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.
  • Fray Issue 1: Busted! Yesterday’s post, No Time for KM, discussed what happens when present oriented people are not motivated by the promise of future rewards to engage in knowledge management efforts. No sooner had I published it than Jeff Hester rightly pointed out the flaw in my approach:

    Busted!

    Jeff is absolutely right.  Time orientation matters most if you are still pursuing “above-the-flow” KM rather than “in-the-flow” KM. As you may recall, Michael Idinopulos first articulated this difference:

    Wikis can be used for many different activities, which fall into two broad categories:

    • In-the-Flow wikis enable people do their day-to-day work in the wiki itself. These wikis are typically replacing email, virtual team rooms, and project management systems.
    • Above-the-Flow wikis invite users to step out of the daily flow of work and reflect, codify, and share something about what they do. These wikis are typically replacing knowledge management systems (or creating knowledge management systems for the first time).

    In-the-flow efforts are exactly the sort of intrinsic approach Jeff was advocating.  People get on with their jobs and the knowledge is shared without much extra effort on their parts. The challenge for the legal industry is that our knowledge management heritage lies in creating and maintaining stores of validated documents. Before putting them into law firm knowledge repositories, we take them out of the flow for review and approval. In reality, practice support lawyers all over the world will tell you about the stacks of draft KM documents that are sitting on the desks of senior people who are too busy with billable work to review them.

    Are there any adventuresome lawyers who are insisting on working via social platforms? Have they achieved “in-the-flow” nirvana?  If they are out there, I’d love to hear their stories.

    [Photo Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid]

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  • Clocks 1 Everyone is busy. No one has enough time. We’re racing to get as much done as quickly as possible.

    Welcome to the real life version of Beat the Clock.

    If we superimpose on our busy lives the legal industry’s focus on the billable hour, we end up with some challenges about how to spend our time. Clearly client service needs trump all other demands on our time. Then there are the business development needs, and the continuing legal education needs, and the law firm administrative needs.  All of this adds up to more work than we can complete in a reasonable work day.

    Now please tell me: where do the lawyers in your firm find time for knowledge management?

    The Secret Powers of Time

    If this wasn’t bad enough, have you considered that the time perspective of your law firm colleagues may also have a negative effect on their willingness or ability to contribute to KM efforts? To be honest, until I saw the video below on The Secret Powers of Time, I hadn’t given much thought to time orientation. I had just assumed that most of us were in identical races against the clock. As with many things in life, it turns out that things are a bit more complicated.

    So what makes our relationship with time more complicated? According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo, it’s that people can have different time orientations or, has he describes it, they can inhabit one of six different time zones:

    • Past positive: These people focus on “the good old times”
    • Past negative: These people focus on past failure and regret
    • Present hedonistic: These people live for today — seek pleasure (avoid pain), sensation, novelty
    • Present fatalistic: These people believes that their future is a matter of fate so there is no point in planning
    • Future positive: These people work and plan for the future
    • Future negative: These people believe that life begins after death

    According to Zimbardo, we all begin life as present hedonists. He believes that one key function of the family and, especially, of schools is “to take present oriented little beasts and to make them more future oriented.” (While this may be true in the US, he acknowledges that some cultures aim to make the child more past oriented).

    But there’s more intriguing news about our relationship with time:

    • Geography affects your perspective on time: the closer you live to the equator, the more likely you are to be present oriented.
    • The pace of life differs from place to place and culture to culture. In the US, researchers have ranked 60 cities according to the pace of life in each city. They found that in the cities with the highest pace of life, men have the most coronary problems. (See The Geography of Time by Robert Levine.)
    • A recent study shows that by the time he is 21, a boy has spent 10,000 hours by himself playing video games. This means that he is used to a virtual world in which he has more control, action and excitement than he has in the real world.  And, since he has been alone at his computer, he hasn’t learned key social skills or developed emotional intelligence.  His brain is being digitally rewired and he won’t fit into an analog world or in an analog classroom that emphasizes passive learning.
    • All addictions are addictions of present hedonism. However, most public service messages are focused on future consequences.  This is a message that resonates with future-oriented people, not the present hedonists suffering with addictions.
    • There is a fundamental change occurring in our society with respect to how we view time. People now get angry while waiting for technology– especially when waiting for their computer to boot up or for something to download. This anger is disproportionate given that these functions usually occur in a matter of minutes. Even so, we consider waiting for even a short while to be a complete waste of time and we increasingly have a negative emotional response to waiting.

    If a lawyer in your firm is oriented towards the present rather than the future, it will be difficult to convince that lawyer to work on a KM project that promises future rather than present benefits.  If a lawyer is future-oriented, they should be more inclined to invest in KM now for a future benefit. This suggests that you should target your KM program requests carefully so that you focus on future-oriented people.  The others most likely will not participate with enthusiasm.

    I’ll give Dr. Zimbardo the closing word:

    I think many of life’s puzzles can be solved by simply understanding our own time perspective and that of others. Lots of conflict we have with people is really a conflict in different time perspectives. Once you’re aware of that, you stop making negative attributions like you’re dumb or you’re childish or you’re pigheaded or you’re authoritarian. It’s really the most simple idea in the world.

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    See also, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

    [Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]

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  • data slide What dataset informs your mindset? That’s the question that Dr. Hans Rosling would ask you if he could. When he probed this issue with his university students in Sweden, he discovered that some of their views in the 21st century were based on a dataset that reflected the reality of … the 1950s.  In fact, their responses to his questions were so bad that he said that chimpanzees could do better. (Apparently chimps are able to get the answer right 50% of the time.)

    Dr. Rosling is a Swedish professor of public health who has become famous for his ability to take dry statistics and convey them in a clear and compelling fashion.  Along the way, he has been dispelling many of the myths that inform our mindset.  He challenged a US State Department audience in 2009 with the following words:  ”Does your mindset correspond to my dataset? If not, one or the other needs upgrading….” The unspoken premise was that his dataset should trump the flawed mindset of anyone who does not have a fact-based view of the world.

    Building a Fact-Based Worldview

    If you go the website of Gapminder, the organization Dr. Rosling co-founded, you’ll find the following appeal:

    Gapminder is a non-profit foundation based in Stockholm. Our goal is to replace devastating myths with a fact-based worldview. Our method is to make data easy to understand. We are dedicated to innovate and spread new methods to make global development understandable, free of charge, without advertising. We want to let teachers, journalists and everyone else continue to freely use our tools, videos and presentations.

    Your contribution will help us in our efforts to explain how the world is changing. Your generosity will strengthen our independence.

    Help us achieve a fact-based understanding of the world. Support our work by making a donation today.

    As I read the appeal, I found myself wishing that the legal industry had a Gapminder-like organization to help us move from myth to a fact-based worldview. What data is your firm collecting? Do the data have integrity? Do you have capable people who can analyze that data and communicate what’s meaningful? Or are your firm leaders making decisions that reflect their favorite myths?

    Ron Friedmann has a recommendation for law firms intent on developing a fact-based worldview:  ”Law firms should collect data to measure the multiple aspects of `service delivery’ and the `client experience’.” If you were to follow Ron’s recommendation, what would that mean for your firm?  What would you count? What would matter? I suspect you’re going to have look far past billable hours and realization rates to examine the profitability of matters and individual lawyers. What about measuring the rate at which lawyers of your firm innovate? Or the rate at which they convert business development opportunities into sustainable income streams? How do you measure client engagement and client satisfaction? How do you measure the contributions of law firm administrative departments? (In terms of dollars under budget? Or in terms of value delivered to clients?) And, how do you measure the contribution of each person in your firm towards the health and welfare of the firm?

    There are many opportunities for us to learn more about our business through the careful gathering and analysis of data. However, I don’t mean to minimize the challenge.  Most folks in law firms are not trained statisticians. We don’t always know what to count or understand the problems implicit in how we collect and analyze what little data we have.This is an area in which our entire industry could benefit from some training and some standardized approaches.

    What dataset informs the mindset of your law firm leaders? That’s the question Dr. Hans Rosling would ask them if he could.  But, since he can’t, shouldn’t you?

    [Photo Credit: Tom Woodward]

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  • 4 Faces Buddha Lawyers have many special gifts, but one of the most vexing is the ability to “issue spot.” They are trained to take a proposition in both hands and then turn it upside down and inside out until they have identified all the potential problems.  This is hugely helpful to a client who is trying to weigh the risks and benefits of a proposed business transaction.  However, this tendency can be hugely challenging for IT and knowledge management personnel who are trying to persuade a lawyer to adopt a new tool or a new way of working.

    Now don’t get me wrong — some of my best friends are lawyers.  In fact, I’m a lawyer. Even so, I must admit that lawyers can be a little negative from time to time.

    But lawyers are not the only ones.  Tony Schwartz has observed that the negativity bias is something that all humans share and it can lead us to wallow in the slough of despond:

    Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones. It once clearly served our survival to be vigilant about what might go wrong and that instinct persists. Today, it may serve to buffer us from disappointment, but it also promotes disproportionate and destructive discontent. The simple question “What’s going right?” provides ballast in tough times.

    So What’s Going Right?

    This can be the best question to ask when you are seeking feedback on new technology or a new law firm knowledge management initiative.  It can change the energy in the room and draw out the truly constructive comments.  Best of all, it encourages the lawyers involved to use their considerable brainpower to focus on opportunities for growth rather than obsessing about potential problems that may (or may not) stop a project dead in its tracks.

    Focusing on the positive is not intended to sidestep reality or allow you to bury your head in the sand.  Its purpose is not denial.  Rather, its purpose is to elicit feedback at an early stage — before the tool or resource is so fully baked that it cannot be adjusted.  Asking about what’s going right can help the anxious stop obsessing about the impossible goal of perfection and start focusing on what’s necessary and possible.

    If you want to be agile, if you want to innovate, start asking about what’s going right.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.

    [Photo Credit: Manuel Bahamondez]

     

    2 Comments
  • We should have learned our lesson by now:  the lesson that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  Nonetheless, time after time, we rush to judgment with precious little objective evidence to support our position.

    I was reminded of this when a trail of links led me to some clips from Britain’s Got Talent.  In this instance, Simon Cowell could have been any one of us.  He clearly reached a negative conclusion based on appearances alone and then had to backtrack in the face of evidence that completely undermined his premature judgment.

    For those of you who are devotees of this show, the encounter with Jonathan Antoine will remind you of Susan Boyle’s introduction to the world:

    And there was Paul Potts as well:

    In fairness, research indicates that we may not be able to help ourselves when it comes to judging faces:

    …when we see a new face, our brains decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second, according to recent Princeton research.

    Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov has found that people respond intuitively to faces so rapidly that our reasoning minds may not have time to influence the reaction — and that our intuitions about attraction and trust are among those we form the fastest.

    “The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn’t stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance,” said Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology. `We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.’

    Nonetheless, we owe it to ourselves to try to be as rational as possible when making decisions.  We owe it to ourselves to be aware of the tendency to act without rational thought and then counteract it with an evenhanded search for evidence. If we aren’t always capable of rational thought, we should at a minimum be honest about that failing.

    Lest you think it is only folks in the entertainment industry who persist in reaching judgments on the strength of the cover alone without bothering to read the book, consider how some folks in the legal industry reach their judgments on non-legal matters. Have you heard someone dismiss a technology out of hand without taking the time to try it properly?  Have you seen someone purchase a device or software without doing much due diligence beforehand? Have you heard anyone make a pronouncement about the adoption or usefulness of  ”X”  without first looking at the relevant data? (You can replace X with the name of almost any law firm knowledge management system or IT system.)

    Rapid cognition may be supremely helpful in a life-or-death situation where quick reflexes and decisions can mean survival. But, for all the other circumstances in life, what do we lose when we make snap decisions?

     

     

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  • Kudos to the International Legal Technology Association!  The organizers of the ILTA 2012 Conference are putting real effort into finding new ways of turning their already rich educational sessions into true interactive learning opportunities. That’s a big change from the presentation mode of three or four experts (with PowerPoint deck) that has been the standard fare at so many tech conferences. The new interactive sessions will begin and end with the participants.  Yes, participants, not audience.  The focus will be on ensuring that the participants engage in something useful during the session, and then leave with something actionable.

    This is about a creative and pragmatic educational experience.

    The challenges of these types of sessions should not be underestimated.  They take a lot of thought and planning on the part of the organizers. And they require very special moderating and listening skills on the part of the session facilitators. Above all, they depend upon attendees who are interested in being part of the learning rather than simply being on the receiving end of an information transfer. Admittedly, these sessions won’t be to everyone’s taste, and that’s just fine.  ILTA 2012 will also have sessions in the more traditional format.

    For those of you who really believe in the power of PowerPoint to reach an audience,  I offer the following demonstration by Don McMillan entitled Life After Death by PowerPoint:

    All joking aside, if you’re ready for life AFTER death by PowerPoint, be sure to look for the interactive sessions at ILTA 2012. And then, participate!

     

     

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