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 Ca├▒as

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?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Leadership in a Wiki World (Book 10 of 30)

Title: Leadership in a Wiki World: Leveraging Collective Knowledge to Make the Leap to Extraordinary Performance
Author: Rod Collins

I've always been attracted to wikis as a concept and ready to jump in and build wiki content whenever I came across one that I could contribute to.  And yet, other than my own personal wikis (an oxymoron), I have not encountered opportunities to consistently contribute to the development of a real collective wiki.

There are few books entirely dedicated to wikis. This is one of them, and it is based on two essential ideas:
When human organizations have the processes to leverage collective knowledge, nobody is smarter or faster than everybody.  The smarter organizations are those with the capacity to quickly access the wisdom of the crowd and the ability to leverage the resulting collective knowledge....
In the smartest and fastest organizations, leaders do not have the authority to issue orders or to expect compliance.  When organizations learn to leverage collective knowledge, they don't need leaders to tell them what to do. 
I'm skeptical about both the so-called wisdom of the crowd and the idea that the wise crowds don't need leaders to tell them what to do.  And yet I love the idea of wikis and I would give them a place in a knowledge management initiative -- if it made sense and added value.

Within organizations, there are often groups of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and aspiring SMEs who have deep knowledge and know-how related to specific disciplines.  They are essential to the overall success of the organization because of their unique knowledge.  Depending on how the organization is structured, they may all be part of one division or department or they may be spread out across the organization in a matrixed fashion.  Perhaps they are part of a Community of Practice and perhaps not.  Assuming they are not working in an environment where they have to compete with each other, a common wiki can be an effective tool to leverage group knowledge.  To make it a sustained, effective effort, you would need some ongoing facilitation by one or more members of the group, and the nurturing of the accompanying Community of Practice.

Insight:  Wikis don't necessarily have to be all-encompassing and organization-wide.  They can serve a niche need to leverage common knowledge at the local level, within a specific discipline.   Just don't let your wiki turn into a group work area where members dump their files under the guise of "sharing". A wiki can be used in many different ways to facilitate a group's work and to support the accumulation and flow of collective knowledge, but the group members must all be clear about the purpose of the wiki.  Some governance and facilitation is necessary, especially as the number of people contributing increases and as turnover in group members occurs.

TO DO:
  • Develop a short presentation about the potential of wikis for "local" knowledge management.
  • Explore the connection with Dorothy Leonard's work on "deep smarts" and critical knowledge transfer.
  • Create training materials for personal wikis as a tool/approach for professional development/personal knowledge management and how it can tie in with CoPs and team or group learning.
  • Incorporate the notion of "local" knowledge in presentations.  Make sure it's sufficiently explained.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Informal Learning (Book 9 of 30)

Title:  Informal Learning:  Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire INNOVATION and PERFORMANCE
Author: Jay Cross

There is a gang of somewhat revolutionary L&D (learning and development) professionals in the UK -- I think they're in the UK -- who are working to introduce new ways of thinking about learning in organizations.   They have worked together as the Internet Time Alliance.   Given that traditional corporate training and professional development doesn't seem to be having the impacts it should have, especially given the financial resources typically poured into it, rethinking the entire approach makes sense.  In fact, everything Jay Cross has ever written makes a great deal of sense to me.  I'm also a fan of other members of the gang (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Clark Quinn), their blogs, courses and books.   Sadly, Jay Cross passed away in 2015.

I like the idea of a small group of practitioners working together at times and individually within an informal alliance.  It appears to have the flexibility that I would be looking for in working as a solo consultant, but with peers when it makes sense.  It's also different from developing one-off relationships with fellow solo consultants for the needs of a specific contract.

The book goes into all the different ways that we can think of individual learning within an organizational context.

What did I like about it?
I like all of it, really, but I'm a little nerdy, so I really liked the glossary.  For example, I was re-reading Chris Argyris on double-loop learning and trying to come up with a simple definition.  I was over-complicating it and here it was, a simple definition of double-loop learning in the glossary of this book.

More broadly, this book is an excellent way to approach thinking about individual learning in organizations and can help build a bridge between individual learning, team learning, and ultimately, the culture of learning that is needed for successful organizational learning.

TO DO
  • Check what the Internet Time Alliance is doing these days...latest blogs, books, events.
  • Prepare a module (set of slides/stories/images/quotes) on Informal Learning and Personal Knowledge Management.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Teaching Smart People How to Learn (Book 8 of 30)

Title:  Teaching Smart People How to Learn
Author: Chris Argyris

Technically, this isn't a book.  It's an article published in the Harvard Business Review but it's also published as a tiny pocket book (smaller than some smartphones).

Chris Argyris is best known for his double-loop learning concept and his work on organizational learning in general.  This article was initially published in 1991, which makes me think that a lot of the literature on organizational learning may predate the early knowledge management classics which came out in the late 1990's.

This is all about how people think, how people learn, how to get people to reflect on their experience so that they learn.  It's also about why we often fail to learn.

"...most people define learning too narrowly as mere "problem solving," so they focus on identifying and correcting errors in the external environment.  Solving problems is important.  But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward.  They need to reflect critically on their own behavior, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization's problems, and then change how they act.  In particular, they must learn how the very way they go abut defining and solving problems can be a source of problems in its own right [hence the double loop learning]." (p. 2 of the 2008 tiny book version)
I have encountered this countless times over the past 9 years of facilitating Pause and Learn sessions (group reflection activities).  Single loop learning often results in blaming a problem on someone else, or a system, a policy.  In some cases, however, it takes only one person in the group to model self-reflection for the entire session to become more meaningful and to reach out for double-loop learning.  As the facilitator, I can't just tell the group, "okay, enough single loop learning, let's try to go for double loop now," but I can sow the seeds in the planning meeting and in setting the ground rules for the meeting as well as by using probing questions.  The key with probing questions is to trigger the double loop thinking and not trigger a defensive mechanism.

Why I like this book/article?

This doesn't age.  It's a timeless classic.  It will remain useful years from now, perhaps even more useful in time, as we get swept up in the advances of AI, cognitive computing and all types of new technological advancements that will challenge our role as humans.  As far as my lifetime is concerned, critical thinking and self-reflection will remain essential.  Perhaps robots can do single-loop learning.  But can they do double-loop learning? I don't think so.  This might be a good selling point:  Don't want your job to be taken over by robots?  You need double-loop learning.

TO DO

  • Read about advances in AI, cognitive computing, etc... and build an argument for the continued value of human critical thinking skills and things like double-loop learning.
  • Develop a presentation about double-loop learning and reflective practice for incorporation into training modules.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Convergence of Project Management and Knowledge Management (Book 7 of 30)

Title: Convergence of Project Management and Knowledge Management
Authors:  Multiple, edited by T. Kanti Srikantaiah, Michael E. D. Koenig, and Suliman Hawamdeh.

I would not have bought this collection of individual papers edited into one volume if I didn't have a deep and ongoing interest in project knowledge management.  Every organization I have ever worked with used projects to advance their mission.  These projects may have been organized around divisions, departments with various names, even "centers" within organizations, but the most relevant unit of analysis from an operational perspective was the project.

Where projects dominate as an organizational structure, a key challenge with regards to knowledge management is the development of knowledge silos.  Each project can become a small kingdom of its own with minimal knowledge flows in or out.  This could lead to perfectly self-sufficient and effective projects (unlikely) but it's not doing much good to the organization in terms of knowledge sharing.

That's where the PMO (project management organization) comes in -- assuming there is one.  A central feature of a PMO should be to facilitate knowledge sharing across ongoing projects and the documentation of lessons learned at the project level that can be shared across projects.  The PMO should also play a key role in making necessary adjustments at the institutional level to ensure that lessons become embedded in policies and processes.

For the sake of linking to a previous blog post in this series (The Accidental Taxonomist - Book 2 of 30), one way to organize project knowledge would be to use the 9 (probably 10 by now) areas of project management as described by the Project Management Institute (PMI).  In fact, the taxonomy I used at NASA/Goddard to document project management lessons learned used the key PMI topic areas as a starting point and attempted to stick to a terminology consistent with PMI - even though NASA project management has its own well-defined processes and doesn't follow PMI.

TO DO
  • This book deserves a thorough second reading.  Read it again!
  • Carefully read Stephen DufField's just released Dissertation:  Systemic Lessons Learned Knowledge Model (aka SYLLK model). 
  • Revisit my bibliography of project knowledge management resources and update as needed.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (Book 6 of 30)

Title:  The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
Author: Stephen Denning

The Springboard is an early book about storytelling as a tool within the KM discipline.  I'm sure there were lots of books about storytelling before that but it's THE book that raised the idea that knowledge management could be significantly boosted by leveraging the power of narratives.

There have been a few other books on the subject since then and the latest on my shelves is Putting Stories to Work, by Shawn Callahan.  This newer book has a broader focus on business storytelling and doesn't focus on the knowledge management applications but all the principles are the same.  In fact, I find that a broader business perspective is often necessary to effectively address challenges that are initially perceived as "KM challenges". The KM challenges don't become challenges in a vacuum.  They are challenges within a business environment, and organizational culture that is likely to affect all aspects of the organization.

Question:  Is it lunacy to tackle KM challenges without recognizing and addressing broader organizational issues?
Corollary question:  As a solo consultant, how much can I realistically tackle?

Personal Experience:  I've tried my hand at storytelling.  I've taken a couple of classes on the topic, I did a full series of storytelling talks through Toastmasters, and I'm still working on it.  In a few weeks, I'll be doing a presentation that has a storytelling feel to it.  I'll see if I can strengthen that element to make it more interesting.

I have written elsewhere about the use of didactic fiction and I've experimented a lot with that, to the point of writing an entire novel that was meant to be didactic.   Interestingly, Steve Denning followed this storytelling book with a piece of didactic fiction titled Squirrel Inc.: A Fable of Leadership Through Storytelling.  Case studies (fictional or not) are probably an easier way to convey key insights.

TO DO:
  • Add storytelling elements to the July 28th KMA presentation.  I already  know where the cliffhanger is.... 
  • Keep a record of "KM stories" based on my own experiences.  Create a special section (and tag) in my internal consulting wiki.
  • Explore how I treats stories when I consume them.  When reading new books, make a note of how stories are used to illustrate a point.  Do I typically read the stories or skip them to get to the point?  Is it like overly detailed descriptions in novels that I skip to get to the action?  Or do they really add value?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Riding the Current: How to deal with the daily deluge of data (Book 5 of 30)

Title: Riding the Current: How to deal with the daily deluge of data
Author: Madelyn Blair

Note the nice alliteration in the sub-title (Deal with the Daily Deluge of Data).   It's supposed to help people remember. It sticks in people's minds.  Two immediate related thoughts come to mind:

1. I attended a talk a while ago by an author (whose name escapes me at the moment), who mentioned this alliteration approach as a useful technique for people to remember you and your work.  Lisa... first name Lisa.... Lisa Horn? [Sorry, it's Sam Horn]  I'm following her on LinkedIn.  I don't think I have her book.  She was also making the point that people have very short attention spans.  The cover of her book is a fish... something related to the attention span of a goldfish.

2. Made to Stick... that was another book by the Heath brothers (Chip and Dan) which had to do with attention span.  Really?  I'm not sure that was about attention span at all.  Wasn't it about change, behavioral change, adopting new habits?

Is there a point to this stream of consciousness?  Let's just say that like everyone else, my memory isn't perfect but there are always remnants of memories or connections that can be recalled, however imperfect they are.

Why I liked this book?

Dr. Blair's book is a very nicely written, practical approach to personal information management.  Given that 1) our capacity for absorbing information has limits; 2) we keep getting bombarded by information sources (many of which we purposefully seek out), how can we make the most of the wealth of information that surrounds us, not to mention deal with information validity?

I also really appreciate the approach because it's not just about information management from a time management perspective.  It treats the subject with a strong learning focus.    Finally, Dr. Blair stretches the "riding the current" metaphor throughout with chapters like "selecting the vessel", "finding the right crew", etc... which adds a little fun.  Who wants to read a boring book?  Who actually reads books these days? Who has time?  Who takes the time?

How does it fit with Knowledge Management?
This book fits squarely in what I refer to as Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).  Individuals who have a strong awareness of their own personal knowledge management are more receptive to KM and organizational learning efforts at the team, project and enterprise-wide levels. I suppose that's a hypothesis more than a fact-based assertion.


Oh.. Madelyn Blair is also delightful in person.  If you hear she's doing a talk in your neck of the woods, go for it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Driving Results Through Social Networks (Book 4 of 30)

Title: Driving Results Through Social Networks: How Top Organizations Leverage Networks for Performance and Growth
Authors: Rob Cross and Robert J. Thomas

If we agree that Knowledge Management is 80% about people and 20% about technology, how are we planning on managing the people from a knowledge perspective.  What do we know about how people share (or don't share) their knowledge within organizations?  What are the individual (personality) factors and organizational factors that come into play to determine who shares with whom, what is being shared and how it is being shared?  One way to look at these issues is to think of organizations as social networks rather than organization charts.  This book is part of a relatively small social network analysis (SNA) school of thought within the broader KM landscape.
"Most leaders are desperately seeking ways to get greater results from their organizations.  While they are quick to acknowledge the value and power of informal networks for getting work done, far too often leaders apply flawed approaches to generating business results from networks.  What they need is a proven method for assessing and managing networks for strategic purposes.   
Driving Results Through Social Networks shows executives and managers how to obtain substantial performance and innovation impact by better leveraging these traditionally invisible assets." (Inside cover)

 My take on Social Network Analysis
  • SNA has a place in any organization-wide KM strategy development and implementation.
  • Perhaps 50% of the benefits of SNA can be gained from a very basic understanding of the concepts.  The folks who are SNA subject matter experts would disagree with me.
  • I'm a little skeptical about significant investments in SNA without a broader KM strategy.
  • I'd like to see SNA-on-a-shoestring approaches, activity-based approaches that can be used with groups within organizations to immediately get people to recognize their own patterns of interactions and how they may be reinforcing silos.  In other words, I like activities that can bring immediate action and I'm skeptical of SNA studies that are going to require months of analysis and complex results.
TO DO
  • At the end of 2017, look at the evolution of my social (professional) network during the year.  How did my network increase?  What weak and strong connections did I make?  How did I primarily connect with people?  What approaches worked best?  What could I do differently in 2018?

Monday, July 03, 2017

If Only We Knew What We Know (Book 3 of 30)

Title: If Only We knew What We Know
Authors: Carla O'Dell and C. Jackson Grayson, Jr.

This book can probably be tagged as a classic, or at least one of the better known books on Knowledge Management and part of the early wave.  It was first published in 1998.  Carla O'Dell is still doing a great deal of work around Knowledge Management within a broader agenda at the APQC.  There is a consistent style and format to everything APQC does.  It's a bit like a Harvard Business School article.  You can expect something very readable, practical, accessible to people who are new to knowledge management, and an excellent source of benchmarking information.

Some books age better than others.  I'd say there's nothing wrong with this book even though it's almost 20 years old, but as with any older book, any mention of technology is going to be very outdated.  The principles behind the integration of technology might still be valid, but the specific technologies and technology challenges have changed.

What I like about this book

The idea that there is a wealth of internal knowledge that is underutilized in most organizations is still highly relevant and valid. Leveraging internal knowledge in the form of best practices, for example, is still very valuable.  However, I have developed over the years a certain skepticism about best practices.

First, the world is moving too fast for best practices to be valuable for very long.  There is a need for a very dynamic approach to knowledge management, a greater focus on knowledge flows. Developing best practices can turn into a labor intensive, time consuming effort that results in something soon outdated and overtaken by events.

Second (and a related point), it can be difficult to differentiate best practices from common sense basic knowledge and a lot of effort can be spent reinventing the wheel when that time and effort could have been better spent looking for emergent knowledge and focusing more on innovation and constant improvement.

Organizations fail to "know what they know" when they've built internal knowledge silos over time with very little sharing across organizational boundaries.  This is often the result of a mix of cultural barriers and inhibiting organizational structures.  Both need to be addressed to enhance organizational knowledge flows.

Other early KM books I may not have on my list of 30 for this month
  • The Fifth Discipline, 1990
  • Working Knowledge, 1998
Recommending to read?  

No, just read a published summary and follow up with The New Edge of Knowledge: How Knowledge Management is Changing, as an update to this early volume.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Accidental Taxonomist (Book 2 of 30)

Title: The Accidental Taxonomist
Author:  Heather Hedden

Within the broad spectrum of professionals that can end up in knowledge management positions, the taxonomist is a pretty narrow specialist and more likely to have an information management background.  A taxonomist can help you organize your information by creating order where there is chaos and potentially greatly improving access to existing information.

Taxonomists, on their own, cannot create miracles.  To be effective, taxonomists must either be skilled change agents or partner with change agents within the organization.  In addition, they need to collaborate closely with the IT personnel to make sure the tools and taxonomy are compatible and in sync.

Why I liked this book?
  •  It's readable for the non-taxonomist like myself and it gives you a good sense of why you might need a real taxonomist at some point.
  • It definitely pushed the boundaries of what I already knew.  In other words, I learned something new.
Where have I used my accidental taxonomist skills?
  • Admittedly, I've used my limited taxonomist skills rather poorly on this blog.  I have not developed a consistent approach to the labels attached to each post.
  • I use a personal wiki (TiddlyWiki) where I am much more rigorous about tagging each entry with a consistent set of keywords.  Over time, this has proven very useful.
  • At work, supporting projects with lessons learned activities, I have developed a purposefully simple taxonomy of terms associated with lessons learned.  Since my focus is on project management lessons learned, I used a combination of standard project management terms (schedule management, cost management, risk management) to which I added some organization-specific terms (integration and testing, technology development, etc..).  I also developed a specific taxonomy for the lessons learned emerging from business development efforts.
  • In the context of the ongoing training of my successor at my current position, having developed taxonomies for her to use (and not recreate or start something from scratch that would not sync with existing databases) should be very useful.
  • Anyone who has attempted to organize the contents of a shared drive has essentially developed a mini-taxonomy and in the process, has very likely encountered some of the common pitfalls.
Here are some insights from my experience:
  • Know your limits as a "taxonomist" and seek help when appropriate.
  • When developing a taxonomy, start small and simple.  Develop over time, as needed. 
  • Don't over-complicate the process or the final list of terms.
  • Always listen to users and how they react to terms.
  • Working collaboratively with organizational units will mean working with personnel who are not familiar with taxonomies (or knowledge management in general).  It takes a lot of well-thought out effort to communicate the basics of taxonomies and to get the process started on the right foot.
TO DO:
  • Learn how to organize and use the "labels" in this blog more effectively. Figure out the functionalities that I'm not yet using. 
  • Do a word cloud based on the labels.
  • Revisit the taxonomy I'm using for my internal consulting wiki on a regular (perhaps monthly) basis so that it stays fresh and I use it with sufficient rigor. 

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Learn or Die (Book 1 of 30)

Title: Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization
Author: Edward D. Hess

I'm starting the month-long challenge with this book because it resonates so well with my own work and my own thinking.  No need to provide my own synthesis.  I'll copy the inside cover blurb instead:
To compete with today's increasing globalization and rapidly evolving technologies, individuals and organizations must take their ability to learn -- the foundation of continuous improvement, operational excellence, and innovation -- to a much higher level.  In Learn or Die, Edward D. Hess combines recent advances in neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics, and education with key research on high-performance businesses to create an actionable blueprint for becoming a leading-edge learning organization.  
Learn or Die examines the process of learning from an individual and an organizational standpoint.  From an individual perspective, the book discusses the cognitive, emotional, motivational, attitudinal, and behavioral factors that promote better learning.  Organizationally, Learn or Die focuses on the kinds of structures, culture, leadership, employee learning behaviors, and human resources policies that are necessary to create an environment that enables critical and innovative thinking, learning conversations, and collaboration.  ... (Learn or Die --- inside cover blurb)

I have a bias towards organizational learning and I prefer to talk about learning, team learning, project learning,  and the learning organization, rather than knowledge management.  Learning has a more dynamic spin to it.  Even when I talk about knowledge management, I end up emphasizing knowledge flows, which is nothing more than learning.

Two things I liked about this book: 

First, I liked the reflection questions at the end of each chapter.  They're quite telling:

  • What did you read in this chapter that surprised you?
  • What are your top three takeaways that you want to reflect and/or act on?
  • What behaviors do you want to change?

To me, the first question is meant to force you to think about what was new in what you read.  Reinforcing prior learning by reading things you already know is fine, but learning something new is even better.

The second question is an invitation to extract something of value to YOU as the reader and to think about it further.  You don't have to agree with everything you read.  Very often I'll read something that's new to me and I'll come up with new questions, which might drive further readings.

The third question doesn't seem to always apply, but that could be just the root cause of a lot of lessons observed and not learned.  I've learned something new but I don't take any step to either verify it through my own experience or implement it in any way.  I've caught myself writing "to do" notes based on readings but I don't have a rigorous approach to actually doing any of it. Some of it gets done and some of it is forgotten a day later. I've found that the best way (for me) to implement the "to do" list that emerges out of readings is to create a mini-project or mini-experiment.

Second, I liked the early attention to individual learning in the book and the connection to organizational learning.  "Organizations cannot learn unless the individuals within them learn." (p. 3).  It sounds obvious but most of knowledge management ignores the individual aspects and goes directly to organizational level issues and strategies. I feel like a broken record about this.  How much have I actually done in my own professional practice to strengthen learning at all levels, including at the individual level?

TO DO
1. Apply the three reflection questions to any new book (or article, paper, etc....) I read from now on and document answers;

2. Identify instances where my individual learning has been effectively shared in a group setting to contribute to team or organizational knowledge;  (that can be done in a blog post)

3. Compile a list of  "To Do" items throughout this Book Challenge and post it with a record of actions taken in response.

Related Resources
  • See the Chapter Videos provided by the author if you don't have access to the full book or no time to read the full book.