Monday, 15 July 2019

Knowledge Management and Innovation

What’s the link between Innovation and KM? Are they opposites? Are they the same? Are they two sides of the same coin? This post from the archives explores the relationship between the two.

 Here are some of our thoughts. As ever we would like to hear from you on whether you agree or disagree with our assertions on this topic.
  • Knowledge management takes over from Innovation at the point where an idea becomes knowledge, which is when you first test the idea, and first gain experience from which you can learn. 
  • New ideas can often spring from old knowledge combined in new ways - the Remix approach to innovation. 
  • Proactive innovation beats reactive innovation. Systems where employees volunteer innovative ideas are nowhere near as powerful as systems where planned conversations are held around work process. The Technical Limit process, for example, where work crews are led through a structured discussion seeking new approaches, often leads to step changes in performance. 
  • Networked innovation is a favoured model. Bringing together a series of fresh minds can lead to breakthrough solutions. The more diverse the network, the more radical the innovations can be, and we have experienced this ourselves at innovation-focused peer assists. Networked innovation forms the core of our Business Driven Action Learning approach. 
  • Both Innovation and KM need to sit within a single strategic umbrella, focused on organisational competence. This could be an Organizational Learning Strategy, for example. This strategy would map out the competence of the organisation, both current and desired, and map out its knowledge, both existing and missing. Missing knowledge, if it exists, can be learned or bought in, or created/innovated.
  • Innovation and KM are both driven by challenge. If people are not challenged, they will do what they have always done, using the knowledge they already have. The best way to get someone to actively seek for knowledge (either through innovation or re-use) is to give them a challenge they don’t know how to solve. We saw this when studying innovation in the Innovene (Chemicals) process, where innovation was driven by the sales force making promises that were beyond current technology. Ford drove incremental innovation by continually decreasing operating budgets. BP drives innovation by promising a continuous improvement in operating efficiency.  
  • Innovation and KM only come into conflict when used inappropriately. Reuse of old knowledge is inappropriate if it can’t do the job. This is known in English as "flogging a dead horse". Innovation is a waste of time if sufficient knowledge already exists. This is known as "reinventing the wheel". See the discussion here. 

Perhaps the greatest waste of all is when great ideas are lost because organisations fail to manage their knowledge holistically. Our South African colleague Ian remembers a classic example that demonstrates why it is important:
 ‘The importance of managing knowledge was highlighted during the 1990s in De Beers. Ilana, a young metallurgist, was given a project. Ilana found the solution in a visionary internal report written in 1971 – an idea that appeared before its time. The innovative solution radically improved diamond recoveries and cut costs – the new technology was rapidly deployed across the group’.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Is your KM progam reactive, or proactive?

Is your Knowledge Management framework reactive, or proactive? And what's the difference?

Let's look at two ways in which you can develop a KM approach of KM Framework. Let's call them reactive, and proactive.

Reactive KM

A reactive KM framework reacts to events.

  • You may react to the threat of knowledge loss, for example putting in place retention interviewing when a key person is about to retire from the organisation. 
  • You may react to knowledge gain, by capturing and documenting lessons from a project, ensuring that knowledge captured from success or failure is documented for future use.
  • You may collecting best practices from people when they have delivered a great piece of work. 
  • You may react in communities of practice, where people ask for help in solving the problems they have just encountered. 

Proactive KM

A proactive KM framework anticipates events.

  • You may ask, "what is the strategic knowledge the company will need going forward? How will we create it; where will it come from"?  Then you put in place activities and accountabilities to develop that knowledge.
  • You may ask "what is our core knowledge we need to retain and deepen? Where is it, and how do we protect and improve it". You identify where the knowledge is held by only one person, for example, and make sure that knowledge becomes spread among the community, and documented where possible. You protect the knowledge well before there is any risk of loss. 
  • You may take a proactive view of knowledge in a project, developing a Knowledge Management plan to ensure the project has the knowledge it needs at the start, and identifies the knowledge it should create for others.
  • You may take a proactive view in a community of practice, and ask "What are our key community topics? Lets get our heads together and see if we can combien our knowledge of these topics, and find better ways to work".
  • Or questions in communities of practice may be more like "How do I avoid problems in my upcoming project".

A proactive KM approach identifies the key knowledge or knowledge gaps in advance, and puts in place strategies to manage this, whereas in a reactive approach, knowledge management is always "after the event". As one person described a lesson management system - a typical reactive approach when used in isolation  - as "a thousand locked stable doors after a thousand bolted horses".

You need both reactive and proactive of course; Knowledge Management is always more "both/and" than "either/or", and reactive knowledge capture from a "bolted horse" can lead to all the other stables proactively locking their doors (if I may be allowed to extend a metaphor). 

You need both, and if you omit the proactive side, your KM will always be playing catch-up.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

If you think KM is only about managing documents, you are missing a lot!

The organisation, findability and access to documents is part of KM, but by no means all.

There is a strong tradition of document management within the KM field, and this is a very good thing. Some of an organisation's knowledge will be held within documents (although some would argue this point) and those knowledge-holding documents need to be managed, organised findable and usable; just like any other document.

However if document management or content management is all that your KM program is working on, you are missing out on many things. Here are a few of them.

  1. Identifying and externalising knowledge. This represents helping experts and teams to express what they know, so that others can hear it, or so that the knowledge can be recorded in video or documented form. This is the area of where interviewing processes are very important. Much of an expert's knowledge is uncionsiocus - too deep for them to recognise - and this deep knowledge is not only where the really valuable knowledge lies, it is also the knowledge that otherwise would never end up in a document.  KM should include processes and roles to aid in identifying and externalising this knowledge.

  2. Connecting people in communities of practice. This represents a focus on creating knowledge-sharing networks which act as reservoirs of tacit knowledge, which can be shared, combined and built collectively. This tacit knowledge may never be codified, and much of the knowledge transfer happens through conversation rather than content. A series of posts on this blog, and the Knoco website CoP page, provide a whole set of guidance on communities of practice, which remains knowledge management's Number 1 core tool, at least for larger organisations. CoPs are not an information management discipline.

  3. Transfer of knowledge from team to team, or from person to person. This represents a focus on knowledge transfer through conversation (particularly dialogue).  Transfer of lessons can be through conversations in contexts such as Peer Assist and Knowledge Handover.  There are more posts on this blog about the use of dialogue in knowledge transfer. These techniques have nothing to do with documents, and the conversations may never be documented.

  4. Learning from Experience. This represents a focus on discussing and assimilating knowledge from activity and from projects. It focuses as much on the creation and application/embedding of the lessons as on their management as content. This is a combination of identifying and externalising knowledge through processes such as After Action review and Retrospect, and then the management of the lessons so identified.  A series of posts on this blog, and the Knoco website Lesson Learned page, provide a whole set of guidance on effective lesson learning, which remains knowledge management's Number 2 core tool, at least for project based organisations. This is not a document management discipline either.

  5. Knowledge retention. This represents a focus on retaining, and transferring to others, tacit knowledge from experts which might otherwise be at risk of loss. The tacit knowledge may be documented, although much of the knowledge transfer may happen through conversational processes such as mentoring and coaching. Several posts on this blog, and the Knoco website Retention page, provide a whole set of guidance on knowledge retention, which remains a core tool for knowledge management, at least for organisations with mature workforces. Knowledge Retention is also not an information management discipline.

  6. Combination of knowledge from multiple sources. This represents a focus on comparing knowledge from many sources (people and documents), and synthesising the best possible knowledge for given contexts, which can then be standardised across the organisation. This may be a best practice approach to a task, or a best design for a product component. Think of the Pilot's Checklist - in use in all airlines - as an example of such "Best Practice". This blog, and the Knoco website Knowledge Asset page, provides a whole set of guidance on knowledge synthesis and best practices, which remain core tools for KM. Although knowledge can be combined from multiple documents, this is not a document management discipline as it apples to the contents of the documents, and not the documents themselves.

  7. Innovation. This focuses on the creation of new knowledge, when old knowledge is not longer sufficient. This blog contains guidance on Innovation, which is a KM tool and not an IM tool.

So there is much more to KM than the organisation and retrieval of documents. If documents are your current KM focus, then try adding some or all of the approaches above. Your KM program will be all the richer for it. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Two simple management questions that drive a KM culture

KM behaviours can be influenced quite easily by two simple questions from line management

Image from wikipedia
I posted on Monday about "What's in it for me" in KM, and how implementing Knowledge Management relies on identifying the local value. Part of the local value can be driven by the local manager, as "fulfilling managers expectations" is generally a valuable thing for people to do!

It is surprisingly easy for managers to set KM expectations. All they/you have to do is ask two questions.
Who have you learned from?
Who have you shared this with?

Who have you learned from?

If you are a leader, then every time someone comes to you with a proposed solution to a problem, or a proposed course of action, you ask “Who have you learned from”?  Through this question, you are implying that they should have learned from others before proposing a solution – that they should have “learned before doing”.

Who have you shared with?

Also, every time someone comes to you to report a problem solved or a process improved, or a new pitfall or challenged addressed, you ask “Who have you shared this with”? Through this question, you are implying that they should share any new learnings with others.

The great thing about leaders’ questions, is they drive behaviour. People start to anticipate them, and to do the learning before, and the sharing afterwards. People hate to be asked these two questions, and having to answer “umm, well, nobody actually”. They would much rather say “we have learned from X and Y, and have a Peer Assist planned with Z”, “We have shared with the A community, and are holding a Knowledge Handover next week with B project”. And once you drive the behaviours, the transfer of knowledge will happen, the value will be delivered, and the system will reinforce itself.

But the moment you stop asking the questions, people realise that you, as a leader, are no longer interested in KM, so they will stop bothering.

There’s an old saying – “What interests my manager fascinates me”, so managers should make sure they are interested, and ask the questions.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

10 ways in which Knowledge is like Electricity

A visit to an Electricity Substation got me thinking about how Knowledge and Electricity are alike, and how the electrical power grid of a country can form an analogy to the Knowledge management framework of an organisation.

Public domain image from maxpixel
Here are some of the ways
1) Both Electricity and Knowledge have no real value until they are applied.  Neither electricity in a battery, nor knowledge in someone's head, has any value until it is turned into action. 
2) Both Electricity and Knowledge need to flow before they can be applied. Electricity flows in a current, knowledge flows between people.
3) Both Electricity and Knowledge need connections in order to flow. Electricity needs a grid in order to flow around a country, with generating stations connected to substations connected to houses and connected to devices such as laptops and freezers.  Knowledge needs connections between people, and connections from people to stored knowledge. Connections can occur within communities of practice, for example; these are KM's equivalent of the power grids that cross a country. 
4) The connections need to be closed in a circuit. I am thinking of power circuits now - the sort of things we built in school, with light bulbs and batteries.  Knowledge also needs to be part of a closed loop; knowledge is applied in action, but is also created through action. Consumers of knowledge are also producers of knowledge, and the flow of knowledge needs to form a closed learning loop. 
5) The flow of electricity and knowledge both need to serve the needs of the consumer. The person who switches on their laptop expects the electricity to arrive. The person who asks a question of their Community of Practice, or types a query into a search engine, expects the answer to arrive. In either case, if this does not happen, the consumer loses faith in the system. 
 6) Both electricity and knowledge can flow into and out of storage.  Electricity can be stored in batteries at a small scale, and at a larger scale in technologies such as pumped storage schemes.  Knowledge can be stored in knowledge assets and knowledge bases
7) The storage needs to be efficient. You need to get out what you put in, as much as possible. Efficient batteries can power computers as well as cars nowadays. Efficient knowledge assets are also needed. You can never store all the knowledge of a topic in documents, videos and other files, but the percentage that you can store needs to be easy to use, and rich in context and content.
8) The storage can go out of date. We have all looked in the battery drawer and found batteries that are leaking, that have become corroded, and that will no longer work. And I guess many of us have looked in knowledge bases and found knowledge that is so out of data as to be worthless. Our knowledge storage system needs to be kept fresh and up to date, old knowledge needs to be thrown out, like old batteries.
9) Both electricity and knowledge need a generation capability.  There needs to be a mechanism for generating electricity, and a mechanism for generating new knowledge. The old mechanisms used to be centralised generation - a power station or an R&D department generating electricity and knowledge respectively.  Nowadays generation of both electricity and knowledge is becoming more decentralised. Consumers can become producers, with local solar panels and local windmills producing electricity locally. Similarly consumers of knowledge can also be producers, with processes such as After Action Review and Lessons Capture producing knowledge locally. 
10)  Introducing a country-wide electrical grid is a massive undertaking, with the construction of pylons, substations, power lines and meters. Similarly introducing a company-wide knowledge grid is a big undertaking, with the creation of communities of practice and project-based learning systems, the introduction of new roles and process and new technologies. Both systems require maintenance - by the Transmission System Operator, and by the Knowledge Management Team. And after a few years, we being to wonder how we could ever have lived without them!

Knowledge management - think of it as "keeping the mental lightbulbs glowing"

Monday, 8 July 2019

The Knowledge Management "What's in it for me"

Knowledge Management will work in an organisation when there is something of value in it for the people involved.

This is what we call the "principle of local value" - the WIIFM for the KM user.

If KM is of local value, it will work, and people will adopt it The more they see and feel value, the more avid users they will become. If the value is only for others, then people will not bother.

The value is greatest when people can see and feel themselves as benefiting from Knowledge Management, for example when they find valuable and useful knowledge using Peer Assists for example or  getting answers from a Community of Practice. Their questions are answered, their problems are solved, they work more easily and with less risk, and they are happy.

Let's look at where the value for the individual comes from, in knowledge seeking and in knowledge sharing.

Local Value from Knowledge seeking

These benefits for knowledge seeking can come through any of the following means
  • Assistance -- if people seek for knowledge, and find useful knowledge easily which they can apply to help them in their work, then this is a very powerful incentive to seek again next time.The knowledge can save them time, save them effort, and help them deliver better results.
  • Answers -- if people have questions, then the KM framework should provide answers 
  • Curiosity -- some people are much more inclined to look for alternative ideas and new approaches than others. Make sure that the KM system satisfies their curiosity
  • Trust -- if people trust the knowledge source, and trust the process of asking for help (in other words, they trust that they will not be ridiculed or criticised for needing to ask) they are more likely to seek for knowledge. 
  • Satisfying management expectation - people are very good at sensing (and doing) what is expected of them, and management can explicitly set the expectation that people will look for knowledge before starting something new. 
  • Peer pressure - people follow the example of others. If they see others successfully seeking knowledge, and being recognised for this, they are more likely to follow suit. 

Local value from Knowledge Sharing

The value of sharing knowledge is less clear, because Knowledge Sharing requires an investment of effort on behalf of others (for example holding a Retrospect, or collecting Lessons for others). Here is some of the value for people in sharing what they know

  • Pride, status and recognition -- people are more likely to share knowledge when they are proud of what they have accomplished. They are also more likely to share knowledge if the knowledge “travels with their name on it”.  Nobody likes to contribute knowledge which somebody else will claim credit for. Good behaviours in terms of capturing and sharing knowledge can be recognised through awards, through mentions from senior management, or via articles in internal publications
  • Reciprocity -- people are more likely to share knowledge with others when they expect to get knowledge back again at some time in the future (or have already benefited from the knowledge of others). 
  • Friendship and Loyalty -- people are more likely to share knowledge when they have built relationships within the community of practice, and feel that the knowledge will be used by people they know, respect and like. 
  • Altruism -- let's face it, some people are just naturally more helpful, and more willing to share what they know, than others. Work with these people in the early stages of implementation. 
  • Satisfying management expectation -- management can set the expectation that people will capture and share knowledge after a significant piece of work. 
  • Peer pressure - people follow the example of others. If they see others taking time out to capture and share knowledge, especially from projects that may not have gone well and where there may traditionally have been a reluctance to "wash dirty linen", they are more likely to follow suit. 

Friday, 5 July 2019

How knowledge can be "the thread through the labyrinth"

"The thread through the labyrinth" is a metaphor for allowing others to follow our steps safely. This is what Knowledge can do. 

When Theseus negotiated Daedelus' labyrinth in order to kill the Minotaur, he left a thread behind him (provided by Ariadne, daughter of Minos) so that the way through the Labyrinth would be clearly marked.

Cave divers do something similar, unreeling a line behind them as they explore the labyrinth of flooded passageways; both so they can find their own way out, and also so that others can follow the path without getting lost, or without having to explore the same dead ends and blind alleys that the first divers did. 

Sometimes, negotiating our projects feels like making our way through a labyrinth, especially when the project has to negotiate complex regulatory or bureaucratic hurdles, or technical difficulties.

When we successfully negotiate these hurdles, which sometimes can be long and taxing, we need to leave a thread behind us for the sake of the next project.

Imagine the first project of its type in a country - the first factory, or the first branch office. Imagine you have eventually worked your way through the maze of rules, regulations and red tape, contracts and logistics. The thread you leave behind is not string, but the collected knowledge (the "knowledge asset") that enables the second factory, or the second branch office, to successfully follow the path of the first.

That knowledge might include;
  • The list of activities you need to undertake
  • The order in which to undertake them
  • The people you must contact, and how to contact them
  • The letters you must send, and how to write them
  • The evidence you must collect, and how to best present it
Without leaving this trail of knowledge behind you, the second factory or the second branch office will approach the maze of logistics and legislation with the same ignorance as the first, and may get just as lost and confused.

If you are the first to try something, then leave a guideline of knowledge for others to lean from.

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