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All healthy things evolve. According to the comedian, Jimmy Fallon, even “Mom Dancing: evolves. If you don’t believe him, take a look at the video above. (It’s Friday, folks!)
So if everything evolves, what’s happening to your knowledge management program? Is it moving on an upwards trajectory as it adapts to meet new and changing needs in your organization? Or is it stagnating like a fetid pond hosting malaria-laden mosquitos?
If you’re not sure, chances are you are stagnating. What are some signs of stagnation?
- little introspection or analysis regarding your KM program
- a lack of energy about KM on the part of your KM group or, worse still, your organization
- a dearth of actionable new ideas for your KM program
- your KM efforts are focused primarily on maintenance, without scope for R&D or innovation
- you are stuck at one level of development (e.g., creating document collections or keeping the intranet functioning) and aren’t growing and stretching to explore new forms of knowledge sharing
- malaria-laden mosquitos
What about some signs of growth and evolution?
- you have established sensible and stable information management practices
- the people in your organization recognize the pitfalls (and benefits) of knowledge silos
- your organization has active communities of practice that facilitate knowledge sharing
- your KM program is considered to be of strategic importance to your organization
- the people in your organization conduct themselves as individual personal knowledge managers who also have a stake in the enterprise-wide KM effort
If you’d like a more structured approach to gauging your evolution, I’d suggest you take a look at one of the many KM maturity models that the wonderful Stan Garfield has collected. And, while you’re at it, see some of the articles he has included that question the usefulness of maturity models. As with many things in knowledge management, there is ample room for diversity and disagreement!
(For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a maturity model, it is a diagnostic tool developed to help assess programs or organizations against a common standard of accomplishment and development. If you’d like a further explanation of the concept see Consultant’s Tool: What is a Maturity Model.)
This may be more than you can think about on a Friday, but I’d strongly suggest that you set some time aside in the next week or two to go through these models and see how your KM program stacks up. It might give you some new ideas and new energy to move out of that stagnated pool into a more vibrant future for KM in your organization.
For those of you who remember music from the 1980s, you’ll have recognized the inspiration for my title: Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.” Here’s a video of the song for nostalgia buffs.
On Thursday, March 21, the family and friends of Carl Frappaolo are gathering in Boston to celebrate the life of one of the leaders of the knowledge management community. Since I cannot be in Boston for that gathering, I am writing some remembrances here.
I last saw Carl at the KMWorld conference in October 2012 where he accepted the KMWorld Reality Award on behalf of his organization, FSG. In many ways, the Reality Award typifies what Carl stood for: moving beyond the rhetoric to actually getting something useful done through KM. To underscore the point, here’s what the announcement of the award said:
This award recognizes an organization in which knowledge management is a positive reality. The recipient of the KM Reality award is an organization demonstrating leadership in the implementation of knowledge management practices and processes by realizing measurable business benefits.
While Carl was not about mere rhetoric, he certainly had a deep understanding of the vocabulary and theory of knowledge management. He knew what it takes to be “a good knowledge leader.” This provided the foundation for his more than two decades as a widely respected KM practitioner. His bio at Delphi Group (which he co-founded) is impressive. Here are just a few excerpts:
- “With over 25 years of experience working with a broad array of business solutions including knowledge and content management, portals, search engines, document management, workflow, BPM, records management, imaging, intranets and electronic document databases, Mr. Frappaolo is well versed in the practical business aspects and technical aspects of implementing large scale e-applications.”
- “Mr. Frappaolo has been recognized by AIIM International (the Association for Information and Image Management) as a Master of Information Technology and as an Information Systems Laureate, and in 2000, was bestowed the Distinguished Service Award by AIIM.”
- “Mr. Frappaolo has authored over 300 studies on the technology and practices of e-business, portals, Knowledge Management and Electronic Document Management and has been cited and published in leading industry periodicals….”
- “Recognized as an industry leader with great technological foresight, Mr. Frappaolo is a frequent speaker at conferences and trade shows and has delivered the keynote address at numerous national and international trade and user conventions. His audiences consistently find his presentations thought provoking and always on the cutting edge.”
I had the good fortune to hear Carl speak on many occasions. One memorable keynote talk he gave was at the 2010 Enterprise 2.0 Conference at which he asked “Can E2.0 Crack Through KM Culture?” While I cannot do it justice, my notes of his talk coupled with his slides should give you a glimpse of his knowledge and insight.
At KMWorld and shortly thereafter, Carl and I spoke about his work with FSG. He was inordinately proud of the accomplishments of that organization in the world. This pride is evident in his quotation featured on his FSG bio page:
What attracted me most to FSG was the mission of the organization. After a long and successful career as a consultant assisting hundreds of organizations advance their causes by maximizing the value obtained from their intellectual property and experience, I was looking for a chance to use my experience and skills in a way that would have a serious and positive impact on pressing and important social issues. FSG gives me that opportunity.
What is equally evident is the high regard in which Carl’s colleagues at FSG and beyond held him. He will be missed.
He’s memorable because he says the most amazing things. Here’s a sampling:
“Actually, I’m not sure which way to go. I’ll turn in here and ask directions.”
“Here, you take the remote. As long as I’m with you, I don’t care what we watch.”
“You know, honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight?”
“Awww, can’t your mother stay another week?”
“The ball game really isn’t that important. I’d rather spend time with you.”
“Let’s just cuddle tonight.”
In case you’re wondering, Mr. Wonderful* is not a living, breathing human male. He’s a little stuffed toy containing a recording that is triggered by touch; all you have to do is give his chest a squeeze.
Here’s how the tag on the doll describes him:
Mr. Wonderful. He says all the right things!
Mr. Wonderful has been carefully developed with today’s modern woman in mind. He is complete with good looks, sense of style, sensitivity, charm, and is genuinely sincere. The perfect gift for any woman, whether single or married!
As I was putting Mr. Wonderful through his paces the other day (to gales of laughter from everyone in the room), I found myself thinking that knowledge management personnel have their own version of Ms. or Mr. Wonderful. If I were to build such a toy, here are some of the things the doll might say:
“I’d love to contribute to the knowledge base. How much content would you like from me?”
“Shift my knowledge transfers from closed email exchanges to open wikis or blogs? Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Try something new? I’d love to!”
“Can you work with me to train my team on effective personal knowledge management?”
“I’d like to lead by example when it comes to knowledge management. What I can do to have the greatest positive impact?”
Do you have anyone in your organization saying these things or is it still only the stuff of your dreams?
The challenge now for all of us is to translate fantasy into reality.
Here’s a video of a bigger, chattier version of Mr. Wonderful:
*Disclosure: This link is through my Amazon affiliate account and may generate income to me.
One persistent issue that arises in the world of knowledge management is how best to market your systems and services. Unfortunately, discussions of this issue often devolve into descriptions of tactics: launch email blitzkriegs, offer food to encourage attendance at training sessions, bribe potential users with the latest i-device or (in lower rent populations) Starbucks gift cards. Similarly, you see law firm marketing departments carpet bombing clients with generic legal alerts or seasonal cards that are rarely read or retained. In most cases, these tactics have nearly the same effect: they don’t work.
So what are we to do? Focus on Milkshakes, Purple Cows and Otaku, of course!
My friend Jeffrey Rovner pointed me to an interesting talk by Clayton Christensen on marketing. Christensen posits that in order to motivate a customer to buy your product, you first need to understand the job for which that customer is likely to “hire” your product. The brief video clip below ends with the words: “…if you understand the job, how to improve the product becomes just obvious.”
Just obvious? As we say in New York, “From your lips to God’s ears,” Dr. Christensen.
In the case of the milkshake, Christensen and his colleagues discovered that the drink was being purchased for two different jobs: (1) to allay hunger and provide entertainment during a boring morning commute and (2) to help parents placate children with a seemingly nutritious treat. So if you were marketing to the commuter, you’d play up the interesting taste and thickness of the drink that led to a longer and more satisfying period of entertainment. If you were marketing to the parent, you’d emphasize the nutritional benefits and the appeal to children, while perhaps thinning the milkshake to allow little mouths to drink the shake more quickly.
Digging further into this research, I learned that understanding a job means more than just understanding the bare function involved. In fact, there are three critical dimensions of each job: the functional, the social and the emotional. When developing and marketing a product, you have to address all three elements from the customer’s perspective in order to optimize the chances of your product being “hired to do the job.”
Marketing maven, Seth Godin, is famous for pointing out that few of us stop the car when driving past a cow in the countryside. In rural America, a cow is not an unusual sight. However, if the cow in question was purple, not only would you stop the car, but you’d grab your smartphone, take a photo and post it on every social media platform you use. Why? A purple cow is remarkable — it is worthy of being remarked upon. Godin’s thesis is that your product needs to be a purple cow. What does this mean? It needs to stand out from the crowd, it needs to be special — it needs to be remarkable. It follows, then, that developing products aimed at the lowest common denominator, designed to provoke the least amount of controversy, will pretty much guarantee that those products barely register in the consciousness of the consumer. (Christensen notes that every year 30,000 new products are launched, and 95% of them fail.)
Godin also refers to Otaku, which Wikipedia describes as “a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests.” According to Godin, a product has a much better chance of succeeding if it appeals to otaku. Why? Because the care enough to seek it out and tell others about it. This kind of word of mouth marketing is priceless. The first step, however, is to know your otaku and match your product to their needs and interests.
So what do milkshakes, purple cows and otaku have to teach us? Understand the job your product is being hired to do, make sure your product is absolutely remarkable and then market it first to the people who care enough to tell others about your good work.
Here are the videos:
Seth Godin’s snippet on Purple Cows and Otaku:
Seth Godin’s full TED Talk:
[Photo Credit: Jon Milet Baker]
A striking new two-minute video entitled “NYC Dark” is a powerful reminder of the impact of the recent Superstorm Sandy. When the lights went out in lower Manhattan, something very fundamental changed.
I was talking today to a colleague who said his home had just had electricity restored after 13 days of cold and dark. Having had the experience of involuntary dark, he far preferred living in the light.
Consider that when you cannot find the information you want, the precedent you need or the expert who can help, it is as if your law firm is operating with the lights turned off. This kind of information darkness is exactly what good knowledge management practices are intended to counteract.
In the aftermath of Sandy, no one elected to experience a power failure. It was entirely involuntary. So why do so many of us disregard good KM practices, thereby choosing to work under the constraints of information darkness?
[Hat tip to John Bordeaux for pointing me to the NYC Dark video.]
Lawyers draft contracts every day. We know the rules. For a valid contract to exist there must be at a minimum an offer and acceptance, as well as consideration. Law firms and in-house legal departments enter into contracts of this type with new employees all the time and hope that the consideration (i.e., financial compensation) will be sufficient to motivate stellar performance. Modern psychology indicates that this is a misplaced hope.
In Social Pressure Is a Better Motivator Than Money, Scott Keller says that we need to move “beyond the ‘market contract’ with employees and [forge] a stronger ‘social contract’.” What’s a market contract? It’s that arrangement I described in the first paragraph; the arrangement that assumes that money (plus a few sanctions/remedies) will motivate performance. What’s a social contract? Keep reading.
Scott Keller cites several examples of social contracts:
- Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational explains a social contract by first asking you to picture an elaborate meal that your mother has planned and served to you. If after the meal you ask her how much money you owe her, she’ll most likely be taken aback, if not outright offended. On the other hand, if you brought a bottle of wine to dinner, she would be delighted. Why? She wasn’t operating under a market contract that stipulated a fee for services. Rather, she was operating under a social contract with you that allowed the gift of wine as a contribution to the meal.
- In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner discuss a daycare center that hoped to cut down on late pick ups by imposing a fee on parents who were late. To their surprise, the number of late pick ups multiplied. Why? Once the penalty was introduced, it became a simple business transaction and parents could discharge their responsibilities by paying the fee. Before the fee, they tried harder not to be late because they didn’t want the responsibility (or resulting guilt) of making their childcare providers late. However, introducing a fee changed the arrangement from a social contact to a market contract. And then it was no longer personal — it was just business.
- Keller also provides an example from the world of lawyers. He recounts that when the American Association of Retired Persons asked lawyers to provide services to needy retirees at a deeply discounted price of $30 per hour, they declined. Yet when the AARP later asked them to provide those same services for free, those lawyers agreed. Why? On strictly business terms the market contract of $30 made no sense. However, on a no-fee basis, the lawyers recognized the social good inherent in the now purely social contract.
Now consider how things work in traditional knowledge sharing efforts. After years of watching people nag, cajole or bribe knowledge workers to contribute to the KM system, I’ve come to realize that the people who contribute most do it for reasons other than money or negative pressure. First and foremost, they do it because it satisfies an inner drive to learn, to master a subject and to share. Others share out of a sense of community obligation, ensuring that their colleagues have the information necessary to do good work and stay out of trouble. Still others share knowledge to garner recognition as a good citizen, or perhaps even as a subject matter expert.
So how can social contracts help knowledge management efforts in law firms and legal departments? It’s about giving your colleagues the right opportunities to share knowledge, as well as positive reinforcement so that they continue to do the right thing. Here are some suggestions:
- Be sure to thank each person who makes a contribution. This means more than sending an email that says “Thx.” We’re talking heartfelt, sincere appreciation. It can make all the difference in the world.
- If you can get the head of your firm or legal department to express thanks as well, that’s even better.
- Find opportunities to provide public recognition to people who contribute.
- Collect success stories and share them. This is another form of public recognition. Further, by layering anecdote over anecdote, you can change for the better the conversation within your organization regarding knowledge sharing.
- If appropriate, focus the knowledge sharing within a team in which existing relationships of trust will reinforce sharing behavior.
The key to this is placing knowledge sharing within a social contract. When that happens, it is more likely that your colleagues will engage and it will be harder for them to walk away. If you can ensure that contributors receive appropriate social compensation, you should be able to create a virtuous circle that leads to even better knowledge sharing.
[Hat tip to Neena Abraham for pointing out Scott Keller's blog post.]
[Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass]
My friend Jeff tried an interesting experiment in an effort to deal with a common challenge of advancing years: aging eyes. Instead of purchasing bifocal glasses or a pair of reading glasses that could easily be lost, he decided to put in one eye a contact lens designed for distance vision and, in the other eye, a contact lens designed for near-sighted work. I was startled by what seemed like a lopsided approach, but given that I was not all that many years behind him, I thought it might be prudent to learn more about his experiment.
It turns out that what Jeff was doing was not radical in the least. In fact, this approach has a name: Monovision. Here’s one description of how and why it works:
We all have a dominant eye as well as a non-dominant eye. … When we look into the distance, we are actually using the vision from the dominant eye more than we are using the non-dominant eye. The non-dominant eye still functions, but the dominant eye sort of takes over. Our brain pays more attention to the visual information received from the dominant eye. So if the non-dominant eye is fitted with a near-powered lens to correct our near vision, our distance vision will not be disturbed that much. Monovision, then, involves wearing a contact lens on the non-dominant eye to correct near vision, and a contact lens on the dominant eye (if needed) to correct distance vision. Monovision works because the brain is tricked into thinking that the contact lens is actually a part of the natural eye.
While the ophthalmologists may not have considered this angle, I do believe there is a KM application of the Monovision approach: when we consider how to set up our knowledge management systems, we should take into account the personal knowledge management needs of individuals as well as the broader needs of that person’s network, communities of practice and organization. Accordingly, you need to use two lenses to accommodate two foci. The near-sighted lens is for work that is close to you. In other words, the work that matters most to the individual. The far-sighted lens is for work that has wider application or that is of interest to others. So for KM to work well,
- each knowledge worker must keep both foci in mind; and
- each knowledge system must personalize resources to meet the near-sighted and far-sighted needs of each person and community that relies on that system.
The beauty of keeping your eye on two separate prizes, as it were, is that you end up with a holistic approach to KM that meets individual needs (answering the perennial “what’s in it for me?” question), while also supporting the communities and networks that help your organization thrive. While this sounds simple, I’m not sure how widely it’s been adopted. How many times have you seen systems implemented that were rigid and highly standardized to maximize ease of top-down management while minimizing the ability of individuals to tailor the system to their needs? How many times have you seen skunkworks efforts emerge at a grassroots level solely to meet the needs of individuals who feel under-served by their manager’s view of safe and sanitized KM systems?
Returning to my friend Jeff, do you know how his experiment turned out? He’s now using line-free progressive lenses in a pair of glasses he wears all the time. I suspect that part of the appeal of progressive lenses is that they let you forget the difference between your near-distance needs and your long-distance needs. The other bonus is that they give “a more youthful appearance.” While that may make sense for a person’s physical vision, I think I’d prefer the Monovision approach to KM — at least from a behind-the-scenes KM planning and support perspective. As far as the end-users are concerned, however, all they should ever experience is the seamlessness of progressive lenses.
The key is finding and fixing your KM
[Photo Credit: Mark Hunter]
[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association's 2012 Conference 2012. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, 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.]
- Law Firm KM is too detached from the Business. John Alber believes that KM is introverted, introspective and far too insulated from the business of the firm. To add insult to injury, he thinks that law firm knowledge managers have created and fostered this state of affairs by calling themselves something that is impenetrable for most people, and by never properly explaining what exactly they do every day and how their work benefits the firm in dollar and cents.
- KM is a “felt” need. Law firms invest in knowledge management because they feel they ought to. However, when the rubber hits the road (e.g., during an economic downturn), KM headcount is sacrificed. John believes that well-managed businesses invest in functions that provide proven long-term value. He would argue that law firm KM has not always produced the evidence to prove their value.
- Start by Renaming KM in a Manner that Declares a Better Intention. Start by understanding the function. What does it do? KM doesn’t just manage knowledge. It INCREASES knowledge. It helps us understand what we do best and how we can help clients. Good KM makes good decision-making by the firm almost automatic. Most importantly, good KM is profoundly connected to profitably. John believes that if you are profoundly connected to profitability, you will not be laid off during a recession because you are critical to the firm’s financial well-being.
- The Accenture Example. John Alber suggests Accenture is very similar to a law firm. In fact, he says they do exactly what we do: they work with incredibly busy professionals, they deliver technology, they train, they manage knowledge. What’s Accenture’s tag line? High performance delivered.
- Key things to notice about Accenture. From the beginning, INNOVATION was at the core of their efforts and they have repeatedly been willing to take extraordinary risks in order to innovate. With respect to training, they ran that function like a business: they cut the training budget in half, but had to show measurable improvement in training results without relying on “squishy” metrics like user satisfaction. Further, they had to achieve a quantifiable return on the investment in their training business. To achieve this, they focused on increasing customer value and managing relationships with senior leaders and sponsors
- Six Decisions IT Employees Should Never Make. John recommends that we read this Harvard Business Review book. (For a preview, see this slide deck.) It helps readers differentiate between strategic decisions the business should make and the operational decisions IT should make on behalf of the business.
- Applying the Lessons. Rather than teaching how to use specific applications, teach people to work in the most efficient way, which will happen to use specific applications in a recommended way. In other words, don’t provide a training session on MS Word. Rather, provide a training session on how to draft a legal document using key aspects of MS Word properly.
- Ask the Right Questions. Don’t start by asking what everyone else is doing. Rather, start by asking top firm executives what the firm is trying to achieve in the fiscal year for which you are planning. Take their concrete objectives and bring your KM efforts to bear to help make those objectives a reality. He says that asking that question led his firm to investment significantly in systems to rationally support alternative fee arrangements and project management.
The stories are awful, but you’ll find it’s hard to pull your eyes away the text. In fact, each story seems worse than the one before. After reading them, you can’t help but ask yourself: Can anyone really be that dumb?
What stories are these? They are reports of the exploits of the recipients of the annual Darwin Awards. To win a Darwin Award, you must have done something truly spectacular — spectacularly stupid, that is:
In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.
So what qualifies for a Darwin award? Here is a sampling of the feats that have justified an award:
- juggling live hand grenades
- jumping out of a plane, to film skydivers, without a parachute
- crashing through a window and falling to one’s death in an attempt to prove that the window contains unbreakable glass
One would be hard-pressed to come up with a comparable list for knowledge management professionals. There isn’t much in the KM toolkit that is life-threatening. However, there is something we often fail to do that makes it harder for our work to reach a more highly evolved state. What’s this common lapse? We too often fail to conduct an after action review.
What’s involved in an after action review? Start by asking three basic questions at the end of every project or phase:
- What worked well?
- What didn’t work well?
- What should we do next time to improve our process and results?
By focusing on constant improvement, by eliminating the incorrect or unnecessary, you approach the Darwinian ideal of survival of the fittest. By failing to take this step, you threaten the upward trajectory of your work. It’s that simple. Yet for many of us, taking the brief moment to review and revise can seem too hard.
The next time you’re tempted to skip an after action review, ask yourself the following question: If there were Darwin Awards for KM work, would any of your projects win?
[Photo Credit: Shehal Joseph]
Curiosity has landed on Mars!
I must admit that I love the fact that NASA called the Mars rover “Curiosity.” To me curiosity is more than a danger to cats, it’s the driving force for innovation.
NASA has made available some wonderful video of the landing. I watched several times the brief clip below of the mission team in the control room observing the landing. The tension is palpable, as is the relief and exhilaration when it is clear the rover has landed safely.
Since a reasonably creative person can almost always find a “knowledge management angle” to most things, I offer the following KM observations:
- In watching the video, I was struck by the fact that in their moment of elation the members of the team sought physical contact with each other. Whether it was a “high five” or a bear hug, in every case it was real and tangible — not remote or virtual. From a KM perspective, it’s a useful reminder that despite the huge efficiencies brought about by computerization and automation, we should not forget that face to face interaction can be the most valuable medium for knowledge sharing. Virtual or remote service can achieve a great deal (especially for the do-it-yourselfer or the person working outside regular business hours). However, sometimes nothing beats the ability to sit elbow to elbow with someone as you work through a problem together. It’s one of the oldest and most reliable ways of transmitting tacit knowledge.
- Our poetry and prose are filled with lots of inspiring images of peak experiences. However, when it came to landing the rover, the scientific team chose the low elevation Gale Crater rather than higher terrain. Why this crater? According to the NASA website: “The ideal landing site will have clear evidence of a past or present habitable environment. The site will have a favorable geologic record, such as layers of rock that are preserved and exposed at the surface, making them accessible to exploration, as well as evidence of past water.” Clearly you don’t have to be on a mountaintop to succeed. Sometimes low terrain contains more than enough valuable information. This is worth remembering when you are trudging through a plateau in the development of your KM system. If you keep your eyes open and your curiosity primed, you can learn something useful.
- The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is impressive, but in this day and age not even this organization can do everything by itself. As a result, the mission to Mars includes the contributions of international partners such as the Canadian Space Agency and Russia’s Federal Space Agency. As you plan your KM effort, consider whether a strategic alliance with another department within your organization might help reduce your costs or increase your access to creative solutions. For example, there are natural alliances between KM and professional development or KM and Marketing. There may even be groups within your organization that were historically hostile towards KM, but are now ripe for a change of view. Seek them out and find ways to cooperate. After all if the Russians and Americans can cooperate in space, why can’t KM establish and build productive relationships with other departments?
- Mars is not a pleasant place. It’s cold and dusty. Its thin atmosphere cannot support liquid water over large regions. The planet currently does not appear to be habitable. Clearly, it is not a congenial place. But even here Curiosity is already proving valuable and productive. I’m willing to bet that even your organization is not nearly as uncongenial as Mars. What might you uncover if you allowed curiosity to land there? Conducting controlled experiments in a safe-fail environment can be the best way to learn and to establish the path to innovation. What experiments is your KM group tackling? Where is your curiosity leading you?
Curiosity has landed on Mars. Has it landed in your organization?