I visited Darwin’s House recently, which I found interesting. I hadn’t realised that Darwin was a bit of a late developer. He kept extensive notes and diaries which led to my companion commenting that people don’t do that anymore. I mentioned blogs because, to me, they are a form of online diary. In addition to the diaries, Darwin also carried a small notebook around with him everywhere to record short observations as reminders for his journal. Sounds a bit like Twitter to me!
He was a great list maker and two of his lists were displayed that made me smile. One was the one he made of his father’s objections to him going on the voyage on the Beagle – including something along the lines of “They must have asked a lot of other people first” leading to “Which means there must be a good reason they refused”. The second list was the pros and cons of getting married. Looks like his lists helped him make decisions – they make my TO DO lists seem very tame.
People search for information in different ways, some like a formal structure – others prefer to browse and follow unexpected detours. I am one of the latter – largely because something unexpectedly useful often results. I came across this post Make Serendipity work for you which, among other things, talks about luck being more a case of an individual making the connections rather than just ‘happening on’ an idea or answer. It advocates making time for ‘loitering’ and encourages social networking to widen the serendipity. I know that the gossip network works – and it is precisely because people take what they learn and apply it to their own situation. It isn’t just about knowing stuff first – although that is sometimes a useful currency – it is also about knowing how to use it effectively.
… starting with me! I have always had a passion for technology – from the very first time I discovered how much time email and shared calendars could save me. I still am a great advocate of new technology – however there is one significant technology related behaviour I have found difficult to change. I don’t like reading on a screen. I have to print out longer documents so that I can read them in my hand and make written notes. I realised I was my own best example of being resistant to change and decided to do something about it.
I wasn’t entirely sure what the barrier was – but think that it was 80% habit. My personal solution was to feed into my love of gadgets and buy myself a Kindle – the idea being that I would start reading books on a screen and it would break the habit. It was a bit or a risk, but has paid off big time. Within one 30 minute train journey I was comfortable reading onscreen – particularly since I realised that I could change the font size, that I will never run out of reading matter while travelling and it always re-opens to the page you stop reading on. Having just booked a holiday – I am also going to save a lot of of space through not having to pack books. The lesson? Realise when resistance is a habit and make a concerted effort to do something different. It might actually be even better than you thought.
I broke my foot 9 months ago so couldn’t drive or walk very far. Online shopping turned out to be a lifesaver for me – although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I thought I would virtually walk down aisles and pick up what I wanted, but instead it turned out that I had to have a pretty good idea to start with. As my foot got better, I returned to physical rather than virtual shopping and realised how important it is to serendipitously shop and pick up new things visually – much more difficult online. However – I have discovered that if I alter the way I shop online, I can duplicate some of the serendipity.
– I start with the shopping list and get that. The more I shop online, the more complete my list is and the system will remind me if I forget something I often buy
– I check out the ‘new stuff’ that the supermarket puts in my face as I shop and the alternatives they offer
– I shop physically at least once month so that I pick up on any new products and then add them to my online shopping list
By changing my approach to shopping, and building on my own habits, I am actually getting what I want delivered as well as finding new products that I can’t buy in person. What has this taught me? Behavioural change might start out of necessity, but by making a virtue of that necessity and realising that doing what you do in one situation (shopping) does not actually translate into the virtual version, you can actually get great benefits. Introducing new technology in the business is exactly the same – people have to use it, but they will use it the same way they have always used it unless necessity forces a change or they find incidental benefits from a different way of working.
I’ve had the benefit of a 4 year old’s wisdom over the Christmas period. My nephew has reminded me of the importance of keeping an open mind and questioning the status quo. He also underlined the importance of experience. As a child, his father used to ask constant ‘why’ questions which, as an older sibling, I took pride in answering. It was a joy to sit down for breakfast and be faced with a barrage of ‘why?’ questions again – and not always obvious ones. It made me realise that, as adults, we make a lot of assumptions about our lives and our surroundings and we would do well to listen more to the questions that children ask us.
The bad weather has generated a couple of text messages from my insurance and breakdown companies giving me advice and reminding me of their phone numbers if I need to claim/or call them out. Knowledge at the point of possible need – I love these practical km examples which also build customer confidence.
I tried my hand at facilitating a very basic brainstorming exercise using LiveMeeting the other day. The idea was to use it to introduce people to a technology they were not familiar with via a technique that they were. It was a surreal experience as letters wove across the shared screen like drunken caterpillars – but it had the desired effect. They got used to working in a different way – and they came up with some good responses. Serendipitously, I found a 1997 article on electronic brainstorming. It talks about using email for brainstorming to allow time for thought and for more timid participants to ‘speak up’. It made me stop and think that – in addition to promoting new technology – we should remember the technology we have and think of more innovative ways to make use of it.
I came across this Gartner report on Deloitte’s use of social networking today which is a good example of adapting a technology to suit the business. I particularly like the idea of training using scenarios to highlight the dangers or using social media inappropriately and the distinction between authoritative and user generated content – as well as the fact that both are seen as equally useful. Many companies fear that using social media will open a dangerous floodgate – giving them legal or reputational headaches. It appears that Deloitte’s pragmatic approach recognises this, but also the value of engaging communities in sharing and developing new knowledge.
With economic imperatives making it likely that many organisations will be losing people – the KM focus must turn to how we can best handle knowledge continuity. I have recently been challenged on the validity of traditional approaches such as handover notes, process documentation and ‘sitting with Sally’ because the issue isn’t just that people are leaving – the roles they leave behind are being radically restructured. At the same time, I also came across Nancy Dixon’s post The three eras of knowledge management which details a KM evolution over the last 20 years from writing knowledge down, through experiential exchange via mechanisms such as communities of practice to the current approach of having conversations –typically using social networking tools – to share knowledge and achieve better answers. This chimes with the overarching approach I think we now need to take to building knowedge continuity for the future – write it down, share it and develop it together.
As KM practitioners, we need to be flexible in our approach to knowledge continuity. Ensuring that people document their work as they go along will always be the best starting point but the real challenge is when you cannot afford to keep a resource but know that you might need the expertise later. How best to manage this knowledge risk? Here are some ideas as a starting point:
• Succession planning is really important – identify your key resources and ensure that there is a backup in place who has enough understanding to pick up any dropped balls in the future
• Test run process and handover documentation to ensure that someone who doesn’t have all the expertise may still be able to carry out tasks that might fall through the gaps
• Assume that you might be able to get another expert in in a crisis – so ensure that any manual or contextual information is updated with changes by the current expert, so that a new person doesn’t have to start from scratch
• Business alumni organisations may come into their own now – that is if staff leave on good terms. Keep the conversations going so that you can call on ex colleagues for advice and assistance – but make sure there is something in it for them!
KM is no longer the warm and fuzzy discipline that it was considered in the ‘90s and will prove itself in these potentially difficult times by helping organisations retain and build their key knowledge.
A first yesterday for me at the London Film Festival when the the film director took a picture of his audience. The film was Mars, a first feature which animated actors who had shot the whole film against a green screen. The romantic sci fi result was creative and amusing and I hope will find a European distributor so that others can see it too.
The Q&A afterwards was interesting and shone a light on the dedication and hard work that go into making a film. The best example was the hairstyles. We had all noticed the slightly bizarre hairstyles throughout the film. Turned out that they were intially used to help overcome possible problems with showing the effects of gravity. But the director also turned it into an opportunity to use it to reflect the changing personalities of his protagaonists, a sort of hair pathetic fallacy. Genius.