Thank you all for your great support – and a merry Christmas and happy holidays!


Dear readers, commenters, likers, raters, followers, friends and others,

Thank you for your great support! (Credits - Woodleywonderworks)

Thank you for your great support! (Credits – Woodleywonderworks)

One more year of blogging. The first year – over the past five years of blogging – when I have managed to consistently blog throughout the year, month in, month out. 63 posts. Many comments, quite some likes and ratings. A good year.

This is all thanks to you ūüôā¬†Thanks to your interactions on this blog, on Twitter, LinkedIn etc.¬†Your readership makes this blog worth keeping up and I can’t express my gratitude¬†warmly enough for engaging with me and my posts and helping me reflect continually at different levels and conversing with the quality hearts and minds that you have.

As I am going on home leave for the end of the year, looking back at this good year, here are some final reflections, with some inspiration from John Stepper’s reflection post about ¬† his first 1.5 years of blogging.

The 5 most successful (most viewed) posts this year were:

  1. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  2. Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?
  3. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  4. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information
  5. What the heck is knowledge anyways: from commodity to capacity and insights

The 10 posts I enjoyed writing most were:

This year has also seen the development of a¬†Pinterest board about this blog. It’s a nicer way to navigate through a see of posts (152 to date). You reckon?

Next year I sure will come back to blogging with renewed energy, ideas and inspiration, about the content and the process of learning. Holidays are great for that: they feed learning by letting parts of your brain rest while activating others and stimulating our hearts… well at least mine in this case.

So have (hopefully) great holidays and Christmas if that means something to you, and see you in 2012! And again MANY MANY THANKS. I hope to keep exploring the role of knowledge work in social change and development work thanks to you and with you next year and beyond.

Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année !

Revisiting the links between communication and knowledge management


At the fifth informal get-together of the Ethiopia/Addis Ababa KM4Dev network, one of the focused conversations we held was about the relations between communication and knowledge management. I wrote this year about how KM can power communication. I also blogged about the different families of engagement in which comms and KM can be found.

KM and comms overlap a lot - with the exception of learning?

KM and comms overlap a lot – with the exception of learning?

The KM4Dev Ethiopia discussion we had focused on the following two questions:

  1. Where do KM and comms sit in your organisation / project and are they formally or informally connected? How?
  2. Where do you see comms and KM work together and possibly integrate?

The conversation highlighted a few points which I think are worth looking into here.

KM and comms are defined very differently in different organisations¬†or projects; they encompass each other (KM is part of comms, comms is part of KM) or they are totally separate depending on the concepts that form the foundations of that organisation and the politics of different departments… What is sure: There has to be a real purpose in bringing comms and KM together to encourage formal and/or informal cooperation among these approaches.

As many other things, definitions don’t matter so much (we’ve been working on comms and KM all along without labeling these ways) so long as your organisation/project feels comfortable knowing what it does with it. That intention matters, particularly if as I have advocated¬†KM (and comms) includes a strong emphasis on learning. Purpose is essential to accelerating learning.

One of the main differences between KM and comms has been the idea of messaging (highlighted in the definitions in one of the resources mentioned below) which has characterised much comms work in the past: In organisations and projects, comms – understood here as a department rather than a function or skill set – has been traditionally focusing on unilaterally sending messages to target groups. There has been very little said about multi-lateral relations in comms work and also very little about (face-to-face and online) engagement from the start. This is changing, however, with more and more communication strategies and activities paying attention to nurturing the network (or ecosystem) as part of which the organisation or project is part. This change of approach is perhaps the main reason why there is such a blur between communication and knowledge management: comms is evolving; and so is KM, moving away from being understood as just information management (more about the difference between the two on the KM4Dev wiki). Adding to the blur, is that knowledge sharing is essential in KM and might be understood – wrongly – as communication.

Comms and KM retain nonetheless deeply distinctive features. As mentioned in the engagement families analogy, the marketing and PR branches of the communication family are very different from what KM does or intend to do. The learning aspect is also usually not a very prominent aspect of comms, while it is adamant to good, agile KM. And information management is only thought of as distantly supporting comms, while it is part and parcel of KM.

Perhaps another key difference is that comms is recognised and mainstreamed a lot more in business and has been traditionally used as a strong corporate arm, i.e. a controlled field which organisations pay attention to regarding what they are communicating and how they are engaging with clients, partners, beneficiaries etc. With the advent of social media, the corporate comms side has continued to extend its influence, while the KM arm is perhaps moving increasingly towards personal knowledge management and the role of social networks to influence the conversations, documentation efforts and learning issues of people Рand their organisations if they are employees. 

Ultimately both comms and KM wish to change the behaviour of a number of internal and/or external audiences… But communication tends to still have that ‘corporate’ feel to it, while KM and its inherent recognition of learning – and of the power of social learning – recognises much more explicitly the importance of external signals and of co-creating knowledge to get to smarter conversations that solve current problems and pre-empt future issues. This is introduced in this recent explanation by TheKnowledgeCore. The method to achieve change is not the same – much more controlled in comms and ¬†arguably much more open to social learning for social change in agile KM.

Coming back to the initial point here, if there is a real will to make communication and KM work together, it really happens. KM then informs ‘smarter’ communication while KM also benefits from the expertise of comms to approach different internal and external groups more effectively, offline and online. And such a comms-fuelled smarter KM connects strong information management (having information well organised, available, accessible and indeed accessed) with strong communication, to ensure that communication and knowledge sharing are based on existing and pertinent information.

So, this definition and distinction game is a fuzzy affair, but there is certainly much to gain in stimulating interactions between proponents of workers of the comms field and those of the KM field. That’s what agile KM is also about. I am a knowledge sharing and communication specialist, so it makes perfect sense to me that both fields are related, perhaps this post gives you some ideas to consider it too?

And while at that, here are some possibly interesting resources around similar discussions in the past:

Related blog posts:

I WANT (YOU) TO CHANGE! Yes but how?


Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits - Dawn Penn on FlickR)

Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits – Dawn Penn on FlickR)

There’s a lot written about change, change processes, change management, behaviour change, social change etc.

This week again Chris Collison was wondering about what’s stopping us from putting knowledge into action, or in other words, from knowing to changing.

This is a bit of an attempt to synthesise the pathways to personal (behaviour) change.

What are the stimuli of personal behaviour change? This video by Robert Cialdini about the¬†‘science of persuasion‘ offers some clues.

But this is not all of it. There are other factors that affect our pathways to behaviour change:

A¬†realisation that we have to change something. It starts with that. No one changes a behaviour without realising the need to do just that (or do we?). A behaviour change can be sparked suddenly, when we are struck by the lightning of obviousness (e.g. “clearly I need to run meetings differently”). It can also be induced by repeated exposure to ‘signals of change’ (e.g. a regular chit-chat with someone you find inspiring). It could also be induced by a willingness to¬†proactively anticipate events that will require us to change sooner or later anyway. In any case, feedback mechanisms bring about that moment when we realise why we have to change, because we see the unsatisfactory results of our current behaviour.

A more detailed understanding of what we have to change or how. From the realisation that ‘business as usual’ is no longer relevant, we need to examine closely what it is that we have to change. Again here we need some kind of feedback mechanisms, induced by others (direct feedback through online or face-to-face conversations), or by our own exploration e.g. finding out, while reading, that we seem to be out of pace with others doing similar things, or through regularly reflecting again, e.g. via after action reviews

A willingness to change. Even if we understand clearly what we want to change, we have to assess whether, deep down, we are bothered to change… At that stage, we are no longer in the cognitive realm, we are immersed in the emotional world. And this is perhaps where the tipping point is. We may have totally irrational reasons to go against a perceived need to change, as is the case with smoking cigarettes, not washing hands… our will has to spring out of comfort and routine. Willingness to change is about the where and when we are ready to change.

A step up to actively effect change. And finally, we may realise, understand and even want to change, but if we don’t take active steps to change, nothing happens. Perhaps this seems unlikely if the three other conditions are met, but the intensity of all these other factors may not be as strong as required to modify our behaviour. We need to take a bold first step to make change happen. The how is the question here, but certainly small steps are more helpful than grand visions at this stage…

The pathways of change are not straightforward. And yet they are pathways because they go through different steps…

The AIDA pyramid

The AIDA pyramid

Somehow, the marketing model of AIDA comes to mind here too:

  • (grab) Attention
  • (stimulate) Interest, usually through information
  • (create)¬†Desire
  • (generate) Action.

This model is usually applied to bringing people to buy products – but changing behaviour could be the product we’re interested in selling here.

If we look in more detail, we can single out finer granularity details explaining what inspires these four steps towards change.

  • Accidents and incidents. Indeed accidents are major game changers. They reverse the order of priorities. Even incidents have that property to let change¬†emerge. This is where the ‘safe-fail’ probes and approaches come in handy.
  • Being connected. The more we are connected to others, and the more diverse those others are, the more we are increasing our chances of getting out of our comfort zone. Bill Taylor says just the same to¬†learn as fast as the world changes.This is why staying for 30 years in the same company reduces our chances of changing – because we are then connected to a very slowly changing network. This is also why social media have incredibly accelerated change. They have massively amplified our feedback loops.
  • Trust.¬†As we are connected, we tend to follow those we trust – and we now know how complex the trust-building process is. Trust is¬†the kind of cement to relationships that is built upon common experience, reliability, ‘authority’ and the ‘liking’ mentioned in the above video. It also relates to reciprocity, boiling down here to “being the change you want to see”. Along the same lines, rather than listen to us, children also watch us and trust our actions, not our words.
  • Previous ‘tickling’¬†– the ‘consistency’ message that Robert Cialdini mentions in his ‘science of persuasion’ video shown above. Social change itself, in my view, consists of trying to bend the tree. Doing it ever so slightly each time eventually brings major breakthroughs – a typical case of emergence in a¬†complex adaptive system
  • Reflecting, learning and processing emotions. Having a regular practice of¬†¬†reflexivity and learning –¬†one of the reasons why blogging is so crucial¬†– enhances our sharpness to signals of change. If being connected (see above) keeps us externally astute to signals of change, reflecting, learning and processing emotions keeps us internally astute to them. What might create the tipping point, again particularly emotions.
  • Ownership – We need to be bothered about the issue at hand to change… Otherwise the ‘not invented here‘ NIH syndrome will kick in. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. It is our change that will last, not others. We can undo what others have changed in us, a typical process for people suffering from tyranny.
  • Passion can be a strong driver of learning and change, whether inspired by sheer feeling towards another/others, inspiration given from a person, inspiration for a vision that has been jointly developed etc. Passion however bears the risk of putting us in the group think bias if used blindly collectively (something which Dave Snowden recently blogged about).
  • Whatever it is, the carrot – the WIIFM – matters. If we see an incentive, we (might) go for the change. Our comfort zone is a very gravitational factor. Asking us to go through the trouble of moving out of it necessitates a very clear and obvious value proposition. The WIIFM includes cost-benefit analysis and return on investment (RoI) calculations. The benefit has to outweigh the cost or risk, at least in the longer run – or it might be lesser as a result of a compulsory move from the institutional environment (see below).
WIIFM

WIIFM

  • The stick… the threat or risks that we associate with not changing our behaviour can also be a strong driver of change. The¬†sense of ‘scarcity’ also mentioned in the video is part of this stick.
  • Institutional pressure and biases. We work (certainly as employees) in a world of rules and regulations, of formal and informal incentives and boundaries. Typically, the heavily donor-driven development cooperation sector is an open field for many biases that can game operations and encourage or deter change.
  • Peer pressure. That could be one of the sticks (or the carrots, to conform) that plays out strongly… positively or negatively for the kind of change. If you go against the flow, you are potentially just one more positive deviant.
  • A certain confidence or at least having an¬†idea of how to move forward and of having the capacities – or the courage – to go for it. Sometimes we postpone the actions we should take because we don’t feel confident enough to undertake them. Learning a new skill (using a PC, driving, managing staff) could be an intimidating first step to getting us to the change we want.

There are two major ways that we may face these factors: alone, or socially.¬†Reading and doing things our way could lead us to change. So might conversation(s) and joint action. There was a while back a conversation¬†(open to group members only) on a LinkedIn group about learning alone or socially, by reading or conversing, by codifying or by personalizing. Both approaches are different and can lead to the ‘aha’ moment that will lead to change.

It seems there are a lot of different learning styles out there – and I also blogged about that in the past – which mean there are many pathways to change.

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

 

What does it mean for our knowledge and learning work?

So where does this leave us?

A lot of knowledge and communication work is about persuading people to change / adapt their behaviour to be able to learn better for themselves, to get to share what they think/see/feel/like with others, to document their work life, to reflect on what is happening and to collectively stimulate others to do so.

Yet we tend to rely on the same levers to pull and buttons to push all the time. And for everyone. Particularly, we fall prey to believing that sheer information will influence people on their own pathway to change. A lot of research ends up accumulating dust on the shelves without any impact for this very reason.

It’s time to shift our approach and to focus on who we are really dealing with (ourselves, our brains and hearts) and to embark on more realistic, more effective approaches to influence change.

The summary table (below) of the different steps on the pathways to change and the factors that influence these (strongly when bold) might help realise where we need to focus our efforts to change our behaviours or stimulate behaviour changes of others.

ATTENTION: Realisation that we need to change
  • Being connected¬†(to hear the signals for the first time)
  • Trust (to accept that these signals might be valid)
  • Consistency, repetition i.e.¬†‘previous tickling’
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning (to realise something is not quite right)
  • Ownership (co-creation of the conditions to understand we need to change)
INFORMATION: Understanding about what we need to change
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning
  • Observation and reading
  • Being connected¬†(engaging in conversations to gather the facts and drill deeper in the analysis)
DESIRE: Willingness to change
  • WIIFM
  • Ownership
  • Passion
  • Scarcity
  • Trust
  • Being connected (to keep the fire alive)
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Perceived risk and other ‘sticks’
ACTION: Stepping up to effecting change
  • Peer pressure
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Confidence¬†and capacities (to undertake actions)
  • Carrots and sticks
  • Ownership¬†(certainty of the relevance and of the validity of the vision, whether it brings small but direct benefits quickly or brings greater benefits over time)

In practice, this means that would be well informed to:

  1. Realise where, in the pathway of change, we are (or the person we try to influence is).
  2. Develop strong and rich (diverse) feedback mechanisms.
  3. Work on the appropriate levers and buttons that matter at that stage.
  4. Develop trust with those we want to influence or we believe might influence us positively, to develop strong feedback loops.
  5. Encourage gardening the diversity of our networks to establish rich feedback loops.
  6. Try different approaches for different types of people, based on the trust we have with them and on the kind of cost-benefit and RoI calculations that will form acceptable evidence of the need to change.
  7. Combine a compelling vision of success with small incremental steps that do not feel like we need to change everything in one go or add ever so much more on our (work) plate.
  8. Realise the ‘institutional’ factors (the carrots and sticks, the peer pressure mechanisms) that might influence change too.
  9. As much as possible, co-create our work processes with multiple and diverse parties to bring all of the above together.

The pathways of change are not straightforward, but perhaps that’s for the better: We are all different, and change keeps changing, right?

Related blog posts:

Profile of the social learning hero


Social learning is back on the menu.

It’s always been around but somehow the social media age and the increasing recognition of the complexity we have to put up with all point forcibly to the social nature of learning.

And social learning is no easy task. It means grappling with others, getting hands dirty in negotiations and in collective problem-solving. It is about investing in future good, not immediate return on investment, even though early wins are a plus.

If social learning is the important paradigm of the day, what are the important characteristics of a social learning hero? An extension of the modern knowledge worker?

What does the social learning hero look like? (Photo - Mac3 / FlickR)

What does the social learning hero look like? (Photo – Mac3 / FlickR)

Here’s what I think a social learning hero should gather, in terms of gifts/skills and of attitude. And by social learning hero I don’t mean to describe the function of the facilitator of a social learning process which requires a very specific set of attributes. I’m interested in looking at how various people could engage successfully in social learning if they gather the right skills and attitude – and¬†I’m not bothered with the knowledge and experience of a specific field here. You will see that there is some overlap with a knowledge worker.

Gifts and skills:

  • A capacity for strategic visioning, looking at the big picture in the longer term, to be able to map the different agendas and factors that may play out…
  • An ability to understand different accents, perspectives, and to reformulate what s/he heard to ensure s/he has understood what others meant;
  • A synthetic mind to summarise the various perspectives, identify patterns in those and possible win-win solutions;
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution skills (following the simple lessons of books like ‘Getting to Yes‘) which help avoid dead ends when interacting with others and offer solutions in case real confrontations happen;
  • An open heart giving the emotional capacity to connect with others at a deeper level and build real trust authentically;
  • Outstanding interpersonal communication skills to express oneself articulately so as to share knowledge more effectively and have the possibility to¬†get in touch with a variety of people (see point 1);
  • Good ears and eyes¬†to pick up the signals around (and question them);
  • A solid understanding of¬†the learning process and all its dimensions¬†to shape a strong social learning process;
  • Ideally, good facilitation skills to be able to contribute to organising the process of collective sense-making and problem-solving, with simple methods such as planning the purpose, harvest, actions and invitations.
  • Another bonus would be the ability to work with social tools, as this strengthens face-to-face interactions (more about this in the Social Media Guide for African climate change practitioners).

Attitude:

  • Empathy and openness to others, in the sense of welcoming others (including going out of our comfort zone) wanting to understand other perspectives and inquiring about the values, advantages, challenges of those perspectives;
  • A true curiosity to try new things out and add them to an array of experiences;
  • Humility to accept that one’s perspective is thus not better than another one’s or at least that other perspectives have potentially something to teach ourselves too;
  • Flexibility to keep a sustainable negotiation standpoint – and accepting that not everyone is and can be equally flexible all the time;
  • Clarity about what one expects from the social learning process while keeping attention for the balance with others’ needs and wills – perhaps mixed, as with the modern knowledge worker, with a¬†vision of one‚Äôs own development pathway and next priorities;
  • Reflecting in single, double and triple-loop learning,¬†in practice;
  • Intellectual and moral integrity and respect for oneself and for others, preserving the trust of others and perhaps stimulating inspiration from others.
  • Generally, and this is perhaps the most important, a true will to find one’s goal in a collective adventure – a genuine balance between individual and collective good.
  • A bonus might be to be optimistic (but not naive), positive (though not frantically) and ¬†funny, to let humour grease the wheels of social learning…

A lot of these characteristics are also a must for multi-stakeholder and other social learning processes but they also need to possess additional traits. More about this in the future? Once again this is another ideal picture, not a typical profile that is easy to find around the world. But social learning we must be doing, and we might as well work on it from now on.

Related blog posts: