Flap your wings for the ‘butterfly revolution’ of learning and change


A simple idea: change yourself and you might see entire systems transform.

Change (Peter Downsbrough, 2011)

Aren’t we all butterflies fluttering our wings somewhere and causing tsunamis on the other side of the world? We are connected, and global change starts with individual change. Or perhaps it doesn’t, but what is certain is that without individual change we won’t see systemic change…

So why do we keep chasing the unicorns of this world in such simplistic ways? We want to achieve scaling up, sustainability, social learning, systemic change…but we don’t ask ourselves the right questions. All these unicorns won’t materialise if organisations are not willing and capable of operating together, and organisations won’t manage that if their own staff – individually – are not capable of learning by themselves, of being intentional about the change they want to see happen, of sharing with and caring for others, of connecting deeply. Exactly like the unit 0 of civilisation is the family, the unit 0 of learning and change is ourselves as individuals.

One of the concepts that has taken me recently is ‘process literacy': the capacity of people to go beyond ‘what has to be done‘ to also understand the fine processes that happen behind those objectives – what process documentation, systematization and capitalisation are trying to do. Being ‘process literate’ means that you constantly pay attention to the channels that are most appropriate to understand the issue you are contemplating. It means you can talk content (dive deep) and connect it with relevant fields and ideas (go wide).

It is through that process literacy lens that a lot of the questions we are grappling with will actually reveal some useful angles. Someone I just met is trying to unpack ‘knowledge management in value chains‘ and it turns out there is very little at the junction of these two fields, but she is adamant that it is in documenting the process of (not) doing KM in value chains that we will find ways to improve knowledge creation, sharing and use in those value chains. Spot on!

So, while social learning remains great, we need to nurture and cultivate that process literacy within ourselves. Social learning, by the way, is also understood by some as individual learning connected – via social media – to others (see the presentation below in its attempt to manage information through that type of social learning).

But the lesson is the same: learning, sharing, change, better livelihoods lives, they all start with each and everyone of us. So get ready to shed your caterpillar skin for the learning and change revolution to happen: we need all butterlies around to flap their wings.

Related posts:

Killing my darlings: the workshop


Last week I facilitated a really hectic workshop on the fascinating topic of ‘community-based adaptation (to climate change) and resilience in the East and Southern African Drylands‘. A number of us (in the organising team) wondered at a point or another if the workshop was the best venue to create new meaning around this complex topic.

Workshops... are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Workshops… are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Simultaneously – aaah serendipity… – my friend Amanda Harding posted about ‘Reinventing the workshop‘, giving the example of an event (that suspiciously looked like a writeshop, if you ask me though).

Perhaps ‘workshops’ are indeed past their prime?

And since change is here to stay and we have to facilitate it, one of the things we’ll have to do on a regular basis is to kill our darlings, our pet ideas and approaches, our professional hobby horses.

At least review them critically. To see if they still strike a chord in our changing environment.

 

So one of my darlings is about to be killed right here: THE WORKSHOP

Particularly if the objective of ‘THE workshop’ is to carve out new grounds…

The problem of wishy-woshy workshops… Idealistic without a focus…

Amanda points in her post (co-written with Red Plough‘s Terry Clayton) that the workshop has become a ‘meme’. And indeed a number of things are wrong with workshops: They can be terribly designed and end up like orchestrated death-by-Powerpoint anti-learning operas; they may tend to solve everyone’s problems without any clear focus (see meme here); badly facilitated, they can actually contribute to worsening understanding AND relations between people.

But what I’m thinking about here, together with another mate who attended the same workshop last week is this:

Even if well designed, even if well facilitated, have workshops not become a standard solution that we revert back to, in a standard mode and in our comfort zone?

Where is the triple-loop learning here?

It’s not the first time that I have my doubts about workshops and what they can achieve… And one of my conclusions is that despite the best intentions probably the single most important aspect remains building and strengthening connections and relations: the social weaving. But that doesn’t stop me from looking at possible options.

Isn’t there an alternative?

Should we not follow the example of the World Bank’s John Heath (see 12th minute onwards in this excellent videotaped discussion of how The Bank learns) and focus on making time for learning by not jumping on what it is we want to achieve with events or happenings.

 Should we not follow the recommendation to bring diversity and argument at the centre of our deliberations (recommending again this great BBC article about the fallacy of the wisdom of the crowds on this topic) and rather focus on bringing very small groups of very diverse people together, outside their normal work environment, in a sort-of retreat, to explore promising new avenues and explore old topics with fresh pairs of eyes and complementary brains?

Should we not leave our voice and our pens/computers outside to let our other senses guide us in exploring the edges of our consciousness? Creative drawing, using metaphors, miming, observing (e.g. animals), using our body to solicit other avenues of our resourcefulness… ?

Should we not encourage more walking about, more journeys together to reflect on work, more cooking and eating together to explore new surfaces – indeed perhaps a cookshop might be as ground-breaking as a workshop for that matter?

Should we not refuse to bring people together physically and rather bring together virtually a group of people who practice Personal Knowledge Management to explore each other’s questions and musings and build upon that? Could a duo’s journey be not innovative than an entire room full of people?

Hmmm… lots of options hanging up and I’m not sure any of these would bring us further?

And what if the answer is in the workshop itself?

If un-conferences and workshops are sticking around, can we not think of a set of alternatives – which are already tested anyway:

    • Pure Open Space Technology workshops?
    • Other events without a preconceived agenda where perhaps organisers get participants to think about hard/complex questions they want to explore and filter out the most complex/interesting questions in a crowdsourced manner, to go more deeply in the fields concerned?
    • Happenings with staged ‘conversations and interactions for change’ such as this useful idea below…

The bottom line is also that we should clearly understand and distinguish when we want to have a workshop, a workstop (where we would stop working and explore relationships), a talkshop (where people have the entire liberty to explore anything in conversations), a writeshop where the point is to write some outputs etc.

One of the most important questions (from the BOSSY HERALD) to ponder when thinking about organising an event is whether we want to level knowledge or deepen it, and whether we want some output or some interaction. Totally different dynamics are at play in either case…

And all that said, I am still pondering the following, perhaps you have some answers:

  • Can we genuinely ‘explore new grounds’ with a group beyond 40-50 participants?
  • If so, what have been the ingredients, principles or heuristics that worked in your experience and that you would suggest following?
  • If not, what have been the best alternatives to workshops to bring up a totally different experience, that you think could be reproduced in other settings?
  • What have been your best examples of events or happenings that led people to change, not just to learn new ideas and share much? How did IT work?

Phew! Sounds like this reflection might go on for a while still…

Related blog posts:

 

Knowledge Management… the fountain of resilience, adaptation, innovation and sustainability (and buzzwords!)


It goes back a long while that I’ve been asking myself what KM is and why it matters. This morning, while running, it struck me: it is just what makes us more resilient, adaptive and innovative, beyond the immediate challenge we are facing. Incidentally, KM is also dangerous with that ability to catch all buzzwords in its trail (resilient is the new adaptive, and innovation is the talk of E-town)…

Miracles of Evolution - Africa - Tihamer Gyarmathy, 1977 (Credits: WikiArt)

Miracles of Evolution – Africa – Tihamer Gyarmathy, 1977 (Credits: WikiArt)

What is KM trying to do? 

Of course KM supposedly helps organisations achieve their mission, be more effective in that endeavour, but KM focuses a lot (my expectation) on ever-learning, looking back to look forward, keeping track and avoiding to reinvent the wheel (though it’s sometimes ok), institutional memory curation, lessons learned, picking peoples’ brains and co-creating… so really KM is about developing a collective intelligence and finding ways to anticipate and prepare for what comes next, away from silver bullets, in the itchy corner of our brain where the next solution (trial) lies.

That is at the heart of being resilient, of adaptive thinking and working, of innovation.

Hmmm. Only given that some key things are in place. I am thinking about all these things right now when thinking about our local KM4Dev Addis Ababa/Ethiopia network, so I can progressively disengage myself from the coordination side to ensure that this network can continue on its own (without a non-Ethiopian to coordinate it). So what helps in strengthening resilience, adaptiveness etc.?

  • Thinking from the start about an exit strategy (and a good induction program) or some strategy to ensure that the initiative is embedded and owned by whoever is directly concerned, independently from the individuals involved in that initiative;
  • Developing capacity consciously, from the start and throughout, by questioning beyond the WHAT? and focusing on the knowledge, attitude and skills required to make the initiative successful;
  • Documenting the process throughout, so that all the generic context (simple or complicated, not complex) of an initiative, can be partly passed on to anyone else;
  • Making sure that there isn’t a single point of failure, that responsibilities are shared over teams so the success and transferability of good work does not depend on one person only (even though individuals matter a lot);
  • Mapping relations and expertise so anyone can find out where to go to find answers to their questions…
  • Organising conversations around these issues of resilience, adaptiveness, sustainability, long-term, roles and responsibilities, risks and how to mitigate them…
Diversity... also good for better outcomes (Credits: Steve Jurvetson / FlickR)

Diversity… also good for better outcomes (Credits: Steve Jurvetson / FlickR)

Now, away from that KM4Dev network and back into the reality of organisations…

The issue – and the problem of a lot of KM initiatives – is that the transition from ‘the team here and now’ to ‘the others out there, now and for the eternity’ often proves a real chasm and gets in the way of making use of all the good work by that team.

Scaling up, out, in space and time, that is the real challenge of resilient, adaptive KM.

And yet organisations are much better placed than individuals (and perhaps even networks) to make that leap. Because organisations (supposedly) have a coherent narrative to them, that all their employees can relate to, whether they like it or not. And crucially an organisation has some control over its employees. So it can probably enforce the transfer of skills, the curation of information and the sharing of knowledge to other teams and future employees (the latter is notoriously difficult still)…

Is it actually desirable to seen an organisation enforce this? And does it really happen? There are quite a few other questions to sharpen our critical thinking about the promised lands of resilience, innovation and sustainability (and yes indeed Nancy, critical thinking is subtle):

  • Is it better to go for KM below the radar (stealth mode) as I usually advocate, or to go for a slightly more ‘out in the open’ approach that perhaps has better chances of achieving that resilience and innovation at (a larger) scale?
  • Is there actually a point at encouraging organisations to be resilient, adaptive, innovative, if their finality is perhaps to disappear (I’m thinking about international, Northern hemisphere-based organisations working on global development). Isn’t there a risk of perpetuating structures when they may not be needed, or even helpful?
  • Related to the previous point: is it possible, over the long haul, to combine resilience/adaptiveness with sustainability? Isn’t that a contradiction in the terms?
  • Where does KM set the boundary in focusing on the organisation’s mandate or rather on the wider agenda that consider tradeoffs or compromises in space or time (more on that in another post)…, with the risk of going against the organisation?
  • What are the political options of KM to counter with the self-sustaining drivers of organisations (how can KM continue to promote the right ideas despite the organisation’s [hidden?] agenda to invest in its survival cost what cost)?

Perhaps these questions are some of the reasons why scaling up good KM (in space or time) does not easily take place… and why KM keeps focusing on the next buzzword to find another way to get at the same objective?

Related blog posts:

KM and politics… an agile ‘House of Cards’?


If you haven’t yet taken a peek at ‘House of Cards’, just do it! It’s a fabulous series! Non-compromising, eerily and scarily realistic, and as sharp as its main contender ‘Game of Thrones‘ is, bar the physical violence and fountains of hemoglobin… Just have a look:

Where’s the connection with agile knowledge management and learning? At some interesting junctions…

Information is not all that matters: KM is about change and change is about complex technical-political-emotional triggers

Andrea Bohn gave this really good presentation (below) at last year’s ‘ICT4Ag’ conference, cautioning ICT app developers that even in a relatively non-political arena like agricultural ICT applications, information is simply not enough. A lot of other items have to be factored in before change happens – in this case adoption of ICT applications.

Slide 10 sums it all up:

So, KM initiatives that focus solely on managing information (or even managing the knowledge environment), without looking at other factors of change, are doomed. Knowledge management is not sheer dissemination of information: that is also a key finding from one of the World Bank’s top posts in 2012 and an old verse in the gospel of the Overseas Development Institute, a UK think tank.

In House of Cards (HoC), the ‘technical experts’ are allegedly so few that they seem almost entirely not relevant for policy-making… Researchers, so much for our sacrosanct quest for evidence duh!

So now, step away from agricultural development (research) toward more political or personal arenas, and you can be sure that having relevant information is simply not enough to make people change their habits. It is the case with handwashing, with quitting cigarettes and, well, adopting useful KM policies, practices and behaviours…

The factors affecting policy decisions (credits: Strathclyde University)

The factors affecting policy decisions (credits: Strathclyde University)

Policy engagement specialists and think tanks know that they have to act on many other factors than good information: having the right people (capacities) target the right people, at the right time and in the right places (“location, location, location” as HoC’s main political contender Frank Underwood testifies in the video above), with the right props, information and emotional triggers.

And this is another lesson of House of Cards: emotional manipulation goes a long way. We certainly don’t have to go down the road of dirty tricks a la Frank Underwood] but being aware of them could help us get more effective.

KM-induced change can happen with consent or subconsciously; with blows and whistles or following a stealth agenda

Change sometimes needs to be upfront, and even the difficulties that come with it need to be shared early on. In HoC, would-be Governor Peter Russo manages to rally his local constituency (whom he earlier demised with the closing of a major shipyard) while being clear that the shipyard was going to be closed anyway and that the future lies in other opportunities, which demand work, dedication etc. This relates to the culture of understanding and embracing failure. In KM agendas, this is incredibly important. Similarly, if you notice problems that need to be fixed, changed, you can decide to be vocal about it, although that might induce risks for your career (if you follow one ;)).

Yet at other times it can be better to not deal with the problems upfront and to rather harness alliances that help you move your agenda forward. A lot of that kind of politicking happens in House of Cards. In KM agendas, I personally believe that while operationally it’s better to be upfront and open about the difficulties with the people directly involved, strategically it might be better to adopt a stealth approach, relying on local champions, managing expectations and winning people over by showing real progress, not just promises…

In environments when e.g. management or staff are not buying into the KM initiative(s), that sort of discreet alliance building is what can make the difference inside…

If old school politics doesn’t work, move on to out-of-the-box networking guerrilla tactics!

Zoe Barnes, the social media-savvy Washington Herald journalist that operates in House of Cards against the old-fashioned media business model (ruled by CEO Tom Hammerschmidt) eventually decides to move away from the Herald to recover her freedom. Before that happens, as an exasperated Tom tries to curb her will, she defiantly replies:

“when you talk to one person, you talk to thousands”

Politics extends beyond the old boys networks’ clubs nowadays. The Internet has invited itself to the table and networks can be mobilised in order to bring politics to the crowd and let it play a mitigating role (checks and balances). In the KM world, that kind of external network pressure can make the difference in crisis situations such as the one Zoe found herself in. But employees can also use that external network to exert a very positive influence on inside change by regularly referring to these outside network dynamics and inviting them into in-house conversations.

Trust (Credits: Joi Ito / FlickR)

Trust (Credits: Joi Ito / FlickR)

It’s all about trust!

As the HoC clip on top shows, in politics as in KM, trust is critical. Having personal connections with people you trust is of the essence, not least because…

“Friends make the worst enemies” (Frank Underwood in House of Cards)

But also because if…

Knowledge is power… so too (and even more so)…

Sharing knowledge is power. It can be used to leak plots and hidden agendas, killer ideas, but it can also be used to mobilise those networks of influence around… In this sense, perhaps KM differs very much from politics, at least on paper, in as far as knowledge sharing is a natural KM ideal, when in some cases it may be the absolute worst thing in politics!

When F. Underwood requires from Peter Russo “Your absolute, unquestioning loyalty”, it reminds us that the ‘personal’ factor, beyond the human factor in KM is a powerful driver of KM success. Time to get your hands dirty and connect deeply with the people around you, time to consider partners in a real, no-nonsense kind of way

In agile KM, the people are central, so don’t wait: target the game-changers! 

As information and evidence is of so little use in House of Cards, having the right candidates, allies etc. is what makes or breaks politics. Game-changers and natural connections are emphasising the influence of getting personal in KM. So, spend more of your time on the people, rather than the processes and (technology) programs – the people you do KM with and for. They’re your best guarantee for success, and that’s not politics, it’s just about being human and humane.

And since we’re talking about ‘House of Cards’, I leave you today with this beautiful song by Radiohead…

Related blog posts:

 

What are we waiting for to walk our talk (on KM and comms)?


Back on the blog after a three-week pause related to important developments in my personal life. Still floating a bit and my blogging practice needs to be oiled up again, but I have some ideas of stuff to blog about, starting with: Why don’t more KM and comms specialists actually walk their own talk?

The past few weeks at ILRI have been about appraisals, 360 degree feedback – so a lot of retrospective thinking and sense-making – and also among others an important demonstration of what we do in comms/KM.

All good fodder for thought (yes, I am influenced by the livestock agenda of my organisation ;)) What strikes me in this first week back is that despite knowing that it really can be difficult to ‘sell’ KM and comms, many specialists of that field don’t seem to walk their talk – and I’m not specifically talking about my direct colleagues here, but about a lot of more distant colleagues who ‘should be out there’ and just don’t seem to.

  • How many of these specialists are really sharing what their doing on a regular basis – both online and face-to-face – to inform others about their work, to work out loud as John Stepper is convincingly inviting us to work?
  • How many of these specialists are really applying the principles of personal knowledge management (or ‘personal knowledge mastery‘ PKM, as Harold Jarche would have it) to manage their information and sharpen their expertise, knowledge and tap into that of others around them?
  • How many of them (of us!!) not spending adequate time performing a simple ‘after action review‘ (AAR) to ensure we keep learning and adapting?
  • How many of us are really curating our own content and ongoing work to ensure that every signal we come across, as much as possible (since obviously it’s impossible to achieve 100% there), finds its way to appropriate sharing channels and storing repositories, with our own added value to it?
  • And how come so many of us are still struggling with assessing and measuring KM when the field has been around… with the possible exception of Nick Milton’s excellent set of quantified KM stories on Knoco stories?

Many gaps in our own practices, it seems, so how can we expect others, who are not dedicated knowledge workers, to buy into KM and comms and use it for their own benefit? Being an effective knowledge worker requires discipline and dedication, all for the purpose of improving one’s and others’ practices and lives (I share because I care!). It is tiring at times, even exhausting occasionally, but it also continually gives a lot of energy.

This relates to another thought triggered by this first week back at work: a colleague gave a very comprehensive presentation about ILRI comms work. It was quite a complicated job, because the presentation was very broad and covered an incredible amount of items, so this is certainly no criticism on my part – there would have been things to improve anyways, but one thing that struck me was that the presentation seemed to miss an essential element: WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

What's in it for me? If we don't start there, how can we expect others to get interested? (Credits: Gino Zahnd / FlickR)

What’s in it for me? If we don’t start there, how can we expect others to get interested? (Credits: Gino Zahnd / FlickR)

Isn’t the trick, in our field of comms/KM, to start from either the concrete and devilish problems that our colleagues, partners, clients are facing or the opportunities to work more smartly? And then to demonstrate how we do this?

It seemed to me that despite the incredible richness of the presentation, there was a bit too much ‘this is what we do’, ‘this is how it works’, not enough ‘this is why it is going to solve your problems like no other solution’ or ‘this is going to strengthen your excellent work in area xyz’… And ultimately, ‘these are a few steps you might take in that direction…’ Remember Spitfire Communications’ ‘Smart Chart’ and its due emphasis on the ‘ask’?

We know (personal) change is slow, everyone wants others to start it rather than themselves, and it has a lot to do with psychology. So while there’s no need in criticising people for being slow at change, we equally cannot afford to rest on our laurels and not practice what we preach as comms and KM folks.

So, WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP to sharpen your practice? Mine will start with more systematic AARs. Next week. Tomorrow. Now! Still a lot of progress for all of us, me certainly included, to get better at explaining, showing and embodying the power of KM and comms ;) Indeed we need to look at ourselves first, because as Leo Tolstoy excellently put it:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)

What other areas of not walking our talk do you commonly observe in the field of comms/KM? Do you know of similar watchdogs in that field as Shit Facilitators Say (@ShitFacilitator) on Twitter for facilitation heads?

Related blog posts:

Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning… Navigating fractal change through space and time


Change, change, change!

Going up the scale of change

Going up the scale of change

So many clichés about change, so much ado about a big thing, so many ways to look at it and so many barriers to it!

And just so it’s clear: I’m talking about social change (see some pictures about this concept), i.e. change that involves humans and their behaviour, as opposed to changes in e.g. engineering or information systems.

The much desired and (our most loathed) change is at the centre of a lot of agile KM and also development work. We want to understand it, track it, make it happen, or stop it. As a formula. In a box. 100% fail-proof.

The bitter deceit…

Perhaps because we may be overlooking one of the most important dimensions of (social) change: it is the bizarre fruit of the dance of time and space along various factors. There is no direct and pure causality between activity A and change X. Complexity theories have helped us understand this intricacy. But not necessarily helped us find ways to address this.

Here’s a shoot post about a change management toolkit of sorts: Using hidden dynamics to realise how to look at and work around change, with four lighthouses on our journey: scaling, pacing, staging and patterning.

Scaling

Social change has both roots and branches across space and time. Understanding scaling is a precondition to achieving change. What other geographic scales are at play in a change dynamics? What could be other beneficiaries or victims of change: other teams? Organisations? Projects? Communities? Districts? Regions? Think upstream-downstream, centre-edges, power groups/marginalised groups What mechanisms are intentionally or involuntarily titillating other scales? What are the tradeoffs and what is the aggregate ‘return on investment’ then?

Similarly, what could be long term as opposed to short term changes or effects? We tend to apply a tunnel vision to the scales we are focusing on, but understanding how a given initiative brings about change that affects people differently over time helps us get a bigger picture of the change we are looking at. This is at the centre of the reflection on time scales in social learning for climate change.

Of course we cannot predict all these changes, but joined-up thinking such as collective visioning exercises give us glimpses of these longer term changes… Don’t consider change without careful attention for scales.

Pacing

Time is of the essence in change, as we’ve seen above. Because behaviour change takes time, all the more so when someone else wants you to change.

Considering longer term effects begs us to examine the speed at which we hope change will happen and the one at which it really happens. As much as a common breathing pace brings people together, pacing activities according to the local context’s normal pace also raises chances for change – remember organic, civic-driven KM?. No need to rush, you might be leading the pack but no one may understand you. Going too slow on the other hand may jeopardise potential for change, time has to be just right. And our pace affects this…

Staging

No ‘intended’ social change happens overnight – unless by some miracle all elements are just ready for it and one extra drop takes care of it (ha! the results of edge effects Alice McGillivray is brilliantly talking about). So no change happens in a fingersnap.

And because of the complex interdependencies, no change is likely to happen at (extended) scale right on. Pacing helps us find the right rhythm of each activity, staging activities helps us align them. It gives us liberty to use effective safe-fail probes (more about that in the video below): We can thus explore how change happens in smaller iterations, using the feedback from each iteration to inform the next loop of activities. Like gardening, this is the key to let change grow and become part of the local fabric’s dynamics. Staging is the drip irrigation of change…

Patterning

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

The last but not the least dynamic of the four, and for good reasons: The complexity of social change requires us to sharpen our senses and (ideally collectively) recognise patterns that make up change. Both in the centre of our attention and at the edges… With patterning we can identify the fractals of change, and by continually doing so we can recognise where in the bigger picture of change a certain fractal belongs.

How do you do patterning? Through learning conversations around a theory of change of sorts, and whether formalised or not, continually exploring the ramifications of that change.

In a lot of agile KM projects – and more conspicuously in a majority of development projects – we tend to zero in on specific changes induced by a given initiative. But we are chasing a fish pack and the way the fish pack shapes and shifts, moves and mixes, appears and disappears tells us much about that ever elusive change. Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning are instruments at our disposal to understand the fish better and, occasionally, to fish it better.

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Since change might look like a shark, we might as well be apprehend it better, don’t you think?

Related blog posts:

Leaders, innovate please!


Leadership vs management (Credits - ocd007 / FlickR)

Leadership vs management (Credits – ocd007 / FlickR)

Enough!

Enough ‘do what I say, not what I do’!

Enough ‘we aspire to be a centre of excellence’ bla bla bla but we don’t put our heart and money to it!

Enough old potions in new bottles!

Enough 20th century management in 21st century networked leaders’ age!

LEADERS, IT’S TIME TO INNOVATE!

I realise starting this year with a rant may not be the most appropriate debut in a new year full of exciting opportunities.

But somehow I’ve just had enough of…

Leaders, if you want to innovate, do it properly! Start with your staff’s ideas; consider their connections and their networks; see them as the DNA of the company – one that keeps reforming and offering opportunities; allow people to try things out / reflect / report / reframe and reinforce their initiatives; open your circle, heart, mind and soul; and: lead the way, pave the way for all the leaders-to-be that you say your company holds but that your actions implicitly deny…

There are various examples out there. This is just one more way to open up:

The ball is in your court, and the clock is ticking. Dinosaurs go extinct, so in front of that swimming pool of change, risk, unfamiliarity and innovation, your precious company has to just dive or die. The choice is yours, and a lot of people are ready to help!

Related blog posts:

The ‘personal’ factor, beyond the human factor in KM


Get the people right!

Trust the people, not just the experts btw! (Credits: phauly / FlickR)

Get the  right people in – not just the ‘experts’ btw! (Credits: phauly / FlickR)

That’s what KM is all about, that’s what most social jobs are all about. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Yet we still stick our heads in the sands and pretend that our plans and logical frameworks are more important than simple human-to-human relationships…

Think about it:

  • How many times did personal connections play a role – in a way or another – in hiring people (or getting hired) e.g. knowing someone who knew someone… Oh, just this article that was tweeted about coming up today to back this statement
  • How many times did an organisation encourage certain processes (e.g. strong cooperation across departments, more facilitated meetings, a strong learning culture etc.) because one or two people were driving that agenda?
  • Why are most KM strategies (and me too) recommending to enroll individual champions and management?
  • How often do you see one person walking the talk, standing up for all others who don’t stick their neck out – and in the best of cases actually influencing those others to follow their example?

Humans drive change, not organisations, not strategies, not statements. They all contribute, but at the end of the day behind all the great apparatus of change, there’s a (wo)man of flesh and blood, usually rallied by other enthusiasts. We are beings of passionate social movements, not of logical strategies.

What does that tell us?

Perhaps the most useful (and seemingly counter-intuitive) measure to get KM right is not to develop a strategy or an information system – or even better: a portal!!! oh no, please not another one – but first and foremost to hire the right person for the job. Someone who really ‘gets it’ and can influence the rest of the organisation, little by little. Ditto for the other champions that get a KM strategy to fly (even under the radar).

If those people are inside your area of influence or control, it might be easier to approach them and build a rapport – and looking at what causes people to change might help. But it seems to me that in order to adapt to the (inter)personal nature of our work, our agile KM knowledge, skills and attitude should certainly entail:

  • A wide range of expertise topics allowing to build initial rapport with a variety of people;
  • A sense of vision and a passion for that vision, to communicate it with others and commune around it;
  • Strong empathetic skills to be able to listen, relate and trust – based on genuine feelings not just a vernix of diplomatic formulas;
  • A good dose of creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and spontaneity to gauge individuals in ways that go beyond marketplace and job-chasing conventions;
  • Authenticity, once again, because that might be the best proof of your intentions;
  • And fun, flings, fluff, emotions and all the things that seem to unnecessary to a strategy but that are oh so necessary to get two people to trust each other.

And the rest is just about developing joint work to let initial impressions convert to a real, strong relationship.

If the champions are outside the organisation, it might be a great idea to use CoPs (communities of practice), PLNs (personal learning networks) and any face-to-face opportunity (whether short-lived like events or longer such as projects) to build that rapport with them. Because these great people who make change happen, these positive deviants and mavericks simply won’t come if they don’t smell a whiff of social compatibility in their new working environment. 

So get the people right, and worry about strategies, systems and processes later. Your ideas will fly if the people that are supposed to bear and apply them are flying freely themselves.

Related blog posts:

Spur of the moment or long term purpose: when pinballs meet bulldozers


In working environments, one of the conundrums in personal and organisational knowledge management is the balance between following one’s ‘spur of the moment’ intuition and pursuing one’s longer term intent and purpose.

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Balancing plans and opportunities is finding a balance between the pinball effect and the bulldozer drive

Planning and executing work then becomes a game of pinballs and bulldozers, where pinballs are projected in all directions, attracted by signals and rebounding on opportunities that arise, and bulldozers moving forward with a plan and avoiding derailing from their plan, no matter what.

Of course, we are neither pinballs nor bulldozers: we all evolve along that continuum and tend to mesh the two ends as we see fit.

At a personal level that is entirely ok. But when a complex situation requires different people to align their operating mode, complications arise. Here are a few instances of these that I or others I know have faced at work in the past 10 years:

  • Feeling hopeless and prey to everyone else’s agenda and actions – literally like a pinball sent in all directions, trying to cope with travel, backlog, email piles and the rest of it;
  • Planning work without keeping any open slot and feeling defeated at the end of the week for not having been able to do it all because the plan did not leave enough room for imponderables… ;
  • Spending the entire week meeting people and having conversations, only to find it a struggle to actually write stuff or do things, and perhaps – over time – slightly losing interest or ability to do that;
  • Being a victim to one’s email inbox and social media and responding to all of these on the spot;
  • Being under pressure to deliver and having to adjust one’s schedule to high level demands or encounters with moral pressure to execute, even if this means working systematically in the weekends or evenings and you promised yourself to keep a healthy work-private life balance;
  • Dealing with colleagues who find it natural to work every night, every weekend – as it is their way to cope with work pressure – as they expect you to do the same;
  • Being accused of being inflexible and not open to meeting people because you’re working on some deadline and are focusing on what you planned to deliver rather than what comes up;
  • Continuing on your trajectory (business as usual) without realising it’s not what you should be doing…

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” (Will Rogers)

This post is as much therapeutic as it is reflexive. Time to look at how we collectively deal with our ability and inclination towards planning and seizing opportunities…

On a personal level…

Personal effectiveness survey gurus like Stephen Covey (and his habits of highly effective people) or Leo Babauta and his zen techniques to keep a balance, both insist on intent, purpose, planning and carving time out for quality work.

This is at the heart of my own approach to personal effectiveness. Work just goes on and on like a treadmill and if you don’t step back and look around once in a while, you might miss your purpose, forget what really gives you energy and what little steps you should be putting together to achieve a greater goal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should just focus on that path and never step out of it. The keys to finding a balance might lie in:

  • Carpe Diem now or later?

    Carpe Diem now or later?

    Enjoying the moments as they come. Carpe diem (seize the day). It is probably the most important balancing mechanism to appreciate what you are doing at every step of your way – where mindfulness becomes the guiding path…

  • Reflecting regularly (every day? every week? after every important happening or event?) to see what works or not, what gives you energy or not, where you might change your approach regarding tiny details of your every day life, work, planning and enjoying – simple after action reviews can be a powerful mechanism for that;
  • Reflecting deeply (and particularly applying third loop learning in practice) to inquire about your own sense of purpose (and for those who wish, destiny) and what might be the next wave we ride;
  • Planning accordingly but knowing at heart that we don’t have all answers, that we don’t have the gift of foresight and that we have to remain open to what comes along the way, as signals that might take us for a better turn on our life path, and definitely keeping open slots for serendipity, creativity, seemingly unproductive time…
  • Avoiding – if we mind the pinball effect – to fall prey to every notification, signal, email, social media message or else that keeps popping up visually, aurally and kinesthetically (through the vibrating effect of a message popping on our phone)… Every sign of distraction like this might keep us away from finding more meaningful answers and questions that lie in longer term focus and discipline.

Collectively…

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

How do our operating wheels fit with one another? (credits Pbase.com)

 

Collective effectiveness is a lot about how everyone’s operating wheels fit into one another and finding solutions for it has a lot to do with negotiating collective conventions. Some pointers here might be…

To agree on the long-term objectives and the short-term necessities of the team and organise work accordingly – following a broad main line – not the route that will be followed step by step but the map that connects starting point and final destination, with an idea of some stop-overs. This requires regular communication and is harder done than said…

Similarly to personal efforts, to regularly reflect on the objectives and operating mode of the collective and to assess what needs to happen to make this collective work and bring the best of its abilities to the fore. If unwanted/unexpected/unplanned signals drive too much attention away from the main added value of that collective, it might be good to reduce these opportunities.

To embrace ideas that stem from the collective’s individual practices, and to allow some time to sift through the experience and assess what might be the collective value of that individual practice. This is typically the case with one person trying a new social network and inviting their colleagues to reflect upon the potential for the whole team to use it (when, why, for what purpose, how etc.)? There is much value in exploration, it just needs to be assessed collectively at some point.

To gauge, as a team or organisation, the need for focus or exploration. This is to ask to what extent the collective needs to remain open to opportunities that come along the way (because it really needs to bring in a whiff of external perspectives) or needs to focus on its current pipeline because it already has well enough logical and useful work underway.

To discuss collectively how to deal with over work, work-life balance and what colleagues can expect from each other when it comes to weekend and evening work requests or attending to unexpected conversations when there are expectations to deliver outputs.

To agree on planned outputs and collective responsibilities to deliver these. Once that agreement is made it becomes easier to dedicate additional time and efforts to unexpected and spontaneous happenings. So long as it remains each individual’s workload the collective remains trapped in entropy and if it remains solely the management’s prerogative, commitment to deliver might be limited.

To reflect collectively on what (and sometimes who) distracts the collective’s plans and brings along opportunities that might indeed be very helpful or simply noise that reduces the collective’s productivity and purpose. And discussing what would be the practical implications of adapting the collective schedule to respond to opportunities and how it would be received in the wider ecosystem of which that collective is part (e.g. a team within a broader organisation).

There will likely never be a full balance between various individuals’ approaches and the needs of the collective when it comes to planning and opening to unexpected magic, but we might do much worse than talking, reflecting about it and acting upon collective conventions.

One thing’s for sure: conventions and cultures evolve and we should remain alert to these changes that affect our strategies. Together, we might see the hole we’re digging before it gets too deep…

Related blog posts:

KM for Development Journal news, zooming in on the facilitation of multi-stakeholder processes


Some news about the Knowledge Management for Development Journal, for which I’m a senior editor: the upcoming issue (May 2013) is just about to be released and will be the first open access issue again after three years of commercial hosting by Taylor and Francis. This is a really welcome move – back to open knowledge – and the issue should be very interesting as it focuses on knowledge management in climate change work.

The September 2013 issue is dedicated to ‘Breaking the boundaries to knowledge integration: society meets science within knowledge management for development.’

Discussing innovation and multi-stakeholder platforms (Credits: WaterandFood / FlickR)

Discussing innovation and multi-stakeholder platforms (Credits: WaterandFood / FlickR)

But here I wanted to focus a bit on the December 2013 issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal which will be about ‘Facilitating multi-stakeholder processes: balancing internal dynamics and institutional politics‘.

Multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) have been a long term interest of mine, as I really appreciate their contribution to dealing with wicked problems, their focus (conscious or not) on social learning, and the intricate aspects of learning, knowledge management, communication, monitoring and capacity development. Multi-stakeholder processes are a mini-world of agile KM and learning in the making – thus offering a fascinating laboratory while focusing on real-life issues and problems.

What is clearly coming out of experiences around MSPs is that facilitation is required to align or conjugate the divergent interests, competing agendas, differing world views, complimentary capacities and abilities, discourses and behaviours.

In particular I am personally interested to hear more about:

  • How homegrown innovation and facilitation can be stimulated and nurtured for more sustainable collective action movements, especially if the MSP was set up as part of a funded aid project.
  • How the adaptive capacity of a set of stakeholders is being stimulated beyond the direct issue at hand (be it education, competing agendas on natural resources, water and sanitation coverage etc.) or not and how it becomes a conscious objective of these processes.
  • What facilitation methods seem to have worked out and to what extent this was formalised or not.
  • How the facilitation of such complex multi-stakeholder processes was shared among various actors or borne by one actor and with what insights.
  • How individuals and institutions find their role to play and how their orchestration is organised in such complex processes (i.e. is there a place for individual players, how does this address or raise issues of capacities, turnover, ownership, energy, collective action, trust etc.).
  • To what extent – and how – was the facilitation of these processes formally or informally reflected upon as part of monitoring, learning and evaluation or as part of softer process documentation.

This special issue, which is very promising with almost 25 abstracts received in total, should explore these issues in more depth and bring up more fodder for this blog and for exciting work on using social learning to improve research / development. The issue will come out in December 2013 as mentioned. In the meantime, a couple of upcoming events in my work will also touch upon some specific forms of multi-stakeholder processes: innovation platforms.

What else is boiling around this blog? A lot!

Coming up soon: Another couple of KM interviews, some reflections on open knowledge and related topics and perhaps getting to a Prezi as I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of working with it after three years of interruption. Only even more is boiling outside this blog – as this turns out to be the most hectic season at the office these days. More when I get to it the week after next.

Read the December 2013 issue’s call for papers.

Related blog posts: