Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Knowledge Transfer

Most if not all of the books, articles, blog posts and papers I read about knowledge management are talking about relatively simple and traditional organizational environments.  Silos, if they exist, are silos within a single organization.  I am looking for resources that address more complex environments.  How do you efficiently manage knowledge transfer in an environment where the matrixed organization is superimposed on layers of contractors.  On specific projects, everyone on the "team" (contractor or not)  may recognize the need to collaborate around the goals of the team/project, but when it comes to supporting the longer-term goals of the organization, isn't each individual expected to run back to his/her respective home base.  If you are a contractor, how much of your personal knowledge are you comfortable transferring to someone working on another contract?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

KM Research Questions

I recently participated in a Twitter Chat focused on Knowledge Management Research (#KMers chat archive).

The conversation prompted me to think about key research questions I'd like to answer within the context of my own work.
  • What is different about knowledge management in the public sector (compared to the private sector)?
    Related Hypothesis: KM in the public sector is strongly impacted by contractor/government relationships and other types of "partnerships," creating organizational boundaries that inhibit knowledge sharing?
    Impact:  Barriers need to be recognized and addressed upfront.
  • What is the role of project managers and project management in knowledge management within the context of project-based organizations?
    Hypothesis:  1) Project-level knowledge management efforts need to be embedded in standard project management practices (not an add-on supported by the KM office); 2) In the absence of (and in addition to) formal KM requirements or embedding of KM practices in project management practices, the project manager plays a key role in ensuring the KM is taken seriously and not just a "check the box" activity.
    Impact:  We need to better understand how to embed KM practices and principles within established project management processes and we need to bring project managers on board.
  • What knowledge should knowledge management efforts focus on?
    Hypothesis:  KM efforts are often vague about the knowledge domain they will focus on or address, as if it was obvious or KM efforts were expected to cover all knowledge domains relevant to the organization.
    Impact: Be clear about what your KM efforts are covering or not covering.  Be strategic and focused. Don't try to do it all.
 Looks like I've skipped some steps and tried to answer my questions as I was asking them.
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cognitive Impact of Reading in Multiple Languages

Technically, my first language or mother-tongue is French.  Given that I have lived and worked in an English-speaking world for the last 25 years or so, my primary language is English.

I recently came across a Ph.D. thesis on a topic of interest (knowledge management and mapping) in French.  Given that I stopped using French after high-school, my exposure to professional level readings in French has been limited and I haven't read much about knowledge management in French. When I have come across French blogs and websites related to knowledge management, I've mostly been interested in the terminology and finding equivalent French words for the English language KM jargon I was familiar with.

Reading a Ph.D. thesis isn't the same as reading a blog. In addition to the terminology, which I wasn't familiar with, french sentence construction and the rules of argumentation (how you construct your argument and articulate your thoughts) are different in French. [I learned that quickly in my first year of college in the US when I had to switch to English and to another way of thinking and writing.] 

I have a lot of informal theories about bilingualism and the relationship between language and thinking modes, most of which I won't get into here.  Two things happen when I read in French:  1) I slow down because it relies on a part of my brain that's buried deep, a little rusty because it's not called upon regularly; 2) I awaken not just the language / translation part of the brain that reminds me that "gestion des connaissances" = "knowledge management", but also a different cognitive framework.  Reading in French essentially demands much more effort, much more thinking about what I am reading. 

When I am reading an English language book or academic article about KM, I tend to scan for anything interesting and new because I make a lot of assumptions about what the authors mean based on what I already know or have read.  Reading the same book or academic article in French forces me to pay closer attention to the meaning.

Related Resources:

  • Catherine Kelly SELLIN, "Des organisations centrées processus aux organisations centrées connaissance : la cartographie de connaissances comme levier de transformation des organisations. Le cas de la démarche de « Transfert de Savoir-Faire » chez Total", mai 2011. LINK.[This is the Thesis I've been reading in French]

Government Contracting & Knowledge Management

What is the impact of government contracting (both in terms of volume and types of contracts) on core competencies, intellectual capital, and knowledge management practices?

Insufficient attention is being paid to the government / contractor relationship in current KM strategies and practices.

1) Current KM strategies and practices ignore the organizational barriers, refusing to acknowledge that they exist;
2) Current KM strategies and practices focus on "government" knowledge and ignore the contractor perspective, while contractors may have their separate KM approaches focusing on their intellectual capital. 

Is the ultimate goal to merge government and contractor KM approaches?
Is the ultimate goal to establish knowledge sharing practices building bridges between government and contractors without necessarily merging KM strategies?  If so, at what level should this happen?  Project-level or higher?

I haven't scoped the issue very thoroughly yet but I think it's worth exploring.

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Signs of KM Maturation

More than three years ago (May 2008), I joined the Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.  As a contractor rather than a civil servant, I was (and still am) working with a Task Order and slowly getting to assimilate how on-site contractors are supposed to work.  I had worked on Government contracts before, but in a very different context and not on-site.  At first, I thought I was responsible for expanding the reach of the center's KM practices so that it wasn't an ad hoc affair but a set of KM practices embedded into the projects' life-cycle.  Ideally, projects would complete a set of KM activities on a regular basis just like they go through key reviews and reach critical milestones.  It would be part of what they do.  In a perfect world, they would be doing it because they see value in it rather than because it's a requirement.  A lot of groundwork had already been laid by the Chief Knowledge Officer, so it made sense and at the time, it didn't look overly ambitious. I was naive.  The most important thing I have learned over the past three years is establishing a KM program takes time, even when you have a dedicated staff.  KM staff need to be resilient, persistent, and willing to constantly engage in small experiments to refine and adapt their approach, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and avoid the traps of KM.

If everything works well, as of October, I will finally get to work more directly with the projects to embed some KM practices in their life-cycle.  This is happening now not just as the result of a fortuitous coincidence of budget issues, but made possible by the fact that in the intervening years, our office has worked very hard to make KM practices work in a critical strategic area of the project organization.  Having demonstrated a successful approach in one small, yet critical office, we are offered an entry into the big guys' world, the mission projects.

When KM is funded as an overhead function, KM is at risk of de-funding.  When the project office is willing to pay not just for an annual KM event but a full time KM position, you know you're doing something right.  I'm not sure this is an indicator that features prominently in KM maturation models. Is it possible that the source of funding is a better indication of success than the overall size of a KM office? I feel that I have just been given this opportunity and I don't want to miss the boat. 
Of course, a lot could go wrong between now and October.  It is still very much a contractor position, therefore subject to a lot of budget uncertainty in the medium to long term.  If this opportunity moves forward as planned (I'm optimistic about it), there are no guarantees that we will succeed. There are no guarantees that what we did with that one small office can be a blueprint for other efforts, yet we have learned a lot with that effort and with three years under my belt in the organization, I am now much better equipped to assess the environment and admit that it is ambitious.

Working directly with the projects, rather than being perceived as a separate office, is an important step forward.  It has a lot to do with ownership of the KM activities.  When KM is something that the KM office does, it is typically an overhead, disposable activity.  When KM is embedded in projects, it becomes part of what they do, a way of doing work.
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Curse of Knowledge: A Challenge for Experts and Fiction Writers

The “curse of knowledge” refers to the difficulty experts have in teaching less experienced or knowledgeable individuals in their field. At the expert level, a lot of background knowledge and tacit knowledge is taken for granted and becomes so unobtrusive to the expert that he/she doesn’t think of it as something that needs to be explained or discussed. As a result, the expert tends to speak at too high a level and can’t communicate well with non-experts.  This goes beyond the communication issues related to excessive use of professional jargon and it applies within fields, not just across fields. That is why mid-level professionals make better teachers and mentors than top level experts. Mid-level professionals haven’t lost touch with all that background knowledge necessary to climb the knowledge ladder. This is a relevant lesson for anyone trying to convey an important message to others. Are you paying attention to what the target audience for your message already knows? If not, you could be speaking over their heads.

Fiction writers face a similar “curse of knowledge.” They know a lot more about their characters than the reader will ever know, and the key task of the writer is to put just the right amount of information on paper to convey the essence of the character without sharing the full character development sheet (something that could include details such as their favorite food and the titles of the last three books they've read). Certain actions by key characters won’t make sense unless some relevant information has been provided beforehand (I've caught myself at times wanting to tell the readers to just "read it again" to catch what they missed on the first read). The sequence in which information is provided is therefore critical, yet the writer can’t dump all that background in the first few pages either.

The main difference is that experts can keep talking to fellow experts, be brilliant, and go on to win Nobel Prizes.  As long as they're not asked to teach college freshmen, they'll be fine. A fiction writer who is brilliant in his/her head but can't transfer that magic on paper is not going to be very successful.

Related Resources
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The History of Information: a course and a Pearltree

I've spent the past month devoting ~an hour a day to "The History of Information," a Berkeley course with reading list and webcasts available online. This is my first experience completing a full set of online video lectures. I can't say I did all the readings, but I listened attentively to all the webcasts (most of the time).

I took some notes, but without a precise goal (like passing the final exam), I was mostly interested in getting a bird's eye view of the topic and in typical "collector" mode, I bookmarked a significant number of resources mentioned in the reading list or in the lectures, most of which I scanned but did not read. I collected and organized these resources in Pearltrees.

 The History of Information 

So, what did I learn?
Did I learn less, as much, or more than the average student in that class who attended the face-to-face lectures, interacted with the professors, and presumably, did all the assignments? I suspect I learned less, but that's just fine. My goals were different and my goals were met.

Besides the course materials, I learned a lot about what I like and don't like about Pearltrees.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Intelligence, communication, and decision-making

I attended a talk by Dr. Lisa Porter on Friday. Dr. Porter is the director of IARPA, the intelligence community's equivalent to DARPA. She talked about "The Scientific Challenges of the Intelligence Community," and pointed out that for the intelligence community (and for agencies like NASA as well), data collection isn't the main problem. The analysis of increasingly voluminous mountains of data is the real challenge. How much of the solution might come from automation remains unclear.

She talked about a number of projects IARPA has been working on to try to address some of these challenges, but throughout the talk, I was bothered by something and I couldn't put my finger on it. The focus seemed to be on delivering the best possible analysis to the country's senior leadership. It sounded as if the question of how senior leadership is going to interpret the findings is beyond the scope of IARPA.

The day before, I had been reading a lot about the Challenger Accident as I was drafting a Teaching Note for a Challenger case study we are using in workshops. I was reading through a number of academic papers highlighting the communication aspects highlighted in the case study. As an intelligence analyst or an engineer, you would certain hope (perhaps even expect) that your findings will be interpreted as you intended them to be interpreted. As with any communication, however, the expectation that the intent of the message will be perfectly transmitted is misplaced.

Here is what was bothering me: The accuracy of the findings being presented does not necessarily correlate with good decision-making. On the other hand, incomplete or inaccurate findings can't do much to support good decision-making. I'm also not sure what "good decision-making" means.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Videos as Knowledge Products

Update: See a similar post: Video Video on Danegeld.

I've been bookmarking videos on knowledge management.  People in knowledge management often argue that any face-to-face meeting needs to be recorded so that those who didn't attend might be able to benefit from the meeting as well.  I'm skeptical.  Face-to-face meetings are meant to be interactive.  If you're in the room, you have the ability to interact and the option to stay quiet.  If you're watching the video 12 months later on YouTube or some other service, there is a temptation to multitask (I'm writing this blog post while listening to a video recording of a 45 minute talk on personal knowledge management that is meandering and not getting to the point).  In a face-to-face setting, I am very tolerant of meandering presentations.  If I am watching a video and it's not getting to the point fast enough, I will start multitasking and then almost immediately stop listening.

There is a place for video products, but when we videotape a live lecture and make it available online, what percentage of the benefits of the live lecture do we lose?  I'm not even talking of the networking benefits involved in personally attending the event face-to-face and talking to speakers and participants.

Here is a collection of links to videos on Knowledge Management themes. (click on the pearl)

 Knowledge Management (videos) 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Technology Adoption: The Importance of the Second Trial

I seem to follow a pattern with most web 2.0 tools. There's an initiation phase where I try out the tool and I use it for a short amount of time. In that initiation phase, I figure out how it works, but I'm only scratching the surface of what the tool can do and I'm already noticing some of the drawbacks.

Then my attention span drops off and I barely visit that tool for months at a time. My suspicion is that this is where most people give up on a tool and decide it's not for them. I've done that recently with Quora.

At some point, I come across something on the web that reminds me that I have an account on that tool and I revisit it. Very often, the tool has evolved and added new functionalities between my first and second trials. I'm usually happy with improvements and likely to pick it up again. The second trial tends to be more focused on getting something specific out of it... a more focused project. It doesn't imply that I'm going to use the tool on an ongoing basis, just that I've thought about what the tool can be useful for and when I might need it, not necessarily on a daily basis. This pattern was realized with Pearltrees. I played with it more than a year ago, found it somewhat interesting but limited in the way it structures links between pearls (much less flexible than a mindmap for example, yet much easier to create than a mindmap consisting only of URLs).

One of the drawbacks of Pearltrees is that a Pearl has to be a URL. As far as I can tell, you can't add a "concept" pearl without a link. It's not meant to build concept maps or mind maps. If I'm organizing links, after the first ten links, I'm automatically starting to think about how to group them around key concepts. Pearltrees doesn't allow you to do that easily. To address that challenge, I've used links to Wikipedia as a way of organizing around key concepts in the pearl map below.

SOCIAL BOOKMARKING & Related Concepts in Barbara Fillip (bfillip)

 SOCIAL BOOKMARKING & Related Concepts
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Saturday, May 07, 2011

KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space

April 26 KMers Twitter Chat I participated in, facilitated by Ewen, @ "KM for me...and You?"

Knowledge Areas for KM Professionals

This visual has nothing to do with a rigorous analysis of what a KM curriculum would need to address but it has a lot to do with areas/fields/topics I've encountered while DOING knowledge management. I've highlighted Personal Knowledge Management in bold because it ended up in the middle of my arrangement of bubbles somehow and it is often neglected and ignored by KM programs. I've used a loose coloring scheme to differentiate things that were strictly KM (ugly green) from IT-related items (light purple), from individual-focused items (red line) and organization-level focus.

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Knowledge Management Education & the Job Market for KM Professionals

Kent State University and George Washington University have been collaborating around an initiative to strengthen KM education (mostly at the Masters and Ph.D. level) with what I understood to be a long term goal of strengthening the KM profession as a whole by turning KM into a "discipline" with a standardized set of core qualifications, etc... essentially trying to balance or counter the emergence of competing commercial outfits delivering KM certifications and in the process making a few claims about the strength of their training.

I don't have sufficient first hand knowledge of the entrails of all this to pass judgement on any of it. From a personal perspective, as a knowledge management professional, I've had to ask myself whether I needed to get a KM certificate of some kind and after looking into it, I've decided that it did not make sense. For one thing, I've been disappointed with classroom learning (even in workshop format) settings and I seem to do better with ongoing social learning opportunities using a wide variety of sources and methods online. Another aspect of this is that I know enough about knowledge management to be skeptical about the ability of any training out there to really help me with ongoing KM challenges I face in the workplace and to give me something I can't find on my own with a little of diligence on the web. I could see myself taking one "class" a year on a specific topic, but the certificate approach isn't appealing to me.

The initiative driven by Kent State University (KM Education Forum Community Wiki) includes a series of webinars (completed) and a two-day onsite event at George Washington University (completed this past week, May 5-6). I listened in on some of the webinars and attended the onsite event in D.C. The back and forth between the academics and practitioners was interesting. Not surprisingly, there's a significant gap between the concerns of the academics ("we need to create a true discipline with a rigorous curriculum") and the concerns of the practitioners ("can you please send us people who know what they're talking about and can DO knowledge management"). Part of the problem is that there isn't a standard explanation of what "doing knowledge management" really is because 1) KM is highly contextual; and 2) KM draws from a wide range of other disciplines.

In parenthesis, I'm not convinced KM is a discipline or needs to be a discipline from an academic perspective. I see it as a cross-disciplinary field. I'm not sure the marketplace is asking for KM professionals coming out of schools with a KM degree. I think the marketplace would be satisfied with KM professionals who have had cross-disciplinary training, whether their degree comes from the school of computer science, human resources, business, library sciences, etc..

At times it seems as if there are a few individuals ("strong personalities" I should say) who are positioning themselves to be able to say "I created KM as a discipline." A small dose of humility might do some good to the field of KM as a whole (see a related short post by Nick Milton: "It's Wrong to be Right").  Within organizations, without a dose of humility and the ability to collaborate with other departments, KM can't go very far. The same probably applies to KM in academia. I find the attempt to establish KM as an independent discipline to go against the nature of KM. KM is not going to get more recognition in organizations when it becomes an academic discipline.  KM will get the recognition it deserves where and when it is able to demonstrate value to the bottom line and/or organizational goals of the organization.

That being said, I do find a great deal of value in some of the work being done in the context of the initiative to define roles and responsibilities as well as competencies required for KM professionals. Again, as a KM professional (in a contractor position), I have to think in terms of career path. I consider myself a KM generalist. Where do I go from here? What competencies do I need to acquire to get to the higher levels of the KM career hierarchy? What KM specialist competencies would have the most value if I wanted to become a specialist? What would I really be good at and what would be too much of a stretch? What existing skills and competencies should I build upon? If I'm currently somewhere between KM specialist and KM team leader (leader without a team, but below CKO), what are my options both within my existing organizational setting and within other organizations.

Which brings me to the next set of issues: the marketplace. In trying to identify specific competencies and skills that I had/didn't have that were in demand in the marketplace, I've collected job advertisements for the past few months. I've focused on positions that had the words "knowledge management" in them, but also paid attention to jobs with titles and descriptions involving "organizational learning" and "chief learning officer." A few observations:
  1. A significant proportion of the jobs labelled as "Knowledge Management" are 99% IT. Some of them are webmasters jobs under a KM label. I suppose that may happen when web content management falls under the responsibility of a KM office.
  2. Some organizations with a significant number of KM jobs have well defined KM job descriptions and qualification requirements with a good degree of consistency across the board. You can tell from the job descriptions that they have a strong KM program (the World Bank comes to mind).
  3. Federal Government KM jobs are often described in Federalese and alphabet soup. Even when they're open to the general public, you'd need a translator and insider to explain the terminology and have a chance in competing with people already on the inside. If you don't already know the systems the agency has in place, I don't know how you can expect to get through the first level of screening because you can't target your responses properly if you don't understand what their language.
  4. A lot of KM jobs are very specific about the systems and tools you need to know to apply. They don't ask for specialists in communities of practice, they ask for Sharepoint or system XYZ specialists. As an applicant, that tells you something about where the organization is in terms of KM maturity. They've already made a lot of decisions in terms of approaches and systems.  As a KM generalist, I know how to use a dozen different systems but would I call myself a Sharepoint specialist? Probably not.  Give me a couple of months and I can probably become a Sharepoint specialist.  I don't think being a specialist in a specific tool or system would be a smart career move.
This is a personal blog and these are personal opinions.  Obviously, this isn't meant as a summary of the KM Education Forum webinars and onsite event.  See links below for the official information.

Related Links (not advertizing or recommending any particular academic or commercial training)

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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Daily KM Papers in my Inbox

I realize that most peopledon't want more email and the idea of receiving multiple newspapers in their inbox on a daily basis wouldn't be appealing, but it's all a matter of managing the flow and deciding what's worth subscribing to temporarily vs. long-term. Unsubscribing is as easy as subscribing, so there's nothing to worry about.

I continue to grow the list of people and organizations I follow on Twitter but given the way I use Twitter (mostly to gather nuggets of relevant information), I don't need to constantly check my Tweet feed yet I don't want to miss potentially interesting Tweets.  By focusing on specific topics using Tweetdeck and filtering by columns, and subscribing to a few (four at the moment) Twitter-based newspapers, I am managing the flow while avoiding distractions.

#KM Daily
#KMers Daily
Knowledge Management, Le Journal, by P. Bernardon ... more likely to include French content

Sunday, April 17, 2011


No, I am not talking about Taylor Steven's debut novel, The Informationist, but it is that very book that introduced me to the term and made me wonder if there was such a term or profession.

What is an informationist, then?

An informationist is someone with a strong library science background combined with specialized expertise in a particular topic area. Informationists are usually embedded with the professionals they support rather than working out of a library. It appears to be used primarily within the medical profession (see the Wikipedia definition of "informationist.").  Another terms often used (or that I am more familiar with) is that of "embedded librarian).  The reference librarians I know who work at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center library for example, are extremely knowledgeable about both the science and engineering aspects of what NASA does. They're not embedded at the project level, but they are capable of supporting specific projects on an as-needed basis. 

Next question: Where does the informationist fit in with the knowledge manager? Are these complementary roles? 
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Collective Action

I'm currently reading/listening to Clay Shirky's work (Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus). This flashmob video fits in like a glove.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Key Elements of a KM Strategy

The key elements of a KM strategy can be summarized as follows:
  • Leadership:  Are the leaders both on board with the KM strategy and communicating that it is important?
  • Incentives: Are the right incentives in place for people at all levels to do what is expected of them in terms of KM?
  • Resources: Have adequate resources been identified and allocated appropriately (in a sustainable manner)?
  • Value:  Does it make sense?  Does the KM strategy address critical business needs?  Do people within the organization believe the KM strategy is adding value?
But none of this will make sense without a deep understanding of the organizational culture and business need.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Informal Learning via Social Media: An Example

Explaining the power of informal learning via social media to non-believers can be challenging because in most cases, the non-believers are not social media users and therefore it's easy to revert to "you just have to try it, then you'll understand."  That simply doesn't work with some people.  You need to give them something more tangible to get them to try it.

I had two very specific examples of tangible benefits this week.  One example involved the use of Twitter at a relatively small in-house conference and was 100% work-related.  The other example belongs to the critical gray area of professional interest that s not directly work-related.  I am documenting both, but I'll focus here on the second on.

I recently purchased The Working Smarter Fieldbook.  I've been following the authors from a digital distance for a while, whether on blogs, Twitter or other channels and I purchased the book or rather, the PDF file.  As I started reading through it on my Kindle, I noticed little black squares and my first thought was that some images were missing.  Something must have gone wrong with the PDF, I thought.  After all, this is an unbook, it's not meant as a perfect final product.  I didn't think too much of it.

A couple of days later, I am attending an in-house conference (the same one where I had that other informal learning experience via Twitter) and one of the presenters has an image of the funny little black squares on his slide.  He must have said only two words about it but that was the trigger.  It wasn't a missing picture, it was content I was missing out on because I had no clue what it was.  Now I knew it had a name, it was a QR (Quick Response) code. Armed with that information, I googled QR, ended up on the Wikipedia page.  The next challenge was to get back to the book I had first encountered them in and figure out how to "read" them. Post a question about it on the Yammer Social Learning Community, simultaneously google QR "reader", find the free iPhone app, and that was it, I was all giddy about my discovery.. so excited about it I had to tell a colleague about it later in the day.  Checked the Yammer Social Learning Community later on and there were a dozen or so messages with links to additional information, examples of how people use QRs, etc, etc..  One post specifically answered one of my remaining questions.  If the QR in a book is just taking you to a website, why not just put a standard URL?  The answer is that a URL doesn't change and you'd have to reprint your book or document if you change the URL.  The QR doesn't change.  You can set it to change where it takes you.

Connected the whole thing to a presentation I had seen months ago about Augmented Reality.
Started noticing QR codes at the mall, tried one  -- the first hand experience remains key in understanding what it does.
Started writing this blog post, which took me to additional resources, including the video below.

Resources collected in the process:

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

100 Tools for learning + 1 (

Jane Hart's annual list of the top 100 learning tools is always an interesting way of keeping an eye on trends and discovering new tools.  I went to check the list this morning with a different purpose.  I went to see if my current favorite is on the list.  I couldn't find it on the 2010 list but it has 3 votes on the 2011 list.  It's not clear that it's going to make the top 100 in 2011.

What am I talking about? allows you to subscribe to daily newspaper issues made up of Twitter and Facebook links.

The newspaper arrives in my email box. With TweetDeck and my filterened column for KM-relatead tweets, I can end up with 20 tweets essentially pointing to the same link.  With, I will see only one link to that item.  It helps to filter out duplicates.  If I keep TweetDeck open all day long to keep an eye on things, I lose focus on what I'm trying to achieve.

For me, won't completely replace TweetDeck, but it has an important Twitter management function.

All of this leads me back to a point about the Top 100 Tools for Learning.  Some of the tools listed are really sub-tools in the sense that and TweetDeck exist only because of Twitter.  They're tools develop to address some of the challenges brought about by Twitter.  Also, it would be useful to have lists by category of tools.  Presentation tools have little to do with microblogging tools for example.

 I discovered via Twitter, but you go directly to the website, search for existing papers, on topics of interest, and subscribe, never requiring you to even get a Twitter account.

Subscribe to the top 3 "Knowledge Management" Twitter newspapers and I'm confident you won't miss anything critical being shared on Twitter around Knowledge Management.

Of course, that all works out for me because I use Twitter as a way of connecting with resources more than as a way of connecting with people.  To connect with people around KM, the weekly #KMers tweetchat is probably the most effective approach.

Conclusion:  You don't have to keep checking your tweet feeds to get significant benefits from Twitter. It doesn't have to be a distracting tool.  What you need is a willingness to try it out and figure out how to use it so it works best for you. 

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

To Reflect

Somewhere in downtown Pittsburgh.
I love collecting links to interesting items on the web and I regularly bookmark using Diigo.  While I think that just the act of bookmarking something makes me focus on it a little more than I would if I were just scanning the item and moving on, I'm always feeling slightly guilty about the fact that I don't do much with these bookmarks.  Now that I have a substantive collection, however, I find myself coming to search it more often.  The photo to the right is one I took on a visit to Pittsburgh.  I came upon it today while cleaning up some files and it triggered some cleaning up of my Diigo Library.  Cleaning up, it turns out, is a good way to trigger reflection and in my case this morning, I ended up thinking about my use of tags, the increasingly important role of tagging and folksonomies, and how looking at your own tags and how they related can trigger new connections.  The clean up also forced me to learn a few tricks about searching my own Diigo Library.

Links from my Diigo Library (Tags= reflections, reflective practice, journaling, professional journal, PKM, AAR)
If I combine all the related tags mentioned above in a search of my Diigo Library, the query returns... 160 items.  I suspect many of them are labeled PKM for personal knowledge management. 

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Understanding Information Overload: Email

"When the amount of information available to be filtered is effectively unlimited, as is the case on the Net, then every improvement in the quality of filters will make information overload worse." Situational overload and Ambient Overload (Nicholas Carr, March 11, 2011)

In his post on "Situational Overload and Ambient Overload," Nicholas Carr differentiates between too types of issues:  Situational overload refers to the ability of finding the needle in the haystack (or our ability to search for something specific), while ambient overload refers to our ability to filter the unending rivers of information that are available to us to find things that are of interest to us.

In short, Clay Sharky's often quoted statement that "It's not information overload, it's filter failure" (Clay Sharky, Web 2.0 Expo) doesn't address all the angles of the information overload problem.

I was struck by this statement by Nicholas Carr because it helped me deepen my understanding of the confusion most people seem to experience around the words "information overload."  When people complain of information overload, they'll often use email as an example and mention that they receive hundreds of email every day, immediately followed by a statement to the effect that if they read all their emails, they'd have no time for real work.

I don't receive hundreds of email at work -- and I should be thankful for that -- but as an experiment, I started collecting in a folder all the messages that I receive that I consider to be a waste of my time and I should never have received.  I should mention here that we have an excellent spam filter and all the unnecessary email I am collecting are internal to the organization.  Most of these email messages come from individuals making use of distribution lists. Half of the messages don't apply to me at all, meaning that I am not the intended audience for that message. There are particularly annoying examples of this: 1) the message reminding me to submit my timesheet, which would be nice, except that I'm a contractor and I work on a different timesheet schedule; 2) the message advertizing all the wonderful training opportunities -- for which I don't qualify.

To address the problem, I have a number of options:
1) unsubscribe from these lists
That is not necessarily an option since I didn't subscribe in the first place.  I was automatically added based on my various organizational identities.
2) create an email rule to automatically divert all these messages to a folder and review/delete when I have time
3) create a rule that is specific enough to automatically delete the specific messages without targeting all messages to the offending distribution lists;
4) have a friendly conversation with the sender(s).

Then there's the occasional "donuts in the kitchen" announcement, which might be useful to some, but I don't work in the building where that kitchen is located, so again, that distribution list doesn't work for me.

Then there's the "I wanted to make sure you all receive this" message, when the message referenced has clearly been sent to every single individual in the organization.  Either the sender hasn't seen that the message was sent to everyone or the sender doesn't trust the recipients to read emails addressed to everyone, but they trust the reader to read emails from him/her.

In the work situation, I don't have complete control over what I receive and I have to pick my battles.  This one is probably not significant enough to turn it into a skirmish, but multiplied by thousands of employees receiving a dozen or more unnecessary emails a day, there may be a case of action.

My personal email inbox is another story.  Even without spam, I do get many more emails there and I make extensive use of filters to screen things efficiently and not miss important messages.  In my work inbox, I can't afford not to screen every message, even if only to delete.  In my home inbox, most of what I receive are things I asked for (notifications, subscriptions, etc...) but don't need to read until the weekend or don't have to read at all if I'm pressed for time.  That's the ambient overload aspect of the information problem, the same problem I encounter with RSS feeds I subscribe to and most of my use of Twitter.  That is something I can control.  I can decide how much time to spend screening Twitter feeds and RSS feeds. I can skip a whole week and not have to worry about it.  It's not essential to my existence.  Nothing will happen if I miss a week's worth of Twitter or a week's worth of RSS feeds.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Challenge of Learning in Projects

It is easier to establish AAR processes (or a similar process) in projects or activities that have a short life cycle and are repeatable.

Here is a very simple example:  You've developed a training curriculum that you deliver four times a year.  At the end of each session, you conduct an AAR, the lessons of which you can quickly integrate into the next session and so on, in an ongoing fashion.

There are project circumstances, however, where establishing an AAR process is much more difficult because of the following perceptions firmly held by project team members.

1) the projects are long-term AND there is little learned in phase A that really applies to phase B

2) projects are so unique that there isn't much specific you could learn on one project that will apply to another project

3) project teams are pressured to delivery THEIR project on time and on budget (at times competing with other projects for resources), so why should they waste time on activities meant to help out future projects for which they have no responsibility.

1) and 2) above are hard to believe but I've heard it.  KM professionals should never assume that everyone perceives of the value of knowledge in the same way they do. 3) is where the biggest problem resides.

So, if the project team doesn't have the necessary motivation to engage in KM activities, where is the appropriate entry point?  Somewhere either above the project (management level) or below the project (professional groups, etc...)?

Project X experienced challenges with its risk management approach, an issue which would have come up in a project AAR (if implemented at major milestones rather than at the end of the project).  The project didn't schedule AARs because of 1), 2) and 3) listed above.  What if there was a Risk Management community of practice with the appropriate incentives to support members with the knowledge of the entire community rather than just the knowledge of the individual risk manager assigned to that project?

That does not mean there aren't good opportunities for using AARs in that organization.  Not all activities around the organization are long-term unique projects. 

In short: Don't push AARs where they don't belong. Find the right approach for the specific setting.  


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't publish content without a usage strategy in place

I spent yesterday transferring a case study from a complex PowerPoint format (with embedded videos and exercises) to a more accessible wiki.  It turned out to be a rather labor intensive, mind-numbing activity.

The earlier alternative had been a zipped file which contained all the individual pieces, including videos, attachments, etc... Needless to say, very few people were going to download the zipped file to their desktop in order to get a sense of what the whole thing was about.

So, now the case study is technically more "accessible."  Does that mean it is going to be used?  No. Can I get the wiki stats to lie for me?  Yes.  I can probably collect statistics that will tell me that X number of people accessed the case study every week.  However, if I were to ask these X people whether they went through the entire case and found it useful, I'm guessing the answers would not be very positive.  I'd learn that they stumbled upon the case study while looking for something else and promptly exited.

Ideally, the entity creating content of that nature, content that was designed for a face-to-face training environment, needs to think about how the materials would need to be adjusted or re-purposed for other uses.  When the content is yours, you have a strong incentive to ensure that it doesn't sit on a shelf or deep in a folder on someone's desktop. You also have a better sense of how it could or should be used.  You have a good sense of why you developed it in the first place.  When you're inheriting someone else's content, it's tempting to just make it accessible but not really get invested in whether people will get any value out of it.

So, yesterday, while I was concentrating deeply on manipulating files to reconstruct the case study in its new, more accessible environment, a few questions came up:
* When I create (or re-purpose) content, shouldn't I pay a little more attention to what I name the files, so that someone else, coming later, would have a sense of what they are even if they're not familiar with the content.
* When I create (or re-purpose) content, shouldn't I have a usage strategy in mind?  I know who the target audience is for that case study.  I know who would need to take a lead role in promoting the use of that case study.  The next step would be to make that explicit, to proactively engage those people most likely to have a use for it. 

Perhaps "usage strategy" isn't the right phrase. Perhaps it's an "engagement strategy."  I want people to engage with the material.
* Why would people engage with this material?
* How are people going to engage with this material?
* How do I tweak the original material to make it more user friendly in its new "setting"?
* How do I let the right people know it's there?

Similar issues arise with all of the case studies we work with.  They're designed for face-to-face training.  We post them to make them more accessible, but our real target group consists of instructors who might consider using the cases in their training. Hence, it's not enough to make them more accessible.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bookmarked in First Half of February 2011

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Social Business Software and KM - Percolating

I do my best to leave work at the office and switch the brain to non-work related things when I close the office door.  Sometimes, though, work sticks to my brain. It's often a question or a set of questions that need to percolate for a while. The office isn't a very good place for reflection, so I tolerate reflection and percolation during off-hours.

Here are some of the questions currently percolating:

1. How to ensure a KM impact for social business software
If a social business software is introduced within the organization with the specific purpose of improving internal communications, how can I make sure that the implementation also supports knowledge management?

a.  I set up a KM community within the new platform and champion KM through that space, potentially replicating perceptions of KM as something the KM office does rather than something everybody should be doing (Big Foot approach).

b. I seed KM-related comments, suggestions, resources, etc.. throughout the various communities, turning myself into the annoying KM guru-wannabe who obviously has too much time on her hands.

c.  I make sure not to refer to anything I do as KM and I actively participate in relevant communities, modeling the behavior I'd want to see from all employees with regards to KM (super-stealth approach).

2. Competition between Tools / Too Much of a Good Thing?
If a social business software is introduced within the organization when another tool (a wiki) is on the rise, will there be competition between the two sets of tools and how do you prevent confusion regarding the purpose of each tool?

a. Yes, there will be confusion unless the differences are clearly explained and the two tools are presented as complementary rather than competing.

b. People are going to be reluctant to learn two new tools.  They'll insist on using one or the other because they already know how to use it, rather than pick the most appropriate tool for the task.

c. There's enough space for everyone to play in both playgrounds.  I'm worrying too much and it's a non-issue.

d. It will take so much time to deploy this social business software that everyone will have already developed their space in the wiki and there will be little demand for the new tool.

3. We need PKM too, don't we?
I strongly believe that most people in organizations could use a little Personal Knowledge Management before jumping into Organizational Knowledge Management, yet talking about PKM is even less likely to be well received than KM.  How do I push forward with what I strongly believe in?

a. Go to the KM boss (my boss) and suggest a PKM workshop or online course (yeah, right... I must have lost my mind for a second).

b. Build a PKM module on my personal page in the existing wiki and point people to it  (add a link in my email signature as a starting point).  Don't tell the boss, just do it.

c. Mention PKM in every single conversation until there's a buzz around the term and the top leadership decides we need one of those (just kidding!).

Related Resources
  • Some lessons about capacity building in social media for development organizations in the South, January 24, Lasagna and Chips (blog)
    There is a simple diagram in the post mentioned just above that struck me as on the spot and also reflects my perspective on KM.  With KM and with social media tools, you can't build anything at the organizational level until you have a critical mass of individuals interested (practicing personal knowledge management and using social media for their own individual benefit).
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Saturday, February 05, 2011

KM Twitter Chats - Slow Motion Brainstorming on Storytelling

In the past couple of months, I've participated in a few Twitter chats run through the KMers group.  I haven't developed a strong pro or against attitude.  I like the idea of communicating with like-minded individuals who have similar professional interests but with whom I would otherwise have no contact through regular work-related tasks.  I still find them a little awkward.

Imagine a dozen people sitting around a table for a brainstorming session around a pre-determined topic. A facilitator welcomes everyone and starts up the conversation with a question. Imagine that instead of having to take turns to speak up, people are able to talk over each other, but everything is slowed down so that the participants are able to hear and comprehend what everybody else is saying.  There's a little more time to think about what to contribute to the conversation and you can respond to something that was said a minute ago rather than the last thing that was said without getting everyone totally confused.

I'll use the most recent KMers' chat on Corporate Storytelling and Knowledge Management as an example.

The 140-character limit forces has both advantages and disadvantages:
  • (+) You're not able to ramble on about an idea without making a point. If your 140 character message isn't clear on its own, people will just ignore it and move on quickly.

  • (-) Don't expect it to be more than a brainstorming session.  People will express ideas and share resources they're aware of, they may express agreement or ask for details, but there isn't time or space to go deep into anything.
  • (+/-) You're more inclined to turn your message into the equivalent of a movie tagline or a book logline. If your message is intriguing enough, you get a request for details.

  • (+/-) There is a "built-in" written record (transcript) of the conversation (keep that in mind when you're furiously typing a tweet).

  • (+) The conversation doesn't always end with the chat session.  Some participants in the chat may follow up with some additional thoughts or a summary of the chat in their blog (See Jeff Hester's blog post on Successful KM Storytelling).

  • (+) The chat's hashtag (#KMers) can be used at any time (beyond the specific hour of scheduled chat) to reach out to this particular KM community even if all the members of the community aren't among your followers.
Storytelling Resources:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

About Knowledge Management Plans and Strategic KM

In the past 18 months, I have done a lot of thinking (and a lot of drafting of plans and requirements documents) about KM plans in the context of an attempt to "institutionalize" or "scale up" KM within the organization.  To me, the critical question isn't so much whether a KM plan would be a good idea or not, but rather, how do you make it happen when there is no requirement or mandate for projects to have such a plan.  

So, here's the real question for me: Do you try to create a KM requirement and then go about enforcing it, or do you work with project teams to create and implement a plan because they've come to believe in the value of KM activities embedded in the plan?

To get to the point where they believe in the value of KM activities, you need to convince them to actually implement some KM activities.  Perhaps they'll agree to do an activity or two, but they won't experience the full value unless they do it systematically, throughout the project's life cycle.  If you implement ad hoc KM activities with the project, they'll start seeing KM as just that, "ad hoc" and not something that's truly embedded into the project.  It becomes something that the KM team does with them once in a while rather than their KM activity.

Why KM Plans (January 24, 2011), Nick Milton in Knoco Stories - From the Knowledge Management Front Line

"One of the push-backs we often get when we introduce KM plans is “why do we need a plan? Any good engineer will naturally do all the learning they need; surely a KM plan or learning plan is just added work for no added value?”

I posted a comment in response to this blog post, suggesting that when there isn't a requirement for a KM plan, it may be more effective to integrate KM elements into existing plans.  I've seen it integrated into the Risk Management Plan.

 Knowledge management Plans,

"The concept of a project-level Knowledge Management plan is one of the most exciting new ideas to come out of Knowledge Management in the past 5 years. It is a device that allows Knowledge Management to be fully embedded into project controls, at the same level of rigour as risk management, or document management."

I strong believe in the potential of KM plans.  They're particularly valuable in the context of large, complex projects that are driven by plans and requirements and document management to begin with.The project may be complex, but the KM plan needs to be simple and leverage other things that are already planned within the project. 

See also Knoco Newsletter on Knowledge Management Plans (Spring 2007).

Planning for Strategically Relevant KM

Are You Wasting Money on Useless Knowledge Management?, January 20th, Harvard Business Review, by Ian MacMillan, Max Boisot, and Martin Ihri. 

"The problem is that most current knowledge management efforts merely inventory the company's knowledge, without parsing out the knowledge that is strategically relevant. Strategic management of knowledge focuses only on those knowledge assets that are critical to your firm's competitive performance — from the tacit expertise of key individuals right through to explicit company-wide general principles."
I agree with the statement above.  That's also why all the current attention given to social media as a KM solution, is potentially misguided if it is seen merely as a way to better connect people. Also, strategically relevant KM at the organizational level may imply KM activities at the organizational level rather than just KM at the project level.  There are different layers of strategic KM activities at each level of the organization.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tool of the Week - Quora

I became aware of Quora through Twitter.  I was noticing Quora this and Quora that without understanding what it was and eventually I must have clicked on a link and ended up on the Quora site.

Quora is a Q&A tool with a social networking dimension. It's integrated with Twitter. These days, everything needs to be integrated with Twitter it seems. You set up an account and off you go, posting questions and answering other people's questions.

It reminded me of Aardvark, a similar Q&A service that I tried out (never really got into) a few months ago and Wolfram Alpha. Aardvark is more about seeking advice about where to take your next vacation and Wolfram Alpha is more like querying an encyclopedia. I'm simplifying.

Aardvark seemed to be a Q&A in a vacuum, with random people answering your questions whereas Quora collects and displays answers in a semi-organized fashion and allows you to identify topics of interest and people to follow. Wolfram Alpha is a powerful search engine that retrieves verified information. At least that's my impression.

As a public tool, these are interesting experiments but I'm more interested in their potential application within organizations. There is a significant amount of literature on knowledge management systems within organizations specifically focused on Q&A types of "solutions." These are based on a number of assumptions: 1) there is a demand and supply side in the knowledge equation, a market; 2) the correct incentives are in place and all you need is a tool to act as a bridge between knowledge seekers and knowledge owners.

When you set up tools such as Yammer within an organization, you are essentially opening up broader avenues for people to connect, potentially ask questions and get answers. You should not expect everyone to use these new channels for Q&A purposes and you should not expect this to be THE solution. A Q&A system such as Quora, when implemented within an organization, has the advantage of gathering answers into one spot. Answers don't get lost in the traffic, they accumulate, in a not-so-orderly fashion, around questions.

I haven't explored the tool long enough to understand its true potential, but long enough to have a few questions: How much structure should be imposed for the system to remain useful and usable? How much policing and training is necessary to avoid complete chaos? How do you deal with the skeptics who will inevitably say that none of the content is "validated" knowledge, that it could actually be dangerous if people follow the advice posted and it's wrong.

It's not exactly a new idea. I remembered reading a paper by Ackerman & Malone titled "Answer Garden: a tool for growing organizational memory,"  from 1990 (might as well be a century ago).

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