Teamwork is Hard Work

french-riviera-133592Most blog posts I publish here are written from my home office in New York City.  This one is an outlier — I’m writing from the balcony of my hotel room, which overlooks the Mediterranean. What brings me to the French Riviera? Believe it or not, work. (It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it!) I’m here as a consultant to a wonderful company that is undertaking some impressive and daring projects to keep it at the leading edge of its industry.  We’ll be covering a number of topics this week, but the key topic for today is teamwork.

The company has grown rapidly through acquisition, snapping up smaller companies around the world that are outstanding in their areas of expertise. They each bring their own approach to excellence. In a manner that is not dissimilar to that of law firm partners, they are willing to work together, but are just as happy to be left alone to do the excellent work they do. This leads to a very interesting question: if you want to realize the promised synergies of a global organization, how do you set up and operate teams that work effectively across geographies, languages, cultures and business unit silos?

There are bodies of research and literature on this topic, but I’d like to draw your attention today to the work of Sandy Pentland and his colleagues at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory. By monitoring how people work in teams, they have generated fascinating insights into what makes a group of people become a high-performing team. It turns out that there are two key factors that separate high-performing teams from low-performing teams: the communication patterns within the team (e.g., body language and the flow of ideas, who you talk to and where you talk to them) and the team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings. In The New Science of Building Great Teams (subscription required), Pentland reports that the patterns of communication within the team account more for team success than the substance of their discussions and the combined impact of team members’ intelligence, personality and talent. A team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings “explained one-third of the variations in dollar productivity” among similar teams.

Applying these insights to call center productivity (which is measured by the average handling time (AHT) of customer calls), Pentland and his colleagues suggested some changes at one call center that would enhance the energy and engagement of teams. The results were impressive:

[W]e advised the center’s manager to revise the employees’ coffee break schedule so that everyone on a team took a break at the same time. That would allow people more time to socialize with their teammates, away from their workstations. Though the suggestion flew in the face of standard efficiency practices, the manager was baffled and desperate, so he tried it. And it worked: AHT fell by more than 20% among lower-performing teams and decreased by 8% overall at the call center. Now the manager is changing the break schedule at all 10 of the bank’s call centers (which employ a total of 25,000 people) and is forecasting $15 million a year in productivity increases. He has also seen employee satisfaction at call centers rise, sometimes by more than 10%.

Before you say that while this may be useful in a call center environment, it does not apply to a global company or a law firm, consider the following: Pentland asserts that the complex data of an organization is more likely to be handled in face-to-face meetings or conference calls, rather than via emails or written documents.  In Pentland’s view, these meetings and conference calls require a certain level of teamwork in order to ensure that the complex data is handled correctly. And success depends heavily on the patterns of communication, as well as the energy and engagement of the team members involved.

The next time you’re in a meeting or working as part of a team, take a few minutes to assess the patterns of communication, the flow of ideas, the level of engagement and energy. Are you seeing good things? Is your team operating optimally? If not, be warned that these are early indicators of a low-performing team. The good news is that none of this is fatal, provided you and your colleagues take corrective action.

Later today, I’ll be doing exactly this type of observation with respect to the teams we’ve set up for the company’s project. And, we’ll be intervening as often as necessary to ensure that every one of these teams is a high-performing team. Admittedly, we’ll be doing this from the comfort of a beautiful hotel on a gorgeous coastline. It’s hard work, but someone’s got to do it!

[Photo Credit:]


When I Grow Up

We tell ourselves stories all the time. Stories that help us make sense of our days; stories that help us simply make it through our days. On occasion, we tell ourselves lies.

Sometimes all it takes for us to understand how false our stories are is to hear their lines uttered by someone completely unexpected. That’s the experience I had watching the brief video below that is the brainchild of organizational strategist, Kevin D. Jones.

In this video, children absolutely skewer the attitudes and platitudes that have become a part of the working lives of far too many people. Kevin Jones calls these people cogs and has mounted a campaign to redeem their work lives. He calls himself a “decogofier” and is dedicated to a mission that is long overdue: “We aim to help others out of an emotional workplace poverty and put them back in control.  We also help orgs decog their workforce.”

How do you know if you’re a cog?  The deCOG blog suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:

1) Are you a corporate slave or someone who is in charge of his/her own career?

2) Do you bring your whole-self to work, or just the part that needs to get the job done?

3) Have you forgotten what it feels like to be passionate about your work?

4) Are you holding out, hoping a restructure or layoff doesn’t happen?

5) Do you use phrases like, “Back to the grind,.” “Will this week ever be over?” “I can’t wait ’til the weekend.”

6) Do you know WHY you work? Or do you work for a paycheck?

7) Do you feel that you can act, or do you feel acted upon?

8) Do you feel comfortable rocking the boat when you need to, or do you fear retaliation more?

9) Do you know what your work values are and are you true to them? If the company violated those values, would you leave?

10) Do you feel empowered enough to be able to create huge amounts of value?

In this economy, it truly is a great thing to have a job. But you need to be sure that the job you have is the job you want.  Above all, it should be job that brings out the best in you — not a job that brings out the worst of the stories you tell yourself.


Remembering Carl Frappaolo

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.


Don’t Leave Talent on the Table

Dandelion Have you ever made the mistake of leaving talent on the table when hiring or staffing? If so, you should consider what Robert Austin has to say in the video below about the Danish software testing company, Specialisterne. This company recruits and retains a workforce that is uniquely suited to the rigors of software testing. What’s so special about their staff?  Most have been diagnosed with some form of autism. It’s important to note is that this company’s business model is not based primarily on grudging accommodation of people outside the norm. Rather it’s built on “using the characteristics of people with autism as a competitive advantage.” Here’s the company’s extraordinary story in its own words:

At Specialisterne, people with autism work in an environment where they are presented with the best possible opportunities to reach their potential. They don’t have to learn to adapt to the usual working-environment norms, such as being a good team player, being empathetic, handling stress well and showing flexibility. These are not the usual characteristics for people with autism; a fact that usual[ly] results in their being excluded long-term from the labour market. Instead, Specialisterne welcomes the very differences and character traits that are so often seen as a stigma.

Putting it simply; at Specialisterne, not fitting in is a good thing. The traits that usually exclude people with autism from the labour market are the very traits that make them valuable employees at Specialisterne, such as attention to detail, zero tolerance for errors and a persistence to get the job done. We don’t see them as people with an autism diagnosis; rather, we see them as true specialists, which is why we refer to them as “specialist people”. Imagine a world where someone who was once defined by their diagnosis, would instead be defined as a “specialist person” ?

As Austin notes in the video, companies that pass over idiosyncratic talent in favor of more well-rounded or complete talent end up “leaving talent on the table.” They may settle for uncomplicated and reasonably good over slightly more challenging but brilliant.  According to Austin, one way to ensure that you don’t leave talent on the table is to check yourself every time you find yourself sacrificing talent for ease within your context when hiring and staffing.  To explain the importance of context he paraphrases Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne, who uses the metaphor of a dandelion:

The dandelion is generally considered to be a weed. However, dandelions can be valuable: they have medicinal properties and can be used to make a salad, a coffee substitute and wine, among other things. Therefore, the dandelion’s essential characteristics are not what makes us view the plant as a weed, but rather the context in which we find it. A dandelion in a lawn is unwelcome, while a dandelion in an herb garden is likely to be nurtured. Similarly, companies may consider people with autism to be unemployable because those companies have been forcing these people into inappropriate and unsupportive contexts. Change the context and then you realize the benefits.

In these days of shrinking budgets, do you want a minimally competent but unremarkable team, or should you be thinking about the competitive advantage you gain by hiring idiosyncratic talent? While idiosyncratic talent may require gifted managers, Specialisterne demonstrates the benefits of this unconventional approach.

They don’t leave talent on the table.

[Photo Credit: Code Poet]


Disrupt Yourself

We sometimes joke in our family that the moment  you think you have everything organized and on an even keel — watch out! Something is bound to occur suddenly to upset that equilibrium:

  • a key member of your team decides to relocate to be closer to family
  • a strategic vendor goes out of business
  • the bottom falls out of the economy

In the face of these often uncontrollable events, it can be hard to maintain your equilibrium. To be honest, the key may be to strengthen your resilience so that you can cope with these stresses and prosper.

Whitney Johnson takes all of this one step further. She suggests that it’s important not to let your equilibrium lead to complacency. Her prescription for the complacent is straightforward and slightly unnerving: Disrupt yourself.

What does she mean by this? She borrows from the work of Clayton Christensen when she suggests that a better path to success is to seek out territory in a new market (or the low end of an established market) and use that as a base to disrupt your industry. She also borrows the notion of the S-Curve to explain how we should propel ourselves from one area of mastery to another:

The S-curve mental model makes a compelling case for personal disruption. We may be quite adept at doing the math around our future when things are linear, but neither business nor life is linear, and ultimately what our brain needs, even requires, is the dopamine of the unpredictable. More importantly, as we inhabit an increasingly zig-zag world, the best curve you can throw the competition is your ability to leap from one learning curve to the next.

If you’re prepared to accept the challenge and are willing to disrupt yourself, Whitney Johnson has five suggestions for you:

  1. Assess. Assess where you are vis-a-vis where you want to be. If your current path will get you there with gradual improvement, you should stay on that “sustaining innovation path.” If your path won’t get you to your goal, try going where no one else wants to play (or hasn’t yet thought to play) and look for opportunities there.
  2. Iterate. “Disruption is a discovery-driven process.” We need to iterate, iterate and iterate again until we get the model right. Often the strategy that leads to success is different from the strategy you began with.
  3. Embrace Your Constraints. “Constraints are problems to be solved.” They drive us to rethink how we do things.
  4. Be Impatient. Look for quick wins, small wins that confirm that you are on the right path. However, be aware that you’ll need to be patient as your strategy of disruption unfolds.
  5. Start Today. “Dare to disrupt yourself, your status quo. Be disruptive. Now.”


This post has focused on the personal benefits of disruption, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to consider in the context of your law firm or organization the following observation from Clayton Christensen:

Whenever the tension is greatest and the resources are scarcest, we actually are much more open to rethinking the fundamental way we do business.

Legal industry commentators have said that when law firms finally find their backs against the wall, they will be forced to rethink their business model. Some would argue that the time is long overdue for law firms to disrupt themselves. It will be interesting to see which ones accept Whitney Johnson’s challenge.



Dave Pollard: Conversations that Don’t Suck #kmw12 #KMWorld

Dave Pollard is retired CKO at E&Y and Director, Group Pattern Language Project. For more information on the Group Pattern Language Project see

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2012 Conference. 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.]


  • Intention. How you prepare for a meeting has an enormous impact on the results of the meeting. For example, engaging a facilitator beforehand can help surface conflicting agendas early. What matters with respect to intention? Set the focus for the meeting early and articulate that priority clearly and early.
  • Context. To promote better conversation, place them in a pleasant discussion space. Even if you have participants of different rank, make sure you’ve created a welcoming and equal playing field so that everyone feels empowered to contribute regardless of rank. Be sure that you understand and give respect to group culture and the history/context of the discussion. Finally, make sure you’ve invited the right people to the meeting and that all of them are present and participating.
  • Relationship. “Hosting” a meeting is a critical role. They set and maintain the tone of the meeting. You can help build relationship by breaking bread together, expressing appreciation for the members of the group and encouraging the good faith assumption (i,e., accept that we are all doing our best). Other critical factors are transparency, shared airtime and continuous attention to tending the relationships as they grow,
  • Flow. Pay attention to the rhythm, energy, balance, and pacing from beginning to end. How you open a meeting sets the tone. Equally how you close the meeting can help with resolution — especially where there has been conflict or uncertainty in the meeting. Be aware that if you are exploring a new topic or looking for new ideas, you need to observe the divergence/convergence rhythm: diverge so that you can brainstorm and then converge to come to consensus.
  • Creativity. Be careful that you don’t shut down creativity too early. Common ways of doing this are failing to encourage bold thinking, trying to force new ideas into an existing structure too quickly, using budgetary constraints to stop new ideas, being unwilling to be playful (using humor and fun). That said, be aware of the “power of constraints.” If you embrace limitations as challenges, that can help focus your efforts more productively. Just be aware of your intentions — don’t rush to a constraint if your goal is to shut down the current conversation.
  • Perspective. When it looks like a meeting is running off the rails, it may be necessary to help everyone shift perspective. For example, help the group focus on common ground. While doing that, don’t ignore what’s going on — be sure to honor the contradiction and ambiguity that has emerged. Other ways of shifting perspective are (1) Fractal (notice patterns repeating at different levels); (2) Go meta (widen the lens, change the frame of analysis; (3) Change your focus by zooming in or zooming out (focus on forest or focus on trees); (4) Time shift (reflect on the past, envision the future); (5) Translation (reframe, articulate, bridge differences); (6) Value the margins (listen to voices from the edge);(7) Viewpoint shift (see with new eyes so you can think differently about the problem).
  • Modelling. The facilitator needs to be very courageous throughout this process — don’t be defensive — just hold the participants to their commitment to achieve/perform together. In addition, the facilitator needs to “hold space” — this means maintaining the trust, focus and openness of the group. Sometimes the facilitator may need to say “I’m stuck here and need help moving us past this logjam.” Ideal participant behaviors include (1) listening carefully until you really understand what is being said (or not said); (2) mirroring — reflecting back what you’ve heard; (3) don’t things personally — it isn’t always about you; (4) be self-aware — understand your own values, biases, needs, biases, gifts. One key technique is to use the words “Yes, and” rather than beginning with the word “But.”
  • Inquiry & Synthesis. At this stage, it’s important to take time to reflect. Then distill by summarizing/synthesizing what’s been said or decided. If necessary,consider going deeper (drilling down) until you really undersatnd what’s going on.
  • Faith. While this may be a tough concept for a business audience, it is important that people trust that by doing the right things, the right result will emerge. Letting go and letting come can be very hard — especially for the faciitator.



Overcoming Law Firm Irrationality [#ILTA12]

We’d like to think that our advanced education protects us from the dangers of irrationality, but for too many of us that is a delusion. The reality is that unless you are keenly aware of how you make decisions, you may well find that your seemingly logical decisions are riddled with unconscious errors. As modern psychology is demonstrating, most individuals know surprisingly little about what happens in the space between our ears. Now, before you start protesting that you’re smarter than the average bear (and, therefore, fully capable of avoiding irrationality), consider how often you’ve observed irrational decision making on the part of others. It happens all the time.

It truly is easier to see the speck in another person’s eye than the log in your own eye.

If individual decision making is rife with irrationality, what happens when a group of people make decisions on behalf of an organization? Unless they are very careful, they are liable to achieve collectively an even greater degree of irrationality than an individual acting alone.

So what’s the cure? I’m so glad you asked.

Come to the ILTA conference on Thursday, August 30, at 3:30pm (in Maryland B) to hear an entertaining and thought-provoking discussion about common cognitive traps into which people tend to fall and learn how we can move our decision making process out of the realm of the unconscious and sometimes irrational to the more rigorous, deliberate and rational. Along the way, we’ll discuss how data (whether it be Big Data or little data) can help light the path to more rational decision making.

The name of this session is “Overcoming Irrationality: Improve Decision-Making and Client Service with Strategic Uses of Data” [Hashtag: #INFO6]. The panelists for this session are the name partners of that “preeminent” law firm: Abraham Friedmann Mills & Rovner LLP. Those of you who have attended recent ILTA conferences will know that this will be the third year in which this firm has held a partners meeting in conjunction with the ILTA conference. In prior years, these partners have discussed the implications of two radically different law firm business models (i.e., law factory vs. bet-the-farm practices) and how to future-proof your law firm. This year they will get to heart of why so many law firm organizational decisions are fundamentally irrational. They also plan to give examples of how other industries have used data to make more rational decisions.

As in prior years, we expect a lively discussion with the audience. So come prepared to jettison your preconceptions and jump into the conversation.


Had a Bad Day?

Today was a good day.  Really.

I had the pleasure of some productive meetings and a chunk of quiet time to get things done. Best of all, I was delighted to find myself on the receiving end of compliments regarding a recently launched law firm knowledge management resource that I’ve been working on for some time. Who could complain? Certainly not me.

That said, I realize that days like this are not always the norm — especially not for KM professionals. There are too many days when it seems as if everyone is a critic. On days like that it’s worth remembering that taking a longer view can be helpful. This was brought home to me several years ago when, in response to clear user feedback, we introduced a brand new KM system. I took the constructive criticism in stride until someone said to me, “Why can’t you make this system just like the old one?”  Really??? Fast forward a few years and those same critics were sending colleagues to the “new” resource because (surprise, surprise) it actually worked well. Unbelievable.

Lest we think KM folks are specially set aside for abuse, you might find it instructive to see the vitriol that was heaped on some movies that David Christopher Bell features in the 10 Classic Movies that Critics Hated. I’m willing to bet real money that no one in your organization ever said of your efforts anything comparable to this: “…a nice try that misfired.” That was the critical response to The Night of the Hunter. This is how Bell describes it:

No other film is as known for being so great and having such a poor reception than The Night Of The Hunter. The film itself is now played to every student churned out of film school and praised as being a masterpiece of both cinema and horror. The truth is that the film really is that good – it was simply made in the wrong era…

With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, Wikipedia reports:

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.

That’s not so bad for a “misfire.”

Granted, you may not want to wait 37 years for vindication, but isn’t it comforting to know that quality usually does show through notwithstanding the misperceptions of early critics? That’s worth remembering on days when it feels like everyone is a critic.


Enterprise 2.0 and Social Networking’s Influences on Human Resources [#e2conf]

Oliver Marks moderated this session involving representatives from Newsgator, Neudesic, Yammer and Ultimate Software.

[These are my notes from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2012 in Boston. 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.]


  • Using Social Tools to Augment HR Data.Lisa Sterling, Head of People Engagement at Ultimate Software, reports that her HR group gathers HR-related information from their Yammer implementation to provide timely performance data. For example, rather than treating performance reviews as an annual event, they find status updates in Yammer in which colleagues praise the work of other colleagues and use that current information on individual performance.
  • The Alternative to the Document-Centric Approach of HR. Newsgator uses a social layer to surface HR-related information in the place where people are working — not in a separate HR system of record. A Neudesic customer is using an auto-follow function in Neudesic Pulse during the onboarding process to provide new employees with a group of early connections to help their integration into the organization.
  • What’s the Impact of Individual Social Activities on Our Work Life? When Ultimate rolled out Yammer, they didn’t provide warnings about forbidden activities. Rather, they helped employees understand the benefits of microblogging. They haven’t had an issue with self-promotion or improper reciprocity (e.g., if you praise me, I’ll praise you). Ann Lee reiterates that before you implement a social tool, be sure you’re clear about the business benefits. Don’t focus merely on the “coolness” of the tools (or the dangers of the tools).
  • What’s the Value of Adding Social? Neudesic estimates that organizations will save initially $1500 per employee from implementing their product. However, if a social tool fosters a connection that leads to a business process improvement or a product innovation, then you’re looking at a much bigger return on your social investment.
  • How to Filter Information in these Systems? Information overload can be a major problem with social platforms. Yammer enables you to structure the data dynamically to help surface relevant information, aggregated by topics that are pushed to users.
  • Should HR be Involved in Social Media Implementation? HR needs to be sure that the social platforms are supported by appropriate staffing outside IT (eg., from knowledge management, etc.). These new tools will surface new roles such as content curation and community management. HR is a key stakeholder that is commonly overlooked in these projects that typically are viewed as primarily technology projects. HR’s role shouldn’t be limited to sanctioning employees for using Facebook at work. HR should be involved in deployments to leverage its extensive knowledge of the organization’s culture and work force.
  • Success Stories Newsgator reports that Deloitte views their social tools as a key part of their overall talent management effort. They look at “the whole arc” of the relationship between an individual and their organization and see how social tools foster that relationship. Ultimate Software realized that with the influx of millennials, Facebook (and similar sites) had rich collections of data on Ultimate because their millennials were posting there. Ultimate wanted to give those millennials an internal place to post that valuable information. When Neudesic integrated their own product (Neudesic Pulse) with their HR system, they found that by strategic use by HR, they were able to make the onboarding process quicker and more effective. One of Yammer’s retail clients uses Yammer to share best practices and market information in real time across the organization.
  • Collaboration is a People Problem, Not Just a Technology Problem. If a company views HR solely as a cost center, that organization is unlikely to give HR a seat at the table. If a company views collaboration as a performance challenge, then you have to involve the talent management team.
  • The Consumarization of HR Just like we’ve experienced the consumarization of IT, employees are asserting more individual approaches to their training and career development. They want to learn in a manner that suits their personal style and they want to take that learning with them. Social technology can help tailor HR offerings to the need of the individual.
  • Social Flattens the Organization By its very nature, social technology tends to sidestep hierarchy, thereby flattening the organization. It also surfaces talent. HR needs to be aware of this and needs to be able to shape this and deal with the consequences. HR could also exploit this for leadership development and successsion planning purposes.

No Time for KM

Clocks 1 Everyone is busy. No one has enough time. We’re racing to get as much done as quickly as possible.

Welcome to the real life version of Beat the Clock.

If we superimpose on our busy lives the legal industry’s focus on the billable hour, we end up with some challenges about how to spend our time. Clearly client service needs trump all other demands on our time. Then there are the business development needs, and the continuing legal education needs, and the law firm administrative needs.  All of this adds up to more work than we can complete in a reasonable work day.

Now please tell me: where do the lawyers in your firm find time for knowledge management?

The Secret Powers of Time

If this wasn’t bad enough, have you considered that the time perspective of your law firm colleagues may also have a negative effect on their willingness or ability to contribute to KM efforts? To be honest, until I saw the video below on The Secret Powers of Time, I hadn’t given much thought to time orientation. I had just assumed that most of us were in identical races against the clock. As with many things in life, it turns out that things are a bit more complicated.

So what makes our relationship with time more complicated? According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo, it’s that people can have different time orientations or, has he describes it, they can inhabit one of six different time zones:

  • Past positive: These people focus on “the good old times”
  • Past negative: These people focus on past failure and regret
  • Present hedonistic: These people live for today — seek pleasure (avoid pain), sensation, novelty
  • Present fatalistic: These people believes that their future is a matter of fate so there is no point in planning
  • Future positive: These people work and plan for the future
  • Future negative: These people believe that life begins after death

According to Zimbardo, we all begin life as present hedonists. He believes that one key function of the family and, especially, of schools is “to take present oriented little beasts and to make them more future oriented.” (While this may be true in the US, he acknowledges that some cultures aim to make the child more past oriented).

But there’s more intriguing news about our relationship with time:

  • Geography affects your perspective on time: the closer you live to the equator, the more likely you are to be present oriented.
  • The pace of life differs from place to place and culture to culture. In the US, researchers have ranked 60 cities according to the pace of life in each city. They found that in the cities with the highest pace of life, men have the most coronary problems. (See The Geography of Time by Robert Levine.)
  • A recent study shows that by the time he is 21, a boy has spent 10,000 hours by himself playing video games. This means that he is used to a virtual world in which he has more control, action and excitement than he has in the real world.  And, since he has been alone at his computer, he hasn’t learned key social skills or developed emotional intelligence.  His brain is being digitally rewired and he won’t fit into an analog world or in an analog classroom that emphasizes passive learning.
  • All addictions are addictions of present hedonism. However, most public service messages are focused on future consequences.  This is a message that resonates with future-oriented people, not the present hedonists suffering with addictions.
  • There is a fundamental change occurring in our society with respect to how we view time. People now get angry while waiting for technology– especially when waiting for their computer to boot up or for something to download. This anger is disproportionate given that these functions usually occur in a matter of minutes. Even so, we consider waiting for even a short while to be a complete waste of time and we increasingly have a negative emotional response to waiting.

If a lawyer in your firm is oriented towards the present rather than the future, it will be difficult to convince that lawyer to work on a KM project that promises future rather than present benefits.  If a lawyer is future-oriented, they should be more inclined to invest in KM now for a future benefit. This suggests that you should target your KM program requests carefully so that you focus on future-oriented people.  The others most likely will not participate with enthusiasm.

I’ll give Dr. Zimbardo the closing word:

I think many of life’s puzzles can be solved by simply understanding our own time perspective and that of others. Lots of conflict we have with people is really a conflict in different time perspectives. Once you’re aware of that, you stop making negative attributions like you’re dumb or you’re childish or you’re pigheaded or you’re authoritarian. It’s really the most simple idea in the world.


See also, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

[Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]