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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Not-So-Incredible Adventures of Equani-Mouse


cartoon by Felicia Bond on wikimedia, CC-SA 3.0
The people were worried. The Evil Drumpf had seized power in the kingdom. He had installed his corrupt Minions in positions of power, and was plundering the Commons and threatening war with any neighbour who did not accept his absolute edicts. On the ramparts, the people looked hopefully toward the horizon. The children were crying.

“We need a miracle”, said one man.

“If only a hero would come and rescue us”, said another.

Suddenly there was a flash in the sky, and a luminous grey creature descended to Earth in front of the crowd.

“Get back, it’s a giant rodent!”, warned an observant woman.

“Eeew!”, cried the children.

But the giant rodent was undeterred, and turned to the crowd, speaking in a calm voice.

“Don’t be afraid”, the creature said, in a voice that seemed to reverberate around the ramparts. “I am here to help you in this time of need. I am — Equani-Mouse!” His name echoed through the crowd.

“Are you going to kill the Evil Drumpf and restore peace and democracy to the land?”, asked a young boy.

“Just tell us what to do to get rid of this demon, and we’ll follow you”, urged an anxious mother.

Equani-Mouse shook its head and smiled, beseeching the crowd to listen. “I am an expert in complex systems, and what you are dealing with is not a problem with one man, but a predicament. The Evil Drumpf is only one of a million connected variables, evidence of a system in late-stage collapse.”

“Drumpf isn’t a predicament, he’s a whack-job”, interrupted an adolescent. “He needs to be confronted and stopped, now.” The crowd buzzed and nodded in agreement.

Equani-Mouse sighed. “What you must realize about predicaments is that they cannot be ‘fixed’. The only approach to them is to understand and accept what they represent, and learn to cope with and adapt to them. Chop wood and carry water, before and after Drumpf, who is only a symptom of a much greater malaise.”

Many in the crowd frowned, and some outright scowled.

“Boo!”, one boy cried out. “The Evil Drumpf is destroying everything. He’s sick, and incompetent. Don’t tell us to accept him.”

“You’re a fraud!”, a man said, looking at Equani-Mouse menacingly. “You’re not here to help us at all. You’re trying to discourage us. You are probably one of the Evil Drumpf’s Minions!”

The crowd grew increasingly agitated and hostile. Finally, a woman called for order and said to Equani-Mouse: “Look, maybe you’re the wrong person, er… creature, for this job. All we want is justice, what our people have always sought: global human equality, a cosmopolitan world civilisation, fair and free trade, the spread of personal liberty and secular democracy to all corners of the globe. These goals are so obviously desirable that it is inconceivable that we should ever stop progressing towards them. Your telling us to just accept this aberration Drumpf is cowardly and unhelpful. Perhaps you could send us a super-hero better equipped for the task of liberating us and getting us back on track.”

The crowd cheered and applauded this comment. Equani-Mouse took a deep breath. and then replied: “You seem to think that civilization is destined to greater and greater levels of progress and humanity. Your textbooks and media and leaders lie, telling you only what you want to hear. You may be living a much better life now than your species did a couple of centuries or millennia ago, but compared to prehistoric humans, you’re less happy, less healthy, less resilient, less sustainable, more destructive, and most importantly less attuned and connected to the wisdom of all life on this planet. Your civilization is a hubristic affront to millions of years of astonishing evolution on this fragile and beautiful planet. Yet all you want from me is to enable you to try to continue what you have been doing, which is disastrous.”

There was silence. One boy said what others were apparently thinking: “What a loser. The giant rodent wants us to accept the Evil Drumpf as punishment for something we didn’t do, as if it were a plague or pestilence from God. Its advice is hopeless. I say we send it packing. We don’t need another hero. All we want is life beyond the Evil Drumpf. We have leaders, let’s follow them instead.”

Equani-Mouse smiled sadly, and replied:

“You may not realize it, but the Evil Drumpf won’t be able to do anything different from what your last leader, HopiumMan, did. He won’t do anything that is more than symbolically different from what your usurped leader MoreOfTheSameWoman would have done. Look around you. All the systems you’ve built are crumbling. Nothing is working the way it was designed to. You have inadvertently and foolishly desolated the planet and brought about the sixth great extinction of life on it. All your civilized systems are doing is speeding up that process, and causing universal suffering. There’s nothing you can do to change that but accept it, live joyfully in the time that’s left, and do your best to help all the creatures you share this part of this amazing planet with, in small ways that are within your control. A thousand small acts of loving kindness, compassion and understanding, taking joy in others’ joy, and equanimity — these are the ways you all have to do that. What the Evil Drumpf does is of no consequence, and all the news about his deeds is just a distraction causing you stress and grief for no reason.”

“Not buying that Buddhist crap”, said a woman standing near Equani-Mouse. “We can get rid of the Evil Drumpf and his Minions, but we need to be united and forceful, not stand meekly and idly by while he pillages our land and mistreats our people. Let’s join together and send up a prayer to show us the way. Who’s with me?”

The crowd moved toward the woman and slowly the group joined hands and once again turned their eyes to the horizon as the woman uttered her prayer. Suddenly the sky darkened with the shadows of two more flying figures. The wind picked up, and with a flourish a caped woman and a caped man landed in front of the crowd. Equani-Mouse was jostled aside. The woman spoke first:

“Equani-Mouse is wrong!” she shouted. “We can show you the way! I am BeTheChangeHumyn, and this is DeepGreenGuy. A better world is possible. Together we can help you defeat the Evil Drumpf and restore peace, democracy and progress to this great land!” Equani-Mouse winced at the word “progress” but said nothing, shaking its head sadly.

“We must organize, resist, refuse to give up”, BeTheChangeHumyn continued. DeepGreenGuy nodded and chimed in: “There is no honour in passivity. We are all by nature activists, and when we listen we know what needs to be done. We may fail, but we will if necessary die trying”.

Some people in the crowd looked nervous when they heard these last words. But almost everyone in the crowd agreed with either BeTheChangeHumyn or DeepGreenGuy, and as the pair walked away from the ramparts toward the Tower where the Evil Drumpf was, the crowd followed eagerly behind.

Equani-Mouse was left nearly alone, but it shrugged off the rejection. The only people left were a woman and her daughter, who walked over to Equani-Mouse to offer thanks. “They’re not ready for your message,” the woman said. “Their humynism, their activism, their hope, their outrage, it’s a religion to them, a salve, their way of coping.”

“I know,” Equani-Mouse replied, hugging the pair. The little girl smiled at the large grey creature and said, smiling “I thought you were going to try to convince them that there was no Drumpf, that everything that seems to be is an illusion”.

As they walked off toward the forest Equani-Mouse responded, laughing quietly, “Yeah, like that would have worked.”



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The Illusion of Community


graphic of four types of community and the qualities that make each cohere, by Aaron Williamson (my suggested additions are in red)
Much is being written these days, in political, social, business and collapsnik circles, among others, about community. Most of it assumes that there is such a thing.

A few years ago I wrote a response to Aaron Williamson’s then-new model of community and identity, diagrammed above. Aaron acknowledged that “a community or potential community is a complex system” and that “community itself is an emergent quality — community, per se, does not exist; it is a perceived connection between a group of people based on overlaps of intentidentity, interest and experience”. These four aspects of our ‘selves’ are shown as green circles, above. Elements of each aspect are shown in orange circles.

In this model, overlaps between ‘selves’ can result in the emergence of different types of community:

  • If the overlap is mainly common interests, it will emerge as a Community of Interest. Learning and recreational communities are often of this type.
  • If the overlap is mainly common capacities, it will emerge as a Community of Practice. Co-workers, collaborators and alumni communities are often of this type.
  • If the overlap is mainly common intent, it will emerge as an Intentional Community or Movement. Project teams, various communal living groups and activist groups are often of this type.
  • If the overlap is mainly common identity, it will emerge as a Tribe. Partnerships, love/family relationships, gangs and cohabitants are often of this type.

At the time I wrote “You cannot create community, all you can do is try to create or influence conditions in such a way that the community self-creates (self-forms, self-organizes and self-manages) [and emerges] in a healthier, more sustainable and resilient way.” I identified what I thought were 8 key qualities of such healthy communities and their members: Effective processes for invitation, facilitation, and the building of members’ capacities, strong collective processes, and members’ individual skills of self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-caring, attention and appreciation.

It’s hard to find good enduring examples of such communities. The late, great Joe Bageant taught me that “community is born of necessity”. He showed me what that meant by telling me the story of the isolated village of Hopkins, Belize (while I was visiting him there). Hopkins was formed when a group of slave ships ran aground in a storm 300 years ago, and the survivors escaped and made their way up the Caribbean coast and created a new community there, one which thrived without intervention until it was wrecked just in the last generation by foreigners through trawler overfishing of the Gulf, and the imposition of land title laws (and fences, and walls) on their ‘free’ indigenous common land.

Why did this community succeed for so long? Because the escapees had no choice but to make it succeed; it was life-and-death. This is the ultimatum the collapse of our civilization’s systems and culture will soon present us all with, as possibly two billion climate refugees in a Great Migration bring about the ultimate clash of cultures and the final demise of all of our civilization’s systems.

This is why few of what we would like to call communities today, are actually that: It’s too easy for most to just pick up and leave when they don’t like the people, processes or circumstances of their adopted, emergent communities. There is no necessity holding us together when things get uncomfortable, no requirement to live with and love neighbours we don’t particularly like.

We seek community now for a number of non-essential reasons driven by individual wants and ambitions: attention and appreciation, collaboration on projects, movements and enterprises where we share goals, skills, needs or passions, as well as for protection from perceived threats. The people I met in Hopkins sometimes sought these things, but they weren’t what created or held together the community. And as that community is being destroyed from outside pressures (the loss of their primary food source and their land), what brought and kept them together won’t help them withstand its demise. To anyone who’s studied indigenous cultures, it’s an old story.

So we look for others with whom to form community, individually — online in social media and virtual worlds, in dating services, in ‘meetup’ groups, in clubs, in social organizations. But most of us drift in and out of such groups, dissatisfied with their offerings, mourning their inability to find what we really want — existential connection. All that expectation is loaded up on the shoulders of spouses, governments and employers to fill the existential gap, which they can’t hope to deliver.

The traditional places where people seeking community congregated — churches, higher learning institutions, guilds, cooperatives etc, are in disarray, their memberships falling. This is partly because we’ve become too picky about what we want from so-called community organizations. We want them to cater to our individual wants and needs, and their ‘commercial’ replacements assert that they offer that, though they do not.

So what is this ‘existential connection’ that is lacking in modern ‘communities’? At its heart, I think it is connection to place and to all other life on the planet, which most of us have become disconnected, even dissociated from. We all ‘know’ somehow that living naturally is communal, connected, mutual, integral, unselfish, and loving — the very opposite of individual and isolated and competitive and the ‘optimizing of self-interest’ that underlies our entire modern dysfunctional and massively destructive economic systems.

When I go to meetups of new groups now, I often find such a sense of absolute desperation for community (of all four types), that when they achieve even the brief illusion of that integral sense of community, many present will start to cry in unrestrained (and infectious) appreciation and joy. They will swear to have made vital lifelong connections. But a month later those apparent connections will have vanished. Desperation is not yet necessity. We return to our fragmented, community-less lives.

If you’ve been reading my stuff in the last few years, you’ll know I no longer proffer any ‘solutions’. This predicament is endemic to our modern, global, dog-eat-dog, utterly individualistic culture, a culture that has crushed all of the remaining sensible ones. The system has to fall before we will once again learn what it means to know the necessity of living in community, of being community. There is no cure, no ‘fix’ for Civilization Disease, the disease of disconnection, fear and antipathy.

The problem with systems, as I’ve explained before, is that they don’t really exist. So while in a way the ‘system’ is the problem (it’s associated with our incapacity to reconnect and hence rediscover true community), it’s actually just a label our pattern-seeking brains use to try to understand why things are the way they are. Yet our minds, our ‘selves’ that supposedly sit at the centre of our communities (as depicted in the chart above) are themselves just labels, concepts, pattern-making, attempts to make sense of what ‘we’ cannot hope to understand. (Aaron, as a non-dualist, hints at this, though perhaps wisely he doesn’t really get into it in his writings aimed at business clients who are likely addicted to these illusions, and fiercely ‘self’- and ‘system’-driven.

Some day, in a world probably millennia hence with many fewer human creatures, there will likely once again be real community everywhere on what’s left of our planet. But they will not be communities of interest, practice, experience, capacity or even identity. The ‘selves’ in the centre of Aaron’s model will not exist. There will be no need for these parochial communities, or the selves that cohere them. There will be community of necessity, delight and wonder, non-exclusionary, embracing all life, free from self. There will be no choice. In the meantime, there is nothing to be done. One day, everything will be free.



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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why you need to place some demands on the knowledge sharer

Sharing knowledge is a two-sided process. There is a sharer and a receiver. Be careful that making knowledge easier to share does not make knowledge harder to re-use.

Image from wikimedia commons
Sharing knowledge is like passing a ball in a game of rugby, American Football or basketball. If you don't place some demands on the thrower to throw well, it won't work for the catcher. If you make it too undemanding to throw the ball, it can be too hard to catch the ball.  Passing the ball is a skill, and needs to be practised.

The same is true for knowledge. If you make it too simple to share knowledge, you can make it too difficult to find it and re-use it.  In knowledge transfer, the sharing part is the easier part of the transfer process. There are more barriers to understanding and re-use than there are to sharing, so if you make the burden too light on the knowledge supplier, then the burden on the knowledge user can become overwhelming.

Imagine a company that wants to make it easy for projects to share knowledge with other projects. They set up an online structure for doing this, with a simple form and a simple procedure. "We don't want people to have to write too much" they say "because we want to make it as easy as possible for people to share knowledge".

So what happens? People fill in the form, they put in the bare minimum, they don't give any context, they don't tell the story, they don't explain the lesson. And as a result, almost none of these lessons are re-used. The feedback that they get is "these lessons are too generic and too brief to be any use".  we have seen this happen many many times.

By making the knowledge too easy to share - by demanding too little from the knowledge supplier - you can make the whole process ineffective. 

There can be other unintended consequences as well. Another company had a situation as described above, where a new project enthusiastically filled in the knowledge transfer form with 50 lessons. However this company had put in a quality assurance system for lessons, and found that 47 of the 50 lessons were too simple, too brief and too generic to add value. So they rejected them.

The project team in question felt, quite rightly, that there was no point in spending time capturing lessons if 94% of them are going to be rejected, so they stopped sharing. They became totally demotivated when it came to any further KM activity.

 Here you can see some unintended consequences of making things simple. Simple does not equate to effective.

Our advice to this company was to introduce a facilitation role in the local Project Office, who could work with the project teams to ensure that lessons are captured with enough detail and context to be of real value. By using this approach, each lesson will be quality-controlled at source, and there should be no need to reject any lessons.

Don't make it so simple to share knowledge, that people don't give enough thought to what they write.

The sharer of knowledge, like the thrower of the ball, needs to ensure that the messages can be effectively passed to the receiver, and this requires a degree of attention and skill. 



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Monday, February 06, 2017

Making knowledge work visible

Invisibility is an accidental and troublesome characteristic of knowledge work in a digital world. What makes it invisible? Why does it matter? What can you do about it?

How did knowledge work become invisible?

As a knowledge worker, I get paid for what happens inside my head but not until I get the work outside where it can be seen. Before the advent of a more or less ubiquitous digital environment, that head work generated multiple markers and visible manifestations. There were handwritten notes from interviews, a presentation might start with rough mockups of slides scribbled on a pad of paper. Flip charts would document the outcomes of a group brainstorming session. A consulting report would start as an outline on a legal pad that would be rearranged by literally cutting and pasting the paper into a new order and organization. Computer code started as forms to be filled out and forwarded to a separate department to transcribe the forms onto punch cards.

No one would want to return to that world of knowledge work.

Digital tools—text editors, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software, email—have eliminated multiple manual, error-prone, steps. They’ve made many low-value roles obsolete—sometimes by unintentionally giving them back to high-cost knowledge workers.

These same tools also reduce the physical variety of knowledge work to a deceptively uniform collection of keystrokes stored as bits in digital files hiding behind obscure file names and equally  uninformative icons. A laptop screen offers few clues about the knowledge work process compared to an office full of papers and books. A file directory listing appears pretty thin in terms of useful knowledge content compared to rows of books on shelves.

Why does the visibility of knowledge work matter?

If you can’t see it, you can’t manage or improve it. This is true as an individual knowledge worker and as a team or organization.

Noticing that digital work is invisible reminds us of benefits of analog work that weren’t obvious. Among those non-obvious benefits;

  • Different physical representations (handwritten notes, typed drafts, 35mm slides) establish how baked a particular idea is
  • Multiple stacks of work in progress make it easier to gauge progress and see connections between disparate elements of work
  • Physically shared work spaces support incidental social interactions that enrich deliverables and contribute to the learning and development of multiple individuals connected to the effort

Consider how developing a presentation has changed over time. Before the advent of PowerPoint, presentations began with a pad of paper and a pencil. The team might rough out a set of potential slides huddled around a table in a conference room. Simply by looking at the roughed-out set of slides you knew that it was a draft; erasures, cross outs, and arrows made that more obvious.

A junior level staffer was then dispatched with the draft to the graphics department, where they were chastised for how little lead time they were provided. A commercial artist tackled the incomprehensible draft spending several days hand-lettering text and building the graphs and charts.

The completed draft was returned from the graphics department starting an iterative process, correcting and amending the presentation. The team might discover a hidden and more compelling story line by rearranging slides on a table or conference room wall or floor. Copies were circulated and marked up by the team and various higher ups. Eventually, the client got to see it and you hoped you’d gotten things right.

The work was visible throughout this old-style process. That visibility was a simple side effect of the work’s physicality. Contributors could assess their inputs in context. Junior staff could observe the process and witness the product’s evolution. Knowledge sharing was simultaneously a free and valuable side effect of processes that were naturally visible.

Putting knowledge work on the radar screen

The serendipitous benefits of doing knowledge work physically now must be explicitly considered and designed for when knowledge work becomes digital. The obvious productivity benefits of digital tools can obscure a variety of process losses. As individuals, teams, and organizations we now must think about how we obtain these benefits without incurring offsetting losses in the switch from physical to digital.

Improving knowledge work visibility has to start at the individual level. This might start with something as mundane as how you name and organize your digital files. You might also develop more systematic rules of thumb for managing versions of your work products as they evolve. Later, you might give thought to how you map software tools to particular stages in your thinking or your work on particular kinds of projects. For example, I use mind-mapping software when I am in the early stages of thinking about a new problem. For writing projects, I use Scrivener as a tool to collect and organize all of the moving pieces of notes, outlines, research links, drafts, etc. The specific answers aren’t important; giving thought to the visibility of your own digital work is.

Teams should take a look at the world of software development. Software development teams have given more thought than most to  how to see and track what is going on with the complex knowledge work products they develop and maintain. Software developers have carefully thought out tools and practices for version management, for example. Good ones also have practices and tools for monitoring and tracking everything from the tasks they are doing to the software bugs and issues they are working to eliminate. These are all ideas worth adapting to the broader range of knowledge work.

Organizations might best adopt an initial strategy of benign neglect. I’m not sure we understand knowledge work in today’s world well enough to support it effectively at the organizational level. Knowledge management efforts might seem relevant, but my initial hypothesis is that knowledge management is hampered, if not trapped, by clinging to industrial age thinking. We’re likely to see more progress by individual knowledge workers and local teams if we can persuade organizations to simply let the experiments occur.

The post Making knowledge work visible appeared first on McGee's Musings.



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Friday, January 13, 2017

6 reasons why After Action reviews are such a great tool.

After Action reviews are one of the core tools in Knowledge Management - but what makes them so powerful?


After Action Reviews (AARs) are like the Hammer in the Knowledge Manager's toolkit - one of the most basic and most important tools.

They are applied in many organisations around the world as part of their Knowledge Management Framework.  They are focused review meetings, relatively short in duration, designed to help the team become conscious of their own knowledge, so they can act on that knowledge as work progresses. It is like "learning on Tuesday to perform better on Wednesday". In addition, the learning can be transferred to other teams, but this is generally a secondary role.

 This process was developed by the US Army, who use it as their main knowledge-gathering process. It does not go into very great analytical depth, and so is useful for reviewing short-turnaround activity, or single actions. It is short and focused enough to do on a daily basis, perhaps at the end of a meeting or at the end of a shift. After Action review consists of a face-to-face team discussion around 5 questions:


  • "What was supposed to happen'?" 
  •  "What actually happened?" 
  • "Why was there a difference?" 
  • "What have we learned?" 
  • "What will we do about it?" 

So what makes AARs so valuable? Here are 6 reasons (and you can find 6 more reasons here);


  1. AARs are a conversation about knowledge. They are not progress reviews or individual evaluations, they are conversations with the sole purpose of discussing new knowledge and new learning. The very act of holding an AAR is an acknowledgement that knowledge is important.
  2. AARs are high bandwidth.  Face to face conversation is far and away the best method to surface shared knowledge and to discuss it. 
  3. AARs are culture change agents. People find that it is possible to open up and to share knowledge in a group session, with no risk and no comeback. 
  4. AARs are instant feedback. As people share their knowledge, they can see it being transformed instantly into actions and improvements. Instead of their knowledge vanishing into a black hole, they see immediate results.
  5. AARs are quick and efficient. They can take as little as 15 or 20 minutes, but may have a big cumulative effect. 
  6. AARs lead to action and to change.  Or at least, they should do. Question 5 is the key here - "What are we going to do about it"? AARs are successful to the extent that they lead to change and to action. If they are just talking shops - if all they do is lead to bullet points on a flipchart - then they are a waste of time. AARs should be used to drive changes and improvements in the way a team, department or organisation works. 

If you can apply AARs as part of your KM Framework to regularly drive improvement and change, then you have made full use of this simple yet powerful tool. 



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Interesting enough.

"I don't think that what I do is interesting enough" is a concern often expressed when I suggest people share more on their organisation's social network about what they do. Even, perhaps especially, people at a senior level worry that the stuff that fills their days is boring.

Firstly, what feels routine and boring to them can be fascinating to others. Things that feel unimportant can be significant. Small details can reveal insights. Good descriptions and shared stories can reveal aspects of them and how they see the world that even those who work closely with them have never seen.

Secondly, if their posts really are boring, maybe they should do something about it! Part of the value of writing posts is the self reflection it affords. Holding up a mirror to our lives, revealing what we do and why. Having this discipline makes us more thoughtful, more aware of what is happening around us. If we don't like what we see we can choose to change.

These principles apply more generally. Here on the public social web much is made of the trivial nature of many of the updates people share. But they needn't be trivial. Detail can be revealing, what is routine can have meaning. Well written posts have power whatever their topic. I've always liked the phrase "intensity of the mundane" (which I think I first heard from Rob Paterson). We consistently underestimate this intensity.

The day to day needn't be insignificant. Poets know this. We could learn from them. We can be more interesting than we think if we try.



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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The structure of a lesson in a KM system

I blogged yesterday about Garbage In, Garbage Out in KM systems, and the need to feed the system with high quality lessons. But what is a high quality lesson?


Based on a figure in the US Army handbook,
"Establishing a lesson learned program"
In this blog post I won't go into the whole quality issue, but focus on one point - the structure of a lesson; what it should contain. 

Many organisations use the After Action review process to discuss and identify lessons, or it's big brother, the Retrospect. These processes are a structured discussion and analysis of learning points, and involve discussing the following points:

  • What was expected to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What is the learning for the future?
  • What action should we take to embed the lesson?

This logical flow ensures lessons are based on observations (particularly observations where the actual outcome deviated from the planned outcome), on insights derived from root cause analysis, on reframing the lessons as advice for the future, and on moving this advice towards action.

Lessons should be documented in the same way and following the same struture as these review processes.

Each lesson should contain:

  • A description of the intended outcome of the activity or issue being discussed;
  • A set of observations of the actual outcome, based wherever possible on ground truth, evidence an measurement;
  • Insights of the root causes behind the observations;
  • Advice for how the root causes can be tacked in future, either to repeat a positive outcome or avoid a negative outcome;
  • Actions to embed the advice in policy, process, standard operating procedures or guidance.
By using this structure, each lesson then becomes a stand-alone document which can be read and understood in isolation. 

The US Army adds a side branch to the lesson structure as shown above. There are cases where the solution to the root cause has already been implemented, and no advice for the future is needed (the advice has "already been taken". The US Army call this a Best Practice rather than a lesson. 


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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 10 KM blog posts of 2016

Thank you for your support for this blog in 2016 - here is a review of the year, and our Top 10 posts


Support for this blog has been steady during 2016, though with a drop in weekly readership stats around May.

 The most popular posts from 2015 are listed below. If you missed any of them, then why not have a look now!

 1. 5 points of difference between Knowledge Management and Information/Content management
Still the confusion remains between Information Management/Enterprise Content Management and Knowledge Management. This blog post describes 5 points of difference and 1 point of overlap.

 2. How a Knowledge Supermarket helps the knowledge customer to find what they need
Your knowledge base should be less like a teenagers cupboard, and more like a supermarket. This post explains how.

3. 5 steps to Knowledge Management culture change
There are 5 generic steps to go through when introducing a Knowledge management culture. These are decribed in this blog post.

4. Implementing Knowledge Management as a project
Does KM have to be a project? This blog post argues that it does.

5. How to explain the concept of a Knowledge Management Framework
We know that Knowledge Management requires a management framework, rather than a silver bullet technology. But how do we explain what a framework is?

6. Don't fix knowledge problems with information tools
Knowledge and information are not the same, so why do we try to solve Knowledge problems with Information tools?

7. Why there is no silver bullet for Knowledge Management
There is no silver bullet for Knowledge Management, because KM is a management system with many component parts, all of which need to be in place.

8. Knowledge is social, not personal
There is a school of thought that knowledge lies only in the minds of individuals. This blog posts argues that reality is both more complex than this, and more interesting.

9. The Knowledge Manager as Supply Chain manager
If Knowledge Management is like a supply chain for knowledge, then the Knowledge Manager is the Supply Chain manager.

10. Cutting the Knowledge Management jargon
Humans have a habit of combining concepts into "chunks". It helps us remember things more easily, but the jargon associated with "chunks" confuses people when we try to communicate, if they don't have the same set of combined concepts. This blog post attempts to de-chunk KM.

 In addition - 

The most visited post this year was an old post from 2009 entitled "What is a Lesson learned", which has had over 36,000 pageviews to date.

The 2016 post with the most "+1"s was one on the topic of The best thing to do with uncodified knowledge

The 2016 post which received the most comments, was this post on 3 questions that determine whether you need KM


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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Don't wait for knowledge to be volunteered - go ask.

One of David Snowden's principles is that "Knowledge can't be conscripted, it can only be volunteered". However waiting passively for voluntary contributions is the wrong way to populate a KM repository.


I Know The Answer!
Originally uploaded by ngader
Knowledge can't be conscripted, it can only be volunteered, and often it won't be volunteered until you ask.

This is an outsome of the problem of the Unknown Knowns. Often people don't don't realise they have learned something, until they are asked about it, or have the chance to discuss it.

Sometimes you find organisations who have set up a system whereby people are required to identify lessons or new knowledge themselves, and then to add them into a knowledge repository. I am not a huge fan of volunteer systems like this; I don't even like them for collecting innovation suggestions. I think you capture only a small proportion of the lessons this way, because people are not aware that they have learned anything, and if they are aware, they often discount the learning as "not important". Also, self-written knowledge are often superficial, because there hasn't been the depth of dialogue and questioning to get to the lesson.

I am not arguing for forcing people to share knowledge, but I am suggesting that you don't wait for the volunteers to come to you. Instead you give people scheduled facilitated conversation-based opportunities where they can become aware of what they know, and which provide a safe and encouraging environment for them to volunteer the knowledge when asked.

There are two main approaches for doing this; reactive, and scheduled.

The reactive approach requires someone to identify particular successes and failures from which to learn. The failures can be obvious, such as HSE incidents or significant project overruns, and many companies have mandatory processes for reviewing these failures. But how do you spot the successes? Maybe you can use your company benchmark metrics, and pick the best performing units for review. Perhaps you could work with the knowledge from the manufacturing plant that never had an accident, as well as from the one with frequent accidents. Maybe you can look for the best sales team, and look to learn the secrets of their success. Or maybe you can do both successes and failures - I did a very interesting study not long ago for an organisation that measures staff engagement using the Gallup survey. We picked the ten top scoring sales teams, the ten bottom scoring teams and the ten teams which had shown the most improvement over the previous year, and interviewed the team leader and a team member of each one, to pick out the secrets of successful staff engagement.

Another organisation we have worked with uses global consultants and Technical Directors to identify opportunities for learning and knowledge transfer. They travel the world, reviewing activity at different centres, and will identify good practice which needs to be repeated, as well as opportunities to learn from mistakes.

An alternative approach, common within project-based organisations, is to schedule learning reviews and knowledge exchange within the activity framework. These could be


  • After Action Reviews on a daily basis during high-intensity learning, or after each significant task 
  • Peer Assists early in each project stage, or during project set-up
  • Retrospects (or some other form of Post Project review) at the end of each project stage, or at each project review gate
  • A Knowledge Handover meeting at the end of a project, to discuss new knowledge with other projects
  • A Technical Limit meeting during the detailed planning stage, to bring in knowledge from people with detailed experience
  • A Retrospect (or some other form of review) at the end of a bid process, when the company knows if the bid has been successful or unsuccessful.


There are many advantages to the scheduled approach. Firstly, success and failure are components of every project, and if every project is reviewed, lessons may be identified which can avoid the big mistakes later on. Secondly, if lessons identification is scheduled, it becomes a clear expectation, and the company can monitor if the expectation is being met. This expectation is common in many organisations, thought the rigour with which the expectation is met seems to vary. Finally, by scheduling and facilitating the learning dialogue, you can uncover the knowledge that nobody knows they know, until they start to discuss it.

Don't rely on people volunteering their knowledge spontaneously - instead set up scheduled processes which provide a request and a context for volunteering. 


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4 Great Ways to Conduct Peer Assists: Transferring Knowledge Effectively

    In an earlier blog post  I described a framework for Knowledge Transfer and explained that the choice of knowledge transfer process differs depending upon 1) what transfer problem the organization is trying to solve, and 2) the type of knowledge (e.g. explicit, implicit or tacit) that needs to be transferred to solve that problem.

    In this post, I want to focus on one row of that frame work; “Adapting what has Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 1.56.55 PMbeen learned in one team for team members in another context.” I use the term “adapting” in the label of that row because always what a team has learned in one situation cannot just be copied to a different context, it has to be adapted.

    Following are four examples where team members, with in-depth experience, assist a team that is facing a difficult problem. Although it is unlikely that any of these examples will fit your exact context, I’m hoping one or more will inspire some new ideas about how peers can assist each other in your organization. In each of the four examples I bold the problem the Peer Assist is addressing. Peer Assists are specifically designed to transfer tacit knowledge, so in all of the examples it is primarily tacit knowledge is being transferred, that is, knowledge that is drawn from the Assisters’ own wealth of experience in similar situations. But in several of the examples both implicit knowledge and explicit is transferred as well.  I start with a British Petroleum (BP) example that was my first introduction to Peer Assists while I was conducting research for my book, Common Knowledge.   

 

Peer Assist at British Petroleum

    Helen is the team leader for British Petroleum’s Exploration site, called Barden. The site is located in deep water in the North Sea.  Helen has four people reporting to her, two geo-physicists, a geologist, and a petroleum engineer. The team has spent several months collecting and analyzing a great deal of data about the possible well site off the coast of Norway. The team is at a point where they need to make a decision as to how they will proceed. Should they commit to a rig that would allow them to know for Image2
 sure that there is oil under the deep water at this site? Should they make firm commitments to their partners in the exploration license to protect their investment in the hoped for oil?  These are important decisions because of the money involved; sinking a rig, for example, can cost up to 200 dollars a minute!

    Helen’s team has decided it would be useful to call a Peer Assist. They wanted to bring the latest learning that has occurred at other deep water sites to the table to help them make the best possible decision. Helen and her team identify fifteen possible BP colleagues, from other parts of the world, who have experience with the kind of issues facing the Barden team. She makes the calls and finds some are too busy on other projects, but she locates six people from her original list, three from the Norway office, one from Scotland, one from South Africa and two from London. They have agreed to meet on Wednesday, one month from now, in Stavanger, Norway to spend the day. 

    On the meeting day, Helen starts by defining what her team wants from the Peer Assist. She lays out their objectives for the meeting. The Assisters have all received a packet of material to read through in advance. The walls of the conference room, where Helen’s team and the Assisters are meeting, are covered with geological pictures of the ocean bed, seismic lines, and charts. More are spread several layers deep on the tables around the room. After Helen finishes her introduction the Assisters ask some clarification questions about the objectives. Then Helen introduces Knut, the geologist, who begins to talk through the data on the wall charts, offering his interpretation of it. Before long everyone is up looking more closely at the wall data. There is a lively discussion, among all the participants, about the implications of what they are seeing.

Seismic     After a coffee break, Martin, another team member, is introduced and he begins to show the data for seismic velocity. Again, within minutes the whole group is back on their feet examining the charts.  The discussion flows back and forth with the Assisters, asking each other technical questions about the data and often challenging each other’s responses. 

    After the lunch break, Helen says that they have finished explaining the data they gathered. The Assisters return to the original objectives, asking questions for clarification in light of what they have just heard. One of Assisters notes that: “I’m uncomfortable with the discussion because there are some strategic decisions that need to be made before we can give our opinion on whether to drill the well.”  The group decides they need to develop criteria for drilling the Barden well. Collaboratively the two groups develop these criteria, gaining additional insight as they talk through each point.

    About three o’clock Helen says she would like to excuse herself and her team to give the Assist team a chance to talk through the response they want to make. As the group gets down to work on their recommendations there is an animated exchange. The member from Scotland suggests a new technique they have just developed west of the Shetlands that could provide useful additional data on a prospect like Barden. He offers to send the specifications for that process and to spend some time helping the Barden team go through it the first time.  The discussion is technical but it is very open and lively. It is obvious that the members are interested in this situation and want to be of help.

    About five o’clock the Barden team returns to hear the ideas of the Assist team. The spokesperson for the Assist team thanks the Barden team for giving them a chance to work on such an interesting problem and notes they have all learned from the exchange. A verbal report is given with the promise of a more formal written report later. As the verbal report proceeds the Barden team asks a few clarification questions, but mostly they listen to the thoughtful ideas the Assisters are providing.  When the report is finished, Helen says that the report is very clear and notes that it has given her team a great deal to think about as they move toward the decisions they must make.  She acknowledges that the Barden team was nervous about whether it was too early in their investigation to call for a Peer Assist, but she is now convinced that the timing was right, because her team can take the recommendations into account before they are fully committed to a course of action.

    The day ends with a dinner at a local restaurant. The dinner is relaxed and people have time to talk through how the Peer Assist went. The dinner is a way for the Barden team to express their gratitude to those who came to lend their knowledge. The Barden team is not obliged to take the Assisters’ recommendations and interestingly the written report will be sent only to the Barden team members, no report is sent to their bosses, because this is an assist from their peers, not a formal review.  

 

Police Crowd Safety in the EU

In Europe football matches too frequently end in death or injury to fans, often from fights and as often from trampling or suffocation in the stadium. After such a tragedy, there is sometimes an investigation by the government, which can even end in firing the police chief. But such investigations have not resulted in making events safer – they seem aimed at culpability rather than help. 

 In 2005 the Netherlands police made a suggestion to the European Union Police Cooperation Working Party (PCWP) that the police from all the EU countries begin to conduct Peer Review Evaluations in order to reduce the death or injury to football fans. This was agreed to and for three years such evaluations were conducted.  Evaluation is the wrong word in our nomenclature, because these reviews were Police in crowd conducted only at the request of the commander when a football match was to be held in his city - so I will reference them here as Peer Assists.  If requested, a team of six, made up of four police chiefs from other countries and two researchers, would travel to the city where the match would be held, arriving on the day before the match. The Host commander would have thought though a list of what observations would be helpful to him. The Host commander and the Observation team together would then make a plan for the next day. The day of the match the Observation team, in pairs, would observe and conduct interviews according to the plan. Some might observe an area where the “away team” were scheduled to exit their buses, others might observe how the fans moved in and out of the stadium stands, still others might observe the interaction at the local bars. The Observation pairs would not interfere or try to control what was happening - that was the job of the local police. The Observation pairs were there only to observe what occurred and to try to understand why it was occurring - both good and bad.

    On the day after the match the Observation team would meet to discuss what they had seen and to prepare a draft report. In the weeks following, the report would be finalized then sent to the host commander for his use.  He could share it with others or keep it private, although most choose to share it with their officers and many with the whole community. The police chiefs, who participated as observers, learned as much as the Host commander and could then implement the "best practices" in their own cities.

    These Peer Assists occurred over a three-year period; twenty in all were conducted. An EU manual on crowd safety resulted from the Peer Assists. And many of the ideas were also embedded in local police training programs. Later, the practices that were learned about crowd safety at the football matches were extended to other types of crowd events, for example, concerts, protests, and the Queen's birthday.

    While working with the Police Academy in the Netherlands, I interviewed one of the initiators of the Peer Assists at the EU. He proudly reported that there had not been a football death in the EU in the 3 years since the report had come out.  

 

Mars Inc. Sales Force

    In 2004 Mars Inc., the company known for its candy, identified a challenge in the newer markets in the developing world.  These were markets where the bulk of consumer spending occurred in small local shops, unlike the European/US model of large supermarkets.  The challenge was to achieve a step-change in the number of small retail outlets which sold Mars products in order to drive a rapid increase in sales in these markets. The challenge covered twelve markets, in which there were approximately 12 million shops, and 3.5 billion potential consumers of Mars products. The Mars Global Practice Group (GPG), which was comprised of the Sales Directors of the twelve markets, was given this challenge.

    To address the challenge the GPG met every six months, face-to-face, hosted by one of the twelve markets. The meetings were focused on sharing, learning lessons, and discussing. There were no formal presentations - numbers and details were covered outside the meetings. Instead the meetings were based around activities designed to encourage the GPG to share its lessons and to build a knowledge base of successful processes and principles.

    One day of each meeting was spent as a Peer Assist with the attendees from the other eleven markets working with the salesforce of the market in which the meeting was being held. The day began with a briefing about the local market and its structure, including learning about the top three challenges which the local business Mars store inside unit was currently facing. Then the GPG members would divide into smaller groups to spend the day with an experienced local sales associate, each group observing in local retail outlets. At the end of the day the GPG would reconvene to give detailed feedback on 1) what they saw as working well in the market, and 2) how to build on the successes they saw. They also offered their top ten ideas on how to address the challenges, based on lessons and experience learned in their own markets. In this way the Host market received positive confirmation of their success and how to build on it, plus around 30 ideas and improvement suggestions targeted at their key challenges, based on lessons from proven, practical experience elsewhere in the world.

    In the five years this network existed, sales in the small retail channel in the twelve markets trebled and the percentage profit more than doubled, adding around $250 million to the bottom line. (Milton and Lamb, the Knowledge Manager’s Handbook 2016)

 

USAID – Introducing Expert Patients into Health Facilities

            In 2011, the USAID Health Care Improvement project (HCI) in Tanzania wanted to introduce expert patients into health facilities to address patient self-management for HIV in order to shift many of the tasks from overburdened healthcare professionals. Expert patients are people living with a chronic disease who are successfully managing their disease, and who provide support and services to other patients in facilities and at the community level.

    Having not done this type of work before, the team from Tanzania decided to visit the HCI team in Uganda, who had already been working with expert patients, so that they could learn from Uganda’s experience. The team was made up of the Chief of Party, four Quality Improvement Advisors and the Knowledge Management advisor. When the team arrived in Uganda, they went with the Uganda team to a facility to discuss with the clinic staff and expert patients what they had been doing Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 3.04.50 PM and how they made it work. They saw that the Ugandans were using expert patients as a conduit between communities, facilities, and patients and they   asked about the systems Uganda had put in place to make that happen.

    When the Tanzania team returned home, they were able to make a number of adjustments to their plans and communication tools based on the Ugandan's experience. Additionally, after the visit, the Uganda team realized they had learned more about their own work through explaining it and answering the Tanzania team’s questions. In addition, the Tanzania team showed them some patient self-management tools they had developed which the Ugandans were able to adapt for their own use.

    In August 2013, another technical exchange visit was held, this time with the team from Uganda visiting the team from Tanzania. Similar to the first visit, they went on site visits together. While on this visit there was a growing recognition that while the two countries had different health systems, there were many similarities, for example, the Ugandan team saw certain registers that could be adapted and used in Uganda to help their work. Dr. Humphrey Megere, Chief of Party in Uganda, said, “We realized that we have resources in Tanzania that we can tap into. We can call on them for help.”

    As a result of these exchange visits, the two countries started working together to develop patient self-management guidelines for health workers. Additionally, the next year when the project in Uganda was asked to begin work to improve the quality of services for orphans and vulnerable children, something Tanzania had been involved in for a number of years, the Ugandan’s called upon their neighbors to provide them with experience and guidance, for which they were happy to oblige. (Based on a report by Kate Fatta, URC 2012)

Summary

   These four examples differ in many respects. Two are corporate examples, BP and Mars; one is an international development example, Uganda/Tanzania; and one a government example, the Police Chiefs.  BP, the Police Chiefs, and Mars, all three brought together assisters from several different teams or locales, while the Uganda/Tanzania exchange was one intact team meeting with another intact team. The Police Chiefs, Mars and Tanzania examples were site visits, where observation was critical to gain an understanding of the context, while the BP example was not so much observation as it was looking at data.

    As varied as those examples are, they all follow a set of principles that make Peer Assist useful, particularly for the exchange of tacit knowledge:

  • A Peer Assist is initiated by the Receivers because they have a specific real world problem that they want help with – teams are not told to have a Peer Assist, rather they choose to do so.
  • The Receivers are in charge. They decide what help they want and who they want to receive that help from – it is their agenda.
  • Peer Assists meetings are face-to-face and usually last a day or more. The format is primarily conversation, and the knowledge that is generated is created in the exchange between the Assisters and the Receivers.
  • The Assisters are given the time to learn enough about the Receiver’s context to be able to adapt their knowledge to the new context.
  • There is mutual learning - both the Assisters and the Receivers learn and gain from the exchange.
  • What is learned does not become an evaluation of the Receivers, or a judgement - the only purpose is to assist the receivers.
  • The meeting is between two groups of team members, that is, it is not a team learning from one expert. When the two groups come together for a Peer Assist, participants who are in different roles are able to ask questions related to their own role.   

    As the Framework for Knowledge Transfer illustrates, Peer Assist is only one of many ways to transfer knowledge.  But for team to team transfer it is one of the most effective. If you try it you don’t have to call it “Peer Assist,” you can give it your own name, but the principles outlined above are useful guidance for success.



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Knowledge management matters more to you than to your organization

I gave a talk on Saturday for ChicagoLand PMI about why knowledge workers needed to develop strategies and the supporting habits and practices to manage and develop their know how across organizations and across time. If you’re interested you can find a copy of my slides on Slideshare.

Knowledge management as buzzword and practice originated in solving organizational problems. That’s where the big, obvious, problems are as well as the budgets. But the roots of the problem lie in changing nature of work and careers at the individual level.

My father worked for three organizations in his career; I’ve worked so twenty so far and the number is likely to climb. Some might argue that this reflects either a severe case of ADD or a general inability to hold a job. Regardless, the trend is real; knowledge workers will work for more organizations and have shorter tenures at each. Organizations worry about the knowledge retention problems this creates; I’m more interested in the knowledge management problems it creates for individuals. I am aware of a handful of people who are also thinking about this; Harold Jarche, Luis Suarez. If you know of others, I would love to hear about it. 

The nub of my concern is this. You cannot rely on your memory and the experience it encodes. You also can no longer rely on having access to the institutional memory and artifacts of any one organization to supplement your limited human capabilities. You ought to be thinking about and planning for how you will accumulate knowledge and expertise over time. What personal infrastructure should you be building that can travel with you? How should you adapt your work habits and practices to simultaneously deliver value to your organization and enhance the value of your personal knowledge base? What new practices and skills do you need to add to your repertoire?

The post Knowledge management matters more to you than to your organization appeared first on McGee's Musings.



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Thursday, December 15, 2016

A new focus for my blog: the new social learning

In 2005 I started this blog around communities of practice. It was a great way to investigate, learn and share my steep learning curve about communities online. I still love to work with communities (facilitate the LOSmakers), but somehow my work has become much wider.  I have been writing about many things which interest me, though mostly about learning and learning technologies. Going back to my first blogpost I became nostalgic about the clear focus I had. I decided to think through a new focus and I found it in the term: the new social learning. It is wider than communities of practice, though communities would still fit in as one of the learning interventions. I call it the new social learning (coined by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham) not to confuse it with the fact that all learning is in fact social. It is funny when I read the book some years ago, I didn't like the term at all.

My key interest is in how the way we learn is changing because of the internet and all social technologies and which new forms of learning evolve. When I worked in Chile, Mali and Ethiopia I was basically inventing everything by myself with a few key colleagues. I used to carry certain pages from books around. I had supervisors, but they were not all very interested and even if they were interested they were only interested in the progress, but couldn't help me with all my practitioner questions. Now I am inspired by so many practitioners from all over the world.. Through the 100 blogs I read, Twitter and LinkedIn groups.

Here's a video I made in the beginning of this year interviewing people at the learning and technologies conference. Answers include - is has become self-directed: it not about what you know but about what you can find out; where, when and through what means we learn is changing; dealing with information overload become important, we can instantly find out what we need to know, and the question of whether we will even be learning if artificial intelligence can take over?


The new social learning

My questions to explore are:
1. How does the knowmadic learner think, work and reflect? and what are the new challenges? What are the differences amongst different generations?
2. What is the impact of new social technologies? What are new technologies like learning record stores and what can you do with those technologies?
3. How does learning in (online, open) networks work? Changes as a result of technological changes?
4. What are new learning interventions? Experimental or effective?
5. What are practical examples of social learning in organizations?

In short my categories will be:
  • Knowmadic learner
  • Social technologies
  • Networked learning
  • New learning interventions
  • Practical examples
Sounds very structured isn't it? I hope this will also help you to make a decision to follow my blog or not. It will give me inspiration to look with curiosity for developments I see online or experience myself. 



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