Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Cover of "Nudge: Improving Decisions Abou...Carolyn is Director of Food Services at a large school in the US (I suppose that's the pc term for head dinner lady). Prompted by the way supermarkets layout their aisles, she experimented with the layout of the lunch choices on offer to the children. Without changing the menu, Carolyn made a dramatic impact on the take-up of healthier options chosen by the kids at the counter. This story is one of many related in the book 'Nudge', by Thomas Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago. I highly recommend it to anyone in the business of getting others to adapt their behaviour. I suspect that is all of us involved in organisational learning.

I have previously posted on the topic of 'Choice Architecture' here, but reading Nudge really brought home how the simplest changes can have significant impact on the decisions we, and others, take. With regard to knowledge sharing in an organisation, the book reminds us that it is the re-use part of the process that gives real personal satisfaction, not altruism. Think about the micro-buzz that you got when you saw 4 people had rated your hotel review on TripAdvisor as 'useful', or that someone had posted a comment on one of your photos on Flikr. The nudge suggested here is that a virtuous circle can be created if the system is set up so that
1. It is really easy to give qualitative feedback
2. The contributor can easily see that feedback

An edict from upstairs to 'share your stuff' is unlikely to make that happen. A nudge, such as being shown that your stuff is of value to others might.
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Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Sunday Times Social List

Sunday Times Rich List 2011Image by HowardLake via FlickrSteve Dale pointed out to me that the Sunday Times started a social 'wealth' index earlier this year. The Social List is a development along the lines of the Rich List.
Well, not quite.
The list takes four of the big online social networks (LinkedIN, Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook) and calculates your 'connectedness' and activity. It expresses the result as an index of 'social worth'. I always thought social worth was what you gave back to your community in the shape of volunteering, charity work and the like.

The list will undoubtedly appeal to the narcissists, but I couldn't help pointing it at my social networks (I belong to 3 of them, but not Foursquare). Surprisingly, out of over 47,000 people registered, I came out 27,344th. I was surprised because I almost never look at my Facebook account and rarely Tweet.

There are some obvious omissions in the social stock that the list looks at. There is no way that prolific bloggers with huge followings (including Steve), and users of other microblog sites, Ning, Flikr etc can add their preferred channels. In my mind, the most significant omission however is Google+. Google Circles was touted as the next big thing in social connectivity, but is notable by it's absence from the Sunday Times Social List.
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Monday, 1 August 2011

How much knowledge do you need?

The different classes of ODN elicit different ...Something that I am commonly asked when training individuals in knowledge elicitation techniques is 'How much does one need to know about a topic to be to elicit valuable knowledge from 'experts'?'

The answer is 'not too much'. This is particularly true where the process includes a knowledge 'recipient'. Having an in-depth understanding of the subject-matter can be a significant limiting factor for a facilitator and at worst, reinforce commonly held misconceptions. An peer-expert conducting such an interview might be significantly inhibited in...

  • Being able to ask the 'dumb fool questions'
  • Asking for clarification or for examples to illustrate a point
  • Recognising and testing assumptions, cultural or organisational norms
  • Demystifying acronyms
  • Questioning political expediency

All of these go towards validation of the knowledge being provided - a vital part of the process of knowledge transfer. Any resulting 'knowledge asset' should not make assumptions, for example that outputs that are generally accessible will only be used by someone who is already an expert.

Pamela Hinds of Stanford University describes experts' cognitive handicap as 'the curse of expertise'. In referring to education, the most obvious form of knowledge transfer, psychologist Susan Birch of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver says "to teach effectively, you need to see things from the naive perspective of the pupil - and the more knowledge you have acquired, the harder it becomes".

Of course it is important that the facilitator does their homework and has a good understanding of the topic area, the nature and scope of the work and a 'heads up' of any big issues to be explored later. Important avenues of enquiry or 'difficult' topics could be missed or avoided without this prior understanding. A skillful facilitator can recognize fruitful avenues of enquiry and probe for detail, without having a detailed understanding of the topic.

How much understanding? Just enough.

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