Monday, 7 July 2008

KM activists, soundings, patterns and Learning Organisations

This week's blog post comes courtesy of KIN member Paul Whiffen. Thanks for letting me use this Paul.

Paul wrote:
"A couple of times lately I’ve used an analogy which makes some nice parallels with organisational learning. Thought I’d share it with you.

I used to do the navigation and positioning for 3D Seismic Exploration offshore. We’d be on a ship towing an array of airguns which every 10 seconds or so would detonate sending sound waves to the seabed and many thousands of metres beyond into the structure beneath. They’d reflect off the structures down there (anticlines, layers, faults etc) and rebound back up to the 100s of hydrophones we would also tow behind in streamers up to 4km long (would be quite normal to have 3 such streamers behind the ship). As you can imagine, navigating this thing around the place took a lot of planning ahead and negotiation with fishermen, oil platforms etc not to mention the guns shaking the ship every 10 seconds 24 hours a day!!

By sailing in a single line you get a 2D cross section of the earth’s structure and by sailing many of these lines in parallel you could build up a 3D model of what’s down there, hence it would become 3D seismic exploration. You couldn’t directly see the oil and gas, only the geological structure below and then you’d interpret where the oil and gas might be (that was the geophysicist’s job) – it’s not until you bring in a rig and drill that you’d know for sure.

(Incidentally, not that it’s particularly relevant here, but the surveyor’s (my) job was to ensure the precise positioning of the air guns and hydrophones to something like absolute 5 – 10 metres and relative 2 – 7 metres using radio nav systems (replaced by differential GPS), acoustic ranging (dozens of the things each filtered and then computed in a geometric framework) and also magnetic compasses every 300 metres on the streamers to give their shape (correcting for magnetic storms etc). Without the precise positioning of the guns and hydrophones you couldn’t “stack” the signal returns from the structure accurately and the picture below would become degraded).

The point is the sound waves go deep into the structure and tell the geophysicist what the structure is like down there, faults and all. By taking multiple soundings you build up the picture of the structure and geology, the lie of the land so to speak. The client was typically the head geophysicist of the field (Forties or Magnus, say).

This is analogous to every time we do an AAR or Retrospect (or whatever we end up calling these things) or indeed KRT - we get a sounding of the deeper learning in the organisation as well as the obvious technical issues. By seeing the patterns and links of what the signals are telling us we can see the wood for the trees and filter out the deeper long wavelength signals from the high frequency noise.

This is why an emerging role of the KM Activists is to look at the patterns that come from the learning processes. As we “sail up and down” the organisation pinging away and looking across the signals that come back to us from the learning processes, so we can connect up the dots and see that bigger picture emerging, breaking down both vertical and horizontal silos. This is what starts to show a genuinely learning and self-knowing organisation, it really begins to understand itself and can take action to get the best from itself in the knowledge of how it really ticks, both strengths and weaknesses.

You can also debate that the airguns and the signals are the “collect” aspect of learning and the streamers with the ‘phones are the connect aspect taking in the learning.

What do you think? Does this analogy work for you? If nothing else, it shows that at one time I did a technical job I suppose!"


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