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Blog silence

Within a day after Sebastien Paquet announced he was going to reduce his blogging activities, my own blog fell silent as well. Which was rather an untimely event since Sebastien was advocating me as a possible destination for a daily dosis of blogging on what he describes as 'human knowledge management', to compensate for missing his own daily posts. By the way I am delighted by the term Sebastien coined: 'human knowledge management'. I don't know if it is a comprehensive description of where my professional interests are, but it certainly is spot on regarding the angle I take. An angle I had not put into words, so this is progress.

The reason I fell silent had everything to do with the fact that I was running my legs of getting everything done that must be done before the end of Friday 20th. And as I referred to myself here before as more of a thinker, I tend to blog more while I'm thinking. It has been a doing-week-and-a-half. Did I miss blogging? Yes, I did, even though I had nothing to blog about, too much to do to collect interesting blog items.

Blogging silence.....(scene taken from Moshen Makhmalbaf's The Silence, a hit at the 1999 Venice Film Festival)

In the coming two weeks while I'm off from work I'll be updating here more frequently again I guess. The books you see lined up on the right hand side will get their last pages turned, and I'm sure they will get me thinking. And thinking is sure to get me blogging. Thanks for your patience.

I have noticed though, that even as there was nothing new to read here, the number of visits has been above average in the last days. Much of it was sparked by my post about Judith Mair and her ban on fun in the workplace. Are there that much CEO's looking for ways to bring back the good ol' age of heavy command and control? Or are there that much employees looking for arguments to increase the fun at work. I guess I'll never know....

On to some links:

A friend of Sebastiens, Philippe Beaudoin, has posted his thoughts on how blogs are sort of a metasearch-engine.

Also, while metablogging, Thomas Burg of Randgaenge has put out a call for papers for a conference on blogging in Vienna in May 2003. I will give it some thought if I have enough to say to send in an application for participation, but I am already pretty much convinced to try and attend the actual conference.

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Flying CoPs

Andrea Janssen posts a text by Diane Le Moult of Siemens with lessons and guide lines concerning Communities of Practice. I could have, or maybe should have, seen it myself, as I am a frequent visitor of KnowledgeBoard.

In our company we have transformed the way we work in the last year. Earlier we had senior researchers, all responsible for acquiring accounts, with a pool of junior researchers that were asked to participate on project to project basis. The problem was that most of the time the seniors did not know for sure if they could claim enough time with juniors to get the work done, as they were all competing for the same people. Now we have built teams, based on their field of research, with at least two seniors and a group of juniors. One senior is primarily responsible for client contacts (next to doing research of course), the other primarily for making the projects run smoothly (also next to doing research). The juniors now have time for building up more specialist expertise, while the seniors exactly know how much work they can give them.

Reading Diane's text on CoPs I think it is time to review our first experiences with having teams in the light of her guide lines and lessons. It'll probably turn up a nugget of two, to improve the work in our teams.

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Fun is in! Or is it?

While on KnowledgeBoard the role of having fun in motivating knowledge workers is highlighted, and attempts are made to identify the building blocks of having fun in your work, counter initiatives are reported from elsewhere. Via the Trust e-mail group Nick King of BT points me to an attempt to bring back Prussian discipline to the workplace. Thirty year old Judith Mair published "Fun is Out" in German (Schluss mit Lustig!), including these golden rules:

  • Working Monday to Friday only from 9am to 5.30pm
  • A half-hour lunch break for which a stand-in is found
  • No work taken home
  • All desks cleared by the end of the day
  • Conversations about non-business subjects to be no more than five minutes
  • No laughing. “There is no place for anyone who thinks that the only good work is work that is fun”
  • Mobile phones to be switched off in the office. Private e-mailing at lunchtime
  • Colleagues should be addressed formally. No one has to be cheerful. Grumpiness is tolerated if it does not interfere with work
  • Working clothes to be issued wherever possible. Frau Mair has introduced a stewardess-like uniform in her own company
  • Employees are discouraged from meeting after hours and are under instruction not to talk shop.
  • Banned words include: workflow, deadline, briefing, brainstorming
  • No skateboards, no baseball caps

    I could agree if the fun factors at work were not part of the work, and added as extra's. But I strongly believe that work has to be fun, for me to be motivated, creative, and productive. So from her list I can understand the skateboard and baseball caps, if that's not the image your company needs or wants to project. But a ban on laughing? Only this week, as I wrote here earlier, I've witnessed our most productive sales meeting in years.... It was also the first sales meeting where people were laughing. Or is she targeting the definitions of fun where it has become ok to lessen quality and effectivity levels? That would be understandable, since I would look for fun to boost quality awareness and effectivity because of motivated people feeling responsible for their work, and the end results they help to bring forth.

    Might it just be that Mair is successful with her ban on fun ONLY because the German economy is slowing down, so that her employees have nowhere else to go? That would turn the causality she implies completely around. To take an extreme example: dictatorships only function as long as there are no alternatives for dissenters. As soon as an alternative arises, the dictatorship will collapse. It might also well be that Mairs golden rules are the first steps of a vicious circle: if productivity falls further, oppress them more. I would be very interested in employee satisfaction surveys in her company.

    All in all Mairs proposals sound like a step back towards the 'industrial era' paradigm that turns employees into cost-sources, and interchangeable parts of the production process, wage slaves. A paradigm knowledge professionals work hard to replace.

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    Blogging Cold Turkey

    Lilia Efimova returns to the Blogosphere with Mathemagenic after being unable to blog for two weeks due to the fire at Twente University that knocked out both her work and home internet connection. She describes the effects of not being able to blog: thoughts and ideas not followed up on, notetaking on articles frustrated, and concludes that her productivity was lower than compared to when she did blog.

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    Grass Roots: Learning to Share

    Me, I'm more of a thinker than a practitioner, and that is also the case for a significant part of my colleagues I believe. This translates into lengthy debates on almost anything in our company, without resulting in decisions, and implementation thereof. Part of the problem is, in my view, that we're good at thinking up grand schemes concerning internal organisation and not so good at getting stuff done. As I fit this profile as well as any, you can imagine that I have problems getting KM-initiatives of the ground. The result is that some colleagues are wondering what the heck it is I'm doing here. That is something that needs to be remedied fast, as it diminishes the chances of any of the changes I propose actually making it into our everyday practice.

    So now I'm purposely setting out to bridge the gap between theory and practice. First of all I have been engaging in conversations with a trusted colleague to try and unearth why it is that I personally have difficulties seeing ideas through to the implementation stage. It has certainly to do with roles I am comfortable with and not. Maybe delegation to others is a possibility, or maybe it's a question of building up more experience. That's one track.

    Bridging the gap between grand scheme and grass roots

    The other is to try and stop mentioning KM, but start offering help in (grass roots) initiatives of colleagues, and thus assuring KM-style input into these initiatives.
    In this second track an example: our researchers that have roles in accountmanagement meet regularly to share experiences and learn from each other, or so it was originally intended. In practice it is nothing more than people recounting what clients they have met, and which assignments they've taken on. Nothing that can't be found in the acquisitionreports we all get anyway. A colleague, irritated about the unfulfilled potential here, came to me and asked for my assistance. We decided not to debate our issues at length (see first paragraph) but just go ahead and try a different approach, and see how it works out.

    First we have changed the way acquisitionreports are made. They used to list clientcontacts by researcher. We've turned it around and now list contacts per client, as we think we should talk about client-contacts and not researcher-contacts. The second change is that we asked all researchers that will attend the meeting to not talk about what exactly they talked about with clients, as was the routine untill now. Instead we asked them to select one example from their recent contacts that says something about the impressions we make on our clients. How do they see us, and is that image the one we want to convey? Is there a pattern in the observations we make?

    As an example I recounted in my introductory instructions my recent visit to a prospect. This prospect viewed us a software company as the only productinformation he saw from us was one having to do with some software we happen to sell as a tool. This tool is part of a larger product that is in the area of consulting. So I talked with this prospect about what it is we actually do. Now how is it that this prospect got the wrong impression? Is our productinformation not clear enough? These are the sort of things my colleague and I want to talk about when meeting the other accountmanageing researchers.

    Oh and third is, that we got the one chairing the meeting on our side for this experiment. So at 13:00 we'll see how the first steps in this experiment will work out, as that is when the meeting will get underway.

    The reason I'm telling you this is two-fold. By publishing this, even though it is scary as I recount weaknesses in me, and in our organisation, I'm creating a permanent reminder that this is what I set out to do. The second reason is that I hope to get some feedback from you as a reader. Are there grassroots examples you would like to share? How do you bridge the gap between theory and practice, or do you have problems connecting practice to theory? Feel free to comment, e-mail, or cross-reference!

    Update after the meeting: it went very well. People seemed to enjoy it. It is the first time I have seen people laugh with eachother at a meeting like this. Also discussions yielded far more than I have witnessed in the last 2 years, in an much more open and collaborative way. Participants definitely want to do this again, and suggested maybe picking a theme each time around which to focus remarks/anecdotes and resulting discussion. Also the stuff we usually talk about in these meetings was addressed, but now as it naturally came up during the discussions. The secretary taking minutes was surprised at the amount of notes she had to work out. Let's see how it works out the next time (Jan. 7th)

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    Appreciating Your Neighbours

    Sebastien Paquet uses Thanksgiving as a trigger to start putting into words what it is that other people add to his life:

    So on this occasion I've started a Neighborhood Tour page where I try to acknowledge how the various people listed in my sidebar influence my thinking and actions.

    Expressing thanks and acknowledgements are very important in creating a knowledgesharing culture. Often it is by giving such acknowledgements that others become really aware where their strengths lie, and what it is that they are good at. Seldom have I learnt more than when friends or colleagues shared their observations on me with me. And it is on such occasions that became clear to me what I had that was worthwhile to share. A common enough observation is that people say "sure sharing knowledge is a good thing, but there's just nothing that I can contribute". Constructive criticism, sincere praise, and thanks, to me also are expressions of trust, a confirmation of strong ties. And even though we say "thank you" a lot routinely, never underestimate the power it might have. Here's a little anecdote from my own experience:

    "A few years ago a new secretary came to work at our company and she came to me after a few weeks to tell me how very nice it was that I always said "thank you" to her whenever I asked her something to do. This wasn't the way she was brought up, wasn't the way she was treated in her earlier jobs, and it wasn't the way my colleagues were behaving. I never thought twice about it before, but since then I've noticed that people are a lot more eager to share their experiences with me than some colleagues....all by just saying "thank you", something my parents taught me was just appropiate to say. Since that time I always make sure to respond positively when someone says thank you to me, in the hope that it might trigger the same effect with them."

    So, hopefully one day I'll show up in Seb's Neighbourhood Tour. Not only because it is always nice to hear you're appreciated, but also because it is another chance to learn more about myself. And of course I'll be sure to thank him for it!

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    Karl Sveiby's key note speech at KM in Europe 2002

    As I wrote before, I visited the KM in Europe 2002 convention in London November 13-15th. On the last day Karl Erik Sveiby held his key note speech. I did not find time before to make a report from my hand written notes, so I'm doing it now.

    The powerpoint presentation (even though he thinks powerpoint is a very bad way of 'pushing' information at people) of Sveiby's talk can be found at the KM Europe download page. You will also find all the other key note presentations there.

    Karl Erik Sveiby

    Sveiby started his talk with an exercise: close your eyes and touch your nose with your right index finger. About 3 people couldn't. Now talk your neighbour trough the same exercise by giving him precise instructions on what to do. About 3 people could.

    That, says Sveiby, is the difference between knowledge and information. So to him all knowledge is implicit. "Knowledge is the capacity to act within context." Both the emphasis on action and context are important I think.

    He then continued to define KM, a term coined by Karl Wiig in 1986, something Wiig "now bitterly regrets". Sveiby defines KM as the management of a company/organisation that consists only/mostly of "knowledge workers". Knowledge workers here are highly educated, highly skilled and experienced. So to Sveiby not everybody is a knowledge worker, as can be heard quite often lately. The latter would also render the term useless by the way, as it does away with all the distinctive qualities of the phrase.

    The next step was connecting the definition of knowledge to the definition of KM. In essence he closely follows his own 1997 book The New Organizational Wealth. He talked of internal structures, external structures and competences in both the book and his speech. However, where in the book all three are presented more or less at once, in his speech he explained more clearly the way internal and external structures come forth from individual competences. And this deepened my own insight.

    The three circles and their interdependence

    As an individual uses his knowledge, his capacity to act within context, to do just that, act, he "stretches" himself into the outside world, he is reaching out. The result of this, relations, transactions, etc, are the external structures. It is by putting individual competences to use that external structures are built. So now you have two circles, competences and external structures, with a two-way link between them. The third circle, internal structures is added as you become succesful in the outside world. You start to need other people to help you, you start building an organisation. The internal structures are the translation of your own individual competences into a larger scale. This cluster therefore has a two way link to your own competences, but also starts to interact with the already existing external structures in its own right. You end up with three circles, each dually linked. Value is created in the overlap of all three circles, and is the product of all interaction taking place. The one thing I value the most in this description is that it takes the individual as a starting point. This also emphasizes to me that humans are at the heart of KM, whatever the IT-boys might think. (Sveiby: "Alas, Knowledge management has been hijacked by IT")

    The three circle picture identifies 10 strategic issues. One for each circle in itself (3), two for each two way connection between circles (6), and the tenth is the overall question how the value creation capacity of the whole system can be maximised. In the sheets, examples of all ten strategic issues are described. I will give a list of them here:

    The three circles:
  • Individual competences: Improve the transfer of competence between the people in our organisation
  • External structures: Support our customers' conversation with their customers
  • Internal structures: Integrate systems, tools, processes and products

    The two-way links between each pair of circles:
  • External to Competence: transfer competences to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders
  • Competence to External: learn from customers, suppliers and other stakeholders
  • Internal to Competence: improve individuals competence by using systems, tools and templates
  • Competence to Internal: convert individually held competence to systems, tools and templates
  • Internal to External: allow customers and suppliers to learn by accessing our systems
  • External to Internal: use competence from customers and suppliers to add value to our systems processes and products

    And, as mentioned above the tenth strategic issue is how the value creation capacity of the whole system can be maximised.

    You can now proceed by identifying bloccades on each of these ten issues. Sveiby gave some good and bad practices he encountered concerning these ten issues. The last part of his talk was about the benchmark system he helped make, the Collaborative Climate Index. In three years of testing, with 20 questions, 12.000 respondents in 80 organisations he created a database for benchmarking. Some of the general results can be seen in the sheets.

    Most of what is described above, you are propably already dealing with in some way or another in your organisation. But not consciously as Sveiby pointed out. And that is precisely what I am constantly pleading for: conscious choice making, based on self knowledge (in this case of your competences). Sveiby also named trust as the one vital ingredient for knowledge sharing.

    One last remark that Sveiby made: "Value is independent of the way it is measured." Euro's and Dollars are not equal to value, but merely one way of trying to measure it.

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    Ton/Male/31-35. Lives in Netherlands/Overijssel/Enschede/Bothoven, speaks Dutch, English and German. Spends 80% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes knowledge management.
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