Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • Knowledge managers around the world can learn a great deal from the example of the Hon. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge of the State of New York, whose tenure ends on December 31st. Besides being the first woman to hold the state’s highest judiciary office and author of some landmark decisions, she will be remembered for her reform of the judicial system in New York. Chief among these reforms was expansion of the jury pool by eliminating the automatic exemptions that excused far too many from serving on a jury. Prior to the repeal of these exemptions, you could be excused from jury service if you were, for example, a doctor, a lawyer, an embalmer, a maker of prosthetic limbs, a wearer of prosthetic limbs, etc.

    Chief Judge Kaye tells an amusing story about why expanding the jury pool was necessary: her daughter discovered that it was “a great place to meet guys.” As any loving mother knows, you increase your daughter’s chances of making a good match by increasing the number of potential mates in the pool (regardless of the real purpose of the pool).

    What works in matchmaking works in knowledge sharing as well. The bigger the pool, the greater the available knowledge on which you can draw. Users of social media are discovering that by interacting more regularly and transparently with their social networks they are able to learn and share more than ever before. In the process, the pool grows and the participants themselves grow. Despite this reality, finding a way to bring the power of the bigger pool inside enterprises via social media tools continues to be a challenge for knowledge management.

    In 2009, look for more ways to take an expansive view — not only in how you work, but in the tools you provide that help make the pool bigger for everyone. If social computing has taught us anything, it is that this generosity is returned time and time again.

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  • We’re two-thirds of the way through the eating marathon composed of Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And, as surely as night follows day, many of us are considering our expanding waistlines and the necessity of a diet in the New Year. Just as predictably, many of us will fail in our quest to change our eating habits and keep that weight off permanently. Similarly, in these waning days of the year, our thoughts often turn to the resolutions we plan to make on January 1 regarding the changes we know we need and the great expectations we hope to realize. Unfortunately, we likely will be as unsuccessful next year as we were this year in making radical changes.

    Why is change so hard? According to a recent article in Scientific American, from our mid-twenties until our late fifties, we tend to be less open to new experiences and this makes us more resistant to change. As we face the challenges and responsibilities of adult life, our brains seem to prefer the security of stability rather than the chaos that change represents. According to Gerhard Roth,

    The brain is always trying to automate things and to create habits, which it imbues with feelings of pleasure. Holding to the tried and true gives us a feeling of security, safety, and competence while at the same time reducing our fear of the future and of failure.

    The final nail in the coffin of change is our tendency to have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. This is known as the “false hope” syndrome in which we attempt more change than is wise or possible, and then fail. No wonder most of us find it so difficult to change.

    So what happens when your knowledge management program requires a change in behavior on the part of the lawyers in your law firm? You should assume that you will meet passive if not active resistance. But that doesn’t give us a free pass to avoid change. Since change often is necessary, we need to plan carefully to ensure that the proposed change can be achieved. This suggests that we set reasonable goals requiring incremental (rather than radical) change and that we frame the change in a way that is least threatening to the sense of stability and security of our users.

    Incremental change rarely results in banner headlines, but given what we now know about human psychology, it may be the only kind of change that is viable.

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  • Growing up in Canada, we were the “beneficiaries” of Canadian Content, a government policy designed to ensure we had enough exposure to homegrown culture that we didn’t succumb to the allure of those cultural hegemonists south of the 49th parallel. When I first moved south of the 49th, it was hard to find overtly Canadian content (although media watchers will know that there are a surprisingly large number of Canadians active in US media.) Today, however, we have access to lots of great Canadian content — not because of government regulation, but because of the excellence of the content and the open nature of the internet.

    To celebrate that excellence, our blogging colleagues in Canada have instituted the Canadian Law Blog Awards, or CLawBies. The creator of the CLawBies, Steve Matthews (the terrific Vancouver Law Librarian and founder of Stem Legal), has implemented an innovative nomination process this year with the goal of fostering “some audience sharing & link-based infrastructure between members of the Canadian law blog community.”

    In deciding which blogs I would nominate, I was interested to discover that in every case I read these blogs because they are consistently good rather than because they are Canadian. (The fact that they are Canadian is a bonus as far as I’m concerned.) Here are the Canadian blogs I’ve enjoyed in the past year:

    Connie Crosby — I read Connie’s blog regularly and follow her on Twitter. Her background in law libraries and social networking gives her insight into those knowledge management issues that keep me occupied. Above all, how can you not pay attention to a great “Info Diva”?

    Law21 — Jordan Furlong’s blog is a must-read for anyone thinking hard about intelligent ways to practice law. And, even if you’re not, he’s such a good writer that I’d recommend you read him anyhow!

    Slaw — This is a category-busting blog: a community effort that covers a wide range of legal and cultural topics. There’s always something of interest and, due to the number of contributors, there is always something new.

    Finally, I do want to thank Steve Matthews personally. He has been a terrific supporter of legal blogging on either side of the 49th parallel. Steve’s efforts to promote individual bloggers and legal blogging generally are marked with the kind of personal generosity that makes the blawgosphere such a rewarding place for those of us interested in good conversation and community. Thanks, Steve!

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  • One of our favorite holiday traditions is to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast from King’s College Cambridge. It provides a glimpse of a useful knowledge management lesson — in this case regarding innovation.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the service of lessons and carols, it is a tradition that began in 1918. It tells the story of prophecy and fulfillment, drawing on sources in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The lessons read from the Bible each year are the same ones read in 1918. What changes from year to year are the carols chosen. After each lesson, the superb King’s College choir sings two different carols that are thematically related to the lesson just read. These carols draw on centuries of Christmas music and always feature some golden oldies. However, every year the choir commissions one new carol to be premiered during the service. This year, the new carol is entitled “Mary” and was composed by Dominic Muldowney.

    I’ve written before about the value of incremental change. Not every law firm needs a revolution in order to have a great knowledge management effort. However, every law firm will benefit from knowledge managers who are constantly focused on making incremental improvements to the KM program, especially if those changes result in improvements in the way the firm delivers superior service to its clients. The key incremental change offered by King’s College is the newly-commissioned carol. Commissioning a new piece of music is not something you do on the fly. It requires planning, inspiration, effort and time. It also requires the consistent excellence in delivery for which the choir of King’s College is famous.

    Plan for constant incremental improvements. Cast your net widely to find your inspiration and then cull those ideas until you find something truly worth the effort and time required. Next, be sure that you have staff and systems that operate at a level of excellence. With all these elements in place, your KM program and your law firm will be able to reap the benefits of constant incremental improvement.

    Merry Christmas!

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  • Our family has a strict rule (guaranteed to drive children crazy): first send the thank you note and then enjoy the gift. In this case, however, the gift arrived electronically and put an immediate smile on my face. In fact, I’ve been enjoying Dennis Kennedy’s gift for hours and this note of thanks is a little tardy.

    And what was the gift? Dennis Kennedy was kind enough to include Above and Beyond KM on his 2008 list of notable blogs, also known as Dennis Kennedy’s 2008 Law-related Blogging Awards (The Blawggies). I was surprised and delighted to find myself in the company of some terrific bloggers. I invite you to spend a little time with the blawgs and blawggers Dennis called out for recognition. The list covers a wide range of law-related subjects and provides lots of thought-provoking reading.

    All of this starts with Dennis, one of the pioneers of legal blogging. I was reading his writing before I even realized what a blog was. He has set a high standard not only for great content and longevity in this business but, most of all, for generosity.

    So, thank you Dennis Kennedy!

    With best wishes for the Holidays,
    Mary

    ***********

    And, because I couldn’t resist, here’s an excerpt from my post on April 15 in which I quote Dennis Kennedy:

    In the inimitable words of Dennis Kennedy: “I have no doubt that Tom Mighell has mentioned many more new legal blogs than the number of blogs that have links back to his blog. He’s a saint I’m not quite that saintly.” Dennis makes this observation in the course of a post entitled “What are the Most Common Mistakes a New Legal Blogger Makes,” in which he reminds bloggers who are lucky enough to be mentioned by a more established blogger that they should not be delinquent in thanking the experienced blogger.

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  • At the heart of every knowledge management effort has to be the people we hope will use and benefit from it. Yet far too often, they are not considered sufficiently in the design or implementation stage. Most of the time we plan based on our “impressions and preconceptions” of how our target audience will behave. These “impressions and preconceptions” are what we call experience, but they often block us from truly working with people as they are now, rather than how we thought they once were.

    What’s the corrective for this? Pay attention to people — pay close attention. In a post about living artfully that is well worth reading as we approach the season of resolutions, Dustin Wax has the following observation about why paying attention to people pays off:

    When we pay attention to people, really pay attention, it brings forth something in them that’s amazing. This is something I learned as an anthropologist – people love to tell their stories

    . All they need is someone to really listen to them. And when people give you their stories, it enriches your own story.

    It’s those stories that allow us to match our KM program to the current needs or pain points experienced by the people we serve. It also helps prevent our deploying programs that miss the mark. Pay attention to the people first and then see how technology can help. You won’t regret it.

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  • There is a particular kind of paralysis that can overtake a person standing in front of an ice cream shop counter, trying to choose among 31 (or more) flavors of ice cream. Sometimes you end up choosing vanilla just because it seems impossible to make a single choice from all the available options. That’s how I felt when Greg Lambert at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog asked me to send him my favorite blog posts. We’re fortunate that there are so many folks who have interesting and intelligent things to say about knowledge management, social media, human behavior and all the other topics I like to follow. So nominating some for his consideration was a pleasure. But then came the difficult part: which of my own blog posts did I like the best?

    (Cookies `n Cream? Heath Bar Crunch? Mint Chocolate Chip? Butter Pecan? Help!)

    So here’s what I did. I looked at the blog posts my readers seemed to like the most (based on site traffic reports and comments received) and then I thought about the posts I particularly enjoyed writing. Here’s the list I came up with today:

    Is Your KM Department Serving Fish?

    The Problem with Low-Hanging Fruit

    Overcoming Hurdles to Web 2.0

    Is Your Knowledge Management Strategic?

    Why KM Needs Good Design

    KM and the Pantyhose Fallacy

    Putting Blinders on to Enhance Productivity

    Just One Thing

    If you asked me tomorrow, I might come up with a different list. But, for today, this is my multi-scoop alternative to plain vanilla.

    Be sure to check back with 3Geeks and a Law Blog. They’re planning to publish today the list of all the recommended blog posts. I’m looking forward to reading them.

    [photo courtesy of ulterior epicure under a Creative Commons license]

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  • We just spent the evening at the home of friends who are in the wine importing business. As you might imagine, we didn’t drink much water. There is an old proverb: “in vino veritas.” It simply attests to the fact that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of wine consumed and the degree to which one can edit one’s conversation. In fact, you learn the most interesting things when your companions are under the influence…

    With the advent of social media, teetotalers and imbibers alike now have multiple opportunities to converse online without editing themselves. In case you have blindly assumed that it doesn’t really matter how you behave online, you should know that lawyers are now beginning to think about the e-discovery implications of Twitter.

    To be fair, if you’ve ever thought that your activities via social media are entirely private, you’ve been deluding yourself. Google owns your personal archive. Facebook knows who you know. And millions of folks like you are surfing in and out of your online life. Now more than ever, you need to manage your web presence like Hollywood agents manage movie stars. You no longer can limit your image to the four corners of your resume. Now, every time you hit the Web you add to the world’s understanding of who you are. And your digital profile can be powerful — particularly when it doesn’t square with your resume. Be aware and be careful.

    [photo courtesy of Rob Bieber under a Creative Commons License]

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  • Do you know where you’re going to?* That’s the critical question Mark Gould asks in his recent post on social media, in which he makes the fair point that there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all social media strategy. Each person and each organization has to figure it out for themselves. And it all begins with knowing what you’re trying to achieve. Then you choose the tools that will get you to your goal.

    That said, I know folks are always looking for the silver bullet, the one sure-fire way of achieving success. Putting to one side the fact that I don’t know how you define success, let me make a suggestion: Go where the conversation is. In the brief time I’ve been using social media tools, I’ve been struck by how well they facilitate conversations that cut across status, age and geography. Above all, I’ve been impressed by the richness of those conversations. But don’t be fooled by the fact that they can be brief, casual and, on occasion, banal. The reality is that these online conversations build relationships, and those relationships enrich your life. In fact, they can even be profitable in your professional life.

    There was a time when the critical business conversations happened on the golf course or in particular private clubs. Increasingly, they are happening online. So if you want to participate, find a social media tool that works for you** and then use it to go where the conversation is.

    [*When I first saw the blog title, "Do You Know Where You're Going To?" I thought Mark was joining me in my series of blog posts based on popular songs. Unfortunately, it was not the case. However, for those of you who don't mind a trip down memory lane, here's the song I had in mind.]

    [**And, for those of you who have read this far, here's a small bit of advice: try using Twitter for three weeks and then let me know what you think. There are great conversations to be enjoyed there. If you wish, you can find me on Twitter using the tag @VMaryAbraham.]

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  • It’s been fascinating to watch the reaction of law firms to social media. Some firms have jumped right in and experimented enthusiastically with the new tools. Others have tiptoed around the edges, exploring their options, but not really diving in. And then there are the firms that aren’t going to “do it” until all their peer firms “do it,” or who believe that social media doesn’t offer them anything they don’t already have the old-fashioned way.

    For the firm that is skeptical about the usefulness of social media, here is some straight talk (not snake oil) from Kevin O’Keefe, who has been equipping law firms all over the country to participate effectively in the Web 2.0 world. When asked which three social media tools deliver the most bang for the buck, his answer is very clear: blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn.

    In his typically direct fashion, here’s how he describes the value of these tools:

    Blogs? Got to have one. How else can you develop a central place where clients, prospective clients, and the influencers (bloggers, media, and social media hounds) pick up on your passion, philosophy, reasoning, and skill? How do you get seen when people search for info? You think I’m picking a pig in the poke by reading a lawyer profile on a website or Martindale? That’s nuts.

    Twitter? Single biggest learning, brand building, network expanding, and reputation enhancing tool for me this year.

    LinkedIn? LinkedIn has won the professional social networking/directory space. The race is over. I get invites from professionals inviting me to join their network elsewhere. Other than LinkedIn and Facebook I ignore them.

    So there you have it, straight talk from a man who has been at the forefront of law firm social media deployments. Now, let’s hear your questions and concerns. What’s holding your firm back from engaging fully with social media?

    6 Comments