Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Art of Focused Conversation (Book 22 of 30)

Title: The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace
General Editor: Brian Stanfield


In a previous post, I mentioned facilitated group reflection activities.  These are group conversations that are facilitated with a specific purpose in mind, and that purpose is to reflect upon what has happened and what can be learned from it. The groups are gathered to reflect on a common experience, which allows for group learning and not just individual learning. Sometimes, there is also a proactive element to the conversation and as the facilitator, I may ask, "given what you've just learned, what are you going to do next?"

This book takes a broader approach to conversations and helped me broaden my understanding of the value of facilitated, focused conversations.  People in general do not want to attend yet another meeting, especially if you tell them that it's going to be a "conversation".

As a side note, I created a series of events which I purposefully called "Critical Knowledge Conversations" rather than the more standard Knowledge Sharing Workshops.  It takes time for the vocabulary to change in an organization.  When people RSVP for the events, they're still calling them workshop or training sessions.  Once they've attended a couple of theses conversations, they understand the difference.

Getting back to the book... a quote:
"Besieged by information overload and seduced by knowledge from books, tapes, and the Internet, many people -- especially in their work lives -- suffer the tyranny of data, feeling the loss in the form of the fragmentation and alienation of their relations with one another.  More and more, people appear to have forgotten the value of wisdom gained by ordinary conversations.
But, at different times in history, conversation has been regarded as an art form -- a crucial component of human relations.  Conversation has the power to solve a problem, heal a wound, generate commitment, bond a team, generate new options, or build a vision.  Conversations can shift working patterns, build relationships, create focus and energy, cement resolve." (Back Cover) 
I've found that in the process of facilitating conversations, there is a danger of becoming group therapist.  Perhaps that's a good thing, as long as you're prepared for it.  The conversations can have a therapeutic impact on the team.  This can happen perhaps simply because some individuals were finally able to say something they've wanted to say for months and couldn't say in a regular staff meeting.  I consider that a secondary benefit.   My goal is to get the team members to talk to each other so that they can help each other articulate their thoughts and insights.

In a typical session, the team members start by addressing their comments to me, they are looking at me as I stand with my flip chart and write key comments.  Ideally, within the first 15 minutes, they start talking to each other and almost forget that I'm in the room.  Then I only need to stop them once in a while to redirect, repeat to make sure I captured an idea correctly, ask a question to clarify something that was said, ask if everyone agrees, and keep the conversation moving.  Often, the team members will start talking in circles and I have to stop them and ask, "So, what's the lesson?  What do you want other teams to know?  What should they do differently?"  If enough of the team members have already participated in one of these group reflection sessions, one of them might even interrupt the conversation and ask "what's the lesson here?"

I could write a lot more about what I've learned in 9 years of facilitating these sessions but the book is a great source of practical guidance for a much broader range of work-related group conversations, an excellent resource. Another useful resource is Michael Marquardt's Leading with Questions.  When facilitating a conversation, asking the right questions the right way is critical.   Leading with Questions is also a great way of getting Results Without Authority.

From a KM perspective on conversations, I would highly recommend Nancy Dixon's blog, Conversation Matter.  Nancy's blog is also a great example of what I would call a substantive blog because each post is really a short, very well written essay.  Of course, David Gurteen in inescapable on the related topic of Knowledge Cafes.  Note that Gurteen recommends knowledge cafes be scheduled for 90 minutes.  I wonder if that's a limit on cognitive loads for optimizing conversations. In my own experience, if the conversation is still going after 90 minutes, people are either repeating themselves or they've drifted into action planning.

This is all quite difficult for an introvert, by the way.  I find it difficult to facilitate these types of conversations for more than 90 minutes.  It's extremely energy draining because of the focus it requires and the need to be very quick on your feet in analyzing the conversation that is ongoing and acting quickly to manage it. It requires being "in the moment" as much as possible rather than in your own head.  I can analyze a conversation to no end after the fact, but with experience, I've learned to do it much better on the spot.  It's still extremely draining.  I come out of these sessions both hyper and exhausted, as if I had finished a half-marathon.

TO DO:
  • There are 7 general types of conversations highlighted in the book.  Pick one in each category, study it and find an opportunity to APPLY it.  If any useful insights emerge, blog about them.
  • Develop a presentation on group conversations from two perspectives: 1) How to facilitate effectively; 2) How to participate effectively (individual perspective/PKM).
Related Topics/Resources
  • Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, by Michael Marquardt
  • Storytelling - see The Springboard (Book 6 of 30).

Friday, July 21, 2017

Knowing Knowledge (Book 21 of 30)

Title:  Knowing Knowledge
Author: George Siemens

I haven't read things this abstract since finishing my Ph.D. (20 years ago exactly).  I'm not sure why I find this book so challenging.  Perhaps my neurons have gone soft and I can't handle challenging texts. Perhaps I just don't connect with what the author is trying to say.

This book is about knowledge and learning and NOT about knowledge management, but it can influence how we think about knowledge management.  I'm just going to pick at a few quotes, which I'm sure aren't going to do justice to the book.
"I am used to writing in hypertext.  Concepts relate to other concepts -- but not in a linear manner" (p. vii)."
That much I understand perfectly.  That's why I like using concept maps and insight maps.  They allow me to explore how concepts and ideas are related, they allow me to map the complexity of inter-relationships and connections between things.

When you combine mapping and hypertext, you get something very interesting.  I've used that to document lessons learned and insights from projects and it allows for a much deeper understanding of how things are connected within a project but also across projects.  If I can combine mapping, hypertext and a wiki, then I'm in paradise and the neurons go in hyper-mode.
"Learning is the process of creating networks.  Nodes are external entities which we can use to form a network.  Or nodes may be people, organizations, libraries, websites, journals, database, or any other source of information.  The act of learning is one of creating an external network of nodes -- where we connect and form information and knowledge sources.  The learning that happens in our heads is an internal network (neural).  Learning networks can then be perceived as structures that we create in order to stay current and continually acquire, experience, create, and connect new knowledge (external). And learning networks can be perceived as structures that exist within our minds (internal) in connecting and creating patterns of understanding" (p. 29).
I have a more simplistic view of how it works:  We learn by connecting new information with prior knowledge, and in the process, we create new knowledge.  It's new to us.  It's not necessarily new to anyone else.  When we create knowledge that's new to everyone, we can call it an innovation.
"The connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing" (p.30). "  
 Yes.  I get that.  Learning to learn is more important than any specific knowledge we may have acquired or can ever acquire.
"Knowledge is a river, not a reservoir."  
Yes.  I've used that analogy in a recent presentation to emphasize the need to facilitate knowledge flows and pay less attention to repositories of knowledge assets (such as lessons learned databases).

TO DO
  • There's a section on adaptive knowledge and adaptive learning that deserves another careful read, perhaps to see how it compares to USAID's CLA (Collaborating, Learning and Adapting) approach.  There may also be some connections to the agile movement.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Working Knowledge (Book 20 of 30)

Title: Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know
Authors: Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak

Perhaps I should have put some organization into this book-a-day-challenge. I could have talked about them in chronological order.  Working Knowledge is, without a doubt, one of the early classics, published in 1998.

I have decided to pull out some quotes from it.  Here are a few quotes in the book that are not from the authors.
An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.            ~ Benjamin Franklin
A man has no ears for that to which experience has given him no access. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche 
The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers. ~Sydney J. Harris.  
The great end of knowledge is not knowledge but action. ~Thomas Henry Huxley 
I went looking for the full quote for this last one:  "The great end of knowledge is not knowledge but action.  What men need is as much knowledge as they can organize for action; give them more and it may become injurious.  Some men are heavy and stupid from undigested learning."  ~ Thomas Henry Huxley

Below are some quotes from the authors themselves.  These are all little snippets, perfect for tweets even though the book was written pre-tweet era.  There were two sets that were on clear themes (conversations and technology) and I've tried to organize them together.
Think of information as data that makes a difference (p. 3)
Knowledge derives from minds at work (p. 5)
When firms hire experts, they're buying experience-based insights (p.8)
When knowledge stops evolving, it turns into opinion or dogma (p.10)
A knowledge advantage is a sustainable advantage (p. 17) -- I would say "A learning advantage is a sustainable advantage." 
Managers shouldn't underestimate the value of talk (p. 39)
In a knowledge-driven economy, talk is real work. (p. 90)
Firms need to shift their attention from documents to discussions (p. 106) 
Knowledge often walks out the door during downsizing (p.44)
A thriving knowledge market continually tests and refines organizational knowledge. (p. 50)
Employees who are willing and able to learn new things are vital to an adapting organization. (p. 65)
A good knowledge map goes beyond conventional departmental boundaries. (p. 73)
A good story is often the best way to convey meaningful knowledge. (p. 82)
Anecdote management can be the best way for a chief knowledge officer to justify knowledge work. (p. 116) 
Harmonize organizational knowledge but don't homogenize it. (p. 86) 
Knowledge that isn't absorbed hasn't really been transferred. (p. 101)
Managing knowledge should be everybody's business. (p. 108)
A little humility goes a long way when you're managing a knowledge project. (p. 113)
In decentralized organizations, it makes sense to assign CKO functions to a number of different managers (p. 121). 
The shortcomings of artificial intelligence should heighten our appreciation for human brainpower. (p. 126)
Don't expect software to solve your knowledge problem (p.26)
Technology alone won't make you a knowledge-creating company (p. 142).
Implementing knowledge management through new technology can be a risky proposition. (p. 166)
Take a hard look at the culture before launching a knowledge initiative. (p. 172). 
Try not to get mesmerized by the mantra of "access." (p. 176).

TO DO
  • Re-read the section dealing with knowledge maps and capture relevant insights. 
  • Use relevant quotes as triggers for blog posts.
  • Integrate some of these quotes in relevant presentations/training materials.
  • Think about how to create "quotable/tweetable" text.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Learning to Fly (Book 19 of 30)


Title: Learning to Fly:  Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations
Authors: Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell

Before 2016 and the publication of The Knowledge Manager's Handbook, (see previous post, Book 17 of 30)) I would have said Learning to Fly is the book to give as a practical how-to handbook on Knowledge Management.  My copy is an "updated edition with free CD-ROM", which tells you something about its age. Published initially in 2001, I see it as the first comprehensive how-to handbook.

Between Nick Milton, Patrick Lambe and Chris Collison, you probably have the three best known KM consultants combining many, many years of hands-on experience.  Although, perhaps they are better known in a general sense precisely because they've written books and are very active on social media.  I think of them as generalists.  There are others in the field who have either less global name recognition or who work in narrower niches within KM. Now that I think of it, two women come to mind and they've also written books (Nancy Dixon and Katrina Pugh).  It's also quite possible that my perception is heavily biased by who I follow or don't follow on social media.

One of the stronger concepts or terms I've relied on that probably came from this book is "learning before, during and after."  I haven't necessarily used that phrase but I like the emphasis on learning (rather than managing knowledge), and since I've worked mostly in project-based environment, the before, during and after framework worked well.  We learn from prior projects to plan our new project well, we learn during the project to make course corrections as necessary, we reflect after we're done to not repeat mistakes and to allow others not to repeat our mistakes.  This is oversimplified but it really helps projects get a sense that you don't just collect lessons learned at the end of the project before moving on to the next task.

Over the years, I've learned that a group reflection conversation (AAR or whatever else you want to call it) takes on different characteristics depending on where the group or team is in terms of the project life cycle.  Newly formed teams have different conversations from teams that have worked together for years.

TO DO:
  • If I'm going to be a successful consultant, I should write a book.... (Not so fast... do I actually have anything unique and valuable to say?). Not right now.  It's brewing.  It needs to percolate. It needs active percolation.  My semi-sabbatical year should help.  No pressure.
  • Write down some insights about how the timing of a group reflection activity along the project life cycle affects the nature of the conversation and perhaps should affect the facilitation.
  • Do a review of who I follow on various social media as KM experts and who I consider a KM expert but don't follow.  Adjust as needed.