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Monday, June 26, 2017

The allure of socialism

The urge to improve the world is a powerful one.  We see suffering and deprivation and stunted lives, and we want a world in which as many as possible can live decently and aspire to live fulfilled lives instead.  We think like this because we are human and share what Adam Smith called 'sympathy' with our fellow human beings.  Today we would call that 'empathy,' and it is what drives us to improve the lot of others if we can.

Some people yearn to replace this imperfect world with a better one conceived in the imagination, and in their mind they echo the lines of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

 

"Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Would not we shatter it to bits -- and then

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!"

 

F A Hayek called it "The Fatal Conceit" to suppose that we can, with our limited mental resources, think up a better world than the one created by the input of countless people over aeons of time.  It is part of the allure of Socialism, which in theory proposes a world in which we are all more equal, and in which we do things collectively for the common good.  Socialism in practice has always been different, involving oppression, deprivation, blighted, limited lives, and often torture and mass murder.  Its practical record has barely diminished the enthusiasm its acolytes accord its theory.  Many of them become apologists for the atrocities committed when it is applied in practice.

The spontaneous order produced when people are allowed to interact freely with others contains more knowledge than any individual mind can hold.  It is faster to react to changes that could affect it adversely, and it does not involve forcing people to conform to the lifestyles that others would have them live.  It gives men and women space to improve their lives by pursuing their own aspirations rather than any goals that others would have them follow.

If it is folly to suppose that this world can be replaced by one dreamed up in the imagination, it is certainly not folly to suppose that it can be improved.  We can address its perceived shortcomings, experimenting with ways to overcome them, and persisting with those that achieved the desired results in practice.  The last 250 years have seen spectacular improvements in the human condition, and the last 25 years have seen many of those improvements rolled out on a global scale.  Advances have been made by virtually every measure of the human condition.  People live longer, no longer prone to diseases that ravaged their predecessors.  Fewer women die in childbirth, fewer children die in infancy.  Fewer starve or are malnourished.  More are literate, more educated.  It is a record of achievement unparalleled in the history of our species.

Karl Popper referred to a process of "piecemeal social engineering" by which we seek to improve the world by judicious inputs targeted at its failings, a process of evolution rather than the revolution that Marx sought and which his latterday followers still seek.  It is an empirical process that concentrates on practical improvements.

It may be true that young people are less patient, and more inclined to embrace idealistic schemes of total change than are older people, some of whom have lived through the catastrophes brought about when ideologies have been imposed upon the real world.  It seems paradoxical that many young people, the ones who cope more readily with a world of flux and change, should embrace an ideology whose goal is a settled world.  It seems equally paradoxical that many older people, who are supposedly ill at ease with churn and change, should embrace the system of markets and trade that is characterized by constant innovation.  It might be experience of reality that explains this apparent paradox.

Many advocates of socialism suggest that the tyranny introduced by socialist regimes in practice is an add-on that distorts and perverts ‘true’ socialism, but it seems more likely that compulsion is an evil lurking at the very heart of socialism.  It requires people to behave in ways which, given a choice, they would not freely choose.  Therefore they must be constrained to behave as all good citizens of the new utopia must…



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Monday, May 15, 2017

Working as knowmads: How to stimulate knowmadic working in organisations?

Imagine, you work in an organization and you are convinced of the importance of knowmads. You know this is the future, and knowmads are needed as crucial to drive innovation in a learning organization. You also know what skills are necessary as a knowmad. You already working as a knowmad yourself. But organizations need more employees who work knowmadic to be innovative. How do you stimulate a movement ... how do you create a collective of knowmads?

Typology of professionals in use of technology in relation to work

The participants of our Dutch MOOC 'Help there's a knowmad in my organization thought about this challenge with the starting question "How do you stimulate a move toward knowmadic work?" The above model from our book Learning in Times of Tweets, Apps and Like was provided as thought provoker. In this model we describe four types of professionals. They differ in the way in which they employ social technology in their work, depending on the motivation to develop the subject and affinity with social technology. The typology of professionals was recognizable to the participants. The online exchange led to the following strategies to initiate a move towards a more knowadic work and learning climate in organizations:

Start with the knowmads The most logical choice seemed to be focus on knowmads. "Knowmads make your adrenaline flow" is the experience. Finding and combining knowmads can trigger an oil leakage action, with more and more people joining and working on new ways of working. This group can also develop further.You may use the Seek-Sense-Share model to work on sharpening individual practices. You may also pay attention to professional identity. If you show yourself online - what's your identity? These are, for example, questions you can discuss in a knowmad café (see the interventions at the end).

Connect knowmads and googlers  Another strategy is to link knowmads to googlers. Form duo's where the knowmad shows the googler new ways of working. Working with googlers keeps the knowmads realistic and prevents them from getting too far ahead from the troops in the organization. It may earn them some recognition too (and avoids frustration).

Focus on googlers and hobbyists  A large number of MOOC participants intend to focus rather on googlers and hobbyists. You can appeal to Googlers by talking about their field of work. They are likely to be interested in additional possibilities of working knowmadically to keep up with their field of expertise and networking. When you show this, you awaken their curiosity. Hobbyists are already handy online but do not put it at work within the context of their function yet. There may be several reasons for this. Knowing the reason is key to change. Perhaps they have learned to participate in and adjust to the way of working within the organization? For example, let hobbyists help short-term projects to help others get the right supportive media.

Koppel googlers en hobbyisten A number of MOOC participants would specifically choose to link the googlers and hobbyists - a strong combination because they can learn a lot from each other - on an equal footing. The hobbyist learns about the subject and the googler about smart online networks and tools. Think reverse mentoring.

And how about the followers? Few MOOC participants choose to focus on followers, although it is important to continue to encourage and guide this group. They may need, for example, a low-threshold helpdesk.

About the model
The 'Typology Professionals in the Use of Technology in Relationship to Work" model is intended to look at professional behavior. A bad use of the model would be to put people in the boxes. It should lead to a discussion about behaviours. Emphasize that people can change or at some level show google behavior and on another level knowmad behavior. It is important to emphasize that there is not one correct blueprint way of working, but that everyone has to develop his own unique way that suits him or her. Maybe there are offline knowmads who read paper magazines and share knowledge at meetings. "It's not all internet that is blinking". Ultimately, it is about finding an effective way of working, learning and contributing to professional development, not about online or offline. The model is especially helpful in reflecting on the right interventions to stimulate collective know-how work and to differentiate it into types of professional behavior. With a googler, you may not have to talk about blogging right away, with a hobbyist that's not a problem.

Mariëlle van Rijn wrote a nice blog geschreven using more detailled profiles and designing interventions. The Networker for instance is given the task of adding two new people to their network every month who can contribute to the organization and present this on the intranet.

Walk the talk, organize a knowmad café and share success stories
Apart from thinking about who you are going to focus on within the organization, it's equally important to think about your intervention strategy. Many MOOC participants intend to work on a shift in organizational culture. Hereby, the management style (space) and digital skills are important elements to work on. The following strategies emerged:
  • 'Practice what you preach'. Make sure that you work as a knowmad yourself, but also show that you can deal creatively with technology: put up Padlet during a meeting or brainstorm ideas via Socrative. This will help people get used to technology as aid. 
  • Do not focus on individuals but on groups /creating a movement. It's unpleasant if you're alone as a knowmad in an organization. A dynamic movement can attract new people and grow slowly.
  • Organize a workgroup around this theme. Ensure to have  mix of all types of professionals represented in the working group. Or work with ambassadors. Of course, you can find plenty of ambassadors among the knowmads.
  • Start experimenting with this working group. Get started. Don't remaining in policy making or talking modus but ensuring good implementation. For example, a practical experience of a participant is that the toolset in his organization changed too much and technical support was scarce, which made all initiatives fail. 
  • Harvest and share success stories. For example, organize a knowmad café to share these stories. Success stories can trigger googlers in particular. They are already interested in the subject matter and if they see successful new ways to learn and connect, they become enthusiastic. 
  • Engage executives. If knowmadic work is part of the official strategy, this gives you space to experiment and invest.
  • Look closely at the context within the organization to define your strategy. Sometimes a community at the interface of various organizations is easier because it offers more space to innovate. Find a burning issue within the organization and link to it to make it important. 
  • And last but not least - look also at knowmad behavior during the selecting process for new employees. The more knowmads, the more they can invoke a turning point. 
 

Do you read Dutch? This blog is one of six blogposts about 'Werken als knowmad':

  1. De expertise van dokters vs internet. Over de invloed van online op de rol die kennis en expertise speelt in ons werk.
  2. Hoe werkt het in de praktijk? Een verkenning van knowmadisch werken, toegepast in de praktijk van organisaties en netwerken.
  3. Zonder gist geen pizza, zonder technologie geen knowmad. Over vaardigheden die je nodig hebt om knowmadisch te werken.
  4. Een wereld vol knowmads in 2020. The future is here!
  5. Hoe vervlecht je oud en nieuw?  Met mogelijkheidszin en progressiecirkels


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Monday, April 24, 2017

Review – Only Humans Need Apply


Only Humans Need ApplyOnly Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines
Thomas H. Davenport, Julia Kirby

In his most recent book, Tom Davenport, along with co-author Julia Kirby, provides an excellent entry point and framework for understanding the evolving relationship between smart people and smart machines. There’s a great deal of hand-wringing over technology encroaching on jobs of all sorts. This is hand-wringing that arises with every new technology innovation stretching back long before the days of Ned Ludd. Davenport and Kirby avoid the hand-wringing and take a close look at how today’s technologies—artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.—are changing the way jobs are designed and structured.

They articulate their goal as

“to persuade you, our knowledge worker reader, that you remain in charge of your destiny. You should be feeling a sense of agency and making decisions for yourself as to how you will deal with advancing automation.”

In large part, they succeed. They do so by digging into a series of case histories of how specific jobs are re-partitioned, task by task, between human and machine. It’s this dive into the task-level detail that allows them to tell a more interesting and more nuanced story than the simplistic “robots are coming for our jobs” version that populates too many articles and blog posts.
Central to this analysis is to distinguish between automation and augmentation, which they explain as

“Augmentation means starting with what minds and machines do individually today and figuring out how that work could be deepened rather than diminished by a collaboration between the two. The intent is never to have less work for those expensive, high-maintenance humans. It is always to allow them to do more valuable work.”

They give appropriate acknowledgement to Doug Engelbart’s work, although the nerd in me would have preferred a deeper dive. They know their audience, however, and offer a more approachable and actionable framework. They frame their analysis and recommendations in terms of the alternate approaches that we as knowledge workers can adopt to negotiate effective partnerships between ourselves and the machines around us. The catalog of approaches consists of:

  • Stepping Up—for a big picture perspective and role
  • Stepping Aside—to non-decision-oriented, people centric work
  • Stepping In—to partnership with machines to monitor and improve the decision making
  • Stepping Narrowly—into specialty work where automation isn’t economic
  • Stepping Forward—to join the systems design and building work itself

Perhaps a little cute for my tastes, but it does nicely articulate the range of possibilities.

There’s a lot of rich material, rich analysis, and rich insight in this book. Well worth the time and worth revisiting.

The post Review – Only Humans Need Apply appeared first on McGee's Musings.



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The depreciating value of human knowledge

Automation is just one facet on the broader spectrum of AI and machine intelligence. Yes, it's going to affect us all (it already is with the increasing emergence of intelligent agents and bots), but I think there is a far deeper issue here that - at least for the majority of people who haven't become immersed in the "AI" meme - is going largely unnoticed. That is, the very nature of human knowledge and how we understand the world. Machines are now doing things that - quite simply - we don't understand, and probably never will. 





I think most of us are familiar with the DIKW model (over-simplification if ever there was), but if you ascribe to this relationship between data, information, knowledge and wisdom, I think the top layers - knowledge and wisdom - are getting compressed by our growing dependencies on the bottom two layers - data and information. What will the DIKW model look like in 20 years time? I'm thinking a barely perceptible "K" and "W" layers!

If you think this is a rather outrageous prediction, I recommend reading this article from David Weinberger, who looks at how machines are rapidly outstripping our puny human abilities to understand them. And it seems we're quite happy with this situation, since being fairly lazy by nature, we're more than happy to let them make complex decisions for us. We just need to feed them the data - and there's plenty of that about! 

This quote from the piece probably best sums it up:

"As long as our computer models instantiated our own ideas, we could preserve the illusion that the world works the way our knowledge —and our models — do. Once computers started to make their own models, and those models surpassed our mental capacity, we lost that comforting assumption. Our machines have made obvious our epistemological limitations, and by providing a corrective, have revealed a truth about the universe. 

The world didn’t happen to be designed, by God or by coincidence, to be knowable by human brains. The nature of the world is closer to the way our network of computers and sensors represent it than how the human mind perceives it. Now that machines are acting independently, we are losing the illusion that the world just happens to be simple enough for us wee creatures to comprehend

We thought knowledge was about finding the order hidden in the chaos. We thought it was about simplifying the world. It looks like we were wrong. Knowing the world may require giving up on understanding it."

Should we be worried? I think so - do you?
Steve Dale




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Monday, April 10, 2017

The museum to markets – The Museum of Failures

As regular readers will note around here we tend to like markets. On the grounds that they generally - except where they don't - work. But it's important to understand what it is that markets generally work at and that's not success, not at all. Markets work well because they work well at failure.

Which is why we're rather tickled by this new Museum of Failure.

LEARNING IS THE ONLY WAY TO TURN FAILURE INTO SUCCESS

That's their tagline and we'd quibble a bit with it even though we agree with the general idea. Rather, as we'd put it, you can only succeed if you work out what's failing. Some of the ideas, like that Coke Blak, could have, might have, succeeded. They didn't. Others it's a bit more mysterious why they didn't succeed:

Bic For Her pens are also on display. The supposedly female-friendly pink and purple pens launched to widespread derision and mockery in 2012. "I mean, you know that women can't use regular pens. You need special pens for their delicate hands," West said. "And they're double the price of regular pens because they're specially for women." 

Quite why that didn't work is unknown, pink razors do cost more than blue as we're so often told they do. The important part of it though is this:

West told The Local.: 'You can fail at any point during the process. It's better to have a lot of cheap mistakes early in the process, than to do so on a large scale. Then it costs billions.'


That's why market systems work better than planned ones. What it is possible to do, what people want to have done, is an ever moving feast. The technology with which we can do things is always changing and so are personal tastes. We want thus some method of sorting through what can be done and what people want to have done. And the finest way yet discovered of doing this is for every lunatic to try. We, the rest of us, will then sort through what is available and decide upon which of these possible things that can be done add utility to our lives.

Imagine wandering into GOSPLAN one day to explain that we need an overlay to the telecoms network so that people can swap cat pictures with each other. Mr. Zuckerberg would have been laughed out of the room and yet 2 billion people later that experiment he cooked up in a dorm room seems to add utility to some number of lives.

And thus the glory of that Museum of Failure, it's a museum to why markets work. Precisely and exactly because so many innovations get absolutely nowhere - that's how we find out which ones we want.



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Thursday, March 23, 2017

How Innovative is Your Firm, Really?

Many businesses (including law firms) tout their innovation capacity. They use the right buzz words (agile, design thinking, rapid prototyping, etc.) and they display trendy props (innovation labs, informal gathering spaces, and lots and lots of post-it notes on walls). But is that enough to make a firm truly innovative?

Ideo says no. And Ideo should know.

Katharine Schwab, writing for Fast Company’s fastcodesign.com, reports that Ideo, the world-famous design firm, has studied its own 26-year old archive of client projects (as well as some external resources on innovation) to determine how best to measure innovation in an organization. For Ideo, “the most important element is the organization’s ability to adapt and respond to change.”

Through this research, Ideo “identified six basic vectors that it says are instrumental to an innovative, adaptive company”:

  1. Purpose: “A clear, inspiring reason for the company to exist — beyond just making money.” What is your law firm’s mission? You claim it is to serve the client. Is this actually borne out in the way the firm behaves internally and externally? Is it reflected in every decision the firm makes? Ideo has found that when leaders clearly articulate the company mission and then walk the talk, “projects and strategic solutions succeed 20.40% more often”.
  2. Experimentation: “Trying out new ideas and making evidence-based decisions about how to move forward.” Even if your firm is willing to experiment, does it have the discipline to make truly evidence-based decisions? (Note: many decisions that are described as evidence-based are actually pre-determined and then papered over with appropriate “evidence.”)
  3. Collaboration: “Working across business functions to approach opportunities and challenges from all angles.” In my report, Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions, I found that some of the most successful support functions were the ones that had learned to punch above their weight by collaborating productively with other administrative departments and with fee-earners. Is this type of collaboration the norm at your firm or is it unusual?
  4. Empowerment: “Providing a clear path to create change in all corners of the company by reducing unnecessary constraints.” How much change is your firm willing to tolerate? Can it handle the type of wholesale change contemplated by this vector?
  5. Looking out: “Looking beyond the company’s walls to understand customers, technologies, and cultural shifts.” How plugged in is your firm? Does your firm have the type of close relationships with clients that enable robust two-way communication about the things that matter to the client? Do you keep abreast of technological changes or is your firm a card-carrying technology laggard? Is your firm in tune with changes in the industry? Or is your firm fully occupied with its navel-gazing?
  6. Refinement: “Elegantly bridging vision and execution.” In other words, to what extent is your firm able to successfully execute new ideas? Do you have the right people with a bias toward action? Do you have the right methodology to support them as they transform ideas into reality? Do you have a robust change management approach?

Next, Ideo created a survey that clients can use to measure these vectors and the related behaviors.  Along with the survey results comes “feedback on tangible ways to become more innovative.” Ideo is finding that this self-reporting by teams, coupled with the feedback, demonstrably leads to better innovation performance.

Bonus: Ideo’s New Insights 

Thanks to the survey, Ideo “has definitive data to back up its hypotheses about what behavior actually drives” a team’s aptitude for innovation. Here are some insights from the data:

  • More is better: Do not limit your team to too narrow a range of innovation options at the beginning. “Instead, when teams iterate on five or more different solutions, they are 50% more likely to launch a product successfully.”
  • Command-and-Control systems squelch innovation success: “When a majority of team members who took the survey said that they felt comfortable challenging the status quo and acting with autonomy, the chances of a failed launch decreased by 16.67%.”
  • Your mission and underlying priorities must be in sync and stable: This alignment and stability provide a strong foundation that supports and cushions the naturally disruptive activities of innovation.

If your firm is ready to accelerate its innovation program, take a closer look at Ideo’s assessment and dashboard tool: Creative Difference. It might provide the data and insights your firm needs to truly become more innovative.

[Hat tip to Alessandra Lariu who pointed me to this article.]

[Photo Credit: Alexas Fotos]

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The post How Innovative is Your Firm, Really? appeared first on Above and Beyond KM.



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Monday, March 06, 2017

Blog Post: Zoom as a platform for virtual Knowledge Cafés

By David Gurteen

I mentioned last month that I was experimenting with a potential virtual Knowledge Café platform - Zoom Meetings.

Well I am delighted to say that the two experiments I ran clearly demonstrated that Zoom was more than up to the task.

Now of course virtual meetings or Cafés can never really match their face-to-face counterparts but Zoom works amazingly well.

I have written up why it is viable and how it works - take a look.

I plan to run a number of Virtual Cafés and Café style webinars starting in March 2017. If you would like to be kept informed about them then please sign-up to my Virtual Café mailing list.

I think Zoom will most likely replace Skype, Google Hangouts and many of the corporate webinar platforms such as Webex and Adobe Connect over the coming few years.

It is my video communication platform of choice.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In uncertainty lies resilience

This post is illustrated with Body of Knowledge, a steel sculpture created in 2010 by Jaume Plensa, located at the Westend Campus of Goethe University Frankfurt. From my perspective it represents knowledge as ephemeral collection of unchanging text; an androgynous form that provides a semblance of humanity at best. Ironically the search which produced this also throw up Rodin’s Le Penseur which has greater solidity. Yesterday I talked about knowledge in the context of mountain safety, both theoretical knowledge of what to do, and practical experience of when to do it. In the river crossing I mentioned I was encountering severe conditions for the first time, but I knew what to do and was with others who also knew without the need to make things explicit in the context of need. The wider knowledge not to get into that particular set of circumstances was more complex, fragmented and blended from multiple experiences, readings, conversations, failures, stories of failures and so on. In other words it was messy but coherent and enabled capability.

Now contrast that with the explicit content focus of what normally goes under the title body of knowledge. Wikipedia as of today defines it as: A body of knowledge (BOK or BoK) is the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association. The focus again is on text, on material which is written down and agreed through a consensus based process. Now don’t get me wrong, this has utility. I linked yesterday too a simple guide on how to cross rivers which is written with a few illustrative pictures; it has utility. I the absence of anything else it is better than nothing. In cross in that river I hadn’t faced exactly the same circumstances but I had partial and related experience and I had confidence in those who were with me. We had walked and talked for several hours, we had swapped stories and their practice in descending the ridge provided evidence of competence. Out body of knowledge was not just our own experience, but the links with other similar experience in others, a recognition of common shared experience.

Now that experience is not unique to those whom I or the others encountered. We are part of a flow of such experiences over a long period of time. We see this in all professions. The knowledge that allows an operating theatre to work is not just the training of those participants, but it is the accumulation of knowledge and procedures over several generations. A body of experience of failure and learning within the constraints of theory, that develops pragmatic capability. The whole idea of Cynefin as a concept, independently of the explicit representation in my framework, is that we live in a flow of knowledge and experience over time which we can only possibly understand in part, as through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). The danger in the various bodies of knowledge is that they seek to make explicit what can never be fully understood explicitly and the rendering if knowledge results in loss that may not be retrieved.

In various conversations this week I’ve talked about the need to map dark constraints, or rather the evidence of dark constraints, before you make changes. Most Bodies of Knowledge I have encounter focus on simplistic rendering avoiding the inconvenient truths of knowledge which has evolved over time. Just as people think they can render a culture into a set of platitudes in a value statement, when real culture is evolved practice over time, not fully understood and never fully articulated. In uncertainty lies resilience ….

The post In uncertainty lies resilience appeared first on Cognitive Edge.



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How do pilots stay disciplined in their use of knowledge?

One of the biggest challenges is knowledge re-use. How does the aviation industry address this challenge?



Image from wikimedia commons
I often refer to aviation as a successful example of knowledge management, with lessons captured from every accident and incident and provided to pilots in the form of checklists, or shared through site such as the Skybrary.

But how does the aviation industry address the issue of knowledge re-use? Why don't experienced pilots skip the checklist?

We know that this is a big challenge in other industries, and that experienced doctors, engineers, programmers and consultants often do not re-use knowledge, but rely instead on the knowledge they already have. How do you make sure that experienced airline pilots, with thousands of hours under their belt, stay disciplined and use the checklists, even after they have become routine?


  • Because if they skip it and it was not OK they can be fired and lose their license
  • In four years in an airline cockpit I only encountered 1 person who didn't respect checklists. Perhaps not coincidentally he did not make it through his probationary year and was fired 
  • Because if they skip it and it was not OK they could DIE
  • On commercial flights, key checklist items are forced by using a procedure call a "cross check". The one pilot must "challenge" another for those specific check list items. 
  • The cockpit consists of two people, one reading/actioning the checklist, the other one monitoring and checking/cross-checking. If you say: "Nah, no checklist today", your copilot is bound to say: "Sorry, but we have to!" 
  • The importance of a proper preflight is drilled into you by your primary instructor from day one in light aircraft, and that mentality carries through all the way up to heavy transport-category aircraft: You want to find any problems you can while you're on the ground, because if you take a problem into the air with you it's a decision you can quickly come to regret.
  • If you do it often enough, it becomes a habit. It then feels wrong to not run the checklist. 
  • You stay vigilant by having seen things go wrong.
  • Everyone expects everyone else to do the checklists properly and if you don't do it you will get called out. 
  • In an airline environment you will have recurrent checkrides every 6-12 months and captains will have line checks every year and proper checklist usage is among the most basic requirement to pass these checks.
  • Every year we sit through a day of crew resource management training and part of that day involves looking at past accidents and understanding what the first thing was that set the accident events in motion (pilot error!). These often serve as vivid examples of how bad things can get if you start ignoring the checklists (among other things) 
  • There are a few tricks that are used to stop you falling in to that "Yeah, everything will be fine" mindset and just skipping the checks 
    • Not doing the checks from memory, but actually doing them in reference to a physical check list. 
    • A prescribed order of checks, starting at a point on the aircraft and moving around methodically 
    • The fear of missing something, such as engine oil levels, which gets very serious once airborne. 
    • Once carrying passengers, especially nervous ones, they tend to feel safer when they've seen you PHYSICALLY checking the aircraft before flying it. 

We can see several factors at work here, including

  • a logical and emotional case for learning (we might die, our passengers might die, better to fix things on the ground, fear of missing something), 
  • peer pressure from the copilot (you will get called out) and passengers
  • you might lose your job if you skip it
  • an awareness of what might go wrong (looking at past accidents)
  • training (from day one, and every year)
  • audit (checkrides)
  • physical lists (not relying on memory)
  • logical lists (prescribed order of checks)
  • habit

Many of these can be transferred from the aviation sector into other sectors. You could imagine a company where the re-use of existing knowledge (in checklists or procedures or
other guidance) was mandatory, trained, supported, checked, believed-in (perhaps through regular analysis of failures), audited and habitual.

I agree this is a long way from where many of us are at the moment, but it is a vision for how one industry supports the re-use of knowledge.

To finish, here is a personal story from the Stack Exchange thread of how one person re-learned the importance of checklists
  •  In my case, I learned the discipline to use a checklist for every action on every flight the one time I decided not to use a checklist while taxiing from the fuel pump back to the parking ramp. It was winter, and a snowplow pulled up behind me, so I decided not to use the checklist in the interest of expediency (ha!). I primed the engine, checked the fuel valve, engaged the electrical system, keyed the starter, and the engine responded by firing up and then immediately dying. Repeat about a half-dozen times, at which point, I finally decided to use the checklist because something obviously wasn't right. Once again, primed the engine, checked the fuel valve, move the mixture to the rich posi-- Oh...I had left the mixture in the idle-cut-off position. Oops. I've used a checklist religiously ever since then ;)




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Discovering your strategy with a business strategy story

Strategy story

Companies often mistake planning for strategy. This seems to be particularly true of large organisations.

A few years back, we got a call from a large company headquartered in the Netherlands. Their head of strategy felt that their people didn’t understand the company strategy – a common concern across most big businesses. The strategy group consisted of 20 people, which is a lot by any measure. When I asked them to describe their strategy, they could spell out initiatives but were unable to put their fingers on the strategic choices the business had made to win.

Strategy involves choice

In his seminal book on strategy, Richard Rumelt makes it clear that unclear choices make bad strategy: ‘Strategy involves focus and, therefore, choice. And choice means setting aside some goals in favor of others’.* The 20 people in the strategy group were planners. There was a portfolio of things to do, goals to reach, stretch targets to make, but as Rumelt says, when the hard work of making clear choices isn’t done, ‘weak, amorphous strategy is the result’.

Choices are the grist of strategy stories. When the leaders in a business decide to offshore certain services rather than keep them in-house, they have made a choice. The strategy story can help them explain why that choice has been made.

Because companies don’t always make clear choices, it’s often necessary to first get everyone on the same page when it comes to strategy. We’ve found that working with an executive team to craft their strategy story helps their choices to emerge and then clarifies them, so that everyone around the table not only understands what choices were made, but also why they were made. Most importantly, after working on the telling of that story, they will be able to relate it to anyone face-to-face, without a PowerPoint crutch.

The benefits of the business strategy story

There are two advantages of doing this exercise as a team. First, the group co-creates the strategy story and therefore each person takes away a strongly similar meaning (it would be hard to claim they can all take away an identical meaning, as each individual’s background influences their understanding). I can’t underscore the importance of this process and the role the narrative plays in it. Here is an example of what can happen in the absence of a shared strategy story.

My business partner, Mark, was coaching the CEO of a global primary resources company. The CEO told Mark that two of his country heads were hurling abuse at each other because they found themselves at loggerheads over the company strategy. They both claimed they understood the strategy and were acting in line with it, yet they each had a different interpretation of it.

It turned out that this company had undertaken what many organisations believe is a clear and succinct way to convey strategy: the plan on a page (POAP), which typically includes the purpose, mission, goals, strategic themes, values and perhaps some big initiatives. But the problem with the POAP is that it lacks meaning. There’s no story that glues things together. And more often than not, the strategic themes in a POAP are not choices, they’re focus areas. In the worst cases, they just represent each part of the business, so that everyone in the company feels included in the strategy. The result? A ‘weak, amorphous strategy’.

The second benefit of a team approach to developing a strategy story is that each person walks away owning the story. There are always many possible stories that could be told to explain a strategy. The job of the executive team is to choose the through-lines that reflect an authentic and compelling telling of the strategy story, something that is meaningful to all of them. Then, when the story has been completed, they all have a narrative that makes sense to them. They have imbued it with their own experiences and it accords with what they know.

This shared meaning becomes the foundation for a strategy story to be told more widely across the business.

* Rumelt, R. P. (2011). Good strategy, bad strategy: the difference and why it matters (1st ed.). New York: Crown Business, p. 59.

Employees can only act strategically if they really know the company’s strategy. Craft and embed your strategy story so that everyone’s on the same page. Learn how Anecdote can help you do this

The post Discovering your strategy with a business strategy story appeared first on Anecdote.



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one person at a time

Are networks the new companies? Can our markets shift from capitalism to cooperativism? Can our institutions become networks? Can any of us escape our tribal roots and become network era citizens of the world?

We still lack good network models for organizing in society. Instead, many turn back to older, and outdated organizational models, like nationalism and tribalism, in an attempt to gain some stability. But our institutions and markets will fail to deliver in a network era society because they were never designed for one.

“It seems obvious to me that an individual value proposition for an organisation or nation state that makes a promise (which in itself is an outdated industrial concept) and fails to deliver will have to cope with every customer, citizen and employee holding them to account. In real time. From *within* their own organisations; not just by the hardening of their perimeters. The recognition that individual pathways transcend organisational boundaries is a good place to start.” —Robert Pye

It may be that the only unit of organization that is up to the task of working and living in networks is the individual human (the node). Perhaps this is where we should focus our organizational and societal change efforts. Let’s get people working as weavers, facilitators, and coordinators of networks. Help them develop sense-making disciplines like personal knowledge mastery. If a critical mass of people can adapt to perpetual beta, AKA life in the network era, then they can build the new structures necessary to organize society. I have more faith that thousands of cooperating individuals, with all their inherent complexity, can create better structures than a group collaborating under the direction of a positional leader. If so, the biggest challenge we face is in supporting and educating individual citizens for the network era.



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The difference between lessons and best practice - another post from the archives

Here is another post from the archives - this time looking at the difference between Best Practice and Lessons Learned.


Someone last week asked me, what's the difference between Best Practice, and Lessons Learned.

 Now I know that some KM pundits don't like the term "Best Practice" as it can often be used defensively, but I think that there is nothing wrong with the term itself, and if used well, Best Practice can be a very useful concept within a company. So let's dodge the issue of whether Best Practice is a useful concept, and instead discuss it's relationship to lessons learned.

My reply to the questioner was that Best Practice is the amalgamation of many lessons, and it is through their incorporation into Best Practice that they become learned.

If we believe that learning must lead to action, that lessons are the identified improvements in practice, and that the actions associated with lessons are generally practice improvements, then it makes sense that as more and more lessons are accumulated, so practices become better and better.

A practice that represents the accumulation of all lessons is the best practice available at the time, and a practice that is adapted in teh light of new lessons will only get better.




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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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