Want to connect with some new knowledge? Try turning left instead of right

As a Knowledge Management and MBTI Consultant I have had the pleasure of working with many different organisations and have visited many offices/work locations – of all shapes and sizes – and have also had the opportunity to visit different parts (floors, functions, meeting rooms, canteens, store rooms etc.) of many of these offices/work locations.

A common reaction I have observed when I’ve been working (and walking) in an organisations building is that members of staff will often look up from their desks and computer screens (or peer out from their offices if they have one) to check out a face they do not recognise. Perfectly understandable, I hear you cry; but what if the face they do not recognise is not that of an external consultant, but of another member of staff?

Well for a start their reaction is the same, and perhaps in part explained by the scale (just too many faces to recognise) of the organisation concerned. But it might also be down to the fact that, as creatures of habit, many members of staff will enter their organisations building and follow the most direct route to their desk. They are likely never to vary the route, nor so the pattern of using the same/nearest toilet facilities during the day, or walking to the canteen or coffee machine along familiar/well-trodden paths.

Why should this matter? Well because (and particularly in the case of knowledge workers) the outcome of this habit is that an employee is likely only to see the same faces, week in week out; and the chances of bumping into a colleague that has a new idea, something to share, or an example of know how to, is reduced significantly.

So whilst connecting with others can be done behind a desk and via, for example, a good expertise finder, the power and fun of unexpected discoveries (serendipity) should not be underestimated.

So then next time you are about to take your normal route to your desk, or your normal route to a meeting room, why not ‘turn left instead of the usual right’ (or go up or down a floor)? You may find a colleague with some knowledge to share!

A chain is as strong as its weakest link

Anyone who can recall the general knowledge TV quiz game show The Weakest Link will be familiar with the line “you are the weakest link – goodbye”.  In essence the quiz centred on the ability of the contestants to correctly answer a number (a chain) of questions, and where an incorrect answer resulted in a break of the chain and the loss of the money accumulated up to that point.

The proverb ‘a chain is as strong as its weakest link’ and the story about the game show are examples that can be used by knowledge managers to help their organisations think about the importance of knowledge flow, and take action to identify and then strengthen ‘weak knowledge links’.

‘Weak knowledge links’ to watch out for include:

  • Poor handover practice between steps/stages of a process or project
  • A key ‘go to person’ moving to another organisation
  • A subject matter expert about to retire
  • A lesson documented, but not applied
  • Not learning before, whilst, and after doing
  • Working practices that do not encourage and support knowledge sharing.

In the game show contestants vote for who they think is the weakest link (or as the game comes to a conclusion, the biggest threat) and the person identified leaves the game.  In the context of knowledge flow in an organisation, the existence of a weak knowledge link could result in duplication of effort, repeating mistakes, or the failure to use what the organisation already knows – or perhaps worst of all, the risk of saying “goodbye” to business critical knowledge.

Conversations and round tables

One aspect of ‘managing an organisational environment’ with the objective of ensuring that knowledge flows from the parts that have it, to those that need it, and vice versa, is the ‘role’ played by the physical (work) environment.  In other words, the extent to which the buildings (including room layout and office furniture) in which knowledge workers work act either as an enabler, or as a barrier, to knowledge sharing, collaboration, knowledge transfer, innovation etc.

I was reminded of the importance of ‘physical space’ and (from a knowledge management perspective) that conversations matter whilst waiting for a key-note presentation to start on day 2 of Online Information 2013.  The experience of waiting for a key-note to start is not new to me; after all, I had a similar experience on day 1, or had I?  For whilst the waiting and build-up were the same, the conversations with other attendees were very different. Why?  Well largely because on day 1 the room layout was ‘classroom style’ and on day 2 ‘round table’ style.

And guess what, at the start of day 2 there were more conversations (attendees sitting at the same table introduced themselves to their colleagues), engagement (you could hear many “and what do you do”, and “what did you think about” conversations), activity (the exchange of business cards/email addresses) and the associated sharing of knowledge, contacts, and networking, than there was at the start of day 1.

What a difference a table makes – and in particular a round one!  If readers to this blog need further examples of the importance of ‘managing an organisational environment’ so that it is a conducive to knowledge sharing and collaboration then they should no further than King Arthur and the use he made of his round table.

Photograph from neilalderneys123’s Photostream on Flickr  http://www.flickr.com/photos/neilsingapore/with/1696263846/


Why every Knowledge Manager should take a ‘helicopter ride’


View from The Shard

View from The Shard

I visited The Shard recently and took the trip to the 72nd floor to view the London skyline.  The Shard is currently the tallest building in Western Europe and stands at a height of 1,016ft (310m). 

As you might expect, the views (360°) across London and to the horizon were amazing, but I was particularly taken with the view when looking directly down at London Bridge Station, the rail network, the road network, and the layout of buildings and open space.  From the 72nd floor the trains looked as though they were moving along a miniature train set, and the buses and cars appeared to be the size of Dinky toys. 

This ‘helicopter view’ from The Shard gave me an insight into how areas of any city or town are connected and interconnected and how each component (of the fixed infrastructure e.g. a building and the moving parts e.g. buses) operates within, or as part of, a system. 

In his book, The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of a learning organisation, Peter Senge talks about Systems Thinking (the fifth discipline) and of the importance of viewing things as a system, rather than as specific parts. 

Organisations are complex systems and whilst it is easy for Knowledge Managers to focus their energy and resources on the knowledge elicitation activity in hand, or the facilitation of a Peer Assist, my trip to The Shard reminded me of the importance of taking ‘a helicopter ride’ over an organisation on a regular basis.  By so doing, a Knowledge Manager will have a better view of how knowledge actually flows in their organisation; be better informed about the extent to which the infrastructure (processes and technologies) assists this flow or causes blockages; and be clearer about the actions to take.

I’ve a hunch I’ve got a good idea

It was Larry Prusak (when at IBM Consulting) who said “I call my field ‘knowledge management’ but you can’t manage knowledge. Nobody can. What you do – what a company does – is manage the environment that optimizes knowledge.”

Knowledge Managers will be all too familiar with the fact that their organisations are complex systems and will be aware of the challenges associated with ‘managing the environment’.  Key to enabling knowledge to flow (and be optimized) in an organisation (or with a wider supply chain) is to connect people to people; for example, in knowledge cafes, peer assists, after action reviews, and retrospects.  Having the time and space to exchange ideas, hunches, good practice and lessons learnt etc, can improve team, project and organisational performance.

Connecting people to people can, of course, be done face to face or virtually.  Both have their pros and cons, and associated resource (and costs) and technology implications – and whilst for some, the virtual world presents too many distractions; for others it is the distractions (knowledge access/exchange) that lead to new ideas. 

But where do good ideas come from?  This question is further explored in a video by Steven Johnson – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU.  Where do your good ideas come from?

Some thoughts from a Global Knowledge Manager

I’ve just been reading an interesting blog post about Felicity McNish,the Global Knowledge Manager for Woods Bagot.  Last year, Australian firm Woods Bagot won the Asian Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) Award from a shortlist on which they were the only architectural practice. 

In the interview (by Aprill Allen, 22 June 2012) Felicity McNish explains that “our knowledge and research pillar is, in essence, the mantra that defines how we deliver our work – without research and knowledge we cannot deliver intelligent designs”.  She goes on to talk about how their KM initiatives weave into the organisation’s core values and the currency of information across different time zones. 

Well worth a read – http://knowledgebird.com/km-australia-congress-2012-interview-felicity-mcnish-woods-bagot/.

Knowledge flows. Like water…

When starting to think about Knowledge Management or when engaging others in your organisation about the ways in which Knowledge Management activities can support and improve business performance, it is useful to ‘go back to basics’ and provide answers (in the context of your organisation) to questions that include:

  • What is knowledge?
  • Where does knowledge come from?
  • What are the types and forms of knowledge?
  • What knowledge is important to our organisation?
  • Can you manage knowledge?

When considering the answers to these questions it can be helpful to think about knowledge as a flow, rather than as a thing.  A few story lines to illustrate: 

Knowledge flows – like water 

Like water… 

  • Knowledge is a precious resource
  • Knowledge stimulates development and growth
  • The value or worth of knowledge is context and need dependent
  • The power of knowledge can be harnessed
  • Knowledge can be captured and stored
  • Knowledge can get blocked or leak
  • Knowledge needs ‘organisational pipes’ to ensure that it flows between those that have it, to those that need it

Feel free to comment and add additional lines to the above.  Long may knowledge flow in your organisation.

Photo from Mightymightymatze’s photostream on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/mightymightymatze/with/445251561/#photo_445251561


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers