Jun 15

Why KM is Hard To Do

We recently did a small information management/knowledge management internal initiative at Straits Knowledge. The relative ease with which we did it, compared to the problems faced by several of our clients (much larger organisations) has got me pondering on the way that existing infrastructure impacts an organisation’s current effectiveness, both positively and negatively. In this article I use the case study of our internal initiative to analyse the way that infrastructure in large organisations imposes friction on the rate of change, and propose some project management and change management strategies to deal with that. If you’re the kind of person who prefers to cut to the chase, I’m using this blog post to summarise the takeaways for KM project planning that I ended up with.


Jun 15

Not a Matter of Life and Death

One of my favourite TV shows at the moment is one called Grey’s Anatomy. The show revolves around a bunch of medical interns at a Seattle hospital training to become surgeons. It’s funny in a way I can’t justifiably describe, so I won’t.

The show focuses on the trials and tribulations of medical internships, and one particular aspect that I’ve never seen in other medical dramas is this fierce competition amongst the five interns to assist the surgeons during operations. This is because assisting during operations is their only means of gaining practical surgical experience. In his awesome book, Complications, Atul Gawande talks about how few the opportunities are for medical interns to gain actual experience. Informed patients and their carers tend to prefer the surgeon over the intern, for obvious reasons. Hence, interns have to grab any opportunity they can to gain practical experience before they complete their internship.

The way the five interns on the TV show fight to assist during surgical ops always makes me think of my own learning journey as a KM consultant. I don’t need to fight with my colleagues to participate in client engagements. There’s enough work at the moment to go around. But even when there wasn’t, I don’t recall the same zeal to participate in engagements as the Grey’s interns. Why not? Maybe it’s because I’m a slacker. Maybe it’s because what KM consultants do is not a matter of life and death. But what if what we do makes a difference whether an organisation lives or dies? Wouldn’t KM consultants then all have to go through the same intensity of training as medical doctors before we practice? Wouldn’t junior consultants like myself then have to fight for opportunities to take part in client engagements so that we could become better at “operating” on our clients? Wouldn’t KM consultants then get the same respect as medical doctors? Wouldn’t there then be a TV show about the trials and tribulations of five interns at a KM consulting firm? Wouldn’t that be something?

Jun 13

Honourable Lurkers and Participating Parasites

About three weeks ago I posted a link to Miguel Cornejo Castro’s seminal paper reassessing the way that communities of practice are evolving in terms of participation, use of technology resources, and stakeholder involvement (Communities of Shattered Practice). His paper stirred up substantial debate on the com-prac dicussion list, much of it around his notion of the “honourable lurker”. He’s now followed up with another fascinating paper entitled “Revisiting Communities of Practice (II): The Honourable Lurker and the Institution”.

This paper is a little less polished than the first, but has some gems of insight, especially around the nature of a community as an institution. His consideration of the motivation of participants for their participation is very mechanistic and one dimensional. His transactional approach definitely needs more work, but probably the most important thing about this paper is his discussion distinguishing “honourable” lurking (the activity or lack of visible activity of those who are on a socialisation trajectory, on the way to becoming members) and “parasitic” or “free-riding” lurking where nothing is held in common with the community, and participation is purely exploitative.

I think this is a very important distinction to be able to make, because it has enormous implications for how we maintain the social instituton, share values and goals, and harness community energy. However, it’s not going to be as easy as Miguel’s initial paper suggests. For example, I may not always know myself whether my lurking is parasitic and free-riding, or whether I’m on an “honourable” trajectory towards participation. In my experience, that inward trajectory is often activated by apparently chance events and encounters with active members, and it can happen or not happen at any time. One day I’m a parasite, next I’m a member!

Another key thing I’ve learned is that parasitic participants are often, paradoxically, the ones whose behaviours, questions and claims, generate some of the most interesting participation behaviour from “real” community members. Miguel’s paper accommodates this, because he says that socialisation not alienation is the best strategy to use with free-riders and parasites.

Its gaps aside, this paper is a great start, and has a great deal more insight packed inside.

Jun 13

Spotting Useful Experts

A very nice post from Shawn over at Anecdote giving a list of heuristics for identifying an expert (and how useful they are likely to be):