Monday, 18 April 2016

BBC Analysis 'Corporate Amnesia'

The recent BBC Radio 4 'Analysis' programme 'Corporate Amnesia' is a great 30 minute listen, and not just for the lovely ironic clip from 'Yes Minister'.

The programme looks at how organisations can recognise and avoid knowledge and expertise loss, including an interesting case study HM Treasury. HMT suffered extensive turnover and were haemorrhaging know-how after the banking crisis. Working with Kings College London, they have implemented a programme of 2 way knowledge exchanges, including very senior civil servants and experts. How to facilitate knowledge exchanges between senior, experienced staff and newer staff with a fresh perspectives is explored. There is a great interview with workers in a textile factory in northern England and why they share know-how in the cutting room. Encouraging their staff to say 'I don't know' is a good example of fostering collaborative culture. We also learn to make a distinction between useful knowledge and ideology, opinion and vested interest. Margaret Heffernan, author of 'Willful Blindness' talks powerfully about the need to learning from mistakes and why it doesn't often happen, citing the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Apparently the main contractor on the Macondo platform erected a stone memorial that is blank. No information, names or dates; almost a memorial to corporate amnesia.
BBC iPlayer (regional restrictions may apply):

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Behavioural economics - beyond nudge

This is an excellent report from if you are interested in influencing knowledge sharing practice.
Even if you don't read the whole report, the introduction, by Dan Ariely (subtitled Behavioral Economics - an Exercise in Design and Humility) is worthwhile.


Friday, 8 April 2016

Where's the fun in knowledge management?

I've often thought that humour is a vastly under-utilised management tool. Of all the ways we communicate, having fun is often, as my kids say, well 'the funnest'. Oh, the irony that when I looked into studies of humour in the workplace, they are as dry as dust (if you really must look, citations are at the end). 
Storytelling is a well established organisational learning tool. Anecdote do a brilliant job of training managers in the art of narrative in the corporate world. Funny stories are always the most memorable.
In the Knowledge and Innovation Network workshops, we always include a high degree of 'purposeful socialisation', the planning of which is transparent to participants. The purpose is to connect people and get them to get to know one another. We are a pretty competitive lot, so we play to that, and include 'serious gaming' over dinner. A free bar before dinner is always a great knowledge lubricant. If you can put some of your knowledge management budget behind the bar, it is money well spent.
Another favourite of mine is 'destructive brainstorming'. Rather than figuring out how to develop something that's going to be successful, get 2 teams to independently brainstorm everything that's going to make it fail. Great fun! You can get some real energy going. You then get them to swap lists and figure out mitigations.
How much more effective if we incorporated fun into our other knowledge interventions? What are your favourites?
As for using humour in organisational learning...
 Top 10 Reasons why we don't need Knowledge Management*
10. The corporate expertise 'Yellow Pages' is bang up to date, isn't it? Anyway, why would I admit 'I don't know' to someone else?
9. Organizing to share know-how isn't compatible with our culture and anyway the last thing we need around this place is change.
8. All our projects are easy, and  we learned all about the mistakes last time around.
7. We aren't smart enough to implement a knowledge sharing platform without stifling creativity and offending our technical geniuses (who want us to use Office 2010)
6. We might have to understand where our knowledge is at risk and get involved, and that is such a bother.
5.  Knowledge management requires integrity and courage, so someone senior would have to actually admit we aren't actually 'a learning organisation'.
4. Our bosses won't provide the support needed for knowledge management; they want us to get better results through magic.
3. We learn for this  about operational excellence from our whiz-bang successes (who wants to apply lessons from those nasty operational failures, let alone mention them)
2.I know there is a well-developed body of knowledge, but I can't find it under this mess on my desk.
1. We figure it's more profitable to have 30% redundancy in our operations than to spend 10% on exploiting our know-how to improve them.
* With thanks to, and David Letterman, the inspiration behind this list

OK, if you really must look at some research into the use of humour in organizational management:
  • Duncan and Feisal, 1985. 'No laughing matter: Patterns of Humor in the Workplace'
  • Collinson, 2002. Lancaster Business School, Journal of Management Studies. 'Managing Humour'
  • Romero and Pescosolido, 2008. Journal of Human Relations. 'Humor and Group Effectivness'

Friday, 1 April 2016

World Bank - Take-aways from the 3rd High Level Meeting on Country-led Knowledge Sharing

This week I had the privilege of participating in the World Bank's 3rd High-Level Meeting on Country-led Knowledge Sharing in Washington DC. An amazing event attended to around 1000 people from 73 different countries. With thanks to the organizers, here are a few of my take-aways...

1. What can the public sector learn from the private sector?
Jean-Claude Monney's keynote talk on Microsoft’s knowledge management initiatives prompted one of the most stimulating questions asked of HLM3 panellists. ‘What can the public sector learn about knowledge sharing from the private sector?’. It is true that the private sector has pioneered many knowledge sharing techniques.Howeve having worked in both sectors, I would observe that public sector organizations also have much to offer the commercial world. 

Public, and especially third sector organizations, have a unique advantage that those with a predominantly commercial imperative may not; intrinsic motivation. Having worked with many dedicated people at the World Bank and with charities, I am struck by their personal sense of wanting to ‘make a difference’. In behavioural economics terms, this is a huge advantage. A request for help, clearly articulated and effectively disseminated to those with know-how, will usually elicit a positive response. However capability is often limited (time, communication tools, more important delivery and performance targets). 
My take-away? Provide effective channels, facilitate connections and foster the right intrinsic motivation through leadership.

2. Supply and demand.
The first day of HML3 seemed to focus predominantly on the demand side of knowledge sharing. The identification of lessons and knowledge ‘capture’ were extensively discussed. However ‘sharing’ requires both supply and demand for reciprocity. It was therefore refreshing that day 2 touched on the supply side too. I don't mean producing shelf-ware or supply where there is no evident demand, but thinking about how codified knowledge might be effectively found and consumed. Co-creation of knowledge, facilitation of peer-to-peer connections and evidence-based decision making came up time and again in the breakout sessions as critical techniques for making sure knowledge supply and demand are connected.

Examples provided were the altruistic sharing of blindness prevention program results in Tunisia and UNICEF helping four East African countries make real-time health clinic data widely available. Sergio Escobar explained of how Medellin, Columbia has made their experience of turning around a crime-ridden city, available to other cities. He stressed the need to make their results adaptable to different contexts. These examples showed real understanding of the importance of expressing lessons through the lens of those who need the knowledge, rather than simply writing a case-study. That's smart supply.

3. Measurement and leadership
Session moderator Karen Mokate asked the important question ‘how do you measure success and impact’. Ian Thorpe from UNICEF stressed that experiential knowledge cannot always be codified; indeed simply connecting practitioners has real and immediate value*. He observed that ‘Knowledge sharing is a catalytic process; in itself, it does not have a defined rate of return’. Perhaps a measure of knowledge sharing success is that demand for know-how and expertise is matched by supply. In other words, there is an observable virtuous cycle of creation, adoption and adaption of knowledge.

Another common refrain, particularly in the breakout groups, was the importance of real leadership in effective knowledge sharing. That’s not just ‘buy-in’, but for example, asking questions about how learning from success have been disseminated and change effected. True knowledge leadership publically acknowledges the learning opportunities from failure.

4. What would I like to have heard about?
Innovations that I thought might be examined in the context of country-led knowledge sharing are the amazing innovations in Artificial Intelligence and the Blockchain. These could be considered as technologies designed to simply make automate transactions and drive down costs (in themselves not unimportant for knowledge sharing). Their real potential is that, in a world of increasing complexity and the data firehose, they free up cognitive capacity to make smarter sustainable development decisions, better anticipate outcomes and reduce risk.