blogging holiday and TOP 10 posts

I’m going on leave for 2 weeks and will be back in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 6 November.

Until then no activity to expect on this blog, as I’m enjoying total disconnection while on holiday, and total dedication to all the other pleasures in life, starting with family fun!

Meanwhile, for the past 9 months of this year, these are the top posts on this blog, as you may like to revisit them… In bold are the posts dated from this year.

  1. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  2. Knowledge management strategy development: Taking stock
  3. Tinkering with tools: Asessing Asana
  4. Share Fair Addis: Fishbowl and fishbowl battle
  5. Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes
  6. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  7. Who is in for triple loop learning?
  8. Enabling change: a manager’s choice (and a leader’s decision)
  9. Opportunity costs of documentation and how to make it work…
  10. Putting learning loops and cycles in practice

PS. and if you were wondering where I will go on holiday, this picture could give you some idea…


See you in 2-3 weeks!

Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners… Mind your attitude for the knowledge ecosystem!

No revolutionary KM thought today, just some mundane observation, with deep implications for knowledge work and its broader knowledge ecosystem though…

We react differently in front of challenges: we can be silent or vocal about them, and we can do something about them, or we don’t. For agile knowledge management, attitude is certainly one of the key factors that makes or breaks initiatives and feeds the knowledge tree and ecosystem (see graph below and related post) or not.

The knowledge tree & ecosystem (credits; CIAT/CTA?)

The knowledge tree & ecosystem (Credits: CTA)

If we were to imagine a four quadrant graph where the x axis would be about being active or passive about the challenges faced and the y axis would plot complaining about challenges (being vocal about them) vs. keeping silent (and focusing on what needs to be done), one ends up with four possible quadrants:

  • Wailers, who are neither active nor particularly silent about what is going wrong;
  • Whiners, who are not silent but are doing something;
  • Waiters, who are not complaining but are also not doing much;
  • Winners, who are not complaining but are actually doing something.
Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners

Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners

Wailing is of course the worst situation, but is probably a temporary situation or predicament, not a constant… At least I hope so. It could also be a stage that is necessary before bouncing back. But there’s no immediate benefit here!

Whining is just complaining about what is going on. And sometimes it really feels good to complain (just see my series of rants on this blog for instance, ha!). But the problem of whining is that, as I’m learning through my meditation work with Headspace, we tend to add thoughts to the feelings we have and just make the whole situation worse. And whining creates waves of negativity that can have a deep impact. The same whiners are typically the people that want you to change. And yes, you can also be a passive whiner, but then in my typology you’d just be a wailer – and not the musical type, Jah!

Waiting can be a good strategy sometimes, sitting it all out, letting things simmer to see some crucial signs emerge, and at least it’s not a situation where frustration is vocalized, but it also means little action emerges. Again, good for a time, but mostly to meditate (which about being actively conscious) but limited after a while. And if nothing happens, it means it’s probably time for action.

Winning is the combination of attitude and action and is what a knowledge ecosystem requires to change more deeply or rapidly. It’s that attitude that inspires change. Bouncing back, rebounding up all the time, taking adversity as an opportunity to change and improve – even though it’s difficult – and neither boasting about it nor complaining about the problems. Easier said than done, for sure, but worth remembering.

Think about it when you’re struggling in your next agile KM move. It takes just a bit of silence, a lot of action and some role modelling. And yes, meditation helps :)

Related posts:

KM on a (creative) shoestring

What can you do when you don’t have budget?
Not much you might think? Think again!

Lack of resources boosts creativity, much like ‘near-miss’ experiences (so well described in Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath) produce confident life champions that fight through adversity.

So, if your KM budget is small, or non-existent, what can you do?
Not much you might think? Think again!

Following Nick Milton and Stephanie Barnes’s book about ‘Designing a successful KM strategy‘ you can devise simple measures to go through every step of the process they recommend.

Here is what I would suggest as one palette of shoestring KM options:

  • Talk to management and other people in the initiative of which your KM work is part, to understand the bigger challenges they are facing, and share your insights with them and try and convince them of the value of agile KM;
  • See what the people in your initiative are doing. Map, very simply, their good and improvable practices as individuals and as teams or collectives – and present back your findings;
  • Hold conversations to share information, insights, knowledge, contacts, questions, to create trust [LINK] and to connect with the wider picture;
  • Set up simple off-the-shelf systems – follow the example of ILRI in using existing, off-the-shelf platforms that do not require heavy programming;
  • Hold reflection meetings and set up learning mechanisms and approaches to periodically reflect on what is working or not in your approach.
Becoming a data scientist on a shoestring (Credits: Timo Elliott)

Becoming a data scientist on a shoestring (Credits: Timo Elliott)

And if these prove useful, you might want to advocate for more budget in the future, and go for the Cadillac process that Milton & Barnes are talking about. But maybe you don’t even want to fall into comfort?

Whatever the range of approaches, think about how to develop communication, documentation and learning. At any rate these simple steps above could already go a very long way. And this is just the fruit of a very quick reflection. I’m sure you can devise just as many steps without much budget.

What shoestring KM mechanisms have you implemented? What would you recommend?

Related blog posts:

TRUST is the truth

Trust Me - John Everett Millais, 1862

Trust Me – John Everett Millais, 1862

What will be left from our existence on this planet? If you’re Barack Obama or a super dictator, some mention in history books. But for most of us, nothing much that is visible per se, not as a legacy we leave behind individually.

But there are two things I believe strongly in, when it comes to immortality – and not for the sake of leaving traces of yourself, but for the sake of leaving some stepping stones for people after you to build upon…

  1. The place to start building something good is within our core family, our couple, our children, other relatives that matter to us, our friends (our non-biological family). Because if we miss that scale, how can we pretend building something that lasts anywhere else?
  2. The other place to start with collective (or community) initiatives where you embrace a holistic vision but really try to build something simple and strong, together with others.

Both of these require an essential element: trust.

As I pointed in an earlier post, Dave Pollard wrote a beautiful post about What makes us trust someone? No need to cover that more.

I want to briefly insist here on why we need trust. Why trust is the truth – and that is because trust gets you to longer-term (‘sustainable’ ;)) results and it also gets you more quickly to these results. Although the very act of building trust itself takes much time.

And then I want to move forward a bit to look at how trust intersects specifically with the world of agile KM.

One could imagine there are (at least) three types of sources that trust draws from:

  1. Information-based trust
  2. Knowledge-based trust
  3. (experiential) Learning-based trust

Information-based trust is what makes us believe a source of information is more reliable than another one – this is where we need science more than ever.

Dave Pollard's elements of trust building

Dave Pollard’s elements of trust building

Knowledge-based trust is the trust that we create when sharing knowledge with our connections and exploring our world views together – thus particularly looking at the second block in Pollard’s triple-tier trust genesis. Going beyond the sensory/chemical signals.

Learning-based trust mirrors the same point of Pollard on ‘positive collaborative experiences’. The old saying of ‘involve me and I will remember’ (or a variation thereof) takes a parallel meaning when we are talking about joint experiences. Nothing like working together, muddling through things together, learning together to generate solid trust.

What to make of trust in agile KM?

  1. Build everything you can to make your information trustworthy. Follow a rigorous process of verification and state clearly where your possible flaws are and where your work needs to be expanded or adapted by others. Get referred to by other credible sources of information. So much for information-based trust.
  2. Move conversations up the trust ladder by having as many and as deep conversations as you can with as many people, especially the skeptics. This is how you expand knowledge-based trust.
  3. Co-create products, build processes jointly, undertake movements collectively, get at it, get deep into your work with partners but do something, fashion your world with others, as that is the ultimate source of trust and what gets all nodes of the collective human grid connected and all capacity expanded. And that is the single one thing that is more valuable than your presence which you can give others and the world: the gift of your active dedication.

At last, perhaps above all else trust that trust is the truth and a genuine intention to cherish it in society (the ‘societal trust’ alluded to by Olaf doe in this recent post by Nancy White) because if we lose it, the world turns as dark as the most totalitarian or extremist corners of humanity.

Related blog posts:

Moving conversations up the trust ladder… and scale of influence

The infinite recognition [R. Magritte, 1963]

The infinite recognition [R. Magritte, 1963]

At the end of the day, as some would say (‘KM is about increasing the quality and frequency of conversations that get your job done’), in KM it’s all about conversations.

Conversations of contact-making (contextual webs)

Conversations of meaning-making

Conversations of joint exploration

Conversations of co-creation (in events and otherwise)

Conversations of trust building

Conversations of network weaving

Conversations of influence

But: we’re not well-suited to have all these conversations with everyone any time. Because that trust is not there, because we don’t understand everyone else’s language, because we don’t know what motivates them, because…

So the trick is – for professional purposes – to converse as often, as deeply, as intentionally with as many people people that are interested or influential in the work you do, so you move away from a small opportunity to talk, towards a small chance to work together up to a major joint endeavour. bearing in mind:

  • What you hope to and what you realistically can achieve with or vis-à-vis the person you’re conversing with…
  • What degree of affinity you have with that/those person/s (remember the 50 shades of influence?);
  • Simply what pleasure you derive from conversing with that/those person/s;
  • And sometimes indeed just drifting by, letting yourself go gently together wherever the conversation takes you, without predefined end destination…

By doing so, you increasingly develop a rapport, trust (once again – and I really have to write a post entirely on this cornerstone of agile KM) so that you can move mountains.

Some ideas for conversing more effectively – if you want to influence things as you go forward:

Step out of your social comfort zone, speak with the people that are blatantly not part of your natural 'clique'!

Step out of your social comfort zone, speak with the people that are blatantly not part of your natural ‘clique’!

  • Converse with the non-converts – you can stick to your comfort zone but this world will change only when you start uniting fronts that are not directly bought to your cause. So go out there and engage!
  • Bring eclectic mixes of people – the way Theodore Zeldin tried it at his dinners – as it is the surest way to get an interesting collage that resembles more the bigger picture than you yourself or you and your friends would be able to paint otherwise;
  • Adopt unconventional standpoints to provoke reactions and additional layers to the conversation(s);
  • Use techniques that push you to take other peoples’ perspectives to understand and shift perspectives… DeBono’s six-thinking hats is only one of various such methods…

But remember that conversations – although they should be enjoyed in and of themselves, simply – are always opportunities to move up on the scale of getting the next big thing done, the next big movement marching on.

So go out and converse, don’t be shy, that’s the way humanity has been going on and growing up… And this way you avoid dotty communication and that’s not a bad starting point ;)

Related posts:

The danger of double-edged messiahs and the long shadow of the savior

Everyone aspires (or should aspire) to be a leader.

All pointers to the leader

All pointers to the leader

But if you’re not quite a leader yet, having a real leader at your side is super useful… Except when it isn’t.

Sometimes a leader is the person that really gives you the will to go ahead, fight, stand up, continue, relentlessly and gladly.

And sometimes that leader is so inspiring that his/her shadow is too long and too large, and it dwarfs anyone else’s intention to step up to leadership. That’s when there is a problem.

Leadership is a precious flower that needs to be nurtured inside each and everyone of us. Of all people, the special care and attention that is given to that flower has to come from the top, from the leaders, and all the more so from the charismatic leaders we cherish.

It is great to have such a charismatic leader that gets (nearly) everything right and is full of energy and good ideas, and is so capable and is so productive and is so protective, but this kind of messiahs is double-edged if they don’t emulate the same kind of energy among the people they are leading to fly from their own wings.

I’m not suggesting here that it’s the leader’s fault per se. Just that everyone should remember there is that little flower inside us that needs to be cared for. And give water to that thought to let the flower flourish.

Look up to the leader, emulate the leader, look below and spread the light, not the shadow.

Our age needs every aspiring leader around. So go plant your leadership flowers about!

Related posts


50 shades of influence

Influencing others may take many paths.

Exercices de style - a wonderful and inspirational read (also) for wannabe influencers

Exercices de style – a wonderful and inspirational read (also) for wannabe influencers

It usually is a mix of our own personality and preferred ‘convincing/negotiation’ style, but it should also relate to the preferred ‘listening/convincing’ style of the people that you want to influence. And it depends on values. Even though values change slowly, they do change.

So if you want to influence someone – e.g. to get them to adopt agile KM for instance – here are perhaps not 50 shades but a few options you can try. All attempting at telling the same story, the way Raymond Queneau proposed 99 ways of telling the same story in ‘Exercices de style‘.

Invoke the greater goal 

From the ‘supply side’ (your argument) I would always start with this: expose the big picture, make it clear that whatever initiative you are standing for is not just mirroring your mechanical involvement with the issue, but reflects the importance of the task at hand for more people in more places. Deep down us human beings, we aspire for immortality and contributing to grand achievements. Use this to your advantage, and for sincere reasons, and people will be convinced.

Promise armageddon

Usually a much less useful tactic than the previous one, but its alter-ego can still win people over sometimes: if opportunity doesn’t work for your audience, perhaps threats (not you threatening them but the environment threatening to impact them) and risks could be a motivator for them. Given the relative apathy in the face of climate change, this is again not a preferred option, more of a ‘just in case’ kind of recourse.

Invoke the values of people to influence

From the ‘demand side’ (the people you want to influence) it always starts there, with the values that people put in ideas, practices, people etc. So go figure soonest what is intrinsically motivating them. Remember the ‘SmartChart’ and its four quadrants, it will help you there. Greatly!

Speak the same language

Nothing is less likely to sway someone than jargon – especially jargon that is not theirs. On the other hand, using terms and mind frames that shape them create a strong yet subtle sense of commonality that can go a long way to influence decisions.

Pillars of influence (Credits:  David Armano / FlickR)

Pillars of influence (Credits: David Armano / FlickR)

Appeal to emotions and impressions

Emotions can swing people, very effectively. In fact more effectively than facts usually. It’s not the reality that really matters, but the impression that people have about it. Emotions influence these perceptions. And there is a wide range of emotions you can use: excitement, pride, compassion, happiness, sadness etc.

Be there at the right time

Sometimes influence just emerges from being the right person at the right place at the right time. You have a solution for a problem that presents itself. Now the timing for this is particularly tricky, but for that matter ongoing engagement (no matter what family of it) is surely a positive way forward. The more you engage the more likely you are to be where it matters at the right time.

Give the facts

The analytical minds among us don’t care about emotions and grand visions, they want hard, cold evidence. Even though it’s pretty clear that evidence-based decision-making is probably less common than decision-based evidence-making, it’s still useful to have some facts explaining everything from the goal to the deeds to the expected results and the mechanics of how to get there.

Show genuine calm and confidence in your idea

I recently managed to invite someone to an event he was not considering at all by simply stating why he would be missing the greatest event of this year. I don’t think the promise of the greatest event was the defining factor to push his decision, but the firmness of my opinion – I’m sure – played a greater role. This influencing tactic is especially easy if you appeal to a greater whole. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have any doubt about your approach, just that you believe you know where you’re going, generally…

Seek support from insiders and peers

What is best to influence someone? Not you talking them into it, but someone they trust doing it. So when and where will you start your ecosystem influencing strategy? Find the trusted advisors and friends and work with them. When there is no ‘advisor’ as such, the second best might just be peers, people that are akin to those you want to influence, so they can share ideas about your initiative and get that peer learning to work its best effects for you.

Expose, expose, expose

The golden rule of communication of saying the same things three times may hold a grain of truth. Perhaps it’s. After all that’s also what advertising and good policy engagement tell us: expose your audience to your messages and your presence as often and as widely as possible so you are high up in their mind. 

Ignore and let it simmer

A great tactic of the romantic realm, sometimes lack of attention is the trigger that intrigues the person you are trying to influence, especially after some intensive convincing efforts. We are beings baked in a mould of curiosity and that tickles us. We also probably all aspire to be loved and recognised. So that curtain of silence might just be the most effective way, at some (delicate) point, to win people over… when you suddenly take interest in them again…

Just prove your point

Sometimes it’s just actions that sway people over. In fact this is probably one of the most potent way of influencing others: showing people why they should believe you. This is how we have managed, in our ILRI comms/KM team, to invest a lot of programs with our events and thereby all our other comms and KM services. Just do it! This is what all positive deviants do.


So what now?

The big notion that is missing above but is at the heart of the above is TRUST, of course. The more the person you want to influence trusts you, the more likely you are of influencing them. If you’re familiar with this blog you will recall it from various posts.

All the above is not meant to be advice followed cynically for the pleasure of winning people over, but some ideas about how to influence people for ideas that you think really matter. And as ever the best trick is to probe, sense and respond. Learn and adapt based on short feedback loops… Luckily there are, as the little selection above shows, many influencing pathways…

What will be secret force to open the lock? (Credits: Wonderlane / FlickR)

What will be secret force to open the lock? (Credits: Wonderlane / FlickR)

The solution probably lies at the crossroads between various of these roads, not least because complex initiatives require the sign-off of various people, potentially all with a different listening/convincing bias.  

What are your stories of successfully convincing others to do something they were not thinking of? What did you do?

Share your influencing wisdom!

Related blog posts:


Opportunity costs of documentation and how to make it work…

In my book of KM, documentation is an essential part of the work.

Documentation - do you read it (Credits: Matt Ray / FlickR)

Documentation – do you read it (Credits: Matt Ray / FlickR)

Not everyone agrees to it. Someone who works a lot with Liberating Structures recently told me he didn’t necessarily see the point of harvesting anything because the people that were ‘doing the work’ would remember.

But then there’s always the point of documenting for the sake of the people who are not ‘doing the work’ there and then. Keeping traces so others can pick up the trail and use it in ways that help them.

However the question always remains: what should you document (e.g. what is good in a project) and how much should you invest in documenting it – and how – vs. how much you should set up processes to directly connect people with relevant experience?

This is the eternal debate of documentation vs. one-on-one experience sharing, of Alexandrian libraries vs. campfires – something that is currently being debated on KM4Dev around the title “How Elon Musk can tell if job applicants are lying about their experience” (link pending on membership).

Yes, Alexandrian libraries are only a partial solution because they don’t relate a lot of the complexities. And as Johannes Schunter pointed recently on his blog, lessons learnt that generate bland statements are useless (the ‘Duh’ test).

And there is the issue that documentation takes time and effort. Not everything can be documented, everywhere, all the time, by everyone. It’s the same opportunity cost as for monitoring and evaluation (for which we can also adopt a somewhat agile approach).

Here are some ideas to identify what to document and how:

What to document?

  • What is new?
  • What is significant?
  • What’s been done about this already (in some form or shape)?
  • What is simple (and can be codified into principles or best practices)?
  • What is complicated (but can still follow good/next practice)?
  • What is complex and inter-related about this?
  • What is unknown?
  • What is helping us ask the next best questions?
  • Who knows more about this
  • What could be useful next steps?

How to document?

  • Develop templates for documentation for e.g. case studies (link pending KM4Dev membership);
  • Keep it simple: as little information as needed to inform people, but linked sufficiently well to other sources;
  • Develop a collective system where people can add up their experiences and insights (e.g. the KS Toolkit) – make sure you have one place that people recognise as the go-to site for this information;

How to prepare that documentation work? And this is the most important part.

  • Stimulate your own documentation through blogging, note taking, managing a diary etc. It always starts and ends at the individual level – as the constant knowledge gardeners we should be;
  • Make sure your documentation is related to conversations (as Jaap Pels also recommends in his KM framework) so that you get an active habit of identifying;
  • Make sure you have formal and informal spaces and times for these conversations to erupt, both at personal level with our personal learning networks, within teams, within organisations, across organisations (e.g. in networks) etc.;
  • Develop abilities for documentation (which is part of the modern knowledge worker’s skillset);
  • Develop a strong questioning approach where you are constantly working on foresight, trend watching, complex tradeoff assessments etc.;
  • Role model documentation of the important aspects emerging from learning conversations, to stimulate a culture of intelligent documentation;
  • Assess how your documentation makes sense and what is required – and this is the art and science of documentation, to strike the balance between time inputs and learning/productivity outcomes…
Documentation as the next opportunity? See this 'Documentation Maturity Model' (Credits: Mark Fidelman / FlickR)

Documentation is an interesting KM opportunity for many people. See this ‘Documentation Maturity Model’ (Credits: Mark Fidelman / FlickR)

How do you approach documentation in your conversations?

Related blog posts:

Where is KM and its spirit?

Is it dead?

Is it dying? (link pending on KM4Dev Dgroup membership)

Is it in comms?

Is it in my work?

Is it in my head? 

KM, connecting people, conversations and traces (Credits: CENews)

KM, connecting people, conversations and traces (Credits: CENews)

The danger of terms like knowledge management is their undue mystifying power. It means many things to many people. And it tends to confuse everyone – much like the term ‘knowledge’ itself anyway.

But the point is simple – and rather than define KM, let’s rather look at some key situations when ‘KM is inside‘.

  • When you want to stop talking at people, when you want to disrupt one-sided communication and you want all people to engage in meaningful conversations with each other, to share knowledge, whether offline or online, you’re doing KM (well, KS, but that’s party of KM). When you want them to collaborate, online or offine, as an additional measure of engagement, you’re doing KM;
  • When you make sure everything that is talked about or produced can be found again, easily, accessibly, at all times, by all kinds of people and not just those that were involved in the first place, you’re doing KM (well, technically information management but it’s part of it);
  • When you want everyone involved in the work to learn, individually and collectively, when you want to connect all the thinking dots together to discover the next useful questions, through communities of practice, engaging events and processes, multi-stakeholder platforms, learning forums, capacity development initiatives, you are doing KM.

Either of these areas on its own is not worth much. But the combination is terrific.

There is no need to separate KM from communication. There is no need to put KM on a pedestal, what matters is the areas and principles it stands for, roughly around conversations, documentation and learning. KM = CDL, on the journey to universal sense-making.

But the danger is that by not paying attention to what KM stands for, we forget to ensure these principles and areas of work are part and parcel of our approach, and we come back to the realm of egoism, ignorance, bickering, nepotism, chaos…

I feel smarter already, I think (Credits: Van Corry/FlickR)

I feel smarter already, I think (Credits: Van Corry/FlickR)

It’s as simple as that.

So keep smart work up, and make sure that in whatever form or shape, the spirit of KM is inside, like the genie in the bottle.

Related blog posts:

Blog holiday and top posts in the past 5 months

Al final! Vacaciones! En España! Andalucia! Andalucia, Spain (Credits: Benjamin Bay) Andalucia, Spain (Credits: Benjamin Bay)

Before I set off for two weeks most likely well disconnected from the marvellous online world of knowledge and learning for change, hereby an overview of the most popular posts on this blog since 1 January.

It has been a really hectic period around this blog, culminating with the recent launch of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal issue on ‘Facilitation for development‘, the launch of my ‘agile facilitation’ blog and the AgKnowledge Innovation Process Share Fair which fed a couple of posts: Agile KM / development / facilitation and the fair of the year? and Participatory decision-making vs. Liberating Structures, a facilitation showdown (on AgileFacil)

Hereby the top posts, from most popular to least popular (and in bold the posts that were written these past five months):

  1. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  2. Knowledge management strategy development: Taking stock
  3. Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes
  4. Tinkering with tools: Asessing Asana
  5. Enabling change: a manager’s choice (and a leader’s decision)
  6. Use quality face-to-face time for synergy, not for logorrhea
  7. Agile KM from ‘SMART goals’ to ‘practice SMARTS’
  8. Who is in for triple loop learning?
  9. Share Fair Addis: Fishbowl and fishbowl battle
  10. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker

See, read and engage with you in over two weeks!

Andalucia, here I come! (Credits: BikeSpain) Andalucia, here I come! (Credits: BikeSpain)