John Seely Brown Keynote: Knowledge Sharing in our Exponential World #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: People & Tech — the Future of Knowledge Sharing

People are at the core of knowledge-sharing—the key to high functioning organizations. In John Seely Brown’s words, “We participate, therefore we are.” New and emerging technology can only enhance learning, sharing, and decision making to create successful organizations. Join our inspiring and knowledgeable speaker as he shares his view of the future of people and tech working together to share knowledge and create winning organizations.

Speaker: John Seely Brown, Director, Palo Alto Research Center

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • We live in an Exponential World.  We are experiencing an exponential curve along which roughly every 18 months we have something new we have to think about. And that new thing forces us to change our view of our current best practices.
  • Whitewater Rafting. Whitewater rafting is a good metaphor for this age. In this period of rapid shifts (every 18 months), we are constantly creating tacit knowledge but do not have enough time to distill that knowledge and make it explicit. This means that we have to acquire new skills rapidly. However, the half-life of our skills is about five years. So we can never rest.
  • Scalable Learning. In this age of exponential change, we don’t merely need scalable learning. We need scalable UNLEARNING. This is the ability to forget our old tacit knowledge (and the associated beliefs) in order to replace it with newer, more correct knowledge and skills. The challenge is that we are caught in our own Competency Trap: sticking with what we know/do best — even in the face of obvious and unavoidable change.
  • Unlearning is hard. Unlearning depends on being able to find and expunge our own tacit knowledge and beliefs. The challenge is that sometimes we are completely unaware of those beliefs — we don’t realize we have them.
  • Start by Getting out of your Comfort Zone. Jack Hidary has a helpful protocol: every year, he takes a few days to learn something completely outside his area of expertise: (1) Attend a conference and sit and listen to every session. (2) On day 2, do not attend any conference session. Instead, sit by the coffee pots and listen to how subject matter experts talk about the subject. They will be “shamanistic,” using lots of jargon. Notice what they take for granted, notice what they miss. (As an outsider and novice, you will see things they do not see.) (3) On day 3, go outside and think about what you have heard and observed. Then determine what is actionable and worth pursuing. Using this approach, he attended an energy conference, did a quick deep dive into this area of expertise, realized we needed to switch to hybrids. He took action by convincing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to convert some of its taxi fleet to hybrids. And he convinced President Obama to launch the Cash for Clunkers program.
  • Orchestrating Serendipity:
    • Choose serendipity environments
    • Develop Serendipity practices
    • Enhance Serendipity preparedness
  • Reverse Mentorship. Ths is a very practical and effective way to learn new skills
  • Institutional Innovations. How do we help our organizations think differently — not just use new tools?
    • Hackamonth — This is silo busting at Facebook. It’s a hackathon that lasts for 30 days to crack a problem. They do solve a lot of problems but, more importantly, they are building deeper communities of practice across the whole company.
    • Skadden Arps — they have implemented bi-directional learning opportunities by pairing young associates with senior partners. This work is facilitated: Peter Lesser (Skadden’s CEO) is the convener/moderator/translator.
  • New tools for empowering the edge.
    • cloud computing enables the edge to access all the power it needs without core approval
    • cloud enables nearly infinite scalability and reach, and enables new business models
    • social media amplifies engagement with external partners, customers and others in the core
    • bog data allows you to interpret weak signals
    • blockchain enables smart contracts with no overhead
  • Listening Tools. We also need tools that help us listen to each other better, interact with each other better.
  • Reality Mining. Sandy Pentland studies how to build great teams. He has learned that “patterns of communication are the most important predictor of a team’s success.” Just by listening to the intonation of the communications, the amount of information actually shared, the amount over-talk, Pentland’s group could separate the high-performing teams from the low-performing team.
  • Amplifying DevOps. DevOps creates a great deal of “digital dust.” Can we collect all these communications (across email, Slack, Jira, etc.) and mine them to improve our understanding? How would this then change the way we work?
  • What we Need for the Big Shift. The Big Shift calls for more than just scalable learning and unlearning. It calls for a new ontology  = a new way of being. This means blending in ourselves Homo Sapiens (man who thinks), Homo Faber (man who thinks) and Homo Ludens (man who plays). This playing isn’t just about recreation. It’s about “playing with” ideas and challenges in order to reach a breakthrough moment, an epiphany. Therefore, we need to learn how to do this type of play:
    • probing and pushing the boundaries
    • how to invent within a space of rules
    • deep tinkering
    • how we interrogate context is a form of “play” — like a detective who makes sense of the clues she reads in her environment.
  • Imagination is the Key. It is the way that we play, it is the way that we fuse or find an internal blend of knowing, making, and playing.
  • Our Symbiotic Relationship. When Big Blue defeated Gary Kasparov some thought it was the end of the ascendancy of humans. However, it also signaled an opportunity. Zack Stephens nd Steven Cramton were winners of the Freestyle Chess Tournament, which effectively is “a race with the machine” that is “a generative dance between us and the machine.” We need to look for opportunities for more generative dances.
  • What about IA? IA is Intelligent Augmentation. We can use intelligent augmentation to provide imagination (as the binding agent) with new properties.
    • Homo Faber + IA = digital assistants
    • Homo Ludens + IA = freestyle chess, Go masters
  • Networked Imagination: We need to create in each of us a product blend of human & machine. Then we need to figure out how to create distributed communities of practice that function as networked imagination.
  • CAUTION: “The real difficulty in changing any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones. (John Maynard Keynes)
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