Friday, June 23, 2017

Metrics Anecdote

Here is a short, very simple fictional (adapted from reality) anecdote about metrics in the realm of knowledge management.

"Barbara, how many workshops have we done in the past 8 years?"
"Let me check.... 25."
"We've done 25 workshops in the past 8 years?"
"Yes."

And the number 25, whatever it means, is now a data point for someone in management who needed to know how many workshops we have implemented.  Someone needed numbers.  To say "we conduct knowledge sharing workshops" isn't the same as "we have conducted 25 knowledge sharing workshops in the past 8 years."  And yet, that number is meaningless.  Here's why.

"Barbara, how many workshops have we done in the past 8 years?"
"Probably more than 20. Why do you ask?"
"I need to document our activities with some quantitative metrics."
"Oh, then the total number of workshops isn't that relevant or useful because we used to do full day workshops and now we do half-day workshops and sometimes they're just 90-minute workshops, so workshops aren't all the same."
"Is there a better way to show that we have done a lot of good work with these workshops?"
"How about counting the individual sessions rather than the full workshops?  In those 20+ workshops, we've addressed 115 distinct topics in sessions lasting anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours."
"Thanks.  That's useful."
"You're welcome.  We also have attendance data and ....."
"Thanks.  I think the number of topics is good enough for now."
"Well... it would be nice to know in advance what metrics are of interest to management.  I keep metrics that are relevant to me for the purpose of improving the workshops."

Lesson/Insight

  • When asked for metrics, understand the rationale for the request.  Ask questions (without sounding defensive or overprotective of data).
  • Avoid surprise requests for data by pro-actively engaging management in the determination of valuable metrics to be collected.
  • Don't just answer a question with data that you know is going to be misleading without further explanation, but do make an effort to be responsive and answer the question honestly. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Stalling at the Top of the Learning Curve

I like the concept of the learning curve and in the context of a conversation about learning to learn, being aware of our individual learning curve around a particular topic can be valuable.

For example, I feel as if I have reached a point on the learning curve around this theme of "learning to learn" where the returns have become minimal.  I read these types of articles (previous posts) but I've come to the point where it's really a scanning process rather than deep reading.  I'm looking for something new, a new concept, a new idea, and 90% of the time, I'm a little disappointed because it's not new (to me).  It's almost become boring.

What should/could I do about it?

1. Look at it with different lenses
It would be arrogant to think that I know everything there is to know about "learning to learn".  Let's assume for a moment that I've been looking in the wrong places for additional knowledge.  I need a new direction, a new angle.  Perhaps I should revisit another recurring interest, neuroscience, and see if there are useful connections with "learning to learn" that I have yet to explore.

2. Look away for a while
This is just a symptom of being bored with too much of the same thing.  I just need a break from "learning to learn."  I should consciously avoid the topic for a while (perhaps a year) and then get back to it with fresh eyes.  For example, my recent interest in permaculture has created a nice break from standard knowledge management and related topics which I constantly read about.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Learning to Learn - what's new?


A recurring theme:  Learning to Learn.

  • "Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn," by Ulrich Boser, May 05, 2017.
  • "If You're Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won't Learn Anything," by Andy Molinsky, July 29, 2016.
  • "Learning to Learn," by Erika Anderson, March 2016.
  • "You Can Learn and Get Work Done at the Same Time," by Liane Davey, January 11, 2016.
  • "4 Ways to Become a Better Learner," by Monique Valcour, December 31, 2015. 
All in the Harvard Business Review.  I don't care how much AI and machine learning are going to transform our world, I'm ready to bet that learning to learn with our own little human brains is never going to be obsolete. In fact, critical thinking and rapid learning are going to be at a premium.

Too funny:  As I was ready to publish this little item, I came across the following:


  • "In the AI Age, "Being Smart" Will Mean Something Completely Different," by Ed Hess, June 19, 2017, Harvard Business Review. 



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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fitness Training and Work-based Learning - Some parallels


Training for a sport competition is all about achieving one's maximum potential at a specific point in time (the competition), and therefore planning the training regimen based on a specific schedule.  However, without a competition in sight, it should still be possible to reach a certain high level of performance (if not peak performance) on a sustained basis.  It is not possible to always be at peak performance.

We do the same when preparing for a difficult exam.  We prepare, we rest the day before to be able to reach peak performance during the exam.

How can we maintain a high level of cognitive performance, a high level of learning and adapting throughout life without competitions and exams to push us towards peak performance?

We know from neuroscience that one of the key characteristics of the brain is its plasticity.  Our brains, just like the rest of our body, have a great deal of potential for remaining highly performant in later years IF we properly manage them.  It also relates to Robert Bjork's notion of "desirable difficulty."

To maintain a high level of cognitive performance, one hypothesis is that it might be good to create challenges for oneself, the equivalent of the sport competition.  A challenge is more than just routine maintenance of the body or the brain.  A challenge requires pushing oneself beyond one's comfort zone, doing more than what is achived without much effort.

For the brain and the body, this might mean:


Train the Brain Train the Body
Reading in a different language; watching a movie in a completely different language Watch a documentary on a sport you've never tried; watch competitions from other sports.
Picking up a book in a completely different field, something that's going to be difficult to understand, something you will need to pay close attention to cross train, don't stick to one sport that you're comfortable with.
Seek out people, books, websites, etc... that promote ideas/values you disagree with and put yourself in their shoes for a while.. in other words, make your brain work differently, create new neural paths If you don't care for sports competition, go explore the lives of people who compete for a living; If you like competition, go explore the perspective of those who engage in a sport purely for the sake of going out in nature and being alone with nature...
Repeating the same thing over and over doesn't help improve performance Deliberate practice: practice with specific goals in mind, and get feedback so that you learn and make adjustments


Key principles to keep in mind:
  • Seeking high performance requires training -- going beyond basic maintenance;
  • Peak performance cannot be maintained indefinitely but it can be planned for based on a training schedule;
  • Variety/diversity in training is good for performance and for motivation/moral;
Work-based learning can be seen as individual performance and team performance:  Individually, we can all work on our performance, but it is when we come together as high-performing teams that the organization really benefits.  The same is very true in team sports.  Team sports rely on individuals to be fit and performant, but also to train as a team to perform as a team.  Teams of individual performers rarely sustain their success over time.  

On top of the parallels just mentioned in terms of training, we know that a healthy body (achieved through good nutrition, adequate sleep and exercise) is critical for brain health.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Measuring Learning in the Context of Individual Performance Assessments

Abt Associates' Jacob Alex Klerman blogged about the need to proceed with caution when dealing with efforts to measure performance.  It can become a very deep and expensive rabbit hole.

I'd like to push the idea further from a knowledge management/organizational learning perspective.  There have been arguments for including "learning" metrics in individual performance assessments.  The (simplified) logic is that if you want to encourage t a particular behavior, you should measure it.

I'm not sure if there is research on this topic (I suspect there is), but my intuition tells me that while performance monitoring may be useful to identify and take action on under-performing employees, it is much less useful in rewarding high performance employees who are self-motivated in the first place.  You might force under-performing employees to comply with certain things by threatening them with bad performance assessments, but can you force an under-performing employee to learn more?  I doubt it.  Can you help a willing learner?  Yes, but adding a learning metric to their individual performance evaluation won't do it.

So, here's the question: How would/could a learning metric have a positive impact on employee learning?  Perhaps indirectly, by communicating the organization's recognition of learning as an important element of performance; by forcing conversations about what constitutes workplace learning, what is an effective learning strategy for individuals.

If the ultimate objective is to have these ongoing conversations about workplace learning and how it contributes to individual, team and organizational performance, then individual performance metrics may not be the most appropriate starting point.  They may be a minor component of a much broader strategy (see map below).




This also illustrates a point made by Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader (2016) in "The Great Traing Robbery," which is that training -- and leadership development in particular -- needs to be fully integrated with organizational development.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Revisiting the Knowledge Pyramid

Nick Milton's blog post earlier this week revisited the knowledge pyramid to suggest a variation (Revised Knowledge Pyramid (1) below) and I am going to suggest here a further variation (Revised KNowledge Pyramid (2))..  I don't think the original pyramid and this last version are meant to convey the same thing, so one is not better than the other.  From my perspective, the original pyramid is a little too abstract and usually comes into the picture when trying to explain what knowledge management is, and in the context of inevitably trying to define knowledge (a lost cause in my opinion).



  To transform experience into something useful, learning must occur.  Most learning occurs through reflection, analyzing the experience in light of prior knowledge;  But knowledge isn't enough.  You still have to do something with it. That's where decision making comes in.  Decision making helps transform knowledge into action.

Therefore, when we talk about lessons learned, we should be talking about the entire pyramid, from the original experience to the action (what are you doing differently now based on what you've learned?).

I'm not completely satisfied with this pyramid though because experience doesn't seem to be the only way we learn.  What we learn in school, what we learn from reading a book... those are not things we learn from experience, yet experience and prior knowledge are key in making sense of it all.    When I access data and information, I can only make sense of it and transform it into usable knowledge if I have the required prior knowledge and/or experience.  Experience-based information and externally-acquired data/information can both be the source of new knowledge.

When we train people, we are giving them new information and trying to present it in such a way that it will allow the trainees to make sense of it by connecting it to prior knowledge and experience.  When training events start referring to "experiential learning", they are pointing to the fact that learning is more effective when the learners are experiencing a situation themselves and learning how to react to it.

Enough rambling for now!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Two Key Elements of Personal Knowledge Management - Reflection and Experimentation

Clark Quinn blogged about "Experimentation and Reflection" earlier this week in the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine.  It's a recurring theme in my own reflections about Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning.

I like reading and interacting with people who work on similar issues yet from a slightly different perspective.  While most of the knowledge management and organizational learning professionals I know focus on the group or the organization as the relevant unit of analysis, Clark Quinn, Jane Hart and others who work in the arena of workplace learning within the broader umbrella of "learning and development" (L&D) have a much strong emphasis on the individual as the relevant unit of analysis.  I want to work at the intersection of KM/OL/ and L&D.

I'd like to argue that what's missing is an approach that bridges all three levels: Individual knowledge and learning, team knowledge and learning processes, and organizational knowledge and learning.

The foundation for robust knowledge management at the organizational level is a culture of learning. That culture is an aggregation of the behaviors and attitudes of all the individuals who work in that organization.  Therefore, it would make sense to suggest that knowledge management at the individual level (i.e, personal knowledge management) is an important foundation for knowledge management at the organizational level.

I have yet to see a knowledge management effort that pays attention to personal knowledge management and systematically links individual learning to team/group learning and organizational learning. [There is some research on the "microfoundations" of organizational learning which supports this idea.]

Putting some emphasis on the individual is not about rewarding individual incentives and addressing the "what's in it for me" attitude that we can encounter when pushing for more knowledge sharing.  Personal knowledge management, however, can have a significant impact on 1) personal motivation/job satisfaction; 2) engagement with peers/informal mentoring.

Quinn's post mentions the difficulty in measuring the informal learning progress that occurs through experimentation and reflection.

"I’m not sure that there are many tools that are expressly for tracking individual informal learning progress (though I’m using a new task/project management tool to create my todos and then mark them when done). Still, thinking consciously about learning goals and tracking progress could be a valuable adjunct to intentional learning." (Experimentation and Reflection, blog post of 2/9/2017)
I don't generally recommend bean counting when it comes to learning but here is an option to consider.

1. Document your informal learning activities (including your experimentation and reflection activities) in some fashion.  This is useful whether you want to measure progress or not.

2. Review your informal learning notes (however you have captured them) on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, whatever works for you).  Some of it will be observations.  some of it will be key insights, perhaps even some action items that you assigned yourself.   As you review notes from several months of informal learning activities, new insights will emerge, new actions to follow through with.  That's how the experimentation keeps evolving.  It's a form of agile learning.

3. Count key insights generated over time:  By the time you're done reviewing your notes, you know you've made progress.  If you need to report that progress to someone or you need a quantitative measure of progress, simply count the key insights you've generated over a month, keep track every month.  I don't think the goal is to keep increasing the number of insights.  Some are worth more than others. :)

If you track the number of miles you run (regardless of speed) for physical fitness purposes, you can track the number of key insights you generate out of your informal learning activities.   By itself, the process of tracking them down will generate new insights.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Word of the Day

I learned a new word today:  impugning

It seems to be an important word.  I've missed out on using it for so many years and now there's so much impugning going around, it seems only fair I shall make effective use of it.

im·pugn
verb
gerund or present participle: impugning
  1. dispute the truth, validity, or honesty of (a statement or motive); call into question.

    "the father does not impugn her capacity as a good mother"  that doesn't sound right, let's reverse, "The mother does not impugn his capacity as a good father".  Better.

    synonyms:

    call into question, challenge, question, dispute, query, take issue with

    "Are you impugning my judgment?"
    I am indeed impugning the judgment of a lot of people these days.  

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Apropos Quotes

"N'oubliez jamais qu'il suffira d'une crise politique, economique ou religieuse pour que les droits des femmes soient remis en question.  Ces droits ne sont jamais acquis.  Vous devrez rester vigilantes votre vie durant."  ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Translation: "All it takes is a political, economic or religious crisis for women's rights to be questioned.  These rights are not permanently acquired.  You must stay vigilant throughout your lifetime."

"Personne n'est plus arrogant envers les femmes, plus agressif ou méprisant, qu'un homme inquiet pour sa virilité."  ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Translation:  "No one is more arrogant towards women, more aggressive or more contemptuous than a man worried about his manliness."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Research Project: KM in Small Organizations

During my Year of Learning, I plan on conducting some research as an ongoing project.  It will directly feed two of my goals (learning and network building) and it will be a longer term, indirect investment in a third goal (making a living).

At this point, I know I want to look at small organizations and knowledge management.  I started an initial literature review which will hopefully allow me to get closer to a meaningful set of questions.

As of January 2017, here are some thoughts:

  • Most of the literature on how to implement successful knowledge management strategies applies to larger organizations;
  • Small organizations may not perceive as much of a need for knowledge management if they see it as something that only benefits larger, more complex organizations with more significant barriers to internal information and knowledge flows or if they see it as something they can't afford to even consider.  That could happen if they understand knowledge management primarily from an IT perspective or as something necessarily complex and too daunting to tackle.
  • My hypothesis is that small organizations could benefit significantly from embracing knowledge management practices to directly and quickly strengthen themselves and position themselves for greater impact and potential growth (if growth is what they are seeking).
Questions
  1. What constitutes a "small" organization?  Are there any relevant thresholds in terms of size and impact of Knowledge Management?
  2. What would be the most appropriate research approach?  Would it be useful to compare very small (5-50) to small (51-200) organizations?  What kind of sample size can I realistically consider for a 12-months project?  (10-20 organizations).  How about just a couple of more in-depth case studies?
  3. What types of small organizations do I want to focus on?  There is some limited literature on KM in SMEs, but I want to focus on a rather unique class of organizations, small non-profit organizations working in the field of international development.  I'm not even sure I want to limit myself to non-profits.  The characteristic I want to focus on is "resource constrained," whether they are technically non-profits or not.  A small start-up for-profit organization trying to bring innovation to the field of international development (if that exists) is probably resource constrained in similar ways as a non-profit.  For the initial research, (probably self-funded), I would focus on organizations in the US.  Of course, it would be even more interesting to extend this to study/work with the partner organizations, those working in various countries under even more resource constrained environments.  
  4. If this is all based on pro bono collaboration, where do I draw the line in terms of research vs. providing advice (i.e., consulting services)?
  5. How do I find the right balance between what I want to study and what they need most? I have an interest in conducting research, but I'm primarily a practitioner, not an academic. I'm most interested in research that will have immediate applicability in terms of providing valuable support to the organizations I work with.   Everything I have done so far in planning has been very "me-oriented" because I have focused on articulating my own goals and interests.  This will change so that it is the real needs of small organizations that are ultimately served.   

Questions 1 through 3 will sort themselves out based on the findings of the initial literature review, some initial contacts, and pragmatism.

Questions 4 and 5 will only be answered by having open conversations with potential partner organizations for this research, making my intent and objectives very clear upfront and putting an agreement in writing regarding the scope of each party's involvement and responsibilities.

________________

PS:  I am reading an old copy of George Orwell's 1984.  We have two copies in the house.  My copy is a French version I read in the year 1984 while a newly minted immigrant to the US, attending the French High School in New York City (which explains why I was still reading it in French).  It has my old (212) telephone number printed on the inside cover.  The second copy is an English edition that one of my daughters read in middle school.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Planning A Year of Learning

"If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan, and guess what they have planned for you? Not much."  ~Jim Rohn
What's a YoL?
I've named it a Year of Learning (YoL).  It's not a sabbatical and it's not a mid-life gap year. I'm not taking a year off to travel or meditate on top of a mountain. And it's not just a career move.  Neither do I want to go in early retirement. I don't know that it will be a year long. Ideally it will keep going in some shape for the next 20 years. I do anticipate that loads of learning will occur, some planned and most unplanned and unanticipated, which is why I have decided to call it a Year of Learning.

Timeline (and the beneficial impact of anticipation)
My YoL will start in August 2017.  It's mid-January 2017 and I've been planning this for a while already (Social Impact Consulting - September 2016).  It feels like planning a vacation.  The planning part can be as fun and rewarding as the vacation itself.  I'm applying some of the findings of anticipation research, transferring them from the context of a vacation to a career change.

Goals
My ultimate goal is to design a smooth transition from a traditional 9-5 job with benefits into satisfying independent consulting work that will allow more flexibility to do the things I want to do without having to wait for retirement to do them.

I have goals for this YoL, I even have a detailed business plan, but I'm ready to throw the plan out the window if something else emerges.  Here are four angles I'll be working on:
  • Loads of Learning - That's an easy goal because it's an existing habit, almost on autopilot.  The key is to balance focused, intentional learning with serendipitous learning and exploration. I also have a specific research project in mind (see next blog post). 
  • Make (some) Money - Yes, this is not a 12 months vacation and it's not a sabbatical with a job to get back to in a year.  That's where the business plan comes in.  The YoL does require an income stream but my goal is to not make it the top priority.
  • Nurture my Network(s) - This will be more of a stretch, will require some pro-active planning --which sounds redundant --, and it will be critical to my overall well-being as well as important for long-term success.
  • Work out the "Work-life Balance"- Why wait to retire to go on those long bike rides in the middle of the week?  Schedule it and just do it!  No more 8 hours in front of a computer.  There has to be another way.
Related Resources

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Percolating with Smart Collaboration and Humble Consulting

The things we are exposed to (situations, but also books, articles, movies, etc..)  within the same period of time connect in our heads in ways that might not have happened if we had been exposed to them at different times -- perhaps even six months apart.  Here is an example for the past couple of week based on two items I was reading.

Heidi Gardner, Smart collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, Harvard Business Review Press, 2017. 

Click on the screenshot above to go to the webinar page. 

Summary:  Professional services firms need to solve their clients' increasingly complex problems, the kinds of problems that only teams of multidisciplinary experts can tackle.  Yet they've organized themselves into narrowly defined practice areas and collaborating across these silos is often messy, risky, and expensive.

Gardner shows that "firms earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, attract and retain the best talent and gain a competitive edge when specialists collaborate across functional boundaries."

This relates to my own efforts to provide consulting services. My efforts will not resemble those of a large professional services firm, yet the clients might present me with the same set of complex challenges.  My own areas of specialization can be perceived as narrow under those circumstances and I want to stick to that as a niche specialty, but organizations are going to present themselves with much broader, more complex sets of interconnected challenges around knowledge management.

My main "organizational" challenge as an independent consultant will not be to break down silos but to create collaborative arrangements with partners in order to bring together the capabilities necessary to provide comprehensive solutions to a client when I can't do it on my own.

That sounds like a nice challenge/practical research question to address within my first year project.

Edgar Schein's Humble Consulting: How To Provide Real Help Faster, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016.



Summary:  In Humble Consulting, Schein with exactly the same observation as Gardner: Organizations today face challenges that are messy and complicated.  Gardner argues that the traditional consultant role of playing doctor just doesn't work in those situations.  When presented with a simple, technical problem, the consultant/doctor can come in, run a few tests, come up with a diagnostic and prescribe a treatment or present a solution, but those clear cut situations are rare nowadays.  To be truly effective, the consultant must develop an open, trusting relationship with the client, a relationship characterized by authentic curiosity and humility.

In the past year, as I have slowly but consistently been planning my return to full-time consulting, I have also read a lot about the consulting business.  My previous independent consulting efforts, more than a decade ago, had been professionally very satisfying but I had not proven myself a particularly savvy business person.  My initial impression as I considered returning to consulting was that I needed to beef up my business skills and started reading a lot about how to get clients, how to set up consulting contracts, or more generally, how to make a living as a consultant.  That was all fine and useful -- to some extent, but I kept looking for something more.  I needed to convince myself that I was really going to provide value, not just figure out a way to make a living out of it.  I eventually found what I was looking for in Edgar Schein's Humble Consulting.  Schein's approach articulates very well the way I want to work as an independent consultant.

What to do next?
I am going to let these two resources to deliberately percolate together for a while.  They've been very useful in allowing to coalesce insights and ideas around my own approach to consulting and the kinds of things I will want to monitor as I start working with clients.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Winter Hiking - January 2017

First little outdoor adventure of 2017.  It was meant to be "WINTER" hiking and the winter part of it was definitely on location.  15-20 F with significant winds at times and one inch of snow on the ground which made it pretty but also slightly more dangerous because you can't tell what's under the snow.

Warming up with a cup of cocoa later on, I had to do a map and I experimented with a backgruond image (a photo taken during the hike).  It's more a set of small lists than a good map, but not all maps have to be perfect.  This one is good enough for what it's meant to do, just serve as an easy reminder of the hike and what I learned from it.


Monday, January 02, 2017

The Intentional Information Diet

I read through Clay Johnson's The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.  It could have been subtitled "A Case for Mindful Consumption" but then we wouldn't have the wonderful alliteration (three Cs) in the subtitle.

I like the analogy between food consumption and information consumption, including how both have gone awry and how we should get back on track with more conscious consumption, starting with an awareness of what we our putting in our bodies and heads.  I also agree that it is a matter of personal responsibility.  We can no more blame the junk food producers than we can blame the junk media producers for our consumption.  We have a choice, even if it takes some effort.  The path of least resistance leads us to junk, unfortunately, because that's what we crave, in news as in food.

Looking at my food consumption, I could quickly say that my worst habit is failing to consume enough water.  No need for fancy analysis.  I have known this for a long time and I have yet to find a way to adopt a healthy habit around it.  It's supposed to be simple.  Carry a water bottle around, drink all day.  It's not that simple apparently because I can't stick with it.

Drawing my own information consumption map also led to some useful insights.  In particular, I was able to identify a couple of distracting and unhealthy information habits.

Here's to 2017:  More water, less Facebook. It's as simple as that.  Simple.  I didn't say easy.

My approach to information consumption is slightly different, though.  I tend to have a strong "learning" focus.  My information diet is more intentional and targeted.  For me, being more conscious of the information we consume isn't sufficient.  I would recommend being highly focused in seeking out specific information, otherwise it's very easy to become overwhelmed to a lot of random, interesting stuff.  Some randomness is good though.  Total randomness doesn't add up to a lot of learning.  I would start with a mix of 80% targeted information meant to address a specific learning goal, making sure it's not all affirmation building; and 20% random information.  In practice, I'm not sure how that would happen.

In addition, the term "information" is too broad in this context of information consumption.  We consume information in the form of news, entertainment, communications, and all of it isn't necessarily coming from our computer screen and smartphones.

Related Readings:


  • Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: How the Internet is Rewiring our Brains,
    I had blogged about it here.   Clay Johnson's book came out a year later. 
  • Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read.
    Take a shortcut if you'd like and listen to the TEDTalk: Beware Online "filter bubble". 
  • Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.