Monday, 23 March 2015

Helping people FEEL the value of KM

If you want someone to buy something, they need to be convinced that it is worth the investment. If your product is a good one, then you can convince people by letting them try before they buy.

That's why Apple allows you to play with all its products in the Apple store. That's why cheese-stalls in the market give away free samples. That's why car salesmen let you take a test-drive in that new Mercedes.
KM, Before and After

But how can you test-drive knowledge management?

For the past 10 years, we have been running a knowledge Management exercise called Bird Island which acts as a KM test-drive. The purpose of the exercise is to allow people to experience personally the value of Knowledge Management by seeing (and feeling) the impact it has on their performance.

The exercise is a simple one - the delegates are divided into teams, given a small set of materials, and asked to build as tall a tower as possible (with some environmental constraints). Then knowledge is brought into the equation, first through an after action review within the team, secondly through a peer assist with another team, and finally through presentation of a best practice knowledge asset showing the secrets of building the tallest towers from previous courses.

Armed with a full set of knowledge, they build the tower again, and frequently treble or quadruple their previous performance. 

Behind the exercise is a very simple KM system;

  • Every time a team makes a new modification and improvement to the tower design, I photograph it 
  • I update the Best Practice knowledge asset to include the new modification 
  • I present the updated knowledge asset in the next training course 
  • People use this as the basis for their own design, and often innovate even further (and the innovations feed the next improvement cycle). 

It is the emotional impact in the exercise that sells KM.

This impact comes at three points:

  1. When a team with a small tower, who have defined what they think is the limit of possibility for tower height,  holds a peer assist with a team which has already exceeded that limit. You can almost hear the minds opening at this point.
  2. When the teams are shown a picture of the current world record tower, which is FAR beyond their perceived limits. You can definitely hear minds opening here, and at this point I tell them that the only thing the winning team had which the current teams don't yet have, is knowledge. Everything else is equal - knowledge is the only difference.
  3. When the teams look in wonder and pride at their second towers, built with a full set of knowledge, which are usually close to the world record, and sometimes set a new record.
This is the KM test drive; it's an emotionally engaging mind-opener for the participants, and never fails to convert people to the value of KM. 

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