Sunday, September 18, 2016

Social Impact Consulting

For almost a year now, I have been planning an exit from my full time job to re-enter consulting.  The date has been fixed for a while and with that deadline in mind, my thinking and planning have accelerated. To avoid developing an overly rigid plan based on unfounded assumption, I am focusing on developing a one-year plan around an overall project which I call my YOL, short for Year of Learning.

[I've previously blogged about the job transition from a knowledge transfer perspective.]

As I continue to take MOOCs, read, write and allow ideas to percolate, I have been able to draft a business plan that I can keep tweaking as time passes.    This Year of Learning is meant as a way to allow myself to experiment with various consulting models, different types of services, etc... and different markets.

A key element of that experiment will be to provide Knowledge Management support to individuals, groups and organizations working on social causes.  Perhaps it's a form of social impact consulting.  The idea was in the back of my head for a while when I was thinking in terms of potential clients and customers, but it crystallized this past week as I was viewing the videos for "Devenir Entrepreneur du Changement," a very good MOOC in French from HEC and Ticket for Change (offered on Coursera).

One of my goals will therefore be to test various social impact consulting models.  For example, would virtual coaching of social entrepreneurs make sense?  Could I provide one specific project with ongoing advice, KM and M&E support?  Could I provide a KM and M&E course or collaboration space for social entrepreneurs?

Social impact consulting isn't a new concept.  Consulting for any organization working in international development may be considered social impact consulting.  Many corporations have social responsibility programs.  Working with or for such programs may count as social impact consulting.  Those may well be key potential clients/customers for me in the future, but the true test of social impact consulting would to provide direct support to social entrepreneurs and non-profits operating on the ground, whether domestically in the US or globally.

And of course, there's a map for this....

Social Impact Consulting, Map # 22

I've also posted the map in its html version (with working hyperlinks) in my new space for insight maps. Check it out here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dealing with Complexity in Knowledge Management

This week, two LinkedIn posts and conversations and one MOOC made me reflect upon the way we deal with complexity.  This week was all about knowledge, the complexity of the world we live in and more specifically the complexity associated with knowledge capture and knowledge transfer, and the hidden dangers of simple solutions.


  • Nick Milton's post, "When "Copy Exactly" Pays Off in KM" discusses one possible strategy for going from development to large scale production from a knowledge transfer perspective.  The argument is that if you don't fully understand a complex system but you know that it works, don't mess with it.  If the black box works, don't open it up to try to understand how it works.  Just find a way to replicate the black box.

    This may work in a very narrow range of contexts. I just helped write a lesson learned in a very different context that suggested something completely different:  Beware a calling something a "rebuild" or a copy and assume the copy will be cheaper to build because we now know how to build it. Obviously, context is critical. I'm talking about rebuilding an instrument for a space mission.  Nick was talking about mass production of computer chips.

    In yet another context, international development, the idea of piloting an activity somewhere on a small scale and then implementing a "copy-and-scale" either in the same country or elsewhere is going to raise a few red flags.  Any push to scale or repeat in another geographical, economic, political and cultural context will likely require some "adaptation" when transferring knowledge.  In an international development context, I'd be very weary of replicating something just because it works somewhere, without understanding why / how it's working.


  • In another LinkedIn conversation, Chris Leljedal asked about best practices for collecting tacit knowledge from retiring employees. Of course, there are a number of ways to do it and again, the context is going to be critical in deciding what approach is both feasible, practical, and likely to yield the best results.  I would like to argue, however, that it would help to step back, pause for a second (or two) and ask a few other questions.

    For example, how did these retiring employees share their knowledge throughout their careers? The image that is perpetuated of "knowledge walking out the door" is a little misleading in my view.  Hopefully these retiring employees did not work in isolation and they've shared their knowledge through ongoing interactions with colleagues and through the normal workflow.  Putting the emphasis on trying to capture critical knowledge before employees leave is the wrong approach. There's nothing wrong with giving retiring employees an opportunity to celebrate their career and tell a few good stories as a way of transferring some last minute career lessons, but it's too little too late if the knowledge hasn't circulated through the organization already.

    This is where knowledge management meets human resources and talent management, where you can deal with the immediate threat of knowledge loss due to retiring employees with a relatively simple set of KM best practices, but the better option would be to look at the broader, more complex issues associated with long-term knowledge acquisition and knowledge retention through a human resources perspective in addition to the KM perspective.    I'm sure someone would also come in with an IT solution but I won't go there.


  • Finally, the MOOC I was keeping up with this week was "L'avenir de la décision:  connaitre et agir en complexité" (Translation: The future of  decision-making:  Knowing and Acting in Complexity).  The key insight I gathered was that we shouldn't ignore complexity and come up with simplistic solutions just because it's difficult and we shouldn't thrown the towel either.  We need to recognize complexity, accept it, but don't let it paralyze you.  Move forward with simple, short- and medium-term practical solutions based on realistic expectations and humility and keep trying to understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together (the complexity behind everything).  (see my puzzle post of late August and whether it ties in)


Monday, September 05, 2016

Improvements on the Horizon - Interactive Maps

Until now, I've always posted maps as static images.  While seeing a static map is better than just reading a description of a map is an improvement, it's still a long way from the enabling the viewer to truly understand the power of interconnected maps.  Until now, my inability to post interactive maps (i.e., maps that visitors can click on and navigate across) was a key challenge that forced me to post simple, individual maps that were disconnected from each other.

I'm excited by the improvements that are coming.  I'll be leveraging the mapping tool's cloud capability, which will allow me not only to build maps in the cloud, but also to publish clouds directly to the web for easy sharing.

As a first step, I've posted one map as proof of concept, which has already given me some idea of the limitations of the approach and some of the possibilities.

Here is another approach, posting the map to a Google Site open to the public but with my domain.

Much more to come....

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Knowledge Management Puzzle



What does this picture have to do with knowledge management?

It's a picture of the box cover for a puzzle I'm working on.  I am now going to attempt to use that picture to talk about knowledge management.  I hope you're smiling.  This isn't too serious.

First, knowledge management is a puzzle.  It may not have 1500 pieces like the puzzle in the picture but it has a number of interlocking pieces and like a 1500-piece puzzle, it may seem overwhelming at first to try to tackle it all at once.

Second, if you're like me and you've worked on such puzzles before, you start with the edges and you frantically search in particular for the four corners.  I'm not sure there is a strong advantage to the approach but it ensure some quick wins because the edges are easier to find and then place so that within an hour or less you've accomplished something.  You need the positive feedback, the feeling that you CAN do this. The same can be said of knowledge management initiatives.  Fixing the big picture may seem intimidating but there are quick wins that can be found.

Third, the puzzle represented in the picture is two-dimensional but if you step back, you can pay attention to the picture, what it represents.  It's colorful but it's silent.  What's missing to give you a good sense of that environment, the context for that small village cobblestone street? This is just one angle and it's not even complete.  Our knowledge is never complete.  If we read a lesson learned without the appropriate context, we might miss the bigger point it's trying to make.  In working on a puzzle, if you focus on the mechanics (finding pieces of the same color for example), you might completely fail to pay attention to the picture that is emerging.  Don't lose sight of the big picture, the larger culture change that may need to happen for the organization to become a learning organization.

Fourth, there is a great deal of culture embedded in that piece of technology in the picture; the car.  It's an old "deux-chevaux".  Perhaps its knowledge management equivalent is the continued practice of using email (and attachment) to transfer knowledge.  It's part of the culture.  Don't ignore it.  Of course, that car is now a classic.

Fifth, you can't have a french street without a café. You need a café for conversation and some benches to take time to pause, think, reflect and talk with colleagues.

Sixth, you have flowers and plants flourishing here and there.  They need watering and nurturing on a regular basis.  These are perhaps your communities of practice.  I know it's a stretch but we're almost done.

As a first step, for a very quick win, I would recommend fixing the grammatical error on the puzzle's title:  Rue Français... No, it would have to be "Rue Française."