Advice from an Iraq Vet to KM Professionals

person-question-1158128-1280x1280Erik Booker could be a middle school student’s nightmare. In his current job, he is a seventh-grade teacher in South Carolina. Before becoming a teacher, however, he was a US Army intelligence officer in Iraq. That experience taught him to read body language and to know when someone it not being entirely truthful.

Now do you see his potential to scare a seventh-grade student?

In the course of a moving Storycorps interview conducted by his former student, Jenna Power, Booker offers the following advice to his student:

Be brave. Now let’s face it, there are some students who sit in my class and they do what I tell them to do. But you were never satisfied with that. You always said, ‘But wait…’ That was my favorite phrase from you: ‘But wait…’

I want you to ask those questions. ‘Why is it that way? Why do we do things that way?’ To me, that is what sets people apart — that desire to know more.

As I heard this interview, I mentally swapped out some of his words to fit another scenario we know too well:

Now let’s face it, there are some KM professionals who sit in a law firm and they do what the partners tell them to do. But you were never satisfied with that. You always said, ‘But wait…’ That was my favorite phrase from you: ‘But wait…’

I want you to ask those questions. ‘Why is it that way? Why do we do things that way?’ To me, that is what sets KM professionals apart — that desire to know more.

By changing just a handful of words, a seventh-grade phenomenon became a very familiar law firm KM phenomenon. While the partners of your firm may be well-intentioned, it is still your job to ask the follow-up questions. It is still your job to ensure that you have identified the root cause and are addressing it rather than the symptoms of a problem. After all, KM is your area of expertise, not theirs.

As you work this week to advance knowledge management inside a law firm, remember Erik Booker’s advice. Keep asking yourself and your colleagues: “Why is it that way? Why do we do things that way?” And don’t settle for the obvious answers.

If you are attending the Ark Conference on Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession this week, ask these questions of the presenters, vendors, and other attendees. And, once again, don’t settle for the obvious answers.

It is in asking and answering these questions that we open up a window on our hidebound practices and out-of-date thinking. It is in asking and answering these questions that we create the opportunity for insight and innovation.

So take the advice of this Iraq vet. It is how you will set yourself and your KM effort apart from the others.

[Photo Credit: Sigurd Decroos]

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