Wednesday, 30 April 2008

School kid errors

First - apologies for the delay. I have changed my continent but am settling in now.

So to kick off again just a few comments of some basic errors I have seen since I last lectured you all (in a most non KM way).

1. It seems to have become popular amongst many aspiring KM managers to stick Wisdom at the top of the traditional KM pyramid - you know, knowledge / information / data. Before anyone does this again please ask yourself why you are doing this? Do you have amongst your workplace a clear and coherent understanding of what Knowledge is? Probably not. Do you have any idea how you are going to define Wisdom over and above Knowledge? Probably not. Do you even know why you want to stick it at the top? Probably not. Of course if you are in this position thats great and I apologise in advance. My only concern is that we are just making more work for ourselves in an already difficult environment. It adds nothing to explaining KM to the wider work place and does little for the practicalities of taking it forward.

2. Play. I will write more of this later - by which I mean I will actually give some examples proper rather than just theory. But in developing a praxis of KM we must emphasise the importance of play - that is as a method of learning. Don't worry I am not going to suggest a day of paintballing or anything that requires too much of that kind of exertion.

3. Time and history. As almost every practitioner will tell you. KM is not done to an organisation. It is probably being done on some level somewhere. A major part of KM is joining up these dots.

Until anon.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

The True Way of Knowledge

Or, How to be a corporate ninja part III

Even today in a world where presenters have started to add wisdom to the top of their KM triangles (even though they have not yet structured their IM) knowledge continues to be treated as a treasure to be buried only to be found by following the map marked with an 'X'.

But this is only a way of becoming stale, stagnant and rotten. You will find that you will walk the same path again and again and where once there was lush forest, animals of varifold colour and wonder, now it has become a motorway surrounded on all sides by ghettoes or glistening and untouchable skyscrapers, where traffic means it is impossible to move and hours are spent listening to inane radio shows, where you have to leave the house an hour early in order to get anywhere on time.

This is not the way of the ninja.

Knowledge is by its nature that which become other than itself in time. It is difference in kind not degree. Knowledge is not atemporal and the ninja must learn the pleasures of time.

Knowledge expands when it is shared in the same way that time itself changes in kind when it is divided. The reasons are twofold. And interior and an exterior fold.

1. The interior fold is that game which one plays with oneself. That is to say that in sharing one must then move on and learn / create new knowlede in order to have more to share. It is like playing a game of chess with oneself - each time having to ouwit oneself.

2. The exterior fold is that when a thing is shared it becomes different in its application. Watching this difference will provide further lessons, that is furnish you with further knowledge.

You will have noted that the two folds overlap and this is because even notions we take for granted such as interior / exterior are false and function only as models of utility. All concepts are grey. Such is the play. Such is the way of the ninja.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Leverage your governance

Or, How to be a corporate ninja part II

Having written my last post I thought it probably came across as terribly negative. I suppose that's the problem with a blog - it is subject to how one is feeling, but I wanted to provide something a bit more positive because otherwise I would change the title of the blog to 'My constant gripes' and I don't want to do that.

Most organisations, if not all, do provide a way for ideas to develop and be applied. This is because most organisations are monitored with a variety of statistics, targets, aims, objectives, strategies and policy. However much individual managers may agree or disagree with overall aims or their own personal targets they will want to meet them (unless they have completely opted out in which case they are on their way out).

As an interesting aside, Kant proposed a similar model in terms of how one should fulfil their duty in society. Instead of what one might consider the usual model where it is imagined that demonstration should be undertaken in a public forum while it is in one's own private space that one abides by the law, Kant proposes the opposite. It is in public life that one should obey the laws, that one should fulfil one's duty, because otherwise we would fall into anarchy. Instead it is in one's private space that one should create forums for discussing the possibility of change. Of course a radical view might consider this a useless form of protest in practical application however we are discussing organisations so we don't really need to worry about the absolute radical.

Anyway, the point is that this model is especially applicable within a business model where individually people express a certain amount of natural discontent (or where would the ambition be?) but in their daily working lives generally aim to do our best within the parameters given.

But I have digressed. The aim of this detour is that organisations do have management structures and at each level managers are requested to fulfil their own targets. So though there might be wider concerns that might imply a conflict with particular ideas (often due to the necessary bureaucracy of agreeing high level policy and direction) if the idea can be seen to help deliver the bottom line then there will usually be a semi senior manager / middle manager who will be willing to agree it's implementation.

It's all about buy-in and demonstrating real world use. What you're aiming at is limited buy in, not from without but with the buy in of those users that will most benefit. It also means that you have some feedback to ensure that what you're doing is not complete madness, which is entirely possible - if it's a bad idea don't expect it to get far.

Good luck with your ninja skills.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

When Governance Impedes Movement

Or, The Quicksand of Codification

Or, How To Be A Corporate Ninja

I recently read an interesting item in Gurteen's newsletter which besides telling me he is in Bangkok (great city, ignore anything anyone says about how seedy it is, it has way way more to offer), noted a need for managers 2.0. Modeled on our new, open, social way of doing things now that web 2.0 has arrived. In the item in question he noted a book called The Future of Management here a number of points are proposed describing this new type of manager. These are:

  • Everyone has a voice.
  • The tools of creativity are widely distributed.
  • Its easy and cheap to experiment.
  • Capability counts for more than credentials and titles.
  • Commitment is voluntary.
  • Power is granted from below.
  • Authority is fluid and contingent on value-added.
  • The only hierarchies are "natural" hierarchies.
  • Communities are self-defining. Individuals are richly empowered with information.
  • Just about everything is decentralized.
  • Ideas compete on an equal footing.
  • It's easy for buyers and sellers to find each other.
  • Resources are free to follow opportunities.
  • Decisions are peer-based.

All interesting and good but not entirely new. In one of the essays in the MIT book Knowledge Management: Classic and Contemporary Works a model for organisations is given where middle management is much smaller but greater emphasis is placed on experts. So too tools such as internal conferences, leading on internal CoPs and other wonderfully engaging processes are implemented and have delivered greater retention of employees and higher employee satisfaction.

But I still think these companies are leaders in the field and unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that however much we hear of the increasing importance of KM, it is still not internalised. Which leads me on to the need to be a corporate ninja.

I had to train for many years on the mountain tops of Tibet before realising myself as one and capable of hearing the need for another governance strategy at 500 paces. After these years of training I feel I am now capable of teaching you the ways of the covert KM worker. So while the leaders mull and chew the need for control it is your job to make sure the blood of knowledge can still flow through.

Mmmm, okay the metaphor is not that great but basically there is a need in every organisation for those who will push against the grain. It is the tension between the need for proper management and organisational structures against those that work within it that is the most dynamic part. As a KM person with a bit of (but never quite enough) influence, in most organisations there will be a desire to bog you down with models, ownership, outputs, targets, etc. Having worked as a consultant for many years and seen the effects of organisations that don't have any of this in place I would be the last person to suggest that this was not necessary. All these things are good but within them there has to be an implication of trust. Someone hired these people based on the idea that they were good enough to do the job so let them get on.

KM requires more trust than most other parts of the business process. Although everyone can see the benefits they are hard to quantify with any immediacy and in the long term it would be hard to identify what exactly KM was responsible for within an evolving and changing organisation.

So while governance and ownership are important these are not new things. They have always been needed and always will be needed. What you can add is trying to develop the fastest way between two points of knowledge without being asked to map it . . . in infinitesimal detail. Remember it is not the managers who are the core of the organisation, it is the product and if you can help the product, in the end, no one will complain (well they might actually).

Change management or plain incompetence

Change management has become a popular term in recent years. 'Change is life' and all that. Which is fine, you'll not find any complaints about the concept here but there is sometimes a feeling that actually the term is being hijacked by senior management to cover up for basically not knowing what they are doing.

Here are a few observations on when change might just be a lack of direction:
1. fundamental policy / vision is changed every couple of months leaving the lower echelons of the office at a loss for what is actually going on
2. department strategies and definitions are written AFTER restructure
3. governance seems to become an issue in itself, not tied to management or restructures
4. when a number of serial restructures do not seems to effect the bottom line (or make it worse) and lead to a demoralised workforce without direction (see 1.)

If anyone has anymore, or completely disagrees comments are welcome.

And then it became strategically important!

So you've recognised the project. You can see the gap. You know it would work because you've seen it elsewhere, and you know you can do it, because you're a confident and hard working chap or chapess. But no-one wants to know. At least not those in those seats of power or even mini power. They've never heard of it before, can't he bothered or have to many other 'urgent' things to do. No matter you push on. You wander the empty corridors of petty power (or petty people) seeking anyone who might take up the cause. And finally you do.

Slowy things get mentioned, get talked about, it moves on to agendas of people you haven't heard of. Sometimes your name even gets mentioned but of course this is now becoming important. They probably need a consutant, and someone with a senior mmanagement responsibility. If you're somewhere half good they might even ask your opinion. They might ask you to be on the project board.

Then you arrive at project board and there are lots of people there, some of whom you can't quite work out the purpose of. The project rises in status but now it is properly important – a key bullet point in your department / organisation strategy it probably needs a strategy. And if it needs a strategy, if it is important there are a whole range of people who feel they should have a say. Papers appear – a lot of them not very good because these people don't know about the project they just know they should have a say because they too are important and important people should have a say about important things.

And the something dies inside you. Actually it's not quite worth this. It's not worth the fight to stay involved or repeat the information a dozen times. If they want to learn it all themselves, if they feel that they knew it all along then perhaps it's best to leave them to it. So you fold away your project plans, take all those great books home again and watch the unfolding of a very important project.