Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Knowledge Management in the Remote or Hybrid Workplace - Why the confusion around which tool to use?

There is no denying that remote and hybrid work is changing the way we work.  For many organizations, the COVID pandemic forced a rapid evolution of technologies enabling communications and collaboration.  For the most part, the technologies existed already, but they were slowly gaining ground in organizations.  COVID forced a rapid adoption process. Rapid adoption of a myriad new tools also resulted in added confusion.

The majority of the new tools are user-friendly.  On their own, they do not require training per se.  Even the more advanced virtual collaboration tools like Miro, SpatialChat or metaverse environments can be used with minimal guidance. The only caveat is that unless these new tools are used regularly and embedded in daily routines, there is a small re-learning curve.

A few thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Face-to-face meetings remain important to allow for informal, natural conversations, watercooler conversations.
  • People are more likely to connect meaningfully online if they have met in person
  • Different types of "meetings", different types of conversations.  
  • Renewed emphasis on conversations and conversational leadership as essential to organizational well-being. 
  • Context switching and loss of productivity are related to the need to adjust our time management strategies to new tools.
  • Confusion about where something was shared, can't find it across tools/systems are often related to the lack of content management governance and guidance.
Too many tools for communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing.
For individuals, it may not just be the number of tools to use at work that creates a sense of confusion, but the combination of personal and employer-related tools.  

  • If you are self-employed and work with multiple, regularly changing clients, or you have a volunteer or side occupation, you can multiple the total number of tools.  
  • Add a couple of generations of family members with their own preferences for specific tools and you have chaos. 
  • At this point it does not matter that all the tools are accessible on your smart phone. 

Is it about managing tools or managing time?
Knowledge management requires time to think, time to reflect.  Having a good handle on time management could be a prerequisite for effective knowledge management.  

  • Collaboration overload:  too many meetings; revisit time management basics to include a greater understanding of  best practice for collaboration/communication tools. 
The re-emergence of communication skills
We all need to re-learn communication skills as the necessary foundation for making effective use of communications and collaboration tools.  Think about audience, channel, message, and the rest will follow, the choice of tool will be clear -- most of the time.

Audience: who needs to know; who could be interested?
    • Team or work group
    • Interest group or community of practice
      CoP are a focus of KM practice, but not all organizations have CoPs, not all organizations are large enough to have internal CoPs, and a lot of knowledge is transferred outside of a CoP framework.
    • Role-based membership: Potentially very important to share good practices.
    • Organizational unit
    • All company
    • A few colleagues
Purpose / message
  • Intent of the communication: Inform; Inquire; Request; Action required
  • Intent of the meeting/gathering; Inform/update, with or without opportunity to ask questions; Discuss to build common understanding and/or consensus; Brainstorm; Community building/social gathering; Assessment (interview)
Channel / Tools
  • Email (one-to-one, one-to-multiple, listserv) - Asynchronous
  • Chat (Teams chat, Slack, Skype) (close to synchronous)
  • Enterprise social network (Yammer) - asynchronous
  • Calls (phone, video calls w/ screen sharing and chat; Zoom, Teams meetings)
  • Specialized tools (Miro, SpatialChat)
Some habits are hard to break: For some people, the shift from email communications using listserv (one to many without interactivity) to enterprise social network (ESN) communications (one to many with opportunity to interact not just with the sender but with everyone) has been difficult. 

Letting go of control:  To address information overload, many of the newer tools have "opt-in" functionalities.  Whereas in the past, an employee may have automatically been added to a listserv based on perceived need for the information, the same information posted on an ESN may require the same employee to "opt in" to receive updates.  There is no doubt that for internal communications professionals, the communications ecosystem has become more complex.  If you want to make sure that the right people get your message via Yammer, an admin can post an announcement and force Yammer communications to email inbox.  Yes, but what happens if someone created an email inbox rule that automatically moves Yammer messages to a folder they never look at. Technically, that can happen with any email, so it's not a new problem. Employees will ignore emails as they see fit. 

Why is this relevant for Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management as all about "collecting and connecting".  To simplify, document repositories are tools to "collect knowledge" and collaboration/communication tools help to connect people.  A collaboration platform will typically combine collecting and connecting.  The challenge comes in when employees find multiple tools available both for connecting and collecting, becoming unsure about where different aspects of their work needs to take place.  Knowledge Management is about how the work gets done, hopefully without unnecessary confusion. 

Some thoughts to consider: 
  • More efficient use of communications and collaboration tools potentially frees up time for deeper reflection, more intentional conversations and knowledge sharing;

  • A significant amount of knowledge transfer occurs via formal and informal communications and not just formal AAR or lessons learned meetings.

  • Employee collaboration burnout and confusion around collaboration tools is an obstacle to knowledge sharing in the flow of work.  It is also an obstacle to employee engagement.  Disengaged employees don't share knowledge. Optimal engagement is balanced engagement.

  • Building a learning organization, an organization with a knowledge sharing culture, requires a foundation of employee engagement/ goes hand-in-hand with balanced employee engagement.
Related Resources

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Skills Building and Knowledge Management. Is there a connection?

I was reading something in my LinkedIn feed about the premium put on skills (vs. academic pedigree) in the current job market.  There is nothing new about the fact that employers want employees who know how to do things rather than employees with a lot of book knowledge and limited experience in how to apply that knowledge.  There is also something inevitable about new generations of employees lacking experience in applying knowledge and needing to acquire "know how" since most of that valuable knowledge is acquired through... experience.  Employers want some specific technical skills, but they also want everyone to have the necessary soft skills to operate effectively in the organization.  

This may be a case of hammer looking for nails, but what if we were to consider Knowledge Management as a possible solution?  Even if KM is not a direct solution to the skills issue, let's consider the connections.

What are the top soft skills required by employers and how are they connected to Knowledge Management?

  • Cognitive skills (critical thinking, analytical thinking, sense making):  Critical thinking is the process of analyzing a problem, situation or issue based on evidence and relevant information.  It is also about sense making, interpreting information to make better decisions.  A Knowledge Management initiative typically makes assumptions about employees' cognitive skills.  It would not hurt to revisit those assumptions.  When employees don't have time to think, they cannot engage in knowledge management. When knowledge management is prioritized, employees make time for thinking, whether through individual or team reflection activities for example. 

  • Interpersonal skills, teamwork and collaboration:  Whether through communities of practice (CoP) or task-based teams, employees need to develop the skills needed to interact with each other to get the job done.  A knowledge management program with a strong component focused on connecting people can support social learning, strengthening individual skills and contributing to a collaborative organizational culture. Many job-specific skills can be practiced in the safe environment provided by a CoP. 

  • Oral and written communications skills:  Having access to an endless flow of information in our modern digital workplaces makes it critical to develop the ability to understand, analyze and synthesize information to share and present in different ways. Managing information flows is critical.  The educational system teaches how to create summaries or books and other materials.  Synthesizing for action in a workplace context requires some adjustment.  Knowledge Management initiatives can help employees learn by doing, engaging employees (not just KM staff) in synthesizing activities, whether through oral presentations or in writing.  New communication channels (including internal enterprise social networks) provide great opportunities for everyone to practice writing succinct, yet powerful messages that can potentially influence many across an organization, helping to build internal thought leadership.

  • Agility:  Learning and growth mindset, adaptability, coping with uncertainty.  When knowledge management is understood as facilitating dynamic knowledge flows, it is well aligned with an agile organizational culture where expertise is valued but new knowledge is constantly emerging and innovation is perhaps valued more than the strict application of lessons learned from the past which may or may not be applicable in the present and future.  This leads back to the continued importance of critical thinking as THE skill that will always be needed... especially in a context where advanced in AI/ML are often presented as miracle solutions.   

It seems I am arguing that Knowledge Management programs can help build critical soft skills within organizations.  That sounds obvious but I'm not sure it has been argued this way before.  I've read many more papers and blogs about the skills needed for knowledge management implementation.  This is looking at skills via a different lens, suggesting that Knowledge Management helps develop the skills. 

Related paper:  Linking Critical Thinking and Knowledge Management:  A Conceptual Analysis, Sustainability, 2021, 13(3). February 2021. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

From "Yammer vs. Teams" to Yammer in Teams

I have managed an internal Enterprise Yammer network for the past three years.  It has been an interesting evolution, both in terms of the maturity of our network but also the constant "upgrades" brought on by Microsoft.  

Adaptability is becoming an ongoing theme.  There is no point in complaining about constant change.  Constant change is part of the new normal. Change has always been "normal".  The new normal involves more rapid change.  Three years of rapid change feels like an eternity.

We re-started in 2019 with an underutilized Yammer network. While Yammer was technically available to staff since 2016, it had been launched in a meaningful way.  The new corporate strategic plan launched in 2019 created new opportunities to leverage Yammer and engage our global workforce more effectively.

And yes, we immediately encountered the confusion and at time frustration that employees felt with the multiplication of tools for collaboration and communications.  In particular, it wasn't always clear why people should use Yammer when Teams seemed to be the way to collaborate.  By the time COVID-19 sent everyone to work from home, Teams was where people worked with their immediate colleagues, and Yammer became the place where you could share much more broadly and keep up with corporate events even if you were not in the office.  That was what I was saying to anyone who would listen but it took a while to sink in.

As of the end of 2022, there are still a few who think Yammer is a waste of their time and prefer to use other tools (beyond Teams). However, a number of factors have helped us get in the right direction in terms of finding the right balance between Yammer and Teams.

1. Leadership Support: Yammer has had strong support from the very top of the organization to move from corporate emails that went to everyone to Yammer announcements in the All Company community.  This has led to a significant reduction in corporate communications via email listservs and created more opportunities for staff to engage with leadership in Yammer.  Leadership engagement in Yammer is critical and it should be several layers deep.  

2. Communications and guidance around what to use for different purposes. When should you post in Yammer vs. in Teams.  In addition to general communications via internal blog posts and in Yammer, it became critical to control both the proliferation of Teams sites and Yammer communities.  Additional governance was put in place first to control the creation of Teams site, and later, the creation of Yammer communities.  The added burden on IT was well worth it because it created opportunities to redirect people to the appropriate platform when IT received requests for either of the tools.  This was also facilitated by the fact that with the exception of a few early communities that remained closed, the relaunch of Yammer in 2019 was based on the assumption that all new communities would be fully open.  There was no rationale for closed communities in Yammer.

There are still legacy instances of Teams sites that should have been created as Yammer communities.  In most cases, these were created by people who specifically wanted a closed group approach. However, it goes counter to the corporate approach of having open, accessible conversations to harness collective knowledge.

3. Integration of Yammer in Teams. Yammer communities in Teams (when it was still called the "communities" app) were not as functional as the Yammer app itself, but they provided another way to access Yammer without leaving Teams.  Once the Communities app was replaced by Viva Engage, it became clear that for most staff who did not already visit Yammer regularly, the Viva Engage app in Teams would be an opportunity to engage more often.  Only, several challenges emerged around the same time:
  • Notifications changed.  Announcements no longer automatically went to all community members' email inbox.  The community admins must specifically select "send to all" every time if they want to make sure all community members see the announcement as an email. 
  • Notifications in the Teams feed only cover announcements.  People need to understand the full set of notifications (in Yammer) to get the specific highlights they want either as email notifications or in a more limited manner, in Teams. 
  • Announcements became overused as the primary mechanism for getting "views" on messages and the great majority of posts became announcements.  These generated reactions, but very limited engagement in the form of comments or replies. The Yammer network was turning into just another channel for corporate communications, displacing email announcements via listservs but not really creating engagement.
Status update as of mid-November 2022:
  • We are seeing increased active engagement (posts) in the All Company community.  This is very encouraging because these posts come in two varieties:  1) engagement with polls and questions that are tied to corporate campaigns and posted by corporate leaders; 2) posts by project leaders describing project activities, progress, success stories.  It is particularly encouraging to see the number of views and level of engagement with posts in the All Company that are NOT posted as announcements.  
  • Smaller, topic-specific communities are not experiencing this increased engagement.  This is partly due to lack of active community management.
  • New Features:  I am still somewhat hesitant to launch Storylines and Stories.  There is no added cost but launching these two new functionalities in Viva Engage would create added complexity in terms of communications.  We need to rationalize these additional tools based on existing and emerging corporate strategic plans (and say "no" or delay as needed).  In addition, without being able to test/pilot with a smaller group, we will inevitably be very reactive in our communications, addressing questions and concerns as they are experienced.  We can also wait for other organizations to launch and look out for their immediate lessons.

    Caveat:  There is a broader layer of project communications that happens completely outside of my purview. Therefore I am only seeing a narrow slither of our internal communications.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Some Thoughts about the Wisdom at the Top of the DIKW Hierarchy

The Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom hierarchy, sometimes called the DIKW pyramid, is a model originating in information science that is commonly used in Knowledge Management.  It has been critiqued before (1) and that is not my intent here.  I still find it relevant and useful as a trigger for deeper thinking and conversations. As a side note, the original model is a simple triangle, not a pyramid.  

In my recent adaptations of the DIKW hierarchy/triangle, which I have transformed into a more complex pyramid model with a base, edges and multiple faces representing different aspects of an organization's knowledge ecosystem (more about that in a future post, perhaps), I have dismissed wisdom and replaced it with innovation.  I had some reasons for doing that but I am now reconsidering and trying to find a way to re-inject some wisdom in the model.  

While attending this year's KMWorld conference, which is heavily focused on the data and information layers of the hierarchy or the bottom of the pyramid, I only heard the word wisdom once.  It was in the last keynote panel and not surprisingly (2), it was brought up by Larry Prusak who joined via a remote connection.  That is what brought me to reconsider my dismissal of wisdom.  

I would rather inject wisdom throughout the model than have wisdom as an outcome or ultimate level in the hierarchy. We certainly need wisdom to address the challenges of the data and information layers of this hierarchy.  Lots of people are becoming very knowledgeable about AI. Do they all have the wisdom necessary to apply AI?  Is there a mandatory course on the wisdom of AI in Data and Information Science academic programs?  Is there a course on wisdom in KM academic programs?  I have not addressed it in any substantive manner in my own teaching of KM (3) and that could be a gap to fill.  

If knowledge is the capacity for effective action, wisdom brings in the notion of sound judgment in the application of that knowledge.  For example, I may have knowledge of physical techniques to disable someone which I have learned in a self-defense class and that gives me the capacity for effective action.  If I have enough wisdom to accompany that knowledge, I should have enough good judgement to know when to run away and when to stand my grounds and fight (something like that).

If talking about knowledge in a way that clearly differentiates it from information is already a challenge in organizations, talking about wisdom further elevates the challenge, especially if conversations around profits and bottom lines are the dominant narrative.  However, I have also found that as long as the conversation provides some value and is perceived as insightful to the participants, all is not lost even if it doesn't immediately address a corporate challenge that is top of mind for corporate leaders. There is a time and place for these conversations. Serendipity also plays a role.

As a result, I am on a quest to find ways to inject wisdom into conversations or perhaps just to have conversations about the role of wisdom in organizations.  How can I seed conversations around wisdom? How do I connect these conversations to a sense of WIIFM (what's in it for me?) so that it's not an impractical philosophical discussion.  It could very well be that it connects to employee engagement and wellbeing, a sense of belonging to a community that cares beyond the bottom line.  Wisdom is about doing the right thing, working towards the greater good.

There is another term I am trying to use more:  collective intelligence. I'm wondering here if I'm not using the word "intelligence" in "collective intelligence" to mean the same thing as wisdom.   However, if I say "collective wisdom", I don't want it to be confused with the wisdom of the crowd. There is a place for the wisdom of the crowd but if the wisdom of the crowd is the folksonomy, collective intelligence is the ontology and I am more interested in the ontology.  And finally, here is an adjacent question:  Is there a difference between a smart organization and a wise organization?

One aspect of collective intelligence is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As individual employees, we cannot know or do as much with our individual knowledge as we can as a collective.  The collective intelligence of John and Jane (John/Jane) is bigger than the the sum of John and Jane's knowledge (John + Jane).  When John and Jane collaborate, they unleash new capacities for collective action.  When John and Jane collaborate, do they also become wiser?  What's the connection between collaboration and wisdom or doing the right thing?

The leap or missing piece between the capacity for effective action and the wisdom to activate that capacity at the right time and in the right place seems to be "agency".  More about that in a future post perhaps. 

(1) Weinberger, D. (2010). The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy. Harvard Business Review.

(2) APQC (2015). Big Thinkers. Big Ideas:  Larry Prusak  -- practical wisdom.

(3) George Mason University, Organization Development and Knowledge Management Program, Knowledge Management and Collaborative Work.  Syllabus, Fall 2022

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

An Ecosystem Approach to Blend Learning and Systems

In the previous blog post, I touched on the need to blend systems and learning for a successful Knowledge Management program.  When I teach Knowledge Management, I talk a lot about methods, tools, approaches and the like, but in the real world of KM in organizations, there are very few people who speak that language, so the KM practitioner needs to work with practical examples, preferably focusing on processes that have an immediate and clear impact on the business' performance. 

Here is a task example:  

Jane is a relatively new employee. She is climbing the learning curve really fast, with some help.  She is working on a proposal team and she has been given the task of writing the past experience section.  She has never done this task before.  She needs to find information about relevant company past experience that can be used in the proposal. She has been given some general advice about where to look (past proposals, the repository of project documents, etc...) and the names of a couple of past projects and proposals she should look up because they are likely to be relevant.

This is not a simple task of retrieving some existing documents and doing a cut-and-paste job.  It requires some understanding of the proposal itself to transform existing information into an accurate, yet tailored rewriting to meet the specific needs of the proposal.

In the process of completing this task, Jane will gain valuable experience in at least three key areas:

  • Searching company databases
  • Combining/recombining information to create a new, tailored version of that information
  • Receiving and integrating feedback from proposal team members

Assuming well organized Knowledge Management systems, Jane will be able to spend a limited amount of time locating and retrieving relevant documents from the databases, and more time applying critical thinking to create the tailored version of the document.  

Assuming a learning-driven organization, Jane will optimize her learning by a) attending training for this  task (if available) and/or reviewing existing written guidance for this task as soon as he/she is given the task; b) receiving the support of a task-specific mentor throughout the process; c) reflecting in action; d) reflecting on action. 

Reflecting in action might mean that while Jane is search for a past proposal, she comes across another proposal that looks similar and might also be of interest. She pauses briefly and realizes that the proposal team lead who gave her the list of other proposals to look up may not be aware of this information she has come across.  She needs to decide whether to stick to what she has been asked to focus on or dig a little deeper into what she has come across.  Reflection in action may result in a quick insight that results in a slight change in direction, a decision made while she is completing the task.

Reflecting on action happens after the task has been completed and allows a look back to reflect on what has already happened and what could have been done differently.  In a learning-driven organization Jane will participate in the proposal team debrief of After Action Review (AAR), which will cover the entire proposal process. However, there is a lot that Jane can learn about her own task and how she handled it that will not necessarily be discussed in the team debrief. If Jane didn't realize that other projects might be relevant while she was gathering information (during the action), she might have that insight when she pauses to reflect after the action, perhaps in preparation for her participation in the team debrief.  

Assuming the proposal team debriefs are done consistently across the organization, the collection of debrief notes is a gold mine for analysis, to identify pain points and improve processes, existing guidance documents, and training, and continuously update information found in the "systems".  In most cases, systems are not self-sufficient and do not update themselves automatically with fresh information.  Jane, or someone on the proposal team, is going to be responsible for uploading the final version of the proposal and past experience section to the appropriate repository and add the necessary metadata according to a well-thought out taxonomy.  

Assuming Jane brings up her insight about other projects to the team debrief, it might be added as a good practice in the existing guidance.  It could be integrated as guidance to the proposal lead:  When guiding the past experience writer to specific projects and proposals, don't limit yourself to projects and proposals you know personally.  And it could be integrated as guidance for the past experience writer to "use best judgement when looking up information and don't limit yourself to the proposals and projects you have been told to look up."  

We want information to be available at the click of a button.  That gives us more time for processing that information, applying critical thinking and transforming information into actionable knowledge.  Most of the technology we use today to help organize our information so that it is easily accessible is helping with efficiency and speed in retrieval.  The technology does not do the thinking for us.  With AI and machine learning, some of that initial thinking, parsing and filtering of information sources will be more automated. 

Continuing with Jane's task example,  the proposal lead and others on the team may guide Jane towards specific existing proposals or projects that are likely to be relevant to the task.  These recommendations are based on one or two individuals' knowledge of prior projects and proposals.  In a larger organization, that could be very incomplete knowledge.  There is significant potential for missing out on relevant information.  Jane, during the search of the databases could encounter new information, but it would be totally dependent on her to engage in reflection in action and to pro-actively bring it up to the team.  That simple action will be dependent on the organizational culture and psychological safety the team.  Proposal teams can be high pressure, and even if the organizational culture promotes psychological safety, there can be subcultures that are more intimidating.

In the near future, the organization could use AI and Machine Learning to efficiently and automatically read the RFP, identify key components, then search the company's databases for all the relevant documents, and either spit out a list of all documents, sorted by relevance, or even draft a summary of the information that could serve as Jane's first draft.  Obviously, there is still need for a human applying critical thinking to decide how to adjust this first draft, but over time, assuming machine learning works as it should, the first drafts would become better and better.  The AI might even learn the organization's writing style if it is given training data based on the organization's existing materials.

Jane's task was relatively simple, yet exposed many connections between people and systems.  Expanding the task to the broader proposal process would expose hundreds of tasks and associated connections between systems and the people who maintain and use them.  And the proposal process is not totally isolated from the rest of the organization since as we saw from Jane's task, it is connected to past project experience and organizational knowledge. There is a broader, dynamic organization learning ecosystem.

All this requires a comprehensive framework for thinking through the tasks that Jane and other employees across the organization have to complete, establishing clear processes, defining roles and responsibilities, setting up user-friendly, integrated systems, and an overall governance that allows for seamless embedding of learning processes and systems. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Three Recent KM Books => two different approaches to Knowledge Management

I don't read a lot of books anymore.  Shame on me!  Still, I invested in three knowledge management books in 2022:
  • Design Knowledge Management System: A Practical Guide for Implementing ISO30401 KMS Standard, by Shanthosh Shekar

  • The Learning-Driven Business: How to Develop and Organizational Learning Ecosystem, by Alaa Garad and Jeff Gold.  

  • Making Knowledge Management Clickable: Knowledge Management Systems Strategy, Design, and Implementation, by Joseph Hilger and Zachary Wahl.
This post will focus on the last two listed above.  When I first scanned through Design Knowledge Management Systems, I found it difficult to absorb and I didn't give it a solid chance.  I will have to try again. 

I just received The Learning-Driven Business and suddenly and I had a aha! moment, an insight.  The Learning-Driven Business and Making Knowledge Management Clickable are two completely different books and reading them, one might think that they take diametrically opposite views on Knowledge Management or that they cannot possibly both be about Knowledge Management.  

The Learning-Driven Business is focused on how people learn in organizations, whether at the individual level, in teams, or at the organizational level.   Making Knowledge Management Clickable is about the systems that need to be put in place in a modern, efficient organization, so that employees don't waste their time looking for knowledge and find what they need faster. I'm oversimplifying. Neither approaches is simple or easy to implement well. To oversimplify even further, I could say that one is about systems (understood primarily as technology) and the other is about people.  

Two insights:

1. Find the Balance:  A successful Knowledge Management program must find the right balance between those two approaches.  This is not news or a new insight, but somehow organizations often don't get this right.  Any organization that focuses on the systems will soon discover that without a culture of learning and embedded learning processes, the systems will be underutilized (and then the technology will be blamed and the organization will seek to replace the technology... just to repeat that mistake). Any organization that focuses on learning without addressing the inefficiency of its systems will struggle to find the time for learn.

For example, the less time is wasted looking for information, the more time is available for critical thinking, reflection, team learning, etc... However, without a culture of learning and learning processes in place, the time saved with efficient systems isn't necessarily spent on learning.

2. Blend and Integrate:
  Before trying to figure out what the appropriate balance is between the two approaches, how can we think about how the two are connected? Perhaps the answer is not in the ratio of one approach vs. the other but more in carefully embedding both approaches in a coherent framework and understanding how they interact and reinforce each other. Perhaps an ecosystem approach or a systems thinking approach is warranted.  This is also relevant when the organization discovers that however efficient individual "systems" are, they are not well integrated and require employees to waste time switching from one system to the other. 

In the next blog post, I will explore these issues with a realistic, practical example with a specific process.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Perennial Questions in Knowledge Management

Anyone who has worked in or around Knowledge Management for a while has encountered the perennial questions.  Perennial questions are like perennial plants, they keep coming back.   These perennial questions around KM keep coming back because they are the wrong questions or they are questions for which there are no clear answers and the best answer is "it depends".

Here are two of these questions?

Is Knowledge Management dead, dying, being revived?  None of the above.  I would rather ask "What's happening in KM?"  It's constantly evolving to adapt to changes in the environment and in particular, to adapt to technology changes. The fundamentals of Knowledge Management are not changing and need to be brought back to the surface regularly. To some extent, technology is evolving to respond to new challenges brought about by technology advances.  We now have access to so much data and information that we need new technologies to process the data and information to use them.

Where does Knowledge Management belong in the organization?  The typical answer to this question is "it depends", as long as it's not in IT.  Based on my own experience, this is a question that cannot yield a complete answer unless it is asked slightly differently.  It also depends on what the top level of KM is?  If the top KM position is a relatively low level position, it won't matter where it is in the organization, it is buried.  Another aspect to this topic is the KM office/team's ability to work collaboratively with other key departments across the organization.  This may depend on the processes for strategic planning and annual work planning.  Organizational boundaries can become an obstacle to the development of a coherent comprehensive organizational framework for KM.   Therefore, to succeed, the KM team needs to be positioned such that a) its focus is strongly aligned with organizational strategies; b) its highest level staff is able to influence strategic decision making; c) organizational processes allow the KM team to work/collaborate across organizational boundaries. 

A related recent blog post from Enterprise Knowledge:  Where does KM leadership and governance belong (9/9/2022). 

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Insight Management vs. Knowledge Management

I wrote about insight mapping in the previous blog because I came across the Insight Management Academy (IMA) website.  I was looking up "insight management". 

In some ways, insight management looks very much like Knowledge Management. In fact, I came across some definitions of insight management that were literally well-accepted definitions of knowledge management. 

If I were to try to explain the difference, I would say that insight management is a form of knowledge management that is very market-oriented, future-oriented, or forward looking. While Knowledge Management can take on many different forms in an organization, insight management is more focused. 

It is not focused on lessons learned or best practices.  It is looking at the latest, most relevant data and information available in the market and internally to make decisions; it is looking to innovate and bring new solutions to the market.  It is focused on competing ahead of the market.  It's asking "what are the solutions of tomorrow?" rather than "what has worked well in the past that we can repeat?" 

To say that insight management is not paying attention to lessons from the past is an exaggeration.  As a KM professional I do not mean to say that we should ignore lessons from the past.  Lessons learned should be a foundation, a starting point, but they are not enough and unless they are continuously updated, they become obsolete rather quickly.  For more on that point, "Best Practices are Stupid" is a good reminder that sticking with so called 'proven solutions' cannot lead to new solutions and new, evolving problems require new solutions.  

Thursday, October 06, 2022

What is Insight Mapping?

 Insight mapping is the title of this blog.  Why?  What does it really mean?

First, let me clarify that this blog, which started in 2003, was not always named "insight mapping".  It's been called insight mapping since around 2017 I believe.  I had been working on variations of concept maps which we called either knowledge maps or conversation maps.  These were visual representations of Pause and Learn conversations held for NASA teams.  The Pause and Learn is the NASA equivalent to an After-Action-Review in many ways, but the process of mapping these conversations was rather unique to the Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer at the Goddard Space Flight Center.  

I learned the approach from the CKO there, Dr. Ed Rogers.  Then I evolved the approach by turning collections of individual conversation maps into a web of maps and therefore, a collection of insights.  The conversation approach itself wasn't changed and the first step of the documentation of insights in maps wasn't changed, but the way maps were constructed to be more easily aggregated into a web of map was new.  

At the time, I struggled to stick to a single name for the maps.  They were based on the idea of concept mapping, but reflected the flow of conversation rather than concepts.  They key elements were the takeaways of the Pause and Learn session, embedded in all the relevant contextual information. The key takeaways were a mix of lessons, recommendations, and insights.  In truth, most takeaways, which were visually indicated on the map, were important insights but did not readily lend themselves to being captured as lessons or recommendations.

It is only when I left NASA and worked as a consultant for a while, having more time to work on this blog, that I called it Insight Mapping and decided to rename the blog after it.  The insight maps included in the map section are not NASA insight maps, they are little illustrations of individual maps. 

The value, however, was in having a large collection of maps and therefore a large collection of insights which were tagged based on an evolving taxonomy. Each emerging key topic would become its own map, gathering the [insert a topic] insights across 100s of maps. Thanks to a maze of hyperlinks embedded in the text of the individual insights, it was easy to maintain quick access to the context for an insight in the original conversation/insight map.  

Therefore, while the individual maps provided contextualized insights, the topic map provided insight into a topic by gathering all related insights into a single map.  

Conceptually, I still think this was very interesting.  In practice, the technology and level of effort involved in constructing the maps was just not sustainable and the skills were not easily transferable.  I suspect this could be revived with a different technological solution.  The concept of insight mapping and aggregating insights to generate valuable "insight" remains valid.

I was reminded of all this while listening to the Insight Management Academy (IMA) podcast: Transforming Insight. I just started the series.  The first podcast provides a useful definition of "insights" and "insight" .  Insight is the accumulated understanding built from many insights.  It's the bigger picture that emerges by connecting the dots, making the connections across hundreds or thousands of insights.  Individual insight maps highlight insights within the context in which they emerge.  Topic maps aggregate individual insights and make it possible to get "insight" into a topic.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

The brain, expertise, and knowledge management

The brain undergoes rewiring after 40. No kidding. I would hope that the brain is constantly rewiring, but over time, the nature of the rewiring changes as we age.  And the employees within an organization who have the most expertise are likely to be over 40, the people who have decades of work experience, decades worth of learning, whether they stayed in one industry, one company, or they diversified their experiences.  These are also in many cases the people who are in the higher levels of management, making decisions. 

I came across this article:  The Brain Undergoes a Great Rewiring after age 40:  The aging brain is wired differently.  

"University in Australia swept through the scientific literature, seeking to summarize how the connectivity of the human brain changes over our lifetimes. The gathered evidence suggests that in the fifth decade of life (that is, after a person turns 40), the brain starts to undergo a radical “rewiring” that results in diverse networks becoming more integrated and connected over the ensuing decades, with accompanying effects on cognition."  https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/great-brain-rewiring-after-age-40/

The younger brain is partitioned and highly connected within the partitions.  It is building specialized networks.  The older brain is more connected across networks.  In the fourth and fifth decade of life is when you have the greatest within network and across network connectivity.  

The rewired brain is a function of the overall body's need to adjust to declining functions.  The body slows down and the brain needs to adjust.  Of course, exercise and a healthy diet can help slow down the decline.  I would like to think that continuous use of one's brain for intellectual pursuits is key to maintaining brain cells to.  By "intellectual pursuits" I mean more than sudoku and crossword puzzles, though.  My aging brain wants to connect things. Here we go:

How can emerging knowledge of how our aging brains are rewired impact how we understand expertise and knowledge retention in organizations?

A good understanding of how those brain cells are being rewired might also help put the remaining brain cells to good use and seeing where there might be some advantage to a widely-networked brain. In other words, while accepting the fact that one's brain is changing and decline is somewhat inevitable, perhaps a wiser brain is emerging.  Let's just assume this hypothesis is plausible, otherwise it's depressing.

Going back to knowledge management, how can we handle the knowledge of experts in their 50s and 60s, knowing that their neural pathways are changing?  Instead of thinking about it as declining brain functions, what are the strengths we can expect from broader connectivity among networks in the brains of the more experienced professionals in an organization?  

And are there any useful parallels between neuron networking in the brain and people networking in organizations?

A young brain is specializing within sections of the brain.  The equivalent in an organization might be specialized communities of practice.  They are building expertise within narrow knowledge domains but not connecting well with the broader system.  An older brain connects more across networks.  In an organization, the equivalent might be crosscutting networks that make much greater use of systems thinking and see how the narrowly defined communities of practice are or should be connected. 

To be more specific, the individual communities in a Yammer (enterprise social) network are the specialized segments of the organizational brain while the Yammer network itself is the more broadly integrated, aging brain.  The younger employees might feel more comfortable engaging in the specialized communities of practice.  The more seasoned employees might be at ease engaging across communities, or making the connections across the communities.

While this resonates personally, I can't say that I have any evidence that this is indeed happening.  Considering that the aging brain isn't very flexible, it makes it challenging to ask the so-called "experts" to engage in new ways, using new communications platforms like Yammer. Knowing that, how can we still leverage the aging brains' valuable expertise and strengths in seeing the bigger picture, the broadly networked picture, the whole system?

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Regenerative Knowledge Management

Listening to Shifting Mindsets:  A regenerative future, an event this past summer organized by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, I was initially struck by a question asked at the very beginning of the conference:  What have you done today that has had a regenerative impact on nature?  I can think of a few things I do in my own backyard that go beyond composting kitchen wastes.  I've done a lot over the past 15 years to regenerate the soil, on a very limited scale, turning a small urban plot into a very healthy food forest.  However, putting my Knowledge Management hat on, I asked myself, what have I done today that has had a regenerative impact on knowledge? 

And then I was further inspired to write on this topic while coming across another blog:  The Case for Regenerative Knowledge and Leadership, from Aiko Schaefer of Just Solutions Collective. 

What does it mean to manage knowledge in a regenerative way?  How can knowledge be managed in a regenerative way?

Simply put, a regenerative approach to knowledge management pays attention to the full cycle of knowledge generation and knowledge use rather than focus on the extraction of knowledge, its harvesting, capture, and storage.  There is nothing new in saying that we need to pay attention to knowledge flows (dynamic) rather than just knowledge stocks (static), yet a regenerative approach would go further.  After all, knowledge flows that constantly recycle the same knowledge stocks would not help us address the challenges of today's very rapidly changing world.  The obvious answer might be innovation  -- the generation of new knowledge.  In that sense, knowledge is "regenerated" with the addition of new knowledge.  And yet that would be a partial "regeneration" of knowledge. Another common answer from a knowledge management perspective would be that our knowledge stocks must be adequately curated so that obsolete knowledge is removed from our knowledge stocks.  However, not all old knowledge is obsolete.  In fact, some old knowledge should be recovered and revived to regenerate our knowledge.  Nowhere is this more true than in the way we address climate change and our relationship to nature and our knowledge and understanding of nature. 

Therefore, regenerative knowledge management would encompass the following:

  • Revisiting assumptions behind what is considered valid knowledge, and opening ourselves up to more inclusive approaches, more sources of knowledge.  For example, as some donors (USAID in particular) are re-emphasizing the need to support and empower local organizations via "localization", there is a need to re-emphasize the value of "local knowledge", the deep knowledge of the place, culture, history, people. For more on this issue, see The Politics of Knowledge:  Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches, and Indigenous Foodways.

  • Opening our minds to new ideas to "refresh" our knowledge bases; being more proactive in testing new approaches, intentional learning from new approaches.  While I would not recommend constantly reinventing the wheel, a reasonable case can be made for revisiting assumptions about why this or that approach is considered "good practice" and regularly, proactively testing for "better practices" and creating new, "emerging practices". 

  • Acknowledging the potential value of old, neglected or lost knowledge that may help us address today's challenges.  For example, there are ancient techniques in natural resources management that can help regenerate degraded landscapes and help local communities around the world adapt to some of the devastating impacts of climate change.  Local adaptation is key, but old techniques can sometimes do more good than modern technological innovations.  For more on this, see for example this post: Why Indigenous Traditional Knowledge is Key to Adopting Regenerative Agriculture.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Looking for Urban Permaculture?

 If you googled my name and you landed here, you may be looking for information about my permaculture-related work/teaching.  Please visit this Urban Permaculture Resource site.