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.