Sunday, June 26, 2011

From the 'management of knowledge' to effective 'knowledge management and innovation'

I have been a KM consultant and practitioner since 1993. That's a long time, but I am happy to say that I have helped many clients in different industries, and quite different cultures, all around the world, implement successful and sustainable KM initiatives.

Yet, just last week, I was speaking at the KM UK 2011 conference in London. It was attended by a broad selection of experienced practitioners, consultants and people new to KM. At that conference I attended a Knowledge Cafe, run by David Gurteen, and he posed the question for discussion 'It can be argued that KM has failed to live up to its expectations over the past 15 years and has not delivered the business value promised. Why is this?

As a proud and passionate KM professional, I never like to hear of KM as a failure at any time, especially when it can deliver such extraordinary results to an organization, but I am, at the same time, acutely aware of much 'overselling' of KM as a technology, or KM as a silver bullet, and I do greatly respect the concerns of my fellow practitioners and peers like David Gurteen.

I guess that the biggest mistake that I make is in assuming that we all have the same understanding of KM, as novices and even amongst experienced practitioners and consultants who may choose to specialize rather than generalize.

And I often make the great mistake of assuming that everybody knows what KM is! I forget that, each year, many people are totally new to KM and very keen to learn.

The No 1, most popular section of my website is, by far, people searching from all over the world for an understandable definition of 'knowledge managemen'. This is followed, in popularity, by the section 'What is KM?'. So I should know better.

I gave a quick answer at the Knowledge Cafe that a key problem is the language that we use. Everybody understands and nobody argues about the importance of better managing our knowledge, but as soon as we say 'knowledge management' people tend to say, 'is it a system or software? can you do KM to us? etc.

A simple reordering of the words 'management' and 'knowledge', can change the perception and understanding entirely.

I often get the same confusion from seminar delegates with the words information and knowledge. People still often argue about differences between 'learning organizations' and 'knowledge based and knowledge driven organizations'. And, increasingly today, I get lots of questions asked in my workshops about new knowledge and innovation.

I left the London KMUK 2011 conference somewhat frustrated, as I think there is so much great work that has been done,and so much work yet to be done to bring about effective knowledge driven organizations with increasingly productive knowlede working.

I flew from London to Singapore, to spend a week with clients who are so keen to improve the way they manage their learning and knowledge.

I always start a new client engagement with assessing and developing their common understanding of KM or whatever they prefer to call it, and the words they prefer to use. I use a simple tool to demystify the jargon and start talking about KM in words we all understand.

I offer the essence of it here. This should work for you, if you are experiencing difficulties and misunderstandings. But you may agree or disagree with this. Please let me know your thoughts.

I strongly believe that a key problem for KM is the way we use our language.

So I call this tool 'From the management of knowledge to effective knowledge management and innovation'.

1. We communicate 'information' to one another. We do this verbally and through the use of a variety of information and communication tools and technologies (ICT). We inform others and we become better informed.

2. 'Learning' is the process of turning information into knowledge. The information we receive may be 'intellectual' such as listening or reading, or it may be 'experiential' such as 'learning whilst working/acting. We learn through our senses by filtering, analysing and synthesizing the new learning's with our existing knowledge.

3. 'Knowledge' resides within us. It is a human phenomena. We can call this knowledge within us our 'tacit' knowledge, and when we externalise it through communicating to others, it may be called our knowledge that is made explicit.

4. Our 'explicit knowledge' is information to others, unless they already know. It becomes part of their synthesized knowledge when they have performed the learning process.

5. Information can be communicated in seconds. Knowledge takes time through learning.

6. Collaboration (co-labouring) is working together as a team towards achieving a common mission, goal or objective. We can learn to effectively collaborate.

7. Managing knowledge effectively, which is about identifying critical knowledge areas that will make a 'big difference', capturing and synthesizing new learning's and ideas, retaining knowledge, transferring or sharing knowledge, and applying knowledge to make the best decisions, requires the best communications, collaboration, learning and knowledge strategies, processes, methods tools and techniques.

This may be called 'knowledge management'

8. We must manage our knowledge at the personal, team, organizational and inter-organizational levels, to bring about 'effective knowledge management'. For each of the four levels, we must learn how to effectively communicate, collaborate, learn, share and apply our knowledge. We must learn 'why, what, who, how, where and when' for each of the four levels. For many organizations, this may be called 'extraordinary knowledge management'.

9. The 'Four Dimensions of Knowledge Management' is a framework to bring about extraordinary knowledge management. This can be used to help organizations to 'mainstream knowledge management'.

10. A natural outcome from effective knowledge management is innovation. Mainstreaming knowledge management will bring about 'mainstreamed innovation'.

After presenting the 10 commands in a KM workshop, delegates are then given the opportunity to discuss the use of these words, and my suggested definitions.

So far, many have said that it has helped them considerably to demystify KM and to realise, teach, and bring, about a common understanding of the term Knowledge Management, or another more suitable term for them, based on these principles.

I have no doubt that effective knowledge management will bring about extraordinary results for organizations, and I look forward to the prospect of a Knowledge Cafe in the future that will discuss extraordinary knowledge management and innovation.

Ron Young

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Era of the Global Individual

I have written about the 'Global Individual' several times before, but it keeps coming back to me in stronger waves.

In all my work,to help organizations better capture, create, share and apply knowledge to achieve business objectives, I continually see the rapidly increasing empowerment of the individual as the most potent force to bring about the paradigm shift from separate knowledge entities and individuals, to collective knowledge entities in teams, organizations and communities.

Mobile technologies like smart phones, iPads, camcorders and audio recorders are, of course, extensions to our eyes, ears and voices. When connected to the global internet and the world wide web of browsers, contextual search engines, hyperlinked documents, and information resources, it extends our capacities beyond our wildest imagination. Social networking tools that enable us to build web profiles, like facebook, Web 2.0 communication and collaboration tools like tweets, blogs and wiki's enable us to have swirling and swarming global conversations and build new knowledge together.

We have evolved from separated tribal individuals with very little, and very slow, knowledge transfer beyond our immediate village communities, just several hundred years ago, to highly connected global individuals with very fast knowledge transfer,potentially to anybody on the planet.

The implications of being a global individual are just starting to emerge. This is simply massive empowerment.

None of us know the full implications of this, other than it will be simply huge change, and hopefully it will be a positive disruption across our established ways of living and working.

Most importantly for me to consider is that the global individual will be empowered and working with global networks, communities, organizations and teams with new global tools to capture, create, share and apply global knowledge.

And along with this comes the need for 'total transparency'. This may delight you or horrify you.

For example, I know people who are trying to keep their business persona separate from their private persona to family and friends. I actually think this is understandable, but futile. To me, it is simply inevitable that we will soon all become totally transparent global individuals.

In return, we will all gain much richer and much deeper insights of one another. Another major step towards better understanding one another.

What do you think about this? Does this delight or horrify you?

Ron Young

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gaia and global knowledge ecologies

Last November 2010, I presented a paper at KM Asia in Singapore which presented some of my thoughts on Quantum Physics and KM.

We really do urgently need a new theory of knowledge and knowledge economics, to better develop and grow as individuals, teams, and organizations, in this global knowledge society, and that paper was my attempt to start a discussion around the global knowledge entity.

I used the metaphors of 'A Sky of Information'(actually that's a truth) and 'An Ocean of Knowledge'.

I really do see and better understand information and knowledge flow in these terms.
I have developed my thinking quite a bit since November 2010 and I hope to produce another paper, perhaps even a new knowledge hypothesis soon.

Well this week I decided to re-read one of my favourite older books from 1979 'Gaia - a new look at life on Earth' by Jim Lovelock. At the time, Jim was an independant scientist who has co-operated with NASA in their space programme, and since 1974 has been a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Of his book, Gaia, others say that Gaia is an intimate account of a journey through time and space in search of evidence with which to support a new and radically different model of Earth. Bringing knowledge from astronomy to zoology in support of his hypothesis, Jim Lovelock explores the idea that the life of Earth functions as a single organism which actually defines and maintains conditions necessary for its survival.

Actually, since Gaia was first published in 1979, many of Lovelock's predictions have come true and his theory has become one of the most hotly debated topics in scientific circles.

Today, global climate change is top of the agenda and Lovelock has some profound views on the implications for Planet Earth and humanity.

You will probably realise, by now, that I was glued to my chair when re-reading his views on the self-regulating information and knowledge transfer functions of the sky and the oceans. My metaphor suddenly took on a much deeper meaning for me.

I have always preferred to talk about knowledge ecologies and even in my first book in 1995, Upside Down Management, McGraw Hill Europe, I talked much more comfortably about getting the most out of knowledge workers in organizations when we remove structured limitations and recognise that people are highly complex organisms.

So I am thinking and looking deeper into similarities between the behaviours of deep ecological systems on Planet Earth and global knowledge ecologies.

Going back to Quantum Physics, I am still most interested in the Quantum Physicists view of an underlying force, deeper and beyond the laws of energy and matter, that is often called the Quantum vacuum or Zero Point, and informs all forms of life.

Again this is rather like a 'sky of information' and an 'ocean of knowledge', and intuition tells me that we all can, and unconsciously do, access some of this knowledge.

So I think some answers for a new knowledge theory may be found in combining new thoughts about the invisible world of quanta with new thoughts about the visible world and deep ecology.

But my brain is starting to hurt. It's saturday and our local SW France village is celebrating a weekend of bands, music and wine.I need the break :-)

Let me know if you have any thoughts about any of this, or your views on a new knowledge theory, as I will be back in deep thinking mode soon.

Ron Young

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Celebrating Team Differences

Today, I was reminded of the work that I did in the late 1990's with Lotus Developments. It was called 'Celebrating Team Differences'

When we work in teams, we naturally find differences. Some differences are appreciated, but on many occassions, people can initially tend towards conflict as a result of the differences.

As many of us have to also work in virtual teams, that can be rapidly thrown together overnight, without any opportunity to get to know one another, and even ever meet one another physically, the problem of team differences and team conflict can become magnified.

Yet, if properly understood, team differences can be a great asset and, properly developed, can even cause us to celebrate these differences, and greatly increase our team performance and productivity.

One of the key contributors to difference, and I mean just one, is that we all use our brains differently. Some people are naturally more logical in their approach to work and life, and some people are naturally more creative in their approach to work and life. We tend to label them 'left brainers' and 'right brainers'.It is not that we have different brain hemispheres, as all healthy people have both left and right hemispheres, but it means that we all tend to predominantly use either the left or the right hemisphere more, to different degrees.

Some say this is as a result of:

Our genetics, and since birth,our religious upbringing,our culture and values,our national society,our schooling,our life and work opportunities, the culture of organizations we work for, and so the list goes on.

So we tend to end up in situations and job occupations that are, say, predominantely logical, like for example, accounting, legal profession, or predominantely creative, like for example, designers and creative advertising, musicians, acting and film.

So this means that some people in a new project team may resonate more towards a more logical and planned approach to work, systems and tools, and some people in a team may resonate more towards a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to work, systems and tools.

Left brainers, generally speaking, are far more time conscious and more punctual to attend meetings, say, than right brainers. I over simplify to make a point.

Within this same spectrum, we have people who, as extreme left brainers are excellent as 'finishers' in a team project (dotting the i's and crossing the t's) and extreme right brainers as excellent creators of new radical ideas and innovators in the team. Some of us are naturally more extrovert and enjoy communicating with many others, and some of us are naturally more introvert and enjoy more our own company. And we all fit in somewhere along this spectrum.

So when we form a work team, and when we do not understand these differences, we can easily lead to conflict.

Let me give some examples of team conflict, in ways that we work together:

Some prefer/demand explicit logical and structured ways to work and others hate this and prefer unstructured spontaneous working
Some get upset because others are consistently late or do not keep to their alloted times
Some visit the collaborative team work spaces every hour and get frustrated because others visit once a week.

And so on.

The answer is to start a project team with a mindset that recognises and celebrates these common and natural differences. To then discuss with the team, physically if possible, otherwise virtually, an informal 'team contract' that all the team will buy-in to, that agrees the degree of structured and unstructured approach to the project, and then the best team working tools to support this,

Furthermore, at least, the team contract also includes the agreed minimum time that all members must visit the collaborative team space (say once an hour, day, week, month etc) depending on the nature of the project.

Furthermore, team members are encouraged to create on their profiles, their strengths and weaknesses, and any strong likes and dislikes, concerning their preferred approach to work.

The result, over time, is that team members will not enter into a stage of conflict of differences, but enjoy a celebration of differences.

In team development, we have learned well the four stages of effective team development as'forming, storming, norming and performing'.

Celebrating our differences is just one important way to reduce the 'storming' stage. I suggest that this does not happen enough naturally, so the project team leader needs to facilitate this process at the project start.

More on virtual team effectiveness to follow shortly.

More on effective knowledge working at