Calculating the Cost of Collaboration — A World War I Lesson

All too often, we rush headlong into collaboration in the firm belief that all collaboration is good and must, therefore, have primarily an upside. We become excited by the anticipated benefits of collaboration: better innovation, better sales, greater client satisfaction, and better operations. The truth, however, can be quite different. Most of us have seen well-intentioned collaborations founder on the rocks of ignorance, insularity, and inexperience. Many of us carry the battle scars of failed collaboration efforts.

Professor Morten Hansen has studied scores of collaborations. As a result, he offers some sage advice in his book, Collaboration: Be disciplined. In particular, do not undertake any collaboration until you have investigated the proposed collaboration sufficiently to establish that “the net value of collaboration is greater than the return minus both opportunity costs and collaboration costs.” He calls this net value, the “collaboration premium.”

World War I and the Collaboration Premium

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The presenting issue was the German sinking of several American merchant ships. Given that tensions had been rising for months, there had been ample time for US political and military leaders to undertake the collaboration test: to determine beforehand if the net value of participating outweighed the foregoing of other projects (opportunity cost) and the extensive costs of getting involved in a war that was not universally popular at home.

With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to say that because the US and its allies won, it was worth the price the country paid to participate in the war. But is that fair? Yet, even if they had attempted a proper collaboration cost calculation, could US leaders ever have contemplated the true and horrifying scope of events like those that took place at Meuse-Argonne?

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In his article, Killing Machines at Meuse-Argonne, 1918, Alfred S. Bradford, Jr. describes the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the following way:

In late September 1918, some 600,000 American troops massed in a valley in northeastern France as part of the final major campaign of World War I, the Meuse-Argonne offensive. A newcomer to the Allied effort, the United States had begun sending large numbers of soldiers to Europe only months before. Many of these men were raw recruits who knew nothing of the horrors of machine guns, poison gas, combat aircraft, and other weapons born of the Industrial Revolution. More than a million U.S. soldiers would eventually join the assault of the well-entrenched Germans; American forces would suffer more than 120,000 casualties, including 26,277 dead.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Many of these dead found their final resting place in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, this cemetery “is the largest American military cemetery in Europe. Within these 130 acres are the remains of more than 14,200 American men and women who died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.”

Admittedly, these numbers are large: one million soldiers, 120,000 casualties, 26,277 dead, over 14,200 graves, 130 acres. But it is hard to really wrap your mind around them without a visual.

Thanks to The Great War video series, we have a compelling visual. Take a look at the following video. It brings home the vast scale of suffering — all embodied in neat rows of crosses and stars that stretch across those 130 acres.

Calculating Your Collaboration Premium or Penalty

Would US political and military leaders have made a different choice on April 6, 1917, if they had known the true costs of collaboration in World War I? We will never know. Nonetheless, we should not ignore the lessons of their experience. It is vitally important that we think hard about true costs before we leap headlong into collaboration. This means honestly facing the possibility of a collaboration penalty rather than the desired collaboration premium.

After all, no decent organization wants its people to end up in a corporate version of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

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For a video overview of this week in World War I, see:

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia]

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Wanted: A Disobedient Law Firm

On March 24, Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) reminded us that the deadline is fast approaching to apply for the MIT Media Lab’s Disobedience Award. Just the name of the award alone caught my attention. In a world of conformity, it was startling to see an award for nonconformity.

So what’s the rationale for it? Here’s what Hoffman had to say:

Progress comes from innovation, and innovation happens when inventors, entrepreneurs, activists, organizers, and others refuse to accept the status quo. Instead, they pursue new paths and new solutions – and sometimes bend or even break the rules in the process.

To be clear, this award is not intended to reward lunatic risk-taking. Rather, they are looking for something far more special, as Joi Ito (Director, MIT Media Lab) makes clear:

This prize is a one-time experiment that, if successful, we will consider repeating in the future. It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society. The disobedience that we would like to call out is the kind that seeks to change society in a positive way, and is consistent with a set of key principles. The principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The disobedience can be in — but is not limited to — the fields of scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

This notion of a one-time experiment is entirely in keeping with the ethos of the Media Lab. This is clear from the Hoffman’s description of the Media Lab:

It’s an institution that prioritizes methodical but untethered experimentation, where researchers with widely varying areas of expertise are encouraged to collaborate and improvise in ways that become not just multi-disciplinary but antidisciplinary – disobedient.

What a concept: “an institution that prioritizes methodical but untethered experimentation.” Does that sound like a law firm near you?

So here’s the question for you. Is there anything you are working on or your firm is working that, in its own context, might be an example of creative rule bending (or breaking) for a greater purpose? If Hoffman is correct that such behavior drives innovation, then I hope your answer is yes. On the other hand, if you and your colleagues are squarely in the conformity camp, you need not apply for the award. Worse still, you may be missing the amazing opportunities that result from the curiosity, experimentation, and intelligent risk-taking typical of the ethically disobedient. One thing is for sure — you are unlikely to innovate.

I’ll be very surprised if a law firm or even a single lawyer wins the award. But wouldn’t it be nice if such a thing really were more likely?

 

[Photo Credit: Leon Riskin]

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How Innovative is Your Firm, Really?

Many businesses (including law firms) tout their innovation capacity. They use the right buzz words (agile, design thinking, rapid prototyping, etc.) and they display trendy props (innovation labs, informal gathering spaces, and lots and lots of post-it notes on walls). But is that enough to make a firm truly innovative?

Ideo says no. And Ideo should know.

Katharine Schwab, writing for Fast Company’s fastcodesign.com, reports that Ideo, the world-famous design firm, has studied its own 26-year old archive of client projects (as well as some external resources on innovation) to determine how best to measure innovation in an organization. For Ideo, “the most important element is the organization’s ability to adapt and respond to change.”

Through this research, Ideo “identified six basic vectors that it says are instrumental to an innovative, adaptive company”:

  1. Purpose: “A clear, inspiring reason for the company to exist — beyond just making money.” What is your law firm’s mission? You claim it is to serve the client. Is this actually borne out in the way the firm behaves internally and externally? Is it reflected in every decision the firm makes? Ideo has found that when leaders clearly articulate the company mission and then walk the talk, “projects and strategic solutions succeed 20.40% more often”.
  2. Experimentation: “Trying out new ideas and making evidence-based decisions about how to move forward.” Even if your firm is willing to experiment, does it have the discipline to make truly evidence-based decisions? (Note: many decisions that are described as evidence-based are actually pre-determined and then papered over with appropriate “evidence.”)
  3. Collaboration: “Working across business functions to approach opportunities and challenges from all angles.” In my report, Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions, I found that some of the most successful support functions were the ones that had learned to punch above their weight by collaborating productively with other administrative departments and with fee-earners. Is this type of collaboration the norm at your firm or is it unusual?
  4. Empowerment: “Providing a clear path to create change in all corners of the company by reducing unnecessary constraints.” How much change is your firm willing to tolerate? Can it handle the type of wholesale change contemplated by this vector?
  5. Looking out: “Looking beyond the company’s walls to understand customers, technologies, and cultural shifts.” How plugged in is your firm? Does your firm have the type of close relationships with clients that enable robust two-way communication about the things that matter to the client? Do you keep abreast of technological changes or is your firm a card-carrying technology laggard? Is your firm in tune with changes in the industry? Or is your firm fully occupied with its navel-gazing?
  6. Refinement: “Elegantly bridging vision and execution.” In other words, to what extent is your firm able to successfully execute new ideas? Do you have the right people with a bias toward action? Do you have the right methodology to support them as they transform ideas into reality? Do you have a robust change management approach?

Next, Ideo created a survey that clients can use to measure these vectors and the related behaviors.  Along with the survey results comes “feedback on tangible ways to become more innovative.” Ideo is finding that this self-reporting by teams, coupled with the feedback, demonstrably leads to better innovation performance.

Bonus: Ideo’s New Insights 

Thanks to the survey, Ideo “has definitive data to back up its hypotheses about what behavior actually drives” a team’s aptitude for innovation. Here are some insights from the data:

  • More is better: Do not limit your team to too narrow a range of innovation options at the beginning. “Instead, when teams iterate on five or more different solutions, they are 50% more likely to launch a product successfully.”
  • Command-and-Control systems squelch innovation success: “When a majority of team members who took the survey said that they felt comfortable challenging the status quo and acting with autonomy, the chances of a failed launch decreased by 16.67%.”
  • Your mission and underlying priorities must be in sync and stable: This alignment and stability provide a strong foundation that supports and cushions the naturally disruptive activities of innovation.

If your firm is ready to accelerate its innovation program, take a closer look at Ideo’s assessment and dashboard tool: Creative Difference. It might provide the data and insights your firm needs to truly become more innovative.

[Hat tip to Alessandra Lariu who pointed me to this article.]

[Photo Credit: Alexas Fotos]

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Key Trends in Consulting Industry Knowledge Management

Session Description:  This session examines the consulting industry, with a special focus on knowledge management practices in that industry. The speaker is Robert Armacost, Engagement Director at Iknow LLC.

[These are my notes from a private gathering of senior knowledge management professionals from large law firms. The participants come from law firms around the world.]

  • Business pressure on consulting firms has never been greater
    • data and analytics have transformed the way client services are delivered
    • disruptive competitor models — independent consultants provide services at a fraction of the price of the major consulting firms
      • the biggest competitors sit in-house inside client companies
    • ever-increasing client expectations
  • Consulting firms are doubling down on these strategies
    • professional services firms are focusing on the basic client life cycle. Put the client at the center and then design
      • innovation and product management
      • relationship management
      • account management
      • opportunities and selling
      • service delivery — a key here is using project-based insights to create reusable assets
    • project-based innovation in consulting
      • use and validate an approach or insight. Then create a success story regarding that insight.
      • socialize that success story.
      • memorialize that success story.
      • embed that approach or insight in standardized processes and learning/development efforts.
    • How to make this work?
      • ensure the right motivation: align incentives, cultural norms, ways of working
      • treat knowledge as an asset to be invested in
      • treat the firm as a marketplace of ideas
    • Bain & Co has used the Net Promoter Score to predict customer value and then align investment
    • The new use of data and analytics helps large consulting firms make better-targeted investments in client service delivery
  • Digital enablement is transforming Consulting
    • this goes far beyond old-style digital tools: email, discussion boards, etc.
    • digital enablement refers to technology that is helping firms really differentiate how they work and deliver services
    • business drivers of digital enablement in consulting
      • more efficient and effective working
      • improved client experience — this helps attract and retain clients
      • new business models — monetizing knowledge assets, finding new uses for knowledge assets — they are moving from “services” to “digital assets.” McKinsey has invested heavily in digital assets that they monetize through McKinsey Solutions.
  • Other lessons:
    • People are key to success with these new approaches. So spend a lot of time thinking about how to motivate and support the right behaviors.
    • Confidentiality is key to enabling robust knowledge sharing. The right incentives and culture will promote collaboration and diminish hoarding. The firm’s compensation system has to support knowledge sharing in practical ways.

[Photo Credit: GovLoop]

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The Changing Ecosystem of Legal Services

Session Description:  The legal services ecosystem has changed radically since the turn of the century. This session explores those changes and suggests some responses.

[These are my notes from a private gathering of senior knowledge management professionals from large law firms. The meeting attendees come from law firms around the world. The participants in this session include a Big Law CKO, an in-house counsel, a legal services provider, and the founders of two AI companies.]

  • History of the legal profession: Legal services were largely unchanged from the 12th century to the 20th century. We worked much like the old guilds of craftsmen
  • Context Changes:
    • client businesses have grown in scale and complexity, resulting in bigger and more complex legal issues
    • client businesses have become truly global, so multi-jurisdictional issues abound
    • legal issues are more often multi-disciplinary: economics, engineering, accounting, data analysis
    • our privileged position as professionals has eroded
    • technology has changed the way we work, improving speed but not always improving productivity
    • clients have become buyers, so the nature of lawyer-client relationships have changed and costs are the focus
  • How the “legal species” has evolved in response
    • clients have law departments
    • traditional law firms: Big law, Mid law, etc.
    • some law firms now have “second label” firms to deliver legal services differently
    • law firms have spun off consulting shops
    • temporary staffing agencies augment traditional law firm staffing
  • The ecosystem now is more complex
    • in-sourcing = keeping the work inside the client’s law department
    • out-sourcing
    • multi-sourcing = parceling the work out to a variety of providers
    • procurement
    • project/process management
    • cooptition — where competitors work together
    • virtual firms and networks
    • systems thinking
  • What does the legal ecosystem include?
    • living elements
      • clients
      • law firms
      • law schools
      • alternative legal providers
    • non-living elements
      • increasing regulation
      • increasing concern for privacy
  • Trends in the legal ecosystem
    • the emergence of Legal Ops and procurement practices
    • advances in technology
    • law firm substitutes offer traditional and new legal services
    • VC investment in the legal sector
  • Learning from the Travel Industry
    • What drove the changes from one ecosystem to another?
      • automation
      • alternative service providers — lots of startup offering alternative services and alternative ways of doing things
      • enhanced technology
    • What has happened in the travel industry will happen in legal; the pie will be distributed differently
    • These changes are already happening in the legal industry
    • Assume that the changes will happen faster than you expect
    • Google has found ways to automate the resolution of legal issues internally. Fewer issues will be referred to internal and external counsel.
  • Practical Ways to Respond:
    • Gear up — invest in legal operation
      • find and hire experts in operations, information, and technology
      • give them a seat at the table
    • Standardize everything
      • legal playbooks, decision-making processes, customer interactions — all should be standardized
      • fewer decisions should require human interaction or expertise — only the difficult or complex issues
  • The In-House Perspective on these Issues:
    • Our standard office tools (MS Office) do not appropriately manage legal work inside a company or with external clients
    • Centralization and standardization are key:
      • We need a central platform to enable better legal processes
      • How do we work together when we all have proprietary systems with their own logic and processes
    • All information should follow the same data structure
    • Content should be semantically categorized

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia]

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Clients Want an Outside-In Firm

Sometimes everything changes when you look at something from a different angle. Consider a drop of river water: to the naked eye, it looks innocuous enough. However, that same drop of water under a microscope will suddenly appear to be teeming with all sorts of life.

Who knew?

The person who tried a different perspective — that’s who knew.

Consider a professional services firm, perhaps even a law firm. From the perspective of someone who works in the firm, it’s an employer, an institution with a history, a collection of colleagues, a platform for professional successes or failures, a place to shelter from the elements, etc. Sometimes, it can seem almost incidental that it is also an organization that is ostensibly devoted to the service of its clients.

If, however, you take the perspective of the client, what is that professional services firm? It depends on the client and that client’s experience. If that client has had a good experience, this is how that client might describe the firm: a source of useful advice, a partner in problem solving, an indispensable counselor for problem avoidance, etc. If that client has had a bad experience, the picture looks different: a source of delay and aggravation, a frustrating collection of individuals who do not make my job as easy as they should, an expensive part of my budget that I am constantly trying to trim.

For the firm that is serious about meeting client needs, the first step is obvious: make sure you are looking at things through your client’s eyes. To do that properly, you usually have to leave your firm.

What does this mean?

In their book, The Startup Owner’s Manual, Steve Blank and Bob Dorf explain this concept very succinctly: “Get out of the Building!” Why get out of the building? According to Blank and Dorf,

Getting out of the building means acquiring a deep understanding of customer needs and combining that knowledge with incremental and iterative product [and service] development.

A little further in their book they say something that should cut close to home for many of us in professional services firms – just substitute “products and services” for “product” in the following quotation:

Of all the lessons of Customer Development, the importance of getting out of the building and into conversations with your customers is the most critical. Only by moving away from the comforts of your conference room to truly engage with and listen to your customers can you learn in depth about their problems, product features they believe will solve those problems, and the process in their company for recommending, approving and purchasing products. You’ll need these details to build a successful product, articulate your product’s unique differences and propose a compelling reason why your customers should buy it.

To quote Blank and Dorf: “There are no facts inside your building, so get the heck outside…. Facts live outside, where future customers live and work….”  Go where your clients are. Interact with current and future clients in their own habitats. Live in their space, walk in their shoes.

In other words,  become the outside-in firm that clients want.

 

[Photo Credit: Flash Buddy]

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Have You Had Your Turing Moment?

2016 is the year I had my Turing moment.

As Wikipedia tells us, Alan Turing proposed in 1950 a test of “a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.” The proposal was that a human and machine would interact via a text-only channel. If a human evaluator observing the interaction could not distinguish the machine participant in the conversation from the human participant, then the machine would pass the “Turing Test.”

This summer I was introduced to a potential business collaborator. We had a brief exchange by email and then decided to schedule a meeting. He said that his assistant would contact me to find a mutually convenient time. She did and we did. Several times over the course of our project, my collaborator’s ever-helpful assistant took care of the scheduling hassles. In fact, I came to value her help so much that I spontaneously wished her a wonderful weekend one Friday. And she kindly returned the good wishes.

Because the readers of this blog are smarter than the average bear, you know where I am going with this. That fabulous assistant was not human. Rather, she was a scheduling bot created by Clara Labs. And in the course of our admittedly brief exchanges, I did not realize I was conversing with a machine. She passed the Turing Test with flying colors.

Why am I telling you this story? Because scheduling bots are only the beginning. Frog Design has just published its annual Tech Trends provocation that provides a glimpse of what is in store for us in 2017.  According to Frog Design, the report identifies “15 technology trends that will unlock opportunities for growth and enable organizations to provide more meaningful experiences to their customers, employees, and society.”

One of the trends on this list is the proliferation of business bots that can do far more than mere scheduling. Here is the scenario sketched by Frog Design’s Toshi Mogi:

Imagine an entrepreneur whose mentor has recommended they start a new venture, selling vintage electric skateboards to the aging hipster market. The entrepreneur will commission an assortment of business bots to bring their vision to reality. The R&D bot will crowdsource the selection of designs from on-demand freelance designers, the Operations bot will manage contract manufacturers and production schedules, and the Sales and Marketing bot will optimize e-commerce channels and product promotions. As business bots become more intelligent, their ability to perform complex operational tasks and harness digitally enabled platform services will help new entrepreneurs scale their ventures, faster and with precision.

Have you had your Turing moment yet? Don’t worry if you haven’t. If Frog Design is right, business bots are coming to you soon and will massively improve your productivity.

Alan Turing would be pleased.

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia]

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Be Agile Not Fragile #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: To be agile in knowledge management, and to innovate, Garfield suggests the following principles: identify three key business objectives, focus more on helping people use processes effectively, improve decisions, actions, and learning, connect people to each other so they can help each other at the time of need, implement, improve, and iterate. To avoid being fragile, steer clear of these traps: maturity models, best practices, metrics for the sake of metrics, certification, tool rollout and adoption, personality tests, corporate speak and more! Sure to spark an interesting discussion so don’t miss this session.

Speaker: Stan Garfield, Knowledge Manager, Author Implementing a Successful KM Programme; Founder, SIKM Leaders Community

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Fragile things typically are:
    • Large
    • Overly optimized — they are too smart for their own good; they are obsessed with standardization and efficiency
      • this works if everything goes according to plan
      • BUT things rarely go exactly according to plan — Randomness is the Rule (not the exception) — in the face of random errors or problems, the fragile system cannot cope with the variability
    • Brittle — they don’t have the innate ability to fend off stress
  • Fragilistas:  these are people who try to eliminate volatility.
    • Helicopter parents try to make life as safe as possible for their children but in the process they deprive their children of the ability to learn how to cope with variability and randomness.
  • How to avoid becoming a Fragilista? Avoid these behaviors
    • Maturity models and benchmarking: it’s good to learn from others but don’t try to conform to a rigid model.
      • Seth Godin: “Benchmarking against the universe actually encourages us to be mediocre, to be average, to just do what everyone else is doing.”
    • Best Practices suggest that the ideal has been achieved. Rather it’s better to look for (and then adapt for your context) “proven practices” that fit your environment.
    • Metrics for the sake of metrics — avoid tracking every random thing. Make sure there is a business reason for tracking something.
    • Certification — taking a one-week class in KM is not enough to be a KM expert. Focus on learning not on certification.
    • Tool Rollout and Adoption — don’t fixate on rolling out tools and then “driving” adoption. The better approach is to start with understanding the needs of the organization rather than finding a use for the tool you have purchased.
    • Personality Tests — each person is unique, not an oversimplified archetype. Why do we need this categorization? What is the practical use?
    • Corporate Speak — don’t use buzzwords, insider jargon, or corporate lingo. Refuse to use them —  use words and expressions that are widely understood if your intent is to communicate clearly.
    • Do as I say, not as I do — you must practice what you preach.  Your senior management must lead by example. (And the KM team must lead by example too.) People will closely observe the actions of leaders and mimic them. Therefore, model the desired behaviors.
    • Secrecy — don’t give lip service to transparency while continuing to operate in a closed manner. Communicate frequently, truthfully, and openly.
    • Mediocracy — man organizations have leaders have little (if any) talent and skill who nevertheless are dominant and highly influential. Leaders should serve their people and  treat them with respect.
  • Unfragile behaviors
    • people can’t find information
    • People are reluctant to ask for help in public
    • organizations want to push information out
  • How to Move from fragile to agile?
    • Make content easy to find
      • let users tag content to indicate “I reused this document” or “I found this document helpful”
      • figure out what documents are most important to your organization and force those to the top of the search results
    • Assist people when they ask for help
      • make it easy to figure out where to ask a question
      • train people to ask questions in community spaces
    • Use the power of pull
      • don’t force content on others
      • make your content/tool so attractive that people are eager to opt in
  • What would a “self-healing” KM system look like? (Question from Christian de Nef)
    • Simplicity
    • Mobility — easy to switch from one platform to another
    • Knowledge systems that do not rely on technology
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Innovation Through KM, Process, & Quality #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: KM is but one of the legs that comprise the tripod of an innovation framework. The other two legs are efficient processes and a culture of quality. The need for this triumvirate is focus. Generally, to be successful, KM strategies must be planned and executed in steps. These steps require that KM be introduced through projects both to show progress as well as to limit the impact on an organization’s resources at one time. That’s where process comes into play. as specific processes must be targeted for improvement. The techniques of process improvement enable the focus needed to choose KM projects that are endorsed and supported by senior leadership. The final element of the innovation tripod—a culture of quality—means that the measurement of KM results is expected and conducted.

Speaker: Jim Lee, Sr. Vice-President, Knowledge Management Director, Fulton Financial Corporation

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Who are KM’s best allies?  
    • Scientific Management — Frederick Taylor
    • Project Management — Henry Gantt
    • Quality Management — Walter Shewhart
  • This is how KM, Process, and Quality play together to move the business forward:
    • WHY — the business objective, outputs, outcomes of your process or activities
    • WHERE — quality management thinking and measurement do this — how can KM help?
    • WHAT — process improvement focuses us on this — how can KM help?
    • WHEN — the process map tells us when something is to be done
    • WHO — knowledge management uncovers who is best for a project or for a question
    • HOW — best practices are forms of knowledge embedded in the process
  • Real Innovation: it requires seamless cooperation among KM, process management, and quality management.
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Future-Proofing Organizations #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description:  As our world continues to change at a rapid pace and take unexpected turns, our organizations have to be prepared to deal with what’s coming next even if it is unanticipated. Our popular speaker shares his strategies for future-proofing your organization.

Speakers: Dave Snowden, Director, Cynefin Centre, Bangor University, Wales Cognitive Edge

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • What’s the Current State? 
    • We are suffering a modern malaise — too many years of struggling to fit the complexity of life into the simplified, engineering view of the world dictated by systems thinking.
    • We have used tools like Myers-Briggs that contrive to squash and flatten people so they fit into predefined boxes. Snowden ran a controlled experiment at IBM that established that astrology was a more reliable way of staff identification and team assignments than Myers-Brigg.
    • Techno-fetishism
      • The Nonaka Model launched thousands of failed KM initiatives.
      • The reduction of an artisan process to a simple methodology. The latest version of this is design thinking. You cannot master artisan processes in a two-day workshop.  It takes 2-3 years for the brain and body to co-evolve to the point that we can drive and talk at the same time. It takes 3-4 years for the brain and body to co-evolve sufficiently to apply expert knowledge. This is why apprenticeship is such an effective approach.
    • The false dichotomy of Order and Chaos. Despots throughout history have created or exploited chaos so that they can appear like heroes who promise (and occasionally deliver) order. We should adopt a more nuanced, less Manichean view of the world.
    • The Cult of Measurement. Six Sigma is a cult — its priests have different colored belts. Black belts do no real work because their job is to impose cult discipline.
      • PROBLEM: Whenever people are working for explicit rewards (e.g., measurements), this destroys intrinsic motivation.
    • The Intolerance of Deviance — HR departments create norms of how we should be. However, people are natural deviants. Yet we are forced to adhere to a particular view of how we should be.
    • The Obsession with the Strong Leader. This obsession ignores the fact that we work best with distributed leadership where different people contribute their unique talents and judgment.
    • The Anglo-Saxon Malaise: this is related to our over-emphasis on the individual. Yet we work best in communities.
    • The Tyranny of the Herds. The principle of democracy is that people should make individual decisions and those decisions collectively produce the wisdom of the crowds. However, if you permit opinion polls, then people start gaming the system and produce the tyranny of the herd. (He asserts that opinion polling should be banned during election season.)
      • Crowdsourcing is NOT the wisdom of the crowds.
    • The Naturalistic Fallacy — David Hume teaches that you should never derive an “ought” from an “is.” Just because you want it does not mean you should have it.
  • When to try novel solutions?
    • Start by asking: Where is the ecosystem? What stage is it at?
      • Snowden maps Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm with S-Curve theory.
    • Dominant Predator Theory
      • During a period of dominance of a standard methodology, your best bet is to conform.
      • Once you see that the dominant predator, the standard methodology is not working so well anymore , then you have an opportunity to try something new because the old way is no longer reliable.
        • Six Sigma developed to try to wring efficiencies out of an old manufacturing system. Therefore, you should look for new manufacturing methods.
    • Past competency stops us from seeing future novelty.
      • We see only that which we are trained to see.
      • Drew, Vo & Wolfe published a study in 2013 that reported when 24 radiologists were asked to interpret a scan, 83% of them failed to notice the seriously enlarged picture of a gorilla inserted into the scan. Even those who looked directly at the gorilla did not realize they were looking at a very large picture of a gorilla. They saw only what they were trained to look for.
  • The Issues with Case-Based Evidence.
    • A fundamental obsession with Cases distorts our learning.
    • The Cobra Effect — when the British were in India, they decided there were too many cobras. So they announced an award for every cobra head turned in.  Then people set up cobra farms so they would have a supply of cobra heads.
    • The Butterfly Effect — a small thing can combine with other small things to create a big effect.
    • The Hawthorne Effect — if you do something new and pay attention to people, it will nearly always work the first time. However, you should not assume you can scale it. Until you really know WHY it worked, you should not replicate WHAT you did.
    • Cases are useful for explaining a situation. However, few cases have any predictive power. (Good science should have predictive power.)
      • if all you have is observations, you cannot scale
      • you need to be able to explain WHAT happened using reliable science
  • The Nature of the System Constrains how we can Act in It.
    • Start by understanding the nature of the current system
      • Ordered system — there are effective links in the system
        • checklists work
        • predictable, repeatable behavior
        • the whole = sum of the parts
      • Chaotic system — there are no effective links in the system — if you cannot contain the system, you have crisis; if you can contain the system, you have an opportunity for innovation.
      • Complex system — not a rigidly defined structure, it is ambiguous
        • variable links, permeable container
        • the whole is not the sum of the parts
        • use real-time feedback to moderate/modulate behaviors
    • The Law of Unintended Consequences — this is the only guaranteed feature of Complexity. If you know unintended consequences are inevitable, then you are ethically responsible for those consequences. Therefore, you should not make large, unmanageable interventions. Instead, make small safe-to-fail interventions in the present situation and then, once you have a body of evidence, announce the existence of these interventions.
      • This is in contrast to the usual corporate approach:  start by announcing a major initiative. In Snowden’s view, this inevitably dooms the initiative to failure.
      • The better approach is to set out on a journey rather than setting goals.
  • Distributed Ethnography.
    • Allow individuals to describe for themselves what is happening, rather than relying on experts. This empowers them and triggers novel solutions to tough problems.
    • Peer-to-peer knowledge flows are more effective than top-down mediated knowledge flows. Therefore, we need to engage people in the sensemaking.
  • New Theory of Change.
    • Discard the systems approach that starts by identifying a future perfect state and then tries to drag everyone into that future state. This appears in KM when we try to create the ideal future: a knowledge-sharing culture.
    • The better approach is to amplify what is working and diminish that which is not working. So, instead of striving for a distant goal, aim for the “adjacent possible.”
    • This translates into “nudging” the system into a better state rather than attempting to drag the system into that better state.
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