Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blogging at 107

One of the preconceptions people have about managing knowledge is that they do not want to be stuck in the past. They are afraid, somehow, that sharing the past will keep them from moving towards new ideas. I continue to talk about informing future decisions by understanding the past, not to be stuck there but to simply learn from the experiences.

Meet Olive, a 107 year old Australian woman who has her own blog.

Olive shares her memories and stories of the past, and does so in dialogue with current family members. She is a fascinating woman. As interesting as her blog might be, the fact that she is doing it should be an inspiration to us all. We say we can not share our organizational contextual history because we do not have time. Olive shows us that in doing so, we make sense of the past, learn to understand ourselves better, and hopefully apply the learning to create a better future. I applaud Olive and I am sure her family has benefited from this woman's intelligence and spunk for the past century.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

From the Mouths of...

Dottie, my favorite technology futurist, provides a great deal of insight into what others, especially educators, are doing on the web. One of the neat things I saw today made me realize that kids are learning to manage knowledge in new ways, even as they do their school work.

This site
has been created by a Woodward Academy educator as a space for a book report. Yet, when you review the contents and organizational structure, you see it is all about managing knowledge. Dottie wanted me to review the site to look at how the cluster map works. The cluster map tells the kids who is viewing their site from all around the world. Can you imagine how much fun it is for a child to see that someone in Asia or Africa or China is interested in reading what they have written? It is a small world.

Yet when I saw this site I also realized that if you translate the organizational structure to knowledge to be shared inside an organization, there are great similarities. The structure is clean, simple, and well considered. Never stop looking at what is being done by those around us, young or old, in academia, profit or not for profit organizations, in entertainment or just for the enjoyment of the individual posting. There is much to learn simply by considering how people are thinking when organizing information to share. In this case, the example is very positive. In some cases, we learn from negative examples and from what does not work. The important thing is to keep learning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Social Network Analysis and the Like

Many of my colleagues are talking about social network analysis and how to best utilize the tools available. I keep coming back to the basics however. Companies are running lean, our time is more in demand and we have little room on our plates for anything extra. Before we put in place tools to analyze our networks, we must also consider how we use the information which will result.

I have great respect for SNA, and realize now that SNA technology is built into many of the tools we use on a regular basis, such as Can we, within our organizations, truly understand how to leverage this technology to our best advantage?

I think we must first consider what we are trying to accomplish. If we are trying to locate experts within our organizations-- what we will do once we locate them? Do we want to have everyone call to ask their questions, no matter the question they have? Do we want to create opportunities for group questions and discussions to ensure more people learn from the individual questions? What is our objective and how can we enhance our ability to meet it?

If we are considering SNAs for other purposes, the same issues arise. Once we decide to put a tool in place, it is late to retrofit the behaviors/culture to leverage those tools. Instead, begin with the end in mind. What is it you are trying to change, create or reinforce in your organization via SNA? What do you need to do to make that happen, including the introduction of new tools? We are often guilty of the cart before the horse way of thinking and that leads to less then optimal outcomes from our endeavors. Consideration before hand generates great discussion and dialogue. Look to your goals, create a plan, don't let up and communicate. But do look to your goals first.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A History Teacher's View of KM

Meeting Dottie, the technology futurist I mentioned earlier, has heightened my curiosity about how schools are using technology to help kids learn to manage knowledge. In my wanderings I found the following

Well worth the read my friends. Discussions of wikis, social networking and the like are intertwined with thoughts about what kids are really learning, and why. We, as future employers of these young students, need to know how their minds work and their approach to learning, to sharing and to the world.

Some of my clients express fear of the future, fear of not knowing how to work with this young population. I imagine that to be a normal reaction, one each generation has had. Even as students are now gaining experience with technologies we only dreamed of, we can use that same technology to help us get to know them. Start with this blog. I think you'll be quite impressed.

Managing Knowledge Virtually

Recently a colleague told me about the virtual reality site 'Second Life'. It's an online world in which you create an 'avatar' or a virtual self. Of course the new you does not have to look like you or sound like you, but can be any alter ego you wish. The colleague asked how I might approach Knowledge Management in this new world.

As I thought about that and began to explore 'Second Life', I also witnessed a virtual team here in this reality experiencing communication breakdowns and a lack of ability to manage and share their knowledge. The 'real' team struggled to keep each other up to date and in sync while working from various coasts and on varied projects. The storming, forming, norming and performing that is natural for any team was causing breakdowns large enough to threaten their ability to survive as an effective group. They somehow could not make time to meet, keep each other updated on progress, or create shared visions around projects. Things were going awry.

Yes, there are interventions to be put into place, and behaviors which can be enhanced for this team. But if we are challenged still to manage knowledge and behavior across a living, breathing group of individuals, imagine how we might be challenged to do so in a virtual world.

'Second Life' might sound like nothing more than a pipe dream or a new fad, however major companies are exploring this virtual reality world to see how business can be done. In fact, business is already being done, if in a small way. More will come of this, even if it does not replace global commerce. Tools like this may well enhance it. I simply wonder how ready we are. We have not yet mastered the discipline needed for communication across offices, geographies, cultures, generations....and now we are considering doing so across realities.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

New Technology and Managing Knowledge

I've recently made a very smart move. I included in my organizational network a 'technology futurist'. What in the world is that? In our case, Dottie looks at the technologies, trends and ways of thinking currently considered and used by various educational systems. She concentrates (for her University, her K-12 clients, and for us) on those technologies and trends which will impact what the workplace needs to look like going forward. Dottie is affiliated with the higher eductational system and works as a technology liason between the K-12 system and a major East Coast University. A perfect background for understanding what the kids of today will want and need for in the workplace of the future.

Just last night we had a conversation about the impact of 'centers of knowledge'-- areas in where the most educated might congregate and how that will impact talent acquistion and retention in more remote areas. Of course we discussed what impact technology might have on allowing people to work remotely, facilitating remote collaboration and learning and even in bringing the eductational and cultural events desired to those who live in areas far flung from big city hubs.

The conversations are stimulating and interesting, but more then that they are critical. In my work I feel comfortable helping people develop processes to capture and transfer knowledge of retiring workers and to transfer that knowledge across generational and cultural boundaries. But, am I helping my clients prepare for the fast approaching workplace of the future? No, not without the input of someone like Dottie.

I need, (actually we all need), to be preparing for a workplace in 5-10 years that is much different then we now have. What does that look like? Technologically linked most certainly. Even small businesses may be more global in nature as the supply chain is contiually broadened. I don't know yet what it all entails but what I do know is that part of my job is to understand and to help you at least consider....stay tuned. The future is coming. Let's discuss.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Trust and Managing Knowledge

When Knowledge Management as a 'discipline' was first discussed, we were most concerned with documents and how to manage them. We then moved into codification- how could you write down everything the company knew. From there we moved to dialogue and conversation.
Underlying each of these aspects of knowledge management is the need to have an environment of trust. This is an aspect of all collaboration, communication and learning which we have not yet fully embraced or understood.

Trust allows us to be willing to share our knowledge with the assumption it will be utilized and valued. We have to trust that the knowledge being shared is accurate. We also have to trust that the organization will not punish us for telling the truth. Each of these is fundamental to the sustainability of managing knowledge.

Yet we do not understand the dimensions of trust. We might trust someone, for example, to be late to meetings, yet we must trust that same person to keep the deepest secrets of our being confidential. We might trust that someone will not organize their information well, but we can trust that the information and knowledge they share is absolutely as accurate as is possible.

Each of the dimensions of trust are vital to understand and to create. They can be won or lost and they will immediately impact our ability to share and use knowledge. We should never under estimate the value of trust but instead make it one of the areas of focus for each of our companies.

Managing Knowledge for the future

Most of us understand how to help those of our own age or era share and manage knowledge. Yes, it is challenging to share experience and wisdom across geographical or cultural boundaries, but if we are dealing with our contemporaries, we find it doable.

Managing knowledge across generational boundaries leads to a whole new set of challenges. We learn differently, communicate differently, are motivated differently and collaborate differently. We sometimes make blanket statements, judge each other, make assessments about the boomers, the X-ers, the traditionalists which simply do not help us work together. When it comes right down to it, we confuse the daylights out of each other. This has probably been true for centuries. This is the first time in recent history we have had four generations in the workplace. Therefore right now this is all hitting home.

Cross-generational knowledge sharing takes true consideration and self awareness. What are our own assumptions about the generations before or after ours? Do we find it difficult to teach or train or learn from them? We do not have the luxury of letting this opportunity go, of walking away from the challenge. Knowledge management is not for the faint of heart.

We need to first check our own assumptions. Second, check each other's assumptions. Build some common language. And create opportunities to work through the barriers and attitudes which we allow to separate us. We are aging. New people are coming up through the ranks. Our job is to make what we have built sustainable while allowing and facilitating change for the future. That is how we will not only survive but thrive.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The business case for Knowledge Management

There are few absolute truths in life. One of them seems to be that creating a business case for knowledge management is difficult for every KM practitioner and every organization. A strong statement but I have yet to not see it as true.

It is common sense that a strong business case for managing knowledge exists. People are retiring, and their years of experience and accumulated knowledge are leaving with them. New people are coming on board with out the understanding of the business or contextual knowledge to jump start their careers and enhance their productivity. Documents are stored in a thousand different places, from personal hard drives and flash drives to shared drives so poorly structured the information is forever lost.

Why does it seem to be so hard to explain to the powers that be that managing knowledge is critical?
One issue might be that we feel the need to over explain. Do we need to explain in detail why budgeting is critical or project planning is essential? No.
Another challenge might be that we do not relate the challenges back to the senior leadership. They also experience the need for managing knowledge. Let your business case ring true for them. Tell the story of how they would benefit from easily accessing the what they need at the time they need it in they way they need it to make decisions and take action.

Lastly, assume the business case exists. It does. Don't allow yourselves as KM practitioners, to wonder if there is one. If you have to wonder, you are doing the wrong work. Action follows passion. Ensure you understand the need for KM in your own terms.