Saturday, 28 April 2012

Houston, we don't have a problem (but there is some weird stuff here)

I've just spent a wonderfully hectic week in Houston, Texas as a guest of APQC, the American Productivity and Quality Center, and ConocoPhillips

On Monday I spent the day with Dan Ranta, Yvonne Myles and their inspirational team. They took me through their plans for the imminent split of ConcocoPhillips and Phillips 66, the upstream and downstream parts of the business. This has profound implications for Dan's team, not least as they will move to be under the leadership of their VP for IT. Dan sees this as a great opportunity to help that group reposition itself as a change enabler for the organisation. Interestingly Yvonne's new team at Phillips 66 will be under HR, which also brings new opportunities; KIN has of course recently explored the synergies between Talent Management and knowledge transfer. I wish both teams bon chance for next week's split.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I led a workshop for APQC members on Knowledge Elicitation and Transfer. We had a lot of fun 'getting our hands on the knowledge', working in syndicate groups. They were a diverse and stimulating group of participants and as always, I learnt a lot from them too. The feedback was excellent, so we are hopeful that this course will be re-run in the not too distant future.

Thursday and Friday was the knockout APQC annual conference. KIN does its Quarterly Workshops pretty well, but the sheer scale and depth of this event was outstanding. 'Knowledge Management' events can be pretty samey and superficial, but the keynote speakers gave a really interesting tangential perspectives on knowledge and innovation in organisations. Similarly the breakout sessions gave a diverse  view of how a variety of organisations are approaching knowledge work. I must single out Susan Rosenbaum and Amar Singh's session on the merger of Schlumberger and Smith in 2010/11. Their approach was not only innovative, but clearly has had enormously beneficial impact on both organisations. APQC's planning and execution of this huge event was outstandingly impressive. Whilst the scale could have been intimidating, they somehow managed to allow everyone to 'seamlessly connect' (to borrow a phrase from the APQC Advanced Working Party work). I guess that's a good indicator of expert facilitation.

Finally, I had a meeting with one of the other big energy companies here, with whom I will be doing some work, through APQC, in the UK. Can't say whom yet, but I am excited to be involved in a big 'quality lessons' project.

This was my first visit to Houston, so I thought I would end with a few personal reflections of some of the more unusual things I observed. Everyone here has made me feel very welcome, but I couldn't help but be struck by these amusing, scary and downright strange experiences... 

  • On the freeway in from the airport there was a giant billboard advertising Dialyspa. Only in Texas can you experience a spa and manicure whilst you transfuse. Not sure if this is just for athletes who want to cheat and recuperate, or for those with renal failure and hard skin on their feet.
  • I caught a cab to a downtown location for an architectural walking tour of the lovely Montrose District (yes Houston does have some interesting and historic arhitecture). Incomprehensible immigrant cab drivers may be a cliche, but mine was a doozie (as I think it's called in the local dialect). Not only could he not speak or understand conversational English, but he was ANGRY and drove a Hummer; never a good combination. When I asked him to take me to the Menil Gallery, all he could yell repeatedly was 'Gimme black number'. Eventually we set off with me having no confidence where we were heading. Mr Angry was simultaneously jabbering in Farsi or Jedi to the dispatcher on his cellphone, fumbling with his satnav and wandering at speed across five lanes of freeway. I had to put a stop to this madness. Mr FURIOUS was not happy when I grabbed his Garmin, but I quickly figured out the Zip code and got him going in the right direction. I never did find out what a 'black number' was.
  • The Houston Galleria is my idea of Hell. I've not been to Westfield shopping centre in London, but I imagine that it is the little cousin of Texas' Finest and Biggest Mall. Tesla are famous for producing the world's first high-performance fully electrically driven car. In a defiant middle-finger salute to the Texas legislature, and the oil industry that controls it, Tesla have opened a car showroom in the middle of the mall, featuring their prototype four door sedan. It is a mighty fine automobile too. The reason that Tesla's presence in Texas' Finest and Biggest Mall is contentious is that, believe it or not it is illegal to sell, or even discuss the purchase of, an electrically driven ve-hic-le in the State of Texas. When I asked a member of staff how I might go about placing an order, she cleverly responded that she could only answer that question if we were to hold that conversation in the neighbouring state of Louisiana.
  • The Galleria mall's security guards travel on Segways, those slightly ridiculous gyroscopically self-propelled, two-wheeled, upright chariots. They are both fascinating and intimidating  as they zoom about imperiously. I suppose intimidation goes with the job, but the Segways also ensure staff are cut off from contact with customers. Hail one to ask the direction to Macy's and you are likely to just get mown down.
  • Nobody walks in Houston. Fact. During the hot humid summer months, I can see the attraction of going from airconditioned home to car to mall. However, as the temperature was a pleasant 75oF this morning, I decided to walk to the Houston Arboretum. It's about a mile and a half, but the concierge was most perturbed that I was going to use shanks pony. On the way there I crossed a junction at a set of traffic lights, where a disabled panhandler was holding his pathetic tatty cardboard sign for stopped traffic. I decided it would be pretty naff to take a photo, but it said simply 'homeless veteran, please help me'. I stopped and gave him a couple of bucks and asked him what his name was. He was remarkably guarded about why this foreigner had stopped to talk to him. It turns out that was the only person that he had spoken to in 3 days. He was so grateful that anyone had actually taken an interest in him as an individual, never mind the money. A sad indictment of the times. The arboretum was a pleasant quiet oasis of old oak trees and wildlife and blessed relief from metro Houston. Wow, the walk back was hot and sticky. Why on earth didn't I get a cab?

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

SimCity - showing the future of data visualisation - and not just for gaming


When talking to people about managing knowledge as a resource, it is helpful to frame this in the context of the difference between data, information, knowledge and insight. This can be a fairly esoteric concept, so I pitch it using real-life examples; for example, the resources you might use in choosing a new book to read. The ISBN catalogue number and RRP (data) isn't much help in itself, but other titles by the same author, best price, whether it is in stock certainly give you useful information. Amazon reviewer ratings will give you reader ratings and comments (knowledge). Best of all still is getting the opinion of someone you trust who has read it (insight).

There are a growing number of really smart examples of how data is being made more accessible through visualisation techniques. I've talked about Hans Rosling's brilliant temporal visualisations of health data before.

This video 'SimCity Insider's Look - Glass Box Game Engine' shows how things have progressed in  using data in clever and engaging ways. I just love the way that 'units' and 'agents' impact behind the scenes in response to decisions you make. These are not just direct (perhaps more smoke from increased factory output) but a result of sophisticated sets of rules governing 'agents' and 'units' that together create economic, social and environmental feedback and unintended consequences. Just like life really. This example shows how a decision to pump more water from the aquifer impacts pollution, health and the local economy.

It struck me that this game engine is doing something rather special - shortcutting the link between data and insight, through visualisation. The player doesn't need, or want, to know the 'unit' information rules or agent data, that lie behind the gameplay. He or she can see the impact of a local decision - the dirty plume of smoke from the power station chimney.

The increasing amount of public data being made available in 'open data' formats, coupled with brilliant and engaging visualisation tools is good news. Particularly good in terms of making sense of the sometimes overwhelming amount of data being collected and being made available to us.

We've come a long way from that original SimCity.

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Big Launch - a counterintuitive view

The business need was articulated, lessons have been applied, investment made in marketing materials, senior people briefed and supportive, facilitators' training organised, content seeding primed. So, you are all set to launch the big push for your organisation's new Community of Practice?

Is a big launch with senior people backing the new Community of Practice the right thing to do?

At the recent Knowledge and Innovation Network Roundtable event, it was posited that a 'big launch' or aggressive marketing may be counter-productive for online community initiatives. It appears from the work done by the UK Local Government Association that their most sustainable and vibrant communities gain traction and engagement best from word of mouth. This is borne out by the success of many 'viral' communities; those that have sprung up because of a grass-roots need to connect. In some cases these may initially be successful because they do not carry the imprimatur of the organisation.

KIN research has shown that most sustainable Communities of Practice do have a clear purpose, trained leaders that are given time to facilitate the group and support from the leadership. This investment by the organisation can be light-touch; providing the capability, tools and support for individuals to make connections. 

Perhaps the big fanfare is best left until the Community is established and achieving some of it's goals.
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Monday, 2 April 2012

A curates egg ?

twitter logo map 09
twitter logo map 09 (Photo credit: The Next Web)

Are you a Twitter-phile or a Twitter-phobe?

Are you a Twitter-philes who thinks the Twitter-phobes are missing out?
Are you a Twitter-phobe who thinks they might be missing out but really can't - or doesn't want to - get Twitter?

Some KIN members are active on Twitter and are sharing content which may well be of interest to other KIN members if only it could be made more accessible.

In fact, there are a number of sources of information online which could be usefully tapped into by KIN members:
  • Content discovered by other KIN members and associates and shared via social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Linked In and Diigo
  • Content discovered by other people interested in KM 
  • Content created by other KIN members and associates in the form of Blog posts
  • Other relevant content by KM thought leaders on their blogs
These sources are scattered and not always easy to find - especially for the non social media savvy. Some of these sources can also be not very engaging.

So, we're about to start an experiment using and
These are two of a new breed of 'content curation' tools. They each have advantages and disadvantages and we thought that the best way of assessing which provides the best value to KIN would be to try both and see what our members think.

We're starting with and will be publishing both a weekly and a daily version of the 'paper' - these can be found here:
Soon we will also be publishing similar content via - watch this space.
{and here it is: }

There are two potential benefits to be gained by investing a small amount of facilitator effort into 'content curation'.
  • Providing additional value to our members by making visible and engaging the social media activities of KIN members and Associates
  • Raising KIN's profile on the major Social Networks
Any KIN members who want to know a bit more about how we are selecting the published content, please visit this page in the KIN memberspace. Feedback on and suggestions for content are very welcome - please join in the discussion here (members only).

Some other examples of content curated using these tools are :

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