Stop Failing At Failing

With the rise of digital startups, we have become used to hearing about the need to fail fast and fail often. And we have told each other repeatedly that failure is important, failure is necessary, failure is good.

So why do we resist failure?

Because we are not stupid!

The reality is that despite all the cheap talk about the usefulness of failure, few of us find ourselves in organizations that actually put their money where their mouth is. For example, how often does your boss commend you for failing? Or, does your organization’s performance management system regularly reward you for failure?

No? I thought not.

In the absence of a supportive boss and performance management system, why risk your career by failing? Wouldn’t the wiser course be to play it safe, even if it means that you rarely experiment or innovate? After all, curiosity killed the cat!

While being risk-averse may seem like the safer path in the short term, it is a death sentence for your organization over the longer term. Without experimentation, innovation, and a healthy dose of curiosity, everything stagnates — people, processes, and organizations. And, instead of moving ahead or even just keeping up, they simply fall behind.

As Ellen Glasglow wisely observed:

The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.

So if we want to avoid the deadly rut, what should we do? Stop failing at failing and learn to do it better.

There are reliable techniques that help us understand how to fail in smarter ways and how to use those failures to make ourselves and our organizations better. We have learned the value of safe-to-fail experiments, failure targets, and failure parties. But that is only the beginning. At KMWorld 2018, I’ll be leading a workshop entitled From Failure to Fantastic that explores more techniques we can use to get the indisputable benefits of failure without unduly suffering its negative consequences. These techniques are borrowed from a variety of professions and industries, including medicine and oil and gas.

I hope you will join me at the workshop so that we can help each other stop failing at failing.

[Photo Credit: Makunin]


The Knowledge Transfer Equation

One of the great benefits of teaching is that I get to read some wonderful guidance on many key aspects of knowledge management. As I’ve written before, at the top of my list of books to read over and over again is Working Knowledge by Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak. Inevitably, every time I go back to that KM classic I find something I have never noticed before.

In preparing for one of my recent classes, I spent some time on the chapter in Working Knowledge concerning Knowledge Transfer.  It was a good reminder that all our efforts to capture, collect, and organize content are not an end unto themselves. Rather, they are intended to help us transfer knowledge throughout the organization, thereby increasing the organization’s value.

But how do we transfer knowledge effectively? The answer Davenport & Prusak offer may not be exactly what you were looking for:

The short answer, and the best one, is: hire smart people and let them talk to one another.

But, you say, in busy days (and nights) spent battling exploding email inboxes, who has time for conversation? Davenport & Prusak remind us that “In a knowledge-driven economy, talk is real work.” Arguably, dealing with some of the trivialities in your inbox is not.

If you are skeptical, consider the example of Sematech, a nonprofit consortium that focuses on research and development for the computer chip industry. Davenport & Prusak report that Sematech was successful because it created “organizational and human resources structures devoted to technology transfer.” One way they transferred knowledge was by inviting assignees (i.e., representatives from sponsoring firms) to participate in research at Sematech. Then these assignees carried their new technical knowledge back to their own firms where they could put it to use. In the words of one Sematech technology transfer manager:

We have documents, document databases, an intranet, Web, groupware, you name it. But the assignees and the face-to-face meetings we have are by far the most important channels for transferring knowledge to the member firms.

As you think about how you try to transfer knowledge within your organization, on which channels do you rely? Your SharePoint intranet? Training sessions? Email threads? Practice group meetings?

Once you know what channels you are using, consider this crucial question: how successful is the knowledge transfer? Davenport & Prusak remind us that it is not enough to simply post, publish, or announce information. In fact, even a training session may not be enough. Yes, you have made information available but have you fully transferred it? The answer to that question lies in the following equation offered by Davenport & Prusak:

Transfer = Transmission + Absorption (and Use)

In other words, posting, publishing, or announcing information is the equivalent of transmitting it. Once you have made it available, then you must take additional steps to ensure that this information is absorbed by the recipient. Finally, you need to see how and when they use it. Until the moment of use, you do not have a complete transfer. After all, it is through the use of knowledge that you achieve the goal of knowledge transfer: “to improve an organization’s ability to do things, and therefore increase its value.”

This knowledge transfer formula poses an interesting test of our intranet efforts. How much of the content in your intranet is used, much less re-used? If the answer is not sufficiently high, then it is time to think about how to get out of the knowledge transmission business and into the knowledge transfer business.

I suspect that is where you and your organization intended to be all along.

[Photo Credit: Nick Youngson]



A Lesson for the Modern Workplace and School: Connection Before Content

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a discussion led by Clayton Christensen on the future of education. As you may know, Christensen is a professor at the Harvard Business School who became famous for his work on disruptive innovation. So it was likely that this discussion would leave us feeling uncomfortable.

Christensen did not disappoint. He asked lots of challenging questions about the true value of higher education as currently constructed. What were residential colleges delivering that so exceeded the educational value of a free MOOC that those colleges could justify charging over $60 thousand or even over $70 thousand per year? And what about graduate schools? In this era of back-breaking student debt, what were they offering that the school of hard knocks could not?

I have been thinking a great deal about these questions since I started teaching in the M.S. in Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program at Columbia University. And those questions became even more pressing when I became Academic Director on July 1. How do we justify the time, effort, and expense required by our program?

It would take me a while to enumerate all the ways in which the IKNS program provides value so let me focus on one thing that became very clear this past weekend: we provide a laboratory in which our students can learn proven concepts and practices that equip them for effective leadership.

On Wednesday, August 22, our new cohort of students arrived at Columbia University’s Morningside campus for four days of Intensive study (the Intensive). Our original impulse was to stuff them as full of learning as was humanly possible in such a short time. As a practical matter, this would have required lectures from 9:00am – 6:00pm daily. We could do that. But was it the right approach?

Early in our planning, we realized that we needed to rethink our approach. Given that our program is demanding and very hard to complete without collaboration, the key was to spend the Intensive building the capacity of the cohort to collaborate. So we rethought everything. Rather than making them sit through hours and hours of lectures, we first had them develop their own self-awareness and then their knowledge of their teammates. Through a series of carefully designed individual and group exercises, they built an extraordinary level of trust and empathy. Then we could focus on learning collaboratively.

Our bet paid off. Within hours, these new students moved from being strangers to being friends. And, in that capacity, were more than willing to share their own knowledge and experience to help a classmate integrate new concepts and practices. In the process, they all learned an astonishing amount remarkably quickly. Arguably, more than they could have learned sitting passively through a series of well-intended lectures.

Don’t get me wrong. We had formal teaching sessions. But only after they were ready to learn together.

This experience is a timely reminder of an insight Nancy Dixon has shared with several prior IKNS cohorts: Connection before Content.” Building on the work of Peter Block, Dixon observed that in the workplace, we all work better when we know each other and trust each other. But that knowledge and trust should not be left to happenstance. A thoughtful manager can help speed the development of professional relationship and trust through some intentional practices such as ensuring that team members connect (and later reconnect) with each other before diving into the agenda. This creates a foundation of goodwill and understanding that can act as a shock absorber for the necessary creative friction of teamwork.

If “Connection before Content” is true in the physical workplace, it is doubly true in the virtual workplace and in a virtual learning environment such as ours. The capacity to connect enables the capacity to collaborate and the capacity to share knowledge.

Thankfully, our newest cohort demonstrated this past weekend that they are well on their way to developing their capacity to collaborate with their classmates. NOW they are ready to learn in our program and share that learning with their colleagues at work.

All of us will be the better for it.



Dan Linna: Preparing CIOs for the Law Firm of the Future #ILTACON

Session Description:

Disruptions in the legal industry are putting pressure on law firms to innovate and rethink how they deliver services in order to stay ahead. Learn about the people, processes, and technologies that law firms will need in the not-so-distant future and the measures and behaviors to put in place now to ensure your organization’s success.


  • Futurist view of law firms and how they will deliver services.
  • Future role of the CIO.
  • People, processes and technologies that will be necessary for the law firm of the future.
  • Behaviors and measures to put in place now to prepare.

Speakers: xx

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 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.]


  • What will your law firm be doing in 10 years?  This is the first question you need to answer. Then, ask if you are hiring the right people (and training them) to achieve that reality?
    • you will need lawyers with new skills
      • technologically able, process-focused
    • you will also need developers, data scientists, project managers
  • The market. Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase in demand for legal services. However, demand for law firm services has been flat. This is because in-house corporate counsel are keeping more work for themselves and they have become more strategic about how (and from whom) they purchase legal services.
  • New providers. There are a variety of legal service providers. And now, United Lex has merged its professionals with the lawyers of LeClairRyan. These new approach
  • Legal Departments Priorities.
    • controlling outside counsel costs
    • driving work to outside counsel that demonstrate value. (This leads to the erosion of pedigree when what really matters is performance.)
    • Key attributes of winning law firms
      • solutions focus
      • quality of work
      • legal expertise
      • responsiveness
      • cost-efficiency
      • outcome vs expectation
      • low hourly rates counts, but it is the least important of these factors
  • Performance and Quality Matter. Research by AdvanceLaw indicated that on average the AmLaw 21-200 outperform the AmLaw 20.
  • Threats to law firm business. (According to Altman Weil)
    • corporate law departments are in-sourcing legal work
    • client use of technology
    • alternative legal providers
    • alternative law firms
  • Why are so few law firms changing?
    • Partners resist most change effortts
    • Most partners are unaware of what they might do differently
    • We are not in enough economic pain to motivate more significant change
    • clients aren’t asking for it
    • we lack time or organizational capacity
    • our service delivery model is not broken so we’re not trying to fix it
    • other law firms like ours are not changing
  • Legal Services Innovation Index. Catalogs law firm innovation and then index the work done by individual law firms. For more information see:
  • How do you innovate? You need to focus significantly upon sustaining innovation. It’s not just about disruptive innovation
  • Three Types of Innovation (CapGemini):
    • 70% = core innovation
    • 20% = adjacent innovation
    • 10% – transformational innovation
  • Biggest Issues CIOs face today
    • security management
    • aligning IT initiatives with business goals
    • improving IT operations/systems performance
    • cultivating the IT / business partnership
    • cost control/expense management
  • Hurdles to digital transformation (CapGemini)
    • Cultural issues
    • presence of archaic IT systems and applications
    • lack of digital skilss
    • lack of clear leadership vision
  • Law Firm CIOs
    • Must be a strategic leader in your organization
      • how do you manage change?
      • how do you get others to buy into your ideas?
      • how do you lead up, down, across?
    • How do you contribute to a culture of innovation
  • Knowing the business
    • Law firm CIOs must know their clients’ business
      • External clients?
      • Internal clients?
        • Have you spent time developing relationships and rapport with firm lawyers?
        • Have you spent time understanding how they work?
  • Start with technology
    • EVERYONE is a technology company
  • Legal Technology
    • Basic — MS Office, metadata, eDiscovery, cloud computing, case management
    • Intermediate — document automation, expert systems
    • Advanced — machine learning, AI
  • What is artificial intelligence in law (today)?
    • Rules-driven AI  — expert systems, robotic process automation
    • Machine learning — Walmart is using Legalmation (to ingest complaints, draft a response and discovery questions) before engaging outside counsel
  • Why is so much legal work unstructured?
    • lack of standards and best practices
    • lack of metrics, including for qality
    • Why does it matter? You cannot automate chaos!
  • Steve Harman: We need to move legal services from Art to Science. Lawyers need to change from Artisans to Engineers.
  • How to approach this?
    • Focus on Process
      • disaggregate legal work
      • then figure out who is best postioned to deliver that work
      • systematic reengineering of work processes results in over a 50% improvement in performance
  • Toyota’s Improvement Kata
    • get the direction of challenge
    • grasp the current condition
    • ndefine ext target condition
    • experiment / test
  • 21st-Century T-Shaped Lawyer — able to function with the following skills:
    • Business of law
    • process improvement
    • project management
    • knowledge management
    • metrics data analytics
    • technology
  • For information on LegalRnD, check out YouTube.
  • See the Institute for the Future of Law Practice
    • mostly focused on jobs in corporate legal departments
  • What are law firms doing now?
    • some conversations with clients re: budget
    • some conversations about project staffing
    • some management visits to key clients
    • only 20% conduct post-matter reviews with clients
  • Action Items:
    • ask yourself: what will our firm be doing in 10 years?
    • put the client at the center
    • commit to disciplined continuous improvement and innovation
    • become data-driven
    • create a data plan
    • collaborate with clients, vendors, and law schools
    • identify new products & service to provide value to clients
    • go to Gemba! Embrace empathy!

Me, Myself, and I: Sustaining and Focusing a KM Department of One #G032

Session Title and Description: Knowledge management (KM) is key for any law firm or legal department looking to leverage and organize existing resources to achieve greater things. However, those who are in KM are often frustrated by a lack of resources to achieve what are sometimes rather lofty goals. In this session, we will discuss ways that you can get real results by leverage existing resources, the support of other teams, and little-to-no-cost technologies. And because there’s more than one way to “skin the KM cat”, we will also review strategies from firm-wide initiatives, to practice groups, to client-facing KM. The speakers will discuss positives and negatives to each approach, how to align your KM goals with that of your organization, and how a small KM department can make a big impact.


[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 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.]


  • Know your institution.
    • go directly to the attorneys — go door-to-door
      • find out what they are doing
      • find out what’s important to them
      • create relationships
    • talk to colleagues in research / client development/ marketing — learn what questions they are fielding
  • Business case for KM.
    • be a gatekeeper
    • focus on realistic and actionable projects
    • work backwards
  • Prioritizing wish lists and projects.
  • Proven Strategies and Methods to Achieve Real Results.
    • Identify program sponsor / advocates
    • Find the low-hanging fruit — listen to the lawyers. They will tell you about their pain points and what they will find most valuable.
    • What can you leverage? Find out what resources/technology other groups in the firm are using. Can you use it too?
    • Relationship, relationship, relationship!
      • relationships between KM and other support functions
      • relationships with the lawyers
    • UX + UI = Stickiness
    • High-impact but achievable goals
  • Leverage Outside Resources.
    • Local KM groups or individuals
    • Build your own community
    • Relationship with existing or potential vendors
    • ILTA eGroup and content
    • KM conferences
    • Colleagues help with ideas on their Intranet
    • Vendors can also provide support

Robotic Process Automation: What CIOs Need to Know #ILTACON18

Session Description: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) gives CIOs the chance to help their firms rethink its business model. Beyond the cost savings, automation offers high value in the form of improvement in process efficiency, cycle time, productivity, quality, scalability, and governance and regulatory compliance. The value is easy to understand but there are important things to know as you move to automation in order to get it right and achieve the expected value. This session gives perspective on the value, goals, and best practices of RPA.


[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 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.]


  • What is Robotic Process Automation?  Software that can be easily configured to do basic tasks across applications just as human workers do. RPA software is designed to reduce the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on employees. (Source: Investopedia)
  • It automates the actions of everyday users.
    • carry out repetitive processes within applications
    • configured by business users (no development or coding required!)
    • scalable workforce to meet variable demand — you can build more bots to satisfy increased workload, you can take them down when workloads decline
    • work within existing IT infrastructure — no integration required — just trigger a bot by emailing that specific bot (they each have their own email addresses at Seyfarth.)
  • What does RPA look like?
    • Every RPA implementation is different but there are common elements:
    • central management software for bots: blue prism, automation anywhere, UI path
    • Built for processes (time-consuming repetitive tasks)
    • Tackle time-consuming repetitive tasks
    • Bots do more than a macro/script — they can tackle an entire process
    • You get the most value when you deploy bots on an organization-wide basis. (You may want to start within a department first.)
    • You can create off-the-shelf bots or custom bots; you can layer bots on top of each other.
  • How do you identify and measure ROI?
    • Any high-volume, business-rules driven, repeatable process qualifies for automation
    • ROI factors
      • Processing time — start time/end time of a process
      • Productivity — length of time a human worker versus a bot takes to complete the task/process
      • Reduction of error rates — accuracy of bot output — neither bots nor humans are error-free but bots have a lower rate of error and can be stopped easily when they encounter trouble.
      • Redeployment — when bots can handle “reactive” processes, then the humans can focus on more proactive work
  • How is RPA different from AI. Automation technologies speed up or replace human decision making.
    • RPA and AI are on different ends of the continuum. RPA involves less complexity than AI.
      • On the RPA end = RPA and Rules Engine (where the rules are explicitly provided) — primarily works with structured data
      • On the AI end = machine learning (rules deduced by statistical techniques), natural language processing, deep learning, computer vision (using input from sensors) — primarily works with unstructured data
  • RPA is being used across all departments in all industries.
    • New business intake
    • Sending calendar reminders
    • Tax automation
    • IT asset management
    • Employee lifecycle (HR)
    • Finance/Accounting (help automate processes that transfer, aggregate, and report on data)
    • PDF creation for estate tax reporting purposes
  • Gillian Power: The inability of a bot to handles process ambiguity is an opportunity to clarify your process.
  • Seyfarth Shaw’s RPA experience.
    • Launched a RPA Center of Excellence. (This sits outside the IT department.)
    • They got the idea from seeing bots used in other industries and organizations
    • Deployed in Finance, Marketing, IT and Client-facing technology (e.g., extranet)
    • Utilized by various practice groups — initial proof of concept was in their immigration practice. They were able to convert a 25-minute human process into a 4-minute bot process.
  • Other things to consider
    • Security — the bots need credentials to get into your system so they are storing that information. What level of encryption protects this?
      • Be sure to work with your IT security team
    • On-going management, changes, staff, etc.
      • help the displaced humans shift to higher-value work
    • Negotiating strong agreements with vendor
      • work collaboratively with your IT department so you evaluate the new software and vendor in a systematic way
    • Protecting IP
    • Lessons learned

Blockchain 101: It’s not just cryptocurrency #ILTACON18 #G009

Session Description: It’s the big buzzword now, but what are the basics that you need to understand to evaluate blockchain as a technology platform for you and your firm or department? Join us to learn about what blockchain is and why it matters. Learn why the importance of blockchain for the legal industry extends far beyond cryptocurrency. We will provide guidance about resources you can draw on to learn more about blockchain and to explore and develop your ideas for use cases.

Slides: [will be available after the conference]


[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 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.]


  • What is Blockchain?  It is another form of a network comprised of software, servers and databases. (It’s just a bunch of code.)
  • Decentralized.
    • no central location for information — this isn’t running on Amazon Web Services
    • network = thousands or millions of computers and databases and users
    • uses the computing power of all computers to transmit (=speed) and store information (=volume)
    • If any one computer goes down, the network does not. Each computer is a “node.”
  • Immutable.
    • Information in a blockchain cannot be altered (except in specific circumstances) = it’s NOT immutable
    • it serves a largely permanent digital record of information
    • digital identity verification and authorization tool
    • provides transaction authenticity and a trusted transaction records
  • Public or “permissionless” blockchain.
    • completely open allowing anyone to join and participat (rea, send transaction to and expect to see them if they are valid)
    • to participate, all you have to do is download the relevant software. All this software is opensource.
    • the security of the information tends to be greater in the public blockchain than in a private blockchain
  • Private/hybrids or “permissioned” blockchain.
    • each of these have their own rules of the road
    • these rules determine how immutable the records really are — what proportion of members must agree before a record may be edited.
    • the smaller the blockchain, the higher the likelihood that it might fail
  • Differences.
    • Privacy
    • Scalability
  • Use Cases in the Legal Industry.
    • smart contracts — these are a series of “if, then” statements that automatically trigger agreed actions without further human action
    • financial services
    • supply chain management
    • identity management
    • voting — blockchain can help ensure one person/one vote by time stamping a record of voting in an immutable form
    • data/asset registries
    • any situation that involves a lot of data, a lot of parties (that may not trust each other completely), the need for accurate records of each transaction
    • early uses in legal
      • internal contract automation
      • contract and deal negotiaon (and auto-updating)
      • calendaring
      • document authentication
      • client identifiy management
      • transaction recordkeeping
      • automated billing
      • service of process verification
  • Examples of Platforms in Legal.
    • OpenLaw (running off Ethereum platform). They are hoping to create a GitHub for contracts
    • The Agreements Network
    • Intergra’s Blockchain for the Global Legal Industry
  • Legal Working Group Examples
    • Wall Street Blockchain Alliance
    • Ethereum Enterprise Alliance
    • Chamber of Digital Commerce — Smart Contracts Alliance
  • Government spending on Blockchain
    • States are moving to use blockchain for government and recording
    • Federal government blockchain spending is set to rise for the third straight year
  • Challenges — this is still a very young technology. The Bitcoin Whitepaper came out in 2008.
    • interoperability
    • regulations
    • scalability
    • energy
    • security risks
    • investment decisions
  • Legal Industry Impact
    • Delaware blockchain initiative — law allows creation/maintenance of corporate records on blockchain
    • West Virginia pilot tested election voting by deployed military — they are using biometrics to validate identify
    • Vermont law approves blockchain data as court admissible
    • Illinois Blockchain initiative
      • medical credentialing process project
      • blockchain in government tracker
      • birth registration pilot project
    • Clients in the Logistics Industry are already pursuing blockchain (Blockchain in Transportation Alliance)
    • Store deal records on the blockchain (not on CDs or in bound volumes)
    • Typical legal functions and the vendors/technologies that use blockchain to support these functions
      • Document management system – -NetDocs, Integra Ledger
      • Document assembly — Thomson Reuters Contract Express, Integra Ledger
      • Document templates for smart contracts — OpenLaw, Ethereum
      • Contract management using smart contracts — Monax’s Agreements Network
      • Document execution, existence – -Basno, Blocksign
      • Notary services — SilentNotary, Ethereum
      • Service of Process — ServeManager
  • Groups working on legal industry opportunities
    • Global Legal Blockchain Consortium (Association of Legal Administrators)
      • ALA has developed the universal process billing codes
      • Standards of Alliance for the Legal Industry (SALI)
    • OpenLaw — they are creating learning tools to help any lawyer develop smart contracts
      • this is a Consensus Project
    • Accord Project
  • Top 10 Industries impacted by Blockchain
    • Banking (FinTech)
    • Healthcare (e.g., processing insurance claims)
    • Government
    • Real Estate
    • Legal
    • Security
    • Politics
    • Rentals and Ride Sharing
    • Charities and Aid Organizations
    • Education
  • What are the Big Four Doing?
    • Deloitte says that if your company is not already looking at Blockchain then you are planning to fail
    • PwC has developed an audit tool for blockchain
    • Accenture is viewed as the  third largest blockchain vendor behind IBM and Microsoft
  • What are the prospects? Gartner says by 2030, this will be a $3.1 trillion industry

Lisa Bodell Keynote: Why is Change so Hard? #ILTACON

Session Title and Description: Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution

What holds you back from better innovating, every day? In too many organizations, we’re stuck in the land of status quo. We’ve forgotten how to think differently, and lack the simple tools to solve problems creatively. The very structures put in place to help organizations grow are now holding us back. This keynote is an inspirational call to arms: to start a revolution in how we think and how we work.

Speaker: Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO of futurethink

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2018 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.]


  • How to detect change?  How do you keep your antennae up to detect signals of change so you can respond to possible, probable, and preferable scenarios.
  • What we say do and what we actually do are different. We can learn a lot from the gap. Wearables can track mood and actual activity. The challenge is to understand how this affects the customer and employee experience. Equally challenging: what concerns does this raise?
  • “The future is not who you ARE. The future is who you are BECOMING.”  If you are forward-looking you can influence the future rather than have it inflicted on you.
  • Partnerships are Key. Partner with the people who scare you the most. That partnership will force you into new ways of thinking and doing.
  • Practice Proactive Obsolescence. Palgrave Macmillan has set up a venture fund to invest in businesses that will put old-school publishing out of business. This means that they get in on the ground floor of their replacements.
  •  Why don’t we respond to change? Complexity & complacency. Most people spend the bulk of their days at work in meetings and doing email. (This is not inspiring.) It drives them to their to-do lists, it focuses them on the mundane.  Then they slide into complacency. These people cannot think about the future, they cannot think about change.
  • What do we value? What do we reward?
    • More vs Less
    • Doing vs Thinking
    • Internal vs External
  • “Thinking is a Daring Act.”  It requires alone time and quiet time.
    • The brain is an incredible organ. It starts working from the moment you wake up and doesn’t stop until you enter your office!
  • How open to change is your organization? Count how many times you can answer yes to the following questions:
    • People in our organization actively push the boundaries of what’s seemingly possible and apply critical thinking to all parts of our work
    • Our employees are comfortable asking provocative and sometimes unsettling questions to stretch thinking
    • When faced with challenges, our people can think on their feet and nimbly change direction
    • Our employees do not easily give up their ides when encountering adversity, and generally see them through
    • We’re constantly looking forward to the next 5-10 years, and actively seek solutions on how to stay ahead
    • We purposefully hire people with diverse backgrounds and create project teams with a variety of disciplines and experiences.
    • We look at what other industries adjacent or unrelated to ours are doing. We apply their best practices to our work.
    • We always encourage people to eliminate redundancies, rules, and processes that create complexity, so they can focus on more important work.
    • How many times could you answer Yes?
      • 1-2  = status quo
      • 3-5 = risk taker
      • 6-8 = change maker
  • Your job as a leader is to reduce the friction.  This means eliminating the hurdles (e.g., processes, assumptions, practices) that stop your team from doing great work.
  • The key is to ask killer QUESTIONS. In earlier times, the focus was on finding the right answer. However, today you can find the answer to any question. (Google has an answer to any questions.) The key is to ask the RIGHT question.
  • Kill Stupid Rules. Focus on your sphere of control. (But don’t touch rules that are in place to ensure regulatory compliance.) Ask your team: what two stupid rules we should eliminate? They will show you the things that get in their way and slow them down.
  • Empower Decision-Making. Be willing to let your team make decisions. Support the decisions they make. And then find useful things to do with your new-found free time.
  • How to fix your focus?
    • Ask yourself and your team to create a list of their Typical Tasks
    • Then ask them to strike out the things on that list that are a waste of time
    • Next, ask them to create a list of Desired Work. Then strategize with them on how to shift their focus to the work that actually expands opportunity for themselves and their organization.
  • Concrete ways to gain more time
    • Kill stupid meetings
    • change the frequency of meetings
    • NNTR = type “no need to respond” in the subject line or body of an email. This will reduce the number of unnecessary emails.
    • “Cut the crap committee” = this volunteer committee identifies things that can be eliminated so everyone can focus on the things that matter.
  • You can kill stupid rules. You can kill stupid meetings. You CANNOT kill stupid people.

A New Adventure

Every so often, opportunity knocks.

This year, opportunity started knocking and did not quit until I finally paid attention. Thanks to the persistence and support of several wonderful colleagues, I now find myself embarking on a new adventure.

On July 1, I became academic director of the Master of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program at Columbia University. It is a remarkable program that equips students to lead high-performing teams and unleash the power inherent in the knowledge assets of their organizations. In the words of one our distinguished faculty members, Jeanne Harris, our program teaches how to  optimize organizational decision making and execution.

Who doesn’t need that?

Next week we will welcome a new cohort of mid-career executives eager to learn the things that knowledge management professionals know how to do. However, unlike most KM professionals, this cohort will have the benefit of a thoughtfully designed set of courses taught by industry leaders. This creates a wonderful path to the education that the rest of us gained painfully through the school of hard knocks.

We just released to our new students the online learning site for their first course. One of their initial assignments is to read a foundational book for knowledge management professionals: Working Knowledge by Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak. The site directs the students to read the book with a critical eye — not because there is a particular problem with the book but because they will have a chance next week to discuss it face to face with Larry Prusak. What an opportunity! And it’s only the beginning for them and for us.)

Together with the other members of the program’s leadership team (Dr. Ed Hoffman and Carolina Pincetic), our expert faculty, and dedicated alumni, I look forward to bringing the benefits of collaboration and knowledge sharing to more and more individuals and organizations.

We have some powerful tools in our IKNS toolkit that are just too valuable to hoard.



Humans are KM’s Secret Sauce

Years ago, TV ads taught us that one of the things that set a Big Mac apart from the competition was its “secret sauce.” (Remember: two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and a sesame-seed bun.) Thanks to Google, we now have easy access to recipes for that special sauce. It turns out that the sauce is basically a doctored version of thousand islands dressing. How mundane.

In knowledge management, we search high and low for the secret sauce that will unleash engagement and prompt people to “share their knowledge.” If you have ever created an intranet or other repository, you know how hard it can be to coax your colleagues to contribute fresh content. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had the secret sauce to make this possible?

Nancy Dixon, one of the pioneers of KM, writes in Common Knowledge that we have been misled by the myths that knowledge sharing happens with technology alone or requires an established learning culture. She has found that robust knowledge sharing happens when the technology evolves to include face-to-face interactions. Further, she believes that if people are encouraged to share knowledge, their exchanges will create a learning culture.

In fact, she says that the perception that “it’s really difficult to get people to share what they know” is a misconception. In her experience, people generally share freely — when asked directly by another human being who has a legitimate need. Why? Because most of us like to be helpful. Further, we appreciate the opportunity to showcase our expertise and receive praise for our generosity. Therefore, if you stop by someone’s office and ask a question or post a request for information, most people are willing to give you the best answer they have. This, by any definition, is knowledge sharing.

By contrast, people balk at taking the time to “write something up” and submit it for inclusion in some collection. Then the five-minute chat at the office door transforms into a PROJECT that needs focus and must meet submission standards. In the face of such a project, most busy people prefer to walk away.

So how to solve the knowledge sharing problem? Encourage more face-to-face interaction, more direct conversation. Keep it simple and keep it between two humans. If you are worried about scaling up knowledge sharing, don’t force people to write lessons learned documents that languish untouched in databases. Instead, organize peer assists in which a team that has worked on a specific type of project sits down to discuss their experience with another team that is starting a similar project. In the course of their conversation, they will share knowledge and both teams will benefit from the experience.

In these cases, humans are the secret sauce. When you focus on helping them connect, you enable them to exchange information freely in the context of relationship and you accelerate the knowledge flow throughout the organization.

You may think this approach is mundane, but don’t knock it. It works. Remember, the “secret sauce” in a Big Mac may be mundane salad dressing, but it still makes a critical contribution to the success of the burger.

[Photo Credit: Ailinder]