Monday, 4 November 2013

WIIIFM and making allowances

Good enough ?!?!

The KIN Community of Practice Benchmarking survey empirically confirmed a while back what we already had a hunch about - that your choice of technology is far less important than having a clear purpose and leadership for your online community.

Michael Norton of the LGA has just posted an interesting item on the LGA Knowledge Hub that illustrates that you can get away with all sorts of poor design, if the purpose is clear and users know they are getting something out of it for themselves. They make allowances, whereas they would be moaning and abandon a similar platform that didn't meet their community's needs.

Here is Michael's post:

"I've seen roll outs of different technology including SharePoint , Microsoft Office , CRM, Clarity Project Management etc, etc.   And you always hear the same comments, I don't like it, it's clunky, it’s the wrong colour, it makes my eye hurt (I made the last one up) etc, etc.  

So how do some online communities survive and thrive when the tech they use is sometimes odd, old and clunky.  My only explanation is the purpose and the WIIFM.  Otherwise known as COMMUNITY

Take sites such as Money Saving Expert and Golf GTI Forum.  They are a bit messy and on first look hard to understand.  I have to admit MSE is so much better now.  But what they do have is a strong sense of community, a clear purpose of what it is and what it can do.

So there are examples that show community beats technology.

All you need to ask yourself is, do you have a compelling purpose for your community, that no matter what barriers technology, people or otherwise that get thrown in the way that the community survives and thrives".

(Photo credit: AUSTIN_O)

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Curiouser and curiouser

'Bland curiosity' - that is the term that ethnographer Steve Portigal uses for his approach to eliciting
knowledge from interviewees. This phrase might at first seem like a rather weak strategy for getting results, but it struck a chord for me.

Firstly 'curiosity'. I've always thought that this was the paramount quality for anyone involved in facilitating the transfer of knowledge. Whether it is to do with commercial laundry detergent dosing systems or financial governance (both real examples of recent client work), it is vital that you exhibit a genuine curiosity about the topic and the individuals concerned. I love the insights I get to how diverse organisations work.

Why 'bland'? I'm often asked by those on the Knowledge Elicitation and Transfer Skills courses that I run 'how much do you, as a facilitator, need to know about the topic'? The answer is 'just enough'. That is not a flippant response; you need to know enough about the topic in order to ask the right questions and then probe the deep knowledge, but not so much that you can't ask the damn-fool questions. The advantage an external facilitator has, is that they are entitled to ask revealing questions that might be skipped over by an insider.

The Steve Portigal quote comes from his recently published book 'Interviewing Users'. Whilst the title is pretty bland, it actually contains a lot of useful elicitaiton tips based on years of ethnography field work. It is worth bearing in mind that ethnographers generally elicit knowledge for their own (or client's) research purposes. The book doesn't focus on facilitating real-time dialogue between those that have know-how and those who need it.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monday, 26 August 2013

If kids can do it, why not employees?

Sparktruck is a brilliant way of getting kids to learn about creativity and learning. As founder Eugene Korsunskiy puts it "You do your best work when you are having fun".
Whilst the concept is aimed at schoolchildren and teachers, the ideas and approach of sparking ideas and producing fast prototypes is absolutely appropriate, and badly needed, in solving complex problems that large organisations face. (8 min video)

If having seen the Sparktruck video, you thought this is great for kids, but 'what's it got to do with big organisations', this video from Cisco Systems shows you. It's amazing, and encouraging, that this high-tech engineering organisation utilises techniques that involve string, pins, Blu-tac and cardboard in developing end-user experiences and gets great results. The great thing about Cisco's approach to using Design Thinking for complex problem-solving is that it is:

  • Low-cost 
  • High-engagement 
  • Can quickly show tangible (ie physical) results
  • and yes, can even be fun
The video is 14 mins in total. It includes a great example of how Cisco used this technique to improve their 'new hire' experience. If you are interested in Knowledge Transfer for joiners, the excerpt from 9mins 47secs to 11:00mins is inspiring.

KIN is holding an 'Creativity in Innovation training' Masterclass on 19th November, run by Dr Kamal Birdi of Sheffield University Business School. KIN Members can register for this event here. If your organisation is not a KIN Member, contact or go to for more information.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Christmas lights and hand sanitizer - really understanding the problem helps find innovative solutions

Two fascinating videos that illustrate how understanding a problem from a user's perspective can lead to really innovative solutions...

The first addresses the serious problem of hospital-acquired infection. Whilst personal sanitisers are commonplace, the designers of Swipesense realised that measuring their usage was key to making sure they are used properly, ie modifying behaviour. What does a 5 year old kid do when their hands get dirty? They wipe them on their shirt. The device mimics this action and sends a signal to a sensor which collects data. The combination of an intuitive action and knowing that usage is being monitored seems to be enough to have a dramatic improvement in sanitation and perhaps save lives.

The second is a video of an unusual approach to persuading Columbian FARC guerrillas to come out of the jungle and go home to their families. If you ignore the overly-dramatic soundtrack, the results of simply stringing Christmas lights from trees to send a message seem impressive.

What's this to do with organisational learning, collaborative working or applying lessons? As I've often suggested, if we do not appeal to innate behaviour then edicts, policy or technology are going to be ineffective. Here are a couple of examples of 'Design Thinking' that really try to understand the problem (empathy) and come up with novel solutions (ideation).

Friday, 26 July 2013

Stanford University MOOC course update

Design Thinking

I've previously blogged about the 'Massively Open Online Course' phenomenon that is offering courses from many of the world's top university courses free of charge. Having taken the plunge with Stanford University's 'Design Thinking' course, I've been hugely impressed.

After only one week, I can see the there are many aspects of he way this course is structured that we could apply to wider knowledge sharing and learning in organisations.

  • We are encouraged to join small learning syndicates and use the course discussion forum, Slideshare, Prezi Online and Skype to share. 
  • The course content is well signposted and a nice mix of 2 to 3 minute tutorial videos and related short but challenging assignments, to be submitted on a weekly basis. 
  • There is integration between the course diary and my own diary (for release of new materials and assignment deadlines).
  • There are always peers and the course tutors to get feedback from.
  • The importance of early prototyping and the validity of learning from failed tryouts.

There are lots of related additional resources made available. A couple that I have particularly enjoyed and are relevant for knowledge sharing and innovation practice are:

The Secret of Your Success? Make Others Successful
Taking Teamwork to the Extreme

Photo credit: turiskopio

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

What's in the sauce?

Hot Sauce

One of the most requested 'wants' from the April 2013 Wants and Offers event was advice on demonstrating the value of knowledge sharing, collaboration and innovation practice. In effect, a way of measuring the 'intangible' value of these techniques and initiatives. Anecdotal 'evidence' is simply not enough, although an important part of presenting a value case.

I've been doing some research into this topic in anticipation of running a KIN Roundtable or Masterclass later in the year. As a result, I've added a number of relevant articles to the KIN Management Buy-in SIG library

For the most common-sense view on the topic of measuring intangibles, see this excellent blog entry from Jacob Morgan (and the accompanying reader comments). Whilst not the solution, understanding that 'it's in the sauce' is important. In other words, collaboration and knowledge sharing are just a couple of ingredients in the successful mix. Deconstructing the mix is one of the valuation techniques mentioned in the classic Karl-Eric Sveiby article written in 2001, updated in 2010. 

KIN will be holding a Members' Masterclass on 'Measurement' in the Autumn. 

Photo credit: Craft0logy

Friday, 17 May 2013

So motivate me...

English: Handwritten words: "Motivation &...

Understanding motivation, what stimulates you as an individual to think or behave in a particular way, is a prerequisite in effecting change in organisations. Yet extrinsic motivation (the tangible rewards such as a target bonus) is often not differentiated from intrinsic (the subtle and sometimes subliminal reward such as meaningful work or choosing your work hours). 

Naomi Stanford, who has spoken at KIN in the past on organisational change has written a blog piece on this in which she quotes Dan Pink. Pink suggests that some of the most powerful personal motivators are  "the incentives of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Client face-time is perhaps the most coveted commodity in our business". It's interesting how far removed this is from the apparently coveted corner office as a reward.
If you would like to know more about the way extrinsic and intrinsic motivators work and build a 'high-engagement culture' along the way, I recommend reading this short article by Kenneth Thomas - The Four Intrinsic Rewards That Drive Employee Engagement

Yesterday I was talking to Robert Dufton, outgoing Chief Executive of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation . PHF clearly understands and delivers the intrinsic drivers that attracts the highly motivated people drawn to work in the 3rd sector. Robert was telling me how PHF went about the design their attractive new offices in Kings Cross. As well as creating a physical space that stimulated exchange of knowledge, PHF consulted staff about what extrinsic rewards they wanted. Top of the list was a proper Italian coffee machine - and excellent coffee it is too.

Gary Colet

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

More on MOOCs

In March, I posted an item on the then relatively new phenomenon of Massively Online Open Courses or 'MOOC's. As knowledge and organisational learning professionals, I think this is something we should be taking serious notice of and asking 'what can we learn from this?'

Steve Dale, the KIN Associate for the 'Enabling Technologies' SIG has since completed a MOOC from the Coursera catalogue of courses on the topic of Social Network Analysis. Steve has very kindly shared his experience of learning in this way in a helpful blog of his own. Read about it here. Steve not only gives insight into how to make this an effective and novel way of learning and sharing knowledge, but also gives an extensive list of MOOC resources.

I will be taking a look through and signing up to a MOOC course very soon. It seems there is just about something for everyone.

Gary Colet

Photo credit and even more resources on MOOCs:

Friday, 19 April 2013

Societal norms and flaming swords - LOL

Thought LOL stood for 'laugh out loud'? 3 million people think differently. I'll tell you why in just a moment.

I can heartily recommend this month's McKinsey Quarterly article 'Givers Take All' that empirically sets out  why organisations that encourage employees to behave more altruistically stand to gain the most. By rewarding 'givers', and screening out 'takers', organisations can reap significant and lasting benefits. 
'Evidence from studies led by Indiana University’s Philip Podsakoff demonstrates that the frequency with which employees help one another predicts sales revenues in pharmaceutical units and retail stores; creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity in paper mills; and revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality in restaurants.'
The full article is available to KIN members in the Memberspace KRT Library here
League of Legends

The second item that caught my eye this month was an item in New Scientist magazine about how online gaming communities are moderating the malevolent language that plagues those forums. The example given was from the 'League of Legends' (LoL) fantasy from Riot Games, which has 3 million online players at any given time. What's this got to do with organisational learning? Bear with me...
'Behavioural profiles are constructed for every player in the game; the profiles measure how many times users insult teammates or opponents'. The clever part is that an MIT Game Lab system called Tribunal aggregates negative behaviour cases and bubbles them to the top, where they are presented back to the community forum. The community can then vote on whether the behaviour was acceptable or not. Particularly egregious cases can lead to a player being banned. It turns out that not only does this self-policing work in making players think about their behaviour, but it actually modifies the communities 'societal norms'.

This got me thinking about whether this community self-policing and culture-shaping technique would work for positive feedback as well as negative. If we think about behaviour being on a spectrum from selfish/unacceptable right though to selfless/altruistic, why shouldn't it? We already know that those who take the trouble to help others (as in the McKinsey article examples) stand to gain the most in the long run. If the surfacing of 'bad' behaviour for a community to judge and even impose sanctions works, the surfacing of 'exemplary' behaviour and award of rewards should also work.  

Whilst not many organisations could boast having 3 million participants in their discussion forums at any one time, I'd like to see the MIT Game Lab Tribunal technology deployed to reinforce good behaviour in one of the KIN member organisations' community forums. Any volunteers?

Image source:
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Friday, 22 March 2013

2013 - as imagined in 1968

KIN held a sold-out Masterclass on 'Knowledge Visualisation' yesterday with Lulu Pinney.
The day was a hands-on exploration of the difference that well crafted and appropriate images can make to the communication and sharing of knowledge. All too often we resort to the written word, when images can convey meaning so much better. This was proven through some fun and powerful exercises.

In the afternoon, Steve Dale, KIN Associate for Enabling Technologies briefed us on the latest developments in digital and social curation. Potentially helping us make sense and filter the onslaught of digital detritus heading our way, it seems that auto-curated content for online magazines is coming of age. As Steve puts it 'it took a while for Web 2.0 to become Enterprise 2.0, but that is where we are heading with digital curation'.

In 1968 the Los Angeles Times bravely predicted what life would be like for us 25 years hence - in 2013. The article is reproduced here.
If you take a look at page 3 (see 6:00am), it seems that their prediction for auto-curated content was amazingly acurate.

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Thursday, 14 March 2013


Coursera Statistics One

My daughter is currently completing her geography degree  at Nottingham University. I was impressed at how much of her course material was available online, allowing her to study when suits her (ie when she gets out of bed or at 3:00am).

You may not have heard of MOOC, but Massively Open Online Courses are a phenomenon which gives everyone access to university learning, completely free. is a wonderful MOOC resource that uses this wealth of online material and offers it in the form of structured online courses, usually of 6-12 weeks. This is no second-rate resource; universities such as Stanford, Penn State, Duke, LSE and Insead all have offerings, with top course tutors and supplemented participant assignments, discussion forums and exams.

What a wonderful and novel way of sharing knowledge 'san frontiers'.

I'd like to sign-up for the Stanford University course in Organisational Analysis; I've asked if it will be re-run this year. I'm hoping that other KIN members will do it at the same time, so that we can learn together.

Coursera was kindly pointed out to me by KIN Associate Steve Dale, who has started a University of Michigan course in Organisational Network Analysis.

 (Photo credit: AJC1)

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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Battle testing your innovation strategy

2011-33 -1 Naval War Game. Jane. Label

KIN has often recommended, and used, the 'destructive testing' approach to achieving change - taking an idea and finding as many ways as possible to ensure the desired outcome is not achieved. As well as being much more fun than trying to find 'the right solution', this allows effective mitigations to be developed.
I highly recommend this article in McKinsey Quarterly 'Battle Test Your Innovation Strategy' which suggests using 'war-gaming' as an alternative approach to innovation development. This is similar to the destructive testing technique, but helps in scenario planning and may aid the development of alternative ideas or the canning of non-viable ones.

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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Pearls of wisdom

145-365 Towel Day

We've a thread running on the KIN Members' discussion forum that collects amusing stories and jokes connected to knowledge or storytelling. The links may be extremely tenuous, but here is a taster...

 A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next-door neighbor.
Before she says a word, Bob says, "I'll give you $800 to drop that towel."
After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob.
After a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves.
The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, "Who was that?" "It was Bob the next door neighbor," she replies.
"Great!" the husband says, "did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?"

Moral of the story:
If you share knowledge pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.
 (Photo credit: krossbow)

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Monday, 14 January 2013

How much do you know about zoonoses?

The Model and the Marriage Broker

I've noticed a number of jobs advertised with an intriguing title recently - 'Knowledge Broker". It seems that the intermediary, skilled in making connections between those working in similar fields in the science sector, is now well established as a career choice. The most well known are probably working for the UK Knowledge Transfer Networks, connecting university R&D departments with commercial opportunities.

There seem to be many others, exemplified by an ad for a Knowledge Broker 'to work with a range of researchers and funders to shape and draw together the findings from ZELS (Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems) programme'. No, I didn't know what zoonoses were either, but the point is that the role requires the individual to 'broker and coordinate the flow of knowledge between the ZELS teams, funders and influential people in international and international organisations'.
Applicants are required to have an 'international reputation and recognised expertise in the field'.

It would be interesting to know just how much expertise the individual is required to have. Experts with deep knowledge are not necessarily the best at facilitating the exchange of knowledge in an objective way. Beliefs gained over many years may mean that they may not be completely open-minded, particularly if they are regarded as a leading authority on a topic. They may make assumptions, where an individual with a more superficial knowledge may spot opportunities or ask more objective questions. The ideal candidate could be someone from the sector who is credible in their field, curious, connected and a good communicator. Deep technical knowledge may come further down the criteria list.

Facilitating knowledge transfer between experts is just one of the topics of interest to the KIN 'Knowledge Retention and Transfer' special interest group. We will be discussing this and related topics at our next SIG Roundtable meeting to be hosted by the British Council in London on 6th March.

By the way if you want to know what 'zoonoses' are, they may be the vector for the next global pandemic!

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Visualising Knowledge

Screenshot of Commoncraft Video on Blogging

Many organisations struggle with communicating complex issues in a simple way, hence KIN's frequent recommendation of Commoncraft. We have also had a few workshops in the past on storytelling techniques, for example using anecdote circles.

Adding the visual element to storytelling makes a lot of sense. All too often we rely on the written word to 'capture' lessons without thinking about the most appropriate medium from the perspective of the recipient. This is a huge issue for those involved in big 'Lesson Learning' programmes, such as the energy companies. 

In early 2013, we intend holding a Masterclass on 'visualising knowledge'. 
The main three factors we intend looking at with experts in visual journalism are:
- knowing what you want to say in the first place, and to whom
- the things visuals do better than words
- storytelling techniques that lend themselves to visuals
- techniques for visualising knowledge

We will also take a look at finding and telling stories within data. Data analytics is going to be ever more important and I think we too often shy away from this, thinking it as geek territory. As we know from Hans Rosling's Gapminder, powerful stories can be told and knowledge gleaned directly from data.

(Photo credit: dorineruter)

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