Monday, December 18, 2017

Lifelong Learning, Learning & Development, Organization Development, Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management

Lifelong learning  has been mostly "sold" as the responsibility of the individual, a pursuit of learning beyond formal education, throughout life, sometimes as a means of strengthening one's employability in changing economic contexts, as a way of keeping up with new advances in one's professional field, as a way of staying engaged, even as a way to build cognitive reserves and ward off Alzheimer in old age.

Beyond personal responsibility, lifelong learning is often integrated into the vocabulary of Learning & Development (L&D) specialists.  In more traditional L&D approaches, lifelong learning may be advocated as a way to encourage employees to keep building their credentials by signing up for and attending courses, especially when the organization has invested in the development of corporate training.

Increasingly (and it's a good thing), learning has been broadened to cover much more than formal courses, whether in formal educational institutions or corporate environments (see the work of Jane Hart and Harold Jarche in particular).  As technology has evolved and penetrated learning and training departments, formats have evolved as well. For example, the recognition that time is often a constraint has led to the development of micro-learning, which can happen at any time using conspicuous mobile devices.  The alternative explanation for the development of micro-learning is that our attention spans are decreasing and we need bit-size learning moments to accommodate shrinking brain power.  That's scary.

This expansion of opportunities for learning has been accompanied by the recognition that most of our learning comes from first-hand experiences.  When we learn from experience, we essentially teach ourselves what no one else could possibly have taught us.  This learning by doing (and learning by reflecting on our experience) is still not well integrated in most models or framework of workplace learning. Harold Jarche's work is probably the notable exception.

From an organizational learning perspective, we often emphasize group/team learning, and the learning organization.  Yet group and organization learning cannot truly happen unless the individuals within that organization are themselves, learning.  Organization Development (OD) as a field of study, does pay much more attention to the different levels of analysis (individual, group, organization).  Knowledge Management, on the other hand, tends to neglect individual learning and focuses on leveraging knowledge for the organization with a strong focus on benefits to the organization's mission.

In the end, it is unfortunate that professional disciplines end up digging deep tracks and creating their own vocabulary when it's all connected and challenges would be much more effectively addressed with a broad systems approach.  I don't even want to say cross-disciplinary because it reinforces the fact that there are disciplines with artificial boundaries that need to be crossed.  In a systems perspective, the boundaries disappear.

We need a framework that speaks to the connections between individual learning, team learning, and organizational learning and addresses the dynamics of such a system in the context of a rapidly changing world where individuals AND organizations need to increase their learning agility in order to keep up but also to stay ahead and innovate.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Teaching Knowledge Management

I'm super excited to get access today to the Learning Management System that will allow me to teach Knowledge Management to undergraduate business students at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). 

This is going to be a new experience.  While I've taught online before, this is different because as of earlier this morning, I had no idea of the actual content of the course other than a short paragraph description.  Now I have 28 days to get ready!  The content is there (readings and major assignments).  I'll need to absorb it quickly and create corresponding learning activities that will engage the learners.  There's a creative aspect to it that's much less overwhelming than having to create content for an entire class AND an opportunity to share my own KM practice experience.  That's really what the College wants out of online faculty like myself.... our practical experience in the subject matter we are teaching.

The fun starts today.... and again when the learners start interacting online!
I'll post some lessons in March (or sooner).

Friday, November 24, 2017

Map Layouts - Horizontal vs. Circular

I posted two maps in the Insight Maps section of the website (see also below).  They are identical in content but the layout/presentation of the information is very different: one has a more traditional horizontal layout and one has a circular layout.

I don't have a strong preference and the layout I pick often depends on the content.  Some content lands itself to a circular layout and others don't.  The maps I posted depict what could be considered an iterative, circular process, and therefore the circular layout made sense.  However, for the sake of presenting new information to people, I would opt for a more traditional layout unless the target audience is already very familiar with my mapping approach. 

When facing such a map for the first time, people will often ask, "How do I read this?" or "Where do I start?" because they are so used to reading from top to bottom and left to right.  A traditional horizontal layout allows them to do that to some extent even if the content doesn't look like a traditional piece of paper with lines of text.  Therefore, the traditional layout is more approachable, I believe and quite useful for audiences not accustomed to these maps.    People get most confused when I have what looks like a horizontal layout, yet one or more arrows point up instead of down.  They immediately assume it's a mistake. 

Click on the image to view the full map.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stop talking about Success or Failure and Start Learning

The word puzzle above represents my notes from yesterday's Society for International Development (SID) event on "Navigating the Results Paradox: Trade-offs Between Results and Learning." The only way I see a trade-off is if you perceive that a limited amount of time and resources forces you to decide whether to focus on M&E or on Learning.  This is a false dichotomy.  Doing M&E for the sake of demonstrating results (proof of success really, because no one is interested in proving failure) is missing the point.  The emphasis on labeling a project either a success or a failure is wrong if the point is to learn and improve.  All projects are on a continuum of success and failure.   Each successful project encountered things that didn't work as well as expected (small failures) that we can learn from. The compulsion to label things successes or failures and investments in "evidence" to do just that is misplaced.  If the compulsion was to learn, we would care much less about labeling individual projects and much more about what we learned from each individual product that allows us to improve the next one.  If you have to call everything a success, then call it successful because you learned from it (regardless of whether it achieved its intended objectives).  Stop talking about success or failure and start learning. Learn from results. 

That's what I wanted to say yesterday at the event but comments were not allowed, only questions. Next time I'll just phrase my comment as a question, something like this: "Don't you think that...[stating my opinion]?"  Here we go, that's technically a question.   I think the organizers of such events are afraid of long ranting/venting monologues by people in the audience.  I get that and I've been there but if you don't allow real participation from the audience, the format is quite rigid and you fail to leverage expertise of the people in the room. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

From Individual Learning to Team Learning - The Role of Mentoring within the Learning Organization

I've regularly tried to emphasize the role of the individual in the learning organization and the concept of Personal Knowledge Management.  In my consulting practice, I want to provide support for individuals, teams and entire organizations, and I take the individual component very seriously.  Individual learning is the foundation for team learning and beyond.

Individual learning, however, isn't just a matter of self-reflection or independent learning.  Individual learning can be enhanced through existing, long-standing approaches such as mentoring.  While a minority of individuals may be highly self-motivated and embrace completely self-directed learning, I suspect that a majority of individuals could use some support to pursue self-directed learning and that support could come in the form of mentoring.

Ideally, mentoring in a learning organization would not be simply a matter of individual professional development within the purview of Human Capital Management, but also an organization-wide strategy to support team and organizational learning.

Mentoring can support individual learning, which in turn can enhance team learning. How?  The individual who has spent some time reflecting upon what they have learned from an experience is like to contribute more value to a team conversation around that same experience.  That individual is much more likely to come in and say things like "I could have done x instead of y and that might have alleviate this problem we encountered," or "I learned that I should really do x when faced with this kind of situation.  Next time I'll know what to do."  When individuals come into team learning conversations ready to discuss what they have personally learned, the conversation is likely to be richer, more honest and will contribute to more group learning.  The group conversation isn't just an accumulation of individual lessons, but the discussion of individual lessons is likely to yield a larger conversation around team dynamics and team lessons.

In this context, I see the role of the mentor as someone who supports individual learning and helps to strengthen those critical "learning to learn" skills.   On top of that, group mentoring and mentoring circles can be used to further support group or team learning objectives.

Friday, October 27, 2017

KM in Small Organizations - Start Small and Smart

I wrote in an earlier article (posted on LinkedIn) about the need for small organizations to find appropriate and adapted ways to integrate knowledge management practices within their organizational routines.  Each organization should look at opportunistic entry points for KM practices.  Tackling knowledge management across the organization may be overwhelming, even in a small organization, when most employees are already playing multiple roles. 

Why not start small AND smart?  Why not start where it could have a significant impact within a relatively short amount of time?  I’m talking about the Business Development Office (BDO).  Whether it is a non-profit organization constantly writing proposals seeking funding or a private sector firm looking for new clients, the Business Development Office is often ripe for the implementation of some knowledge management best practices.

Let’s take, for example, just one key concept, lessons learned, and see how it can apply in the context of the work of a Business Development Office:
·       Lessons learned from previous business development efforts
These are lessons internal to the BDO based on the team’s own experience developing and submitting proposals.  These lessons are meant to be implemented within the business development process. Proposal development is typically a short cycle environment where it would be relatively easy to implement rapid learning and adapting and ultimately show rapid results.  This is also where lessons learned can quickly be validated and embedded in work routines as best practices. 

  • Lessons learned from previous projects
These are lessons documented throughout the organization about the implementation of projects.  These lessons are meant to be embedded in the design of future projects and therefore in the content of proposals.

These two sets of distinct lessons learned activities should be undertaken in parallel, but if the organization is starting from scratch, the BDO can provide the necessary impetus by 1) starting its own lessons learned practice focused on its own processes; 2) identifying opportunities for drawing from project implementation lessons (even in the absence of a more formal process for documenting lessons learned across projects).  This would help create the necessary awareness and buy-in for a more formal and rigorous process for documenting lessons across projects.

Over time, combining the rapid learning cycle of the lessons learned at the BDO process level with the longer-term lessons learned from project implementation would result in higher win rates but also in performance improvements within projects.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Group Conversation Styles and Lessons Learned Discussions

I recently facilitated a day-long effort to discuss and capture lessons learned with a group of participants from West Africa and the Maghreb region.  While I have worked extensively in Africa in the past, this was a return to international development work after a decade of work with engineers and scientists in the aerospace industry.

There were a couple of elements in the design of that day of lessons learned that contributed to making it less than 100% successful  (perhaps it was 75% successful, not a disaster at all).  One such element was a potential mismatch between the group conversation style which is part of the local / regional culture on the one hand and the facilitation style and approach on the other hand.  I want to figure out what I could have done differently in the design of the sessions as well as in the facilitation approach and my own communication style.

It's difficult to disentangle the communication/conversation style issue from the lessons learned paradox which stiffles real learning in the international development community.

Note on the lessons learned paradox: Facing strong pressures to document successes and share success stories, international development partners, especially those whose existence depends on continued funding from donor agencies, have little incentives to take a hard, honest look at their programs and projects and discuss -- let alone learn from -- what isn't working.  This isn't just a problem of lack of individual psychological safety within a group.  It's a problem at the organizational and industry level.  The incentives are simply not supportive of learning based on open, honest conversations.  Instead, the focus is on providing "evidence-based" results.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Experience Capitalization, Another Approach to Lessons Learned

The vocabulary of knowledge management and organizational learning is a never ending source of learning, especially when practicing across industries.  While looking at United Nations activities around Knowledge Management, I came across the term "experience capitalization."  Intuitively, I knew what it was referring to but I couldn't remember ever encountering the term before.  My first instinct was to try to figure out how that might be similar to or different from variations of lessons learned activities.

Here's what I found:

Experience capitalization includes the identification of lessons learned and good practices, but it goes beyond identification to include a significant effort to create materials for dissemination of the lessons and good practices.  This reflects the international development context within which the importance of disseminating good practices and lessons learned through appropriate communication channels is paramount and perhaps more complex and challenging than dissemination in a corporate environment. The use of the term appears to be more prevalent in agricultural development (FAO, IFAD, etc...), which makes sense because the UN consulting request for proposals where I first encountered the term was related to an agriculture program.

For additional information, see the following:
In parallel, as I was preparing for some facilitation of lessons learned conversations in French, I came across the term "retour d'experience," which literally means "return on experience" but if I say "return on experience" in English it brings up a possible association with "return on investment."  Perhaps each experience can be perceived as an investment (in time) and the return on that investment in time can be in part measured by the lessons learned in the process, as long as the lessons are indeed properly identified, captured and shared.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Systems Thinking: The Fifth Discipline and the Learning Organization (Post 2)

The fifth discipline cover.jpg
In the 1990 Peter Senge classic, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, the fifth discipline is Systems Thinking, meant to integrate the four other disciplines (personal mastery, mental models, a shared vision and team learning).    The five discipline combined were presented by Senge as the pillars of the successful learning organization. 
Learning organizations are those organizations that encourage adaptive and generative learning, where employees think beyond the narrow confines of their specific job function and are able to solve problems by working with others towards a common mission based on an understanding of the bigger picture of how things work together, how parts of the organization interact with other parts to form an efficiently functioning system.  
How does this relate to my own experience?
At the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, for example, one of the most sought-after training is a series of workshops called "Road to Mission Success" which provide employees with not just a traditional overview of how individual departments (Directorates) work and what their respective responsibilities are -- which is a typical overview one might get upon joining Goddard through the New Employee Orientation --, but more importantly, how the departments work together to accomplish first-of-a-kind and one-of-a kind missions. Designed by the Chief Knowledge Officer (Dr. Ed Rogers) rather than the training department, Road to Mission Success is an illustration of professional development activities developed based on the recognition that being a learning organization requires individuals within the organization to understand the entire system so that they can contribute more effectively and work more productively with others across the organization.  No external, generic training can achieve what Road to Mission Success does for Goddard because it is developed and delivered internally and leverages talent within the organization. Any other organization would need to develop its own, completely different version of this course while using the same underlying principles.
I don't think personal mastery is sufficiently addressed in the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center approach to the learning organization because individual growth and personal development are the domain of human capital and not particularly well integrated with the rest of the organizational learning and knowledge management activities. Mental models and the development of a shared vision are tackled through knowledge sharing workshops and case studies.  Team learning is addressed through Pause and Learn (group reflection) sessions. 
Again, as I have noted many times before, the personal or individual dimension of knowledge management and learning are often not sufficiently integrated and aligned with team and organizational aspects of the learning organization.  It's a big missing or misaligned piece of the puzzle.

    Monday, September 04, 2017

    Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning - Initial Thoughts (Post 1)

    This month of learning is going to be an experiment in Working Out Loud (WOL) or more specifically Learning Out Loud (LOL).  Systems Thinking is the theme and I'll write posts based on what I learn and wherever my thinking is going.

    Here's a simplistic way of grasping the concept of systems thinking: Nothing operates in a vacuum. Everything is part of a larger system.  When we analyze things (whether objects or problems) as if they operated in a vacuum, we are missing the bigger picture.

    Here is how it relates to some of my work.  I help projects document their lessons.  A key challenge I have as a facilitator is to get project team members to focus on what THEY (within the team) learned and could have done differently or will do differently in the future as a result of their experience and consequent learning.  Inevitably, the team will refer to challenges that were brought upon the team that were outside their control.  The project can be thought of as a system, but it is part of an organization, which is a larger system, and it is connected to outside stakeholders who are part of an industry, which is an even larger system.

    Insight:  While it is essential to push the team to focus on THEIR lessons, it is equally important to articulate lessons at other levels, to adopt a systems thinking approach.   When I talk about individual, team and organizational learning, and then intra-organizational (or perhaps industry) learning, I may be talking about systems within larger systems.  How do we ensure appropriate lessons are captured at all levels?  The lessons are distinct at each level, yet interconnected.

    Here is how systems thinking relates to some of my earlier work in international development:  Individual international development projects have little chance of having any significant impact unless they pay attention to the broader context.  In the old days, we talked a lot about donor coordination and supporting country policies so that the country environment was more conducive to specific development efforts and donor activities didn't overlap or conflict.  I think (hope) that nowadays, approaches based on systems thinking are more prevalent.  Coordination of donor activities and alignment of policies may be a good start but certainly not enough.

    Question:  What's the connection between systems thinking and issues related to scaling development interventions to have a larger impact?

    Question:  What's the relationship or connection between systems thinking and design thinking?
    For reasons unclear to me at this point, the concepts of systems thinking and design thinking are co-mingled and confused in my mind as if I was meant to connect the dots between them and yet I don't grasp either of them well enough on their own to make the connections.


  1. Harold Jarche, Working and Learning Out Loud, blog post, November 10, 2014.
  2. An example from USAID's use of systems thinking to support efforts in the health sector: Complexity and Lessons Learned from the Health Sector for Country System Strengthening (2012)
  3. Monday, August 28, 2017

    Learning Plan for September 2017

    September is just around the corner.  From a biking perspective, I can anticipate a few long bike rides in the cooler mornings.  From a learning perspective, it will be all about systems thinking, complex systems and visualization, combined with my ongoing interest in building bridges between individual learning, team learning and organizational learning.  This interest is based on the observation that individual learning is typically the purview of the Learning and Development (L&D) department within HR, while organizational learning may be in a completely different part of the organization, including under IT if it is perceived as part of a IT-based approach to knowledge management.  My gut tells me that part of the reason for the gap is that L&D tends to focus on formal learning approaches (aka training) while organizational learning is typically more experience-based.

    Here's an initial half-baked insight/hypothesis:  The bridges to be built involve 1) reinforcing the informal, experience-based aspect of individual learning; and 2) strengthening corporate training based on experience-based organizational learning.

    The question I will try to address is:  How can I apply systems thinking and related methodologies or tools to address complex systems to come up with a more integrated (systemic) approach to learning within organizations. 

    A couple of secondary questions (which might confuse everything and send me down big rabbit holes):

    • How can learning itself benefit from systems thinking?
    • Can insight mapping support a systems thinking approach?

    Here are my starting points:
    • Visible Thinking: Unlocking Causal Mapping for Practical Business Results (a book I recently discussed in a blog post)
    • SPACES MERL: Systems and Complexity White Paper (USAID 2016) ... which is where I learned about...
    • Systemigrams (visual representation of complex systems) and another book.....
    • Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems (2008)
    • My own insight mapping practice as well as....
    • Previously posted insights about systems thinking and....
    • A need to clarify the difference between design thinking and systems thinking (I think I confuse them)
    • I also signed up for Degreed and I'd like to test how much I can get out of that learning platform for a rather narrow learning exercise as this one. 
    Anticipated Outputs:
    • Extensive notes added to my Organizational Learning wiki (internal)
    • At least three blog posts and at least one integrative map (public website)
    • Draft presentation package for future use/adaptation, etc...
    • and if this all adds up to something of sufficient value, a post on LinkedIn.
    How is this as a "learning plan" for September?
    • It's bounded in time and scope, though the scope could escape me as I dig deeper and a month might not be enough.
    • It has some intrinsic value for me in terms of learning.  Motivation to learn about this will NOT be a problem at all. I will need to schedule it as a core task to make sure sufficient time is allocated.
    • It spells out possible outputs which will force me to wrap up my own thinking and write things down in useful formats, contributing to other objectives, such as populating the blog with fresh insights and developing materials for presentations, possible lecturing/teaching or other forms of training/capacity building.
    I shall see at the end of September if I achieved all that and where my expectations were off track.

    This is my YOL (Year of Learning) after all.  I might as well make the most of it and plan for it.  I think it's called Walking the Talk. :)

    Thursday, August 24, 2017

    Learn to Plan and Plan to Learn

    Experience is inevitable. Learning is not.  Being intentional and planning to learn isn't such a bad idea.

    I had an interesting conversation this week which triggered some additional reflection around learning plans and learning agendas and then I was asked a question about project learning plans during the NASA Virtual PM Challenge.

    1. USAID is advocating the use of Learning Agendas at the Mission/Country level.  Those are linked to country-level assistance programming.

    2. I've talked in the past about individual learning plans, which can be part of an individual professional development effort.

    3. What about learning plans at the project or program level?  Would it be appropriate to have learning goals at that level?  Under what conditions?  If you're trying out something that involves an innovation, wouldn't you want to have a well thought-out learning agenda?

    At the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center where I've worked with projects for the past nine years, projects have to include a lessons learned plan in their project implementation plan.  It's typically a couple of pages long though I've seen some 15-page documents that were more in line with an essay on project learning than a pragmatic plan of action. I like the effort and level of thinking put into the longer documents, but the key is to make those plans implementable with existing resources.  These plans have not, as far as I know, highlighted any specific learning agendas.  They spell out a number of key practices meant to facilitate team and organizational learning, but they are not tailored in terms of any thematic focus. Sometimes you can't really predict what you'll need to focus on.  In some cases, however, you know in advance that you're trying a new strategy or that there is something unique and interesting about a mission and it might be useful to develop a tailored learning plan.  The science component of the mission is, by definition, a learning agenda.  Each mission has a specific scientific objective, a set of questions it is trying to answer about earth, space, a planet or the universe.  I have always worked on the project management side of the mission, trying to help project teams learn how to better manage the development of the mission from a perspective of cost, schedule, scope, people, etc... Without good project management, the mission will not get off the ground and no science objective will be achieved.

    4. What about learning plans at the organizational level?  How would an organizational learning plan sync with an organization's mission, strategic plans, etc...?

    Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    Going to College... Becoming a Learner

    My youngest daughter is going off to college at the end of this week.  She has a reasonably good idea of what she wants to study, she picked a school with a strong yet not overly narrow focus.  It's more specific than "liberal arts" yet not a narrow path towards a single profession either.

    As my daughter prepares to go off to college, she received in the mail today a little book for one of her classes.  It's a reading requirement for a one-credit class that is associated with her housing arrangement.  She will be part of a living community on campus, spending a lot of time with fellow students studying related topics and engaging with faculty in and out of classrooms.

    I must admit that my eyes lit up when I saw the title of this little book: Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education, by Matthew L. Sanders.  [As a side note, I get excited just reading the reading list portion of syllabi].  This little blue book should be mandatory reading for anyone going to college. Unfortunately, I'm afraid it's full of bits of wisdom one only realizes are true 20 or 30 years later, when our professional and personal lives have taken us far away from where we probably thought we were going.
    "The primary purpose of college isn't learning a specific set of professional skills; the primary purpose of college is to become a learner." (p. 2)
    Yes, but this requires a more detailed explanation of what we mean by becoming a learner.  In high school, we have students  Students succeed if they become proficient at studying.  If you take the highly rated MOOC called "Learning How to Learn,"  I would argue that you are primarily learning how to study, which still does not prepare you for lifelong learning.  College students who continue in that mode of studying may be successful in the short term, but if they do not evolve into learners, their success will be short-lived because they will not know how to continuously learn and grow throughout their professional and personal lives.
    "Your ability to learn how to learn will be what takes you through the countless industry developments you will deal with in your work and in society.  By recognizing this, you can focus on your development as a learner, which will be more lasting and applicable in all your future endeavors." (p. 14). 
    A student is taught by teachers.  Learners take responsibility for their own learning, decide what to learn and how to learn it. Faculty are there to guide the learning process in specific disciplines more than to teach.

    This is really great reading as an introduction to college learning, and I hope it's fully embedded in the classroom practices.  If the faculty and entire curriculum design doesn't embrace this approach, it will be difficult for individual students (sorry, learners) to embrace if fully.  It will require constant reinforcement.

    Two secondary insights:
    The idea of putting on a broader set of lenses reminds me of a little mental reflex I've developed over the years.  When I feel pretty sure that I know exactly where I am going to be in my life in 5-10 years, I smile (internally) and I tell myself that's not where I'll be, but that's perfectly fine, because opportunities will emerge that I couldn't have imagined and if I'm able to keep an open mind and ditch the plan, I'll be able to capture those opportunities.  Have a plan, then ditch the plan!

    The learning process is more important than the specific lesson.  That's very similar to what I said last week during the NASA Virtual PM Challenge on Lessons Learned.  I was asked what key lessons all project managers should know about.  Beyond general good project management practices, the key is to keep learning, not to know about any specific set of lessons hidden in a database.

    Friday, August 18, 2017

    Lifelong Learning... and Beyond

    LinkedIn has become a regular source of leads for thought provoking readings and conversations, especially for sources that I don't necessarily read on an ongoing basis.  I am not a regular reader of The Economist, but an article came to my attention through my LinkedIn feed:  "Lifelong Learning is Becoming an Economic Imperative." The Economist - January 2017 Special Report on Learning and Earning.

    Below is a slightly more developed version of a comment I posted on LinkedIn.

    While I applaud lifelong learning, I don't think the authors of the article go far enough.
    Technological change demands stronger and more continuous connections between education and employment.
    We need to move beyond "continuous connections between education and employment." We need much greater integration. They should not be done in parallel.  Both the notions of education and employment are evolving, partly as a result of technological change.  Technological change is not just affecting the kinds of skills and jobs that are available.  Technological change is affecting how we gain new skills and how we think about work and employment.

    We need to go beyond lifelong learning as currently described in the article.

    First, they are still equating learning primarily with training and education programs.   The fact that these types of approaches are increasingly bring integrated into the workplace with corporate universities and the like is probably a step forward, yet not enough.  More is needed in the form of support for workplace learning, that is, learning on the job, learning from experience.  I'm a big fan of the approach taken by Jane Hart and her work on workplace learning as well as Jay Cross's work on informal learning.

    Second, the authors are still equating learning primarily with individual learning, which is great from an individual employability perspective but does not do enough to support organizational learning.  More is needed in the form of support for team and organizational learning so that efforts at the individual level are part of a broader approach.  I am currently carefully reading An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental organization, for such an approach.

    Question:  Is a deliberately development organization (DDO) better able to anticipate change rather than react to it?


    One item on my "to do" list is to make better use of labels/tags on this blog. Here are three blog posts I previously tagged for "lifelong learning" (and no comment about their current value).

    7/2017 - Leading the Learning Revolution
    12/2015 - Lifelong Learning: Opportunities and Challenges for Learning Junkies
    02/2009 - Autodidacts and Lifelong Learning

    Question:  Should blogs go through some form of clean up or should they be left alone to reflect an evolution of thoughts not meant to form a coherent or consistently high quality whole.

    Monday, August 14, 2017

    Making New Mistakes - Learning @ NASA - August 16th Webinar Open to All

    I'll be joining NASA colleagues Michael Bell of Kennedy Space Center and Jennifer Stevens of Marshall Space Flight Center to talk about how NASA addresses lessons learned.  My focus at the Goddard Space Flight Center has been working with projects to institutionalize group reflection activities such as the Pause and Learn as a way of facilitating group learning and documenting lessons for dissemination, focusing on knowledge flows and learning rather than lessons in a database.

    This webinar is open to the public and there should be time for Q&A.

    What?  You missed it.  You can catch up here.

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Quantification Bias

    "Give me one example of a  time when a lesson learned was used effectively by a project."
    You'd think one example wouldn't be too hard to find.  I'm not being asked "What's the percentage of lessons in the database that are actually applied?"

    Then someone will also ask, "What's the ROI of lessons learned activities?  Does it save us any money?  How many failures have lessons learned ever prevented?"

    This eternal conversation is one that I'll admit I've avoided at times, perhaps because it's just challenging.  It's challenging to provide an answer that will satisfy the person asking these types of questions.

    I've addressed metrics in small bites throughout the years, most recently in a metrics anecdote post. Quantifying "learning from experience" is daunting.  Sometimes I almost want to say "I know it when I see or hear it."  In fact, it's more likely that I'll notice that a lesson has NOT been learned, when I'm having a déjà vu experience during a lessons learned session and I'm hearing something I've heard multiple times before. I could point Management to those lessons that keep coming back.  I've done that informally.  I have not kept quantitative data.  I can't tell you how many times it's happened in the past year.  I could, however, do a more thorough job of documenting specific instances AND perhaps even more importantly, figure out why it's happening again.

    The answer to "why are we not learning this lesson" is never a simple one and it's usually not a single point failure and easy to fix problem.  Sometimes, as I've pointed out in the previous blog post, the root cause of the failure to learn is related to the ownership of lessons.  Making sure Management is aware of the repeated problems isn't the end of it.  In my experience, nothing I bring up to Management is completely new to their ears.  However, in the knowledge manager's role, I also facilitate dialogue between key stakeholders, including Management, through knowledge sharing workshops.  The topics selected for such workshops are typically based on recent themes emerging from lessons learned session.  And so we try to address the pain points as they emerge, but I'll confess that we don't quantify any of it.  Correction, we do the obvious of counting how many people attend the workshops.

    There is a general quantification bias in many aspects of work and decision-making.  Everyone wants to make decisions based on evidence.  In most cases, evidence is taken to mean hard data, which is understood to be quantitative data (as opposed to soft, qualitative fluff), as if hard data was always correct and therefore much more useful and reliable than anything else.  The words "evidence" and "data" have now been completely associated with quantitative measures.

    When people say "where is your data?" they don't mean what are your two or three data points.  That's easy to dismiss, it's anecdotal.  The more data points you have (the bigger your dataset), the more accurate your conclusions must be.  Under certain conditions, perhaps, but certainly not if you're asking the wrong questions in the first place.

    I recently came across Tricia Wang's TED Talk, "The Human Insights Missing from Big Data."

    Given that Ms. Wang is a data ethnographer (very cool job!), her point of view isn't surprising and given that I'm more or a qualitative methods person, the fact that I find it relevant and relate to it isn't surprising either.  That's just confirmation bias.   Ms. Wang brought up the quantification bias, which I have often been struggling against in my work.  It manifests itself in questions such as "how many hits do you get on the lessons learned database" or "how many new lessons were generated this past year?"  These (proxy measures of learning) are the simpler questions that have (meaningless) quantitative answers.  Is having a meaningless quantitative answer better or worse than saying that something can't be measured.  I should never say "that can't be measured."  It would be better to say "I don't know how to measure that.  Do you?"

    I wouldn't suggest we should all turn to qualitative methods and neglect big data.  We should, however, do a better job of combining qualitative and quantitative approaches.  This isn't news.  It's just one of those lessons we learned in graduate school and then forgot.  We learn and forget just so that we can relearn.

    My own bias and expertise stands squarely with qualitative approaches.  It could be simply that my first degree being in political science, I always have in the back of my mind that decision-making isn't simply a matter of having access to information/data to make the right decision.  It's part of what makes us human and not machines.

    Friday, August 04, 2017

    The Ownership of Lessons

    Earlier this week I attended a panel discussion on "The Role of Learning in Policymaking" organized by the Society for International Development's Policy and Learning Workgroup. I took a lot of notes because it was all very interesting but I'll focus here on one issue that hit a nerve for me:  Lessons learned ownership.

    There are many reasons why some lessons are not "learned"  We don't believe them, we don't care enough, we forget them, etc....   I'm only going to focus here on one reason: Lack of ownership.  In other words, the hypothesis is that the ownership of a lesson contributes significantly to its utilization.

    This lack of ownership comes in (at least) two flavors, two variations on the "not invented here" theme:

    1. We don't learn very well from other people;  We learn better from our own experience -- and even then it's far from perfect because of personal biases and other issues.  Even if we understand and agree with someone else's lesson, we may not think it applies to us.  We don't own it.

    2. We don't like being told what we should learn, especially if someone else's conclusion doesn't match ours. Why would I care about someone else's idea of what I should learn?  Did I ask for this "feedback"?  It is being offered in a way that's useful to me?  Sometimes we just don't want to own it.  We actively resist it because we didn't come up with it.

    Example:  A donor agency makes policy recommendations to a developing country government based on strong donor-collected "evidence."  Let's face it, we can't get out own government to always act upon strong "evidence," so why do we expect other countries to act upon donor-generated lessons. Ownership needs to be built in from the beginning, not mandated at the end.  We might all know that but does it always happen?  I don't think so.

    From Ownership to Action
    To say that lessons are not learned until something is changed (in policy, procedures, behavior, etc...) is perhaps cliche and misleading or at least not very useful.  Over the past 9 years of helping project teams identify lessons from their experience, I have found that statement to be disconnected from reality.  If not totally disconnected from reality, I found the one-to-one linear relationship between lesson and action to get to "learning" to be a gross oversimplification.  Some of this oversimplification has to do with the lack of discussion of lesson ownership.

    Having facilitated more than 100 lessons learned discussion sessions, I can now quickly identify ownership red flags in lessons learned conversations.  A lot has to do with the pronouns being used. I try to provide ground rules upfront encouraging the use of "I" and "we" and making sure the group is clear about who "we" refers to.  Blaming individuals or entities who are not in attendance and hinting at lessons intended for "them" ("They should do ________.") are both big red flags. It doesn't mean the conversation needs to stop, but it needs to be redirected to address ownership issues and ultimately increase the chances that some action will be taken.

    At that point, the facilitator's redirect can go into two different directions and sometimes both are needed:
    • "Assume THEY didn't hear you right now and they're going to keep doing it their way (i.e, they are not going to learn).  What can you do next time to avoid this or at least mitigate the problem?"
    • "Is there an avenue for giving them this feedback so that they might do something about it (i.e., they might learn) and this problem isn't repeated?"
    In the real world, where lessons that are documented don't automatically turn into actions, that's how I try to deal with ownership issues.  I primarily work with project teams, but their work requires interactions with many stakeholders external to the team.  Sometimes what is most needed is for separate lessons learned sessions with different set of stakeholders and then some discussion of lessons across the different sets.  It's not necessary to look for perfect consensus across the different groups, just to optimize understanding of the different perspectives.

    It feels as if I'm only skimming the surface here.  More percolation needed.

    Monday, July 31, 2017

    30-Day Book Blog Challenge - Closing Thoughts

    One of the TO DO items I came up with during this challenge was to close the series with a map of key insights.  Presumably something interesting might come out of the exercise and I should try to capture it.  The map below is the result.  You will need to click on it to open it in a separate window to read it.

    Map # 26 - Key Insights from a 30-Day Challenge

    And a final insight not included in the map......

    The combined TO DO list has 53 items, which I have now prioritized.  More than half of these items will be addressed in the coming two months (August-September).  Some items on the list are highly specific and can be closed easily.  Others require acquiring a new habit, or establishing a new routine and demand a different approach. Setting up a 30-day challenge which forces me to give daily attention to one specific practice is one possible way of establishing a new routine or habit. Perhaps I could come up with a challenge every other month.

    Sunday, July 30, 2017

    Consider (Book 30 of 30)

    Title: Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization
    Author: Daniel Patrick Forrester

    Ending this book series blog challenge with this book is no accident.  While I didn't have a precise order in mind in going through the 30 books in 30 days, I planned both the beginning (Learn or Die - Book 1 of 30) and the end (Consider).  To me, these two books represent a very "back-to-basics" approach.  We've hit the 20+ mark in the history of Knowledge Management and perhaps 25+ mark with Organizational Learning. What about basic conversation skills?  What about critical thinking?

    We can complain all we want that databases of lessons learned aren't the answer, but how about helping people in organizations -- at the individual level and in teams -- to pause long enough to reflect, think it through, consider.  No time to think?  Think again! It's like everything else.  Make the time to think, reflect, consider. I dare you. Just try it.  It's refreshing.

    I'm taking an entire year to do it and it doesn't mean I'll be sitting around in The Thinker pose doing nothing for 12 months.  I'll be very busy, yet I'm calling it a Year of Learning precisely because it will involve a lot of quick learning cycles, pauses, reflecting and adapting quickly.  Pausing to reflect doesn't mean you waste time.  In fact, pausing frequently to reflect means you have more opportunities to discover early that you're off track and to correct course or simply take advantage of new opportunities. In essence, you make better use of time and you're much more adaptable and flexible in a fast changing environment.

    If you're still wondering why you should take the time to pause and reflect regularly, read the book.  I highly recommend it. You can pair it with Madelyn Blair's Riding the Current (Book 5 of 30).

    TO DO:
    • Publish a list of resources on individual reflection (for PKM purposes).
    • Revisit the Skillshare Classes to decide whether to 1) leave "as-is", 2) remove, 3) redo.

    Saturday, July 29, 2017

    Managing Knowledge-Based Initiatives (Book 29 of 30)

    Title: Managing Knowledge-Based Initiatives: Strategies for Successful Deployment
    Author: Stacy Land

    Getting to the final stretch here with this Book-a-Day Blog Challenge.  Today's book is the 29th of 30.  It's now safe to say I'll be able to complete this challenge.

    The market for knowledge management books is small enough that I suspect potential authors carefully examine what is already out there and recently published to avoid overcrowding on very similar angles.  This book does a good job of complementing others with a focus on the big picture strategies for launching (and sustaining) knowledge management initiatives.  It's the equivalent of a business plan for knowledge management initiatives, asking the same kinds of questions:
    • What's the current state of KM in the organization? (What does the market look like?)
    • How will a KM initiative fit in?  What's the organizational alignment?  (What is your mission, what are your goals and objectives?)
    • Who are the stakeholders, sponsors?  Who might hinder the initiative?  (What does the competition look like?  Who are some potential partners/allies?)
    • What's the value proposition? 
    • How are you going to build momentum and support for the initiative?  (What's your marketing plan?)
    • How are you going to implement?  Who are you going to engage and how? (What does the detailed execution plan look like?)
    • How is this initiative going to be funded?  (What financing is needed?  Where will you get it?)
    • How will you deal with obstacles?  (What's your risk management approach?)
    • What's your internal communications plan? (How will you build your team?)
    Many knowledge management initiatives have failed to bring anticipated benefits.  Reading this book and absorbing its content does not in any way guarantee success, nor is it a step-by-step guide to KM strategy implementation.  Yet it highlights the major areas one would need to be concerned about.   I can imagine a relatively junior KM officer responsible for putting together and implementing a KM initiative and using this book to develop a well-thought out risk management strategy.  Think of all the things that could go wrong, all the possible obstacles, and identify ways to avoid or mitigate them.

    There is also a good chapter on how to work with IT.  I think KM initiatives also need to work closely with HR, especially if they're going to be closely tied in with individual learning and individual performance assessments.

    Looking at all that could go wrong may sound a little negative or depressing, but moving forward with blind faith that all will be fine -- because it's obviously a great initiative and everyone will join in -- is a disservice to the effort.  Be realistic, understand the obstacles and be persistent.  I can't stress that last word enough.  Be PERSISTENT (but adaptable and not stubborn).

    TO DO:
    • Elaborate on the need for persistence AND adaptability/agility.
    • What would a chapter on "KM initiatives working with HR" look like?

    Friday, July 28, 2017

    iLearning: How to Create an Innovative Learning Strategy (Book 28 of 30)

    Title: iLearning: How to Create an Innovative Learning Strategy
    Author: Mark Salisbury

    iLearning stands for innovative learning, not to be confused with eLearning.  Perhaps the "i" dates the book.  It was published in 2009.  If my memory serves me right, there was a time (after the iPod I suspect) when everything cool had to start with an "i".

    This is perhaps the most thorough attempt at merging the HR and L&D tradition with Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning, a clear attempt to innovate.  At the same time, it heavily relies on or is built around a very process oriented approach that leaves little freedom to the learner.  It is directed at HR and training professionals.

    What I would want to see is HR/Training departments that allow and promote more independent and flexible learning approaches for individual employees, helping employees to develop Individual Learning Plans that fit within a broader Personal Knowledge Management strategy.    The capacity of individuals to think in terms of their own personal knowledge base and how to develop and nurture that knowledge base would serve as the springboard for improved knowledge flows within teams and at the organizational level.  I'm convinced it's that gap, that missing element of KM and Organizational Learning strategies, that would make the most difference if it were to be tackled more effectively.

    TO DO:
    • Articulate the differences (if any) and connections between Personal Learning Environments, Individual Learning Plans and Personal Knowledge Management.
    • Develop an approach for integrating a knowledge dimension (seeking, articulating and sharing) in individual performance evaluations. 

    Thursday, July 27, 2017

    Work-Based Learning (Book 27 of 30)

    Title: Work-Based Learning: Bridging Knowledge and Action in the Workplace
    Author: Joseph A. Raelin

    I've hinted in at least one previous recent post at the importance of learning how to learn.  I know what you're thinking: "Don't we learn that in school, from kindergarten to the highest levels of formal education?"  I would argue that most of what we refer to as formal education is focused on "learning how to study" rather than "learning how to learn."  Knowing how to study well serves us in school, but once we are in the workforce, the transition to work-based learning can be difficult or nonexistent.

    Even when we hear about lifelong learning, it often refers primarily to continuing education, meaning taking classes to learn a new skill, acquire a professional certification, read books, listen to podcasts, etc.  It may refer to workplace training which can occur throughout a career.  In most cases, lifelong learning does not address experience-based workplace learning.  This book, Work-Based Learning, is focused on precisely that: How to effectively learn from our experience in an organizational context.
    "... learning has to become a way of life in our organizational enterprises.  As such, it has to become more than the sum of everyone's individual learning; it needs to become shared as part of an organizational ethic.  That ethic requires the organization to deliberately unseat itself in order to cope with change, in order to "get smarter faster" (p. 1).
    " There are three critical elements in the work-based learning process: 1. It views learning as acquired in the midst of action and dedicated to the task at hand. 2. It sees knowledge creation and utilization as collective activities, wherein learning becomes everyone's job. 3. Its users demonstrate a learning-to-learn aptitude, which frees them to question underlying assumptions of practice" (p. 2).  
    Related Resources
    Some aspects of workplace learning or work-based learning were already addressed in Amy Edmondson's book, Teaming, which focuses on learning in teams.  Another book on my shelves that fits in the same category is Work Group Learning: Understanding, Improving and Assessing How Groups Learn in Organizations.  This volume is a collection of papers by various authors, edited by Valerie Sessa and Manuel London.

    There is an excellent "Learn how to learn" MOOC online developed by Professors Oakley and Sejnowski from the University of California, San Diego (offered through Coursera).  You can get a sense of the approach by finding Dr. Oakley's TEDx Talk on the subject.   While I find the focus of Dr. Oakley's approach to be the individual student and "learning how to study," there are some principles and techniques that can be applied to personal knowledge management beyond the context of formal education and studying.

    At the other end of the spectrum you will find Jane Hart who is a strong critique of formal training and traditional Learning & Development (L&D) in organizations and advocates a much more informal approach to learning.  I've taken one of her online courses and thoroughly enjoyed it (translation: I learned a lot).  I've also mentioned Jane in a prior post when discussing Informal Learning, by Jay Cross.

    Insight: This is a book I acquired a while ago and I need to re-read it in light of my more recent experience.  Experience transforms how we read and interpret information.  As previously mentioned, we learn by making connections between our existing knowledge and newly acquired information.  New experiences and what we learn from them change the way we interpret new information, including information transferred through books like this one.  It seems that 90% of what I have written this month in these book-related blog posts was based on a reinterpretation of what I remembered from those books based on more recent experience.

    I also like this article from Prof. Raelin:  "I don't have time to think!" vs. the Art of Reflective Practice, REFLECTIONS, Vol. 4, No. 1, (2002).  It should be required reading for busy project managers.

    TO DO:
    • Create lists of related resources for key topics, including work-based learning, to integrate in relevant presentations, training materials and mentoring.

    Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    The Lessons Learned Handbook: Practical Approaches to Learning from Experience (Book 26 of 30)

    Title: The Lessons Learned Handbook: Practical approaches to learning from experience
    Author: Nick Milton

    This is a very readable book in the Nick Milton/Patrick Lambe tradition (see KM Approaches, Methods and Tools, and The Knowledge Manager's Handbook) providing a menu of approaches, in this case focusing on knowledge capture methods and more specifically, lessons learned.

    Regardless of books and guidance in other forms, there is nothing like working with real projects and real teams to understand the complexity of lessons learned activities (and why they are often so maligned).

    Two key points about lessons learned:

    1. Lessons stored in a database have very little use (that's almost a cliché). No one uses them. There is some benefit to whoever documented the lesson (whether an individual or a team), but once it is in storage, it is almost certainly lost.  Therefore, why bother?  An exception would be a lesson that was so critical that it resulted in a process or policy change, at which point it can be removed from the lessons learned database.  The danger, even in that case, is that people will forget why the process or policy is the way it is and eventually revert to previous practice, thereby unlearning or forgetting.   Unlearning is not always a bad thing.  In fact, it can be necessary, but that would be the subject of another post.

    It's not that the databases of lessons are completely useless.  They are not useful in the ways most people expect them to be useful. There are instances where lessons stored in a database can be useful. The database curator can and should do some regular data mining and analysis to identify possible trends, recurring lesson themes, etc... and advise management on possible actions.  At NASA/Goddard, I've used the database of lessons to help identify themes to be addressed in knowledge sharing workshops (aka Critical Knowledge Conversations). The database was never the only source of information I relied on for that purpose but it contributed to decisions about what topics to address.  There are other ways lessons could and should be better integrated into the project life cycle, but that should be yet another post.

    2. Documenting lessons learned well is more difficult than most people imagine.  I can't stress that enough.  Individual lessons learned can be heavily biased.  Group lessons are less likely to be biased by any single individual perspective but they will tend to have a group/team bias.  A project team's lessons are lessons from the team's perspective, not the organization's perspective.  The challenge is for an experienced facilitator to guide teams through the process of identifying and documenting valuable lessons without requiring the teams to take any kind of special lessons learned training on the part of teams.  This can be done over time, with lots of iterations of discussions around lessons.  Discussing what constitutes a valuable lesson in the abstract is not as useful as struggling with a real lesson and documenting it with some guidance.

    We need a broader vocabulary to discuss lessons.  In most cases, when I facilitate group discussions to discuss and document lessons, we end up with a lot of valuable observations and insights, lots of opinions, some whining or venting, and sometimes a lesson or two.

    I have more books left on my shelf than there are days to complete this 30-day challenge.  When appropriate, I will group them if they address a very similar topic within Knowledge Management.   Another book on my shelves addressing lessons learned is Post-Project Reviews to Gain Effective Lessons Learned, by Terry Williams.   This book was published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and it has a strong project management angle.  PMI has done more recently to emphasize the knowledge dimension of project management, but PM and KM haven't yet really been fully integrated.

    A little further on the relatedness scale is Katrina Pugh's Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems with the Knowledge Jam.  The Knowledge Jam is a detailed, well thought-out methodology for engaging groups in purposeful facilitated conversations that have impacts in terms of integration or adaptation for use.  In other words, it's not a question of whether the lessons and insights will ever be used, but rather how to ensure they are used.  That part of the process isn't left to chance or to other knowledge management activities (like a separate workshop).

    TO DO:
    • Revisit Sharing Hidden Know-How.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2017

    Teaming (Book 25 of 30)

    Title: Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy
    Author: Amy C. Edmondson

    This is a well researched book, of the same caliber as Dorothy Leonard's books (Edmondson and Leonard are both at the Harvard Business School), introducing useful concepts to understand learning at the team level.  I often talk about three different levels for analysis:  individual learning, team learning and organizational learning. Since most work in organizations happens in the context of teams or group work, team learning is critical to the overall success of the organization.  It's the focus of this book.

    If I were to divide all the books reviewed to far into two categories, one for knowledge management and one for organizational learning, this book falls neatly into the second category.
    "To keep up with developments in their field, people must become lifelong learners, and success will belong to those who can master new skills and envision novel possibilities Employees must absorb, and sometimes create, new knowledge while executing.  Because this process typically happens among individuals working together, collective learning -- that is, learning in and by smaller groups -- is regarded as the primary vehicle for organizational learning.  Consequently, to excel in a complex and uncertain business environment, people need to both work and learn together" (p. 1).
    I know I've read this book cover to cover and it's worth revisiting regularly.  I was particularly interested in the concept of psychological safety as it relates to organizational cultures.  As a facilitator of group reflection activities, I've seen first hand how important it is to try to create that safe environment where team members feel comfortable enough to express their concerns and talk openly, at least within the team.

    In addition, NASA is used as one of the examples in the book, an example I have become very familiar with over the past 9 years  (although it's always interesting to compare the internal understanding of events with the external recounting, whether from an academic or media perspective).

    Dr. Edmondson followed up this volume with Teaming to Innovate.

    TO DO:
    • Extract a couple of quotes around psychological safety to integrate in a presentation/training module on organizational culture for learning.
    • Integrate the quote above in a presentation/module on the linkages between individual, team and organizational learning. 

    Monday, July 24, 2017

    Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow (Book 24 of 30)

    Title: Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow: How to Make Knowledge Sharing Work
    Author:  Frank Leistner

    "Many organizations still struggle to make best use of the knowledge that exists within them.  While individuals might use their knowledge on a daily basis and for their decisions, frequently that knowledge is not shared and leveraged across the organization from one person to another.  A common notion of how to make this transfer of knowledge happen is via technical systems.  Those systems play a role as an enabler, but they are only one piece of the puzzle to make the flow of knowledge work in an organization.  This book looks at the other factors that are involved and specifically focuses on human aspects" (p. xv)

    If We Only Knew What We Know (Book 3 of 30) was a way of saying we don't have a good handle on all the knowledge that our organization needs to effectively and efficiently pursue its mission. Getting a good handle of organizational knowledge can typically be achieved with a knowledge mapping activity.

    A good knowledge mapping activity, however, doesn't limit itself to identifying critical knowledge domains and where critical knowledge resides within the organization.  A good knowledge mapping activity should pay attention to knowledge flows. As Siemens noted in Knowing Knowledge (Book 21 of 30), "Knowledge is a river, not a reservoir." This is where KM practitioners start talking about knowledge stocks (repositories, databases, knowledge artifacts) and knowledge flows (mechanisms to get knowledge from where it is to where it's needed).  You probably need both stocks and flows but many KM strategies have focused on stocks (capturing and storing explicit knowledge) and failed to adequately address flows or discovered that their attempts at facilitating knowledge flows through technology have floundered.

    It's common to hear, even within the KM community that "Knowledge is power and therefore people don't want to share what they know."  I've found the opposite to be true.  Knowledge is one form of power and the best way to leverage that knowledge to one's advantage is precisely to share it and in the process, become a valued and respected colleague.  Still, some organizations are more prone to organizational silos and other organizational dysfunctions that impact the overall culture and the role of knowledge sharing within that culture.  A good KM diagnostic and knowledge mapping exercise would look at aspects of the culture that may support or impede knowledge flows so that they can be addressed.

    This is also where Social Network Analysis (SNA) can prove useful (See Driving Results Through Social Networks - Book 4 of 30).  SNA, combined with knowledge mapping, can provide a solid foundation for the development of a comprehensive KM strategy.

    Insight:  I can almost see the beginnings of an insight map appearing as the connections between all the concepts and ideas from these books are converging.

    TO DO:
    • Integrate my knowledge stocks vs. knowledge flows visuals into relevant presentations.

    Sunday, July 23, 2017

    Leading the Learning Revolution (Book 23 of 30)

    Title: Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert's Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market
    Author: Jeff Cobb

    Lifelong learning used to be something like exploring new things while you're retired, learning skills you didn't have time to indulge in while you were busy with a career and raising a family. While this form of lifelong learning still exists, when people talk about lifelong learning now, they mean in order to remain relevant and up-to-date in today's world, whether at work or at home, people need to be continuously learning relevant skills and absorbing new information.

    The Internet has become a source of so many opportunities for learning.  Of course, the Internet is also full of junk, and that is what make is ever more essential for people to develop meta-learning skills, to LEARN HOW TO LEARN.  I hope I'll cover a book that talks about this because that's not what this book is about.

    This book is meant for people perhaps like myself who are interested in helping others learn.  It's a "how to become a successful provider of lifelong learning services," therefore from the perspective of the provider and not that of the learner. I've found it most useful in helping me understand trends in the market for lifelong education.

    From a KM perspective, the market for KM education is small and would be very difficult to penetrate.  The main providers have established such a strong hold that the best approach, if I wanted to be a player in that market, would be to try to join them rather than compete.  I'd rather work the academic angle and perhaps try to teach a class or to in a local university (or something online).

    I also tried Skillshare and didn't find it to be a useful avenue for my materials -- though I learned a great deal in the process of developing two classes for that platform.

    TO DO:
    • Identify three local academic programs and 2 online academic programs that could be interested in a lecture, series of lectures, practical activity or complete course. Develop a plan for reaching out to them with a specific proposal.

    Saturday, July 22, 2017

    The Art of Focused Conversation (Book 22 of 30)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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