Jun 13

World Cup Samba Soccer: Natural Talent or Personal Mastery?

It’s been a while since my last blog and there are 3 things I could possibly blog about, an SOP document template, the World Cup 2006 and Father’s day.

Think the World Cup one would be the most interesting (for me at least).

If you caught the game between Australia and Japan last evening, you would have been quite awed by the fighting spirit of the Aussies. They were fabulous – fighting (metaphorically) to the end (literally) in last evening’s Australia-Japan match. It was sheer perseverance … well, and some skill smile After trailing by a goal up to the 88th minute, they came back, 2 minutes from full-time to score 3 goals! To my Aussie neighbours down under, well done! It’s quite a challenge you have ahead though with the world ranking no. 1 Brazil in the same group with you. I hope you make it to the next round.

Ok, but honestly. I have to admit I am a fan of the samba team! Not because they are the best … well, most things Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Cuban – I like wink What strikes me most about the Brazilian players is how they think on their feet and create those deceptive moves and manouvres on the field. It really entertaining watching these guys. It’s like football is in their blood and these boys have been playing soccer since their days in the cradle! While I can imagine there being a strategy and all for such a team sport, implementation I imagine would be very much a personal thing, cognitive as much as physical ability. My guess is it would involve looking for cues, estimating distances, anticipating the reaction of tammates and rivals, weighing risks against opportunities, etc. all with the pressure of time. It seems very much like chess except all the pieces are moving at the same time! And if like Australia, you are trailing for very much all the time, there’s the morale and teamwork to upkeep as the minutes tick away (still think they did a fine job). And then there are the variables to deal with – the weather, the condition of the pitch, the cheering (or jeering) crowds, and so on. It all comes into play in a 90 minute quest.

So what do the Brazilians know that others don’t? Is what they have natural creative talent or is it personal mastery? How do we tell the difference? What lessons are there for knowledge managers in recognising this?

Jun 07

The Perils of Knowledge Management

A lovely take on the need not to KM too seriously… “Terrance Eats Knowledge”

Jun 02

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.

Read more...

May 31

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?

May 26

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.

May 26

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!

May 26

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!

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May 25

Social Software, Antisocial Behaviour

A bit sorry to see social computing guru Euan Semple storming off (well, wandering off) in a bit of a virtual huff from the ACT-KM community. His posts are always sharp, interesting and insightful.

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).

May 23

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).

May 23

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?

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