There are days when you all really want is to inhabit an alternate reality. For many, the easiest way to approximate this experience is by engaging in a little counterfactual thinking. Wikipedia tells us that

Counterfactual thinking is a term of psychology that describes the tendency people have to imagine alternatives to reality. Humans are predisposed to think about how things could have turned out differently if only…, and also to imagine what if?

If we’re serious about innovation, a little counterfactual thinking can be powerful — provided it doesn’t slip into the realm of delusional thinking.  For purposes of innovation, examining the “if only” question can help you understand what happened, and help you understand what might be improved the next time.  If you approach these “if only” questions regularly and wisely, you can help foster a process of continuous improvement with powerful results — all because you took the time to consider an alternate reality.

Equally,  asking “what if” can free you from mental ruts and ossified business processes.  This ability to step outside your routine to consider alternatives is critical to innovation.  Holly Green describes the process in her post, What If You Asked “What If?”:

It involves examining your own thinking process to understand why you think the way you do. More important, it involves pausing your thinking process every now and then and contemplating how to change perspectives, how to challenge your own assumptions, how to consider the opposite of what you normally think, how to ponder multiple right answers, and how to do things differently.

Not only can this type of counterfactual thinking help identify new directions, it can also help you avoid bad ones.  Jack Vinson writes that asking “What if I’m wrong” is a great way to prevent the painful consequences of implementing a half-baked idea. To be clear, Jack is not recommending that we become paralyzed by doubt:

This is not a suggestion to kill ideas simply because there are negative ramifications.  It is a suggestion to verify that those negatives could really happen, and decide how to prevent those negatives from happening while still getting the benefit from the original idea.  This might be part of a risk management practice, or it could be part of being smart about deciding how to do things.

So counterfactual thinking need not be delusional.  In fact, it can help with innovation and risk management when done correctly.  On that basis, counterfactual thinking seems like sound thinking to me.

[Photo Credit: ChernobylBob]


How We Work

A blog post entitled 10 Ways to Be Productive During Downtime on a Job prompted an incredulous chuckle from me, along with the following question: “Who has downtime on their job?” Call me misguided, but I was under the impression that the last few years of workforce “right sizing” had left everyone else with so much to do that there wasn’t enough time for downtime. Did I miss something? Nonetheless, in an effort to learn something from what I’d encountered, I wondered whether the issue was not so much that downtime is generated when we have under-demanding jobs, but rather  that downtime is a function of how we as humans work.  If it’s the latter, shouldn’t we  plan to make the best possible use of it?

In his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance,* Tony Schwartz and his co-authors remind us that we aren’t like computers — designed to be on constantly while operating multiple programs simultaneously over long stretches of time.  Rather, we’re meant to oscillate between periods of intense, focused activity, and downtime.  In his view, this downtime is a vitally important opportunity to refresh our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual resources so that we can bring them all to the work we’ve chosen to do.  Further, the downtime (if done correctly) gives our brains a chance to operate a bit more creatively, taking advantage of internal processes of which we’re unaware and cannot direct.  This suggests that even the most overworked person needs to plan for downtime.  Not because they have too little to do, but precisely because they have so much to do and need to ensure they bring their best to their work.

Whether you choose to use your downtime for chores or choose deliberately to recharge your batteries, remember that even robots require time in the workshop for renewal and repair.

[Photo Credit: Swansea Photographer]

*Disclosure: As an experiment, I’m trying the Amazon Associates program, which means that if you purchase this book via the link above, I may at some point receive a small commission from Amazon. Here’s the formal statement recommended by Amazon:  VMAbraham is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC  Associates Program, an affiliate  advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn  advertising fees by advertising and  linking to


A Guide to Innovation

Good looking and ubiquitous. Who am I talking about?  The Old Spice guy, of course!  While I doubt that I’m in their target market, even I couldn’t resist watching some of the videos that Old Spice posted on YouTube.  [If you’ve been in a cave or off the grid this week, you may not have seen the recent Old Spice ad campaign that has taken the internet by storm.  To help bring you up to speed, I’ve posted a few of the videos below — strictly as a public service, of course!]*

Eye candy aside, I was struck by some of the reaction to the ad campaign.  Even the most jaded of  the commentators had to admit that the rapid-fire interactive nature of the marketing effort was innovative.  As I thought about this further, I wasn’t altogether surprised to learn that the parent company of Old Spice is Procter & Gamble.  Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may remember a post I did on the use of design at P&G entitled Why KM Needs Good Design.  As it turns out, good design is just part of P&G’s approach to innovation, which is described by their legendary former CEO, A.G. Lafley in this Harvard Business Publishing video:

While I commend the entire 14-minute video to you, I do want to draw your attention to a few points A.G.Lafley made:

  • Innovation isn’t just about product or technology.  At P&G, they try to “integrate innovation into everything [they] do” — from their product design to the design of their internal business processes.
  • They start and end with the customer. This means that they take concepts and prototypes to customers early to ensure customer views are reflected in product development.  They aim to “co-create and co-design” with target prospective customers.
  • Starting at the 3:20 minute mark, A.G.Lafley describes P&G’s innovation review process.  As you listen to him, consider how a similar approach would affect your organization.
  • They have a business strategy and an innovation strategy.  Their job is to ensure that the two are aligned and support each other.
  • A.G. Lafley is aware of the human tendency to do the easy thing first.  Therefore, part of his role is to focus his team on the biggest, most critical issue that must be resolved in order to ensure the success of an innovation.
  • Basic rules for an innovation process:
    • Know your customer. Know what their needs and wants are.
    • Bring the right team together, set the direction and some simple goals, then make some choices.  (Making choices is how he describes strategy.)
    • Have a simple process for gathering ideas, converting those ideas into basic prototypes and exposing those prototypes to your customers so that they can provide feedback.
    • Have a development and qualification process to evaluate innovation.
  • While grassroots innovation is good and to be encouraged, enterprise-wide innovation is difficult without the full engagement and support of the CEO.   In addition to assuming responsibility for innovation, the CEO must create an innovation culture within the enterprise.
  • An innovation culture requires
    • being open and open-minded
    • connecting ideas and people
    • working collaboratively
  • What keeps the team engaged and motivated during long-term innovation projects? “It’s not the boss flogging you.” It’s the positive feedback you get from your customers along the development path.

This holistic, customer-focused approach to innovation is something we all should consider  in our knowledge management efforts, Enterprise 2.0 deployments, law firms or other places of work.  While we may not achieve the viral success of the Old Spice guy, the resulting innovation is bound to have an impact.


*As promised, here’s the remedial course on Old Spice ads. (This is just a small selection of the large number available on YouTube.)  Enjoy!

In response to Gillette:

In response to Alyssa Milano (4th in a series of videos):

[Photo Credit: Umpqua]


E2.0 Stag Party

An Enterprise 2.0 project is sufficiently different from a traditional knowledge management or IT project that it can be a little disconcerting at first. Some experts recommend what seems like a 1960s free love approach — anything goes and, by the way, I’m ok and you’re ok. At the other extreme are the traditionalists who believe that introducing any innovation within an organization requires lots of constraints to ensure safety.

If you’re starting a new E2.0 project, which approach do you take?   Neither.

I’d like to commend to you the “stag party” approach described by Ron Donaldson in his post Lines in the Sand.  He starts with the following statement:

A complex system requires boundary conditions, not too tight that they constrain and not too loose as they allow unacceptable behaviours.

He then goes on to list the rules his son’s friends agreed on to govern their stag weekend.  You should read these rules.  They are both funny and intensely pragmatic. Ron Donaldson called them “[b]rilliant, self organising, self regulating and in everyone’s best interests.”

Coming back to your E2.0 deployment, can you reduce your concerns  to a small handful of rules? What minimums does Mum (or, as is most likely in your case, senior management) require?  Do these rules protect the most vulnerable and valuable while still permitting sufficient flexibility for learning, growth and enjoyment?

From his postmortem of the stag weekend, it’s clear that the rules worked.  Everyone behaved appropriately for the context and, while there were some perfectly predictably after-effects, everyone survived and even enjoyed the experience.

It seems to me that if we can ensure that with our E2.0 deployments, we’ll have done pretty well.  What do you think?

[Photo Credit: Jack Spellingbacon]


The End of Your KM Job?

My friends were so worried about me that they rushed over to check that I hadn’t lost my marbles. In fairness, their response could be considered reasonable given that I had just declared to a group of law firm knowledge management specialists that much of what we collectively were doing at that time shouldn’t be done the same old way.  It was a point of view many didn’t want to hear.

Several years later, we’re enjoying the benefits of enterprise search, better document management and work product retrieval tools, and lawyers who are much less phobic about technology. As a result, I’m even more convinced today than I was back then that law firm knowledge managers need to think hard about the work they are doing.  If they are still stuck in the mode of document collection and organization, they may face the unpleasant discovery that electronic tools can do much of this work in an automated and more reliable fashion.  Even those involved with content creation (i.e., the classic practice support lawyer), may soon find that the materials they currently create and struggle to maintain can be produced and more reliably maintained outside the firm on competitive economic terms. For example, the Practical Law Company offers lawyers an up-to-date set of model documents, practice notes, checklists and guidance on market terms (among other things), coupled with the economies of scale that are possible because PLC has more practice support lawyers than most firms and can spread the cost of those lawyers across many firms.  (Disclosure: I’m on PLC’s advisory board.)  For many firms in the UK and the US, this is an attractive option.

An even more radical alternative is what Jeff Vail refers to as “open source knowledge management,” which he claims is  “the most potentially disruptive technology for law firms.” According to him, even a large firm with a KM staff will have a hard time replicating the range of resources that will become available on the web through collaborative efforts of lawyers in many firms.  Here’s how he describes it:

What lawyers do, at its core, is manage knowledge and implement systems for applying that knowledge to solve clients’ problems.  I’m not talking about case law, statutes, and other knowledge accessible via legal research here ….  Instead, what I’m talking about is the knowledge of how to apply the law, lists of best practices for doing so, and systems for applying those best practices. …[but] even the most experienced lawyer doesn’t have access to the depth and breadth of best practices available to the “crowd.”  For that reason, the potential of open-source knowledge management and development of legal systems (checklists, indexes of best practices, etc.) has the potential to truly disrupt the way most lawyers and law firms do business today.  Additionally, while many firms tout the benefit of their institutional knowledge to clients, no firm can compete in breadth and depth with a cooperative, open-source knowledge management tool that connects solo and small firms across the country.

Put another way, if a lawyer is carrying out tasks that are closely circumscribed by the requirements of statute or regulation, with little room to improvise, chances are that the task list that lawyer creates to manage that process will look a lot like the task list created by a lawyer in another firm.  In this context, an open source industry standard begins to look very appealing.

Obviously, risk management experts will have concerns about the reliability of open source legal resources and I don’t intend in any way to appear to be minimizing those risks.  Their concerns are reasonable and valid.  That said, I must admit that if there were a reliable open source knowledge management resource, it would be the most rational and cost-effective approach as far as clients and lawyers are concerned.  Of course, if that day ever comes, some law firm KM jobs will have to change quite radically. Are you ready?

[Photo Credit: Brooks Elliott]


Coalition of the Willing

Lawyers in most firms are given a lot of freedom to decide how to manage their own knowledge. In fact, it’s a rare law firm that can demand that its lawyers handle their knowledge in a particular way. For many, the battle began and ended with the document management system. At this point, most firms with document management systems have persuaded their lawyers to create and store documents primarily within the DMS. This has the signal benefit of ensuring that the firm’s work product is located in one place.  The problem, of course, is that while you can require that documents be created within the DMS, it’s much harder to get lawyers do anything more than the most rudimentary profiling of their documents.  As a result, it has until recently been extremely difficult to capture much metadata regarding a document. What’s changed? In part, it’s that lawyers are beginning to learn the value of metadata to assist in the document searches they do every day.  In addition, new document management systems are more intelligently designed and allow simpler filing of documents, coupled with the ability to let new documents “inherit” metadata from the folder in which they are placed.  Couple this with the metadata extraction capabilities of some work product retrieval systems, and the burden on the individual lawyer to create metadata is lightened considerably.

So the good news is that after nearly 20 years of document management systems, we’re finally getting to a point where the technology allows them to work more seamlessly and intuitively for lawyers.  This should encourage greater use (and more rewarding use) of the DMS by lawyers. The bad news is that relatively little of a firm’s knowledge in contained in its work product. What’s your strategy for dealing with that problem?

Unless your firm is run by Attila the Hun, you won’t be able to compel lawyers to share their knowledge via a central repository or medium.  Further, you will run into the problem observed by Steve Denning (see The Economic Imperative to Manage Knowledge) regarding the behavior of “experts” with respect to their knowledge:

As preliminary efforts to establish what the organization knew were launched, it started becoming apparent – to the surprise of many – that the organization did not know what it knew. Inquiries as to the cause of the hesitancy revealed that even the experts were not sure of what they knew. The experts even contested whether they were responsible for sharing their knowledge. They often contended that their job was to meet with their clients and deal with their needs, not sit in an office in headquarters and assemble best practice manuals.

What’s the solution? If you can’t compel sharing, you’ll need to coax sharing.  The best way to do this is to work individually with your experts to identify their personal knowledge management challenges and then find ways to address those needs in a manner  that results in a solution that is satisfactory for that expert AND yields rich material in a selectively shared content repository. Notice, that I used the words “selectively shared.”  Unless you can promise some measure of control over the knowledge, you’ll have a hard time winning the cooperation of your experts.  They will undoubtedly want the freedom to gather and organize the content as they see fit — not as necessarily as the IT department dictates. The key here for technologists and knowledge managers alike is to provide very lightweight systems that provide the individual flexibility cherished by experts. One obvious choice is the range of Enterprise 2.0 tools now available, but I could imagine implementing some firm-wide systems in a way that encourage personalization, sensible organization and sharing rather than the unmanageable wilderness currently found in everyone’s favorite content repository — Outlook.

One challenge is that your work with these individual experts will result in information silos.  However, you can go some distance in managing these new silos by ensuring that the content can be shared easily. Then, see the good that happens when your intelligently-designed system interacts with what Dave Snowden observed as our basic tendency to help in times of true need.

The bottom line is that you have to build a coalition of the willing — willing experts, that is.  Once you’ve helped them organize and find what they know, they’ll be better equipped to share that with others.

[h/t to John Tropea for pointing out the Steve Denning piece]

[Photo Credit: lumaxart]


Safe Passwords

One of the banes of modern existence is the need to create (and remember) passwords for all the computer programs we use. Because this poses a significant challenge, many folks just use one or two basic passwords. While simplicity is often a virtue in life, this is one area where it pays to be complicated. After all, when you make it easy for yourself, you often make it easy for someone else to guess your password.

So what shouldn’t you use? (Hint: all the password shortcuts you and I have been using.) Here are a few obvious and painfully common nonstarters:

  • your name or the name of a family member or pet
  • your birth date or the date of an important event
  • your address or phone number
  • any identification number associated with you (e.g., social security or drivers license)
  • any word in the dictionary (regardless of language)
  • anything that your friends would know about you (e.g., your favorite sports team)

So what’s left? Here are a couple of quick videos with some good suggestions for creating safe and secure passwords. First is the brand new Common Craft video on creating safe and secure passwords. The second video (posted below) is a collaborative effort by Google and AARP.

[Photo Credit: Mental Masala]


SharePoint Puzzle

What’s going on with SharePoint? Klint Finley, writing for ReadWriteWeb, reports what seem to be some counter-intuitive survey results:

A survey by AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) found that although Microsoft SharePoint is being rapidly adopted by the enterprise, at least half of the enterprises polled that are implementing the platform don’t have business uses in mind and many lack specific policies regarding its use.

No business uses? No policies?  I thought this was a violation of the rules everyone learned in the IT 101 course on implementing new technology.  What’s worse is that the survey reports that 26% of the respondents claim that their “implementation is being driven by the the IT department with no input from information management professionals.” If this is true, then in a quarter of all cases, the IT professionals have acted contrary to the restrictions they impose on the rest of their organization.  But wait, there’s more:

Among respondents who have completed their SharePoint implementation, 58% report being able to do most of the things they needed with SharePoint. Others are using customizations and plugins for added functionality. ROI has been better or much better than expected according 28% of respondents, as expected for 40%, and only 9% consider it to be less than expected. The rest said it was too soon to say.

So, how do you explain this level of satisfaction given what appears to be patchy planning? Low expectations? A poor understanding of what the tool can do? Or have we all been so beaten down by disappointing implementations that we’re grateful for whatever crumbs we can get? But wait, there’s more:

Collaboration is the most popular use, followed by document management, file-sharing and intranet creation.

Now this makes no sense since I’ve heard lots of folks (including a few from Microsoft) say that the collaboration tools that come with SharePoint really aren’t all that great. Again, what’s going on? Have users discovered something that the experts missed in the collaboration tools? Or  are we so desperate for collaboration tools that we’ll take whatever we can get?

I’m no expert in SharePoint, but I am very interested in learning more.  If you can explain this puzzle, please do let me know.  I’m dying of curiosity!


Update:  AIIM has provided a helpful summary of their survey results.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer all of my questions. (Hat tip to Curt Melzer at PinHawk Law Technology Daily Digest.)

[Photo Credit: Horia Varian]