Monday, March 10, 2014

'Life by Powerpoint'

Life by PowerPoint

How often do we all hear the same phrase 'Death by PowerPoint?'
The thought brings a yawn to most of us. We have all had to bear this  problem from certain speakers at conferences, seminars and workshops, or, of course, meeting presentations.

Well, today, I wish to turn that thinking upside down, and describe to you how, actually, I have been enlightened into the new 'Life by PowerPoint'

It started just over a year ago, when I changed computers from an MSDOS laptop to a MacBook Pro. Actually, the new computer has nothing to do with my enlightenment in the use of PowerPoint, although I think that the change of computers did trigger new and better work habits, as I started to understand PowerPoint in a completely new way.

For me, PowerPoint is now a fantastic knowledge tool. Let me tell you why.

As a management consultant, working with large international clients, I have to make many presentations in workshops etc. I am also a conference speaker. So preparing conference speeches and preparing seminars, workshops and master classes, is a key part of my work.

Typically, the requests can be last minute. And normally they are! Just last week, I was on a plane to Istanbul with just a few hours on the flight to prepare a client workshop for the next day. The workshop had a group of about 20 people who wanted to learn some new methods to embed effective knowledge management methods, tools and techniques into their daily work. Their culture, situation, and work challenges were quite unique. And, therefore, I wanted to develop a unique presentation.

So, on the flight, I started to formulate my thoughts and ideas into a few slides, which, at that stage, were simple bullet points. In other words, I started to put some 'order and structure' to my thoughts. 
I was then also able to better plan the workshop.

Of course, as a presenter and teacher, I do know, very well indeed, the power of visualising and presenting new concepts, ideas and work plans etc in frameworks, diagrams, pictures, metaphor, video, humour etc as a far richer and more easily digestible ways to transfer new learning's and ideas. But, on this occasion, I simply did not have the time at all to develop this. I had three hours on the flight only.

Actually, for this client,  I arrived at my destination airport very early last Saturday, at 1am, and checked in to my hotel and bed by 3am. I was up again, continuing the preparation of my workshop, at 7am for a further hour before breakfast. I was then at the clients office early on Saturday morning to start work (Saturday is a work day in the Middle East). 

My first key point is this. I simply did not have the time that would be needed to develop a series of bullet pointed slides in to richer and far more acceptable presentations.

But, during a hasty breakfast, I was able to look at these bulleted slides and, from the order and structure, I added to the 'Notes' section for the speaker (at the bottom of the screen) in bold capital letters, the 'key messages' that I wanted to convey through delivering these points, and, furthermore, the 'transitions' that I wanted to make, to take me smoothly and more eloquently into the next slide. So the presentation slides became much more of a natural flow. 

I then ran the workshop successfully, and the participants received copies of these slides. They were then able, also, to make their own notes and comments themselves, to expand the richness of the slides in their own unique way, and in deeper context.

This raises my second point. Some speakers think that they are better than those who use slides if they can 'perform' without slides. For a keynote speech of up to an hour maximum, I can certainly accept this more readily. But for a teaching session of several hours, I think it's arrogance and probably speaker ego to care more about your performance on stage without powerpoint, verses the value and need to give your students something they can use to remember and document the session with their notes added. (However, I do, to a degree, accept speakers who will offer audio and video copies of their session instead of slides, but this still does not allow the participant to embed their own notes to develop a richer context for them)

After the workshop, on Saturday, the client requested that I start to put this new knowledge, presented at the workshop, into practice in their KM pilot teams on Sunday morning. So, on Saturday evening I was able to develop a few of these bullet point slides in to even more meaningful diagrams and more forceful key messages. On Sunday morning, whilst travelling by car to the KM pilot groups, I was also able to improve the slides further, by incorporating the feedback gained from the participants on Saturday. 

I think you can now guess were I am going with this? By Wednesday, I had introduced meaningful pictures in to the presentation, to add the power of metaphor, for future training sessions. 

Throughout, I took HD video, with a simple camera on a tripod, (all I had to do is press the on/off button), and, when time permits, I will edit the video as a record of the event. The client was simply delighted to know that they will receive a video copy for their workshop participants to refer to, even if it is pretty basic editing.

Time permitting, I will take a few snippets of that video that especially recorded the atmosphere of the day, and some key messages, and embed them in to the same power point slides, for possible future workshops.

So my key point to you, in this blogpost, is that PowerPoint can be an incredibly powerful knowledge tool, that enables and assists the knowledge worker/consultant to develop his/her thoughts, ideas and insights in to richer knowledge flows, for more effective knowledge transfer, in a natural way, and in a way that is similar to the way the brain organises and develops thoughts and interconnected thoughts (through transitions and linkages) into richer patterns with more complexity.

So, next time you experience a teacher using bulleted power points, don't immediately make the 'death by PowerPoint' assumption, but keep an open mind to what follows, and how it follows.

If the presenter is good, you will know soon enough, and probably better realise that these thoughts are being still being developed, and powerpoint is being used as a new knowledge development tool. 

If the presenter is bad, or if the presenter is using the same bulleted points again and again, especially at conferences, yawn!

So I intend to use PowerPoint as a knowledge development tool, through the phases of: 
  • thought structuring and ordering 
  • adding more focus and flow 
  • developing richness, through visual means, and metaphor. 

For me, I support 'Life by PowerPoint'. Do you have similar experiences?

Ron Young

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Habits are massive and very difficult to break, even for KM consultants!

I have been a management consultant for over 30 years now, and I have specialised in knowledge management and innovation since 1995.

Like all consultants, I was trained to use a journal. To not only capture notes from meetings and interviews with clients etc, but also to capture my new learning's, insights, and ideas. So, as a young and impressionable consultant, keen to be a success, I naturally I followed leading consultants and their image by using, at least, quality 'black and red' type journals and a nice high quality pen. The image made me feel good and more confident.

The journal is a great tool, don't get me wrong, but many years ago, in fact ever since I was specialising in knowledge management, I realised that it is so much better to capture electronically rather than to capture on paper. I quickly learned that if you just capture on paper, as one task, you then have to then capture those new learning's and ideas again in an electronic document and/or system to then be able to easily share them and develop them, collectively and systematically, into new and better knowledge and innovative products and services. Also, it can be so time consuming to try and find things in a series of monthly paper journals quickly. And you cannot carry all your journals around with you.

Then the laptop computer arrived. Aha. No excuse now. At least I thought so, until a few clients, not all, found the laptop to be a sort of barrier between us, or, in a very subtle way, objected to the irritating clicking. So I battled on.

The next step was in 2005, when the blog arrived. I took to the blog like a duck to water. I was so excited with the blog as my electronic journal, and still am today. I even created a professional blog, a personal blog, a travel blog, a personal development blog etc etc.

The problem is, I started to notice how my subconscious was already starting to battle with the new and better discipline of blogging. It wanted to continue to write with a pen in a journal.

Not unreasonable, I thought, as I had been in the habit of writing a journal for a good 20 years. Also, as the blog is a web based tool, I didn't always have access to the internet at that time. So I battled on. I recall a recent quote 'how long does it take to change?' Answer given: 'As long as it takes for the present generation to die off!'

Then smart phones arrived and, to be fair to myself, I did capture quite a few learnings and ideas with my iPhone, and still do, using the 'notes' app. But if I tried to capture them in client meetings that way, clients would give me a strange look, as if I was busy with other things, and not focusing fully on them.

Then the tablet arrived. Eureka! Now I had the perfect answer. The tablet is not seen to be obtrusive by most clients. On the contrary, the tablet is cool and spells out loud 'well organised' 'information at my fingertips' 'powerful'. And also, for the first time, I could write very comfortably indeed in aircraft when my clients sent me economy on long hauls. And the iPad and the iPhone make me feel very good too. In the old days we had the elite 'jet set' now we have the elite 'Apple set' and I truly love the atmosphere of the Cambridge Apple Centre UK as it is truly buzzing with exciting people! I go there quite regularly, and I am always uplifted.

Have I cracked it? Have I thrown away my paper journal?

My subconscious is now having an even bigger battle each day. It is now declaring war on the iphone, the ipad and my Macbook Pro, all together. I purchased the MacBook Pro 15 months ago, eventually, after a tremendous subconscious battle defending MSDOS got lost one weekend when I was introduced to some excellent French wine.  Also, the Mac is very cool and more silent, and so much better designed than the louder, more bulky clicking laptops that were around at the time. Things are different now.

Just this week, I had a breakthrough. My habit has eventually changed to writing in the ipad first, rather than second or third to the paper journal. I have made a remarkable quantum leap in turning my new learning's and ideas into valuable knowledge so much faster. At last, I can join the generation that were brought up on tablets and smart phones only. I feel lighter already. A huge weight has lifted from my troubled shoulders. My subconscious is liberated. I want to scream with joy!

But guess what. I went downtown for a coffee today and the wifi was down. I wanted to capture some very important thoughts and ideas that I had, while having a haircut, that will help a client solve a major problem. But in the coffee shop, my iPhone was too small and my iPad doesn't have 3/4G yet. I had to get my lonely journal out of my black rucksack (cool too) and write some notes and drawings with my nice Waterman pen. (I remember the days of a leather briefcase!).

Sitting next to me were an elderly couple. The lady remarked "how nice to see someone write these days". I initially thought she was still suffering from old fashioned ideas too, and needed to get out and see the world.

It turned out, in the conversation that followed, that she and her husband had just returned from 16 years in silicon valley, mainly around Palo Alto, and before that 10 years running a multi-national organisation in Australia and New Zealand. She remarked that she had just returned from attending a funeral in silicon valley and, even at the graveside, one person was buying/selling shares with his stockbroker on his iPhone. She said life goes on 24/7 in the valley, regardless.

So what do I now think? Of course, you may have the obvious answer, but it took me a long time and a long subconscious struggle to realise that all these tools, physical and electronic, elegant and effectively cool, have a special and a right time and place, and our challenge is to know when best to use these tools, and then take on the subconscious, fully, to change the habit of years.

I think I will strive to use my electronic iPad more than I do, as a primary mobile tool, to be more effective in knowledge management, and resist the strong temptation to write in a nice journal with a nice pen, unless I am inspired, from time to time, to this more creative art form of journalling for my family to read, some day. After all, come on, I am a management consultant!

What do you think?

Ron Young
Knowledge Associates
Cambridge, UK

Thursday, January 30, 2014

KM and flying the boeing 737

Boeing 737-800 flight simulator

On Saturday I will be flying for 2 hours, the Boeing 737-800 flight simulator again, together with an airline captain, at Cambridge Airport, UK.

I have been an enthusiastic pilot for over 20 years, and this is great fun and a great passion for me, but what has this got to do with knowledge management?

Well checklists, based on the best possible knowledge and experiences, and especially lessons learned from flight incidents, are well known and have been practiced by the aviation industry for many years indeed.

Furthermore, the flight deck, especially on landing, is one of the best places to witness a team 'working together as one' with complete trust, respect and competence. This is a great example of effective communications, cooperation, collaboration, rapid learning, knowledge transfer, and information and knowledge management.

But I am flying the 737 for another reason. For the past two years, we have been working on a 'business simulator' that teaches, accelerates, and tests many of our knowledge working skills. On saturday, we are blending established team challenges and skills with new skills required of the knowledge worker into a knowledge team challenge, based on a flying challenge that requires high performance teamwork.

The team will have a 2 hour briefing from the captain to fly the 737 from Manchester to London Heathrow. They will be given as much information as they can absorb in 2 hrs. Then they fly. And because it is as real as it can get, in the latest professional flight simulator used to train airline pilots, it throws you out of your comfort zone in minutes!

If you are interested in following this work, contact me and I will keep you in the loop. If you have any ideas or experiences to suggest that might help us build the 737 simulator challenge to high performance knowledge team working, please please let me know.

I promise to blog post our experience gained on Saturday.

Ron Young
Knowledge Associates Cambridge