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…

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One thought on “KM and politics… an agile ‘House of Cards’?

  1. Nice and fun. KM is about power, access and language🙂 Good to ser you use ‘Triple A’; Arena, Audience and Agenda.
    Cheers, Jaap

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