Filed in Communities of practice.
I was having dinner with Etienne last week hosted by Bronwyn Stuckey—thanks Bron. I haven't laughed so much for a long time.
So it was nice to see Knowledge Labs post an interview and 7 video clips with Etienne. Here's the blurb.
Etienne Wenger is one of the founding fathers of Social Learning Theory and the concept of “Practiced Communities”. People are learning together – every individual deals and engage in many different communities of practice. Here people negotiate and define what competence and knowledge is. To know something or to be competent builds on the individuals experiences of being in the world - learning is a constant transformation or journey of the self.
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Made to Stick is one of my favourite books at the moment because it's well written and well researched. And, you know what? the ideas stick. So I thought I would pass on this sticky story from Victoria Ward's blog. It's a scene from West Wing.
In one of the episodes of the final series of the West Wing, CJ Cragg is more and more frustrated by her inability to make a dent, leave something behind. So when someone from an NGO tries to make an appointment with her, she breaks with habit and gives him a slot in her diary.
He overwhelms her with statistics about the atrocities in Sudan. Thousands, millions, terrible things, rape, amputation, devastation. It’s all beyond her grasp, there is nothing she can imagining doing in this vastness of human failure, and he can see from her face that he is losing her attention, so he says, suddenly
‘When the babies die, the mothers carry them round in their arms because there is nowhere to put them down.’
20 words (I approximate, from memory.)
‘When the babies die, the mothers carry them round in their arms because there is nowhere to put them down.’
Just cleaning up my Bloglines and thought I would share some of the posts I was saving.
- Brad Hinton reflects on oral history and storytelling and points to some useful resources.
- Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics) sharing Mark Twain's view of work and play.
- If you have read Made to Stick, you might also like these columns from the Heath brothers in Fast Company.
- Psychologist Daniel Gilbert writes some excellent essays. Here is one on our biases.
- This is a neuroscience blog and here they talk about the difference in thinking with exploration or direct reward
- Why It's Hard to Get Rid of Old Ideas - this will be the subject of an upcoming post I think
- Supporting Community of Practice Facilitators by Stephen Dale (well worth signing up to Stephen's RSS)
- Here I reveal (again) my stationary fetish. Grid and ruled paper.
- Victoria Ward on silence.
A friend of mine is a lawyer, and a good one at that. Our families just spent a week together in Mossy Point on the New South Wales coast and, as you might expect, we told each other lots of stories helping everyone to catch up on one anothers’ lives.
Today my friend, I will call her Julie (not her real name) told an anecdote illustrating the fragility of trust. Julie's an expert in collaborative law and she was organising a group of 10 law firms to pay for an ad in the yellow pages. One of the firms contributing to the ad was run by someone Julie knew quite well but he was concerned Julie's law firm would have pride of place on the ad. To address this concern Julie suggested that she would draw the firm’s names out of a hat and whatever order they came out would be how they would be listed on the ad. That seemed pretty fair, she thought. The law firm owner was happy with that idea but he said to Julie, “but we need someone independent to draw the names out.” My friend was incensed and she said to me, “It was at this point I stopped really trusting the guy”.
Just discovered this interesting blog on how designers are using the built environment to control our behaviour. There is an interesting post on how a European airport cafe removed all the handy flight monitors in their vicinity so patrons would not sit in the cafe too long. They would get worried that they might have missed their flight. I remember McDonalds doing something similar by installing immovable and uncomfortable chairs.
Here is how the Dan Lockton describes his blog topic.
‘Architectures of Control’ are features designed into things which intentionally attempt to restrict or enforce certain behaviour on the part of the users. The most prevalent examples are DRM and other attempts to control how users can interact with software and data, but similar thinking (in different degrees) is evident in many aspects of the built environment - such as anti-loiter and anti-homeless benches - and in product design in general. The term ‘architectures of control’ is used by Lawrence Lessig in the seminal Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, although the basic idea has been expressed in a number of fields by many different people.
And did you know that there are water detection stickers on phones?
(via Savage Minds)
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We are currently putting together a series of breakfast seminars on the topic of knowledge retention - more on that later. We are going to be holding them in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra in early September and I'm trying to find a suitable (professional, good food, nice space) venue for around 20 people in or around the Sydney CBD. Being from south of the border, I'm not too familiar with Sydney. Does anyone have any personal recommendations? If so, would you mind leaving a comment or sending an email to email@example.com. Thanks.
Filed in Questions.
Aiden Choles has just posted a nice piece on how he used role play within an anecdote circle to collect stories. This is how it happened. He was starting to explore the prevalent myths in the organisation he's working with when one of the participants mentioned change house cleaners.
It turns out that at a point in time in the past, there were Change Houses on mine shafts where the miners would change into and out of their underground clothing before and after shifts. These Houses were significant social convergence points and the Change House Cleaner was party to all the gossip and everyday talk that the miners shared with each other. And so, the Cleaners developed a valuable social currency as they became nodes of communal information.
But it has been some time since the Change Houses were around, but the character of the Change House Cleaner still lives on. And so when speaking of a rumour in the organisation, people ask where they got the information. The answer: “The Change House Cleaner told me.”
Aiden's next step in the anecdote circle is ingenious. After discovering the change house cleaners Aiden pulls up an empty chair and says it is the change house cleaner and starts to ask the group questions about this imaginary person.
I asked if the Cleaner was a man of woman.
“Man!”, they said unanimously.
And what is his name?
Okay, what else would Simon tell us about this organisation?
“He would tell us about the shafts that are about to close.”
“He would tell us about who is sleeping with who”.
“He would tell us about our CEOs secret life”.
“But wait”, someone said, “I was speaking to Simon this morning and he was telling me about the situation in Zimbabwe”.
From that point on a new and passionate conversation started revealing more about what really was happening in that organisation.
(Thanks to Matt Moore for the link)
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Have you ever played SimCity? I remember the first time I had a go at that game. It was 1990. I was amazed.
Well, the creator of SimCity is getting ready to launch a new game called Spore which will enable players to evolve their own universes from a single cell organism right up to intergalactic space travellers.
I was just watching the TED video of Will Wright and the statement that grabbed my attention was his deep desire to “re-calibrate your instincts” by letting your discover for yourself principles and laws of nature without being overtly and directly told.
I think you will be amazed at the TED preview of Spore but you can also do simpler things to develop your staff's instincts using what Gary Klein calls decision games. These games are simple stories with two features: they must pose a conundrum; and there shouldn't be a right or wrong solution. The idea behind decision games is the fact that meaningful experience improves your ability to make good judgements (what Wright was calling calibrating your instincts). And the most meaningful experience is, of course, real life experience. Sadly we can't rely on having real life experiences when we need them. So instead we can play decision games.
Decision games are a way to practice making judgements before you need to make them. They consist of a scenario which a group of people review then decide how they would proceed. The most important aspect of a decision game is the conversation it triggers.
Here's how they work.
The facilitator reads the story to the group.
The participants are given three to five minutes to develop a response and give reasons why (what would you do and why?)
Then the facilitator call on someone to respond and suggest how they would resolve the dilemma.
After the first person provides their response the facilitator then probes for their rationale and perhaps try and elicit other stories. You might also challenge the person about the weak points and downside of the course of action.
Then the facilitator ask others to comment on this solution and to present their ideas so several people get their turn in the hot seat.
Finally you should have a general discussion about how to avoid or minimise these types of problems.
The game should take 30 minutes to run with an additional 20 minutes for general discussion.
It is good to end the session when there is still something to get out of the discussion.
The game has been a success if the participants are still talking about the scenario as they return to their desk.
The preceeding description is based on Gary Klien's book, “Intuition at Work: Why Developing Your Gut Instincts Will Make You Better at What You Do”
We have just developed some decision games for a government agency to help new Aboriginal staff develop ways to balance their community obligations with their departmental commitments.
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I was just reading Steve Denning's latest newsletter and I noticed that he has picked up on the importance of story-listening in his latest book. He writes:
Obviously, I'm a great fan of storytelling. And yet, I have to say, there's also something basically wrong with the term, “storytelling”. If you take it literally, it implies a kind of one-way relationship: “I tell and you listen.”
The kind of “storytelling” that I advocate in The Secret Language of Leadership is very much two-way. It's interactive. There's at least as much “story listening” as “storytelling”.
I'm thinking now we need to go one step further and look for ways for stories to create new conversations and new actions. It's not simply telling stories and listening to stories but harnessing this narrative interaction to trigger new ways of thinking. I haven't read Steve's ideas on narrative intelligence yet and I look forward to see what he says.
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A few posts ago I described how you can delegate tasks in a way that informs people with what they need to know to do a job in a complex world. Now let's look at what you might do when taking on a new task, project, or assignment that has been delegated to you. What follows is based on an excellent podcast by David Maister called Managing Your Boss.
In order to do a good job and build a solid reputation you need to be good at receiving assignments. This means really understanding what your manager/client really wants and needs.
There are a set of questions you should ask whenever your are asked to take on a task. In an ideal world the person asking for your help will give you all the information you need to do a good job. Unfortunately this rarely happens so it’s up to create a way of doing things where it is OK to ask questions.
When your manager asks you to take on a new project or tasks simple ask, “I really want to do a great job for you but may I clarify a few things?”
Then use this checklist1 to collect the information you need to do a good job. I'm sure you will be able to think of additional questions to ask and I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.
Get the context
First, ask for the context for the assignment. “Can you please tell me what you are going to do with this when I get it done? Tell me who it is for and where does it fit with other things so I know how you are going to use it so I can give it to you in the fashion which is best suited to your need.”
This may sounds like you are being picky, but it also sounds like you are truly interested and it is usually well received.
What is the deadline?
“When would you like it and when is it really due?”
Push a little to find out the absolute last minute that is must be done by while still promising to do it as soon as you can.
Get the scope clarified
“This time would you like me to do the thorough job and take a little longer or this time would you like me to do the quick and dirty version. I can do either. I just need to understand what you would like.
What’s the format you want to see of the results?
”How would you like to see the output of my work presented? What would make your life easier? I want to smooth your way so please give me some guidance on the format which you prefer the best.“
What is the time budget?
”Roughly how long do you expect me to spend on this so I know whether I’m spending too much time on this task and not waste your time.“
”What is the relative importance of this task compared to the other things you have asked me to do? I will try and do them all but if push comes to shove do you want me to put this at the top of the list or put this one at the bottom of the list?“
Playing back your understanding
After asking your questions and making lots of notes, ask whether you can check for understanding. ”May I please just read back to you what you have asked me to do so I can confirm that I have got it down right?“ This is an important step and you’ll be amazed at how many misunderstanding will be avoided by undertaking this process.
My wife, Sheenagh, went to a conference on literacy last week. She's a primary school teacher and teaches a 1st grade class. One the speakers, David Hornsby, said there were three principles you should keep in mind when helping children to learn.
- Move from the heart to the head
- Move from the meaningful to the abstract
- Move from the known to the unknown
Great principles for any learning initiative at any age.
Filed in Collaboration.
Today I worked out a neat hack to get our blog posts from Ecto into our wiki without having to reformat.
- Simply view the html of the blog post. In Ecto this mean clicking on the < > toggle at the bottom of the screen.
- Copy the html.
- Paste the html into HTML::WikiConverter and click “Convert HTML to wiki markup” and hey presto the wiki markup version appears.
- Copy the wiki markup version into your wiki.
One of the most useful books I own is Gary Klein's “Intuition at Work: Why Developing Your Gut Instincts Will Make You Better at What You Do”. Gary takes the mystery out of intuition and explains it as tacit knowledge we develop through experience. What I really like about Gary's books are the practical techniques and so I thought I would share this one with you which is a process for communicating executive intent, or to put it more plainly, how to give directions without telling people how to suck eggs.
In this case Gary Klein is building on some advice Karl Weick's gave on giving directions:
- Here's what I think we face.
- Here's what I think we should do.
- Here's why.
- Here's what we should keep our eye on.
- Now talk to me.
Klein translated this script into the acronym, STICC: situation, task, intent, concerns, calibration.
Situation. (Here what I think we face) Start with providing the context for the task. What has happened that lead to this need? Grab their attention in the telling. Use all the ideas described by the brothers Heath best seller, Made to Stick. It's important that the person taking on the task understand its importance and how it fits in to the bigger picture.
Task. (Here's what I think we should do) Keep it short and to the point. You can elaborate later. When describing the task avoid describing how it should be done and keep focussed on what needs to be done. People hate to be told how to do their jobs.
Intent. (Here's why) Here is where you describe the purpose of the task. Why the task/project need to be done. If you have a picture of what the end point looks like this is the time to share that vision. In a complex and unpredictable environment the best you might be able to do it describe some of the characteristics of a successful completion.
Concerns (Here's what we should keep our eye on) Chances are you have had experiences in these types of projects and you know the sort of thing someone should keep an eye on. If you don't you might want to get someone in the meeting who does have that experience. Running a mini pre-mortem could be useful.
Calibration (Now talk to me) This is the essential step. Now make yourself available for questions and follow up discussions. As soon as someone on a task new questions will emerge and patterns will arise. This might lead to tremendous insights and accelerated accomplishment or lighting fast pursuit of a white rabbit down a long and dark hole. Being open to get together during the task helps you act as an effective guide while enabling the person doing the task to keep on track to deliver a quality result.
Filed in Business storytelling.
Arjun Thomas has blogged a summary of a recent McKinsey Global Survey on 'How Businesses are using Web 2.0". The survey continues a theme that businesses are still shy about the use of blogs within the firewall, identifying a preference for tools supporting automation and networking.
In contrast, a report entitled 'The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0' describes how blogs are being used by members of Congress, governors, mayors and police and fire departments. It describes how the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has established a 'secure, real time blog' to connect generals and warfighters' which recognises that:
“the military has a wonderful axiom called the chain of command ... but the chain of information is not the chain of command.... When al Qaeda can outmaneuver you using Yahoo, we’ve got something wrong here”.
The use of blogs within STRATCOM to combat the strangling of information flows caused by traditional hierarchies is described as 'proving to be nothing less than an enormous cultural change'. And, of course, it is not just the military that are strongly bureaucratised and hierarchical.
Many organisations recognise the need for 'cultural change' to become more agile and resilient in the 21st Century. At the same time, some (many?) organisations continue to see blogging as a risk (as the McKinsey report indicates), perhaps because of the loss of control of information flows that blogging implies. The STRATCOM experience reinforces one of my strongly held beliefs; you can only change culture by changing your behaviour. This creates new stories that are told and re-told in the organisation. if organisations want better information flows and to be more agile and resilient, embracing blogging within the firewall provides a powerful demonstration of changed communication behaviour that can contribute to the desired culture change.
Thanks to Nerida Hart via actKM for the link to the second report.
Technorati Tags: CultureChange
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It's always nice to put a face to a name. Here's Daryl, Robyn and me.
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I can't say how excited I was to find Victoria Ward blogging. I noticed a link to her site over at Bev Trayner's blog (thanks Bev).
So who is Victoria Ward? Victoria founded Sparknow in 1997 and I discovered her work when I was in London last year. Her knowledge of narrative practice is impressive, which is evident from her Taste the Knowledge blog. I've never met Victoria but I hope our paths cross soon.
This insight is illustrative of Victoria's narrative knowledge.
I hold that it is the complexity, ambiguity, discomfort and unease in storytelling (contextualised appropriately through facts and evidence) that is the point. It should not speed up transmission. It should slow transmission, make things messier, harder to grasp, so that the listener/viewer must absorb layers of complexity and develop his or her own judgements about how to act in the light of the experience of receiving the story.
The mainstream business storytellers of course say the exact opposite and while both perspectives are true I think Victoria's slow narrative perspective is more conducive to sensemaking and better decision making. Fast narrative can taste good but we are rarely satisfied and often suffer the consequences in the future.
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A few years ago I attended KM Australia in Sydney. It was the early days of KM in Australia and I remember one of the keynote speakers spent a large portion of this presentation typing knowledge management into Google and everyone marvelling at vast quantity of hits returned. KM was really popular on the net.
The following speaker was Dale Chatwin from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Dale opened his talk by opening his browser, surfing to Google and typing in the following:
The number of hits was reduced dramatically and Dale simple said: “And that is knowledge management.”
I was reminded of this incident this week because Daryl and I were in a meeting of 12 people and when we mentioned that you needed to surround a phrase with quotes to find exact phrase matches half of them were totally unaware. And everyone in the room were frequent users of Google.
Sometimes we try too hard with sophisticated KM initiatives. What would happen if we could just get the simple things right?
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Viv McWaters has just posted an example of a story spine which reminded me of how we are using story spines in our sensemaking workshops. I was inspired to used this technique after observing how my dad made sense of something (a trivial example) after he had the opportunity to tell a story. Here's what happened as I told it back in January this year.
Last week I spent a week with my parents at their home at Jervis Bay. My father was telling me how he had some problems with a tank of petrol recently. He had to drain his little Datsun truck of all its fuel. When I asked where he got the bad gas he said it was one of two places. “One of the service stations was being refuelled by a tanker and was probably churning up all the rubbish in the underground tanks and I happened to fill up when all that muck was floating around,” he said. “I will never fill up again if I see a tanker parked at the service station.”
When Dad told this story I was immediately struck with how he quickly moved from his story to a heuristic without analysis or considering the options. But of course, this is just how we often make decisions, so I thought I could replicate this process in our workshops.
My first opportunity was at a workshop in Tasmania where we were helping natural resource managers develop a knowledge strategy for their region. We had reached the point in the workshop where we had identified a set of issues that were either working well or needed some attention so I asked the groups to grab an issue and tell a story explaining what happened. People busily jumped into the activity but I noticed they were just writing dot points detailing their opinions about what had happened. No one wrote a story.
It seems that they didn't know what to do to write a story. I had just assumed that everyone else thinks about stories like I do and has a sense what one looks like. Big mistake!
My next opportunity was at another knowledge strategy workshop but this time with a government department in Canberra. I had remembered Andrew introducing us to story spines so I dug out the blog post. Here is the simple story spine (Viv's example is more elaborate).
Once upon a time...
But one day...
Because of that... (repeat three times or as often as necessary) Until finally...
Ever since then...
And the moral of the story is...(optional)
Rather than use “Once upon a time” I instructed people to start their stories with “Way back when”. I find the fairy tale beginning too foreign for business people.
Well, the groups took to the tasks with gusto and in a very short time (30 min) we had eight stories that described various aspects of what was happening. Each group recited their story to great applause.
This is an effective way to get people primed for intervention design and we found that the groups were more aware of the subtleties and multiple viewpoints by going through a set of sensemaking tasks, this being just one.
Technorati Tags: knowledge strategy
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Who said we were rational beings?
Here is a multitude of cognitive biases we are all subject to such as the information bias (the tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect action), false consensus effect (the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them), and the halo effect (the tendency for a person's positive or negative traits to “spill over” from one area of their personality to another in others' perceptions of them).
I stumbled upon this web page using stumbleupon.
I just returned from a week's holiday at Mossy Point in NSW and as usual I had a pile of books I was going to read and somehow managed to read a completely different set. This usually happens because my host often has a more compelling choice of reading or there's a good second hand book store nearby (in this case Mogo has a fine example). I started with the following:
- “The Myths We Live By” (Mary Midgley)
- “Orality and Literacy (New Accents)” (Walter J. Ong)
- “A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought” (Stephen Kern)
And ended up reading,
- “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't” (Jim Collins)
- “Catch-22” (Joseph Heller)
- “The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell” (Bertrand Russell)
Good to Great captured my imagination. While I'm always a little sceptical of the approach, “let's compare some companies that have done well and learn their secrets and let's learn how we can apply those secrets to your company and also do well”, there were many unknowns and questions posed by Collins and his team of researchers. One of the points in the book was the supremacy of planning over the plan. While not a new idea in itself it came on the heels of another simple and fairly well known idea: what you measure will affect behaviour so think carefully about what you should measure (Collins was referring to the need to understand your economic driver).
This got me thinking. Why do so many organisations develop their knowledge strategies with a burst of energy over a short period of time? This puzzles me because we know that planning is more important than the plan. Understanding emerges over time through conversations. You can't have a couple of workshops and run some interviews to develop a good grasp of what needs to be done, where the focus should be. Organisations require a process that engages people at different levels in conversations that matter about how knowledge can be best used.
So while chatting to Mark this afternoon I suggested the short, sharp approach (which will definitely create a strategy but can't be the best way to strategize) might be partly due to how large consulting firms need to work in order to stay profitable. The large firms work on a profit per consultant basis. Within the firm this is called utilisation. The best way for a consultant to maintain high utilisation is to be billable five days a week. A project that's divided and spread over a couple of months with a couple of days here and there is unsustainable for large firm. So over the years after an organisation receives proposal after proposal from the large firms the organisation begin to tacitly learn that strategies should be created intensely over short periods of time.
And guess what happens when you get together highly paid, smart professionals to deliver a strategy to a tight deadline? Most of the time it results in a hefty document detailing many factors and features to consider but often merely succeeds in bamboozling. Last week I was talking to a senior manager in a government agency and she said they'd just received their knowledge strategy and they feel it's too complex and they're not quite sure what to do. Imagine, on the other hand, a group of people within the organisation working together on their knowledge strategy and all agreeing that the essence of their strategy is captured in a simple sentence. Because they all have been part of the process this sentence means so much that action can be taken to make it a reality. Sure, you need the implementation plan and more importantly a process so actions that move the organisation toward their objectives bubble up from everyone.
One fact that stood out for me in Good to Great was that on average it took a 'great' company four years to define their essential strategy (their hedgehog concept). And the strategy evolved through vigourous debate, discussion and listening. It's this type of process I'm advocating, and now large organisations are turning to specialists in small companies, they can served without the constraints of the large firm's economic model.
I think our Three Journey Approach to knowledge strategy is a new way to orchestrate these essential conversations.
- The first journey is with the leadership team and the aim is to create a broad direction for everyone. Rather than having a single workshop and interviews we would facilitate four conversations (or more) around the nature of their business and the role knowledge plays. The result is a small set of objectives for the knowledge strategy.
- The second journey is where the rest of the staff get involved. Their job is to help work out how the objectives might be achieved in reality. We know, however, that asking people what they know is a futile exercise because we all need context to remember what we know. So we use anecdote circles and collect stories as a way to find out what's happening and what could be done.
- The third journey is a simple improvement process whereby the knowledge strategy continues to adapt to the changing circumstances.
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Last night I met Cris Pearson, CEO of plasq, a small group of passionalte software developers. We quickly discovered a shared interest in storytelling, albeit from different perspectives.
Plasq develop an award-winning software program called Comic Life, which is a program designed to create comic strips or arrange photos into a scrapbook. Mac users may be familiar with the product, which due to its success, it's now bundled with new Intel Macs.
Cris told me a story about teachers using Comic Life in schools to teach kids storytelling techniques. I wonder if similar techniques could be used by employees to create comic storyboards that communicate product ideas and concepts effectively to stakeholders? Such an experiment with digital storytelling would be a great way of heightening an aptitude for Story (and just as important, having some fun along the way!).
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This YouTube clip provides a good concise overview of how open space meetings work.
Source: Open Space List