Sunday, November 17, 2019

Exploring some Polarities in Knowledge Management

Once in a while, I come very close to reinventing the wheel.  The "wheel" I am creating is new to me, therefore it feels as if I am creating it.  Nothing is created in a vacuum, so this new wheel is just a repackaging of many different things that have accumulated and are getting connected in new ways in my mind.  The combination (C of the SECI model) leads to new insights.  The real aha! moments often come when I start sharing what seems like a new insight to me, with other people.  This week, as a result of doing this kind of "working out loud" sharing of half-baked thinking, I was introduced to the concept of polarities and polarity maps.  That has generated new thinking and has allowed me to reframe what I perceived as intractable problems.

The easiest polarity to understand is breathing.  We inhale and exhale in a continuous cycle.  Inhaling and exhaling are opposites and we need both.  Too much of one and the cycle stops, we stop breathing... that's not good.  Too much of the other and the same thing happens.  The challenge isn't to find a middle ground where the right amount of inhaling and exhaling is happening at the same time -- which is impossible --, the challenge is to manage the continuous cycle to avoid unnecessary extremes, to watch for warning signs that we've gone too far in one direction and take corrective action.  Luckily for us, breathing is on automatic pilot most of the time.

Once I understood the concept, the work-in-progress I had been doing (reinventing the wheel to some extent) acquired a new dimension, and it turned into the visual below:

This represents two different, yet interrelated polarities.  On both of these dimensions, it's not an an either/or choice.  Both are needed.  It's not one or the other, but it's not necessarily about finding the right balance and sticking to it because that wouldn't be very agile either.  It's about managing the cycle between the polarities because we are always in motion towards one or the other extremes and at any given time we may need a different mix rather than a constant middle ground.  The cycle isn't represented on this diagram.

There are tensions between focusing attention on the past by capturing knowledge from experience through lessons learned and the identification and dissemination of best practices on the one hand, versus focusing on creating new knowledge through innovation in order to address new and evolving challenges for which there is no experience to rely on. Without innovation, reliance on "old" knowledge will prevent the organization from staying competitive and addressing evolving challenges.  Without adequate traditional knowledge management focused on "old" knowledge, innovation will fail because it will become an exercise in reinventing the wheel, failing to use the organization's existing knowledge as a solid foundation for innovating. 

Another set of tensions is illustrated along the vertical axis.  External knowledge sharing (also referred to as outreach) is essential to ensure that the broader industry, including potential clients, are aware of the organization's capabilities and experience.  Yet there is very little to share externally without a solid foundation of internal knowledge management.  Alternatively, an exclusive focus on internal knowledge sharing would isolate the company from broader networks and interactions that are critical to sustained growth.

Before being introduced to polarities, I thought of these issues as pendulums going from one extreme to the other in a never-ending dance.   Now every problem appears to me as a polarity that needs to be managed.  Perhaps I'm going too far in that direction.  Not every problem is going to be a polarity.

Related resources to understand polarities:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Brainpickings - must read to recharge, reset, reframe

Once in a while I check some of the unread emails in my personal inbox and I am reminded to go read something, anything, on the Brain Pickings site.  This is so much better than cat videos on YouTube.  It fires up the neurons. It has a calming, reassuring effect.  It reminds me that some people still read, write and think.  It encourages me to seek out and keep up with that crowd regardless of the nonsense and chaos of the day.

Today following an email trail to the site, I ended up reading 13 Life-Learnings from 13 Years of Brain Pickings, which is full of things that resonated with me, including the following:

  • Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
  • Build pockets of stillness into your life (ride your bike going nowhere in particular)
  • Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work.
  • When people tell you who they are, believe them.  When people try to tell you who you are, don't believe them.  You are the only custodian of your own integrity.
  • Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.
A little dose of Brain Pickings could be my daily therapy, like my apple a day to keep the doctor away, but for the brain.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Questions to Ask When Starting a New Job

There was a very timely article by Michael Watkins in the Harvard Business Review a few days ago titled "Questions to Ask When Starting a New Job."

I decided to spend some time with the five key questions mentioned in the article and apply them to my context, which of course, turned into a map.  I have not yet started this job.  Therefore I anticipate that the map should evolve. In fact, I have a long list of questions ready to be asked and my plan is to continuously come up with new questions to feed a very hungry continuous learning plan.

If you've been here before, you know the drill, you can't read the map unless you open it in a different window.  Click on the map and the magic will happen.  

And I should revisit maps 28 and 29 which offered two visual approaches to "First 100-days on the job:  Map Your Experience, Optimize Your Learning." 

Fillip Consulting LLC - going dormant

Fillip Consulting, LLC is going dormant.  I will be busy operating within a much larger organization as a full-time employee.  This is a great opportunity to apply a wide range of skills and knowledge I have acquired over the past 20+ years.

I am keeping the site running mostly to keep the blog active and to keep the "Insight Mapping" component going.  That's one thread I can't imagine ever stopping for any reason.  I will therefore change the name of the page but keep the URL as is.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Sweet Spot of Conversation vs. the Job Interview

What do we mean by "the sweet spot"?

I've noticed the expression bubbling up in the past few weeks, both in conversations and perhaps because I felt in my own sweet spot.  As it percolated for a while I was interviewing for jobs.  I've always thought of job interviews as being in the hot seat, which is a very uncomfortable spot to be in, nothing sweet about it.... unless you are able to turn it into something else that puts you into your sweet spot.

There is nothing manipulative about it and the interviewers still get what they need, but instead of answering typical interview questions in a somewhat artificial manner, you anticipate what the questions are going to be and what the interviewers really need to know about you, and you gently lead a conversation that both allows you to give them the answers they need AND present you in a uniquely YOU fashion.  This is no longer an interview, this is you demonstrating how you interact and communicate with people, how you talk about the stuff you know (demonstrating your subject matter expertise).

If you hit the right spot early on, the interviewers start engaging at a deeper level.  They are no longer going through a checklist of questions they've prepared, they are engaging in a conversation with you.  You're not asking a question about company benefits, you are asking a question about something they just said about the company's organizational structure and you want to know how that affects the culture, etc...  You are not interested in the job per se, you are interested in helping them address a challenge, you are interested in the work to be done.  It's almost an initial consulting conversation where you want to understand what the client needs/wants and you want to demonstrate your capacity to help address that situation.

Forget the resume.  Don't tell them what's on the resume, show them how what's on the resume translates to a real person who communicates in a certain way and engages with people in a certain way, who knows her stuff but doesn't claim to know everything.  You can fake all kinds of answers to standard interview questions, but you can't fake an entire conversation, so they'll see the real you, which in the end, is where the sweet spot lies. Can you, in 60-90 minutes, reveal your sweet spot?

What does that have to do with Knowledge Management?

A job interview is an opportunity to sell yourself as a potential employee of the organization, to demonstrate your potential value to the organization.  Attending the KMI Showcase 2019 in the past couple of days, I was reminded of one of the key skills that Knowledge Management professionals need to develop, which is the ability to sell KM in many different ways, often without highly visible branding, even in stealth mode when needed.  That connected with what I've learned in the past decade of working almost exclusively on KM, the need for continuous conversations as the primary, most effective mechanism to sell KM and "educate" people about the value of KM.  Even in the online KM class I've taught, I'm convinced that 90% of the value for the students is in the conversations that happen in the discussion board, which I guide, gently but very actively.  Getting the students to engage early and in a sustained manner is critical, but they will do so only if they perceive value.  I discovered the same is true in a job interview, but within a more constrained timeline.  You need to get the interviewers to engage early and maintain that level of engagement through a productive dialogue.

Perhaps this is a good example of tacit knowledge I did not realize I had and only recognized as a useful insight after the fact, reflecting specifically on the last three interviews and related interactions I've had with potential employers.  Thinking back, this approach actually evolved over the last three interviews.  It was only intentional in the sense that I wanted some control over the interview process in order to feel more comfortable and I like to go in very prepared. 

So, how does one prepare for a conversation as opposed to preparing to answer questions?  I create maps.  These are essentially maps of the conversation I'm hoping to have, highlighting key things I'm hoping to say, but also questions I have.  Some parts of the map can even be shared with the interviewers if it helps start the conversation.  For example, I use three very simple maps to discuss the three stages of my career, as an alternative to going through my resume.

The mapping process helps me connect all kinds of different pieces of prior experience and accumulated knowledge.  Once I've made those connections not just in my head but visually on a map, I don't need to try to memorize anything.  The only thing I need to memorize is the same thing I would memorize for a speech. What's the first thing I want to say? What's the last thing I want to remember to say or ask? I want a clear plan for my opening and closing and then I can trust the map in my head to help me guide the conversation (or answer questions if the interviewers keep referring to their pre-planned questionnaire).

Now I'm wondering if I should try to apply this more generally to all critical meetings/conversations.  Even a KM pitch would be more powerful as a conversation than a one-way sales pitch.

All that being said, I remember a job interview long ago during which I said very little but listened very attentively and... I got the job. Either I got the job based on the resume or it was based on demonstrating good listening skills.  I'm not sure which one it was but the job turned into a wonderful professional experience.  That was also the first time I approached a job interview with a map to bypass or supplement the resume.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Developing a Learning Environment

This is a map that came out of some reflections based on the Modes of Learning MOOC I mentioned in another blog and how it intersected with some other aspect of work (or work aspirations). 

It made me realize how comfortable I am constructing these maps and then using them to talk for hours if I had to.  I should try doing an entire lecture for one of my courses from a map, with links and resources attached. This one is about creating an environment for highly distributed collective learning using both virtual and face-to-face learning "spaces".
Inspired by the IDEAL activity and the Modes of Learning MOOC.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Deliberate Learning

I came across a new term this week: Performance Adjacent Learning.  I'm not sure it's completely new and the idea behind it isn't completely new.  It appears that as the context for a particular discipline constantly evolves, with new technologies and associated changes, our vocabulary can become inadequate or insufficient.  My hypothesis is that this creates opportunities for the Subject Matter Experts who have a deep involvement in the topic to invent new terms to fill in the gaps in vocabulary.  Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it won't hold.  I can't tell if Performance Adjacent Learning is the next big thing as a term, but I can relate to the idea behind it.

In short (my interpretation), we need to pay more attention to learning that is happening "in the flow of work" as opposed to learning that happens outside of the work flow.  Learning that happens outside of the work flow can happen at work (corporate training for example) but it is typically separated from doing the work.  Even the learning that happens in the context of a Community of Practice, which is much more informal than traditional training, is not necessarily "in the flow of work" and while very useful overall, does not necessarily provide immediate support for the accomplishment of a work-related task.  CoPs could be an avenue for more Performance Adjacent Learning if they are structured for that.

This reminded me of a map I created a while ago about investing in your own learning (posted below).  When the topic of learning comes up, people's minds go into two primary directions:
  • What professional development courses am I taking or should I be taking this year?
  • What are the books / blogs and podcasts I should read or listen to to keep up with trends in my profession?
I suspect that most professional do not think in terms of learning in the flow of work and asking people to engage in self-reflection regarding their work experiences is not an option that will appeal to everyone. 

The map below was created in the context of a Toastmasters Speech during which I focused on the benefits of the 5-Hour Rule.  The 5-Hour Rule is a commitment to 5 hours of learning every week.  That has often been interpreted as 5 hours of reading, but I think that would not be optimal for everyone... and the average professional no longer reads full-length books.

The core message remains that we are all individually responsible for our own learning.  The 5-Hour Rule is not necessarily the right approach (at least not all the time) because it clearly separates the learning from doing.  However, to get the habit of learning started, it's a smart way to dedicate time to learning.  Once the habit of learning is established as a thinking habit more than a dedicated time, then it can be embedded into the workflow more easily.

The same is true for other habits.  Let's take exercise.  To commit to exercise and stick to that commitment, it may be worthwhile to establish a specific goal of a certain amount of time every week spent exercising.  Let's say 3 times a week for 30 minutes of running.  That's the equivalent of the 5-Hour Rule.  It's a set goal that's easily measurable and trackable.  Once you've established a certain level of fitness and comfort with physical activity, it is easy to switch from taking the car everywhere to biking or walking, for example.  Physical activity becomes embedded in the flow of life as opposed to the scheduled trip to the gym.

Click to open in new tab.

This idea of embedding rather than separating activities is also something I have tried to work on within Knowledge Management by arguing that Knowledge Management needs to be embedded in the flow of work so that it is not limited to 1) a lessons learned exercise at the end of a project or activity; 2) the responsibility of the KM office or lone Knowledge Manager.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Distributed Learning - Individual and Collective

I have been participating in a MOOC on a French MOOC platform called FUN.  I've done MOOCs on that platform in the past and it helps me practice my French in useful educational contexts.  This current MOOC is called "Leaders of Learning: Les pilotes du changement."  It's a collaboration between Harvard X and a French institution and the main lectures and materials are clearly from Harvard, in English, while the course has been adapted to include instructions, quizzes, writing prompts and discussions in French. It's an interesting blend.  Usually I don't like mixing the two languages because I find it more taxing on brain cells to be constantly switching but I've been using my French language skills more in the past few months and I've noticed that I no longer notice the switch.  It just happens unconsciously.

That was a digression.  I really want to talk about the meat of the course, which is a "Modes of Learning" framework developed by Professor Elmore from Harvard University

The framework presents four quadrants.  The top two are about individual learning and the bottom two are about collective learning.  The two quadrants on the left are about hierarchical learning and the two quadrants on the right are about distributed learning.  The two distributed learning quadrants are the modes of learning I am most interested in because they correspond better to adult learning situations. 

Individual distributed learning is typical of the modern adult learner who is very self-directed, motivated to learn and relatively knowledgeable about how to identify what they want to learn, define how they are going to learn it just go learn.  This does not mean that they necessarily learn alone.  It is "distributed" learning because the self-directed learner will find individuals with similar interests to connect and learn with as well as mentors and subject-matter experts to tap into.  In an organizational context, there is a need for L&D departments to pay more attention to this distributed learning and Performance Adjacent Learning (just learned this term, had to use it) and focus less on formal, individual hierarchical learning which happens in the context of traditional training programs taught by Subject Matter Experts.

Collective distributed learning is found in the context of Communities of Practice where there is a common goal and a sense of community.  Learning is not just in the service of the individual but rather in the service of the community as a whole.  This type of learning is also very important within organizations to help address issues related to organizational memory and knowledge sharing in the context of Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning initiatives. 

There is a short piece of dialogue I regularly see posted on LinkedIn.  It goes like this:

- What if we train our employees and they leave?
To which someone answers.
- What if we don't train them and they stay?

I would change the wording to something closer to learning rather than training. 

- What if we encourage our employees to learn and they leave?
- What if we discourage learning and they stay?

The smarter approach is to encourage employees to learn both individually in a distributed learning mode that would address personal incentives and motivations for learning AND encourage them to participate in collective distributed learning so that even if they leave, they have been sharing their knowledge on an ongoing basis with their peers.  I would love to find an example of an organization that has successfully combined an L&D-driven approach to individual distributed learning with a KM-driven approach to collective distributed learning.

My UMUC Knowledge Management students are dealing with the issue of organizational memory this week, thinking about ways to prevent knowledge from getting out the door when employees retire or go work for the competition.  While the first reaction is always to say that we need to "capture" their knowledge before the employees leave, I always try to push for a broader, more long-term approach that encourages knowledge sharing approaches that ensure that when someone is getting ready to leave, they have already shared what they know through Communities of Practice, mentoring, apprenticeships, shadowing, storytelling and knowledge sharing workshops for example. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Bridging the Gap Between Individual Learning and Team Learning (in practice)

At the core of what I do is the concept of LEARNING. I work both with individuals in the context of formal and more informal classes, and I work with teams.

In the classes I teach, it doesn't matter how much I've taught the students.  What really matters is how much the students have learned.  It's the difference between measuring activities (my teaching) and keeping an eye on results (what they've learned) or even impacts (what are they doing with what they've learned).

There is nothing more rewarding than a student who tells me at some point in the course that they've done something different as a result of what they've learned in the course.  It makes all the grading headaches vanish. Perhaps they've had a conversation with a colleague or they suggested a new way to do things at work. Sometimes it's a simple impact in their personal / family life. They've realized that Knowledge Management principles can be applied to many aspects of their life.

Too often, our modes of teaching are geared towards making students "study" rather than "learn."  After years of studying in traditional educational environments, they are not prepared to learn in the workplace.  Professional development in a workplace environment is still primarily a matter of attending a conference or signing up for a class to get one more certification or some kind of electronic badge in recognition for participation in some form of training.

As a result, many professionals fail to fully leverage the power of learning to enhance their careers and their lives in general.  They fail to do so as individuals and they find it difficult to do so in a group or team context.

Traditional studying and classroom-based learning do not emphasize learning from our mistakes -- or even from our successes.  When the goal is to pass the test, students learn to pass the test, not to master the content that was on the test.  The equivalent in the workplace, in the absence of regular testing of acquired competencies, is the traditional annual performance review.  The goal, in this context, becomes making sure to impress one's supervisor with how well we've done in the past year to ensure that we do not get penalized with a lower raise than our peers (or no raise at all).  Where is the incentive there to reflect on what we did not do so well, what we struggled with?  Where is the incentive to learn and grow?

How can we get past these learning challenges at the individual level and ensure some enhanced learning within a team?

Here are some simple, practical ideas:
  • Stop treating individual learning and team learning as so separate and distinct that they are handled by different departments (HR, KM/Business units). 
    See "From Individual to Team Learning."
  • Help individuals reflect on their individual lessons and bring those individual lessons to the group in a safe environment.  Writing a lesson learned sounds like a simple exercise on the surface but writing a useful lesson requires more work.
  • Help the group think of group learning not just in terms of the aggregation of the lessons of individuals within the group, but learning that applies to the entire group.  There is always an "I" and a "WE" in groups. Neither should be ignored.
  • Discuss the issue of lesson ownership at the individual level and at the group level.
    See "The Ownership of Lessons."

Related Posts on this Site:


Ask about my newest course offered through George Mason University's Executive and Professional Education Program (and through corporate training programs): Knowledge Management in Project Environments.  The course touches on a lot of issues related to team learning.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Never too early for KM

It's never too early to develop good knowledge Management habits. 

Read more on the KANAVA International website.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The Evolving Taxonomy in Our Brain

Our brains appear to work with a constantly evolving taxonomy in place to help us make sense of the information we encounter.  Here is an example to illustrate what I mean:

I have been developing a new course on Knowledge Management for Project Managers.  In the process of developing course materials, I am reviewing a large amount of materials, anything from academic articles to infographics.  The volume of materials can easily become overwhelming, but I have a couple of things in place to help me chunk it into manageable pieces.  First, I have a course outline with four modules, each of which covers a specific theme and each theme has several sub-topics.  This organization helps me put resources I encounter into the module buckets both.  This happens either when I drag and drop into a folder assigned to a specific module, when I cut and paste a citation into a document as a reminder to use it later, or when I save a resource in my Diigo social bookmarks collection and tag it appropriately.

This morning, as I scrolled through my tweeter feed, I came across two familiar names, which probably got my attention:  Helen Blunden tweeting something which turned out to be from Nick Milton's site.

It was something about the terms "knowledge sharing" vs. "knowledge management."  Three months ago (before I started working on this new course), this would also have caught my attention but not in the way it did now.  Three months ago, my reaction would have been, "here's another discussion about avoiding the term knowledge management."

Today, I reacted with the following stream of consciousness:
"No, you can't use the term 'knowledge sharing' to replace 'knowledge management' because knowledge sharing is only one component of the knowledge management cycle.  That's that's in Module 1, Part 3.  Do I want to add this as a link in the resources for that module?  Should I just tag it in my Diigo collection?  Can I turn it into an interactive piece within the video lecture by turning it into a question for the course participants?"
In other words, I'm encountering some information and I immediately, almost automatically analyze it and manipulate it in the context of my current brain taxonomy which is entirely made up of 4 course modules and a dozen sub-topics.  This currently dominant taxonomy in my brain doesn't replace anything that was there before.  It temporarily supersedes AND complements existing ways of organizing all these resources related to Knowledge Management.  This entire past year has been heavily focused on teaching Knowledge Management in various formats and to different audiences, which required a lot of digging into materials and figuring out ways to re-purpose and use these resources.

Does this matter at all?  Is that not just part of my mental framework?  How flexible are our mental frameworks?  Can we change how we see the world by adopting new "taxonomies"?  Can we do this purposefully?  Is there any benefit to being aware of our own taxonomies?  Am I just misusing the term "taxonomy" when I should be saying "________"?

As is often the case, this post is a bunch of half-baked thoughts.  It started as a little insight and turned into a half-baked thought when I actually took the time to write it down -- that's codification, explicit knowledge, which is in Module 1, Video Lecture 1 -- see, I'm doing it again, associating every KM-related thought with the course framework.