The Perils of Knowledge Management
A lovely take on the need not to KM too seriously… “Terrance Eats Knowledge”
If We Can’t Even Describe Knowledge Sharing, How Can We Support It?
A combination of two very different incidents reminded me this week of just how incompetent we still are in KM at capturing the complexity, richness and sophistication of human knowledge behaviours. In the first incident I was asked to do a blind review of an academic paper on knowledge sharing for a KM conference. In the second, knowledge sharing was very much a matter of life and death. Although they shared a common theme, they might as well have represented alien universes.
Let’s look at the conference paper first. After working my way through the literature review (a necessary evil), I started into the research proposal with my stomach starting to knot up and a growing sense of incredulity.
Help! My Customers Hate My Innovation
I was responding to a comment on the actKM forum and it got me thinking again about this question that has bothered me every and then. You have a bunch of happy and delighted customers. Then you innovate and produce something they did not ask for but you think they’ll like. Because it is an innovation, it is not quite yet stable. You’ve now opened the eyes of your customers to your innovation, but they become unhappy because of the “bugs” they have to deal with in your new service/product. In a nutshell, your happy customers are now unhappy because of your innovation.
Is innovation always a good thing? When is sharing knowledge (the innovation embedded in your new service pr product) bad for customers? What can we do to help customers share the same enthusiasm?
Humiliation as a Lubricant for Knowledge Sharing
Recently, I volunteered to read to a bunch of kids as part of a nation-wide programme to encourage reading amongst kids. Although I had no prior training on reading to kids, I didn’t think that it’d matter much because (a) I know how to read; (b) I know what kids are; and© I’ve attended Dave Snowden’s courses on complex facilitation.
The first session was a disaster. Nothing that I’ve learned as a trainer worked. I started by introducing myself, then went round the class to get the kids to introduce themselves and tell me what he or she liked to do. Some of the kids said they liked to do somersaults, and proceeded to demonstrate their abilities. One kid knocked onto another, and then another knocked onto me, and then everything became a blur. I also tried reading melodiously, and injected sound effects here and there, hoping to grab their attention. Didn’t work.
I lost my voice at the end of the one-hr session (felt longer than that), but I was more determined to do a better job the following week. I analysed the profile of the kids, talked to people who have kids, and brought along a book that I thought could not fail to capture their attention (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory). I wish I could say that the second time was better, but I can’t. In fact, it was worse. Only two out of the 12 kids sat and listened to me, while the rest were doing everything except. I was waiting for the pattern to emerge, but if it did emerge it certainly eluded me.
This week I take a break from the little monsters as I’ve been slated to attend a training session on reading to kids. I tell myself that if I don’t learn anything that I think will help me avert another disaster, I’m certainly not going back to be terrorised by the little monsters again.
Humility As a Lubricant for Knowledge Sharing
Taylor Hicks was named the American Idol yesterday (time in Singapore). Packed with an amazing amount of talent, a brilliant voice and great showmanship, he would have received a resounding “YES” to the last line of his victory song – “Do I make you proud?”. What I admire most about Taylor though was no so much his talent but the humility the guy possessed and that emanated throughout the competition. And then yesterday, despite the applause, almost turning into adulation from the audience, he did not get carried away. He was appreciative no doubt. With the standing ovation he got, he remembered to acknowledge his rival, Katherine McPhee when he raised her hand and signaled to the audience that the applause was for her too. Even his spontaneous gesture of “sending” his heart out to the audience was to me a gesture of humility. He was certainly a winner beyond the AI title.
Pondering on this last night, it seems like when you have it, when you are blessed with talent, it becomes harder to be humble and yet it is all the more important. And then I began to think about people in organizations and why is it so difficult for them to be humble. Is it because it doesn’t pay to be humble? It pays to broadcast your talents so as to be invited into key projects. I have seen occasions when people are rewarded for the promises they make about what they can do and not so much what they actually do.
Humility does help though in a slightly different context. I think accepting and more so, admitting that we do not know something, even appallingly simple things, requires humility. That kind of humility invites knowledge, a humility in attitude and spirit and so important for knowledge sharing – even for teachers. Teachers or experts who are open to accepting alternate viewpoints from their beliefs and convictions are displaying humility as well. Also, the way they express their knowledge, if conveyed with humility rather than in an authoritative tone, facilitates further knowledge exchange as well. So, humility does really act as a lubricant for knowledge mobilization.
Odd as it sounds, I think humility comes with self confidence but that’s a different offshoot of the issue altogether!
Conflict, Gender and Identity in Online Communities
I’ve long been fascinated by the way that different online communities each have their distinct ‘personalities’ and ways of behaving. Often the community’s identity is heavily imprinted by its founders or leaders, but ACT-KM has interested me because its moderators are almost anonymous, leading contributors come and go, and yet the “personality” of the community is very consistent over time. Nowhere is this most evident in the way that it manages conflicts, often with minimal intervention by moderators. Some time ago I analysed an extended flame that took place in late 2003 between Dave Snowden, Joseph Firestone and Mark McElroy, and I’ve been meaning to write it up properly. Now, thanks to Hong Kong Polytechnic University making me write a module for them, here it is.
Here’s a chart showing the progress of the 2003 flame which suggests some of the main questions in my paper: the relationship between gender and participation behaviours, self-moderation activity, and conflict as an identity building social device. Read the article for more!
Social Software, Antisocial Behaviour
Euan doesn’t like being moderated, and he doesn’t like having to snip posts (containing the preceding conversation). He sent a one-liner to the list recently and it was bounced back by the moderator, because it was too long – ie contained previous messages.
Now ACT-KM is practising this very deliberately and for well-discussed (on the list and at its conferences) reasons: moderation has become more important to the list as it has got bigger, and started attracting trolls – people who want attention and money, lock onto self-serving topics, rant, get aggressive, promote themselves with what we’ve come to call spamouflage, drown out more serious discussion.
Snipping was openly discussed on the list recently as an aspect of netiquette, because a large number of members get their postings in the form of daily digests – that means whenever anyone doesn’t snip, they get the same stream of messages duplicated umpteen times every time somebody doesn’t snip. It’s hard for them to distinguish new posts from endlessly repeated old ones.
Now here’s the rub for me: neither netiquette nor moderation are what the ideologues are bound to shape it up to be… command and control, restrictive, bureaucratic, old-economy blah-di-blah you know the rest. They are social mechanisms, in this case, socially negotiated, openly discussed (and open to further discussion), in order to preserve a genuine conversation space for genuine people. The social thing to do, in Euan’s case, would be to present his point of view back to the community to which he belongs and say “look, this is really annoying me, is there any way we can look at this again?”. That he simply leaves and blogs about it seems to be the less social behaviour.
Now if Euan had said, “I find ACT-KM boring and I can’t be bothered any more” I could understand it, and there’s a bit of a hint of this in his post. But to suggest it’s a social issue means you have to play by social rules. (Thanks Maish for the reference).
Communities of Shattered Practice
Miguel Cornejo Castro, a com-prac stalwart, has published this seminal paper over at Knowledgeboard: “Revisiting Communities of Practice: from fishermen guilds to the global village” (you’ll need to register for free to download it).
It’s the best and most sustained critique I’ve seen yet of the “traditional” Wengerian definition of CoPs (heavens, it’s not that old a concept, we’re calling it traditional already!). Specifically, Castro deconstructs two core Wengerian concepts, pointing to the fragmentation of practice and the porosity and fluidity of domains, enabled by technology, and calls for a fresh view of CoPs seeing them less as well-bounded entities, and more as “conversational spaces” in an ecology of resources. A closing, and very significant observation is that online CoPs are increasingly privately owned (even if they are democratically run), simply because the resources and channels to maintain the CoPs are no longer collectively maintained. This resonates strongly with the shock shutdown by Yahoo Groups of the ACT-KM group in January this year.
This is a must read for anyone interested in communities of practice (thanks Eric).
Of Systems and Secretaries
We just hired our first secretary. It feels wonderful. It’s one of those little rites of passage that one goes through as a growing business – like moving out of the back bedroom into a real office, or buying your first data projector, or hiring your first colleague. But this is a little bit different. She looks wonderful, she sounds wonderful, she’s older than any of us, and she’s going to look after us. She’s going to be our Mary Poppins (her real name is Pauline). Now why don’t I get the same feeling when I subscribe to a contact management service like Accucard, or any of the hundred and one other software tools that were designed to replace Mary Poppins?
Cynefin Morphs into Cognitive Edge
Dave Snowden has started a “pre-blog” over at www.cognitive-edge.com. Never one to do things the same as the rest of us! For a number of reasons associated with the move from IBM, the former Cynefin network is being rebranded the Cognitive Edge network, and the new website is being formed as we speak. The “pre-blog” is a valuable chance for you to have your say on what you’d like to see in a community that aspires to collaboration, emergent thinking, and content contribution from a bunch of very interesting people around the globe.