Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • Really, REALLY BIG RSS feed button A few kind readers contacted me recently to tell me they were worried that something had happened to the RSS feed for this blog. It turns out that they had reason to be concerned. Something was wrong and we were having trouble diagnosing the problem. We tried one approach after another, but were unable to find an obvious solution. This is the point at which even a calm technologist thinks seriously about hitting the monitor with a heavy object!

    The good news is that after much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, we think it is fixed now. That said, I’d be grateful if you could let me know if you are a subscriber and are not receiving my posts. In the meantime, I’m going to resume blogging in the hope that everything is working with the RSS feed.

    In my early days as a blogger I assumed that my blog offerings, once published, dropped into some deep dark hole, never to see daylight again. When I received my first blog comment, I was delighted to discover that somebody actually was reading my post. Since that time lots of somebodies have been kind enough to provide comments on my blog, as well as reactions via Twitter and Google Plus. This in turn has triggered exactly the kind of conversation I hoped would emerge.

    Thanks for bearing with me through this technological bump in the road. I’ll continue to work to upgrade things on my end so that problems of this sort are minimized going forward.

    [Photo Credit: HiMY SYeD]

    2 Comments
  • Happy New Year Every so often, it’s good to surprise the people you know. This year, it’s my turn.

    I came to New York City to work as a first-year associate in a fabulous firm. The deal I made at that time with my family was that I would try the practice of law for three years — one for each year spent in law school — and then I’d move on to something else. Nearly 22 years later, I’m finally moving on. In the intervening time, I’ve had the good fortune to learn from and work with some of the best lawyers in the country, and I’ve had the opportunity to serve some terrific clients. In that period I also shifted from a full-time legal practice to the challenging discipline of law firm knowledge management.  And that shift provided even more opportunities to learn — about the business of law, about the opportunities and challenges presented by technology and, most importantly, about how and why people share knowledge.

    Now it’s time for me to take that learning and move outside a single firm and industry. In fairness, I had been engaging externally for some time through this blog, via Twitter and by speaking at or organizing various knowledge management educational sessions, most notably those offered by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA). In particular, the opportunities provided to me by ILTA to develop innovative session formats that improved the educational experience of attendees opened my eyes to the possibilities of helping others connect and learn in new ways.

    So what’s next? To begin with, I’ve decided that for the next little while I’d like the flexibility of a portfolio of projects rather than a single employer.  I also know that I’d like to stretch some muscles and use some talents that haven’t always found an outlet in the legal industry. Accordingly, I’ve lined up several projects that will allow me to build on strengths and learn some new skills.

    • Technology. For years I’ve talked to technophiles about the critical importance of the people and process elements of knowledge management. I know some have thought this means that I’m a technophobe.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, I’ve simply been frustrated by what can appear to be a blind faith in technology solutions implemented without due consideration for the human elements.  Now I have a chance to put my learning (and rhetoric) to the test. I’m teaming up with a wonderful group of designers, developers and entrepreneurs in this country and abroad to create some new knowledge sharing tools. As we get closer to a working prototype I’ll tell you more about it here. For the time being, suffice it to say that we’re exploring new ways of making social media relevant and useful to segments of the business population that are still waiting for their social media road to Damascus moment.
    • Education. I’ve been given the opportunity to help teach a class that is part of the Masters of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy at Columbia University. It is an innovative hybrid program that combines brief residency periods with online learning. I’m very much looking forward to learning more about how this combination of face-to-face and distance learning contributes to a rich educational experience for the students. I expect it will provide a glimpse of how the education sector is reinventing itself to remain relevant. Again, more to come as I learn more.
    • Writing. Since I began writing this blog nearly five years ago, I’ve discovered that writing is critical for me. It forces me to stretch — I read more and I think more. The reflection that good writing requires gives me an invaluable opportunity to learn and develop. So my plan is to write even more in 2013 than I have over the last few years. Expect more blog posts here and elsewhere.
    • Facilitation. You only have to attend one pointless meeting to understand the value of good meeting facilitation. Over the last 15 years I’ve done a goodly amount of facilitating critical meetings, strategic planning efforts, retreats and workshops. For me, the joy in this work is seeing the attendees uncover their own truths. I don’t supply the answers, they do. And in the process they identify the strategic path they need to follow. This is hugely rewarding work and I plan to do more of it this year.

    All of this adds up to a comfortably full plate. That said, if you see any interesting projects in which I might be helpful, please let me know.  (You can always reach me at KMAdvice@gmail.com.)  As I have discovered, I have only two speeds — fully engaged or resting. For the next few years, I want to be fully engaged.

    2013 promises to be exciting. I hope you have a rewarding adventure this year as well.

    Happy New Year!

    [Photo Credit: Photon Bomb]

    15 Comments
  • Ready for Guy Fawkes Day? When I was a child, we celebrated Guy Fawkes’ Day on November 5. For those of you who aren’t up on your British history, Guy Fawkes was one of a group of conspirators who planned to blow up the House of Lords in the infamous “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605. The aim of the conspirators was to assassinate the king, as well as the assembled members of Parliament, in protest of a lack of religious tolerance. If successful, this would have touched off a Catholic revolt in the country.

    During my childhood we were directed to mark the occasion by building a bonfire, burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes and enjoying a fireworks display. As a practical matter, this often meant charring a small scarecrow in an oil drum while holding a sparkler in your hand. All in all, a bit of a come down.

    Fast forward to November 5, 2012 and Guy Fawkes has some lessons for law firm knowledge management:

    • Good Search is Invaluable. While admittedly the search conducted in 1605 was a physical one, it bears remembering that good search tools and techniques can help avert disaster. If you had a ticking time bomb in one of your data repositories, would you know how to find it?
    • Beware of Leaks. The Gunpowder Plot failed in part due to an anonymous letter of warning sent to Baron Monteagle that resulted in a search of the undercroft of the Houses of Parliament where the gunpowder was stored. When it comes to data security, do you know where you might be vulnerable to leaks or attack?
    • Plan for Delay. The plotters thought they were ready, but they didn’t plan for delay. Therefore, they were caught short when an outbreak of the plague pushed back the opening of parliament from July to November. That was more than enough time for their stockpile of gunpowder to decay. Consequently, they had to replenish their stocks, thereby adding danger and cost to the enterprise.
    • Avoid Decay. Gunpowder is not the only thing that decays. More pertinent for knowledge workers is the fact that our knowledge decays. This means that we can’t rely on memorized facts to guide our decisions and actions. Rather, we have to keep learning, keep looking things up. Only by being constantly aware of the fragility of or knowledge can we hope to stay on the cutting edge of knowledge.

    It is sometimes said that Guy Fawkes was the last person to enter the Houses of Parliament with honest intentions. Whether you agree or not, we now have more options available to us. This leads me to a final lesson from Guy Fawkes:

    • Forget the Gunpowder, just VOTE! On the night before the US elections, it’s good to be reminded that we have peaceful means of bringing about the government we want.  You can complain all you want about politician X or Y, but if you don’t actually get to the polls on November 6 to act on your concerns then you are no more effective than Guy Fawkes.

    [Photo Credit: Archie McPhee]

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  • After Sandy They say that the three most important factors in determining the value of a property are “location, location, location.” We’ve certainly learned the truth of that old adage this week. We were among the lucky ones who live in a New York City neighborhood that did not lose electricity. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for many of our friends:

    • Our friends K&R in Greenwich Village have no electricity, heat or water.
    • Our friend MC, who lives in Long Island, cannot use her car because (a) she doesn’t have any electricity to open her garage door and (b) the nearby gas stations don’t have any fuel.
    • Our friend KH in New Jersey is dealing with trees that fell on her property, as well as three kids at home. To make matters worse, she has no electricity and the local schools are closed.
    • Our friend JH’s home on the New Jersey shore was flooded. She says that even the dresser drawers contain water.
    • Our friend PS in Chelsea found shelter with a kind friend — until that friend’s home lost heat and hot water too. Now he’s looking for a way to leave town.

    Life after Hurricane Sandy has been one of discovering new flexibility and new limits. Many of us have learned the huge value of working remotely — especially when most of the bridges and tunnels connecting Manhattan to the rest of the world are closed and when subways and commuter trains are out of commission. Face time suddenly becomes less pressing when there are other (virtual) ways of completing the work in a timely fashion. Add to that the fact that some office buildings (like mine) have electricity, but no heat or hot water, and then you begin to appreciate the advantages of working from home

    Sandy has also reminded us of the value of staying connected via social media. Texting and Facebook have been lifelines for people trying to contact friends and families in the storm-affected areas. For those of us dealing with the aftermath of the storm, social media has allowed us to help each other with words of encouragement and practical acts of kindness. Friends on Facebook have posted information on subway openings, where to get a free shower or WiFi, and where to find places to charge your electronic devices. Meanwhile, Twitter has been an important source of official news and an essential part of emergency communication plans, according to an article today in The New York Times:

    With Hurricane Sandy, public officials and government agencies have embraced social media to a greater degree than ever. For proof, look no further than the Twitter feed of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York: 400 messages on Tuesday, 300 on Wednesday and well over 100 on Thursday, featuring everything from photos of storm surge damage to updates on power restoration.

    [...]

    Although phone service has been spotty in some places across the Northeast, people with working signals have been reliant on texting and social networking to a degree not seen during previous disasters.

    According to Frank Sinatra, New York is the city that never sleeps. But if you take a look at the fantastic photo of Manhattan by Brian Angell that I’ve posted above, you’ll see that a significant part of the city is still dark. Here’s hoping the lights come back to the Big Apple soon.

    [Photo Credit: Brian Angell]

    1 Comment
  • Friday was crazy busy as I tried to wrap things up at work, while completing final preparations for ILTA 2010. In the midst of all of this, I found myself focused on bags and baggage:

    • For a variety of reasons, I have to take a ton of gear with me to ILTA — several mobile devices, a laptop, thumb drives, cables and all the other tech accoutrements.  This is on top of the clothes and paraphernalia of life that I’ll need to carry for a week away from home. Consequently, I’ve been trying to figure out how to pack all of this in an efficient way that is least likely to trigger those aggravating airline extra charges.  Sometimes it’s tempting to think that all one needs is the perfect bag.  In truth, what’s important is to figure out exactly what one truly needs to carry.  Unfortunately, that can often seem more daunting than the endless quest for the perfect bag.
    • Reading the headlines today, I came across the story of Rolf Potts who has begun a trip around the world without any luggage.  Since I have trouble going around the corner (much less to the ILTA Conference) without several bags, I must admit I find his approach mind-boggling.  Nonetheless, it’s worth considering how little one really needs to carry – provided, of course, you have enough pockets and cash.
    • In the midst of preparing for ILTA this week, we learned of the death of the father of a friend of our family.  So I found myself at a memorial service on Friday morning.  It was a timely reminder that we cannot take with us any of the stuff we accumulate in life.  In fact, we leave exactly as we arrived — empty-handed.  The man we were honoring seems to have understood this well.  The remembrances shared during the service were a testament to a person who had left an indelible, positive mark on the people fortunate to know him. He may not be carrying anything now, however, it was clear during the memorial service that he has left behind not heavy baggage, but rather an important legacy.

    At a graduation I attended in June, one of the speakers asked us to never forget that as we travel through life there is an important difference between luggage … and baggage. My day of wrestling with bags and baggage was a timely reminder of that truth.

    [Photo Credit: Tom Magliery]

    2 Comments
  • The members of my family are fortunate in our friends.

    We are reminded of this fact every year when we send and receive hundreds of holiday cards. Last year, however, we didn’t send out even one card. This change was not due to new hermit tendencies. And it certainly was not intended to be a repudiation of our friends. Rather, it was a reflection of our technological paralysis.

    For years we kept our contacts in a prehistoric database housed in series of PCs. However, we’ve since seen the light and moved on to a Mac. Further the vendor of the contacts manager we’ve used since the mid-90s no longer supports the software, and there isn’t even a prehistoric Mac version available for purchase.

    So now we have to move our contacts, but don’t know the destination. The cloud seems like an obvious choice. However, using which application? And, how do we ensure that the privacy of our friends is fully protected? Which application and service provider is least likely to mimic Facebook by unilaterally changing the privacy settings? Which provider is least likely to sell the data or use it for other unauthorized commercial purposes? And, whether or not you believe Google is evil, should I give Google complete access to all my contacts?

    This post is a request for advice. What should my family do?

    [Photo Credit: Bertop]

    5 Comments
  • $35.5 million is a lot to spend on potential, but that’s the record-setting price a private jewelry retailer recently paid for a 507-carat rough diamond.  According to the Associated Press report,

    The stone — as big as a chicken egg and weighing just over 100 grams (3.53 ounces) — was estimated as among the world’s top 20 high-quality rough diamonds. It was discovered in September at South Africa’s Cullinan mine.

    What would someone pay for the potential embodied by your team?  If not a record-setting price, why not?  Thanks to the economic downturn, there is some terrific talent on the market looking for new opportunities. Perhaps it’s time to reassess and augment the strength of your bench.

    And let’s not forget that the key to a rough diamond is a masterful diamond cutter.  Your ability to prioritize and shape the efforts of your team will go a long way to realizing their brilliance.  Do you have the skill to reveal the myriad glittering facets hidden in the rough diamonds of your team?  If not, what are you doing about that?  It may be past time for you to polish your skills.

    [Photo Credit:  Times Live]

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  • There aren’t many things I regret in life, but every year at this time I remember one particularly bad decision. It happened when I was in graduate school.  A group of my friends thought it might be fun to get a cheap flight and visit a new town. I was broke and so rather than run up additional debt, I decided that it was time to be a grown-up and behave responsibly. Consequently, I turned down the trip and stayed at school in order to save my pennies.  My friends left for their holiday and found themselves in Berlin watching history happen as the Wall fell.  To my everlasting regret, I spent those pivotal days back at school watching history on TV.

    During the course of the last 18 months, many firms and their managers have made seemingly prudent decisions regarding spending.  I suspect that a large number of them have opted to stay at home and save pennies rather than to venture out in search of something new.  While this may be a safe choice, is it the right choice?  What opportunities are they foreclosing?  What Berlin Wall will they miss?

    [Photo Credit:  Romtomtom]

    3 Comments
  • Yesterday we visited the matriarch of our family to celebrate a special occasion — her 100th birthday. She showed us the many humorous and touching birthday cards she had received (including one from the President and Mrs. Obama). Since she’s as sharp as a tack, we were able to have a wide-ranging conversation that covered family, politics and sports. (Just for the record, she’s very disappointed in the Red Sox and unwilling to root for the Yankees.) And then, we shared some celebratory cake.

    Just before we left, she showed us a beautiful woolen scarf she was crocheting, as well as the stack of scarves she had recently completed. When we asked her about the scarves, she told us that they were destined for a nearby homeless shelter to keep its inhabitants warm during the approaching winter months. We were impressed.  Given her age, no one would blame her for kicking back and taking it easy. However, she was very clear about her motivation — she makes these scarves because she wants to be, in her words, useful.

    100 years old and still looking for ways to contribute.  What a great example for the rest of us.

    [Photo Credit:  Jessica N. Diamond]

    4 Comments
  • Sometimes those small things we routinely take for granted give us cause to remember how valuable they are in their ordinariness.  This fact was driven home to me last night when I mailed off my biennial registration to the New York State Office of Court Administration.  In New York, each practicing lawyer must register with the State every two years, just after his or her birthday.  This process involves confirming one’s contact details, assuring the authorities that one has complied with particular ethical and educational requirements, and submitting a registration fee.  As I completed the form, sealed the envelope and dropped it in the mail, I was reminded how these simple acts were much more challenging eight years ago.

    The deadline for submitting the registration materials is one month after one’s birthday.  Since my birthday falls in the middle of August, I have until the middle of September to complete the task.  However, on September 12, 2001, as we were beginning to understand the scope of the wreckage of 9/11, I learned that the post office box and postal station to which I normally would have sent my registration materials were casualties of the 9/11 catastrophe.  Suddenly, even if I wanted to comply with the rules, I couldn’t.

    Last night,  as I looked at the address printed on the registration envelope, I found myself grateful for the existence of a post office box.  And, I was reminded that even something as simple as that post office box can represent the blessing of a relatively peaceful life.  After 9/11, I’m glad for the reminder.

    [Photo Credit:  mhawkins]

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