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.
  • The members of my family are fortunate in our friends.

    We are reminded of this fact every year when we send and receive hundreds of holiday cards. Last year, however, we didn’t send out even one card. This change was not due to new hermit tendencies. And it certainly was not intended to be a repudiation of our friends. Rather, it was a reflection of our technological paralysis.

    For years we kept our contacts in a prehistoric database housed in series of PCs. However, we’ve since seen the light and moved on to a Mac. Further the vendor of the contacts manager we’ve used since the mid-90s no longer supports the software, and there isn’t even a prehistoric Mac version available for purchase.

    So now we have to move our contacts, but don’t know the destination. The cloud seems like an obvious choice. However, using which application? And, how do we ensure that the privacy of our friends is fully protected? Which application and service provider is least likely to mimic Facebook by unilaterally changing the privacy settings? Which provider is least likely to sell the data or use it for other unauthorized commercial purposes? And, whether or not you believe Google is evil, should I give Google complete access to all my contacts?

    This post is a request for advice. What should my family do?

    [Photo Credit: Bertop]

    5 Comments
  • Lawyers pride themselves on being logical. Our work lives are focused on problem solving and we relish the intellectual challenge of finding innovative solutions to the issues that vex our clients. It’s therefore not surprising that in designing law firm knowledge management systems we tend to focus first on a rational design and sensible implementation.  However, once the hoopla of the launch is over, we’re often left wondering why adoption rates are so low.

    Next, take the challenge posed by good knowledge management practice, which frequently requires our users to behave differently.  We know that the recommended change in behavior will lead to all sorts of beneficial effects and we usually tell our users this.  But is that enough to make them change the way they behave? Usually not.

    Have we been going about this the wrong way? According to Dan Heath, we’re absolutely wrong.  He believes that knowledge alone won’t change behavior.  In a recent article in Fast Company entitled Want your organization to change? Put feelings first, he cites change management expert John Kotter:

    John Kotter, one of the top gurus on organizational change, [says] that most people think change happens in three stages. You analyze the situation, and you think really hard about the solution, and then you just change. But he says that’s almost never the way change happens. He says that in his experience, it’s a different three-stage process: people SEE something that makes them FEEL something that gives them the fire to CHANGE. SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.

    So coming back to our KM system — perhaps we should focus on design that makes the user feel good rather than design that appeals simply to the intellect.  And, what about those pro-KM behaviors of knowledge sharing and collaboration?  Perhaps the key there is to help users experience the reality of those benefits rather than simply preaching the theory of the benefits.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about working in a logical, systematic fashion.  However, if we want to effect change, we can’t eliminate emotional content from our work product.  At the end of the day, if we can’t make our colleagues feel something, their indifference will bury KM.

    [Photo Credit: Kevin Labianco]

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  • For those who grew up in a command-and-control culture at work, it can be a little daunting to tackle the real challenges to their training embodied by Enterprise 2.0 initiatives. When  Enterprise 2.0 advocates say “emergent” and “free-form,” command-and-control purists hear “anarchic” and “chaotic.”  So how do we bridge the gap?

    One way to bridge the gap is to rethink our views of leadership and teams.  In this regard, the folks at Zappos have some interesting things to say about what constitutes good leadership and team membership:

    The best leaders are those who lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. We believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those who are on the front lines and closest to the issues and/or the customers. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead.

    The best team members take initiative when they notice issues so that the team and the company can succeed. The best team members take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members whenever challenges arise.

    Zappos’ focus on giving responsibility AND authority to the folks closest to the customer is a radical departure from a command-and-control structure that often gives the responsibility to the folks on the front lines without giving them the necessary authority to do what needs to be done.  If I’m reading the Zappos statement correctly, team members solve problems where they find them.  They don’t merely duck those problems by delegating up.

    Now take this approach and apply it to an Enterprise 2.0 deployment:  “We believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those who are on the front lines and closest to the issues and/or the customers.” Suddenly, this does not seem quite so anarchic.  Rather, it is about giving the front line experts the tools and flexibility to get the job done.  Above all, it’s about hiring good people and trusting them to do the right thing — with your customers and with your E2.0 tools.

    And what about managers?  “The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed.” Facilitating rather than restraining action is quite a change from command-and-control.  And, this rule for managers applies equally to knowledge management personnel.  Our job is to provide support to the front line staff and help remove obstacles in their path.  In an E2.0 implementation, this means helping the front line staff get started and then stepping out of their way so that they can bend and shape the tool to suit their needs and imaginations.

    If you’ve tried to bring this spirit to an Enterprise 2.0 deployment, you most likely can attest to the fact that wonderful things happen when the subject matter experts finally have simple (and fun) tools that allow them to collaborate and interact with each other and their information base.  Equally, if you’ve tried to provide Enterprise 2.0 tools on a command-and-control basis, I’m willing to bet real money that you’ve got a failed implementation or two on your hands.

    What’s your experience? Will I win my bet?

    [Photo Credit: Windy]

    4 Comments
  • Twice today I was reminded of the benefits of breaking out of my silo and broadening my circle. In both cases, the information sharing came about through ancient technology — a face to face meeting.

    In the first instance, I had the privilege of a long conversation with a terrific colleague who works in a completely different department. Under normal circumstances, we’d most likely never meet. However, because we happened to be working on a new  project together, we had the chance to have an extended conversation. In the course of today’s meeting, we discovered that we were working in parallel on two projects that were strikingly similar.  Thankfully, we immediately recognized the opportunities for efficiencies and have agreed to meet again to share knowledge and optimize our results. This is a great example of some of the benefits to be derived from cross-disciplinary conversations.

    Later in the day, KMers Johan Lammers, Rob Swanwick, Ian Thorpe and I had a tweetup.  In the course of that conversation, Ian remarked on the similarities in our experiences of knowledge management and social media within the enterprise despite the fact that he and I work in completely different types of organizations.  It was a good reminder that there are some essential truths in KM that apply regardless of context.  As long as we are dealing with human beings, we face these common challenges.  It was also comforting to learn that we are not alone in the face of these challenges.  Regardless of how small your knowledge management department may be, there are many other knowledge managers who are contending with similar issues.  As a result, there are many opportunites to commiserate with and learn from each other if we only step outside our silos.

    Given the amount of common ground uncovered today through these two meetings, I’m going to seek out more opportunities to have cross-disciplinary conversations.  It’s my personal attempt to do a little silo smashing with old technology.  If we’re fortunate, these interactions will lead to knowledge sharing and innovation. Can you think of better outcomes for a knowledge management initiative?

    [Photo Credit: Calium]

    4 Comments
  • We’ve never met. Nonetheless, Samuel Driessen was most generous to me yesterday. What did he do? He very kindly offered me his full pass to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference to be held in June.

    This conference provides a prime opportunity to learn first-hand from people who have had success with Enterprise 2.0 tools. For those of us in the E2.0 trenches, it promises guidance and inspiration. Along the way, we also get to meet (and commiserate with) folks who are part of the wider E2.0 community.

    Samuel is a well-known proponent of social media tools.  Consequently, it isn’t too surprising that he chose to let the world know via his blog and Twitter that he wouldn’t be able to use his conference pass.  He then invited anyone interested in attending in his stead to leave a comment on his blog.  By using these Web 2.0 tools and spreading the message through various online networks, Samuel made a wonderful opportunity available to someone he had never met before, someone who lives in a different continent and works in a completely different industry.

    Blanche DuBois famously said in A Streetcar Named Desire that she had “always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  Samuel’s approach reminded me that the world of social media is populated with generous people who are kind to strangers every day.  Thanks to social media tools, we have the opportunity to expand our networks beyond geographical and industry boundaries, making friends of strangers.

    So let me end where I should have begun — with my heartfelt thanks to Samuel Driessen.  As I’ve promised Samuel, I’ll report in this blog the pearls of wisdom I’m sure to find at the conference.  That’s the best way I know to demonstrate my thanks in a practical fashion.

    [Photo Credit: Betizuka]

    6 Comments
  • Wired Man

    Wired Man

    Whether we’re compelled by an urge for productivity or a chronic lack of time, many of us spend our days multitasking. Even though there are serious questions about the true efficacy of multitasking, many feel that we simply have no choice.  While some say this is just the new reality in today’s world, others point to research that indicates that human multitasking is a myth:

    As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth — and they have the data to prove it.

    Humans, they say, don’t do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly.

    This suggests that when we try to multitask, we’re really just doing multiple things serially with less than full focus.  Depending on the circumstances, that can be delightful (e.g., listening to music while doing household chores), dumb (e.g., having a serious “relationship” conversation while watching a sporting event on TV) or even dangerous (e.g., texting while driving).  But have you considered the ethics of multitasking?

    All lawyers in active practice in New York are required to attend ongoing education sessions in order to earn a specified number of continuing legal education (CLE) credits and, thereby, remain in good standing.  In a recent post about “Blackberryheads” on the Legal Ethics Forum, renowned legal ethicist Stephen Gillers challenged lawyers by asking,

    Is it ethical to claim CLE credit for a talk on legal ethics if you’ve spent nearly the entire time a captive of your Blackberry? Or laptop? Or editing a brief? Or reading a book on your iPad?

    Even if you’re not a lawyer, is it ethical to give only partial attention to the task at hand?

    ******************************

    Additional Reading:

    [Photo Credit: Mike Licht]

    4 Comments
  • “Women love drama!”  I overheard this pearl of wisdom on the street the other day. If I hadn’t been racing to a meeting, I might have stopped to engage with the two “gentlemen” who were pontificating about women on a busy street corner in Manhattan. Perhaps it’s just as well that I was in a rush. After all, how do you begin to address a hopeless generalization like “women love drama”? Somehow I doubt that creating my own drama on that corner would have helped the cause of women.

    As I walked away, I wondered how often we make generalizations in our lives and thereby avoid the need to analyze closely what’s really going on around us. For example, in law firm knowledge management circles I often hear statements that begin with the words: “THE LAWYERS…” As a lawyer and a knowledge manager, I know that I’m not part of a monolithic indistinguishable mass. In fact, I know lots of quirky people who act in unexpected ways — even though they are lawyers.  Therefore, building a knowledge management system around someone’s personal generalization of an entire group of people makes no sense at all.  However, it does happen.

    What’s the antidote?  Start by being honest about your sample size.  How many lawyers have you spoken to or observed with respect to a particular generalization? Then, look outside your experience of your firm to the experience of other firms.  Does your generalization hold up?  If not, is it because you’re working with a truly unique group of lawyers or are you working with a flawed view of lawyers?

    If we can’t safely rely on personal generalizations, what other shortcuts can we reliably use in planning, deploying and maintaining KM systems? There are by now many studies (backed by lots of data) regarding human behavior and usability preferences.  Make sure you stay aware of this literature.  And, if you’re working with a good vendor, you should be able to take advantage of their experience of deploying their product in a variety of environments and with a range of users.

    At the end of the day, don’t assume that all users are like the handful you actually know.  Failure to follow this rule could lead to a great deal of unwelcome drama that is a whole lot more substantial than the female drama some think they’ve experienced!

    [Photo Credit:  Schroedinger's Cat]

    11 Comments
  • Am I creating value? That’s the key question to start and end every working day.

    For knowledge management professionals, it can be a tough one to answer honestly. Why? Because many of us struggle with proving the value of knowledge management efforts. We know that we’ve helped individuals, but we are often hard pressed to explain how much we have in fact helped.  For example, you might truly believe that the enterprise search engine you’ve painstakingly implemented will save lawyers time and effort, ultimately saving clients money.  But do you have any metrics to prove it?  Unlikely.  So how do you know that your search engine project creates value?

    One approach is to sit next to your colleagues with a stop watch measuring the time spent on searches before and after your enterprise search engine is implemented. Then you should have the data necessary to prove value numerically.  But how do you measure user satisfaction? You could ask users to complete a survey.  With tools like zoomerang or surveymonkey, it’s almost too easy to do this.  However, the real challenge lies in how the survey is constructed and interpreted.  An additional problem is that it can be hard to coax busy lawyers to complete your survey.

    If you’re looking for ways to show how much value you’ve created, consider the example of Morrison & Foerster.  On a page whimsically entitled “Geek Power,” the firm makes the following claims about their knowledge management program:

    In order to take maximum advantage of the collective experience of our lawyers, we have developed a number of important knowledge management systems and tools.  These systems improve our efficiency.

    AnswerBase. AnswerBase is our award-winning enterprise search engine.  The search engine enables us to access the firm’s best and most pertinent practice materials, internal research, attorney experience, client and matter information and other important firm information.  AnswerBase has won a number of awards, including an award from Law Technology News (“Best Collaboration in Implementing Enterprise Search”) and Citytech Global Tech Leaders Top 100 (“Law Firm Project of the Year”).

    Knowledge Exchange. Our Knowledge Exchange database makes documents, forms, templates, precedent, briefs, practice materials and internal research available to all attorneys.

    They back this up with an exercise they undertook in 2006 to prove value.  Specifically, they retained Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith Esq to talk to MoFo attorneys about their experiences before and after AnswerBase.  According to Bruce MacEwen:

    I was retained by Morrison & Foerster to lead an analysis and review of AnswerBase vis-a-vis its predecessor Knowledge Management system during last summer and fall, and reached the resounding conclusion that AnswerBase was strongly superior to the firm’s legacy systems, by providing highly relevant documents and discovering genuine subject-matter experts within the firm with impressive accuracy.   By interviewing a broad cross-section of lawyers at the firm’s New York offices, I was able to determine that the design and functionality of AnswerBase essentially replicate, as I put it in my report, “the way lawyers think” rather than reflecting technical considerations or limitations.

    Admittedly, hiring someone of Bruce MacEwen’s caliber will be hard to justify for every small project on your to do list.  However, I’ve recounted this story to remind you (and me) that sometimes it makes a lot of sense to bring in an impartial third party to help you and your colleagues see what is right in front of you.  And if in the process you manage to demonstrate that your KM efforts have created value, that’s all the better.

    [Photo Credit: Dave Elmore]

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