December 19, 2008

Quick & Dirty: Taxonomy & Fried Chicken

Okay, the end of the day is in sight and I'm finally getting around to doing real work. I guess that's what happens when you spend all weekend sleeping. After my "insane-o" week of travel and presenting our proposed FY09 KM strategy I'm finally rested and had my first taste of really being awake in weeks, but now I'm tired from too much sleep - go figure.

So, before I haul ass and close up shop, I figured I could eek out another belated post. I've been working on our proposed Portal Taxonomy for weeks now and, after years of doing this stuff, even though the process is no longer confusing to me, it's always a task to sift through an organization's content and come up with a way of cataloguing it in accordance with the way member's of that organization think...even when you've got Brandy croonin' Right Here in your ear.

Anywho, two weeks ago I was making my way down to Hotlanta and, as usual, stopped off to get some chicken strips for the trip. (BTW, I know this economy is tight, but since when does Church's charge Popeye's prices?!?!?!...don't get it twisted, I love 'em both, but everybody knows Church's sells that "pumped up", "Durty South" chicken. I mean, eight pieces of Church's chicken does not make a whole bird, if you catch my drift. In college I could live off of a box of Church's chicken for a week because it was so cheap (and rightly so) and now they think they deserve an upgrade?!?!?! Whatev Beyoncé!).

So, I'm at Popeye's for this trip and one of my biggest pet peeves (at almost all fast food joints) these days is the organization of the menu. It's just a mess to figure out especially if you don't want a value-combo-meal-thingamajiggie. Then it hits me that this is clearly a taxonomy problem!

If you've been to a fast food joint in the US lately, you may have noticed that the menu has increasingly moved towards a layout designed to encourage customers to buy more Combo Meals. As a consumer it is annoying, not just because I don't want to have to buy a combo when all I might want is an a la carte item for which the price and quanitity is not readily viewable (and at some places the combos and all the extra grease, fat, and sugar contributing to America's obesity, diabetes, and ADHD epidemics is even MORE expensive than buying a la carte), but also because it gives the impression that what I see are the only choices available which means I have to spend an inordinate amount of time interviewing the person at the register who, more often than not doesn't know any more than I do (maybe even less) and I end up choosing between buying something I don't really want or going somewhere else to eat. (Which, I know, is clearly not a bad idea anyway, but its kinda my mantra that you're not really American if you're not in debt, overweight, and watch too much TV, so I'm just putting my nationalism on display!)

Putting my national (and frustration) to the left for a second, it occurred to me that this is part of the challenge that most folks creating taxonomy schemas have to deal with, synthesizing the "push" of information with a more "intuitive" schema that reflects how your target audience might actually look for information.

In the schema that I recently proposed, we took the approach of creating a flash-driven interface at the center of the page that "pushes" news alerts and critical content with a series of tabs in the bottom half of the page where content has been "bucketed" according to how users might initially seek out content (which also means placing duplicate links in several "buckets"...we'll count click-throughs later to see which are irrelevant). In this way, we're able reconcile the push and pull of information in a way that doesn't alienate anyone, not unlike Wendy's who, actually, does a pretty decent job with their menu. Thus, our customers don't have to spend precious time digging for the information for which they are looking and the KM team is able to minimize the number of potential users that we'll lose (and later have to suck up to in order to get them to give the system another chance).

Now if we can just get my two fave fried chicken houses straight - 'cause I really don't care for KFC.

Love, Peace, and Hair grease y'all!

Quick & Dirty: Additional Thoughts on KM Certification

Well, so much for posting on "the regular" with my Quick & Dirty posts. I've been staying on the grind and hustling to get roll-out and present the proposed FY09 KM strategy and haven't had much time for any kind of consistent blogging, but I've had tons of thoughts on topics so I'll try to kick those out quickly and silence my guilty conscience.

So, back in May I did a post on KM Standards and Certification and after working on my 'Curriculum' post I started thinking more on what a proper certification program should look like for KM.

For starters, I (the royal 'we') wouldn’t want to take a program that covered information from a very high-level. Which, of course, doesn't help the newbies to the field.

I would imagine that the best course of action would be to offer two tracks - one for KM professionals and one for non-KM folks. The non-KM professionals track would be for folks who are looking to understand KM from a high-level, they may or may not be planning a career in KM, they might just be interested in developing their own understanding of (KM for Finance, KM for Marketing, KM for R&D, etc.).

The KM professionals track could start with the essentials (which could be skipped over for KM professionals who are past this point and jump right into the meat…well, maybe there could be a quick, fast-track course to cover some critical essentials, but it would be a survey class featuring highlights - nothing intensive or in-depth. However, the “meat” of the courses in this track would focus both on a combination of theory and practical application. The theoretical courses would be more focused on forward thinking aspects of the field or, perhaps, focused applications of KM, stuff that goes beyond the standard discussions and day-to-day applications of KM, in fact, stuff in these courses can generate courses in practical applications of KM. Conversely, the practical courses would focus on the day-to-day applications of KM - knowledge audits, metrics development, strategy design and implementation, KM branding, and so forth. Personally, if I was actually in the market for getting certified (as a newbie and maybe as a practicing professional), I'd want a course or program that gave me useful tools as well as some background on the field, the thought leaders, a timeline of the field – critical events, guiding thoughts, principles. I think that these are types of 'knowledge tools' that a quality program would help one to acquire.

Just sayin'.

Sigh, one down, hahahaha.

November 24, 2008

Quick & Dirty: Re-Branding Luxury with KM 3.0

Noted 11/25: While reading this mornings news and alerts I came across the Executive Summary for an HBS Article entitled "Marketing Your Way Through a Recession" published in March '08. It's a great piece that just so happens to jibe with (and expand upon) my comments below. Take a moment to read it!

So, I'm totally jumping ahead of myself to even use KM 3.0 in the title of this post when I have yet to upload the post that inspired it, "KM 3.0 - The Return of Customer Service". Clearly, I'll have to launch that post ASAP, but it's about 6:40p and I really wanted to post this 'Quick & Dirty' before I leave the office and immerse myself in T-Day prep cooking.

So, I was reviewing news articles and posts this morning when I came across the umpteenth article on how businesses are dealing with the crappy economy (that's my official stance on our economy - you say recession, I say crappy...wait another decade and watch it become an actual economic indicator.)

Having exited my graduate program in December 2002 amidst a tidal wave of layoffs and joblessness that necessitated (me and friends across the world in similar situations) having to actually dumb down my resume and take a KM internship that - blessedly - became a full-time job (from which I was subsequently laid-off 2 years later) I'm extremely dumbfounded why the national media, our politicians, and even some businesses are all acting as if the current economy just cropped up over night like a thief in the night. Actually, it's been more like that whack-a-mole arcade game, popping up all over the place. Just ask the average American and they'll tell you, times didn't just get critical when AIG's mess exploded; it's been critical for a hot minute.

Anywho, the NYTimes posted an article about how luxury brands are coping in the crappy economy, the second article I've read on the subject in the last week (the first I linked to in last week's OOTB). Reading articles like these helps me to realize that I haven’t lost my gift for trend watching (even if I still don’t see the hype over Twilight, but maybe – despite my Gossip Girl fixation – it’s just my general lack of interest in 'tween-oriented media).

Before I'd even finished the article I was back to wondering what bomb shelther these folks have been in not to have noticed the constant crappy-ness of our economy over the last 5 years!?!?

Contrary to popular opinion, I don't believe it's an issue of people not having money (for the most part; obviously too many Americans have barely enough to get by with these days), they're just being highly selective about where they spend it, at least until a sense of normalcy returns to the economy. There's a reason why "old money" still has most of the money circulating around our country!

The fall of the banking industry does NOT instill a sense of normalcy.

My advice for purveyors of luxury goods is that this is not the time to cut back on will be your salvation as long as you are willing to re-brand luxury.

If cutbacks are necessary they should be made in the areas of production (reduce your output, which, consequently, makes your product more desirable due its limited availability) and focus/invest advertising dollars on smarter (i.e., newer, hip, more innovative) outlets for reaching both old and new consumers. An economic downturn is the time to (1) instill consumer confidence and (2) build and improve brand loyalty, displaying how well you know your customers to get at their safely guarded 'stacks' (that's a KM 3.0 thing).

One of the major problems with a lot of luxury items these days is that (on the advice of stupid marketing agencies - I know, I used to work for one) they've been pouring tons of money into business ideas that regard customer service as a premium service (instead of standard practice) and then selling that service to those capable of (and willing to) pay for it as opposed to treating all customers like 'gods' and building brand loyalty and equity. Now, those same businesses are going out of business as keeping up with Joneses becomes an increasingly poor investment.

Sidebar: a good example of a company with fantastic customer service and a marketing strategy that hasn't seemed to change since I can remember: Publix. As much as I love this store, I readily admit it can be a bit pricey (not Whole Foods pricey, but not Kroger, Winn Dixie, Albertson's, or Piggly Wiggly inexpensive either). Still, I'm a loyal customer. I even have a Publix rule to which my tennis teams are made to adhere. Nowadays though, I spend more money at Wal-Mart for many of the the same products (there's a company that's exploiting the hell out of this crappy economy!) How has Publix weathered the economy? Despite a 19% drop in profits that's likely been caused by eating some of their cost increases rather than passing them on to consumers, their sales have improved. That's why I continue to be a loyal customer.

When money is tight, everything not essential for living (fancy foreign bottled water is not essential; G5 jets, while hot as hell, are not essential) is considered a luxury (Starbucks is now a luxury, get the picture???) and folks want more value for their buck, so the challenge is to focus efforts on re-branding what luxury means to people, particularly those who have the money to buy what they want. But be cautious, in a time when the tastefulness of a company holiday party is called into question (because so many folks are being laid off), excessively priced purchases can be a sign of one's lack of tact, not wealth.

In the meantime, for you consumers, remember back when thrift shopping was the thing? Well, I’m here to tell you (as my fabulous and fashionable BFF Min previously educated me) that you can still get brand names, dirt cheap (in some cases, that’s literal – invest in good laundry products y’all) at Goodwill and save those duckets for another day! Nobody needs to know how you are able afford your social calendar…unless they’re following the same advice. Maybe you'll want to shop 'thrift' a couple of zipcodes over wearing a baseball cap and some shades.

All right, time to race home for Gossip Girl. XOXO!

November 22, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 11/21

I tell ya, the week just flies by!! I've been trying to be a more responsible blogger and the bags under my eyes are telling the tale, but I'm sure a few more time exercises management will help me to juggle all of the balls making a bulge in my pocket.

So, for the first time in FOREVER I didn't do any work this week...well, if you don't count shopping for my T-Day menu ingredients (I'm preparing a Cajun themed meal in case anyone is interested) and braving the crowds at the DeKalb Farmers Market and my Atlanta Publix (where some manager I've not met before almost declined to accept my personal check because it has my PO Box address and my DL has my physical address and, he says, because the check number was less than 100 (I'm using up all of my old WaMU checks)- even though I've written roughly two checks a month at that very location and my Charleston Publix since April, and for that matter at any number of Publix's across GA since better people, I am well known for how thoroughly I pimp the Publix brand across the country! Do you need a Knowledge Manager to help you implement and practice your policies uniformly?)

Anywho, here's my OOTB grab bag for the week.

November 20, 2008

Pitchcraft: A KM Elevator Conversation

Well, when I started this post yesterday at lunch time I was heating up my Red Beans & Rice and sausage (I’ve been on a Creole kick for the last 2-4 months now, working at perfecting my Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, and Jambalaya recipes) I thought it would be a great time to kick out another ‘Quick & Dirty’ blog post, but it required just a little more time than I expected.

A couple of weeks ago at the SPAWAR KM Offsite in New Orleans, we were discussing how to expand our (internal) customer base and one of my co-workers suggested the idea of developing an elevator pitch for KM, something that we could relate in a minute or so to interested parties.(I especially like the idea of KM-themed lanyards and badge holder stickers that said stuff like "WWKMD" or, closer to my personality "WTFIKM: Ask me?", lol.)

An elevator pitch, for the unenlightened, is a quick, high-level introduction to an idea, service or product that’s meant to be delivered in the length of time an elevator ride takes, usually thirty seconds or roughly 150 words – although that seems like an awfully short ride to me, but I guess it depends on how big the building is, how many evil button pushers are in your lift, and how funky-smelling the other passengers are (funky-smelling passengers = eternal elevator ride).

This method of selling/marketing ideas has become so mainstream these days (it’s the inspiration for Twitter…my favorite tool for brain farting across the net) that there are even classes offered on developing and delivering elevator pitches!

Anywho, I was showering yesterday morning and thinking about another potential blog post when it occurred to me how beneficial it would be for KM folks to have their own elevator pitch. Probably one of the coolest things about knowledge management is that the name itself is a natural conversation starter. When you say you’re a Knowledge Manager or that you work in knowledge management people seem to automatically respond by asking “what’s that?” Even if they’ve heard of KM, or worse still, if they have a negative perception of KM (usually linked to their dislike of the term “knowledge management” and the belief that knowledge can’t actually be managed) they are still interested in engaging in a discussion, at least until you prove that you’re a conversation killer or a jamoke!

From a sales/marketing perspective, you can’t ask for more than that! Why? Because it means you have an opportunity to present your expertise, your service – your value – in a way that could very well open doors. In our janky, depressed economy dominated by organizations that have yet to truly and fully appreciate how knowledge-dependent they are, non-revenue generating KM initiatives are often among the first to get thrown under the bus so the ability to sell the value of your KM initiative or your personal KM skill-set to your future ex-employer is critical for career success.

On this note, I will say that one of the things I notice a lot (and non-KM folks have also pointed this out to me) is how ill-prepared too many KM professionals are when asked to describe KM and its benefits. Even when an answer is attempted, the response often flies right over the heads of the listener(s) (mine too, and this is what I do for a living!!). Having spent roughly six years during school and several years more in the workforce refining my explanation of KM to professors, classmates, co-workers and even hiring managers (don’t get it twisted, even people responsible for managing KM initiatives may not fully understand all that KM involves) I figure I’m as qualified as anyone to take a stab at scripting an elevator pitch...well, an elevator conversation at the very least.

Keep in mind, however, that this is how I would conduct my elevator conversation based on the type of KM work that I do. Every KM professional will want to tweak this to their particular KM activity or area of expertise. Robert Pagliarini of lists 6 questions every elevator pitch must answer. And Eileen Pincus offers some salient points on crafting the perfect pitch in her 2007 BusinessWeek article on the subject. It’s doubtful that I cover all of this advice in my dialogue, but since the goal is to get a second, more in-depth meeting, this seems to work for me. Of course, it goes without saying that you should refrain from having any of this sound scripted or ‘canned’.

I’ll skip the part of the conversation that leads up to me disclosing what I do for a living – how you get there is an entirely new post and besides, I’m one of those people who just happens to ‘find’ himself in these kinds of conversations all the time without even trying! So, without further ado…Christian’s KM Elevator Speech!

Non-funky elevator person (‘cause we ain’t talking if they
smell funky)
: What kind of work do you do?

Me: I work in knowledge management (usually, I’d enquire about their work as well, but let’s not and say I did).

Non-funky elevator person: Knowledge management? What’s that? Do you use mind control on people? Hahahaha. (The joke is to cover their discomfort about not knowing what you’re talking about…this happens a lot when you’re dealing with people in positions of authority).

Me: I wish…that would make my job easier, hahahaha. (A counter-joke is my way of putting them at ease for their ignorance of KM) Actually, I help organizations create strategies to improve how they share information.

Non-funky elevator person: (Intrigued and at ease, because I have “a way” about me, lol, and because I sound like I might say something useful or valuable). So, what…do you work with computers managing databases or run some sort of data warehouse?

Me: (Cool as a cucumber) Well, sometimes that’s part of what I do – it really depends on the organization. The scope of knowledge management covers a range of activities from auditing how an organization shares information to managing content in a knowledge base.

Non-funky elevator person: (Impassive) But you’re not really managing knowledge, that’s more information management.

Me: Not quite. KM is a pretty multi-disciplinary field that combines aspects of information management and content management with organizational development and human resource development and a lot of other fields to create something very different.

Non-funky elevator person: (Engaged, but looking to challenge/debunk my explanation of KM) But how do you manage someone’s “knowledge”? It doesn’t seem possible. I’m sure you can manage processes and the kind of information people have access to, but managing what they know?

Me: (Keeping my cool and taking on a more authoritarian tone – it’s important to be the expert in these situations) You know, a lot of people tend to get stuck on the phrase “knowledge management” as sounding a bit tricksy (yes, I said tricksy), but I think it’s important not to lose sight of what KM, ultimately, brings to the table; or, at least what it should bring if you’re working with the right strategy.

Non-funky elevator person: (Listening…but ready to pounce on whatever sounds flawed or sketchy) And what’s that?

Me: (Still the expert) The big three? First, KM brings awareness and insight into what an organization “knows”. Too many organizations struggle with the simple fact that they just don’t “know” what they “know”. Even with a variety of tools and applications on-hand for sharing and storing information, organizing and centralizing content is a constant challenge. “Knowing” is the first step in the process of managing all of your knowledge and information for easy access and dissemination;

Second, KM brings a process for sharing and retaining critical knowledge and information. More importantly, if implemented well, that process can evolve into a cultural norm of knowledge sharing and retention. Perhaps one of the most common KM problems is the loss of critical knowledge that walks out the front door when employees are lost through downsizing, retirement, terminations, or employees leaving for new job opportunities. Even when a position is re-staffed or responsibilities re-tasked, how do you recover the lost knowledge? The answer to that question is KM. And, when properly supported and integrated into the organizational culture, KM makes any loss of knowledge negligible.

Third, KM acts as a “war chest” to help organizations weather economic ncertainty and ride out market changes. Perhaps the single-most powerful financial benefit of KM is its ability to provide a convenient, organized, well-maintained, up-to-date proprietary source of knowledge and information just waiting to be exploited and leveraged across an organization. Ideas on new revenue streams, new business relationships, ways to increase or solidify existing relationships – all just a few keystrokes away.

Non-funky elevator person: (Impressed, but cautious) Well, that certainly sounds impressive, but why knowledge mnagement? It seems to me there are several departments already in place that could be tasked to address these challenges, why create another?

Me: (Confidently) You know, one of the things that I love to share with people is that every organization – documented or not, and usually, it’s not – has a KM strategy. When an organization makes the decision that they need KM or something like it, what they’re really saying is, “what we’re currently doing isn’t working for us”. So, first off, I’d ask you to think about the things I said before about what KM brings to the table and ask yourself how your organization is doing in those areas. And, if you do feel that there’s room for improvement, why wouldn’t you bring someone on-board specifically skilled in KM to assist in that effort? (Smugly) Would you see a podiatrist to talk about a rash or a dermatologist? I mean, they’re both Doctors.

Non-funky elevator person: (Humored) True, but I’m also thinking about the cost involved and the potential disruption to the workplace. I can’t imagine folks are going to just stop working and participate in KM.

Me: (Still confident because we’re still talking and I’m getting ready to unload some knowledge – watch out!) I like to think that the cost of KM is inherent in all of an organization’s on-going activity, identifying specific activities as KM is merely exposing a hidden cost. Additionally, you have to weigh the opportunity cost of doing nothing to the cost of bleeding knowledge along with all of the costs associated with “re-building the wheel” so to speak, which is what you’re doing each time you have to re-staff a position and bring that person up-to-speed. As far as getting people actively participating in KM activities you'd be surprised how many of them are in need of knowledge management and may have already repeatedly asked for a solution without specifcally calling it KM.

Non-funky elevator person: (Surprisingly impressed) That’s an interesting way of looking at things. So do you get started with KM?

Me: (Pulling out a business card) I’d start
with giving me a call, hahahahaha. We can set up a time to discuss setting up a KM audit for your organization and go from there.
Okay, so I know my dialogue is a bit hokey – I tried to make it less so, but each conversation is so different that you really just need to be able to hit the major points and hope for the best. This, of course, is how things would flow ideally, but it’s best to be prepared not only for different reactions, but for different levels of familiarity with KM, and, obviously, different questions about KM. Personally, I try to keep the dialogue open and make myself available to answer questions, but I’m also trying to convert this conversation into a opportunity; I want this conversation to develop into a business relationship, not just an FAQ session.

Anyone else have insight they’d like to share?

November 17, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 11/14

It's just after 2am and I've finished catching up on the latest episode of One Life To Live which has done a wonderful job (with the Todd/Marty/Tess storylines) of providing me with all the drama one could ask for...I believe that if I get all of my drama from daytime TV then that frees my real life up for all of the important stuff. Anywho, it's past time I posted an interesting OOTB list and, fortunately, there's been some interesting articles to read.

Quick & Dirty: Thoughts on a KM Curriculum

I know, I know, I’m a total flogger! I’ve seen my subscription numbers plummet and I’ve felt the guilt, but in my defense I’ve been craaaaazy busy with my new job…not busy enough to miss a single episode of Gossip Girl (what, are you kidding?), but that’s just one hour out of my otherwise hectic week.

I’ve been working (slowly) on a new full-length blog, but I’ve started to realize that perhaps I should take a stab at kicking out more "quick and dirty" posts to address many of the KM thoughts I’ve been reflecting upon lately but don’t (or can’t) seem to find the time to blog about at length. Between these and my OOTB posts (which should be easier to write now that the election is over) I should keep my readers and fellow KM-ers happy and reflective :-)

My current position has raised a lot of questions for me about managing knowledge in a large bureaucracy, most of them focusing on the impact of politics (within the KM function) and how it impacts the pursuit and implementation of KM (clearly not well) and also, how one might exploit conflict and office politics to achieve something positive (essentially turning negative behavior into something useful and constructive). Anyway, since I’ve got a(n imaginary) timer ticking down at my desk and in keeping with the concept of a "quick and dirty" blog post, I won't take time to dig through my daily journals to generate a list of those questions, rather I’ll blog about a question that a co-worker just asked about an hour ago: What did I study when I first began my foray into KM that helped me to learn and understand the field?

I’ve already envisioned, at some point down the road, teaching KM in both corporate and academic environments and helping to compile compile a KM resource list. Although, to be honest, I’ve only made notes, here and there, regarding what would appear on such a list. I do happen to have 80% of the articles I read on KM during college and grad school and occasionally I’ll thumb through them and shock myself with how outdated (and maybe a little ridiculous) they are in the present. Sometimes I surprise myself with an article that is still timely, I’ll have to look through them again and maybe blog a post about how KM (through the literature) has changed..or not, over the years.

Anywho, to the task at hand, I doubt I’ll be able to come up with anything definitive in the next 5-10 minutes, however I’ll give it a go and I invite others to offer suggestions about what they think should be added.

The KM Curriculum
Although I have an undergraduate degree in Urban Policy Studies and the majority of my time was spent in Economics and policy-related courses (and nearly every French course I was able to take), a good chunk of my courses were in the areas of Organizational Behavior (OB) and Organizational Development (OD), as well as coursework in Business Analysis and Strategy. In my humble opinion, these areas are seminal to working in KM. After all, KM is all about helping organizations to understand how they operate and to recommend (and implement, if that's your role or objective) strategies for improving areas of need. Even though these recommendations may involve non-traditional solutions, courses in these areas help to provide valuable insight into how many organizations operate and “think”.

If you’re wanting to learn how the people in organizations “think” then definitely you’ll want coursework in Psychology and Sociology, which was a requirement for me and, I think, most undergraduate students. I also recommend courses in Adult Education and Human Development. As I’ve blogged before, the number one reason I decided to pursue graduate study in Adult Education is because I felt that in order to understand how to implement and facilitate change, I needed to understand how people learn and adapt to change. I’m not knocking B-School ( this post) but I took enough Business courses to know that the answers aren’t there. If they were, we wouldn’t see the same problems (particularly with change management) cropping up time after time. Successful businesses (and business practices) aren’t merely adaptable they look outside of traditional business avenues for solutions and inspiration.

One field that I never properly studied in school (because I was already kinda good at it and my mother wisely suggested I explore new and unfamiliar territory) is Marketing. Over the last few years the concept of KM Branding (an article on which I promise I will write and shop around and eventually post to this blog before the end of the year) has really helped me to understand the intersection of marketing and education and its criticality in successfully implementing change - period, least of all KM.

Statistics and Program Evaluation. Math was never my strongest subject in school and processing data isn’t my idea of big sexy fun, but the 30+ hours of statistics, analysis and evaluation (including survey design) courses I was required to take between undergrad and grad school has been invaluable to me, particularly when you’re dealing with organizations that only seem to understand "bottom-line" business communications. It’s always a challenge learning how to translate KM goals and efforts into these types of communications, but if you learn one thing about implementing organizational change it’s that having data to back up your recommendations is essential and gives you unparalleled credibility…the rest is all in how you spin that data (see Marketing above).

One course that I’d wished I’d taken is Technical Writing. I pick up skills like it’s nobody’s business, but having this particular skill-set from the beginning would have been much appreciated. Again, it goes back to being able to translate ideas into requirements and documentation that can be universally digested. One resource that I didn’t discover until my last semester at GA State (mostly because its availability was only disclosed to the B-School students, even though all students had access) was the university’s suite (LMS) of online courses for learning various applications (e.g. MSOffice, Illustrator, etc) and programming languages (e.g., SQL, PHP, HTML, etc.). Not that I would have recognized the true value of this resource at the time, but, in hindsight, as a KM Strategist (and not a KM Architect) I would have been better prepared for some of the technical demands of the field. Fortunately, there’s some benefit in having a Sr. Systems Analyst/Engineer for a father (who maintained one of the most high tech households on the block). Just one of the reasons why I pick up new skills and new tech so easily.

All right my time is up and I’ve got to back on the professional grind. There’s definitely more that I could add to the above, but I’d love to hear what additions others would make!

September 26, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 9/26

Well, considering I'm knee deep in acquainting myself with SPAWAR's KM strategy and trying to understand OracleAS Portals (and why anyone would choose OracleAS to build out a knowledge base in the first place), I'm surprised I have the time or energy to spend on my blog, but I'm trying to avoid being a flogger ('flaky blogger') and get back into the swing of things. At least I was finally able to get my Gossip Girl/KM rant posted!

Unless you live under a rock (or in's only funny if you pronounce it properly) you know that most of the news these days is either politics (yay politics) or the economy (boo economy)...or some combination of the two. Between the impending election, the bail out of AIG, and the fall of WaMu (which, as a customer for the last 12 months really didn't shock me - contrary to the commercials that woo'd me, WaMU was almost as bad as Verizon in the customer service department) I haven't read much this past week that sparked any KM-interest.

Not much, but enough to kick out an OOTB post for this week.
  • No time like a crappy time to get creative and take stock of business practices and technologies. Check out these Tech Trends.
  • No duh! of The Week: Clay is gay. Shocking. Really.
  • Quote of the Week: "Business success isn't about having better technology; it's about using technology better."
  • "With economists predicting one of the weakest Decembers since 1991, merchants must put their best foot forward for top customers" and knowledge management professionals can gain insight from these tips to keep the sharing flowing by targeting top contributors.
  • How To of the Week: How to Persuade People With Subconscious Techniques.
  • It just so happens that I love my new job, but what about when you don't? This podcast offers some advice on steps to take when the honeymoon ends before the ink isn't even dry on your offer letter.
  • Cool Tool: Apture. Click on WaMU above to check it out in this post.

September 23, 2008

Cross-Posted: The Wisdom of Crowds Reigns Supreme

“Generally, no one person is smarter than the collective wisdom of the group," James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds
Before leaving my post at the CDC a few weeks ago, I snagged the following article which was posted to the CDC intranet. It's a brief article that I thought contained great insight for KM professionals. In 2004, Dave Pollard presented a model of how to implement Surowiecki's principles which can be found here.

The collective wisdom of diverse crowds generally gets it right, was the message of best-selling author James Surowiecki, who gave the opening plenary address to over 950 attendees at the recent CDC-sponsored National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media. Longtime HIV/AIDS activist Sandra Thurman was also a featured plenary presenter. Both speakers had important messages about expanding our traditional methods for all CDC staff in addition to attendees.

The Wisdom of Crowds: Tapping Collective Wisdom of your Organization

In the opening plenary, New York Times best-selling author James Surowiecki mentioned several key points from his book The Wisdom of Crowds, subtitled: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. “Tapping into the collective wisdom of your organization can radically improve your ability to solve problems, make forecasts, and think strategically,” he said. “Under the right conditions, groups of people can be very intelligent and can be smarter than the smartest person among them.”

As an example of the wisdom of crowds, Surowiecki talked about finance professor Jack Treynor’s classic jellybean experiment of having students guess the number of jellybeans in a jar. The group’s guess was 850; the actual number of jellybeans was 871. The number of people who did better than the group: 1 out of 56. “Generally, no one person is smarter than the collective wisdom of the group,” said Surowiecki.

In another example, Surowiecki made reference to the TV show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? whereby contestants can get help in answering a question by phoning an “expert” friend in a particular subject, or polling the audience. The friend gets it right 65 percent of the time. The audience: 91 percent. “Even as problems get more complicated, we can see this phenomenon take place,” Surowiecki said.
To make crowds smarter, and to take advantage of the collective wisdom of crowds, Surowiecki mentioned three things that are needed:
  1. A tool or method to aggregate lots of individual judgments into a collective one. Aggregation matters.
  2. Diversity — The more diverse the group, the better the decisions it will make, and the less likely that everyone in the crowd will make the same mistake. The errors people make will cancel themselves out. Diversity should expand beyond background and experience to cognitive diversity, which relates to how a person represents a problem and solves a problem.
  3. Independence — People like to think of themselves as independent thinkers, but oftentend to follow the imitation route. Imitation can be rational, easy, and safe, but if everyone is imitating, they’re not tapping into the wisdom of crowds. Genuine disagreement is needed for the wisdom of crowds to emerge.
Surowiecki reminded the audience that knowledge is often located in places they may not usually consider. “So look beyond the surface when you think about who should be among the crowd.” Attendees buzzed about the need for expanding our traditional “crowds” and tapping into the larger group’s wisdom.

September 2, 2008

What Gossip Girl Has Taught (and Reaffirmed For) Me About Sharing Knowledge

I recently received (and accepted) an offer for an exciting KM gig and that's kept me pretty occupied for the last few weeks so I haven't gotten around to doing much blogging. many articles last week. On top of that, when I haven't been interviewing, negotiating the offer, or apartment hunting online I've been sitting on my duff religiously watching the US Open and working on increasing my ability points on my new Facebook obsession, "My Heroes Ability".

Anywho, I haven't put much thought into my latest blog topic (though I'm sure the next few weeks will bring much blog-worthy activity) and I wasn't quite sure what to write about, but then something happened that was more compelling than hours upon hours of tennis, more nerve-wracking than apartment hunting via Craigslist, and yes, even more exciting than my new job offer.

Season two of Gossip Girl.

When the first season of my current pop culture fetish came to a close, I had hoped that immersing myself in ALTA and USTA tennis and hanging out in our rooftop 'japoozi' admiring Atlanta's cityscape would be enough to stave off the sadness of being without the weekly exploits of my fictional Upper East Side set.

Then I got it into my head to commemorate my affection for GG by writing a KM-related post about the show, but the untimely passing of my friend Fiona zapped pretty much any desire in me to do anything more than just get through each day.

However, now that my spirits are higher and I'm back on track with my blog and - praise Comcast! - GG is back on the telly, since I haven't prepared anything else worth blogging about, I thought I'd celebrate the return of my favorite guilty pleasure with a little light reading on what Gossip Girl has taught (and reaffirmed for) me about KM.

In true Adult Ed fashion I am a firm believer that every experience, relationship, situation, and tele-drama provides a teachable moment and learning opportunity, if only we're willing (and bent enough) to see it.

For the uninitiated, Gossip Girl is a popular TV Show, based on the NY Times bestselling series of the same name, that chronicles the lives of the young elite of New York's Upper East Side. At first glance, it hardly seems KM worthy, but when you consider the meteoric adoption rates (and out of the box usage) of social networking technologies by the show's characters (and demo audience) and adjust your perspective of the show's titular character from gossip columnist to an SME (subject-matter-expert) who manages knowledge and information on and about her "subject", then it's not difficult to see some valid take-aways.

When I initially had the idea to write this post one of the articles among that week's reads discussed a study of how young adult's consumed news and the way in which today's youth is bombarded by news they can't adequately process: "Today's youth receive their news from far more sources than older people, consuming modern media from "online video, blogs, online social networks, mobile devices, RSS, word of mouth, Web portals and search engines," according to the study findings. This glut of technological news sources has led consumers to experience an "imbalance in their news diet," specifically trouble keeping up with news stories that went on too long or were too in-depth.

The AP study can be found here.

While I challenge the idea that young adults are suffering from "newstritional disorder" as the Time's article suggests, (it's interesting to note here that, one, the study's primary focus is on how young adults access the news, not how they process it, and, two, the study has a very narrow definition of what is "news" and what young adults consider "news"), as a Knowledge Manager, I've certainly seen the problem of information overload with knowledgebases and content management systems. In this sense, access to too much information, coming at you from all directions, tends to turn users off to using the system entirely. The core of the problem lies with information managers and/or producers either disregarding or misunderstanding the information needed/desired and the way(s) in which their target audience shares and consumes information.

In its depiction of how young adults manage information, I think Gossip Girl certainly debunks the Times' pessissm. Furthermore, I think as people of all ages become more comfortable with technology that has become increasingly more inclusive...more plug-n-play, if you will...that they are taking more control over the information they consume, process, and share. The challenge then, for news and information providers, is to improve their target marketing strategies. In fact, Louise Druce, Editor of, published an article on 'Target Marketing Through KM' just a few weeks ago).

Most importantly, I've learned (and been reminded) from Gossip Girl that when it comes to sharing knowledge and information, people will participate when the knowledge is meaningful to them, when both the knowledge and the act of sharing has value, and when they are free to use the tools that are most convenient to them

Gossip-Girl-as-knowledge-manager isn't just some all-knowing narrator that guides viewers through each episode. Though anonymous, she is an active character who serves as a valued information resource for the other characters, who, in return, participates in the knowledge sharing cycle by contributing to the body of information that GG manages, demonstrating both the culture of sharing and the value perceived in sharing. For her part, GG builds the credibility of her role as a knoweldge manager by managing, organizing, delivering, and validating "contributed content" (in the way one would expect from a primtime soap).

Of course, it might seem that her success and popularity is attributable purely to the often scandalous nature of the information she's sharing, I mean, people love to dish the dirt and, heck, even parents go to Gossip Girl to get the inside track on what's happening with their children and their children's friends. However, whether your pedaling the latest society dirt or spreadsheets replete with financial data, sharing is sharing!

  1. Sharing when the knowledge is meaningful
  2. Knowledge that is meaningful is relevant, it serves a purpose. This isn't knowledge for the sake of knowledge. This is knowledge that has an impact on a person's life, job, role or position. If people can't clearly identify the need or if you have to create meaning for them, odds are good that your knowledge sharing efforts will be for naught

  3. Sharing when both the knowledge and the act of sharing has value
  4. It's pretty obvious that knowledge or information considered valuable will be regarded as a commodity. People will want it, pursue it, hoarde it, and use it to achieve their goals. That's a no-brainer. What I find intriguing is the value placed on the act of sharing. This is a topic of much interest to KM professionals because understanding what motivates folks to share (e.g., peer pressure, self-interest, keeping up with Joneses, trendsetting, accountability, acquiring a sense of power and authority, etc.) is key to improving participation in knowledge sharing efforts. In my opinion, any perceived value of knowledge is secondary to the perception of the value of sharing. Why? For one, it's important to maintain the sharing-cycle even when the knowledge being shared is of little or no value; two, sometimes it's the process of sharing itself which gives knowledge value; and, three, knowledge only has value when it's used, 'sitting on it' merely renders it moot.

  5. Sharing when free to use the tools that are most convenient
  6. The Times' articles was absolutely correct that the modern information age provides far more media channels than the days of 'yore', but rather than being confusing and distracting, it simply provides a variety of options for content/information/knowledge managers to reach your audience...and for them to reach you! Not only does GG reach her audience via the web and a host of mobile applications, but her audience utilizes the same technology to share information with GG. Now, that's not a call to exploit the full range of available technologies in your KM endeavors. One of the biggest hurdles to KM efforts is the insistence of so many KM implementers on introducing new technology in conjunction with their KM iniative rather than relying upon the use of existing technologies with which folks are already comfortable. After all, one of your goals should be to reduce as many barriers to sharing as possible. Instead, consider incorporating existing practices/process for sharing knowledge and introducing new ways of using "old" tech.

August 22, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 8/22

This week is dedicated to the letters 'K' for krazy and 'P' for patience, because that's what you need when life gets krazy, hahaha.

Sadly, with the exception of Kanye West's BeKanye advert, I had nothing too interesting in the way of celebrity gossip and I usually reserve camping out on Page Six and New York Social Diary for the days when my desk isn't covered in paper (since I can spend hours researching the social elite and their - sometimes sketchy, sometimes impressive, and always entertaining - ways.

Anyway, this week's 'Out of The Box' reads were a total mixed bag.
  • Yet another article supporting the reason organizations need KM. Looking for a way to survive a talent shortage, consider including succession planning and knowledge transfers strategies(Training/Coaching/Mentoring) into your KM initiatives.
  • The days of schmoozing clients may be over for sales-folks, but it can't hurt KM professionals looking to build social capital within their organizations.
  • 'How To' of the Week: How to Hypermile

  • Beacon wasn't such hit for Facebook, but can something like it help you to understand the users of your knowledgebase?
  • Companies today seem to go overboard to stop employees from griping publicly, but knowing what is being said about your organization, inside and out, is part of managing knowledge too.
  • Cool site: e-BIM enables you to share with your peers a method, a solution, a proven best practice that solves your specific problems when you need it solved. It's easy. It's fast. It's free.

August 19, 2008

'Green' KM?

It's official, I have achieved Olympic burnout. After watching the Games non-stop on three channels, day and night, I've just gotta catch some zzzz's. I'm still trying to watch some of the Track and Field events, but no more qualifiers and heats for me...gimme the medal action only so I can finally get rid of these bags under my eyes!!!

Anywho, a few months back I was interviewing for a KM spot with a design firm when I was asked about my familiarity with working in a 'green' environment. I haven't had the chance to work in such an environment and I wondered if, for the purpose of KM, it really even mattered. I mean, when I think of a 'green' environment, off the top of my head I think about making the workspace environmentally friendly (recycling bins, oxygenating plants, maybe a little feng shui in the layout of the space). Integrating a 'green' approach into a design philosophy? I can see that, but 'green' KM?

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading some random article on organizational ecology and I wondered if this was (or somehow related to) 'green' KM.

Fingers tapping on the desk...still wondering.

So then, I started working on this post and, originally, I was just looking to explore possible connections between organizational ecology and 'green' philosophies and the implications of being 'green' on KM. But, when I really got into it, I started to realize the potential value of taking a 'green' approach to the implementation of a KM strategy, much in the same I've utlized a 'guerilla' approach in past assignments.

While there seems to be plenty of wrong ways to implement a KM strategy, I certainly don't believe that there is any one right way. It all boils down to the type of culture your dealing with and who you are as a Knowledge Manager. And now I'm eager to explore other socio-political approaches to "selling" KM to an organization and achieving cultural buy-in and adoption. I'll be sure to post here as I discover them.

The 'green' movement - so you don't have to open a new tab and google it - revolves around the promotion of an ecosophy and the adoption/application of environmentally responsible practices and behaviors in order to protect and respect our natural environment. These practices can include using alternative energy and fuels, green building and remodeling materials and practices, organic and natural foods, natural medicine and health, hybrid and electric cars and motorcycles, forestry management, natural body care, recyclable carpet and clothing, eco-friendly diapers, wind-powered appliances, solar water heating and much more.

Politically speaking, Greens, focus on ecological and environmental issues, as well as civil rights and social justice.

So, can KM be 'green'? I'm starting to think yes! In his Lifehack article, Getting Green Done, Dustin Wax suggests that David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is a good guide to Green living "since the principles of Green living are not all that different from the principles we use to help us be more productive."

He goes on to propose these 6 Principles of Green Living:
  1. Simplicty: more stuff means more complexity — more upkeep, more keeping track, more things to do.
  2. Fairness: we consume so much because we can — and we can because we don’t deal fairly with everyone involved.
  3. Community: too much of our world market is out of sight, and therefore out of mind.
  4. Sustainability: a system is sustainable when the negative outputs of that system are accommodated and turned into positive outputs. most of our global production is not sustainable!
  5. Planning: planning means looking ahead towards a desired outcome; it also means thinking a little bit about the community that isn’t here yet and dealing fairly with them. creating sustainability requires planning!
  6. Transparency:decisions these days are made behind closed doors. a green society requires the active involvement of all its participants!
By the by, I encourage EVERYONE to read this article. Not only will it provide more context for these principles, but it's a quick read that will give you something to think about.

Dustin sums up his manifesto with a potent declaration to those who are truly committed to going 'green': "...we can’t do all the work. We can’t even do a tiny fraction of the work. We can suggest, prod, provide tricks and hacks, but in the end, you’re going to have to make some decisions, to think about how your actions fit in with you values, whatever they are."

This statement, which echoes current KM crush Heifetz's views on adaptive leadership, applies equally to the person(s) responsible for developing and implementing KM strategies and the organizational community (both the leadership and the rank-and-file). Ironically, this seems to be one of the biggest challenges for organizations, not just with KM, but with any initiative that seems to clash with or challenge the bottom-line goal of profit. Unfortunately, "profit" is not a value. Although, perhaps organizations need to take a look at what they're willing to do (actions) in the pursuit of profit and how well it squares up with their actual values.

Now, let's apply these principles to KM! And, there's no real order to these, just keep them in mind as you're developing your strategy.

I'm sure most folks are familiar with the KISS methodology - 'Keep It Simple Stupid'. Greens would equate this to measuring and, subsequently reducing, your ecological footprint, which is the impact you have on the natural environment. In terms of KM, I define it as being stealthy and minimally invasive in your KM efforts. One of the ways I attempt to achieve this is by integrating existing technologies that work, rather than trying to introduce a radical new technology or process. When new processes are necessary, recognize and appreciate the potential for disruption, and roll them out in steps.

Almost all of the KM strategies I've been involved with and have discussed with folks are developed, exclusively, from the perspective of the organization and seen as a benefit to the organization and, subsequently, to employees who live to see another paycheck, but a 'green' approach invites you to take a closer look at your strategy and ask (1) how well it acknowledges the true value - to the holder - of the knowledge/information you're asking folks to share and, (2) what your true intentions are with regards to that knowledge/information. It's one thing to say knowledge sharing doesn't diminish an individuals value to the organization, but do you really mean it and do your policies/practices actually support this statement? Be honest, because if you're not sure, then it's likely your employees don't believe it either and that will result in a poor knowledge sharing community or, at best, an immature one.

This is why I preach the merits of KM participation as a means of developing one's Personal Competitive Advantage (PCA). I believe it's critical to help an organization's workers/employees become aware of what this is and how they can and should develop theirs. Being aware of the real value of one's knowledge and the personal benefit of knowledge sharing can only enhance KM efforts. Moreover, organizations that want to remain competitive need to quit "shuckin' and jivin'" and start dealing more fairly with their workers in terms of salary and work-life balance. Contrary to popular opinion, the rank-and-file aren't stupid; they simply give as good as they get. Which, when you think about it is pretty smart; why sweat blood and tears for a business you don't own, that has no loyalty to you, so that someone else can get rich? It's appalling how little regard people can have for others in pursuit of the almighty dollar. The bottom line: as long as your bottom-line is money, don't expect your KM efforts to bear anywhere near the kind of fruit they could be bearing if your bottom-line was people (and that means people other than you, lol.)

Get in the trenches! I know that I'm in love with my knowledge audit and not everyone does one (or, necessarily, needs to) but I'll be damned if it isn't the ever-lovin' dumbest thing in the whole wide world to come up with a strategy from on high at a distance.

Or, maybe that's just how I see it.

After all, I tend to see knowledge management as community development, so I can't understand for a minute how, on Earth, someone could come up with a strategy to develop a community without getting in the trenches with said community. Knowledge management is dependent upon sharing information and resources in community. for this to happen people need to develop relationships with one another predicated on mutual trust, respect, and recognition of their interdependence; the Knowledge Manager should be a force for building that type of community. And, by doing so you can greater insight into how your KM strategy will be most effective.

Sometimes perspective makes all the difference.

Truly, Dustin says it best:
A system is sustainable when the negative outputs of that system are accommodated and turned into positive outputs. Think about your working life — if you weren’t getting paid, would you work so hard? Your hard work — a negative thing — is converted into something positive — a paycheck. Your employer turns the negative output — paying more money — into a positive input — increased revenue. The system sustains itself — or it collapses. If you aren’t getting paid enough, you quit working hard, revenues shrink, the employer goes out of business. Or they start putting in more and more inputs; using military forces to compel labor is not unheard of. Eventually those systems collapse too, when the cost of maintaining them outweighs the benefits produced by them. And they often collapse violently. Most of our global production is not sustainable.
It's not enough to develop and implement a KM strategy, it needs to be sustainable beyond anyone acting in an official Knowledge Manager capacity. In order for that to happen, it needs to accommodate the negative outputs of the organization (knowledge hoarding, fears of diminished value, layoffs/downsizing, change fatigue, working more for less, etc.) and turn them into a positive output (increased Personal Competitive Advantage, ease of access to information needed to complete your job, better workplace relationships, stronger market position of the company which must lead to increased financial rewards for everyone, less stressful work environment, improved work-life balance, etc.).

Ask yourself, how long your organization's formal KM strategy would last if the KM team were no more and what it would take for your answer to be 'indefinitely', then make it so.

As Dustin writes, "creating sustainability requires planning".

I'm reminded here of work I've done establishing mission and vision statements. The mission is what you intend to do; it describes your goals and purpose, your intentions. The vision describes what you'd like to achieve; what the results of your efforts might look like in some utopian future.

The mission is more matter of fact while the vision doesn't necessarily have to be realistic or achievable. In fact, some believe it should have a certain unattainable utopian quality to it, representing the highest ideal and providing a lofty goal to aspire to.

The combination of mission and vision is what drives an organizations goals from quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year.

Planning a susttained, strategic KM initiative should follow similar guidelines.

Operate in the present with your eye on the future, thinking in terms of changes and innovations in technology, the workforce, politics, market forces, the environment, and social movements and the impact on your organization and how you might respond strategically.

Here, I like to think of the impact of file sharing on the music industry. I remember back in the mid-90's when Blockbuster was large-and-in-charge with both music and video stores and they had announced a plan to burn CD's in-store, allowing customers to buy both regular and custom CD's, charging by the song. And then, without explanation, the plan fell through, most likely because the larger recording industry wanted to control the market as much as possible to generate as much profit as possible.

The result: within three years file-sharing had become rampant. And, within ten years, despite a lot of those early lawsuits against universities average Jo-ann college student, file sharing has become the norm and you can hardly find a store that deals exclusively in CD's and records.

The lesson: Change is inevitable no matter how much you want to be in control or "manage" things. Trying to maintain too much control might just cost you big in the long run. Sometimes all you can do is keep an eye on the future and have a plan for riding the wave. The good news is that forward-thinking organizations who keep up with the trends are often able to capitalize on them and set a few of their own.

Two years ago, I was interviewing for a consulting job with IBM and - no lie - I was asked to give the most convoluted, technical definition of knowledge management that I could come up with.

I couldn't believe it.

Especially since, after years of having to explain KM as simply as possible to professors and family...I sorta prided myself on being able to keep things simple and create some sort of understanding of what KM is (loosely speaking) and what it can do.

Idealism aside, transparency in business isn't always feasible and often many stakeholders are asked to participate in the operation of an organization with limited knowledge and involvement. Like it or not, "sometimes it be's like that", hahaha. However, KM doesn't have to be one of the areas where transparency is an issue, particularly if you're dealing with change fatigue and a general suspicion about what KM is and its impact on an individuals value to the organization. As a self-professed authoritarian, I understand that many times it isn't that we can't bring everyone into the decision-making process, we just don't want to drag the process out by being overly democratic.

But guess what? Cultural changes are made and driven by the culture. Ya-huh.

Besides, the goal here isn't so much to give everyone a say and put every decision up for a vote, it's to adopt a protocol for sharing information that supports full disclosure. After all, it's the responsibility of each stakeholder to make themselves aware of what's going on with KM, but it's the Knowledge Manager's responsibility to make that information available, accessible, and digestable (understood) and provide a vehicle for responding to any and all questions, concerns, and comments. It's this approach that promotes and develops community which promotes sustainability.

So, whodathunk it, 'green' KM.

Now, I've got that line from the G.I. Joe PSA's that used to air after each episode stuck in my head: "Now we know!" "And knowing is half the battle."

So funny.

August 14, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 8/15

Has this week flown by or what?? My only complaint is that I've got bags under my eyes from staying up late watching as much Olympics coverage as I can coax out of my telly. Well, I do have one other complaint, about the Olympics: is it too much to ask to see a little more tennis coverage? I'm reeling from the losses of the Williams sisters and Fed, but can we see anything more than swimming, gymnastics, and boxing (that's on one of the 24-7 cable channels every time I fip over to it). Kudos to Michael Phelps though, always a pleasure to watch dolphin-boy tread water. And, passport or no, is it obvious to anyone else that at least two of the Chinese gymnasts are just out of Huggies?!?!?!

Quite coincidentally this week's reads seemed to provide a variety of ideas for KM practitioners looking to branch out into independent consulting or to expand your practice if you're already doing your own thing, as well as innovative marketing and branding tactics.

August 11, 2008

Adaptive Leadership & My New KM Crush

OR, "Is It Time To Take Over The World Yet, Brain?"

Okay, so I'm trying to get into the groove of this whole, weekly blogging thing. Ironically, I'm crazy busy right now (still) trying to launch a city-wide KM survey all on my lonesome and planning a fundraising tourney for 2009, in addition to all that other stuff I do everyday (work, tennis...iron Emilie's linen garments), so you'd think I'd have little to no time to blog, but I suppose my thoughts are also racing and blogging is helping a bit to keep me focused.

Anyway, I was doing some follow-up research on ROWE earlier this week, first reading about why ROWE sucks and then how ROWE Aims to "Rock the Workplace Boat". It was in the latter article that I got stuck on (ROWE creators) Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson's comments on adaptive change vs. technical change and started googling "adaptive change" to get more insight into the theory. That search brought me to the transcript of a 1999 interview with Professor Ronald Heifetz who spoke on the subject.

Professor Heifetz, author of the best-selling "Leadership Without Easy Answers", is billed as one of the world's leading authorities on leadership. He is the founding director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He's also a physician, a cellist, and, after reading this transcript, my new KM crush.


Though I'm fond of being the quirky oddball (you've got to keep a sense of humor if you want to make it in this world, period, let alone the business world), one of my core values, personally and professionally, is the development of human beings into their potential - spiritually, intellectually, and socially. Every situation is an opportunity to learn and learning is how we grow. Unfortunately, in a society that increasingly places money, "things"/possessions, and a quality of living that is exclusive, rather than inclusive above respect for life, the environment which life requires for sustenance, education and basic human dignity, I'm often left to wonder how the human race continues to thrive......I'm trying to think of a funny joke to support that statement, but the ones I typically use are either highly inappropriate, even for this blog, or just plain sad.

Anyway, the need to find creative avenues to promote and create change in how we perceive the value and worth of people - beyond their ability to make a profit, sell a product, or entertain us - and, subsequently, help people develop into their potential, is one of the primary reasons I was attracted to knowledge management. This is in the spirit of one of my literary crushes, Audre Lorde, and her call to forge new tools with which to create true change in the world.

So, when I have the opportunity to learn from folks whose message is revolutionary in its simplicity and application, folks like author and educator Parker Palmer who teaches in (one of my favorite books) "To Know As We Are Known: Education As A Spiritual Journey" that the origin of knowledge is love, whose message is revolutionary in its simplicity and application, I am inspired to improve myself as a student, a teacher, a professional, and a person.

I'm still swimming in the pool of Professor Heifetz's ideas a little too deeply to string together the best words to effectively present why I'm 'feeling' them so much, but I'll do my best (otherwise, what's the point of this blog!?!?!).

Professor Heifetz's theory of adaptive change is rooted in the principles of evolutionary biology wherein an organism makes determinations about what DNA to keep, what to discard, and what to build as it responds - adapts - to its ever changing environment. Likewise, organizations must make similar determinations with regards to business/cultural practices, processes, and products. Not rocket science, I know, but Heifetz goes on to highlight the importance of conservation - holding on to what works - in this process, and how frequently it is overlooked.

Leadership then, in Heifetz's words, is about the mobilization of adaptive work, rather than transformational change; "(E)ngaging people to make progress on the adaptive problems they face". In this regard, adaptive leadership is not, as I learned, unlike being a facilitator: helping folks to identify the challenge(s), creating an environment in which challenges can be resolved, providing tools and resources to assist in resolution efforts, enabling/empowering folks to be problem solvers, but not taking on the responsibility and burden of resolving the challenge(s) for them. "In adaptive problems, the people themselves are the problem; the solution, therefore, lies within them. If they don't change their ways, then you have no solution - all you have is a proposal." Considering that we live in a country (for those of us in the USA) in which too many folks are all too willing to throw their collective hands up and declare "you can't fight city hall" or "one vote won't make a difference" despite the fact that collectively we ARE the government, you can see how this process can be a challenge in and of itself. Still, I think it's spot on and overdue.

"The challenge with adaptive work, in biology and in organizational life, is to figure out how to capitalize on history without being enslaved by it."
This is an area that I work hard to address in my KM work and one that I often see ignored and disregarded. I stress, repeatedly, that regardless if the term KM is used in an organization or whether or not a documented strategy for managing knowledge/information exists, there is no such thing as an organization that does not have a KM strategy. Understanding in what form that strategy exists and how it exists, how it lives in an organization and is embodied in the culture is key to determining what is and isn't working and what innovations should be considered in helping the organization achieve its KM goals. This approach also makes KM less arcane to the organization and understanding lessens the fear and apprehension associated with change.

Although, after reading this piece, perhaps I should re-think how I use word 'fear' with regards to change. As Professor Heifetz states,

"The aphorism that is commonly bandied about is "people resist change," or "change frightens people." I think that’s wrong. I think that when people win the lottery and win a million dollars, or ten million dollars, they know their life is going to be enormously changed and they welcome that change. They don’t give the money back. Change is hard when it represents the possibility of loss. It’s the possibility of loss, and the apprehension, fear, and anxiety associated with that possibility of loss that generates resistance."
Heifetz goes on to discuss the lack of appreciation and respect given to "the pain of change".

I'm pretty sure I've been a capital 'A' ass at times in my efforts to penetrate organizational cultures and spread the 'good word of KM'. And, God only knows how many Pinky-and-the-Brain hours I've spent developing KM branding strategies. I even have a name for it, Guerilla KM. All of this, of course, isn't meant to intentionally disrespect "the pain of change", but, like many aggresive change strategies, it's predicated on the idea that those whose behavior I'm trying to change, are mostly lazy, selfish, self-interested, narrow-minded, stuck in the past, unsavvy, control freaks. In my defense, however, I do begin my KM branding efforts (Plan A) by educating folks on the relevance of KM to what they do.

Then I get my 'Brain' on.

Once decisions have been made about what to keep, discard, and where to innovate, Heifetz suggests the need for leaders (who themselves must have an experimental mindset) to "mobilize people for a set of innovative experiments," the goal of which is to "graft onto the best of the organizational DNA so that the organization can thrive in the future."

Heifetz makes a lot of really cool points (at least, in my mind they're cool) and you can read some of his thoughts here, here, and here. Ultimately, the goal of adaptive change and adaptive leadership is to "move people from an entrenched set of investments with an entrenched set of loyalties to a more curious, adventuresome, experimental mindset. Then, they are more willing to entertain opposing points of view without feeling that their most precious set of values are going to be lost in the process. With the faith in themselves that they can find and then hold onto what is most essential."

As knowledge managers, we can save ourselves a lot of grief and anxiety by understanding and addressing the actual needs of our organizations and heeding Heifetz's call to an adaptive leadership. Interestingly enough, even with this approach, you'll still get to be the cool kid problem solver. Holla!

I've got to get out of the office to get to a tennis match, so, I'll close with Professor Heifetz's 5 Principles of Leadership from "Leadership Without Easy Answers".
  1. Identify the adaptive challenge (the issues, values and stakes).
  2. Keep the level of distress within a tolerable range so that the group can do its adaptive work.
  3. Focus attention on ripening issues, not on distractions.
  4. Give the work back to the people, but at a rate they can handle.
  5. Protect the voices of leadership in the community that are without authority.
Welcome to my crush crew Doc!

August 8, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 8/8

I think this has to be the first time in ages that I've usd the phrase "Thank-God-It's-Friday", but this has been a totally 'OMG TGIF' kinda week! (I sound like I'm 12.)

Though work was unusually uninspiring, this week's readings hit the spot.

August 6, 2008

ROWE v. Young: Work-Model of the Knowledge Economy?

OR, "Is This The Revolution I Ordered?"

"You say you want a revolution
Well you know we all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world..."
Okay, this work-week has been horribly dull. It's only Wednesday and instead of enjoying my usual hump day revelry I feel like I'm just listening to the ticks of the clock, waiting for the whistle to blow.

I did discover yesterday that my dream of living in a hobbit house is fully realizable - if I'm willing to move to Oregon. That would be a resounding 'No, thanks', but it had me all giddy, nonetheless. (Clearly the venture wouldn't be going belly up if it had been developed closer to the North Georgia Mountains).

Anyway, I suppose my pitiful work-state is the perfect occasion to post my thoughts on ROWE.

For the last week I've been reading and thinking about results-only (results-oriented) work environments and the implications of/on KM.

ROWE, for the uninitiated, is based on the idea of each person being free "to do whatever they want, whenever they want as long as the work gets done". The line of thought being that, especially in our increasingly tech savvy world, as long as folks are able to get their work done, they shouldn't have to be tied down to a specific location or for a specific period of time.

I came across an article on ROWE a little more than two months ago and my immediate response was, "hell yeah". I mean, this week is a perfect example. Are there things I could be doing in the office? Suuure. Do I need to be here for 8 hours a day doing these things? Noooo, not really, but try explaining that to my boss.

Anyway, while my immediate reaction was all, "hell yeah, right on, turn it up", I started thinking about the impact of ROWE on KM and vice versa and, well, to be honest, the jury is still out.

Right off the top ROWE clearly seems perfectly suited for knowledge intensive businesses and professionals - lawyers, engineers, consultants, and salespeople for example. In fact, you could argue that these folks have utilized this concept in some way, shape, or form for years before the concept of ROWE. However (and I'm thinking about my dad and his peers here), this is also during a time when knowledge hoarding was rampant and completely OOC and it wasn't uncommon to leave for a business trip on Monday working as a consultant or a sales guy for Big Blue and come back on Friday working in a similar capacity for Microsoft.

I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, arguing against ROWE by suggesting that it will lead to employee turnover and disloyalty. On the contrary, I'm sure it could become a source of tremendous employee loyalty. I can't help but wonder, though, how successful ROWE is in organizations with a strategic KM initiative in place versus those without one. And, for organizations adopting ROWE without a formal KM strategy, how much more difficult will future KM efforts be?

It seems to me that, in the long-run, a successful ROWE implementation is dependent upon having both a strategic KM initative and a strong resource management solution. I don't think that KM is necessary to introduce ROWE to an organization, but, from a KM perspective, I don't know if I would approve of ROWE without it. For no other reason than it puts more pressure on "capture" component of KM. If an organization is already struggling with identifying and capturing information, ROWE is hardly going to make things easier, even though the demand for having access to and sharing critical knowledge and information will be bananas. And yes, it's possible that transitioning to ROWE could help stress the importance of KM, but that's kinda like recognizing the need for a fire extinguisher while your house is burning down.

On the flip side, adopting ROWE in an organization that has had some success with KM is a great way to demonstrate the value of knowledge management. Clearly, other success factors have to be taken into consideration (culture and leadership, for example), but having a managed strategy in place to coordinate a disparate, mobile, results-oriented workforce seems key to me.

I'm just saying!

Anyway, I still have questions about ROWE that I'd need to answer before I'm able to come to a comfortable conclusion on the concept (i.e., What are other organizations besides Best Buy that have had success deploying ROWE?, Does ROWE encourages employees to go above and beyond the call of duty? Or, is it better suited to the more ambitious employees?), but one thing that excites me about ROWE is its potential to become the work-model/management theory of the knowledge economy. Heck, I'm pretty sure that many of the strongest ROWE doubters are fierce adherents of Taylorism.

That is, assuming ROWE is about more than just working flex hours.

See, that's where I get stuck on the fence. I mean, ROWE was conceived as way of enabling folks to work in a manner/place/time-frame that best reflects their strengths, which, results in increased productivity and efficiency, then yeah, I'm down with that. And, I can see where this type of work environment not only promotes work-life balance, but has the potential to take the gloves off for what an employee can do in an organization and professionally, in general. Not the least by re-conceptualizing work and our cultural attitude about work - transitioning work from something you do to live, to something you live to do; because you enjoy it and because it gives you purpose, sense of self, opportunity fill in the blank.

Clarification: It may seem as if I'm saying folks can't change their concept about work on their. Not true. But our society, as a whole, does perpetuate a negative attitude about/towards work that is linked to competitiveness, issues of trust, equality, fairness, entitlement, and an overemphasis on the accumulation of material wealth. This behavior is learned and reinforced in the home, the classroom, on the playground, in church, and in the workplace. In the face of this cultural programming it's not only understandable that most people don't like 'work', it's almost suprising when folks do!

I think that having a new way of working goes a long way towards reconceptualizing attitudes about work. I once wrote a paper championing the idea of allowing employees, within an established budget and over and above any universally necessary org training (e.g., software training), to choose their own T&D/skill-building activities. The idea being that people are better able to learn from activities that matter to them and which they enjoy on a personal level. For their part, each employee must be able to share with their department and/or the larger organization (in their own way/words) what relevant lessons they were able to draw from their chosen activity. When I think about the potential of ROWE, this ability to make work meaningful, enjoyable...personal, beyond a paycheck, is what comes to mind.

However, if it's just about flex hours, mehhh, I'd be disappointed. I'd still see some value to overall work-life balance in ROWE, but I'm looking for a revolution not a reprieve.