About Ewen Le Borgne

Relentless optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. 12 years of experience learning / KM, comms, innovation for change in cooperation & development. I cherish empowerment. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Cultivating healthy human systems from the roots of the problem: fear and (lack of) self-confidence

Fear (Credits: Elina Baltina / FlickR)

Fear (Credits: Elina Baltina / FlickR)

Two drives prevent human systems from flourishing in healthy ways: Fear and lack of self-confidence. One of the ultimate ways to make a real difference – in whatever sense – in the short and long term is to cultivate the ability of people to conquer their fears and to gain self-confidence.


There lies the challenge. And only our intention to improve this in ourselves and to be generous with helping others do the same can help people co-create healthy human systems.

How to address these root issues?

Addressing fear

We all have fears. From the get-go as babies all the way to the dusk of our life. Some say it’s just a matter of ‘being aware’:

  1. A: Accept the anxiety. Don’t try to fight it.
  2. W: Watch the anxiety. Just watch it and when you notice it, scale your level of fear and start to breathe longer on the out-breath.
  3. A: Stands for ‘Act normally’. …
  4. R: Repeat the above steps in your mind if necessary.
  5. E: Expect the best.

And certainly one of the lessons of meditation is that being aware of what controls us is 50% of the solution. This other post puts awareness on top too.

This judicious post gives us some tips to tackle our fear: accept our vulnerability, lower expectations (right down to ‘expect nothing’), embrace the possibility of success, let go, be present in the moment, trust yourself.

In addition to that, and specifically for agile KM initiatives, I would add, at a collective scale:

  • Inspect our collective fears and vision a world without them
  • Keep enriching your grand visions, but take baby steps – breaking large challenges in tiny chunks is one way to outsmart your brain using the science of fear
  • Cultivate taking risks (safe-fail and all that) a.k.a. learning in the service of success

One important key to success is self-confidence. A key to self-confidence is preparation. – Arthur Ashe

Addressing self-confidence

Self-confidence can be related to fear, when it’s about the fear of not being up to standards, fear of failure etc.

For general self-confidence, the great website Zen Habits proposes 25 tips that surely can help you improve.

But from an agile KM perspective, here are some perspectives to help us gain self-confidence:

  • Seek, give and cultivate feedback – knowing how to provide and how to receive good feedback is essential for all of us and for our collective enterprises. Feedback is the learning loop that doesn’t require structured processes and can happen at any time. And when it comes to self-confidence we both need positive and constructive feedback.
  • Seek and provide opportunities for growth (slightly) outside the comfort zone: When we take risks and do things that seem like challenges, and when we succeed, we grow immensely. We need to be given these chances, and we need to give these chances to others when we can too.

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. – Seth Godin, in ‘Linchpin’.


  • Abandon toxic attitudes that kill self-confidence: Kill cynicism, trade judging for trying to understand, stop making fun of peoples’ efforts to do good or better, stop mocking idealism. All these negative traits are keeping people down and unable to grow. The result of the lizard brain, and the contrary to what we should be doing… It’s all in the attitude.

This is potentially only the first post on this topic because working on these two levers of human systems has dawned upon me as being really essential to whatever we do.

Timothy Ferriss What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do (Credits: Pictoquotes / FlickR)

Timothy Ferriss What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do (Credits: Pictoquotes / FlickR)

And I’m now going back to my meditation practice, because all of the above is much easier said than done. But healthy human systems where love, happiness and peace find an easier way through are well worth the effort.

Related blog posts:




The delicate balancing act of collective decision-making, between transparency and trust

Any group of people – and by extension any organisation, network or more complex form of such groups – needs to have a clear decision-making process – a ‘decision rule’ – in order to attain agreements that people genuinely subscribe to and that lead to effective implementation.

Decision-making, no simple matter (Credits: Nguyen Hung Vu/FlickR)

Decision-making, no simple matter (Credits: Nguyen Hung Vu/FlickR)

Good learning and knowledge management depends on it just as well as anything else.

Any group wishing to establish a clear decision rule is however confronted with a dilemma:

  • Establishing a transparent decision-making process that guarantees that all people OR…
  • Not really establishing a full proof decision-making system and rather relying on the trust that exists between people, or the trust that people bestow upon a decision-maker.

The second option is tempting: Not many people establish clear decision-making processes to start with (and clearly leaders could innovate in this respect); it feels like an overkill for many of them; and if people know each other what is there to fear, right? Besides, if there is that trust – whether in the group or in the leader – why bother having a transparent procedure?

Well, trust certainly helps and eases decisions in, but is it enough when:

  • Turnover means new people could always come in and not guarantee the same level of trust among the decision-makers?
  • External actors are (legitimately) wondering how decisions are being made?
  • Any specific dispute could actually throw the trust off balance?
  • People outside the decision-makers are also involved and concerned but they may not know about the tacit agreement to making decisions?
  • There might be a risk in relying too much on a good and trusted leader?

For all these reasons, while trust is the truth and it’s an excellent basis for any group to move ahead with its decisions, defining a transparent decision rule is a guarantee that the group can crawl out of misunderstandings and disagreements in a fair and commonly accepted way.

WRAP - a model for better decision-making (Credits: JamJar/FlickR)

WRAP – a model for better decision-making (Credits: JamJar/FlickR)

Trust is the soil that lets the tree of cooperation grow, but a good decision rule or decision-making process is the tree support that lets it flourish until it has such strong roots that it doesn’t need support any longer.

What are you waiting for to install your decision rule?

Related blog posts:

Getting to ‘wow’ with public speaking and presenting

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

My current work environment is academic. Which means people around me produce a hell of a lot of information. And presentations.

I would have thought their presenting and public speaking skills were very good, considering… uh uh… not quite the case. And there are many reasons for that. But I guess many people around me are actually busy undertaking their research, not spending (so) much time fine-tuning their presentation. “It only takes a few minutes to put together a presentation”, right? UH UH!!

This a real pity, because it means entire years of research can see their future use be wasted by one single badly designed, or badly delivered presentation (or both). So after thinking about this for a while, and encouraged by a couple of colleagues who wanted to get this kind of information out, I put together a presentation about what it takes to give well-designed presentations in an effective way.

There are many good presentations about how to make good presentations out there. I put some of these in the links at the end of this presentation. But I needed something combining it all for the sake of my own audience.

SO here it is – and please let me know what you think…

Oh and a disclaimer: I’m hereby presenting a beta version of this presentation so I might upload an updated version at a later time.

And with a zest of serendipity, here’s what John Stepper just blogged about on the topic of getting better at public speaking!  The links are very good.

Related blog posts:


‘Open’ as default, not the exception – oh, and please get over your self importance ;)

Open Up and embrace the universe (Credits: Allstair Nicol/FlickR)

Open Up and embrace the universe (Credits: Allstair Nicol/FlickR)

Openness is a scary thing indeed.

Opening yourself is really difficult, letting go all the more so (oh, read this beautiful testimony about it).

And even opening your information to others seems to intimidate people more than is necessary…

Many people I work with or come across have difficulties operating in ‘open spaces’ – and I’m not referring to Open Space Technology here but the virtual collaboration spaces where we can do things together (e.g. wikis, Google documents). They feel open is a hurdle for their sharing information and making use of the space.


I recently had such a conversation with a colleague in a project. He confessed in good faith that:

“It’s [the virtual space] supposed to be a ‘workspace’ but it is open to the public so there is not much dynamism & liberty in actually using it. It’s like the information that has to be posted needs some extra layers of censorship which then limits the frequency of use.”

So this might just be an interesting avatar of ‘knowledge is power’, or rather ‘closed knowledge is comfort’…?

In trying to answer that colleague I reflected on the many reasons why -until now unconsciously- I don’t share that point of view.


'Open' is getting traction everywhere (Credits: Ron Mader)

‘Open’ is getting traction everywhere (Credits: Ron Mader)

The world is opening to ‘Open’

Open is becoming the default, the rule rather than the exception. In global development, various funding organisations are actually making it a rule they enforce to have all outputs from initiatives they fund publicly accessible as ‘general public goods’. So there you have it. Open is the way the world is turning.

Resisting it is a challenging uphill pathway.


Get over yourself and the importance of your information

The information that we typically share in projects is for 99.99999999% of the population really not critical – so what is really the big deal about putting our informal information out there?

And on the other hand, aren’t there serious opportunity costs with having the teams involved in a given initiative not getting information that is potentially of use to them? Nothing new under the sun here. In any case – in the vast majority of cases let’s say – don’t expect your information to be so cutting-edge that it is information your potential competitors are dying to get.

Do people have the time to look for your information?

Unless you are based in China, North Korea, Eritrea or some other country that strictly controls information, it’s unlikely that anyone is actively crawling the web to find your content – let alone to do anything toxic with it. ‘Open’ doesn’t mean ‘reached’😉 People are just too busy with their lives. They will only find your content if they’re actively looking for something specific about it.

Trust the search engine algorithms to keep your work space rather intimate

So next, even if people had time to look specifically for your information, even if they were interested and actually looking for your information, the algorithms of search engines are based on mutual linkages first and foremost, on ‘referrals’. In other words the more a website is linked and pointed to from other sources the higher up it shows up. In the absence of many other websites pointing to your workspace, that workspace is more than likely to remain ‘undercover’ when it comes to search results. So you actually enjoy your privacy despite operating in an open environment and approach.

What is the likelihood that people do mean harm with your information?

And this is my biggest point here: Even despite all of the above, what is the chance that people accessing your information really want to do something harmful with it? What are the risks?

  • That they use and abuse your information without giving you credit for it? You can use Creative Commons licences to say what’s ok or not – and if you want to go down that road you can always hire a lawyer to sue whoever is breaching your agreement.
  • That they use your information to beat you on certain ‘market opportunities’? Perhaps true in the corporate sector, much less so in the global development one.
  • That they will ‘troll‘ your workspace? Well that’s a real risk, though of all the open groups I’ve been involved in in the past, I haven’t had one instance of this happening. What would you do against it?

If your fear is ‘half-baked thinking’, think again!

It could be that the legitimate concern of my colleague (who operates in the academic world where that fear is quite common) is of presenting ideas and thoughts that are not fully formed etc. But HEY that’s how innovation happens!

And more and more we find out examples that ‘quick and dirty’ is actually beautiful

Open is beautiful and it's everywhere (Credits: OpenSourceWay)

Open is beautiful and it’s everywhere (Credits: OpenSourceWay)

It’s not a 0/1 thing, you can find middle ways with open…

As a matter of reaching consensus, whether on wikis, on Google documents or websites or whatever, there’s all kinds of ways to make parts of a work space closed.

In the case I mentioned above, my colleague was reacting about a work space we are using as entirely open because we didn’t use the more expensive version with more privacy control… But that option is there and can be switched any time.

So in conclusion…

All the above makes me think that we can and should see Open really as default, and share most of our information publicly on our workspaces and other virtual platforms. Not least since ‘we share because we care‘.

That doesn’t mean ‘open knowledge’ cannot be even achieved in ever smarter ways…

Related posts:

Don’t run without your facilitator(s), unless you like backfire effects

If you ever work with a facilitator, please work with them from the start…


You have been thinking about this event, you know what you want to do with it and why, you have been convinced – and it’s a good thing – that you need a facilitator to help you with your event.

Dare to rely on your facilitator for collective success (Credits: G. Salokhe) Dare to rely on your facilitator for collective success (Credits: G. Salokhe)

It sounds all good, and on paper you are all set for success… unless you follow any of the following traps, which could irremediably turn your event into a Murphy’s Law festival.

You have developed a precise agenda

This might be your first problem: as you couldn’t wait for the event to take shape and give you a concrete ‘feel’, you have drafted an agenda, day by day and to the minute. The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. You may not have thought carefully enough about the topics and objectives that should absolutely precede the (participation formats and)…

View original post 770 more words

GET ON social media: get past the ‘push’ and ‘password’ hurdles

Social Media DynamicsSocial media, social networks are ubiquitous, as they have become an essential part of the knowledge worker‘s apparel and have proven their value in social learning (see this excellent – if long – video of Harold Jarche about this).

Yet there is still a lot of resistance – in France and elsewhere – against adopting social media.

For those who don’t resist viscerally to social media but just haven’t jumped on it, two hurdles often stand in the way:

  • The push: how to avoid getting all kinds of irrelevant information in your social networks – and actually understanding the fundamental change with social media -the ‘pull’ effect;
  • The password: managing this to physically (well, virtually really) enter the world of social media…

If you are one of those struggling to get into social media yet are willing to try, let’s hope this post helps you properly jump into social media and make the most of it.

The ‘push’ hurdle: Hey, it’s actually all about pull!

Brand push vs. content pull (Credits: Autoconversion.net)

Brand push vs. content pull (Credits: Autoconversion.net)

The fundamental difference with social media is that they don’t work towards us the people, they work from us. The direction has changed. And we are the ones setting it.

With traditional media, we used to have stuff ‘pushed’ at us: on TV, on the radio, the content – and as shown in the image above, the brand of companies – was invading our space whether we liked it or not – without control. But with social media, we are now in the controlling seat, and we pull content the way we want: we select, curate and develop our personal learning networks, opt-in may not have vanquished opt-out but it’s more of a standard, we are organising our RSS feeds so we get notified about the stuff that matters to us etc.

If you are not sure about social media, remember that in it you are the spider in the web and you select what information you will have for dinner. You can customise your choices indefinitely. You have the power.

The direct consequence is that you won’t get invaded by content, or at least you have every option to stop getting invaded by it.

Read this article for more information about the subtle yet powerful difference between push and pull. And to quote it:

Advocates of Enterprise Social Networks (and I count myself in their number) see the transition from push to pull as the “holy grail” of business communication. Indeed, this is a central tenet of the Business Communication Revolution, because it puts a knowledge worker back in control of how they consume information. However, an all-pull environment is not without its own problems.

Now: claim that power – decide what you post where, decide to read what you want to read when and where you want to read it. Make the world of information turn its head around you, and enjoy.

The ‘password’ hurdle: Manage your passwords effortlessly, once and for all

Now the first hurdle is passed, let’s look at the second hurdle for many people: managing their password(s). ‘Duh!” some of you might say, but hey! with more and more platforms appearing, dangers lure at both ends of the spectrum:

It's increasingly difficult to create a password! (Credits: WeKnowMemes)

It’s increasingly difficult to create a password! (Credits: WeKnowMemes)

  • Use one password a little too often and you become extremely vulnerable to hack attacks;
  • Use too many (and increasingly complicated passwords – see the ‘creating a password’ image ;)) and you run the risk of forgetting what your password is. Or more to the point: what your passwordS ARE.

And that is what is preventing a lot of people in my professional environment from using enterprise social networks and a lot of social media platforms that they would be happy to use or at least try out otherwise.

Here’s the good news: there are plenty of ‘password managers’ that help you get rid of goldfish memory trouble (like I have) and retain all passwords to all platforms you have an account with – provided you remember one master password. Here’s how it works:


So, go on then, no more excuse: Check this recent list of password managers, install one of them, get going and enjoy a whole new world of online experiences.

Oh, you may say: but even that ONE password may be hard to generate. Well here’s a tip:

Hard/easy to create/guess? (Credits: Reddit)

Hard/easy to create/guess? (Credits: Reddit)

You’re all set now – see you online, in the comments section this time😉

What do you think? Are there other major barriers towards using social media for those ready to try it out?

Related blog posts:

A knowledge management primer (5): VWXYZ

This final section of the agile KM alphabet primer covers VWXYZ (Credits: DreamsTime)

This final section of the agile KM alphabet primer covers VWXYZ (Credits: DreamsTime)

This is a new series of posts, an alphabet primer of agile knowledge management (KM), to touch upon some of the key concepts, approaches, methods, tools, insights in the world of KM. And because there could have been different alternatives for each letter I’m also introducing the words I had to let go of here.

This is the final part, covering the V of vision all the way to the Z of Zombies.

V for Vision

Any agile KM initiative ought to start with a vision, even if having a plan does not provide a silver bullet and even if a vision doesn’t mean you are close to realising it. But it is an aspiration that gives you an idea of where you want to be (and by default where you are now) so it gives both some non-compromising view of what you’re up against, but also some aspiration and inspiration for where your journey should take you.

V could also have been…

Value – Whether the value of communities of practice, of a new portal, of a training or coaching program, of a series of meetings etc. the value of any KM initiative and of knowledge work has to be assessed, monitored and demonstrated.

W for wisdom

Knowledge without wisdom... (Credits: Michael Fisher / FlickR)

Knowledge without wisdom… (Credits: Michael Fisher / FlickR)

And I don’t mean it in the way the DIKW pyramid works (not), but rather the way continual learning sharpens senses and quickens the road to gathering wisdom (through effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy). Wisdom is about asking the right questions at the right moment, it’s about paying attention to the right people – it permeates all good agile KM initiatives or at least it is openly invited to nestle in such initiatives.

W could also have been…

WIIFM – The famous ‘What’s in it for me’ factor that shows where the benefit is. Without it, kiss your agile KM goodbye because the behaviour change involved with most agile KM initiatives is too high a hurdle for the people concerned if they don’t gain anything and/or don’t see what their personal gains can be. Articulate that WIIFM from the start, and prominently, without making empty promises. It’s part of the personal factor in KM.

Win-win – With the difficult promise of selling KM to anyone, the perspective of ‘multiple fits’ and of minimising tradeoffs (even though they are mostly unavoidable in the complex contexts where agile KM is set) is compelling. So win-win is crucial. And that means for instance web platforms that work for both users, managers and IT managers; or communities of practice that serve creative and productive purposes, or events that please patrons but also benefit all participants etc.

Cross Pollinator (Credits: Jonny Goldstein / FlickR)

Cross Pollinator (Credits: Jonny Goldstein / FlickR)

Web (stuff) – The inevitable expansion of connectivity means the web has become the space of choice for agile KM, even though face-to-face contact is not about to disappear and has much going for it. Still, the web is the reason why knowledge management came of age in terms of connecting learning etc. And the future of the web is proactive, and contextual.

X for X-pollination


Let me cheat here and use X as a cross😉 Cross-pollination is just a convoluted way of looking at knowledge sharing across (institutional or other) boundaries. It’s the way institutional memory is built across project silos.
X could also have been…

X reasons not to learn – As mentioned in this blog post: X reasons not to learn, not to share, not to progress.

Y for Why?

Another cheat here – we’re in the difficult section of the alphabet he he he – but the point here is to keep on questioning, asking yourself why, educating your questions etc. Why is one of the most powerful questions one can ask. And at this it is one of the most important weapons in the agile KM arsenal.

Y could also have been… well… what, really?

Meeting zombies... (Credits: ReadyTalk)

Meeting zombies… (Credits: ReadyTalk)

Z for Zombies

I’m not talking about the dead-alive of the films, series and games, but about the people who attend poorly designed and ill-facilitated events. This is a good reminder that good, strong agile KM is about avoiding to turn more people into zombies in your conversations, meetings, events… Focus on learning, engagement, excitement and all that the letters of this agile KM alphabet primer have to offer…

Meeting zombies (Credits: CreateLearning)

Meeting zombies (Credits: CreateLearning)

Z could also have been…

Zen, zooming, zones etc. – But at this stage, I think I have explored enough alternative letters in this agile KM alphabet primer, which is coming to an end.

Let me know what you thought of this agile KM alphabet primer, in all honesty and with constructive feedback🙂

A look at my top 10 posts so far in 2016, before a break

Looking back at top posts before holiday (Credits: Will Cooke/FlickR)

Looking back at top posts before holiday (Credits: Will Cooke/FlickR)

And on this solstice day we are hitting summer.

And I’ll be on the road to holidays in a couple of earth rotations. As usual a good time to look back at the best performing posts on this blog so far in 2016 – acknowledging that I’ve taken an easy year, blogging-wise.

I hope to come back from hopefully sunny and rejuvenating holidays with fresh ideas and passion to share here.

Meanwhile, here is the top 10 of 2016 on ‘Agile KM for me… and you?’ so far (and as usual, in bold are the posts from 2016):

  1. Knowledge management in cartoons – A selection
  2. A knowledge management primer (1): KM as simple as ABC
  3. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  4. Putting learning loops and cycles in practice
  5. Share Fair Addis: Fishbowl and fishbowl battle
  6. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information…
  7. Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock
  8. Good bye acute meetingitis! Plan your day-to-day meetings as a true KMer…
  9. Sailing along ‘pattern currents’ in the sea of change
  10. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker

10 advices to dramatically improve your un-facilitated meetings…

Latest post… on my other blog on ‘agile facilitation’. I should have written this a lot earlier, it would have helped many people I know. Better late than never though…


Shooting towards ten commandments (Credits: ideacreamanuela / FlickR) Shooting towards ten commandments of unfacilitated meetings? (Credits: ideacreamanuela / FlickR)

In my experience as meeting-goer (and I have to admit I attend meetings way less than I facilitate them), it seems a number of standard mistakes happen by default. These mistakes really cripple any attempt to turn the meetings into useful gatherings and meshings of ideas, people and energies.

These mistakes tend to appear particularly in meetings where there is no facilitator involved. Yet it’s clear that not every meeting can be facilitated (for lack of time, money, thought about it etc.).

So here are 10 advices that can help anyone running an un-facilitated meeting to hit the mark more surely – and for clarity by meeting I mean gatherings of 2 hours or more:

  1. Work with a team, from the design phase. Even if you don’t involve a facilitator, you will need to make sure you have people that help you…

View original post 950 more words

Penny-wise and pound-foolish (KM and otherwise)

“Games are won by players who focus on the playing field –- not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard.”
Warren Buffett

There is a very real danger that the sponsors of an initiative (in knowledge management or otherwise) do not want to invest too much of their money into some venues, because they are afraid of losing precious resources. Sounds sensible…

Don't! (Credits: ICG team)

Don’t! (Credits: ICG team)

Except that that approach bears the big risk of chasing small economies while achieving nothing, and the investment spared then costs (a lot) more further down the line when it becomes obvious proper money should have been spent on it. Some examples?

  • A company has identified that their website does not reflect adequately its image and that it’s missing some opportunities to do more with the web. A grand new web design is put together, but no plan has been put (lack of money!) into revamping the content generation process… (Very) Costly mistake further down the line!
  • A new project team organises a meeting that will help them decide – with the participants’ inputs – what the strategic direction of their project should be. But no investment has been made into properly designing it. Waste of time (and money) and possibly – err probably – a painful experience for participants
  • A project team working on a theme is best placed to lead what could become a community of practice on that field. There is a real need for that domain but the team is haggling over how much it should invest in properly getting the community of practice facilitated and attended to… too bad: it might mean the end of that nascent network (minding that communities of practice do die too).

The point is not to go ‘all in’ with every initiative that you set up – sometimes having little resource makes you more resourceful anyhow. But once you have identified, in your KM strategy, where are the key leverage points, don’t hesitate and really go for it, and turn these leverage points into successful enablers for useful investments (and pound wise solutions).

Master Sun (Tzu) would say no less about approaching these key battles with full resolution…

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” (Sun Tzu)


So, save your pennies for the futile, but don’t haggle about investing your pounds where it matters. And KM can be that extra mile that brings you back a many-fold return on investment.

Related blog posts: