Do They Give You Eggs for E2.0?

Be grateful for your insightful friends. Their wisdom can speed your path to learning. Accordingly, I’d like to thank Mark Gould and Jack Vinson, both of whom were kind enough to comment on my earlier post, The Four Chickens Problem.  In that post I discussed the challenges to adoption that organizations distributing bed nets face in their effort to eradicate malaria.  Using the example of the superb work of Nets for Life, I described one path we could take to effect behavioral change and expedite adoption:

  • Educate people as to the actual cause of the problem.
  • Educate people as to the theoretical benefits of the proposed solution.
  • Prove the solution in such an obvious way so that you make the theoretical real.
  • Include monitoring and evaluation to keep proving your case as you implement the solution in their community.

In his comment to that post, Jack Vinson dove a little deeper and pointed out that rather than just teaching people, it is far more effective to help them discover for themselves the benefits of the proposed solution.  When the solution comes from them, you don’t have to spend time winning their agreement.  Rather, you can spend your time and energy to support them in adopting the change they themselves have identified as beneficial.

Yesterday, Mark Gould wrote a wonderful review of Made to Stick, the work of Shawn Callahan (of Anecdote) and the power of storytelling.   In that context, he recounted The Four Chickens Problem and  Jack’s helpful advice, and then made the following observation:

These answers are fine, but they depend on ensuring that the message you are selling actually resonates with the audience. If there is a powerful story to tell, the education piece will follow.

He is right.  The team at Nets for Life have to powerful story to tell future recipients of bed nets and future underwriters of the bed net distribution program.  And, this story isn’t about statistics.  As told by Rob Radtke (President of Episcopal Relief & Development), it’s about lives and A Bowl of Eggs:

Last month when I was in northern Ghana, I visited about six different villages to assess our programs and to learn about some of the challenges facing the communities where we are working…. The particular villages that I was visiting on this trip are participating in the NetsforLife® program and so we were learning about the challenge that malaria poses to families with young children and pregnant women.  Virtually every family that we visited had lost a child to malaria and so the NetsforLife® program is making a huge impact here.

[…]

In the last village visit I made … the village headman came forward to say that he had a presentation to make to me on behalf of the entire village.  I was a bit taken aback. … As I sat down, the headman said that although they had a gift to give to me they were very embarrassed as it was such a small and poor gift.  He told me that they had wanted to give me an elephant as a gesture of thanks as that was the grandest gift they could imagine presenting to show how important the malaria nets were to their community.  However, they were too poor to give me an elephant.   (I was trying to imagine what I was going to do with an elephant!)

Instead all of the family heads of the village had met that morning to discuss what would be the most valuable thing that they could give me to show their gratitude for all that had happened in their village as a result of the net distribution.  They had decided to collect all of the eggs laid that day and present them to me in a bowl.

He explained that the eggs represented the entire village’s wealth for that day and while it wasn’t very much, it was everything they had.  [emphasis added]

Do we have anything comparable for our law firm knowledge management or Enterprise 2.0 implementations?

We have to be in the business of story gathering and storytelling.  In the world of knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0, it can be hard to find numbers that paint an accurate picture.  So, we have to find the stories that resonate and we need to develop the skill to tell those stories effectively.  Until that happens, it will be hard to persuade anyone to overcome their inertia to try something new.

[Photo Credit:  laurenipsum]

Share

The Four Chickens Problem

The most effective way to prevent death by malaria is by using long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets. Yet organizations that distribute these nets have discovered that the folks who receive the nets sometimes choose to trade them for four chickens rather than use the nets. Why?

  • The four chickens solve an immediate, obvious and painful problem — hunger.
  • The net addresses a future, less obvious problem.
  • They know that a chicken and its eggs will give relief.
  • They don’t always realize that mosquitoes cause malaria and, therefore, don’t understand the value of the solution represented by the net.

In Enterprise 2.0 implementations, if we aren’t very careful about what we’re offering and to whom, we can end up distributing nets to people who don’t understand their need for them.  As a result, they ignore our solution in favor of doing nothing or doing something else that provides immediate relief to the problem they (rather than you) have identified.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that an E2.0 implementation is as important as saving lives.  However, I do think knowledge management teams can learn from the experience of  organizations fighting malaria because the fundamentals of human behavior and change management they face and we face are the same.  In order to achieve changed behavior (or adoption of a new tool) we must:

  • Educate people as to the actual cause of the problem.
  • Educate people as to the theoretical benefits of the proposed solution.
  • Prove the solution in such an obvious way so that you make the theoretical real.
  • Include monitoring and evaluation to keep proving your case as you implement the solution in their community.

Don’t just throw your nets (or E2.0 solution) at the nearest group of people.   You can’t solve problems they don’t realize exist.  If they are unaware of the problem, you’ll have to embark on the longer process of educating them so that they truly understand the issue they are facing and are ready to do something productive to alleviate it.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is providing a chicken dinner.

For more information on the enormous benefits of malaria nets, see the NetsforLife website.  (Disclosure:  This is an organization my family supports.)

[Photo Credit:  Broterham]

Share

Take this E2.0 Pill

“Take this Enterprise 2.0 pill, it’s good for you.” These words seem to encapsulate how many organizations are encouraging the adoption of social media tools behind the firewall.  Unfortunately, the list of things that are good for us but we don’t try is longer than any blog post I’ve ever written.  And yet we persist in ignoring the good advice. So what makes these E2.0 advocates so sure that their slightly paternalistic approach will work?

According to Seth Godin, they are using a low-effort sales technique that rarely leads to good results:  they are doing little more than putting the facts out in front of their target audience and hoping they will be swayed.  The reality is that while stating the facts clearly sometimes does close the sale, all too often you need more than that.  In Godin’s view, the facts are just the first step:

Great brands and projects are built on real value and a real advantage, but great marketers use this as a supporting column, not the entire foundation. Instead, they build a story on top of their head start. They focus on relationships and worldviews and interactions, and use the boost from their initial head start to build competitive insulation.

So, if you’re serious about E2.0 adoption, you’re going to have to get serious about change management.  You’re going to have to focus on building relationships.  In addition, Dennis Stevenson suggests that “driving change in people is about motivating them to want to change.”  Think about what motivates your potential users.  Help them answer their first question:  “What’s in it for me?” And then figure out how to support them as they begin to use  the tool.  After all, you’re not just trying to recruit users, you’re trying to create social media advocates who will help E2.0 go viral behind your firewall.

[Photo Credit:  Rennett Stowe]

Share

Mardi Gras Floats for Dummies

Apparently almost anything can be downsized, including a traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras parade float. Thanks to “Mardi Gras Floats for Dummies,” you can find directions on how to scale down your ambitions from a typical float (which can exceed 50 feet in length) to a Radio Flyer wagon or even a shoebox.

The instructions for making these miniature floats contain some gems.  For those working with a shoebox:

The first step is picking a shoebox. Usually whatever is hanging around your house that isn’t holding bills or other random junk will work.

The options here are as endless as your imagination!

And, for those with a bit more scope, here’s how to tackle a wagon float:

First, dig your wagon out of the garage, and clean all the cobwebs and other assorted dead insects out of the inside. Scream as zombie spider comes alive as you are picking it up. Gather your senses. Back to cleaning.

Next, put your thinking cap on and create yet another theme for your float. Some more suggestions: “Little Mermaid”, “The Godfather”, “In the Garden of Eden”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, or the classic “Throw Me Something, Mister!” The entire look of your float will be born out of your theme, and your requirements for materials will change as well.

There’s a metaphor here for our knowledge management work and for life. Even if circumstances dictate a change in scale, they need not result in the inability to participate or to generate something of beauty. And, as is often the case, when you strip things down to their bare essentials, you begin to see what’s important.  (See Creating A Great KM Department of One.)

The wagon float and shoebox float remind us that despite all the tough economic news, we can still do something of worth no matter what our resources, provided we have some creativity and focus.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

[Photo Credit:  Paul Mannix, Creative Commons license]

Share

Change

Change happens.  Today’s historic events were breathtaking and, if you weren’t paying attention, completely startling.  However, as with most change, the inauguration of Barack Obama was the culmination of lots of work and lots of incremental change over a long time.  Granted, it took an extraordinary man with a formidable team who ran a disciplined campaign.  But more than that, it took a nation ready to embrace change.

So here we are — hopeful, but aware of the awesome challenges facing this country and the world.  The President’s speech warned of tough days ahead.  However, he also promised some new solutions.  It is within our grasp, provided we remain open to Change.

[Photo credit:  Huffington Post]

Share

The Upside of Failure

In our success driven society, it’s easy to believe received wisdom that there’s nothing worse than failure.  Unfortunately, this consistent message has led to the greatest failure of all — the failure of nerve resulting in a decline of innovation.  However, if you ask  anyone who has launched a truly successful knowledge management initiative how they did it, they will undoubtedly tell you that their great overnight success was preceded by lots of trial and error.  In other words, they risked (and suffered) failure for the sake of innovation.

As I chart my progress through this project of switching domains and blogging platforms, I have to remind myself that it’s only a blog and that there isn’t any real “danger of death by failing.”  In fact, lots of others have walked this path before and have survived to tell the tale.  On the other hand, I also have to remind myself that my natural state of excessive optimism is probably not justified given my woeful lack of IT skills.  (Admittedly, there are lots of folks who would find switching their blog over to be a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.)

So here I am, making a ridiculous number of beginner’s mistakes and yet — something of worth is emerging.  Better still, I’m learning a great deal from exploring this new territory and that new knowledge will continue to pay dividends.

This is the upside of failure.

[Photo credit:  Estherase (and Simon), under a Creative Commons license]

Share

Blinded by the Light

It’s amazing how long a person can agonize about making a change — stumbling around in the dark, trying to find the path forward.  For me, it literally took months.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I tried polling my friends on  Twitter.  The question was simple:  Should I stay or should I go?  Within minutes, the answers came flying back and they were nearly unanimous — Go!

Go where?  To WordPress.  (And you thought I was agonizing over something truly earth shattering, right?  But think about it for a minute.  My question is just a proxy for a lot of tough decisions we face daily.  It’s the process of working through the question that I want to focus on here.)  The reality is that when you’ve made an investment in something, it’s hard to turn your back on your sunk costs and start over again.  In fact, the real question for me was:  Do I stay where I’m comfortable or do I take a risk and move?

As you can see, I’ve moved.  But the thing that tipped the balance for me was identifying the issues that were holding me back:  fear of the unknown and fear of failure.  Once I named them, I literally was blinded by the light.  I’ve been writing for some time about the importance of change and, especially, about the importance of feeling free to fail in order to learn and grow.  In fact, I’m on record for saying that failure is a critical prerequisite of innovation.  So now, having seen the light, I have to put on my sunglasses and walk the walk.

I’m up to my eyebrows in change and just a hair’s breadth away from disaster.  But as I work through this particular set of experiments and changes, I’ll be documenting my lessons as they become clear to me.  After all, as long as we’re learning,  we can’t call the experience a loss.  And, we certainly can’t call it failure.

(Photo Credit:  Little Ricky, Creative Commons License)

Share

Why People Resist Change

We’re two-thirds of the way through the eating marathon composed of Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And, as surely as night follows day, many of us are considering our expanding waistlines and the necessity of a diet in the New Year. Just as predictably, many of us will fail in our quest to change our eating habits and keep that weight off permanently. Similarly, in these waning days of the year, our thoughts often turn to the resolutions we plan to make on January 1 regarding the changes we know we need and the great expectations we hope to realize. Unfortunately, we likely will be as unsuccessful next year as we were this year in making radical changes.

Why is change so hard? According to a recent article in Scientific American, from our mid-twenties until our late fifties, we tend to be less open to new experiences and this makes us more resistant to change. As we face the challenges and responsibilities of adult life, our brains seem to prefer the security of stability rather than the chaos that change represents. According to Gerhard Roth,

The brain is always trying to automate things and to create habits, which it imbues with feelings of pleasure. Holding to the tried and true gives us a feeling of security, safety, and competence while at the same time reducing our fear of the future and of failure.

The final nail in the coffin of change is our tendency to have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. This is known as the “false hope” syndrome in which we attempt more change than is wise or possible, and then fail. No wonder most of us find it so difficult to change.

So what happens when your knowledge management program requires a change in behavior on the part of the lawyers in your law firm? You should assume that you will meet passive if not active resistance. But that doesn’t give us a free pass to avoid change. Since change often is necessary, we need to plan carefully to ensure that the proposed change can be achieved. This suggests that we set reasonable goals requiring incremental (rather than radical) change and that we frame the change in a way that is least threatening to the sense of stability and security of our users.

Incremental change rarely results in banner headlines, but given what we now know about human psychology, it may be the only kind of change that is viable.

Share

Another Reason to Resist Change

In a recent post in the Forrester blog, Tim Walters discusses some of the reasons why IT (and knowledge management) folks cling to their top-down one-size-fits-all approach and resist the drive to enable personalization of their offerings. He clearly finds this frustrating since, in his view, personalization is now a matter of “Thurvival”.** Unfortunately, the folks resistant to change have a new compelling excuse to hide behind. Here’s how he paraphrases it:

It’s the economy, stupid. The trouble with a trial and error approach to personalization is that it harbors the possibility (and probably guarantees the occurrence) of error – and error is an expense that, at this juncture, we’d best avoid. For now, let’s stick with what we know works, and we’ll indulge in experimentation when our corporate head is back above the surface of the water.

So now it’s the state of economy that gives them license to cling to the Pantyhose Fallacy. Yet, in Walters’ view, taking the one-size-fits-all approach ensures that your site “will be really relevant and engaging for almost no one. ” That’s quite an accomplishment.

In light of this, it appears that we have two options. We can either sit tight and hope to weather the economic storm without daring to risk anything in the short-term or we can take a radically different approach in which we permit a few short-term risks in order to gain some significant long-term benefits. Tim Walters definitely favors the latter approach:

…now is the time to make selective, small scale investments in personalization tools and skills. Yes, your experiments will produce errors, and the effect will probably not be as favorable as your “sure bets.” But in addition to whatever financial benefits you achieve, you’re building up a knowledge base, intellectual capital, and competitive advantages that will be extremely valuable later.

So what are you going to do? Make a smart short-term investment (at the price of a few managed errors) or hide behind the economy as a reason to resist change?

** According to Tim Walters, “Survival during the downturn + Ability to thrive afterwards = Thurvival.”

Share

Finding Effective Incentives for Collaboration and Contribution of Content

What can law firm knowledge management learn from the war on terror?

Fred Burton, former deputy chief of the counterterrorism division of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and author of Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent, told Leonard Lopate in a recent public radio interview that counterterrorism experts have a proven set of tools for convincing an informant to collaborate with the US authorities. They use mice.

MICE????

M: Money
I: Ideology
C: Compromise
E: Ego

Their experience has shown that one or more of money, ideology, compromise and ego will be sufficient incentive to cause an enemy informant to become a double agent in service to the US.

So how might we use MICE to assist law firm knowledge management? Perhaps as incentives for collaboration and contribution of content. Let’s start with Money. Some firms have offered outright monetary awards or something similar (e.g., Starbucks cards or gift certificates from other vendors) to induce lawyers to participate in their firm’s knowledge management effort. At one point or another, almost every firm relies on Ego to prod a lawyer into sharing valuable content. As for Ideology, we see this in the law firm context as an individual lawyer’s belief that contributing and collaborating are the right thing to do — that lawyers have a professional responsibility to participate and invest in the institutional knowledge of the firm. Ideology also shows up in the guise of firm culture. It’s a little harder to find a law firm analog for Compromise, but undoubtedly a little further thought would reveal it.

Of these various incentives, I find that Ego and Ideology are the most effective in law firms. In busy times and in economic slowdowns, it’s the lawyers that believe in contributing and collaborating who always find the time to participate in knowledge management initiatives. It takes very little effort on the part of knowledge managers to involve them. Similarly, Ego is a constant. The folks motivated by their ego needs to participate will do so regardless of the business cycle because they get enormous psychic satisfaction from having their names and work product prominently displayed. As for monetary awards, they might spur a little short-term participation, but I doubt they actually lead to long-term collaboration and contribution. (For an earlier discussion of incentives, see Chocolates and Roses.)

Whether dealing with enemy informants or busy lawyers, there are some incentives that have been proven to be effective with all human beings. Perhaps it’s time to put some MICE to work in your knowledge management system.

Share