either, dear reader. Many of you let me know by email what you think of my posts and I appreciate the feedback. Perhaps you'd like to let each of us know about your thoughts on the subject above and post them to the blog. I, for one, am listening.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Just how complicated can we make this?

I have come to believe some organizations and individuals allow themselves to feel overwhelmed by the task of identifying and sharing knowledge. They decide that managing knowledge is all too complicated and they just don't have time.

So, who said they had to start with the most complicated pieces and go from there? Frankly, starting at the complex, in my humble opinion, will lead to failure. It is like teaching a child to run before they walk or crawl-- simply doesn't work and isn't logical.

If every organization took it upon themselves to be disciplined enough to do the following, experience shows they could shift their culture toward a learning environment. Yes, with just the following changes.

1. For every meeting, create an agenda which includes a well crafted description of the purpose of the meeting, what role is played by the meeting (make decisions, have discussion, create new ideas, etc), identify those who are mandatory and those who are optional, describe each meeting topic and who will present it, and let people know if they are able to send a delegate or not.

2. Designate a note taker at the beginning of the meeting (or before) and clearly describe their role. Do not take verbatim notes (unless it is a requirement) but focus on the key learning, the action items, the areas for further exploration. Get the notes out to people directly after the meeting.

3. At the end of the meeting determine: What are the key learnings from the meeting, Who needs else needs to know them, How will they be shared?

The last three points are key. OK, this is simple, isn't it? Now, try to put it into play. What do you need to have in the organization and in yourself to make that happen consistently. If you do not have discipline to have effective and productive meetings, and share your learning after, what would lead you to believe you will have a successful complex KM initiative?

Let's keep it simple. Here is an example of a website that does just that. They know their audience, they know their content, they make it simple to reach. The subject (astrophysics) is not simple at all. But the subject seems quite uncomplicated on this site. Let's hear it for Harvard!

Don't fret that you have not yet found a way to put social networks to work. Get the basic hygiene of sharing knowledge right and you will come a long way. How complicated do you need to make it?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Managing Personal Medication Knowledge

Sometimes we are able to find sites which provide not only excellent practical, usable knowledge but great examples of how to organize and represent information well. This is true in the Consumer Reports site on Medications.

The folks at Consumer Reports have listened well to their audience and created a site which answers questions, provides background information and helps the audience make well informed decisions. It is eye opening in the area of drug to drug interaction and the risks involved in taking multiple medication. We assume our physicians understand each drug and will consider how the new drug they prescribe to us will interact with current drugs taken. However the complexities of such knowledge are highlighted here.

As we consider the medications we take, we must be well informed consumers, proactive in our own care. This site helps each us make sense of a complex situation.

I highly recommend a review of the site, not just as a consumer of medications but also as a KM practioner. Well done, Consumer Reports.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Time It Takes To Manage Knowledge

I've written in this blog before about the desire in organizations to have a silver bullet to address knowledge management. Some organizations simply think there should be one process to handle all of the challenges of sharing what they know across the organization. What's more, that one process should also get them to work well together across boundaries, collaborate openly and hold hands while singing kumbaya. Right.

In that same vein, organizations will say they want that one process to take an hour because they are simply too busy. Too busy to learn? As though 20 years of accummulated technical or scientific knowledge combined with a depth of understanding of the organization, the industry, or the regulators, can be transferred back to the organization in two hours.

If it was that fast and that easy, it would have been done. And often what keeps the organization so busy is rework from redundant mistakes which could have been prevented by taking the time to learn.

To me, this is a matter of the organization not taking responsiblity for it's own issues. For example, sharing knowledge is not just about creating a process, it is about creating a culture in which knowledge sharing is valued. The culture must allow and facilite honest talk, to learn from both the successes and mistakes made. We, as consultants, can not give an organization time if they do not make the time. We can not create a process to faciliate learning if the organization will not take the time to learn. At some point the organization must stop and take accountablity for their own issues. Do they value the experience and learning held by each employee, or do they not? They must be honest. Learning requires honesty, courage and openness. There is not a process in the world that can replace those traits. A well crafted process can have some limited effect, and can begin to change the culture, but that will not last if the organization squealches learning.

If an expert is willing to share what they have learned over years of experience, but are told that they can only have 2 hours of time to identify and share the knowledge, is that not an insult to them? And add to that only a few people will be given the time to learn and if the expert speaks of mistakes it might hurt their career. Why would they bother? It sounds more harmful then helpful.

Where did we stop taking responsiblity for ourselves in organizations? When can we step up to the plate and know that for an organization to succeed in the long term, we must each develop the willingness to look at ourselves, our work, our outcomes honestly and determine what is working, what is not, and how to fix it. We need to know what role we play in the success of the organization and not be timidly deciding that we can not rock the boat or make waves (or mix metaphors). We must take the time it takes to share knowledge, to learn from each other, to have the conversations and dialogue needed to be innovative and continually improving. Less than that simply provides only a short term illusion of success.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Digital Data Crisis

There is a fascinating and terrifying story on the BBC News website that is well worth the time to read. In essence the reporter tells us that the chief executive of the UK National Archives warns there is a "ticking time bomb" in our problem of accessing old digital file formats.

Scary but it makes a great deal of sense. The thought of losing years worth of critical knowledge because we can no longer access old file formats is not new to those of us who may have archived an old computer without removing all of the data.
Doing so now, years later, would be quite difficult if we had forgotten things such as passwords or types of software.

In this story, Gordan Frazer, the UK head of Microsoft, warned of a "digital dark age."

Identifying, capturing and re-using critical knowledge is a foundational concept of knowledge management. Technology has long been thought to be not only an enabler, but to some it is the most important tool. Now, it seems, technology becomes the biggest challenge if we do not ensure data access.

And do we care? Remembering the stories from David DeLong's Book, 'Lost Knowledge', you bet we care. Do we have the time, the resources or the patience to re-learn what has already been learned? Is it not arrogant of us to think we need not build off of past knowledge as we create new products, ideas, concepts?

It seems we could face, on a much larger scale, the issues we face in our organizations each day-- determining if we have time and desire to learn from the past. I have written about this often and experience it with almost every client. And we have terabytes of data at risk in this brave new world.

Is it not worth the time for us to consider how we can mitigate the risk of not being able to utilize data, information and knowledge created in the past few years or the past many years? Are we shortsighted enough as a society that we believe we can simply let all of our past learnings go?

Would we be willing to do that as individuals? What if we had to let go of every lesson we had learned in our lives, save those in the past few years, unless they were embedded in us. In addition, we could not pass the old lessons on to our offspring because we had lost it. Does that make sense on a personal level? Does it make more sense on a professional level?

Friday, July 06, 2007

KM Structure

Having internal resources to put Knowledge Management into place is almost always the biggest issue faced by my client companies. In our current business or economic environment, it is difficult to get the resources you need for project work, let alone staff KM. One part of this puzzle is to ensure KM shows business value and is seen as an impactful, important initiative. In any organization, profit or not-for-profit, there is no substitute for showing measurable value.

Another piece of this issue how we think of Knowledge Management. Is it a discipline or function such as finance or Human Resources? Or is it a transitory discipline which will, eventually, become a way of being or a way of working?

The latter is what we strive for.

I have seen powerful success (and I use the word powerful deliberately) when companies have carefully chosen a group to lead the KM work for the first two years. Yes, they do retain some portion of their day jobs, but portion is the operative word. This group is given the visible support of the leadership team (another key element) and allowed to implement KM pilots, using internal volunteers (and small amount of external help as needed). They do the pilots one at a time, and as the outcomes are created, there is room for honesty about successes, challenges, learnings and so forth. Communication is key and the organization learns from mistakes as well as failures. It is the quality of the effort that is rewarded, not just success.

In this environment it does not take long for others to volunteer to do KM work. As the volunteers emerge, they are trained on the processes which have been created to be replicable and trainable.

This may sound simplistic, but it does have merit. The managing of knowledge of is less about the group designated to do it and more about having the organization pick it up. This helps promote not only cultural uptake but sustainability. No model is wrong, each has pitfalls and positives. This is one which has seen success in the past.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Context is Everything

Joshua Bell, the renowned violinist, recently participated in an experiment sponsored by the Washington Post. Bell,who had just completed a performance at the Library of Congress with the Boston Symphony, played in the NY Subway. Adorned with a baseball hat, the violinist played for the commuters and made a whopping $43. He was not recognized by the passing public, except by one woman who stopped and gave him $20. (She had context for his playing).
In reflection Mr Bell remarked that he thought some people were even offended by his playing.

What is the difference between revering a great artist in one setting and ignoring or even being rude to him in another? Context. And in the world of knowledge management, context is everything as well. Knowledge can be seen and used, or ignored and dismissed, depending on the setting. Often we do not recognize brilliance if it is not in the context in which we would expect to see it.

Standing in curiosity is not always easy, but at least we might recognize the beautiful music in the midst of the noise of daily life.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Tasty KM Example

From time to time I include in this blog a real life example of knowledge well managed on the web. Recently I have been reviewing sites about health related issues. I found a site which I think epitomizes good knowledge management.

This site takes us through the sometimes confusing and seemingly ever-changing world of nutrition, and I think it is a resounding success. The information is well organized, the layout is visually appealing without adding distraction. The content appears to be current and the sources of information quite reliable. The site is now owned by after being sold by the couple who founded it a few years back.

Anyone could mimic the archetecture of the site, at least enough to help them consider how to share knowledge via a website: A) target your audience B)target your message C) make it usuable to the audience chosen D) make it easy to navigate, up to date and clean

Basic steps but we all need to consider them. This site is full of knowledge without being full of itself at the same time. Well worth a read and a bookmark.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Knowledge People Leave With

Today I am speaking to the Minnesota League of Cities. I am struck by the fact that the need for managing knowledge and sharing learning, is everywhere. It doesn't matter if it is a large global firm, a mom and pop shop or a governmental agency. We all must learn to share what we know, leverage and use it wisely, to increase our productivity, quality, effectiveness and to sustain success. We all need to make better future decisions based on an understanding of context, future implications, external trends and patterns, and past experience.

Yet we feel isolated somehow. Client groups often tell me they either feel like the only ones who struggle with the issue of knowledge transfer or the only ones who need it. That is not even logical. We need it in families to help our children know how to best navigate in the world, we need it in schools to help teachers teach and to understand how students most effectively learn, and we need it in organizations, to help us all be as good as the best and not continually repeat costly and energy draining mistakes.

Government needs to understand how to transfer knowledge. The complexities faced not only in the Federal sector but in state and local government are enormous. Small towns also must know how to get funds for road construction, school systems, water and other utilities. They must find a way to have police and fire protection and face natural disasters. They must know how to transfer knowledge with few people to transfer knowledge to. That is a huge challenge in and of itself.

All of this to say we are not alone in needing to learn how to cooperate, communicate and manage our knowledge. As you are learning how to do this for your organization, turn around and teach those in the infrastructure that supports you to do the same. Government and non-profit need the same lessons we are learning on the job. Be willing to share your knowledge.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The zen of hiking and managing knowledge

We all know that managing knowledge is easiest when we are passionate about the subject or if the knowledge we are managing is immediately useful. The motivation intensifies and we almost forget that what we are doing is KM. One example of this is the website and resource list for hiking trails around the world:

You'll find trails described for places far and wide, some with pictures, others with excellent descriptions. You'll also find blogs and sites of hiking enthusiasts that provide a tool to share experiential knowledge of the trails and hiking in general. Vendors also have a place to showcase hiking gear and accessories.

There is no doubt this site is driven by a passion for hiking. As we strive to manage knowledge in our own companies, we need people who have a passion for the work and for what is being learned. This also means we need people with a passion for the organization, or at very least for the mission of the organization.

If you do not have that, if there are no people with passion, managing knowledge is not the answer. Taking a deeper look at the organization itself may well be called for. It is most likely time for an organizational assessment-- Is your mission clear and well articulated? Is it one the employees can grab on to and go with? Does organizational trust exist?

You want to manage knowledge like these hikers do. I am not necessarily referring to how they have structured the data. I am referring to the enthusiasm of a group who are driven to share what they know so others may benefit from the lessons learned. Through the site, these folks help others not make the same mistakes others have, and to be more productive with their hiking time. That is what you want. You have to have the passion to begin to manage the knowledge coupled with the need, and then you can follow the lead of the hikers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Step back Craigs List, look out YouTube

Online person to person marketing continues to expand, change and transition. That is what managing knowledge is all about. People who have a need take hold of what is available and use it to meet that need. In this case, the need is for new and better ways to connect with the external world to sell or trade goods. Creativity and technology intersect to give us a new vehicle:
“ combines the hottest Internet trends in one, easy-to-use site: e-commerce, snarky writing, funny videos, everyone's desire to be a star and video sharing.”

Truly we are moving into new technologies and fast paced trends which will have long lasting effects. This is one of the latest and quite interesting. How will this effect the managing of knowledge within and between businesses and organizations? Only our own lack of creativity holds us back. Trends used to be fleeting, now they change how we work on a day to day basis. Moreover there is such a fast pace that we can not always identify which trend was the catalyst.

Check it out, see what you think. And then, see how it might apply to your organization. Don't blink. The next trend will be here tomorrow. And it will make a difference.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

6 billion others and what we have in common

Life does get hectic and time can get away from you. This happens with all of us. It's one of the many commonalities between us-- time. We tend to look at what keeps us apart, instead of what unites us and binds us together. A new project called 6 Billion Others helps us see on the broadest of scales, how closely we are linked. They have set quite a goal for themselves, amassing thousands, soon tens of thousands, of video interviews of people from all over the world.

We are much more alike than we are dissimilar. Take a look. Listen while standing in curiosity and you will hear people of all different walks of life, countries, colors, ages, talk about their own journeys. You will hear how they differ and come to know them better. And you will hear how much they are like each of us.

Hats off to this group. Take a look...gain some new knowledge and insight into our brothers and sisters. That is what our work as knowledge managers is all about.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What is knowledge management?

12 years into my career in knowledge management and the most often asked question is still 'What is knowledge management?' The question which follows is often 'What is knowledge?'

In my experience, working to define knowledge management is the wrong use of energy, time, resources and head space. Think instead of the problem you are trying to solve, of the business imperative you are trying to meet. Is there a knowledge component to it? There almost always is.

I believe most business disciplines experience a life cycle from conception through to awareness, to experimentation and implementation and finally to acceptance.
I wonder when acceptance will come to knowledge management. Perhaps it doesn't need to. Perhaps it is the lack of consistent business case.

Consider the risks faced by your organization, your projects or your client relationships. What knowledge do you need to help mitigate those risks? Where is it? In what form? Is it easily accessed? Does it live in the stories of those most experienced or specialized, or in databases around which someone must make sense?

How do you define the discipline which meets the above needs? Problem solving, critical thinking, decision making all come to mind, though problem solving is the most prevalent. And that is what KM is all about; solving problems, making better decisions as quickly as possible, and having all of the contextual knowledge needed to clearly and concisely consider an issue.

In the end, does it matter how you define managing knowledge? Can you have one definition which accurately fits the above scenarios without it being watered down and simply useless? Ensure what you do has business value, meets or anticipates a need, provides competitive other words use common sense. Don't waste time, and do explore and experiment. Whatever you do, have a purpose in mind. Learn. Share your learning with anyone else in the organization who can benefit from the learning. Worry about the outcome and the journey and less about what you label it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

knowledge management is not a silver bullet

Turbulence seems to be a way of life in many organizations at present. The issues raised by the aging of the baby boomers, the economic climate, global environment, regulatory pressures and shifting consumer needs seem to be creating the perfect storm for companies to take on water and run on chaos. During a time of challenge or struggle, it is natural for an organization to look for a way out, more often a band-aid then a true cure for the deeper ailments. They look for what they can see quickly to ease the pain and handle the symptoms. Sometimes organizations decide that better, quicker, faster managing of knowledge is what they need to help them create a more effective organization, build a better culture, address the economic and other challenges.

Frankly, consultants and consulting firms hoping to cash in on a new trend have helped to fuel that misguided belief.

Without a doubt effectively managing knowledge can assist a company turn toward better water, but it can not replace strong and wise leadership, good company practices, and a willingness to learn. Knowledge management can help build the tools, processes and methods of learning but it can not, on it's own, create a learning organization. That is a myth and a dangerous myth at that.

Persistent, authentic, and strong leadership is needed to create the organizational structure, culture and foundation for a learning organization. If knowledge can be quickly shared but no one dares talk about the missteps and mistakes, the knowledge can not be trusted or utilized. Bad behavior can not be changed by managing knowledge. We know this. Yet we wish for a quick fix and something to blame. It takes work and courage to lead an organization in a way where questioning is allowed, mistakes are not a fireable offense and learning is a way of life. It takes deep commitment to the future, not a driving need for short term gain.

My hope is to meet and work with more and more leaders who possess the vision, values and strength of character to lead for the future, rather than for this year's bonus. My fear is that there are fewer and fewer of those people in the driver's seat.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Being Authentic in Managing Knowledge

It's another day of learning and of applying what we discover to managing knowledge. Today's theme centers on being authentic. Coming from a place of no agenda (or as little as possible), to share what we have learned, how we think, what we know to be true, and our perception of what went wrong, is critical to sharing knowledge and to learning.

Yet inside and outside of organizations, people find being authentic a challenge. They are worried about repercussions, ramification, or in other words, fallout. I am finding they are so fearful, in fact, that they simply let things slide rather than speak up for the truth. What are they worried about? Losing their jobs, losing respect or trust, losing face, the list goes on. It's a long list. Yet, where is the benefit in not speaking up, in not being authentic? Perhaps in the short term they avoid confict, but in the long term they sacrifice sustainable organizational success, and even their own self respect.

When will we learn that playing it safe can lead to the downfall of entire companies.? It is sad and it is true. Being authentic is not always easy, but it allows knowledge to be trusted and better yet, you get to sleep at night.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Comprehensive Resource for Knowledge

There is a unique and interesting family of online publications and resources which are part of a group called Freepint.
As those of you familiar with the British pub scene know, Freepint translates in American English to Free Beer. You have to admit, the name gets your attention.

One of the publications is, and is run by a knowledgeable guy named Gary Price. For those who love to find valuable, useable and fun information on the web, I have seen fewer more valuable sites then Resourceshelf. The site is designed for professional searchers-- need I say more? You will find everything from copyright information and online sources to real time resources (weather, transportation, public safety-anything that can be tracked real time), business resources and fun stuff.

Gary and his contributors pull together the best of the best resources for information. In other words, they do all the heavy lifting and we reap the benefits.
I can not recommend this site more highly. If you have any questions, contact Gary and you will find him responsive, helpful and gracious.

Another sister publication in the Freepint group is Jinfo or
This publication is designed to help information scientists, knowledge managers and others in related fields find jobs. Though it is focused on the UK, again it is well worth the read. Check out the article I recently wrote for them on job transition.

For those of you who are familiar with the people who work in the reference library portion of the New York City Library (and you can call those people with questions at anytime on any subject), you will see a similarity here, especially with Resourceshelf. These folks are here to help. Isn't that what KM is all about?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How to share 20 years of experience

If KM were truly embedded in the cultures of our organizations, would the following scenario ever happen?
An employee with 20+ years of experience in the company, and a vast amount of unique, experiential, vital knowledge retires. The company asks him to tell them where his files are, make a list of his projects, and requests, maybe, that he interview his replacement. They then hold an exit interview during which the employee is asked to identify why the employee is leaving (hmmm...the relevance of the answer is what?), what he liked or disliked about his employment with the company (OK, again, the relevance is what?), and what, in his opinion, could be done to help employees stay longer (do I need to repeat the question above?). And that, my friends, is the extent of the knowledge transfer. Perhaps there is a bit more, but nothing formalized.

Why is this? Because there is no process in place, and because they waited 20 years to do it. Sharing 20 years of knowledge is no easy feat. Yes, it can be done. I am working with a client group now in which we are sharing 35 years of unique, business critical knowledge from a group of people and it is going very well. However it would have been so much easier and effective to have processes to share this knowledge along the way.

Start with the small things-- ask people to share key learnings from meetings, invite both the newbies and the tenured folks to meetings you've already scheduled and get them to dialogue, question and tell stories. Have people share their key learnings and make constructive questioning a valued way of life. Let key milestones in projects or initiatives be a driver to do an honest assessment and lessons learned.

Waiting 20 years means many lost opportunities, lost knowledge and hard work. Don't make knowledge transfer more complex then it need be. And, most importantly, don't wait. By the time the knowledge is shared, those who could have applied it immediately are playing with their grandchildren.

Monday, May 14, 2007

live and up close looney view of KM

There are many ways to share knowledge but few as powerful as observation. A delightful example of this is found on the website of Ron Schara who is well known for his stories of Minnesota people, places and wildlife. Ron and his dog Raven have been traveling the great state of Minnesota for years introducing Ron's audience to the hidden treasures of the state he loves.

The current stars of are a pair of nesting loons, beautiful birds being filmed in their natural habitat in northern Minnesota as they sit atop of nest of eggs. The filming goes on 24/7 and the audience is treated to a meditative and wonderful world just larger then the size of the nest of a loon. I'll warn you, watching can be addictive and the loons capture your heart.

There is a lot to say for observation and as much to be said for learning and teaching in silence.

Documenting KM as life

How many times have we thought, as we are working through issues of managing knowledge, that taking time to document what we do is rather a pain. Yet we know how important it is. We simply can not find a way to balance the two-- the time it takes and the importance of the task. The bottom line is, we must get it done.

I'm finding blogging much the same way. There are times when you allow aspects of life to rule your time and you set asides the task of documenting what you learn. Blogging is one important way I document my learning. Blogging allows me a moment to reflect on what I have learned in life and turn it into an applicable lesson for managing knowledge.

I found myself this week having little time for reflection and that reminded me of my clients, who also find themselves without time for reflective learning. That lack of time can lead (and often does) to lack of clarity and focus and less well-considered decisions.

Documenting the learning for me solidifies what I have just come to understand and helps me apply it again in the future. The same goes for the organizations in which we work. Not taking the time to document results in not passing on the learning, less consistency in the future and the increased possiblity of repeating mistakes.

I found that when I blog as soon as the idea hits, I am much better off. If I start ideas without worry about immediate completion and keep them as draft, I have more to go from each day. I have not used a template format, but that can work in some situations. In other words, there are shortcuts to documenting. The important thing is that we all see the benefit in acquiring the discipline to write what we learn or to codifiy it and pass it along in whatever vechile works for us. Just do it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Aging and Knowledge Management

There are moments when I am so pleased to be 'accumulating experiences' as my friends in knowledge management like to call the aging process. Perhaps that feeling is a combination of one part denial and the other part making better decisions by using past learning.

There is no denying however that the population in this country is getting older. All types of new businesses are erupting to help the over 50 crowd. One that I have just seen today is a new twist-- a search engine for those who are 50 plus.

You gotta wonder what is different in the information needs of the baby boomer/traditionalist generations as opposed to others. The first thing I noticed is that the default font when I type in search is a larger size. Ah, yes, the eyes are going... It makes me want to explore the issue further and yet, I have to admit, I am not sure I agree with the separation of data or knowledge for any one demographic. I might get some emails on this (which I do though no one uses the comment option) but I am not sure determining how to organize knowledge per some type of label brings us forward. In any case, check the search engine out. The nickname: Cranky!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Have we forgotten how to listen?

I just received my e-copy of the InnovationNetwork newsletter. In it is an excerpt from the book "How To Talk To Customers" by Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin, Senior Vice Presidents of Communico Ltd., a customer service training and consulting company.

The subject is 'listening' and as always, the lessons can apply in our personal as well as professional lives. Listening-- seems we take for granted that we all know how to do that. We have ears, we hear people talk-- or we can understand what they are saying via other means. But do we really? Have we lost the ability in our fast paced, overloaded, ultra productive lives to really stand in their shoes and hear them from where they are?

The piece of managing knowledge we seem to forget to address is the receptor's ability to hear and listen as well as our ability to build a common language and understanding. We are continually looking at how to get people to share knowledge, how to judge what needs to be shared, how to store and catalog and utilize but we rarely focus on what is needed to listen. We must hear people from where they stand to get the context of what they are trying to share. We must take a breath and put ourselves in their shoes before we judge their words. From what vantage point and background of experience are they sharing? We simply forget to consider that.

I am continually reminded in all of this that the best place for me is to stand in curiosity. As my colleague Paula Love states, this is the place to hear from a new perspective.

I recommend reviewing the Innovation Network newsletter and the book referenced above. Brought to you by the InnovationNetwork

Let me give you a brief rundown-- The rest of this blog entry contains an excerpt. I may not agree with the descriptions of the levels, but I do agree with the basic points the authors raise. Well worth the read. Enjoy.

There are really four levels of listening:

1. Level One -- Here, the dialogue itself is largely transactional
- focused on the task..
2. Level Two -- Rapport building characterizes this level of
listening. You ask more questions to gain a greater sense of the
other person's meaning.
3. Level Three -- The dialogue is characterized by a sense of
warmth and perception. The focus at this level is on empathy.
4. Level Four -- This is the deepest level. Your attention is often
intuitive and you remain largely silent.

Much of our communication--particularly in a business setting--
occurs at levels one and two. It's largely an empirical process,
dominated by an exchange of facts and figures. That's not to say
it's "bad" -- just, perhaps, not as effective as the level of
listening that we would like to establish.

By contrast, Level Four focuses on letting the other person talk and
typically only occurs in close relationships where there is trust
and mutual respect.

Level Three listening is attentive, nonjudgmental, and genuinely
recognizes the other person's feelings and perspective ... it's in a
word, empathic. This is the level you want to achieve in your
interactions with customers.


However desirable, listening at Level Three is often difficult. We
may be preoccupied with other concerns, distracted by what's
happening around us or simply eager to address the problem.

If you have a tendency to listen at Level One or Two (listening for
facts and details), then you will not "hear" what the customer is
really saying. You need to listen to his words and tone in a
different way ... in a way that goes beyond the facts. Level Three
is about listening for and acknowledging their feelings and the
significance of the issue. Then and only then are you really
connecting with the customer, and thereby, building or restoring the

So, what do you do when you listen at Level Three? First, listen
for the big picture and be careful to not get bogged down in the
words and details that are coming at you. Provide a space for the
customer to share what's on his mind, without interruption.

To be truly empathic, choose a non-judgmental attitude. Watch your
tendencies to make assumptions, judge what you are hearing or
project how you would think or feel in that situation. Just
recognize how the person is feeling and accept what she shares.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Strategies for KM organizations

The debates continue about how to organize KM efforts within organizations. Virtual teams, dedicated resources, corporate level, grassroots, everyone has a viewpoint.
Lately I have seen more and more client groups moving to the virtual team model. Yesterday an esteemed colleague from a Fortune 50 company said they thought it was a sign of perceived value when an organization dedicates headcount to KM.

I have to say I disagree. That had been my way of thinking some time ago. Now I have come to think that might be detrimental to embedding KM behaviors within the culture. Yes, there might be a period of time where people are focused on a KM initiative, and there might be business unit or site KM leaders who have managing knowledge as part of their jobs. Full time resources would indicate that knowledge is managed by one group of people and perhaps not be the job of every individual.

I would rather see a revolving virtual team of people who can all learn the skills and hand-off the processes to new people on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. This would increase internal competency and yet not make it too easy for the organization to shrug off accountability for KM. Yes, there would be other challenges in this model, but I think the payoff might well be worth it. The world is changing, resources are at a premium and we must do what we can to change the behaviors and competencies of our groups to meet the new challenges.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Leveraging strengths in Knowledge Management

Marcus Buckingham has written a follow up book to 'Discover Your Strengths'. This one, 'Go Put Your Strengths to Work' allows people to focus on their specific strengths which help bring them forward in the workplace. The detail of Buckingham's work allows the reader to use his/her top strengths to work better, smarter, more effectively without focus on a need to shore up weakpoints. (

The concepts behind both books make logical sense-- spend time developing your strengths, rather than ignoring them while you strive to simply improve your weaknesses.

This is also true in business. Why do we insist on taking our precious resources like time and energy to work on a slight improvement of our weaknesses while not building on the momentum of our organizational strengths. We have learned a great deal from partnerships and outsourcing. Those areas which are not strengths may be best done by someone else. Why not take what we excel at, or have the potential to excel at, to new levels and find a great partner to do the rest.

And, why do we not consider the strengths of the individuals in our organizations more carefully when we assign them to roles and tasks. This includes KM roles and tasks. People with high analytical ability are good at certain areas of KM while people thought of as relators can work on the networks of relationships and trust needed for knowledge to flow. The list of strengths matched to need or task goes on. There is much to be gained from this type of understanding and so much momentum to be built upon our strengths rather than concentrate on the resistance of our weaknesses.

We keep ourselves from our true potential in business or in life when we concentrate on what is not working, and ignore the amazing power of what IS working and enhance it. Everyone is doing KM in some form or another. Find it, celebrate it, build on it, give credit for those who do it, and create momentum.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Applying new business ideas to KM

It had to happen. There had to be a business turning email into posted or snail mail, for those who are unable or unwilling to place a stamp on an envelope or write long hand. This week's edition of Springwise ( newsletter provides some creative and innovative new ideas for business.

So why not take some of those ideas and apply inside your organization? For example, Zipcars ( is a car sharing company in the UK which has gotten a good bit of press. They have creatively partnered with a company renting out driveways and other parking spaces ( to combine the ability to share a car and the ability to park it.
Brilliant, we might say. However, this is the simple concept of resource allocation and sharing, taken to the outside world. Can we not do that within our own organizations?

Managing knowledge includes the ability to locate experts and other resources in throughout the organization. We map networks of people, documents and other resources on a regular basis. Why not use our internal knowledge management capabilities to address business issues with the same sort of out of the box thinking as the entrepreneurs listed in Springwise.

The steps to applying new innovative ideas are not complex:
a) Review the business issue you are trying to solve or address
b) Break that issue into the basic components (i.e. procurement, distribution, budgeting, etc..)
c) For each component, consider other similar processes, procedures etc done in your organization (who else procures, distributes, budgets, partners, etc) even if the area of business is dissimilar to your own
d) talk to them about how you might either partner together, learn from them or share resources to get things done

Although this might sound like an easy, logical idea, one of my biotech clients realized they had missed opportunities because they simply did not have the time to think outside of the box or outside of their business unit. They found cost and time saving, as well as process improvement, once they looked up from their tasks and out into the organization for new ideas.

If nothing else, provides some thought provoking conversation!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why does contextual history matter

When you talk to organizations about sharing deeply held expertise, they will often tell you it is very important, but they do not dedicate time or resources to capturing it. There is also the fear of being mired in the past. Somehow sharing the contextual history of an organization's products, decisions, etc. leads people to believe they will be constrained by that knowledge, rather than empowered to use it to make better decisions in the future.

For example, one of my clients holds unique knowledge about a set of products critical to the success of his company. The products have gone through 30 years of design and marketing changes. As my client prepared to retire, it was critical to capture and share the contextual history of the product including decisions made, intended and actual results, lessons learned and so forth. As we developed a process to capture the information, we heard comments such as, 'Why do we need to know what happened 15 years ago, the world is in a new place now.'

We designed an interactive workshop and invited those people involved in the development of the products to share the product histories. The audience learned about past decisions in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. They learned how to help differentiate their products from the competition and describe product benefits from a more complete viewpoint. The outcome from the workshop was a shared understanding of past decisions and better informed future decision making.

We, as KM practioners, need to help our clients understand that we do not wish to share every bit of tacit knowledge in the hopes that things will be done in the future exactly as they have been done in the past. Nor do we think all knowledge or experience is worthy of being brought forward. Instead, we wish to concentrate on the relevant, unique and critical knowledge which allows us to make sense of the future and levarage the past.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Learning lessons as a lifestyle

Have you ever noticed how life imitates work, or work imitates life? They say that about art, but I believe it is also true about the work we do. We learn the lessons we need to learn on and off the job, at home and at the office. Stuff happens and we have a choice. We can decide that it is happening TO us, that we are victims and helpless.....or we can chose to turn each event into a lesson, learn from it, teach others, improve our lives each time we face a challenge. It's all about the choices we make in how we approach issues, the paradigms we choose to accept and take on.

The same thing happens in organizations except in that space we are able to say things like "we need to shift our marketing paradigm to be in step with our client base." Yep, and sometimes we need to change our personal paradigms to keep in step with those things we are in the midst of in our lives. We do not change our values and our core beliefs, we change how we think about things in order to turn each of the small day to day, or the larger and more life changing challenges into valuable moments of learning. Why not? We can make ourselves the type of people who sustain personal (whatever that means to each of us) success just as we want our organizations to be those listed in books like 'From Good To Great.'

For me, Knowledge Management is a way of life, not a job. It is part of who I am, not what I do 9 to 5. And, as I am faced with those things in life which each of us are faced with, I am grateful for the attitude and the understanding of learning. This work that I love has made my life a better place to be. There is little you can not face, if in fact it is simply a learning, a class on how to be a better person and do the right thing.

OK, enough of that. I am off for a few days and will blog again next week. Here is a teaser:
Go take a look at Gary Price's ResourceShelf for an incredible rich source of information about almost anything. Gary is a professional information scientist and his site is fantastic. If there is something you don't find but need, let him know. ResourceShelf Newsletter

Thursday, April 19, 2007

excellence in healthcare knowledge sharing

Recently a colleague told me about a blog focused on the healthcare industry. As we know, blogs come and go almost daily. I wasn't convinced but took a look-- and what I found is not only an excellent resource for healthcare but an excellent example of global knowledge sharing using blog technology. One of the first things I noticed is the organization and the number of varied resources listed on the page. The resources are well considered, provide different viewpoints and are credible individuals and organizations. The listings are relevant, with well researched and timely content. This is an example of how knowledge can be effectively and efficiently shared for the biggest bang for the user. Check it out. Well worth the read!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pitfalls of managing deeply held knowledge

Most of the clients I work with have experts who hold knowledge felt to be critical to the success of the organization-- or at least to one project, technology, customer relationship etc.
At the same time, they have no idea how to capture that knowledge or even how to think about it. Write it all down, is the most common solution. Write what all down, I ask? And why?

Tacit or deeply held knowledge has the unique characteristic of being obsolete quickly-- almost as fast as it is identified and articulated. How a key relationship works, why a decision was made, how a problem was thought through and solved-- those types of things are critical at a point in time, and then they might move through the phases of being contextual help, background information and eventually outdated. Why would you write it down? Without the context around that information, the story behind the story, you lose the meat.

Why not try something new-- let's talk to each other, listen to each other and ask questions. Ah, a novel approach in our fast paced organizations today. Many consultants would be looking for new employment if clients would learn to communicate effectively and often. In the meantime, structured dialogue, active discussions and learning, collaborative problem solving would allow you to create a way to share the knowledge critical to the organization and not worry about obsolesce or documentation. (OK, you might want to document some of it, but not all of it).

Effective managing of knowledge is not rocket science but it is discipline. It is mindful communication, organization of information and the ability to self reflect. It need not be painful, though it does require some time and effort. No more time or effort then continually looking for information when you don't know where it is, who knows it or if it is up to date.

Next time your kids ask you why you got into the career you did, what made you move to Minnesota and was it a good idea, or how to make that very good golf shot, think about the deeply held knowledge you are sharing. Would you write it down? No. Do you want to share it? Yes.