April 29, 2009

Asking Questions to Gain Knowledge

Several years ago I was involved in a discussion in BP as to why River Diagrams were not producing the productivity improvements envisaged. After considerable debate the conclusion reached was that one of the reasons, possibly the principal reason, was that they labelled the individual and their capabilities. For example, you may have undertaken the assessment and discovered that on a particular category you ranked level 3. Perhaps you wish to be level 5 on that category. The theory was that you would seek out and learn from someone who had already attained level 4 or perhaps 5. But this was not happening. Perhaps it is a human tendency to avoid situations where you have to admit that you are less skilled or less knowledgeable than someone else. People don't like losing face.

We decided to invent a new process by which people could ask a question. The context within which the question was asked was vital. It was not someone asking for help, because asking for help means that you don't know what to do, but this was someone asking others for hints and tips. The person asking the question already knew how to do that task, all they were asking was if someone in the recent past had come across an even better way of doing it. In this environment people very freely responded but what was more important was that now people very freely started to ask the questions.
We had created an environment where people were prepared to ask the question which would give them access to the wider organisation's knowledge and experience without them having the feeling that they were inferior or losing face. Just simply encouraging people to ask for help isn't sufficient.


Knoco Ltd

April 28, 2009

Knowledge Broker

During my recent travels I came across the term ‘knowledge broker’ being used in a very specific way. In this instance the knowledge broker was being used to provide a link between those doing research, perhaps at universities, and the end users who may wish to make use of that knowledge. The knowledge brokering could be undertaken by an individual or a group and in many ways reminded me of a marketing function; the intent was to make the market aware of knowledge that it wasn't aware of to the mutual benefit of all involved.

While in most organisations the challenge is to reuse existing knowledge and transfer best practice from one part of the organisation, there are instances in which new knowledge has to be obtained by the organisation. In situations like this you can create your own knowledge broker to link between those within the organisation who need the knowledge and the external knowledge provider. The BDAL (Business Driven Action Learning) process is an excellent way for the knowledge broker to identify potential sources of the required knowledge and to then make it available to the internal client.

Knoco Ltd

April 27, 2009

Ensuring the Correct Knowledge is Available

I was reading an article over the weekend and as I read it the thought that kept coming into my mind was “How do we know we have the right knowledge?”

The article was about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and how it had been caused by the failure of the primary and secondary O-rings on the right solid rocket booster, allowing hot gas and flame to escape resulting in structural failure. The article indicated that the problems with the O-rings had been known for nine years, but that safety was deemed ensured with the presence of the second O-ring. But that was incorrect knowledge. The second ring had been placed there for unforeseen failure, not to protect against a failure that had already been considered. They were operating with incorrect knowledge.

In today’s recession I wonder how many companies are operating with incorrect or inadequate knowledge? Perhaps you need to update your knowledge management plan.


Knoco Ltd

April 24, 2009

Knowledge Management in Health Care

Knowledge management should be seen as fundamental to delivering the strategy of your organisation. Part of that process should be identifying the gaps between your current knowledge and the knowledge that you require to deliver on your company strategy. In some instances you will require new knowledge while in others you will be required to better manage the knowledge that you already have.

An example of this can be seen in the area of anaesthetics in healthcare. In the 1950s approximately 1 out of every 1,500 patients died as a result of problems with their anaesthetic. By the turn-of-the-century that number had been reduced to 1 out of every 250,000; a step change in performance. How was this achieved? One of the components was an understanding of what knowledge was required to deliver this improvement. The knowledge that was required was not related to enhanced technology but rather about how people operated the existing technology. By understanding what had driven the previous level of performance, revised processes were introduced to minimise the potential for human error.

They also looked at other industries that they could learn from. One of the industries that they learned from was the aviation industry who had recognised many years ago that human error was an inevitable part of the industry and that to be successful the industry had to acquire knowledge in order to manage human error. One of the things they learned was to introduce systems that forced the desired behaviour. In many cases this was a mechanism that made it easy for the human being to do what was desired. For example on an aircraft you want people to lock the toilet door when they use the toilet. To help people to remember to lock the door the light switch this interlocked with the door mechanism. If you don't lock the door the light would come on. The mechanism has been designed to help you do the right thing, the desired thing.

In some instances you will have to obtain new knowledge while in other cases you will be learning how to use the knowledge that you already possess. Which ever it is it should be clearly a defined in your knowledge management plan.

Knoco Ltd

April 23, 2009

Coaching for Innovation

I was conducting a coaching session today with someone who had gone through the Bird Island exercise several years ago. Bird Island is perhaps the most successful illustration of the power of managing knowledge (see Nick Milton's blog for more details on Bird Island).

The person that I was coaching had made the connection between managing knowledge and creating an environment of innovation within the organisation. Today's discussion was about creating new business models to support new products and services in a yet to be invented market. We were right at the very frontiers of business. It was a privilege to be involved at the very foundation of a potentially world changing product and service.

There are some who think that managing knowledge stifles innovation. That was most certainly not the mind set of the person that I was coaching today or the organisation that they've represented.

I have another coaching session arranged for tomorrow, this time the focus will be on corporate governance and the knowledge that the organisation requires to ensure that it has transparent, world class processes. I am really looking forward to it.

If you want to view my latest video on how to establish effective systems for knowledge transfer you can view it here.


Knoco Ltd

April 22, 2009

The Word Knowledge

I have always been fascinated by facts and trivia. Recently I was given “The Giant Book of Facts and Trivia”, edited by that well-known author Isaac Asimov and contained in it under the section entitled ‘communications’ was the following;

‘based on the rate at which knowledge is growing, it can be speculated that by the time today's child reaches 50 years of age, 97% of everything known in a world at that time will have been learned since his birth’

I'm not sure what fascinates me most about this piece of trivia, whether it is the rate of growth or the use of the word knowledge? I sometimes wonder if the word knowledge is the most misused word in the dictionary.

In the same section also includes the following;

'because radio waves travel at 186,000 miles per second and sound waves saunter along at 700 miles per hour, a broadcast voice can be heard sooner 13,000 miles away and it can be heard at the back of the room in which it originated'


Knoco Ltd

April 21, 2009

Time Value of Knowledge

I was reading a paper, “Technical limit thinking produces steep learning curve” by Olutayo Ajimoko when the following text jumped out of it, “The Saih Rawl experience illustrates that the time value of knowledge supersedes the time value of money……” and “Benchmarking also played an important role”.

The need to understand where you are in comparison to other operating units is a key component in managing knowledge in an operational or manufacturing environment.

Knoco Ltd

April 20, 2009

Knowledge Transfer and Joe 90

I had forgotten just how integral to my upbringing that knowledge transfer had been. On Saturday I was waiting to go out to the shops and decided to switch the TV on. I was surprised but delighted to find myself watching a programme called Joe 90. When I was a young boy Joe 90 was my hero. With the aid of a machine called the Big Rat he was able to capture the brainwaves of anyone and have them transferred into his head. With the aid of a special pair of spectacles with built in electrodes he was then able to utilise those brainwaves and possess any skills he required. Did I mention that Joe 90 was a secret agent!

Later that night we attended a function with people of my generation. I was so excited at having seen Joe 90 that I started talking about. What was interesting was that everybody loved the concept of being able to transfer knowledge from one person to another, but nobody could remember the details how it was done. By the end of the night we reached agreement that somehow the brainwaves were captured from the suspects, but nobody could remember exactly how it happened. The machine called the Big Rat was used to transfer that knowledge onto tapes, we also knew that the spectacles with built in electrodes were involved but nobody could remember what the spectacles actually did.

It wasn't until the next day with the aid of the Internet that I was able to access the website that gives you the entire background to Joe 90. I now know that a parabolic dish was aimed at the person you want to capture knowledge from, the brainwaves are then loaded onto magnetic tape which was then played back using the Big Rat with Joe 90 sitting inside the machine. According to the website Joe had to wear the special spectacles while undertaking the tasks to be able to access the brainwaves that the Big Rat had imparted to him.

At this point you probably think that I’ve lost it. Did I remember to mention that Joe 90 was a puppet!

The reason for telling the story is that even all those years ago, people had this vision of being able to seamlessly transfer knowledge from one head to another. But as you now know it isn't quite as easy as that even given all the marvellous technology we now have at our disposal. The other thing that was interesting was that none of us could remember the details. All the people I asked could remember the overall Joe 90 concept but when it came down to details like what is the purpose of the spectacles, how do the brainwaves get captured in the first place etc we couldn't remember the details and illustrated quite clearly that in order to retain knowledge you have the document it.

For those of you interested in the evolution of television sets, I probably watched the original screening of Joe 90 back in the 1960s on a 19 inch black and white set although it may have been a colour sets, I just can't remember. On Saturday I watched Joe 90 on 47 inch high-definition plasma screen. Television sets have evolved considerably over that period of time.

Knoco Ltd

April 18, 2009

Strategic knowledge management 2

Building on Tom's post below, strategic knowledge management is where you proactively target your KM efforts in service of business strategy. This is a different approach from non-strategic, or reactive KM, where you introduce tools and techniques which the users apply as they feel best fit; strategic KM is where you say "where does the business need to go? What do we need to do, to get there? What do we need to know, to be able to do this?"

In Knoco, we are huge advocates of strategic KM, as we have seen the value this delivers and the benefits it brings. It also accelerates the culture change to a knowledge-centric organisation. See our page on knowledge management strategy

April 17, 2009

Strategic Knowledge Management

I find it interesting that Malaysia's principal airport operator has just announced plans to build a new terminal specifically for low-cost carriers and a third runway at the main international airport at Kuala Lumpur. The three runways will be in parallel and will operate independently. This will make the airport at Kuala Lumpur one of only four airports in Asia with three runways.

Perhaps this is an example of strategic knowledge management.

April 15, 2009

Learning from Experience assessment

I am just getting ready to conduct an assessment of an LfE system. LfE is short for Learning from Experience, which is sometimes described as “The systematic and Managed acquisition, development and deployment of knowledge within a team or organisation to support improved business performance and better decision making.”

The 15 point model that we assess against has proven to be popular as it provides not only an indication of the current status but also provides a route map to implement or improve the existing LfE system. I also enjoy benchmarking the results against other assessments as this provides an insight as whether the client’s LfE is best in class, worst in class or somewhere in between.

Another reason that clients undertake an assessment is to debottleneck or get an LfE that appears to be stuck or not delivering what they expected started again.

Knoco Ltd

April 14, 2009

Natural Styles that Support Knowledge Management

Anyone who has lived or worked Africa will tell you that storytelling and dialogue are deeply ingrained in the local culture. Thus any knowledge management programme or activity that is built around storytelling or dialogue is likely to be very successful.

Building your knowledge management activities around local norms of behaviour and interaction are always sound principles but as you start to move out into the wider organisation or different geography it is worthwhile checking that these norms haven’t changed.

April 13, 2009

Knowledge Harvesting

Today you find me relaxing enjoying the Easter holiday. It's good to have the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening.

I had been asked to write a paper on Knowledge Harvesting within a legal environment. I sat down, started to draft the text and after a little while I read what I had produced. It read well and I was pleased with myself. I put it aside and went and did something else. When I went back to it, just as I was about to lift it I found myself wondering if what I had written had been written from the writers perspective or from that of the reader.

When you are harvesting knowledge you need to keep in mind that the user of what you have produced needs to find it useful. That may sound very obvious but it is amazing just how many times people produce what they think the reader needs rather than what the reader wants.

I reread the paper and decided that it needed to be focused more on what the reader needed rather than what I might think they need. If you are involved in the design of a knowledge harvesting intervention or for that matter writing a paper, be sure to focus on what the reader needs.

I think the editor will be publishing the paper this month. If you want to be alerted to its publication, drop me an email.

April 9, 2009

Supporting the Virtual Worker

The news is full of doom and gloom. Recession, layoffs, cutbacks, downsizing, credit crunch whichever terms you want to use, it all seems to negative but there are companies who are prospering in this environment. I was speaking with the Sales Director of an office services company (they supply everything from carpets, desks, photocopies, telephone systems, computer systems and hardware – everything you need to operate as a company) who was saying that their core business was contracting but an offshoot was thriving, that of virtual workers / home workers.

They had created an ‘office in a box’ offer that would allow an organisation to send workers home, reducing overheads, but instantly provide them with everything they needed to be effective. Business was booming.

As I was listening I was reminded of something that had happened while I was teaching ‘how to be a remote worker’ to a group. One of their main concerns was the fear of being isolation. I had done a considerable amount of pre work on the culture of the company and the local culture and was very aware of how important socialising was in this culture so was well prepared to address this. We designed a work process that would allow them to be virtual workers but also built in virtual and physical social activities.

Providing your staff with the technology infrastructure and physical artifacts such as desk and chair is just part of the package, preventing or overcoming the sense of isolation that many virtual workers experience is also part of it.

Knoco Ltd

April 6, 2009

Accelerated Learning Curve

One way to consider accelerating the learning curve is to second the team leader of the team into a team that is currently conducting the work. At first it might appear like an overhead but the value becomes obvious when the team leader returns to their team having already experienced the task and with clear ideas on how to do it at their location. They will have invested in pre learning which will now deliver.

Knoco Ltd

April 2, 2009

Alliancing for Business Benefit

Alliancing is a word that is used by organisations to describe the relationship that they have with other organisations. A true Alliance should be that, an Alliance but unfortunately in many cases it is being used where the relationship is nothing more than the traditional contractor / contractee relationship.

In an Alliance the knowledge that each party is bring to the relationship is defined and agreed. The knowledge and IP that is going to be created during the Alliance is also defined in advance. Indeed, your Knowledge Management Plan may contain a secton on IP (Intellectual Property) ownership and management both during the performance of the activity and afterwards. The alliance is also built on a mutual sharing of the reward for enhanced performance but equally a sharing of any pain associated with the contract.

Alliancing can deliver extraordinary benefits to the organisations involved but it has to be worked at, it doesn't just happen.

I have been involved in Alliancing in several industries, the most recent being in pharmaceutical industry. Alliancing will work, in my experience, in almost any industry provided both parties are prepared to build something that is better than what they have currently. Frequently it is introduced when a step change in productivity is required and 'business as usual' just wont deliver it. So if you are facing a delivery or productivity challenge, consider Alliancing.

You can view a video clip on Alliancing here. In this video I use the phrase 'retail site' which equates to 'gas station'. I also use the phrase 'green and yellow stickies' by which I mean 'green and yellow post-its'.

Videos on other topics can be viewed here.

Knoco Ltd

April 1, 2009

Managing Expectations of Community of Practice Outcomes

Sorry for the interuption to the flow of blogs. I wont bore you with the details other than to say that we had a technology glitch. Anyway we are back in service again and thanks to everyone who emailed and asked where the blog has gone to.


When considering what type of launch to have for a community of practice you might wish to consider the degree of expectation the launch might put on the community. For example if you have a large, high profile launch the expectation might be created that the community will deliver substantial value to the organisation. Now while you would wish the community of practice to deliver as much value to the organisation as possible, a high profile launch might put undue pressure on them to deliver. You might just want to reflect on the expectation you are putting on the community of practice.

Knoco Ltd