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.

Friday, April 13, 2007

New Ideas for Managing Knowledge

As I mentioned in the last blog, contacts made on airplanes are fascinating. Jeff Carter, co-founder of webapplica is one such person. Our conversation ranged from politics (can be a bit dicey in a confined space, but this was simply fun) to the workplace of the future. Jeff's company is a global, virtual organization in which loyalty is built via instant messaging and email. He himself says there are few phone conversations, most everything is done using quick, fast communications. The company is a success. His employees are located in a number of countries and continents.

From our conversation I took away actionable, refreshing ideas.
  • I will work to develop processes to utilize the technology held in our own PCs-- quick videos and audios to allow us to share learning almost as quickly as it happens. (almost as quickly, and getting better all the time).
  • I will do more of with that technology myself.
  • To make this quick knowledge sharing real for companies, I will also ensure they work with their legal depts to create just in time training on what can and can not be shared and why (the why here is such an important piece of the learning).
  • The question of storing and cataloging can now be addressed as well.
  • VoIP is a maturing, powerful tool to be leveraged now.
  • Searchable video is real and timely and ready to be utilized. I remember when video was an expensive nice to have, but no one took the time to watch it. Now, podcasts and Youtube make video a need to have for the new generation of learners.

I was reminded once again that for any question there are a myriad of answers and ideas. The processes I use work, they are tried and tested, and now there are technologies which make them come alive for another generation. That is true for all of us and all of what we do. We can refresh and renew to create forward moving, creative processes to sustain the success we've all worked hard to achieve. Not bad for a one hour plan ride!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Planes, Trains and New Contacts

I have come to realize that some of the most interesting and meaningful contacts I've made lately happened on airplanes. That makes sense, really. In a space so confined you bump elbows when pulling down the snack tray, you end up making eye contact at some point. Glancing out the window means one of you is looking in the other's direction, if even for a moment.

Most importantly people are quite fascinating if you spend the time to listen. Yesterday I met a gentleman who owns a software company which is totally virtual, and quite successful. In that one hour conversation from Chicago to Minneapolis, through the bumps of a blinding snowstorm, I learned a creative, inspiring new way to do a business plan, how to use VoIP to the fullest extent, and how he has enlisted a global, virtual team of programmers who are completely loyal to his company. All for the price of one airline ticket.

I gathered some great ideas on how we can make the sharing of deeply held expertise (tacit knowledge) much quicker and easier using some new (and inexpensive) media. I will cover that in the next blog and tell you all about our new colleague and his company. In the meantime, look to your right or your left the next time you are in a plane, a bus, a conference. Seek to understand before being understood. The results can be awesome.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What is Knowledge Management?

I'm struck again this morning by the question I am asked time and again: What is Knowledge Management? Organizations spend a great amount of time trying to define the term and create the perfect answer.

I think we forget the real question: What is the challenge you are trying to address? Knowledge management is simply a problem solving discipline. If there is no need, why bother?

Sounds simplistic, doesn't it? And perhaps I am over simplifying. However, I think we often focus on the wrong thing. We make things so much more complicated then they actually are.

Knowledge Management is not a silver bullet to handle the fact that your employees are retiring, you have not created the discipline to collaborate and teach each other, or you have grown so fast that you do not take time to document what you do. You might have lost touch with your customers, you might not take time to talk to your colleagues and provide background or context to your questions or answers to their questions.

Knowledge Management can not solve bad behavior, create discipline or stop people from moving on. It is one approach to address organizational issues and it must be part of a well considered multi-faceted strategy to be effective.

What is the challenge you are trying to solve? If your KM effort is successful, what will be different, what will change in your organization? Concentrate on the right questions and don't waste time on eloquent definitions. If you show and communicate value, the question of definition will be solved through your actions instead of your words. Actions and results always speak louder than words.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sustaining the KM effort

You've seen it time and again-- I know I have. You identify a need in your organization. Perhaps you need to ensure meetings are more efficiently run or projects are tracked more effectively. You gather a team, create a process, communicate what you are doing, train those involved and there you go. Now, you think, the problem is handled. For a few weeks, maybe even a few months, it is. And then everyone goes back to past behavior.

This happens in knowledge management just as it does in our other change initiatives. Why? Because we are not nearly as good at or as interested in the work it takes to sustain our efforts as we are to start them.

We might develop an excellent process to identify lessons learned at the end of projects and we might even have created an excellent place to share and store them. Those pieces of the effort can be exciting and rewarding even while they are probably also challenging. We think some new whiz bang idea, process or technology is enough. We forget that we have just begun.

Organizations who remember that change takes time and focus, as well as patience and consistent effort are those in which change sticks.

There are some ground rules to sustained change. We may well know these and yet not want to follow them. Therefore change is not long lasting, we become impatient and often cynical. All of this is avoidable if we stick to our efforts. Here are just a few rules to follow:
  • Say it 7 times. People need to hear it again and again, especially while they are in the emotional aspects of change
  • Communicate in as many forms as possible
  • Continually relate what you are doing to the vision, and ensure the vision is something people can understand and embrace
  • Capture the wins and communicate them -- do this for as long as it takes and beyond. Make the communication of wins part of your way of doing business.
  • Role model the behavior you wish to see in others. Do not stop. Adopt it as your own. Talk about what you are doing and how
  • Don't let up. Above all, don't let up.

Monday, April 02, 2007

World Changing KM

So much of the work I do is to help people capture and reuse the knowledge from the past-- ideas, process nuances, alternatives, thought processes, decisions...all made previously and yet to be re-used and learned from. I am adamant that this work not keep the organizations mired in the past but instead inform the future.

I found today a blog/site/organization which epitomizes what I am trying to do-- and does it for a very important purpose. is all about Eco-consumerism, and not in a stodgy, hold 'em back kind of way. Instead the information is innovative, insightful and invigorating-- all terms we should all strive for when managing and reusing knowledge.

Take a look at the site, and as you learn about changing the world by changing what we buy, consider how we can also change the world by sharing what we know. We can do it, and it will take discipline, creativity and collaboration. The payback is worth every moment of effort.