Let 2021 Be A Year of Mistakes

We are finally at the end of a consequential year that few of us will forget soon. Now what should we do?

Standing on the precipice of a new year, it is easy to fall back on the usual greeting card good wishes:

  • Out with the old, in with the new: may you be happy the whole year through. Happy New Year!
  • May this year bring new happiness, new goals, new achievements, and a lot of new inspirations on your life. Wishing you a year fully loaded with happiness.
  • Wishing every day of the new year to be filled with success, happiness, and prosperity for you. Happy New Year.

But, given the year we’ve just come through, I think a different approach might be in order. While it would be only natural to wish for a return to “normal,” a return to life pre-Covid-19, that is neither realistic nor wise.

So what is the better approach? Follow Neil Gaiman’s advice:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

We were given a tremendous gift in 2020 to experience a way of working and living that was inconceivable to most of us (and our employers) in 2019. But the transformation is not finished. Now we have to experiment further to find an even better way of working and living. For that, Gaiman’s advice is absolutely right.

As long as we make intelligent mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes, we can ensure that 2022 will be even better than 2021.

To that end, I wish you a fabulous 2021 filled with great mistakes!

[Photo Credit: Annie Spratt]


When Opportunity Knocks

When opportunity knocks, answer the door! This seems like simple advice but all too often we do not follow it. Why? Sometimes, we’re just not paying attention. At other times, we see the opportunity but focus more on the possibility of failure than success.

Moroccan Door

Oscar Wilde once said, “A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks.” I’ve never been a pessimist but I will admit to having been a little bit hard of hearing when opportunity knocked on my door at the beginning of 2018. Finally, the noise penetrated and I realized that I could stretch my wings in a new direction by saying yes to the opportunity in front of me.

Given the limits of the 24-hour day, however, when something new gets added, something else must be removed. Unfortunately, one of the things I had to reallocate was the time I usually devoted to blogging. While I understood the trade-off, I missed the writing. And I really missed the interesting conversations with my readers.

And then opportunity knocked again. This time, it was in the form of a request to blog KMWorld Connect — a virtual conference for professionals interested in knowledge management, organizational culture and change, search and taxonomy, text analytics, artificial intelligence, and a host of compelling related topics. I’ve blogged KMWorld conferences in the past but this year will be a departure: a fully virtual learning and networking experience. Undoubtedly, there will be many new things to learn and to report on.

So I’m back to blogging. This week I will focus primarily on sharing the learning from the conference. Next week, I hope to start blogging on a regular schedule. But for now, fasten your seat belts for what I hope will be an informative ride.

Welcome back!

[Photo Credit: Raul Cacho Oses]


More than a Facelift

Facelift_incisions_and_undermining_of_different_proceduresIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll have noticed that it looks quite different today. Yes, Above and Beyond KM has had a facelift. But more than that, it’s also been upgraded to handle 2015. As part of the upgrade, email subscribers should receive new posts by email again. With any luck, RSS subscribers will also find new posts in their feed readers. Best of all, this new and improved AboveandBeyondKM.com should work well on any device ranging from desktops to smartphones.

Thanks for your patience. This upgrade is long overdue. I hope you find it as welcome as I do.

– Mary


[Photo credit: Wikipedia]


A Bump in the Blogging Road

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]


New Year, New Beginnings

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]


Gunpowder, KM and Elections

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]


New York, New York

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]


Bags and Baggage

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]


A Safe Place for Personal Contacts

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]


Rough Diamond

$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]