Back to School

harvard law school logoTuition at Harvard Law School is not a trifling matter. At a price tag of $57,200 for the 2015-2016 academic year, it is worth asking from time to time if students are getting good value for their money.

In this spirit, three members of the HLS faculty recently surveyed 124 practicing lawyers at the law firms that hire the most HLS students*:

The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students.

The first question they asked had to do with which law school “business-methods” courses would be most beneficial for current law students. The responses were quite consistent across transactional lawyers and litigators:

  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Corporate Finance
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Business Strategy for Lawyers
  • Analytical Methods for Lawyers
  • Leadership in Law Firms
  • Statistical Analysis/Quantitative Analysis

When asked which of the courses in the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance were most useful, transactional lawyers and litigators all agreed that Corporations and Securities Regulation were key. In addition, the transactional lawyers recommended Mergers & Acquisitions, while the litigators recommended Securities Litigation.

With respect to courses outside the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance, the courses judged most useful fell along practice lines:

  • Litigation: Evidence, Federal Courts, Administrative Law
  • Transactions: Intellectual Property Law, Patent Law, Copyright Law

The next area surveyed was the skills and knowledge bases that law firms considered to be most important for students to acquire:

  • Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Financial Markets/Products Negotiations
  • Business Strategy/Industry Analysis
  • Statistical/Quantitative Analysis
  • Legal Services Industry

It is interesting to note that the lawyers surveyed viewed Teamwork to be almost exactly as important as Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis. In the words of the authors of the study: “Taken together, these results suggest that law firms value softer skills and institutional knowledge as well as rigorous analytical skills.”

So why does any of this matter to your law firm knowledge management department? The respondents to the survey are your current colleagues. The student beneficiaries of the survey will be your colleagues shortly. This survey identifies the subjects they find most useful. This leads to some important questions for you:

  • Are these subjects and skills well-supported by your KM program and resources?
  • Are your KM personnel trained and able to assist practitioners in these areas?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, isn’t it time you took a leaf out of the HLS playbook and started to realign your program, resources and personnel?

* The law firms surveyed were “the 11 largest employers of HLS students over the last several years: Ropes and Gray, Davis Polk, Skadden Arps, Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, Cravath, Cleary Gottlieb, WilmerHale, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, and Sidley Austin.”

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When Dinosaurs Roamed the Web

800px-Triceratops-vs-T-Rex001From our grandparents’ time back to the dawn of oral history, we used the phrase “once upon a time” to indicate a long time ago. Then we started to use some variant of the phrase “back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.” Again, this is not a literal indication of time, but rather a figurative one. (If you want to be literal, they walked the earth between 230 million years ago and 65 million years ago. In other words, a long, long, LONG time ago.)

When dinosaurs roamed the web

When you are considering such long spans of time, you naturally expect massive changes. Now that life is speeding up, however, we are experiencing massive changes over a much shorter period of time. Take, for example, the changes that have occurred since “dinosaurs roamed the web.” A recent article by Jamie Carter, The internet is everywhere – but where has the web gone‘ summarizes the sweep of these changes nicely:

“The web started out as a content repository where search was the key enabler,” says Richard Moulds, VP Strategy, Thales e-Security. “Web 2.0 was about user-driven content and social media was the big enabler, and Web 3.0 is all about personalisation where different users experience different things based on their history and preference. For this transition, big data is the key enabler – without massive data analytics, personalisation on a grand scale is not possible.”

Three Eras of Knowledge Management

This quote brings to mind the seminal work by Nancy Dixon in which she discusses the Three Eras of Knowledge Management:

  1. Leveraging explicit knowledge: capturing (i.e., documenting) knowledge, organizing it into databases, providing easy access to the knowledge.
  2. Leveraging experiential knowledge: enabling teams, groups and communities to share tacit knowledge rather than merely explicit knowledge. Focusing on tactical, frontline  knowledge rather than strategic or managerial knowledge.
  3. Leveraging collective knowledge: conversation-based knowledge sharing, in which the role of leaders is to convene strategic conversations.

These two views do not map exactly. For example, Nancy Dixon suggests that social media tools (i.e., Web 2.0) would be useful in leveraging collective knowledge across physical or geographical boundaries. In her view, social networking technologies provide “greater organizational transparency and give rise to more diverse perspectives in the organizational conversation. The use of crowd sourcing, cognitive diversity, and predictive markets draw on a wider base of thinking, both internally and externally, that increases organizational innovation.” It would be interesting to see how she might think about the personalization capabilities of Web 3.0 and its place in knowledge management.

Escaping the dinosaur age

Even in the absence of a neat one-to-one comparison, it is still useful to take a moment to consider where your organization’s knowledge management efforts are focused today. Starting with Nancy Dixon, where is your organization’s KM program with respect to the Three Eras of Knowledge Management? Are you still in the first era, trying to build a foundation of good content management? Or have you moved to more conversation-based knowledge sharing?

Now, take a look at your intranet. Where is it in terms of Richard Moulds’ breakdown of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 or Web 3.0. Are you still focused on simply providing as much centrally vetted content as possible? Or have you moved beyond that to include a wide-range of user-generated content. Better still, do the users of your intranet or knowledge management program have the benefit of thoughtfully personalized resources that allow them to focus on the things that matter most to them at any given time?

In law firms, for example, some rudimentary personalization occurs based on role (e.g., partner, associate, staff), client, practice group and location. Do you go beyond these basics to provide personalization based on search terms, user behavior, talent management (e.g., providing content that supports a user’s development goals) and time management (e.g., providing content that fits with a user’s current time management challenges or opportunities)?

If you are stuck in the stage of basic content wrangling and presentation, you are living when dinosaurs roamed the web. Isn’t it time for you to move into the 21st century?

[Photo Credit: Marcin Chady]

 

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KM Guardian or KM Guide?

World_Map_1689What is knowledge management’s core function? Are we to be guardians or guides?

When I started in law firm knowledge management, my role was fairly clear: I was to be a guardian. What does this mean? My job was to gather and guard the intellectual capital of the firm. I was to help filter the useful material from the less useful, put the useful material in a central location, and then provide easy access to it based on the firm’s confidentiality rules and permissions structure. While this was a fair amount of work, it was not hard to grasp. Further, it fit nicely with one of the traditional roles of law firms: gatekeeper of esoteric knowledge. Just as law firms accumulated knowledge of the law and then provided it to clients, I was to provide the same service to the lawyers who were my internal clients. In a sense, I was to be the firm’s gatekeeper of gatekeepers.

In many law firms today, this is still the primary function of their KM personnel. They hunt down or create legal content. They cajole or harass fee-earner colleagues to draft, review and approve materials for the central repository of firm crown jewel documents (e.g., model documents, practice guides, matter process maps, etc.) They tangle with IT in an attempt to create a user-friendly environment for that central repository (e.g., an intranet/portal or even a simple wiki). And once they have some content in this collection, they then need to start the work of finding fee-earning colleagues who will actually keep those materials current and relevant.  On the best of days, being a KM guardian is a sisyphean task.

Being a KM guide is no less time-consuming, but I would suggest that it is far more productive.

What is a KM guide? The role of a KM guide is not that different from a tour guide: identifying the trail, illuminating the path, providing context, enabling fellow travelers to discover and learn from the experience.  The pathways in question here are not physical pathways, but rather pathways to learning and knowledge.  Accordingly, rather than saying “this document contains what you need to know,” we would instead say “this how others in a similar situation found what they needed to know.”

Before you dismiss this as an inefficient, roundabout method, consider the following example. If you come to me looking for information and I hand you something off-the-shelf, generally one of two things will happen: either it will be exactly what you were looking for (and you will thank me profusely) or it will not be what you were looking for (and you will wonder why you wasted your time). This is the experience many people have when they go to their intranet looking for information.

There is also a variant on the second experience that can be profoundly aggravating: they find something that is almost, but not quite, what they were looking for. So they have to reverse engineer it to figure out how much they can salvage and how much they must create from scratch. However, because there rarely are any “reverse engineering instructions” attached to the document, they often have to reinvent the wheel in order to meet their goal. Talk about a colossal waste of time! Yet it goes on every day in organizations around the world.

Now are you ready to consider an alternative?

What if we had a map of the path the earlier traveler took to their destination. You would know that you didn’t need to go as far as they did, but you could follow the map until you reached the point where you had to take a turn onto another road. Obviously, your path on that other road would be beyond the map you were given, so you would have to figure that part out for yourself. However, that would be the ONLY part you would have to create from scratch. For the earlier part of your journey, you would simply have to follow the map rather than creating your own trail (machete in hand) through the undergrowth.

The beautiful thing about working with journey maps rather than destination documents is that these maps show the next traveler where the previous trailblazer was trying to go and how they did it. Then the newcomer can determine how best to plan their own journey. In doing so, they will build on the work of others rather than being forced to reinvent the wheel.

While I have not yet had a chance to test the software, there is a new tool that promises a similar experience by mapping the research path people take through the internet in pursuit of answers to life’s burning questions. Twingl’s Trailblazer is an extension to Chrome that shows what sites you visited and, in the process, reveals something of your thought process. There are several benefits to this approach:

  • You can step away from your research and then return later without having to repeat steps.
  • You can review your map to see where you might have missed something or taken an unproductive turn.
  • You can share your map with others — thereby transferring both the knowledge of where you ended up, as well as how you got there.

Now imagine if we could create similar maps of how the lawyers in our firms arrived at certain judgments, negotiation stances or language in documents. Then we could share within the firm a much deeper and better quality of knowledge — not only what we decided, but how we got there. These knowledge pathways set one lawyer apart from another. Aggregated, they could set one law firm apart from the others.

KM personnel have a role to play here by being KM guides.  A KM guide helps lawyers uncover and map their journey. Then that KM guide can maintain and share those maps. Just as we groom cross-country ski trails,  a KM guide keeps the knowledge trails within an organization accessible, well-tended, free of debris and easy to follow. Over time you will have a collection of overlapping maps that build on the work of earlier generations of lawyers and then extend the collective learning in new directions. What a fantastic outcome for a KM effort!

In an era of disintermediation, it makes less sense to be the guardian of information that often can be found by a variety of means in multiple places. It is more productive to help all the people in your firm rise to a higher point on the learning curve by building systematically on the knowledge maps of colleagues. You can accomplish this by being a KM guide.

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

 

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Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss – Part 2

Roosevelt and Churchill in conversationA constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. While blogging sometimes feels like a solitary activity, occasionally readers pay a writer the compliment of commenting on her work. Then the conversation begins. When the participants in that conversation are good-natured and well-intended, that conversation can become a constructive one that leads to greater understanding.

Last week I hoped to start a conversation that I believe is long overdue in the legal industry. That conversation concerns how law firms go about deciding to purchase intranet/portal technology. Law firm knowledge management departments often see an intranet as a core part of their offering to the firm. Yet too often the technology is chosen by the IT department and does not always serve the needs of the KM department. Unfortunately, some KM professionals are not aware that there are alternatives readily available in the market, so they cannot engage their It colleagues in a more productive conversation about the relative merits of the various technology offerings.  The result is rarely good for the KM department or the lawyers it serves. Consequently, my assertion was that Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss.

My solution to this problem was not to recommend a particular technology solution. Rather it was to urge my law firm KM colleagues to make sure they had done their due diligence to understand fully what the market offers before choosing any product. I closed my blog post by asking my readers to do themselves the favor of exploring alternatives to SharePoint before they make their purchase decision. If SharePoint is the right choice, then they should go ahead with it. If it is not the right choice for them, then they should choose another intranet product.

There is nothing radical about this advice. I would give it to someone contemplating a home purchase, a car purchase or even a toaster purchase. We make better decisions when we have better information. I’m simply asking my law firm colleagues to ensure they have better information.

In the spirit of better information, I am reproducing below two comments I received on my blog post via LinkedIn. Normally I would simply have responded in LinkedIn, but the word limitations there did not permit a thoughtful response. Therefore, I have moved the conversation here:

Comment from Doug Horton, President and CEO, Handshake Software:

Mary, I realized you got paid to review this software but having downloaded and read their SharePoint v. Interact whitepaper, there are many false assumptions in their comparison when viewed in the context of law firms. You know that Handshake Software is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market. You may not know that we have at least one client that is using our software and integrations to create an Intranet without SharePoint. Anyway, I would be happy to discuss offline with you or anyone else.

My response to Doug’s comment:

Doug, thanks very much for reading and commenting on my blog post.

I was asked by Interact to prepare a knowledge management white paper for the legal industry. I was not paid to review their software. My blog post on intranets was intended to start a conversation about right-sizing intranet investments in law firms. The white paper has the same goal. Your comments help by pushing this conversation forward and, for that, I thank you.

You mention in your comments that the company you founded and lead, Handshake Software, “is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market.” I congratulate you on the success of your company. In light of that success, I must note that my economic interest in Interact is infinitesimal in relation to your economic interest as the founder, president  and CEO of a company that continues its Microsoft SharePoint-focused growth in 2015.  Consequently, I was disappointed when you suggested that economic interests would sway me. This seems unfair in light of our relative economic interests.

You mention there were false assumptions in the Interact document to which I linked,  but you did not provide any specifics. That paper cites sources such as Gartner and AIIM. Are you questioning those sources or something else?  I would like to learn more specifics about your concerns. Until then, it is hard to respond to a general allegation. You offered to have an offline conversation on this, and I would welcome that opportunity.

Finally, I am delighted to learn from your comment that you have at least one client that is using your software and integration to create an intranet without SharePoint. Would you be willing to tell me more about that case so that I can feature it in one of my blog posts? The experience of that firm would undoubtedly be instructive for other firms weighing an intranet purchase decision.

– Mary

 

Comment from Ted Theodoropoulos, President, Acrowire:

Like Doug, I would also challenge the validity of Interact’s assessment of SharePoint. SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms? You can’t have a SharePoint environment stood up in weeks? There are no search analytics in SharePoint? All these assertions are completely inaccurate. I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products. I know a few legal CIOs personally who were let go for embarking on initiatives in which SharePoint was leveraged for uses in which it is not particularly well suited (i.e. legal DMS).

My response to Ted’s comment:

Ted, thanks for your comments on my blog post.

You noted that you share Doug’s analysis, so I’d invite you to take a look at my response to Doug.

In your comments, you referred to assertions that (i) SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms, (ii) you can’t stand up a SharePoint environment in weeks, and (iii) there are no search analytics in SharePoint. I did not make those assertions in my blog post and I did not see those assertions in the Interact document to which I linked from my post. Can you tell me where you found them?

Finally, you stated “I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products.” In fact, that was not my claim. I said: “No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.” (emphasis added)  My point was simply that Microsoft is often seen as a safer choice at the purchase stage than smaller, less-established vendors. However, I understand that the Microsoft label will not protect a CIO who has not deployed the software appropriately. Your example proves my understanding to be correct.

Would you be willing to tell me more about the examples you have in mind regarding CIOs who failed to deploy SharePoint properly? In particular, I would be interested in learning about the failed SharePoint-as-DMS examples you mentioned. This topic comes up frequently in law firm KM circles, so it would be good to have more facts at hand about why SharePoint does not deliver as a DMS.

– Mary

Conclusion:

As I stated earlier, a constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. It is my hope that Doug, Ted and others in the legal industry will join me in creating this constructive conversation regarding intranets. I know there are some law firms that are happy with their SharePoint deployment. I also know that there are law firms that are not as happy. As we raise everyone’s understanding about intranet technologies and opportunities available in the marketplace, we ensure that people make smarter purchase decisions. Obviously, the implementation is in each purchaser’s hands, but if they correctly make the first critical decision — buying the right software — that should put them miles ahead in terms of implementation, adoption and engagement.

At the end of the day, isn’t that where all of us want to be?

 

[Photo Credit: Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation (Zorba the Geek) / CC BY-SA 2.0]

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Who Needs to Know?

Who_is_it“Who needs to know?”

This is a question we ask often. Unfortunately, it is a question we do not always answer correctly. Sure, we might identify the obvious people, based on our personal experience or knowledge. However, we occasionally forget some key people, and there may be yet others of whom we are completely unaware.

As a result, we share knowledge with the smallest possible group. But that group may not even be the right group. We may explain our approach as well-intended efficiency or even a bid for security. However, at the end of the day, by failing to ensure that information reaches the right people, we have ensured that any decisions we make will be made on the basis of incomplete information.

Is it any wonder so many organizations make so many mistakes?

These are real questions in the context of law firms and law firm knowledge management departments that are trying to thread the needle between firm-wide knowledge sharing and concerns about protecting confidential information. While I do not want to minimize in any way the importance of protecting client-confidential information, I wonder if in our zeal to limit access to information we are actually depriving ourselves and our clients of the ability to make decisions and provide advice based on complete information.

It is instructive to see how another organization faced this challenge of holding knowledge tightly versus sharing it widely.  The organization I have mind plays for stakes that are very high indeed. It is the US military. In his TED talk (posted below), General Stanley McChrystal explains how he came up through the ranks in a security-conscious, need-to-know organization and yet came to understand the importance of sharing knowledge beyond the small group he initially identified as those who need to know. He describes the need for information security as something that was “in the DNA” of the military. He speaks of the organizational silos that served the purpose of ensuring information was kept safely contained.

Despite that security-conscious DNA, General McChrystal came to a startlingly different answer when he asked the question, “Who needs to know?” He discovered that “in a tightly coupled world, that’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to know who needs to have information and who doesn’t.” So they changed their approach. They started asking “Who doesn’t know, but needs to be told as quickly as possible?” In fact, they went so far as to start knocking down organizational silos physically by having cross-functional teams work together in “situation awareness” rooms in which they could share, discuss and disseminate information quickly.

The results were impressive:

…as we passed that information around, suddenly you find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it. So as a consequence, what we did was we changed the idea of information, instead of knowledge is power, to one where sharing is power. It was the fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us. [emphasis added]

Admittedly, the army does not serve financial services companies who insist on rigorous data security audits and will withdraw their business if you do not meet their demands. The army does not have clients who refuse to allow any of their information to be shared within the firm even as they expect that they will have the benefit of learning and experience derived from the firm’s other clients. The army does not have owners who have grown up with a need to protect confidentiality that goes beyond professional obligation owed to a client, to cover even the most basic information about the health of the firm.

On the other hand, the army does make life and death decisions on a daily basis. And in this context, the army has learned that if it wishes to have effective teams that make good decisions, it must share information so that information becomes the “essential link” and not a “block” to team effectiveness and good decisionmaking.

Given the army’s example, isn’t it worth thinking harder about how to share knowledge safely and efficiently within law firms? At a minimum, it must mean moving beyond simply asking “Who needs to know?”

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

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Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss

image002If you ever have the opportunity to hold an off-the-record conversation with law firm knowledge management personnel, ask them if they are delighted with their intranet. Many will confess that they are not. Equally, they will tell you that they did not have much choice about the software because their IT colleagues did not believe there were credible alternatives, and everyone agreed that it would be too expensive and time-consuming to build an intranet from scratch. Consequently, they defaulted to the standard law firm approach to software.

Law firms generally use three types of software:

  1. Purpose built: Software that was created specifically for a legal practice. Examples of this would be Diligence Engine, Exemplify and KM Standards. These applications were created by lawyers to address specific challenges that arise in the practice of corporate law.
  2. Client preferred: Software that law firms use because doing so makes it easier to share information with clients. The leading example of this would be the Microsoft Office suite of tools. There is nothing about those applications that was created specifically for the practice of law, but we use them because the results are in a form clients recognize.
  3. Herd default: Software that was not created for the practice of law, but we use in the legal industry because other firms use it. This is software that was not designed to address the challenges of legal practice and may present its own challenges to lawyers and law firm administrative staff, yet we contort ourselves to make it fit. A perfect example of this type of tool is Microsoft SharePoint.

Using the first two types of software makes sense: In the first case, because it makes the lives of lawyers easier and, in the second case, because it makes the lives of clients easier. So what is the rationale for using software that was not created for law firms and is not required by clients? In the case of SharePoint, there seem to be several reasons that, taken together, can make the decision nearly inevitable in some firms:

  • No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.
  • Some firms received SharePoint “for free,” in that it was bundled into the enterprise Microsoft license for no additional cost upfront.
  • A survey of IT colleagues indicates that SharePoint is “industry standard”.

If everyone else is using it, how bad can it be? An honest conversation with knowledge management colleagues working in firms in Australia, Canada, England and the US suggests that it can be pretty bad. This does not mean that they are unable to create something that works, more or less. However, few truly are delighted with the results. And even fewer are happy with the actual costs of implementing and upgrading SharePoint, much less the logistical challenge of finding and keeping experienced developers and administrators to maintain the resulting intranet.

So why do we adopt the herd default? Often it is because we simply lack information about alternative options. This would be excusable if information about intranets was hard to find, but the reality is that a simple search online will turn up many credible alternatives. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group (who are leading intranet experts) reports that there are lots of credible alternatives to SharePoint:

Many organizations are happy to report that a variety of tools, including open-source tools, are catching up to their needs. Everyone cannot necessarily afford to integrate and support large, complex intranet portal solutions such as SharePoint. But as technology matures, the barriers to entry are lowered, and more portal technology options become available.

This is not a new concept for intranet portal design. In 2000 when we first began studying intranets, open source was used heavily. Not until 2008 did we see SharePoint taking a strong hold. Even that year, our 10 Intranet Design Annualwinners used 41 different products for their intranet technology platforms. In our most recent (2014) Intranet Design Annual, 5 out of 10 winners used SharePoint. In our intranet behavioral-research studies, organizations used about 20 different portal-software tools. So there has never been a paucity of intranet portal technology that can produce worthwhile portals. What’s different today is that technology has advanced to a point where a fairly nontechnical team can create a highly functional portal without an advanced design team in-house.

Here’s the rub: according to the Nielsen Norman Group, it should be possible today to implement an intranet without significant technological expertise. Tell that to the law firm KM departments that struggle daily to modify and maintain their SharePoint intranets. It would be their dream to be able to create, modify and maintain an intranet without any intervention by their IT staff once the active directory was hooked up. Sadly, they consider this to be an impossible dream.

In fact, this dream is not only possible, but the reality for organizations that have chosen intranet software that does what good enterprise or consumer-facing software should do: it does all the heavy lifting so that the user can work more productively without getting bogged down in development challenges.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about one of the alternatives to SharePoint. It is intranet software created by Interact. The folks at Interact retained me to learn about their software and then write about how software like theirs might be helpful to law firm KM departments. I have done that and the resulting white paper will be available within the next few weeks.

While I don’t want to steal a march on the white paper, I must confess that seeing the Interact software in action made me sad for my colleagues in law firm KM departments. When I compared the sheer ease of implementing and administering Interact’s intranet with the stories my colleagues told about their own intranets, it was clear that many were struggling unnecessarily. Given the general approach of law firms to software, I realize that moving away from Microsoft may be a challenge. However, before following the herd, do yourself and your firm the favor of investigating the alternatives. It would be a crying shame to resign yourself to unnecessary struggle just because you did not know there were better alternatives within reach.

Intranet ignorance is NOT bliss.

[This blog post was cross-posted on the Interact blog.]

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Happy Year of the Ruminant

Lundy_sheep_(head_detail)East Asians have just celebrated the lunar new year. While all of them use the Chinese character “yang” to name the animal symbol of the year, some translate yang differently. In Chinese, yang could mean goat, sheep or ram. We’re told that it’s likely that the ancient meaning in China was goat. The Vietnamese also translate it as goat. Meanwhile, the Tibetans call this the year of the female wood sheep. (This one was new to me — I’d never heard of wood sheep before.)

While there may be controversy regarding the specific translation of yang, there is no dispute that sheep, goats and rams are all ruminants:

ru·mi·nant
noun
  1. an even-toed ungulate mammal that chews the cud regurgitated from its rumen. The ruminants comprise the cattle, sheep, antelopes, deer, giraffes, and their relatives.
  2. a contemplative person; a person given to meditation.
adjective
  1. of or belonging to ruminants.

As I read the definition, I wondered if yang should be the symbol of knowledge management? We KMers are neither even-toed nor ungulate. However, there is a measure of cud chewing and regurgitation that we encourage in the interest of  knowledge sharing and reuse. Even more importantly, we should be contemplative people. As much as we need to be action-oriented, we also provide an enormous service to our organizations by regularly taking a step back to think deeply about what is going on and how it could be better.

A recent working paper published by the Harvard Business School reported that there was markedly increased productivity in organizations that adopted one simple daily practice: at the end of each day employees asked themselves “what worked well today and why did it work so well?” They then took a few minutes to journal their findings. The results were impressive:

The researchers put new employees into groups where people either reflected on their days or didn’t. In the reflection group, employees were given a paper journal and asked to spend 15 minutes at the end of their workdays writing about what went well that day, which they did for 10 days.

The result: The journaling employees had 22.8% higher performance than the control group.

 

I mentioned this study earlier in the year because it made a big impression while driving home the following points to me:

  1. Although it is sensible to have a to-do list that keeps us on track, we must not get so busy doing that we no longer have a clear understanding of what we do, how we do it and why we do it.
  2. Keeping ourselves oriented towards improvement and innovation requires consistent work. The work of daily reflection helps us to see where innovation is possible and where improvement has been achieved.
  3. Daily accountability is the secret to making each day count and making the next day better.
  4. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive to work less and think more, the ruminant approach ultimately yields more rewarding work and superior results.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been experimenting with various reflection/journaling approaches to try to find the one that allows me to build on this daily practice. In this brief period I have already seen some remarkable improvement in my productivity.

In this year of the sheep/goat/ram, take a leaf from their book and spend a bit more time chewing the cud. And, once you’ve done that, write down the results of your reflection. As you reflect and write, you will find yourself incorporating your learning into your daily work. According to the HBS study, this will improve your processes and productivity. That’s not a bad outcome for 15 brief minutes of reflection and writing each day.

May you have a wonderfully happy AND productive year of the ruminant!

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

 

 

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Adopting the 12 Days of Christmas Approach to KM

12 days of Christmas graphic wikipediaIf you let your sense of time be guided by Madison Avenue, then by January 5 we are well into the New Year, and Christmas is long since past. Even the after-Christmas sales are old news at this point.

But the Madison Avenue view of life is not the only, or even the best, view of life. There is an alternative view according to which January 5 is not merely a day that occurs after Christmas, but rather is the 12th day of Christmas. According to this approach, Christmas is not a day, but a season. It is commemorated by the English carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. While the particular identity and meaning of each of the gifts may vary according to different sources, the underlying point remains the same: Christmas does not begin and end on December 25.

So why does this matter for knowledge management professionals? Aside for providing an excuse for additional gifts, it also serves as a timely reminder that things are not always as they seem. While one perspective (in this case, the Madison Avenue perspective) may be telling you the main event is over, looking at things from a different perspective (in this example, the Christian liturgical calendar) suddenly reveals that the festive season rightly should continue for much longer than you might have expected.

Similarly, in our work it is too easy to declare events or projects a success or failure and then turn our attention to other things. But have we actually fully explored and understood what happened?

  • Have we drawn all reasonable lessons from our experience?
  • Have we found useful and effective ways to share our learning with others?
  • Have we improved our systems and processes to reflect that learning?
  • Is our decision-making better because of that learning?
  • Have we squeezed every last drop of juice out of the experience?

The job of knowledge management professionals is to make the system work better — not to condemn the system, our colleagues and ourselves to making the same mistakes over and over again. However, if you treat your projects or matters as one-off events — like Madison Avenue treats Christmas — then you miss a golden opportunity to derive the fullest possible value from each experience.

In 1984, the PNC Bank established the Christmas Price Index by calculating the cost in present-day dollars of actually giving someone each of the gifts enumerated in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. The cost in 1984 dollars of giving one set of each of the gifts was $12,623.10. The “true” cost of Christmas (i.e., giving as many sets of each gift as indicated by the repeated lines of the song, that is 364 items) was $61,318.94 in 1984. By comparison the cost in 2014 of one set of gifts was $27,673.21 while the cumulative cost of the gifts as repeated was $116,273.06.

While PNC has provided this fun new tradition (as well as a game and other resources for children) to help show the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas Approach to gift giving, I’m not aware of any data that show the true cost to KM professionals and their organizations of their failure to spend the extra time to wring every possible lesson out of every experience.

While the 12 Days of Christmas traditionally end on January 5 (according to the western liturgical calendar), I wonder if a KM calendar should extend them to the entire year? After all, can we or our organizations afford not to take advantage of every gift of learning that comes from experience?

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Just for fun, here are two of my favorite new versions of the carol:

Straight No Chaser

Bob Chilcott’s arrangement:

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

 

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Happy and Productive New Year!

NYEBall2As we were heading to a festive New Year’s Eve dinner, our cab driver asked (tongue in cheek) whether we wanted to go to Times Square.  Our negative response was so emphatic that he had to laugh. Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that for some folks their idea of a good time is to spend hours in the freezing cold just so they can watch something drop. I hope they enjoyed every minute of it. But don’t expect me to be there shivering in the cold next to them. Instead, we had a low-key (and considerably warmer) celebration. Over the course of the evening, we took a few minutes to remember the good things that happened in 2014. While no year is unalloyed joy, 2014 was a pretty good year for our family. And we are profoundly grateful.

From a professional perspective, 2014 was a stellar year for me. Among the highlights:

  • I published Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions
  • I grew my consulting and facilitating practice in revenue and diversity of clients
  • I gave more presentations than I have ever given in any other year
  • I upgraded this blog

So why this recital of good things? It’s good science. Let me explain.

A Harvard Business School working paper,”Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance,”  documents research that shows a marked improvement in productivity when you step away from your work to reflect on your progress. Drake Baer reports that the researchers tested their theories in the field with employees of Wipro in the following way:

The researchers put new employees into groups where people either reflected on their days or didn’t. In the reflection group, employees were given a paper journal and asked to spend 15 minutes at the end of their workdays writing about what went well that day, which they did for 10 days.

The result: The journaling employees had 22.8% higher performance than the control group.  [emphasis added]

Why does this work? According to HBS professor Francesca Gino:

When people have the opportunity to reflect, they experience a boost in self-efficacy. They feel more confident that they can achieve things. As a result, they put more effort into what they’re doing and what they learn.

So what does this mean for me? In 2015 I’m going to take the time to reflect more regularly (hopefully daily) on what’s working and why. Then I will try to take those lessons learned and apply them to the following day. This should create an upward spiral of learning and productivity.

And what about you? I hope you’ll make the commitment to greater productivity by taking a few minutes away from your To Do list in order to make the time for daily self-reflection.

Have a happy AND productive 2015!

 

[For the official livestream, see http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/57133726]

[Photo Credit: Countdown Entertainment LLC]

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Infinite Energy KM

cat-98359_1920We know that a cat always lands on its feet. We also know that a slice of toast always lands buttered side down. So what happens when you attach a slice of toast (buttered side up, of course) to the back of a cat and then toss both out the window?  Does the cat land on its feet or is it completely overcome by the force of the buttered bread? This puzzle is known as the buttered cat paradox and has spawned a host of interesting and sometimes comical responses. For my money, the folks at Flying Horse came up with the best answer: the tension between landing on feet versus landing buttered side down causes the cat to spin. This results in the infinite energy generator. Brilliant!

What does this have to do with law firm knowledge management?

In 2006, Chris Boyd and Ron Friedmann wrote an article advocating that law firm knowledge management professionals spend their time and energy in a more effective way. Their article, Powering a KM Windmill, recommended that we move away from KM activities that are heavily dependent on human effort (i.e., treadmill activities) and focus instead on KM activities that derive their energy from existing firm processes (i.e., windmill activities):

A practical and achievable way to maximize KM results is to capitalize on existing law firm information flows and business processes. By doing so, a firm can get the greatest possible “K” returns for a reasonable “M” effort. Think of a windmill rather than a treadmill. Whereas a treadmill keeps turning only via human effort (analogous to PSLs) or dedicated power from a generator (analogous to KM-specific software), a windmill relies on dependable winds (analogous to work flows and processes that exist independent of KM requirements).

Boyd and Friedmann were building on an earlier article by Dan Felean in which he laid out a slightly different treadmill / windmill dichotomy:

Knowledge management will not thrive as a separate process. Most KM experts now predict that KM will soon lose its separate identity, as it becomes embedded or “baked” within existing work systems. Mario D’Amico, chief technology strategist at PensEra Knowledge Technologies, describes this “knowledge funneling” approach as resembling a windmill rather than a treadmill. “Instead of constantly prodding the user to contribute tremendous effort (the treadmill), we must attach or embed the means for contribution and usage within existing lawyer work processes, so knowledge is funneled naturally from work,” he says. “By blending KM contribution and consumption with the daily attorney workflow, the process can gain more participation and become self-sustaining, propelled by natural processes–like a windmill.”

In either case, the focus was on spending your time and energy wisely in pursuit of your knowledge management goals.

Of course, all of this got me thinking. Clearly, being tied to a treadmill is a modern equivalent to being a galley slave. But is the windmill the right answer? While a windmill may be easier than a treadmill for the humans involved, how do you produce results on days that are not windy? Wouldn’t it in fact be better to create a system that was more like a watermill? The beauty of the water-powered wheel is that it will turn as long as the water is flowing. In most cases, this flow will be constant and steady — unlike the wind in many locales. Yet, even in this case, constant energy is not guaranteed. Someone could construct a dam upstream. Or a drought could cause the water to dry up.

Enter the buttered cat paradox. If you watch the Flying Horse video below, you’ll see how they created an infinite energy generator by putting the buttered cat paradox to work. Without a doubt, an infinite energy generator is far superior to a treadmill, windmill or watermill.

The question KM professionals should ask themselves with respect to every project is this:  are we setting up a process that relies on brute force (treadmill); periodic external energy (windmill); or near constant external energy, barring intervention upstream or climate change (watermill)? Or have we set up a system that will of its own accord create the energy necessary to make it self-perpetuating? If we can design projects that are self-perpetuating, then we will have found our KM equivalent of the infinite energy generator.

In a pinch, however, you could always use a buttered cat.

 

[Photo credit: Katzenspeilzeug]

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