Learning from Federal CKOs #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: A panel of chief knowledge officers from federal agencies discuss key aspects of KM in the federal space. Topics include starting a KM program; quick wins; institutionalizing and sustaining KM; skills needed in the central KM organization; effective KM, HR, and IT partnerships; and KM as a driver of employee engagement.

Speakers:

Turo Dexter, Knowledge Management Officer, US DOT / Federal Transit Administration
Dr. Susan Camarena, Chief Knowledge and Learning Officer, Federal Transit Administration
David Oberhettinger, Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
William Balko, Chief Knowledge Officer, Defense Information Systems Agency

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 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:

  • Related Slide Decks:
  • How to begin a KM program.
    • You need an effective executive champion
    • Know your message — be able to explain succinctly what you are doing
    • Be a people connector
    • Start by finding ways to share critical information — a good place to begin is capturing and sharing lessons learned
  • Institutionalizing and Sustaining KM
    • house the KM function in the frontline operation, not IT
      • this gives the KM function credibility and access to frontline information/people
    • recognize pre-existing KM-ish activities — [if possible, build on them]
    • publicize success stories
    • track agreed measures of KM program maturity
  • Success relies on.
    • strategic alignment
    • user involvement and acceptance
    • improved effectiveness
    • information sharing and visibility
    • active and effective sales effort to market the KM effort
  • How to expedite learning?
    • have people shadow each other — this gives them a new perspective on the people and their work
    • create collaborate work spaces where people with different expertise work together for a time
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Why Change Management Strategy Places KM at the Forefront #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: Why Change Management Strategy Places KM at the Forefront

The Intersection of KM, Innovation and Change Management at FMC Technologies At its most basic level, knowledge management is about connecting and collecting. Connecting people so that they can share what they know, and collecting critical knowledge for reuse. When based on achieving business outcomes and done strategically, both connecting and collecting accelerate the rate of knowledge transfer – and therefore the rate of change, the diffusion of innovations, the ability for organizations to learn from their experiences and evolve. Knowledge management underpins the “learning organization”, for which one definition is: “an organization that acquires knowledge and innovates fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.” There’s a process at FMC Technologies for capturing and leveraging collective knowledge. It is an organizational capability that harnesses synergies between KM, quality, communications, change management and other process improvement initiatives. This talk will illustrate how the company utilizes knowledge management strategies and tools to accelerate collaboration, support innovation and manage change, resulting in cost savings and continuous improvement.

Speaker: Kim Glover, Manager of Knowledge Management, FMC Technologies

[These are my notes from the 2015 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  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.]

NOTES:

  • KM Depends on Culture. The core values of the organization set the stage for (or against) knowledge management. Key core values are quality, safety and innovation.
  • Quality. Instead of talking about change, talk about being a learning organization. That focus on effective learning will drive higher quality across the board.
  • Collaborative Environment.
    • Agile/adaptive
    • Efficiency
    • Diverse/Equal
    • Safe — create a “safe-to-fail” environment
    • Accessibility/reciprocity/trust – “You know trust exists when the pronoun ‘we’ is used more often than ‘I’.”
  • A Map for more innovative collaboration and knowledge management:
    • collaboration
    • facilitation
    • learning
    • knowledge architecture
    • knowledge capture
  • Their KM toolbox.
    • Wikis
    • Facilitated collaboration
    • Advanced search and auto-categorization
    • Datamining services — this can provide data and surface trends
    • Surveys
    • Events — including KM events (wikithons) and events regarding corporate values such as safety.
    • Discussion Forum — it allows for up-to-the moment conversations by people at the frontline, which then fuels new learning/teaching opportunities and possible changes in procedures and documented knowledge.
  • 70-20-10 Model of Learning. 
    • 10% of learning happens in formal training sessions.
    • 20% of learning comes through social or informal interactions.
    • 70% of training is experiential and happens on the job.
  • How to support change with KM.
    • Your KM team should perform as internal consultants. Help your internal clients identify their business problems and potential solutions
    • Embed KM in the flow of work.
    • Think big, but execute isn bite-size pieces.
    • Try things!
    • Cultivate favorite internal customers.
    • Be humble and let happy customers sing your praises.
    • Listen. Listen. Listen.Then Listen again. Learn what your internal customers want/think/feel.
    • Tie everything you to do business outcomes.
    • Connect with other departments. Empower them with KM.
    • Repeat your mantra/message again and again. But use plain language. Market internally until your internal customers start using your words to describe your services and impact.
    • Bring diversity to your program and your outlook.
    • It takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach to achieve good KM.
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Making Better Choices

scales-36417_1280What do Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven and you have in common besides talent and intellect? The 24-hour day. Each day we make choices about how we will spend our time. And those choices determine our output and impact.

Here is the underlying truth. We all operate within constraints — whether it is the 24-hour day or the limitations of a budget. So the challenge is how to make better choices that yield better results.

This issue of making better choices is critical in law firm knowledge management (“KM”). I have yet to meet a KM professional in any industry who says that they have all the resources necessary to cope with the demand for their work and attention. So if we all are struggling with demand that outstrips resources, what is the sanest way of responding? Make sure you are allocating your time and resources to the projects that deliver the greatest good for the firm.

To be clear, this is not merely philosophical advice. It highly pragmatic and admittedly tough. We don’t always understand what will yield the greatest good for the firm. Because of this, we sometimes let our work priorities get skewed by the person who is most senior, most influential or, sometimes, most annoyingly persistent.

It was to address this challenge that I earlier asked law firm KM professionals whether they themselves were force multipliers and whether the work of their teams had a force multiplier effect on their firms. In the same vein, I am now asking law firm KM professionals if they are allocating their resources to the most impactful projects. The definition of what constitutes an impactful project varies with each firm and its strategy. Nonetheless, regardless of the strategy, each KM department must align its resource allocation and effort to that strategy.

You have to tackle the task of prioritizing and then re-prioritizing regularly. Situations change, expectations change, and then suddenly you have new pressing priorities. It is for this reason that I use the concept of a portfolio of KM projects that, like an investment portfolio, should be rebalanced from time to time to reflect changes in priorities and circumstances.

The key to any successful portfolio is to make sure that you have the right mix of investments and that you are not over-invested in a category that does not yield the desired results. To achieve this, you must understand your strategic goals, the range of available investments, and how particular investments serve those strategic goals. You also need to be disciplined to cut back on investments that demand too much of your resources or do not deliver as planned. This is how we rebalance our personal investment portfolios and it is the same principle that applies to your KM investment portfolio.

The white paper, Rebalancing your knowledge management portfolio,  takes a closer look at what a properly balanced KM portfolio might look like. It also discusses the real challenge of managing a big project, like an intranet project, which can demand a disproportionate amount of your resources if you lose sight of your strategic goals and fail to put the project in its proper place. No matter what your intranet choices are, the key is to make sure that those choices support your efforts to reach your strategic goals with the resources at hand.

Whether you are working within the constraints of a 24-hour day or over-stretched resources, the key is to keep making better choices.

[Photo Credit: Nemo]

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Under Attack

cyberattack_080812One of the biggest challenges in knowledge management is how to increase responsible knowledge sharing in the face of heightened security concerns. To be honest, I had heard IT colleagues talking about the growing number of network incursions, but since I had not seen any evidence of these incursions, it all seemed a little abstract.

Today some of our students in Columbia University’s Masters of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy program showed me two cyber attack maps they have been monitoring. Suddenly, I had an almost visceral appreciation of the scope of the problem.

I invite you to spend a few minutes watching each map to get a sense of what is going on. It should give you new empathy for your IT colleagues. It also should give you greater impetus to find responsible ways to share knowledge within your organization. If we are unable to balance healthy knowledge sharing with safe networks, our organizations will effectively be hobbled. That is not a result you want to have happen on your watch.

[Photo Credit: Trend]

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When Dinosaurs Roamed the Web

800px-Triceratops-vs-T-Rex001From our grandparents’ time back to the dawn of oral history, we used the phrase “once upon a time” to indicate a long time ago. Then we started to use some variant of the phrase “back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.” Again, this is not a literal indication of time, but rather a figurative one. (If you want to be literal, they walked the earth between 230 million years ago and 65 million years ago. In other words, a long, long, LONG time ago.)

When dinosaurs roamed the web

When you are considering such long spans of time, you naturally expect massive changes. Now that life is speeding up, however, we are experiencing massive changes over a much shorter period of time. Take, for example, the changes that have occurred since “dinosaurs roamed the web.” A recent article by Jamie Carter, The internet is everywhere – but where has the web gone‘ summarizes the sweep of these changes nicely:

“The web started out as a content repository where search was the key enabler,” says Richard Moulds, VP Strategy, Thales e-Security. “Web 2.0 was about user-driven content and social media was the big enabler, and Web 3.0 is all about personalisation where different users experience different things based on their history and preference. For this transition, big data is the key enabler – without massive data analytics, personalisation on a grand scale is not possible.”

Three Eras of Knowledge Management

This quote brings to mind the seminal work by Nancy Dixon in which she discusses the Three Eras of Knowledge Management:

  1. Leveraging explicit knowledge: capturing (i.e., documenting) knowledge, organizing it into databases, providing easy access to the knowledge.
  2. Leveraging experiential knowledge: enabling teams, groups and communities to share tacit knowledge rather than merely explicit knowledge. Focusing on tactical, frontline  knowledge rather than strategic or managerial knowledge.
  3. Leveraging collective knowledge: conversation-based knowledge sharing, in which the role of leaders is to convene strategic conversations.

These two views do not map exactly. For example, Nancy Dixon suggests that social media tools (i.e., Web 2.0) would be useful in leveraging collective knowledge across physical or geographical boundaries. In her view, social networking technologies provide “greater organizational transparency and give rise to more diverse perspectives in the organizational conversation. The use of crowd sourcing, cognitive diversity, and predictive markets draw on a wider base of thinking, both internally and externally, that increases organizational innovation.” It would be interesting to see how she might think about the personalization capabilities of Web 3.0 and its place in knowledge management.

Escaping the dinosaur age

Even in the absence of a neat one-to-one comparison, it is still useful to take a moment to consider where your organization’s knowledge management efforts are focused today. Starting with Nancy Dixon, where is your organization’s KM program with respect to the Three Eras of Knowledge Management? Are you still in the first era, trying to build a foundation of good content management? Or have you moved to more conversation-based knowledge sharing?

Now, take a look at your intranet. Where is it in terms of Richard Moulds’ breakdown of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 or Web 3.0. Are you still focused on simply providing as much centrally vetted content as possible? Or have you moved beyond that to include a wide-range of user-generated content. Better still, do the users of your intranet or knowledge management program have the benefit of thoughtfully personalized resources that allow them to focus on the things that matter most to them at any given time?

In law firms, for example, some rudimentary personalization occurs based on role (e.g., partner, associate, staff), client, practice group and location. Do you go beyond these basics to provide personalization based on search terms, user behavior, talent management (e.g., providing content that supports a user’s development goals) and time management (e.g., providing content that fits with a user’s current time management challenges or opportunities)?

If you are stuck in the stage of basic content wrangling and presentation, you are living when dinosaurs roamed the web. Isn’t it time for you to move into the 21st century?

[Photo Credit: Marcin Chady]

 

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KM Guardian or KM Guide?

World_Map_1689What is knowledge management’s core function? Are we to be guardians or guides?

When I started in law firm knowledge management, my role was fairly clear: I was to be a guardian. What does this mean? My job was to gather and guard the intellectual capital of the firm. I was to help filter the useful material from the less useful, put the useful material in a central location, and then provide easy access to it based on the firm’s confidentiality rules and permissions structure. While this was a fair amount of work, it was not hard to grasp. Further, it fit nicely with one of the traditional roles of law firms: gatekeeper of esoteric knowledge. Just as law firms accumulated knowledge of the law and then provided it to clients, I was to provide the same service to the lawyers who were my internal clients. In a sense, I was to be the firm’s gatekeeper of gatekeepers.

In many law firms today, this is still the primary function of their KM personnel. They hunt down or create legal content. They cajole or harass fee-earner colleagues to draft, review and approve materials for the central repository of firm crown jewel documents (e.g., model documents, practice guides, matter process maps, etc.) They tangle with IT in an attempt to create a user-friendly environment for that central repository (e.g., an intranet/portal or even a simple wiki). And once they have some content in this collection, they then need to start the work of finding fee-earning colleagues who will actually keep those materials current and relevant.  On the best of days, being a KM guardian is a sisyphean task.

Being a KM guide is no less time-consuming, but I would suggest that it is far more productive.

What is a KM guide? The role of a KM guide is not that different from a tour guide: identifying the trail, illuminating the path, providing context, enabling fellow travelers to discover and learn from the experience.  The pathways in question here are not physical pathways, but rather pathways to learning and knowledge.  Accordingly, rather than saying “this document contains what you need to know,” we would instead say “this how others in a similar situation found what they needed to know.”

Before you dismiss this as an inefficient, roundabout method, consider the following example. If you come to me looking for information and I hand you something off-the-shelf, generally one of two things will happen: either it will be exactly what you were looking for (and you will thank me profusely) or it will not be what you were looking for (and you will wonder why you wasted your time). This is the experience many people have when they go to their intranet looking for information.

There is also a variant on the second experience that can be profoundly aggravating: they find something that is almost, but not quite, what they were looking for. So they have to reverse engineer it to figure out how much they can salvage and how much they must create from scratch. However, because there rarely are any “reverse engineering instructions” attached to the document, they often have to reinvent the wheel in order to meet their goal. Talk about a colossal waste of time! Yet it goes on every day in organizations around the world.

Now are you ready to consider an alternative?

What if we had a map of the path the earlier traveler took to their destination. You would know that you didn’t need to go as far as they did, but you could follow the map until you reached the point where you had to take a turn onto another road. Obviously, your path on that other road would be beyond the map you were given, so you would have to figure that part out for yourself. However, that would be the ONLY part you would have to create from scratch. For the earlier part of your journey, you would simply have to follow the map rather than creating your own trail (machete in hand) through the undergrowth.

The beautiful thing about working with journey maps rather than destination documents is that these maps show the next traveler where the previous trailblazer was trying to go and how they did it. Then the newcomer can determine how best to plan their own journey. In doing so, they will build on the work of others rather than being forced to reinvent the wheel.

While I have not yet had a chance to test the software, there is a new tool that promises a similar experience by mapping the research path people take through the internet in pursuit of answers to life’s burning questions. Twingl’s Trailblazer is an extension to Chrome that shows what sites you visited and, in the process, reveals something of your thought process. There are several benefits to this approach:

  • You can step away from your research and then return later without having to repeat steps.
  • You can review your map to see where you might have missed something or taken an unproductive turn.
  • You can share your map with others — thereby transferring both the knowledge of where you ended up, as well as how you got there.

Now imagine if we could create similar maps of how the lawyers in our firms arrived at certain judgments, negotiation stances or language in documents. Then we could share within the firm a much deeper and better quality of knowledge — not only what we decided, but how we got there. These knowledge pathways set one lawyer apart from another. Aggregated, they could set one law firm apart from the others.

KM personnel have a role to play here by being KM guides.  A KM guide helps lawyers uncover and map their journey. Then that KM guide can maintain and share those maps. Just as we groom cross-country ski trails,  a KM guide keeps the knowledge trails within an organization accessible, well-tended, free of debris and easy to follow. Over time you will have a collection of overlapping maps that build on the work of earlier generations of lawyers and then extend the collective learning in new directions. What a fantastic outcome for a KM effort!

In an era of disintermediation, it makes less sense to be the guardian of information that often can be found by a variety of means in multiple places. It is more productive to help all the people in your firm rise to a higher point on the learning curve by building systematically on the knowledge maps of colleagues. You can accomplish this by being a KM guide.

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

 

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Who Needs to Know?

Who_is_it“Who needs to know?”

This is a question we ask often. Unfortunately, it is a question we do not always answer correctly. Sure, we might identify the obvious people, based on our personal experience or knowledge. However, we occasionally forget some key people, and there may be yet others of whom we are completely unaware.

As a result, we share knowledge with the smallest possible group. But that group may not even be the right group. We may explain our approach as well-intended efficiency or even a bid for security. However, at the end of the day, by failing to ensure that information reaches the right people, we have ensured that any decisions we make will be made on the basis of incomplete information.

Is it any wonder so many organizations make so many mistakes?

These are real questions in the context of law firms and law firm knowledge management departments that are trying to thread the needle between firm-wide knowledge sharing and concerns about protecting confidential information. While I do not want to minimize in any way the importance of protecting client-confidential information, I wonder if in our zeal to limit access to information we are actually depriving ourselves and our clients of the ability to make decisions and provide advice based on complete information.

It is instructive to see how another organization faced this challenge of holding knowledge tightly versus sharing it widely.  The organization I have mind plays for stakes that are very high indeed. It is the US military. In his TED talk (posted below), General Stanley McChrystal explains how he came up through the ranks in a security-conscious, need-to-know organization and yet came to understand the importance of sharing knowledge beyond the small group he initially identified as those who need to know. He describes the need for information security as something that was “in the DNA” of the military. He speaks of the organizational silos that served the purpose of ensuring information was kept safely contained.

Despite that security-conscious DNA, General McChrystal came to a startlingly different answer when he asked the question, “Who needs to know?” He discovered that “in a tightly coupled world, that’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to know who needs to have information and who doesn’t.” So they changed their approach. They started asking “Who doesn’t know, but needs to be told as quickly as possible?” In fact, they went so far as to start knocking down organizational silos physically by having cross-functional teams work together in “situation awareness” rooms in which they could share, discuss and disseminate information quickly.

The results were impressive:

…as we passed that information around, suddenly you find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it. So as a consequence, what we did was we changed the idea of information, instead of knowledge is power, to one where sharing is power. It was the fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us. [emphasis added]

Admittedly, the army does not serve financial services companies who insist on rigorous data security audits and will withdraw their business if you do not meet their demands. The army does not have clients who refuse to allow any of their information to be shared within the firm even as they expect that they will have the benefit of learning and experience derived from the firm’s other clients. The army does not have owners who have grown up with a need to protect confidentiality that goes beyond professional obligation owed to a client, to cover even the most basic information about the health of the firm.

On the other hand, the army does make life and death decisions on a daily basis. And in this context, the army has learned that if it wishes to have effective teams that make good decisions, it must share information so that information becomes the “essential link” and not a “block” to team effectiveness and good decisionmaking.

Given the army’s example, isn’t it worth thinking harder about how to share knowledge safely and efficiently within law firms? At a minimum, it must mean moving beyond simply asking “Who needs to know?”

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

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Adopting the 12 Days of Christmas Approach to KM

12 days of Christmas graphic wikipediaIf you let your sense of time be guided by Madison Avenue, then by January 5 we are well into the New Year, and Christmas is long since past. Even the after-Christmas sales are old news at this point.

But the Madison Avenue view of life is not the only, or even the best, view of life. There is an alternative view according to which January 5 is not merely a day that occurs after Christmas, but rather is the 12th day of Christmas. According to this approach, Christmas is not a day, but a season. It is commemorated by the English carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. While the particular identity and meaning of each of the gifts may vary according to different sources, the underlying point remains the same: Christmas does not begin and end on December 25.

So why does this matter for knowledge management professionals? Aside for providing an excuse for additional gifts, it also serves as a timely reminder that things are not always as they seem. While one perspective (in this case, the Madison Avenue perspective) may be telling you the main event is over, looking at things from a different perspective (in this example, the Christian liturgical calendar) suddenly reveals that the festive season rightly should continue for much longer than you might have expected.

Similarly, in our work it is too easy to declare events or projects a success or failure and then turn our attention to other things. But have we actually fully explored and understood what happened?

  • Have we drawn all reasonable lessons from our experience?
  • Have we found useful and effective ways to share our learning with others?
  • Have we improved our systems and processes to reflect that learning?
  • Is our decision-making better because of that learning?
  • Have we squeezed every last drop of juice out of the experience?

The job of knowledge management professionals is to make the system work better — not to condemn the system, our colleagues and ourselves to making the same mistakes over and over again. However, if you treat your projects or matters as one-off events — like Madison Avenue treats Christmas — then you miss a golden opportunity to derive the fullest possible value from each experience.

In 1984, the PNC Bank established the Christmas Price Index by calculating the cost in present-day dollars of actually giving someone each of the gifts enumerated in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. The cost in 1984 dollars of giving one set of each of the gifts was $12,623.10. The “true” cost of Christmas (i.e., giving as many sets of each gift as indicated by the repeated lines of the song, that is 364 items) was $61,318.94 in 1984. By comparison the cost in 2014 of one set of gifts was $27,673.21 while the cumulative cost of the gifts as repeated was $116,273.06.

While PNC has provided this fun new tradition (as well as a game and other resources for children) to help show the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas Approach to gift giving, I’m not aware of any data that show the true cost to KM professionals and their organizations of their failure to spend the extra time to wring every possible lesson out of every experience.

While the 12 Days of Christmas traditionally end on January 5 (according to the western liturgical calendar), I wonder if a KM calendar should extend them to the entire year? After all, can we or our organizations afford not to take advantage of every gift of learning that comes from experience?

**************

Just for fun, here are two of my favorite new versions of the carol:

Straight No Chaser

Bob Chilcott’s arrangement:

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

 

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Infinite Energy KM

cat-98359_1920We know that a cat always lands on its feet. We also know that a slice of toast always lands buttered side down. So what happens when you attach a slice of toast (buttered side up, of course) to the back of a cat and then toss both out the window?  Does the cat land on its feet or is it completely overcome by the force of the buttered bread? This puzzle is known as the buttered cat paradox and has spawned a host of interesting and sometimes comical responses. For my money, the folks at Flying Horse came up with the best answer: the tension between landing on feet versus landing buttered side down causes the cat to spin. This results in the infinite energy generator. Brilliant!

What does this have to do with law firm knowledge management?

In 2006, Chris Boyd and Ron Friedmann wrote an article advocating that law firm knowledge management professionals spend their time and energy in a more effective way. Their article, Powering a KM Windmill, recommended that we move away from KM activities that are heavily dependent on human effort (i.e., treadmill activities) and focus instead on KM activities that derive their energy from existing firm processes (i.e., windmill activities):

A practical and achievable way to maximize KM results is to capitalize on existing law firm information flows and business processes. By doing so, a firm can get the greatest possible “K” returns for a reasonable “M” effort. Think of a windmill rather than a treadmill. Whereas a treadmill keeps turning only via human effort (analogous to PSLs) or dedicated power from a generator (analogous to KM-specific software), a windmill relies on dependable winds (analogous to work flows and processes that exist independent of KM requirements).

Boyd and Friedmann were building on an earlier article by Dan Felean in which he laid out a slightly different treadmill / windmill dichotomy:

Knowledge management will not thrive as a separate process. Most KM experts now predict that KM will soon lose its separate identity, as it becomes embedded or “baked” within existing work systems. Mario D’Amico, chief technology strategist at PensEra Knowledge Technologies, describes this “knowledge funneling” approach as resembling a windmill rather than a treadmill. “Instead of constantly prodding the user to contribute tremendous effort (the treadmill), we must attach or embed the means for contribution and usage within existing lawyer work processes, so knowledge is funneled naturally from work,” he says. “By blending KM contribution and consumption with the daily attorney workflow, the process can gain more participation and become self-sustaining, propelled by natural processes–like a windmill.”

In either case, the focus was on spending your time and energy wisely in pursuit of your knowledge management goals.

Of course, all of this got me thinking. Clearly, being tied to a treadmill is a modern equivalent to being a galley slave. But is the windmill the right answer? While a windmill may be easier than a treadmill for the humans involved, how do you produce results on days that are not windy? Wouldn’t it in fact be better to create a system that was more like a watermill? The beauty of the water-powered wheel is that it will turn as long as the water is flowing. In most cases, this flow will be constant and steady — unlike the wind in many locales. Yet, even in this case, constant energy is not guaranteed. Someone could construct a dam upstream. Or a drought could cause the water to dry up.

Enter the buttered cat paradox. If you watch the Flying Horse video below, you’ll see how they created an infinite energy generator by putting the buttered cat paradox to work. Without a doubt, an infinite energy generator is far superior to a treadmill, windmill or watermill.

The question KM professionals should ask themselves with respect to every project is this:  are we setting up a process that relies on brute force (treadmill); periodic external energy (windmill); or near constant external energy, barring intervention upstream or climate change (watermill)? Or have we set up a system that will of its own accord create the energy necessary to make it self-perpetuating? If we can design projects that are self-perpetuating, then we will have found our KM equivalent of the infinite energy generator.

In a pinch, however, you could always use a buttered cat.

 

[Photo credit: Katzenspeilzeug]

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Middle-Earth Communications, Part 2

The Hobbit SecondEdIn my previous post on Middle-Earth Communication Methods, I wrote about the importance of varying the way we communicate. And, I gave some examples from Delta Airlines and Air New Zealand (official airlines of middle-earth) that illustrate how a little imagination and humor allowed them to communicate their crucial safety messages more effectively.

Michael Foster, writing on Melcrum.com, takes the importance of variety in communications even further. In his view, when communications are predictable, their intended audience simply tunes them out:

Safe equals predictable

Human beings process information every second of every day. What we do with this data varies, but in many cases we use it to make tiny, subconscious predictions about what will happen next. At its simplest, this can be illustrated by watching the flight of a thrown ball. Our brain automatically estimates the ball’s future trajectory based on its path up to that point, thus allowing us to catch it (or try to).

This process works in exactly the same way when we listen to someone speaking, with our brain constantly making and revising predictions on where the sentence, point or speech is leading. An engaging presentation tells us something we don’t know in a way in which the outcome becomes unpredictable. The result is that this forces us to pay attention. However when we hear a familiar presenter, speaking in a way we recognize about a message we have heard before, our brain quickly tells us we already know the outcome and maintaining focus becomes much harder. Most of the time this happens subconsciously, but it is a vital process for … communicators to be aware of. [emphasis added]

Predictable equals shortchanged KM

In her comment to my previous post, Vishal Agnihotri (CKO of Akerman LLP) reminded me that effective communications are a critical part of effective change management. Further, effective change management is a requirement of effective knowledge management. So if you stick to predictable messages, you will have a hard time engaging your audience sufficiently to convince them to embrace the changes embodied by your KM initiatives. At that point, it’s game over.

There is, however, an alternative path if you are willing to employ some middle-earth methods. Introduce a little humor and imagination into your communications. Feed the curiosity of your audience so that they stayed tuned to your messages.

When you find yourself stuck in a communications rut, befriend your colleagues in the marketing department of your firm. Ask them to provide some strategic and tactical advice on your own department’s communications. By this I mean more than simply asking them to design a pretty logo or slick internal newsletter. Rather, give them free rein over your text and images too. Ask them what they would recommend you do to incorporate into your communications those vital elements of surprise and delight that capture the attention of your audience. In fact, if you’re serious about sharpening up your department’s communications, see if you can bring a marketing/communications person onto each KM project team from the beginning. By involving them early, you can bake an effective communications strategy into your project plan. In this way, you give yourself a fighting chance of actually getting your message across.

And in those moments when the appeal of dull but safe corporate communications seems most enticing, gather up your courage and then  summon your inner hobbit. As Gandalf the Grey observed:

“Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month and yet, after a hundred years, they can still surprise you.”

May you always find good ways to surprise your colleagues.

 

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

 

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