Thursday 26 September 2019

The moment KM was born - a story

This is a reprise from the archives - a story of when KM was launched at British Petroleum through an early meeting of supporters and enthusiasts.

It's an extract from my book Performance Through Learning (available here), telling of a key moment in the history of the BP KM journey - the moment that KM was launched as a "movement". I have highlighted that moment in bold below.

The setting is a basement conference room in Milan in the late 90s, where everyone in the organisation who was already doing something KM-related was brought together for three days, to share experience, to map out the collective way forward and to launch a corporate program.

"The room was too small for the number of tables, and the pillars made it difficult to see the stage. People needed to crane their heads to get a clear view, and the air was stifling from the heat of the video lights (the whole event was being captured on video, and web-cast live onto the BP Intranet). And yet there was a tremendous buzz in the room".

Three days in Milan - 1998 

"The three days had been an intense experience, as KM enthusiasts from around the BP group had stood up on stage and described the approaches they were already applying to managing knowledge. 
"Ray King had told us of his online community of computer modelers, Tony Kuhel told us about the Olympus knowledge base in BP Oil, John Minge beamed in by videoconference to talk about knowledge sharing on Texas drilling rigs, and many others shared their successes and plans. 
"Then there were the outside experts - Colonel Ed with his ‘war stories’ from the Army, Larry Prusak talking animatedly and powerfully for an hour without notes, John Henderson with his view of the future Knowledge Economies. Finally there was the input from the rest of the company, as people all over the world used the Knowledge Management website to raise issues and ask questions, which were read out loud to the assembled delegates in Milan every morning"

The moment of commitment 

"It was now the afternoon on the third day. The buzz was still high. We had spent the late morning in breakout groups, working some of the critical issues which needed to be overcome if KM was ever to be a way of life for BP. Jim Shannon, a video producer from the Alaska office, was standing on stage reporting the results from his group’s discussion. 
"Jim explained how the top levels of BP need to articulate the scale of the challenge and the potential benefits, and then cascade the KM ideals down to the production floor. People need to be involved, and the Knowledge Management community, exemplified by the attendees at this meeting, needed to identify and understand those people they will depend on for success. 
“How many of you people attending the meeting” Jim asked “are willing to go back and become champions within your businesses, to evangelize and lead Knowledge Management? Stand up if you are willing to be an evangelist for KM”. 
"There was a moment's pause, and then chairs began scraping back all around the room as every delegate rose to their feet in a silent movement of commitment to the KM cause".


"After the meeting was over, the KM team travelled out to a restaurant on the shores of Lake Como where I led the group in our own retrospect of the conference. Each of us could identify our personal success factor. 
"For Nigel Gibbs, it was “'the sense, level and quality of community that we developed. Transforming 80 individual learners to a community of learners was the biggest shift I've encountered in such a session. The challenge now, for me, is to shift the community of learners to be a learning community.” 
"Barry Smale noted that we avoided the event being a 'Show and Tell' of KM Team presentations. “This was an objective in the organization of the event and worked extremely well since the delegates got ownership.” 
"Georgie Dicker recalled the continual buzz of enthusiasm in the room and how she ended up in a nightclub with a bunch of the delegates where they were still talking about Knowledge Management at 3 a.m. in the morning. 
"All of us agreed that Milan had been the right event at the right time and had sparked an excitement and commitment that would form the foundation of BP’s move towards a fully knowledge-enabled company".

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