Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What is it that we are not learning?

An interesting question was asked of me recently.  What is it that we are not learning?

I was giving a presentation about my work over the past 9 years helping projects document their insights and lessons from experience and facilitating knowledge flows across projects and across the functional areas of the organization (project managers, scientists, engineers).  One of the questions I was trying to answer was "Are we a learning organization?  Are we learning?"

My answer was "Yes, but perhaps we're not learning fast enough.  We're not adapting fast enough to keep up with rapid changes."  I was trying to emphasize the dynamic nature of knowledge and the fact that knowledge flows and the learning process itself are becoming more important than ever, whereas static knowledge assets are becoming obsolete more rapidly.

A member of the audience asked, "What is it that we are not learning?"

I can identify two situations where we are not learning:


  • First, if we define learning as changing a behavior or a process as a result of a lesson and the lessons is really only LEARNED when some action is taken, Identifying the correct action is not always simple. Getting agreement on that action is not always simple.  Getting the right people to take action is not always simple. In short, the assumption that once a lessons is identified it can easily be translated into action is unrealistic in many cases.  


  • Second, there are many unknown unknowns we are not paying attention to.  What is it that we are not seeing?  These things are not even on our radar.  One way to try to discover/uncover these is to involve experts in other fields who will see what we are doing through a completely different set of lenses, using a different frame of reference.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Permaculture and Knowledge Management - Learning in Conversation

I have been posting about permaculture in the past month and anyone surfing by might wonder what permaculture has to do with knowledge management.

The easy answer is that knowledge management can be applied to ANY topic of interest and therefore if I'm posting something about permaculture I might just be talking about my (limited) knowledge of permaculture and how I'm going about learning more on the topic.

More seriously though, whenever I explore a new topic of interest (in this case, permaculture), I tend to try to draw parallels with things I already know.  That's a very common way to absorb new information, by developing analogies, by comparing it to what's already in our knowledge banks.

I'm primarily interested in permaculture as a set of practices to apply (as appropriate) in my own back yard, but as I read about it and learn more from permaculturalists and fellow permaculture apprentices, I am reminded of a lot of what I learned during my graduate studies.  I had intended to develop my dissertation around food policies in Africa and therefore I took a lot of classes and read a lot about agricultural practices and policies.

My fellow permaculture apprentices in the class are hearing the exact same information, but their objectives might be quite different -- therefore they are paying attention to different things, giving some information more weight than I would -- and their pre-existing knowledge is quite different from mine.  They may not know much about agricultural practices and policies in Africa but most of them have much more hands-on experience with agriculture.

The same thing is true when we share lessons learned in a knowledge management context.  We individually absorb the information (accept/reject/interpret) based on our own prior experiences and knowledge. And this is what makes conversations so important.  There is as much if not more knowledge to be gained in conversations with my fellow permaculture apprentices as in listening to the instructors, but it requires a different approach to listening and perhaps some additional probing.  The good news is that people like to talk about their own experiences and their own knowledge. Listening, without becoming too much of an interviewer, is key.

And just for fun, here is another kind of map (i.e, not an insight map).  This one is called a base map and is meant as a starting point for my permaculture experiments.

Base mapping for future permaculture mini-site.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Permaculture Design Course - Setting Goals

Here is a simple map which helped me articulate what my goals were for the permaculture design course I've signed up for.  Articulating goals was one of the tasks for the first assignment in anticipation of the first class (next weekend).  The benefit of the map and the mapping process is that it allows me to see how the top level goals are related and part of a broader system.  I don't use color-coding very often but in this case it was a simple way of identifying what I had already completed, what I wanted to do in the near term, and some vision for the longer term.


Map #25 - Goal Setting with Color-coded Prioritization (simple)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Permaculture and Design Thinking

I have developed an obsessive interest in permaculture in the past few weeks.  I've binged watched countless YouTube videos, including an entire MOOC provided by Oregon State University and everything my local library had on the subject.

Why the sudden interest?  Some of it may have to do with the fact that spring is coming and I have been trying to do something about the yard (front and back).  But there is more to it.  Permaculture isn't your typical backyard gardening.  It's much more intriguing.  

1) The thinking that goes into it, the design thinking part of it is critical;

2)  You don't wait for a perfect design. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into where to plant what, but it's really a matter of learning over time what works best for the unique characteristics of the site you're working on and starting small;

3) It's simple, trying to mimic nature, and yet very complex (just like nature) because of all the interactions among the different elements of the system.

I signed up for a hands-on permaculture design class that will take place over 6 weekends through the spring, summer and into early fall.  Some things you can learn with books and YouTube videos, but this requires playing with dirt (and compost).

My favorite YouTube videos so far on this topic are the collection from the Bec Helloin farm in France (mostly in French).  This is a great little piece of paradise but the permaculture principles have been applied on a large scale in other countries, including China (see the experience of the Loess Plateau).

Here's a little map synthesizing what I've retained so far at a very high level.

Map #24 - Understanding Permaculture - A Beginner's Map