Monday, March 16, 2009

It's about the social

"It’s not about the media, but the social. We crave to be social." Dean Shareski.

The Edmonton Knowledge Management Network is getting going again on Thursday, April 2, noon, Boardroom 5L, 5th floor of the Commerce Building. The reason I am talking about an event that those outside the Edmonton area (Alberta, Canada) can't get to will make sense if you persist in reading.

Mack D. Male (his blog is MasterMaq) is talking to the Edmonton KM Network about "Social Media: What to pay attention to?"

Mack is a high end user, advocate for Twitter. And the reaction to Twitter has been the same as we experienced 14 years ago with the Internet: "A time-wasting play toy and worse an information channel we can't control". Welcome to the 21st Century.

I can't make the case for Twitter and other social media tools for enabling conversations. Mack Male will do that two weeks from now. So look for some posts after his presentation. In the meantime, I will direct you to Dean Shareski's blog for some insights.

Dean Shareski is a digital learning specialist in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. His website is a treasure trove for those trying to navigate their way through organizational learning and technology. Framed with an uniquely prairie perspective, his observations bemuse and incite me (hopefully you as well).

"In Praise of the Pop-In" is Dean's commentary on the need for the social in our life and how it has eroded as we have gotten more organized and busier. His comment is that Twitter has become the ultimate "pop-in". And the Internet enables connectivity so that we can "pop-in" with folks that perhaps we never or rarely see face-to-face. He then goes on to describe how he sees schools using these tools for learning. You can generalize those to organizational learning as well.

Dean finishes talking about serendipity. My version is that it is the opportunities created in having conversations that creates serendipity.

Serendipity does not happen by chance.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Learning on Steriods, DemoCampEdmonton6

I attended my first DemoCamp, Friday. A group of young IT entrepreneurs taught me about effective knowledge sharing and the power of a passionate community.

Mack D. Male has a very good summary on his blog (MasterMaq) so I won't repeat the details here. I'll just say that Mack is a bit too modest in his evaluation of what was the demo of the night. I was interested in the concepts that might have legs. Mack's concept of aggregating "what's going on", activities in the Edmonton area, would be pretty attractive for websites that are trying to create real presence around a location. Taking the idea further, I think he is onto something if you consider trying to aggregate events around a topic or area of interest.

While what was being demonstrated at DemoCamp was very interesting, from a guy interested in how communities work and share knowledge
, the process was what caught my interest.

Each Demonstrator was given 10 minutes to show what their "in-development" software would do. Then there was 5 minutes for questions. With 140 people in the room, the essentials of the concept got a good critique. Then it was on to the next presentation.

5 presentations. Over in just about an hour. Out the door to the SUB bar for the real information sharing. I didn't go to the bar so I know I missed the most important part of the process.

But what impressed me was the tools to share information before the presentations (Twitter was up on the projection screen). Video cameras recorded the demos. And the level of information sharing and honest critiquing.

Short, intense and yet you walked away with enough information to keep your brain churning on the potential of the concepts presented.

As a forum for sparking and furthering innovation, DemoCamp works.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What I have learned from IT

Here is a somewhat overstated summary of some key principles you should understand if you work with IT. This is not taught in MBA courses (and it should be). That explains why organizations (private and public) do such a poor job of leveraging their competitive advantage through software and hardware. Most business managers and Chief Information Officers do not understand these principles.

In fact I would argue that if a Chief Information Office (CIO) or a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) cannot take the one-liners and provide the paragraph of explanation, you should not hire them.

  1. Software salesmen lie: Software salesmen say that they sell integrated suites of software. They say that their software will work with other companies software (open standards, supporting third party software). But you don't have to scratch very deep (sometimes just below the company branding) to realize that the components are built differently and integration is a code word for customization after installation. e.g. Microsoft Office is an integrated suite. NOT.
  2. The primary work of IT is software and hardware integration: See above. Nobody has any idea of how difficult, complicated and frustrating software and hardware integration is. There is no repeatability in software or hardware installation. Update one software component and the ripple of unanticipated integration issues can bring the entire network down. IT's primary work is not software scouting, implementation and maintenance. It is the continuous task of troubleshooting and developing custom software to deal with integration issues.
  3. IT prefers "one throat to choke". IT prefers single source supply versus best of breed. See above. If IT can catch software salesmen in a lie ("we have an integrated suite"), they can force the software supplier to troubleshoot and solve the integration problem. Buying "Best of Breed" allows software salesmen from one company to point to software salesmen from another company and say: "They Lie; their product is the source of your problems. Not Us". IT is forced to become software developers and integrators in order to stitch software applications together. This is why your IT people know the software better than the software developers.
  4. Business rules precede software: Software salesmen love to talk directly to business users. "Business users understand their needs best". This is patent nonsense. Business users, shown a shiny sports car, will want a shiny sports car when what they need is a minivan. Until business users do the hard work of defining the business process, the workflow, the supporting information in and out of the process, they do not know what they need. And they certainly can't define a hierarchy of wants. Because software is built over time to satisfy many wants and needs, the tool becomes a giant "Swiss Army" knife. Business users get lost in the complications of the Swiss Army knife when they need a steak knife. The whine: "It's too complicated" is a symptom of software purchased before business rules. Simple takes work.
  5. The pathway to innovation and business improvement leads through IT: Every time a CEO, a deputy minister or a politician announces a new innovative way to do business, the people affected hear the message and turn to ..... their computer. If they can't find the supporting tools and information there, the innovation is stillborn. The innovation or the process improvement isn't real until it shows up in the tools that people interact with.
  6. The business management guru that came up with the concept of IT outsourcing should taken out and shot: See above. If the people who work most closely with business units in improving their business processes and developing the underpining software supports for business innovation have their work outsourced to ...... India??? What about intellectual capital that the organization needs to keep close for competitive advantage? Isn't that at work here?
  7. Nobody says Thank You: When IT works well, things just arrive at your computer. When things break, work stops. Guess what IT hears about. Consequently, some very intelligent and gifted people get cabbages and contempt much more regularly than thanks. See Number 5. Can your business afford over time to erode the enthusiasm of intelligent and gifted people? Nobody says Thank You to IT. So it is incumbent for those who work closely with IT to do it on the organization's behalf.

So Thank You, IT.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

People are canny

They will appear to conform. (Larry Prusak).

The fifth rule of thumb for Knowledge Management is from Larry Prusak, coauthor of "Working Knowledge" (with Tom Davenport). "Working Knowledge" came out in 1998 and is one of the foundational textbooks of Knowledge Management.

This rule of thumb is about change and it is not unique to knowledge management. But because knowledge sharing is part of change processes, you do have to be conscious that people will be canny; they will appear to conform.

So watch the crowd.

This is particularly true with communities of practice. If they operate long enough, they start to be agents of change acting horizontally across the organization. And the inevitable question will arrive: "What the !!*%#@?? are those people doing?"

Which is why communities of practice need to look ahead and be ready to make their case with a Term of Reference that describes how they add value to the organization as well as the fundamental value they bring to individual members and the community of practice.

While change management is very useful in describing the specific project management steps and processes of a change process, coaching knowledge sharing processes and tools is more free form.

So if you are supporting knowledge sharing in an organization, particularly communities of practice, be canny. Managers will appear to be supportive (some, at heart, are not). Some CoP members will seize the opportunity to advance their own causes under the banner of the CoP. The two in combination set the scene for the accusation that "the inmates are running the asylum".

Your role is to sift through the players and determine whether
truly they are "willing". If not, be canny yourself and recognize that all appearances aside, they are not partners in knowledge sharing.

Partners meet two criteria:
  1. They are willing
  2. They are able.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I know more than I can say

And I will say more more than I can write down.

David Snowden's heuristic, rule of thumb, "I know more than I can say and I will say more than I can write down", takes us to 21st century Knowledge Management.

With this rule of thumb, David Snowden solves a long standing debate in knowledge management about “tacit knowledge”, knowledge in people’s heads and “explicit knowledge”, knowledge written down. How do you get the “tacit knowledge” out of people’s heads and into “explicit knowledge” written down in knowledge libraries?

And the social media gurus need to pay attention to this as well because all the talk about chatting, twittering, blogs, wikis, Facebook comes into focus once you understand this rule of thumb about knowledge sharing.

I know more than I can say: What do you know? More that you can say.

And I will say it first and say much more than I can write down.

So where does really good information first emerge? In conversation. And really good information may never get beyond that. What is easier to do? Talk for 5 minutes or write for half an hour?

Everyone I know in knowledge management starts to think, work and support conversation processes. David Snowden moved onto narrative analysis. Dave Pollard defined knowledge management as enabling enriching conversations in a community. David Gurteen is a master of facilitating knowledge cafes.

Why? Because really good information, really important information emerges first in conversation. What do I know? You can't capture all that I know. And I can't get it all out. I would be writing for years and much of it would be useless to the current issue of the day. So what you and I want to capture is really good information (which is transient because it is good only for the current context).

Where does it first emerge? In conversation.

Because "the medium is the message" and the Internet is about connectivity, the tools that are shaping our future are tools about connectivity (enabling conversations). So as you puzzle over the rise of Facebook, Twitter, texting, and blogs, return to David Snowden's heuristic:

"I know more than I can say and I will say more t
han I can write down".

Monday, March 02, 2009

I know what I know when I need to know it

"I know what I know when I need to know it" is another of David Snowden's heuristics, rules of thumb, about knowledge management.

Even more insightful is David Snowden’s corollary: “I don’t know what I need to know until I need to know it”.

Contrast what you know with what a computer knows about its information. Indexes, directories and lists of files. A computer knows instantly what it knows. Can you image what it would be like to be continuous aware of what you know? Insanity? What we know is more closely related to how this guy knows than to a computer. Malcolm Gladwell leveraged off David Snowden’s rule of thumb to write a book. “Blink” is about instinctual knowledge and how we make decisions and then construct reason trees to justify the decision we arrived at instantaneously because “I know what I know”.

David Snowden’s rule of thumb makes more sense of how we discover what we know (or don’t know) than the more famous and convoluted “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know. ” from the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in a 2002 press conference.

Worst of all, there are “unknown knowns” (Donald Rumsfeld missed this one). These are the things that we don’t know that we know, things known by part of the organization but not by the rest. This happens frequently in families, illustrated by the shriek from a teen-age daughter: “I didn’t know that you needed to know that!!”. To our chagrin, this also happens in organizations, sometimes with the same level of consternation and generally identified as a “lack of communication” at a future date during the retrospective.

The problem is that technology and knowledge libraries and frequent communications help but do not solve this problem. This is the way we are wired as primates to know what we know.

As a species, we have been communicating knowledge for a very long time and have gotten very sophisticated about it. Which leads us to the next rule of thumb.