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.

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).

Friday, July 21, 2017

Knowing Knowledge (Book 21 of 30)

Title:  Knowing Knowledge
Author: George Siemens

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Working Knowledge (Book 20 of 30)

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Learning to Fly (Book 19 of 30)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Knowledge Manager's Handbook (Book 18 of 30)

Title: The Knowledge Manager's Handbook: A step-by-step guide to embedding effective knowledge management in your organization
Authors: Nick Milton & Patrick Lambe

This is the best down-to-earth, practical, experience-based handbook on Knowledge Management I have seen AND it is recent (2016) [at the time of writing this post]. The authors leverage probably more than 20 years of experience each, supporting organizations with KM.  When I first read the book, I inserted many yellow sticky notes with comments about my own experience with many of the practices, methods, tools and tips discussed.

This past year, as I spent a lot of time thinking about helping a successor take over my position as a Knowledge Manager, I came to the conclusion that if I could only recommend one book to my successor, this would be the book.  I'm not suggesting it is the best book ever written on Knowledge Management, but as the title clearly indicates, it is the best book targeting knowledge managers.  Most organizations will not have a community of knowledge managers who can support each other.  Whether you are somewhat isolated from your professional peers, or you've ascended to a Knowledge Manager position without the necessary background and experience to do the job from day 1, this book is a tremendous help.

It also reminds me of KM Approaches, Methods and Tools (a Patrick Lambe book, with a different co-author).  It covers a wide range of KM applications.  You still have to be able to analyze your organization's unique structure and culture to develop a strategy tailored to your organization's needs and existing capabilities and resources.

As a side note, I've also been going in circles with Nick Milton about the need to do a better job of embedding KM.  I posted something in response to one of his blog posts earlier this week and found myself in a deja vu loop.  I have a weird feeling he posted something similar perhaps a year ago and I responded with the same comment..... to which he responded with the same response.  He is right, of course, and I am stuck in a little loop about this embedding problem.  I still think we need to do more in that regard. I'd like KM to be so embedded a separate KM function is unnecessary.  Nick argues that just because finance and safety are everyone's responsibility and embedded in every job doesn't mean we don't need a separate finance or safety function.  It's just not 100% clear to me that the analogy is valid. In addition, in small organizations, it is very difficult to establish KM as a separate function and perhaps easier (hypothesis here) to fully embed KM within existing processes.


TO DO
  • Cogitate further about embedding KM in small organizations and what the implications are in terms of where KM should reside (report to) or which existing function can take it on as their responsibility.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers (Book 17 of 30)

Title:  Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers
Author:  Thomas H. Davenport

Thomas Davenport is also the co-author of Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage what they Know (with Larry Prusak). Working Knowledge came first, in 1998.  Thinking for a Living followed in 2005.

Ten years later, in 2015, in an article titled "What happened to KM?", Davenport suggested that KM wasn't dead but it was "gasping for air." Every year, someone asks whether KM is dead or not.  I don't think this is unique to Knowledge Management.  I just saw "Is Instructional Design Dead or Alive?"  Is it asking whether it was just a fad? The question irritates me.  I get the feeling that it's a call to jump on the next bandwagon.  KM is dead.  Forget about it, let's get into Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Artificial Intelligence.. that's where the action is.  Perhaps that's where the money is too?  I think I'll pass.  I think I'll go backwards, back to organizational learning.

Another question that irritates me to no end is "what is knowledge management?" which is typically followed by "what is knowledge anyway?"  There is no better way of going absolutely nowhere with a conversation than to try to address these questions.  The fact that they are continuously being asked may suggest that we're in a serious rut as professionals in this field.  I find it depressing that the field is often perceived as either dying or spinning in circles.  The answer to "is it dead or alive?" is "it's evolving." KM has moved into so many different directions that it is no longer unified in any shape or form that makes it recognizable as a professional field.

Why I like this book?
The focal point is the knowledge worker.  It's not just lip service to the "People" component of the people-process-technology triad.  Knowledge Management may have started with discussions of the knowledge economy and split early on from organizational learning, getting confused with knowledge management tools/solutions/platforms, etc... but it's worth going back to the knowledge worker, the individual who is faced with knowledge challenges on a daily basis (and I'm not talking about email overload and disorganized shared drive).

It's perhaps easy for us working in this field and calling ourselves Knowledge Managers or Knowledge Management experts to think primarily in terms of KM strategies, activities, etc... and become somewhat removed from the actual knowledge workers.  We don't want KM to be part of HR, where it might be better integrated with Professional Development, Learning & Development, and Training departments where the focus might be on individual competencies and individual knowledge.  We don't want KM to be part of IT where it might turn into an overly technology-focused solution in the form of tools, platforms, etc... with a perfect search engine and taxonomy to make it work.  When KM is part of strategic management, it might turn into policies, processes  and a whole lot of top-down directed activities.  Regardless of the positioning of KM within the organization --which is another perennial question -- how can we ensure that the individual knowledge worker isn't lost in the shuffle.  My answer is, by integrated individual, team and organizational learning.

TO DO:
  • Make a note of questions being asked, the nature of questions, whether they are the right questions, etc... Revisit the art of questioning and the value of questions in reflective practice.
  • Integrate key insights from Thinking for a Living in presentation/training materials for the role of individual knowledge workers in organizational learning.
  • Develop an FAQ for KM-related terms and issues to insert as needed in presentation and training materials. Always have key definitions ready when presenting.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Results without Authority (Book 16 of 30)

Title:  Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When The Team Doesn't Report to You
Author:  Tom Kendrick

This is not strictly speaking about Knowledge Management but it applies to the work of knowledge managers.  The Knowledge Managers down in the trenches and even the Chief Knowledge Officers up above may have limited direct authority, no or limited budgets of their own. If they are having an impact, it is through influence and persuasion rather than through command-and-control mechanisms.

While the book focuses on a project environment, the main principles apply beyond the context of projects.  In fact, knowledge managers may be working WITH project managers and provide knowledge services TO projects rather than implementing KM projects of their own.

The book also uses a strong PMP-style framework which can be adapted to different contexts.  I could take each chapter of the book and adapt key principles to my context or prior experience. Here's how it might work.

Chapter 2: Control through Process.
I don't approach projects from a KM perspective with a big stick, telling them there is a requirement for them to document lessons learned at regular intervals and informing them that I'll come to check on their progress in that regard.  My big stick would look like an inflatable toy.  They might laugh me out the door.  In most cases, I don't emphasize the "requirements" aspect of it until they ask.  And they will ask.  "Is this a a requirement?"

I approach projects with the end in mind.  I am here to help them learn as a team.  That is always the primary objective.  Whether we manage to check the requirements box with some documented lessons learned is almost secondary.  There is no point in documenting lessons to check the requirements box if the team didn't really learn anything.  Which is why the team conversation is so critical (See Nancy Dixon's recent LinkedIn article about Authentic Conversations).

I approach projects with a simple process, the group reflection session.  It needs to be perceived as relatively simple and easy to execute by the team (team management in particular).  Yet it can be challenging depending on the team and nature of the issues to be discussed.  That could be discussed further elsewhere (next post).  The point is that project teams don't want to be reminded that they are required to document lessons learned, but they might welcome someone coming in to help with a simple process that will allow them to do just that AND learn at the same time.

The only way I can "control" to some extent what project teams do in terms of knowledge management is by providing a process for integrating knowledge management activities in their project world.  The project environment is very process oriented to begin with.  The key is to embed as much as possible and not create too many "new" processes.  Rather than bringing in a rigid process, I am able to tailor that process to the team's context and needs.  Tailoring can be done around the format of the group reflection sessions, attendance, and scheduling.  That's also where I can exercise some control by insisting on certain principles.  For example, the project manager cannot hand me a PowerPoint with HIS/HER lessons learned and be done.

TO DO:
  • Try to put the project learning process in the ITTO (Inputs, Tools, Techniques, Ouputs) PMP framework.
  • Integrate a "results without authority" module in training materials.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Visible Thinking: Unlocking Causal Mapping for Practical Business Results (Book 15 of 30)

Title:  Visible Thinking; Unlocking Causal Mapping for Practical Business Results
Authors: John M. Bryson, Fran Ackermann, Colin Eden, Charles B. Finn

"The purpose of Visible Thinking is to help you understand and use the tool of causal mapping to make sense of challenging situations, to get more of what you want out of them and less of what you don't want.  Causal mapping is a simple and useful technique for addressing situations where thinking -- as an individual or as a group -- matters." (p. xii)
This is going to be an example of knowingly repeating myself. I've previously blogged about this book.   Therefore, I will attempt to repeat AND move the discussion forward rather than just repeat myself.

There is no doubt in my mind that insight mapping is where I have done my most original work and it is where I can contribute most new knowledge.  I may have a decent handle on synthesis and analysis of other people's work, but this is where I can contribute something unique and NEW.  Obviously it's not completely unique since I'm talking about this book which explores something very similar.  Still, I think I have something that adds to this book.  So, if I wanted to write a book and I wanted it to explore new territory, it would definitely be about insight mapping.

The authors differentiate between "cognitive mapping", which refers to individuals mapping their own thinking and "oval mapping."  When a group is involved in mapping their ideas as a group, the authors call it "oval mapping," but this is only a reflection of the shape of cards being used to record and aggregate individual input into a group map.  I've had similar difficulties finding suitable names for the maps I've created over the years.  I've called them knowledge maps, conversation maps, and now I've settled on insight maps.  Knowledge maps have a different meaning in Knowledge Management and should not be used to refer to this adaptation of concept maps.  The term "insight map" is specific enough to convey the general purpose of the mapping (i.e., to generate useful insights), yet applicable to a a wide range of situations where insights into a complex situation are being sought.  While mapping can be done to facilitate decision-making (the previous blog post on this topic had provided a simple demonstration), it can be done in support of other relevant business activities.

TO DO
  • Define "insight" and its relationship to knowledge creation.
  • Develop a succinct definition of insight mapping to be integrated in all Fillip Consulting materials.
  • Come up with a menu of situations where insight mapping can be effectively applied, or develop a fact sheet based on the format used by KM Approaches, Methods and Tools.
See also
  • Visual Tools for Constructing Knowledge, by David Hyerle (1996)
  • Mapping Strategic Thought (1990)
  • Applied Concept Mapping: Capturing, Analyzing, and Organizing Knowledge (2011) by Brian Moon, Robert Hoffman, Joseph Novak and Alberto Cañas

One Book-a-Day Blog Challenge: Mid-point Reflection

Time for a pause, a reflective pause of course, not a pause in writing.  I've reached the half-way point in the Book-a-Day Blog Challenge.  A few thoughts:
  • I'm writing posts with a 3-4 day buffer, meaning that I have 3-4 blog posts ready in case I can't keep up with a book every single day for whatever reason.  The buffer helps to mitigate the pressure to stick with the schedule and allows me to re-read and finalize a post that I drafted several days ago, and draft a new one each day.  I already know I might not be able to do it three days in a row next week so I will schedule the publishing of three posts ahead of time.  (In reality this makes no difference to anyone but me, but that's fine too).
  • I'm a little concerned that the stream-of-consciousness aspect of the posts makes them less readable.  As long as I keep them reasonably short it should be fine.
  • I had not initially planned a specific format for the posts.  The "TO DO" items at the end of each or most posts is turning out to be useful.  I also like the little insights that are emerging.  This makes it all fun enough that I don't have any trouble motivating myself to keep with it.  I've started compiling the aggregate "TO DO" list.  It will need some prioritizing. I suspect that when I review it at the end of the 30 days, I'll have a "what was I thinking?" reaction to half of them.
  • For now, randomly picking a book from my bookshelf has worked well.  It might become a little more difficult as I get closer to 30.  I've also "discovered" that July has 31 days, so technically, this may be the 31-day Book-a-Day Blog Challenge.  Either that or the 31st post will be a recap.
  • I was initially unsure that this exercise would lead to anything that could be turned into a useful insight map.  I would have given it a 50% chance of success. I am now 75% sure that I can generate such a map AND a very useful follow up to-do list for additional insights and blog posts, including a post about how to generate ideas for blog posts for example.  Idea generators are great as long as I remind myself that the ratio of ideas to useful insights can be 50/1.
  • I realized, a few days ago, that I may have previously blogged about some of these books.  I could at least check if I have.  It doesn't mean I wouldn't write about them again, but it would be slightly embarrassing to unknowingly repeat myself.  Knowingly and purposefully repeating myself would be fine. :)  This realization, in turn, prompted me to compile a list of all the blog post headings in the past 10 years. This blog dates from 2003, but 10 years back is enough.
Let's keep going!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities (Book 14 of 30)

Title:  Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities
Authors:  Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, John D. Smith

This is a very nice "how to" book for communities of practice, with a strong focus on how to make the most of technology.  The book was published in 2009, which doesn't seem that long ago and the first question is going to be whether a book almost a decade old with a focus on technology is going to be relevant.

This immediately brings me to a tangent about adaptation and lessons learned.  Lessons learned are at times mistaken with best practices or even rules.  This happened to project X, the lesson is ______, therefore never/always do ____________.   While this formula may occur in some instances, that is not how lessons learned are generally formulated (in my humble experience).

I've started using the term "insight" rather than "lesson learned" when the so-called lesson does not automatically lead to a strong and obvious recommendation for action one way or another. Sometimes it leads to a warning.  It points to something that should be kept in mind as a potential risk.   The person reading this lesson/insight isn't given a straightforward path for action.  That person is asked to think about how this lesson/insight affects them, how it applies to them and their situation. The resulting action (or lack thereof), is a decision made based on an adaptation of the lesson to the unique circumstances being faced rather than a blind application of a recommendation.

Going back to Digital Habitats, to some extent, it does not matter (at least for this book) that the focus is on technology and technology keeps evolving too fast for books to keep up.  The book is not about specific technologies that may have already become outdated.  It is about how to think about different technologies and even more about how to think about communities and how communities can think about technologies to leverage them.  As such, while the technology landscape may have evolved, I think the approach is still valid.

TO DO:
  • In the "KM for small organizations research project", make sure to explore the tools/technology landscape.  I have a feeling there are 2-3 dominant technology platforms (SharePoint, Drupal, Jive...?) that have both simplified the landscape and complexified things in some ways.  I don't have good hypotheses at this point.  Plan on writing an article that could serve as an update to the book.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wellsprings of Knowledge (Book 13 of 30)

Title: Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the Source of Innovation
Author: Dorothy Leonard

Let's face it.  I don't think I read this book from beginning-to-end. The copy I own looks like something I would have picked up at a second-hand book fair simply because I recognized it as an early (1995) semi-classic in the field.  It's not a quick read and it requires a certain willingness (and time) to read "deeply" so that the ideas and concepts have time to sink in.  I suspect that was intentional on the part of the author.  One should not expect an easy quick read from a long-time Harvard Business School professor and researcher.

The focus of the book is on how companies that successfully manage technology innovation leverage core capabilities, how those core capabilities are developed and nurtured through knowledge, and where this knowledge comes from.
"Companies survive on their ability to adapt when necessary, and it is increasingly necessary for them to do so. Successful adaptation is not, however, a chameleonlike response to the most immediate stimuli --a quick switch to a new enterprise or an impulse acquisition.  Rather, successful adaptation seems to involve the thoughtful, incremental redirection of skills and knowledge bases so that today's expertise is reshaped into tomorrow's capabilities." (p. xii)
What I like about this book?
The strong business competitiveness and constant need for adaptation, the forward looking approach, and the strong focus on innovation are all still very relevant close to 20 years after its publication.   An updated version of the book might try to tackle how Google, Amazon, and some of the new technology-driven business models have handles core capabilities and knowledge generation.

The focus on core capabilities is somewhat linked in my mind to the concept of critical knowledge. No wonder, Dr. Leonard was probably instrumental in generating that connection when I read Critical Knowledge Transfer:  Tools for Managing Your Company's Deep Smarts (Leonard, Swap & Barton, 2015).   Knowledge management for its own sake, without a clear focus, is one of those "nice to have". However, it's difficult to articulate a clear ROI around something that's "nice to have" but not perceived as critically linked to business results or mission success.  Given the realities of limited resources and time constraints, a well-targeted knowledge management initiative clearly tied to business objectives (or the organization's mission in non-profit and government environments) is more sustainable and will deliver  more value.

I haven't read all of Dr. Leonard's books but I remember reading Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Business Wisdom.  It was 2005 and Dr. Leonard was raising the alarm about the risks associated with the baby boomer retirement wave and how it would affect organizations as the people with deep smarts (a combination of judgment and knowledge based on extended experience developing both explicit and tacit knowledge) were leaving the organization.  How was this critical knowledge going to be transferred (ideally before they left).   I don't find approaches focused on capturing the knowledge of departing employees to be particularly useful, but the issue of knowledge transfer (or knowledge flows) throughout a person's career rather than upon retirement is worth addressing.

We should not just be focusing on capturing the knowledge of upcoming retirees.  There are lots of organizations nowadays where staff turnover is very high.  Shouldn't these organization also get some attention?  Does that require a different approach to knowledge management?  Do "deep smarts" have to time to grow in high turnover organizations?

TO DO:
  • Set (a.m.) time aside for "deep reading".
  • It might be interested to map out the evolution of key concepts in Dr. Leonard's work (core capabilities, know-how, deep smarts, critical knowledge).  I see a nice progression while sticking to the same foundations.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

KM Approaches, Methods and Tools - A Guidebook (Book 12 of 30)

Title:  KM Approaches, Methods and Tools - A Guidebook
Authors: Patrick Lambe and Edgar Tan

This book is a companion to the KM Method Cards.  There are 80 KM Methods Cards.  Many of them are useful as definitions of KM-related terms that are commonly found in the KM grey literature and among practitioners.

The book covers 24 of the main approaches in more depth than what is possible on a small card.  Number 6 is "Concept Mapping,"  one of my favorites.  The entire book is therefore a collection of descriptions of methods following a standard format for each method:

  • What is [name of method]?
  • Why use it?
  • How to use it?
  • When to use it?
  • When not to use it?
  • Examples
  • Resources
What I like about this book
As a knowledge management practitioner, it's very useful to know that all these different approaches are available to facilitate our work.  At the same time, I'm not sure it would be wise to try to become proficient in all of them.   Increasing the range of approaches one is comfortable with might be a good idea and could be part of a professional development/continuous learning effort.

As a side note, I've found a number of practitioners who enjoy creating new terms to differentiate their unique approach from what's been done before.  I'm not sure it's always helpful. There is enough confusion and you end up having to say things like "it's like a ______ but not exactly".  That being said, I'm doing exactly the same with the term "insight mapping" and I'm justifying it by arguing that it's truly unique and very distinct from concept mapping, which would be the closest term.  Let's admit it then, I'm no different.  I'm trying to differentiate my brand to some extent.

TO DO:
  • Identify 3 methods from the book that I am not yet familiar with, learn more and develop opportunities for utilizing each by end of 2017.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Knowledge Activist's Handbook (Book 11 of 30)

Title:  The Knowledge Activist's Handbook
Author:  Victor Newman

"Being a knowledge activist means choosing to think about knowledge, how we use it and how it works, with a definite attitude. And doing something about it.  The role of the knowledge activist is to be unreasonable, to identify and combine those small grains of truth with the potential to create a pearl." (Inside Jacket)

That's me.  I'm definitely, 100% a knowledge activist.  This resonates with me.  What does it mean when something "resonates"?  It's so close to how I think about the subject that I could have said it.  It articulates a thought that I can immediately absorb and make mine.  It makes me want to say "That's exactly right!  Well said, Mr. Newman!"

It's also probably a manifestation of confirmation bias.  Reading something that resonates with me is a psychological boost.  Doesn't it make you feel good to find people who totally agree with your point of view? Doesn't it confirm that your thinking is right?  You're on the right track... keep going on that path.

What did I like about this book?
I like this book because it resonates with me as already mentioned above.  I also like it because it's written very clearly from a personal experience perspective.  Give me two books on KM, one written by an academic and one written by a practitioner and it's likely I will prefer the one written by the practitioner (another source of bias, notwithstanding the Ph.D after my own name).  In light of recent re-readings, this may not be based on any evidence.  I like Dr. Leonard's books and she's definitely an academic. What I probably meant just above is that I connect more readily to first-person, practical, hands-on, experience-based advice and analysis than to theoretical frameworks.  Perhaps it's just the lazy path that gets the least resistance. Perhaps it's something else.  There is something here worth exploring a little deeper because I like analytical frameworks.  I just don't seem to connect well to overly theoretical/abstract frameworks (and questions like "what is knowledge?").

"Small grains of truth with the potential to create a pearl."
That's perhaps what I'm attempting to do with this 30 days/30 books challenge.  Can 30 days of little insights gathered from KM books add up to a single little valuable pearl?  There is nothing more intrinsically rewarding than a burst of insight or even a poorly articulated question that just pops up and percolates for a while.

TO DO
  • Seek out KM literature I don't resonate with (something about how AI will revolutionalize KM would probably be easy to find at the moment and will definitely NOT resonate).
  • Put this book on the "Re-read slowly" list.
  • Let the practitioner/academic, how-to/abstract dichotomy percolate for a while.  Seek some insight about where I stand.  Where is the person who is highly focused on the practical, the implementable, yet sees the bigger picture, has a strong analytical framework to work with?