Nothing new under the sun? Here’s what’s new: your dying thirst for learning


It’s a natural tendency of skeptics, experts, people who’ve been in a field for a while: they’ve¬†seen it all, nothing is new, why bother?

This is happening currently on KM4Dev in relation with a conversation on what is different about communities of practice now and then. Some people have the tendency to say that indeed nothing is genuinely new.

Every rediscovery of an old topic is like a kaleidoscopic reflection on the same 'ingredients'. Let's keep being amazed! (Credits: EllenM1 / FlickR)

Every rediscovery of an old topic is like a kaleidoscopic reflection on the same ‘ingredients’. Let’s keep being amazed! (Credits: EllenM1 / FlickR)

 

How can that be? That people ask similar questions then and now is not so surprising: it takes much more time to answer questions than to raise them. But then, there’s always new aspects to identify, examine and appreciate. New layers of subtlety, new and recombined ways of looking at things, new perspectives on old topics.

That’s why there’s values in the phoenix conversations (such as M&E of KM), and in reinventing the wheel.

Not recognising the subtleties of change is simply renouncing our curiosity and our -at least as specialised knowledge workers- sacro-sanct thirst for learning. That’s a risky trade-off for appearing to have ‘been there, done that’.

Let’s not fall in that trap, shall we?

Meanwhile, that conversation on communities of practice, and the upcoming issue of the KM for development journal will provide excellent opportunities to blog further about this topic on this blog in the coming months… So keep watching this space ūüôā

Moving on after nearly 6 years in Ethiopia, in 6 epitomising posts of the ‘habesha phase’


This Friday – 2 June 2017 – I will be leaving Ethiopia as a resident for good.

I will still be working with ILRI but based in The Hague, the Netherlands. Personal matters have taken precedence over professional ones and we have to be back in Europe. It’s a pity in some way, but it’s also a great opportunity, as every change is. I personally like change. However uncomfortable it is. However difficult it is. However unavoidable it is.

So this change will mean probably adding different perspectives to this blog and to my other blog on agile facilitation.

Good bye Addis! (credits: Wardheernews)

Good bye Addis! (credits: Wardheernews)

The past – nearly – six years have been extremely rich, as testified in this post about personal changes, just from last year to this one. I haven’t been able to keep up my blogging practice over the past few months because of the personal reasons forcing us to move back to Holland and because ever since I’ve been back in Ethiopia, in late April, I’ve been super busy winding things down here and turning the page of our Ethiopian life chapter. But I thought it might be worth a shot to look back at the ‘Ethiopian (habesha) years’ in six posts that marked the most prolific blogging phase of my professional life.

Here they are, I hope you enjoy them (again, perhaps) and please share your reactions and ideas about these and possible future posts!

Communication, KM, monitoring, learning ‚Äď The happy families of¬†engagement¬†

I wrote this post very soon after leaving IRC and joining ILRI. And those first few months were actually very prolific and qualitatively strong¬†for my blogging. Perhaps stronger than any other blogging period for me. Hence my anticipation about this new period of change. In any case, this post has been referred to by various people and institutions as an inspiring one. I’m not sure about that but I had fun writing it. It is all about ‘engagement’ which became my ‘bread-and-butter’ at ILRI in various shapes and forms.
KM=CDL, on the journey to universal sense-making

This is the post that finally helped me nail down my own definition of what knowledge management is and I keep referring to it for that reason. In an environment where there was no KM or comms strategy (for ILRI) and no unified understanding of what knowledge or KM is, writing this post proved very helpful to me. I hope it is somewhat to you too.

I share because I care!

A lot of my ILRI work is about role-modelling behaviours that I hope others will take up to some extent. And when it comes to knowledge sharing, this was the post that helped put in writing what I felt intuitively all along. It’s been my gospel at ILRI and beyond ever since.

I hope you care to read it and to share your own spark too!

Portrait of the modern knowledge worker 

We are in the knowledge age, and knowledge workers are everywhere. This is probably the reason why this post was picked up by the World Bank and was thus promoted quite vividly for a while. I offer some characteristics and traits of a typical knowledge worker. I’d love to hear your views on what that entails.

Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?

This is the post that got most popular on my blog ever, with a (humble) peak of nearly 350 views on one day, when the Yammer team found out about it. Yammer has also been an interesting experience for me with ILRI as we’ve promoted it as the social network that our colleagues should use to access information they want to pull. With measured success. Bottom line for me: I don’t care about the tool – I do care about the result (sharing is caring).

Of ‚Äėhealthy human systems‚Äô beyond ‚Äėthe field‚Äô and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli¬†Noakes

The post is an interview with two people that radically changed my personal work life, with their ideas, practice, reflections, and an ongoing conversation about our collaboration. Sam Kaner is one of the inventors of the field of facilitation, and together with his partner Nelli Noakes they share here their very generous overview of why they try to get people to collaborate.

Ok, and because 7 is a magical number, here is my #7 pick:

Jungian types, personality pigeonholing and finding my pathway and ‚Äėcontribution‚Äô

 

This is one of the most personal posts I’ve published on my blog, as it explains what I see as my calling in (the professional) life. I hope you find and share your own contribution. And I look forward to engaging a lot more with all of you from my future new home, The Hague ūüôā

Hello The Hague! (credits: unclear)

Hello The Hague! (credits: unclear)

Bonus info: this happens to be my 300th post on this blog ūüėČ

The (social) economics of gift and burying “knowledge is power” once and for all


“Giving a gift makes you indispensable. Inventing a gift, creating art-that is what the market seeks out, and the givers are the ones who earn our respect and attention.” (Seth Godin,).

As I am continuing to listen to this excellent ‘Linchpin‘ book, at least one whole section of

Linchpin (Seth Godin)

Linchpin (Seth Godin)

the book is worth exploring from an agile KM perspective. Godin talks about the gift economy, or rather the gift and the social economics around it. This is a final opportunity to put¬†to¬†rest the idea of ‘knowledge is power’ (among other reasons for not sharing knowledge) and to focus on the knowledge ecology our world can and should replace it with.

Essentially Godin’s point is that we’ve lost the universal tradition of gifts – in most human societies gift had a place and the person sharing the gifts was the person that earned the respect. The commodity-focused capitalism has replaced gifts with economic transactions – paying for a good – and has turned the tradition of gifts to become a tribute. The person with power¬†became¬†the person getting gifts, not giving them away.

However the social economy we are in is now turning this on its head again and making space for the ‘linchpins’ – the indispensable positive deviants that are following their passion, developing their art (regardless of the reactions expected) and thus making themselves indispensable. And one of the things that linchpins do is to share their gifts again as they connect with people around them. All those¬†behaviours are¬†the key to success.

Every successful organization is built around people. Men and women who don’t merely shuffle money, but interest, give gifts, and connect. (Seth Godin)

The social economics of giving in the knowledge ecology

‘Knowledge is power’ states that there is more advantage in hoarding knowledge for one’s advantage than sharing it freely. And that might be true. For a while… A short while.

In the longer run, however, we thrive as we are connected to a vast network of people.

Knowledge ecology - from the archives of 'share fairs'

Knowledge ecology – from the archives of ‘share fairs’

And that’s where the social economics of giving reveals its true advantages:

1. ‘Selling’ knowledge is a zero sum game.

When someone is hoarding knowledge, no fertile work comes out. And when someone systematically and only charges for sharing their knowledge, that person is merely entering into a transaction. Commoditising knowledge, with all the problems that come with – one of them being that knowledge really isn’t a commodity. But if it is considered a commodity, knowledge becomes desacralised, stripped off of its power which is unique and close to only a few other importants things in life, like love. That power is its social nature.

In any case, when we are selling knowledge there is no transformation, there is no(t much) added value here.

When instead…

2. Sharing knowledge transforms our relationships

When art is created solely to be sold, it’s only a commodity. A key element for the artist is the act of giving the art to someone in the tribe. (Seth Godin)

Give gifts (Credits: Neil Cummings / FlickR)

Give gifts (Credits: Neil Cummings / FlickR)

Indeed, when we share our knowledge, not only do we make available that handy knowledge to others, for them to do something perhaps useless but perhaps useful, or even amazing. In addition, and whatever happens with that knowledge, something else happens: when we share gifts (of knowledge or otherwise) with specific people, we are also developing, changing, transforming our relationships with them. We expand our tribes, we bring people in them. We also reach out to the people in the tribes of our tribe members Рand so we are connecting to all the nodes of our global collective brain.

Of course, for this social transformation to happen most completely, there needs to be some sense of appreciation from the person receiving the gift too. That’s where the gift of your attention becomes so precious. And perhaps why your engaging in conversations (because that’s the work) is essential too.

3. Sharing knowledge creates power

One of the final points of Godin is that the person giving the gifts is showing that they have plenty of potential to give more, plenty of creativity, plenty of art to share. They show their uniqueness, and that uniqueness is also power – not that I would encourage you to focus on this. But indeed ‘Knowledge sharing is (caring) power‘ – both collective and individual.

This goes to show that even in a knowledge ego-logy, where we are serving (also) our own interests, but out of the principle of sharing our gifts, we are cultivating the knowledge garden and we are cultivating our connections with each other in that whole ecology.

So what can we do now?

There are many lessons one can take from such a rich book as ‘Linchpin’:

  • Develop your art with passion – in the knowledge world this means developing learning approaches that have failed safely and keep on going higher because you drive them with all of yourself.
  • Stop hoarding knowledge – share it and pay it forward instead, as it’s the best way to get that knowledge to lead to grand work, art crafts, masterpieces!
  • Offer your respect in return: part of the ecology is to cultivate it too by paying respect to the artists around us who are sharing their art as gifts.
  • Trust that people are not so interested in buying products, but as Seth Godin points out, they are interested in “relationships, stories, magic“!
  • Turn to ‘Open’ and ‘Working out loud’
  • Read, listen to or watch Linchpin…

I’m on to seek my next Godin book now… Any recommendation?

Related blog posts:

A knowledge management primer (3): JKLMNO


The KM alphabet primer continues (Credits: Le web pedagogique)

The KM alphabet primer continues (Credits: Le web pedagogique)

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.

Today, after the ABC of KM and the next six letters (DEFGHI), I’m pursuing the alphabet discovery with JKLMNO.


 

J for Journey

Any and every KM initiative is a journey unto itself and because it is a learning journey with no fully guaranteed results, the journey matters as much as the destination. It brings up lots of ideas, feedback, insights and more.

J could also have been…

Journaling РA great practice for documentation, journaling (as blogging is) has the potential of revealing deeper patterns that explain a lot of things. For KM, journaling on the KM initiative, documenting the process, and even impressions of individuals involved can be the difference between success and failure, between quick and slow, between good quality and sloppy.

Knowledge (Credits: Iqbal Osman)

Knowledge (Credits: Iqbal Osman)

K for Knowledge

Of course, what else? Knowledge is the capacity to turn information to action, and if it’s the sum of insights we have, but not a commodity that can be transferred. There are many (also visual) understandings of knowledge. I’m just offering my definition here. But knowledge is certainly what puts KM in a mystical world, as it relates to how our brains work and how we connect with each other to form a collective intelligence.

K could also have been…

Know-how – Next to what we know there are also many processes set know that help us to do things. Practical knowledge, hands-on, instructional stuff to move from theory to practice, including practice smarts.

L for learning

I wouldn’t leave the last part of my definition of KM as it is the most important one to justify the existence of knowledge management. And whether it’s about learning how to retain institutional memory or how to innovate, learning is the driving force to make us every better equipped to deal with challenges and to increase our capacity to adapt and anticipate, to be resilient etc.

L could also have been…

Management versus Leadership (Credits: David Sanabria)

Management versus Leadership (Credits: David Sanabria)

Leadership Рleadership is the vision that drives initiatives, shows the way  and rallies support all along. No KM endeavour survives without strong leadership and leading by example Рand innovating. And this is true at all levels, not just about top management. The KM project leader, management and personnel alike must demonstrate that sort of leadership Рbut they can only do so if they have all been properly involved and empowered to do so of course.

Library – Libraries used to be the crude epitome¬†of knowledge management in the times of old. The vast quantity of information that codified the knowledge of the ancients was so great that it’s no wonder the first era of KM wanted to mimic this in the digital world. But that was not enough. Online brochures’ advocates learned that at a high cost.

M for Management

Leadership is key in KM. But management is also very important. Managing change, managing assets, managing processes, managing tools and managing people to make sure all these elements work in synergy and support each other.

M could also have been…

Monitoring – Part of the management of KM is monitoring how it is going, collecting metrics that give indications of visibility, use, appreciation and gains in produce of any kind. Monitoring is at the heart of learning and thus of KM too – even though it is usually the reason why people give up on KM because it is so difficult to go beyond the use of information platforms and learning processes to point to what people are doing with it.

Meta tags – An essential element of curation are the meta tags that allow to describe a resource and make it easier to retrieve later through search.

N for Network

From networkshops to communities of practice and assessing networked value, from personal learning networks to engaging in social networks, networks are ubiquitous. The world of KM in 2016 cannot avoid this fact, and it explains why so much emphasis goes nowadays on distributed learning, on massive open online courses, on cultivating personal learning networks etc. Knowledge management always was a network thing in itself. It now hast just become utterly obvious.

Networks, interconnection (Credits: Rob/FlickR)

Networks, interconnection (Credits: Rob/FlickR)

N could also have been…

Your suggestions?

O for Open 

If the ultimate goal of knowledge management is to connect and convert everyone to cultivating our collective intelligence, then a general state of Open-ness is central to it. Open knowledge, open source, open access, working out loud and all the rest of it.

The reality is still a bit more subtle than this: in certain areas where the mindset is not all that open, agile KM has to create safe closed spaces where progressively people can taste the power of Open, little by little, in smaller groups first. But open KM is almost a tautology.

Open Knowledge

Technology and community: don’t get mistaken about the real deal


Most people who are approaching knowledge management -for the first time- from the standpoint of building a community end up focusing on technology.

Technology just enhances communities. It expands the opportunities that¬†communities bring but it doesn’t create communities, and it can also worsen communities if the technology is not user-friendly or if the community faciltator(s) does not know how to use it properly.

Community and technology (Credits: Nancy White)

A bit of history on community and technology (Credits: Nancy White)

So why this focus on technology?

Because it’s hard to build a system, to have a functional tool, to provide ‘office-approved’ technology. A rutilating toy coming out of the shelves.

The technology feels to most of these people building KM community systems like the 80% of the work. And yet the 20% that remains – community building and development – is what really takes 80% of the time.

Technology creating platforms for communities to flourish (Credits: OCLC.org)

Technology creating platforms for communities to flourish (Credits: OCLC.org)

This is why it is very important to invest in cultivating¬†healthy human systems before anything else…

That’s why soft skills are more important than hard systems; that’s why facilitation matters more than engineering (for these communities); that’s why listening is more important than programming; that’s why patience beats quick development…

Technology is and may always be only a proxy, an enabler, not the actual deal.

Funny, I drafted this 2 weeks ago, and this topic is what Bevery Trayner just wrote about on her blog. Go check it, it’s quality! Funny serendipity at work… technology enabling¬†a community of ideas…

Related blog posts:

Knowledge management in cartoons – A selection


KM in cartoons, a selection (Credits: Shutterstock)

KM in cartoons, a selection

Because good visuals pin an idea with so much more strength…

And fun helps move sensitive ideas forward…

Hereby a selection of cartoons that may help you and others understand the value of knowledge management, through the challenges KM is facing or the initiatives it proposes to deal with them.

Challenge: reinventing the wheel

Initiative: helping ideation and covering new grounds (and pissing people off in the process)

Credits: unclear

Dealing with innovation (Credits: A. Bacall)

Challenge: retaining peoples’ experience and knowledge

Credits: MTN / George Dearing

Initiatives: portals and databases

KM portals and databases (Credits: Grantland)

Challenge: recognising information needs

Recognising information needs (Credits: Scott Adams)

Initiative: building taxonomy

An example of taxonomy (Credits: The New Yorker / Green Chameleon)

Challenge: Dealing with information overload

Dealing with email or information overload (Credits: Pryor)

Initiative: knowing what to do with what you know – and setting standards

Knowing what to do with what you know (Credits: A. Bacau)Knowing or doing (Credits: B. Watterson)
Setting data standards (Credits: XKCD)

Challenge: dealing with difficult dynamics in meetings and events

Dealing with difficult dynamics at events (credits: Oslo)Initiative: Trying new ways of dealing with conversations, meetings, events (err, what about facilitation?)

How about trying something new for your meetings? (Credits: T. Goff)

And to keep some healthy distance from the fact that KM is not the ‘be all, end all’, the last couple of cartoons are¬†for Dilbert, preceded by one by Christian Young:

Bad knowledge management (Credits: Christian Young)

KM for morons? (Credits: Scott Adams / United Feature Syndicate)

Hoarding and sharing knowledge (Credits: Scott Adams)

Related blog posts:

What do I DO about learning?


I talk a lot about learning on this blog. Because in my definition of knowledge management, it’s a central part. So the equation is KM = CDL. But the conversation and documentation parts feed that learning. As is also the case in Jaap Pels’s KM framework:

Jaap Pels's KM framework

Jaap Pels’s KM framework

But what do I do exactly, concretely, at my level, both for myself and the initiatives I’m part of, to walk my talk on KM and learning?

Conversations (C)

I’m having many conversations with many people. But let’s focus on the conversations around KM perhaps. I’m having those conversations with colleagues in my team, in my organisation, in the projects I’m part of, in the networks I’m part of (KM4Dev¬†first and foremost), and with a host of people I come across in the meetings and events I facilitate or if I just bump into them. Though because it’s difficult to explain what KM means and what I do about it, I don’t always jump on the topic of KM with them.

I’m also having lots of conversations online with my personal learning network. On this blog, obviously, but also on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Google+, on others’ blogs. Here’s how I do it for now:

  • I rarely use Facebook for KM, unless there’s something that matters to a much wider group of people than the KM community
  • I use Google+ more for the KM-focused conversations, as I use that social network in a rather professional¬†perspective. But I don’t engage on Google+ very much these days
  • I comment on others’ blogs when their topics really strongly resonate with my interests – it’s the ‘engagement’ gift of attention that I use here. And occasionally I refer to posts on my own blog on these comments
  • I use Twitter to post information but occasionally to also react on others’ contents, to share perspectives. The limitations of characters put a boundary to this engagement though
  • On LinkedIn I also react on others’ writing and sometimes I participate to conversations from groups, but again it has to be something that is very close to my heart because I don’t spend much time on LinkedIn otherwise

And I’m having a conversation with myself on this blog, when I think about topics or I play with ideas that I would like to put to blogging later.

Back to learning, some of these conversations are totally open and free-for-all, and others are exploratory, intentional. At a certain stage some of these intentional conversations become more analytical, including the conversation with myself on this blog. And that’s how I prepare for learning, as I also move on to…

Documentation (D)

This is the part where some of the thoughts and insights I’ve had with people have resonated so much that I need to put them in writing (and also because my memory’s not that great and ‘stuff’ disappears from my brain’s hard drive if I don’t capture it in a way or another).

The ways I document these insights?

  • Obviously on this blog, when a thought is sufficiently well-formed in my mind
  • But usually before that I put them in a proto-blog on TumblR, or on a Google doc where I list my ideas for the blog
  • I also capture some insights on Twitter at times, and I probably should do more to connect that with my TumblR and blog
  • I note down most conversations I’m part of, on my Samsung note app or in Word on my computers
  • In my organisation, I also document some of these insights on our Yammer network(s), and on our LinkedIn group or other such platforms
  • There are other blogs I use to document reflections, for instance the Maarifa blog we have at ILRI comms/KM to document all the work we do on comms and KM

In most conversations I end up, I actually keep track of the main insights and ‘to do’s’ as it seems I’m not the only one who tends to forget what was said in the absence of written records, so it’s useful for me and all to take notes.

For me, putting things in writing is one of the surest ways to remember things and make sure I act upon them, so it’s part of that intentionality that I think is a crucial accelerator of learning.

2014-01-06 Learn how you learn//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Learning (L)

And finally learning is really the combination of these elements. But I do other things to sharpen my learning:

  • I ask for feedback a lot – from my colleagues and friends, from you readers of this blog, because I value that feedback as one of the best ways to go forward and grow
  • I also have a daily after action review to find out what I think I did well and what I could have improved, and at the end of the week I review these for the entire week and reflect a bit more on what I want to or would do with these insights
  • I try new activities every so often (e.g. Yoga, meditation, running) and I try to use them to also improve my own learning, not pushing it but seeing if it helps. And for instance running helps me generate ideas, meditating helps me shift my attention to other important aspects etc.
  • In planning my work I also take a bit of time reflecting on the ways I do my work (single and double loop learning)
  • And as much as possible, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, I try to reflect on holidays over my life and work. This is when I consider the ways I learn (triple loop learning). Though with two young children that I love, I find it¬†quite difficult to block that quality time.

What are your practices around conversing, documenting and/or learning generally and specifically? What do you think about the above and what is missing you think?

learning//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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:

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?

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Agile KM from ‘SMART goals’ to ‘practice SMARTS’


The game of knowledge management has changed.

Despite the definitions given to knowledge management (see this useful post by Stan Garfield – and my own definitions of knowledge and knowledge management), KM¬†really is no longer about managing knowledge-related assets as a taxidermist. It certainly is¬†no longer about databases and catch-all portals (despite some tendencies). It’s not even really about communities of practice anymore¬†either (however great – and tricky – these are)…

Change from SMART goals to SMART practices (Credits: Simon Webster / FlickR)

Change from SMART goals to SMART practices (Credits: Simon Webster / FlickR)

Instead, KM now has to be agile – not like a prescribed Agile / Scrum / Kanban kind of way (though each methodology has useful ideas). No, it’s about being generally agile, a combination of resilient and innovative, ever-adaptive, embracing perpetual beta¬†as Harold Jarche would put it.

It’s about being smart, individually, and smarter, collectively – or smartest as we develop¬†healthy human systems.

But SMART here is not the same as the monitoring acronym standing for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

What I propose instead is to think of SMARTS as a practice code to turn useful habits into our behavioural identity and eventually let us all become a strong network node in our collective sense-making. The practices mentioned below can actually change our identity towards:

  • Speedy
  • Multi-purpose
  • Anticipating
  • Reflective
  • Trustworthy
  • Sharing and showing this approach together

Speedy is because we need to react quickly. Agile KM for collective SMARTS is about turning things around quickly, fast iterations, fast failure, fast improvement, reacting on the dot, not letting information go through the endless tunnels of polishing and editing to publishing perfection… It’s about quick & dirty for faster and stronger feedback loops and acting upon the opportunities right at the moment when they present themselves.

Multi-purpose because agile KM (and innovation) is not about reinventing the wheel – despite its occasional usefulness – but about applying and recombining existing bits. Reformatting for different channels (PC, mobile, tablets); versioning for different audiences based on the same raw information. And with multi-purpose comes multi-perspectives, the multiple knowledges that matter when dealing with complex problems as IKM-Emergent pointed out.

Anticipating change is the name of the game. Always being on the lookout for what is going to affect you next, what is going to create tradeoffs. Individually we must be aspirational in our decision to move somewhere, towards a certain direction and objective, and develop our pathway to get there. Collectively we must be inspirational for each other, modeling useful positive deviance and visioning a common future that looks brighter than the here and now. But remaining realistic as to where on our journey we are, and what obstacles lie ahead on the way. Anticipating is about visioning that pathway for a positive change, at all times.

Reflective is our modus operandi in the social age and the world of change. Not only to anticipate future changes, but also to absorb the maximum learning from what just happened, and generally to learn how to sail along pattern currents in the sea of change. Being reflective is about documenting the change affecting us personally and the ecosystem around us. And it moves to becoming increasingly reflexive, learning to reflect about our reflection, moving through learning loops

Being Trustworthy is an imperative in our individual quest to becoming ever better networked. Trust is the currency of the social age. How do you generate trust? Dave Pollard suggests it is developed at the junction of positive chemical/sensory signals, shared/appreciated world views and positive collaborative experiences. In the social SMARTS age, trust also happens through consistency, quality (of the stuff we develop or share) and authenticity.

Sharing¬†and showing this approach with/to others is the final stage to make sure we are not just SMART ourselves, individually, but we develop our collective SMARTS as these human systems we hope to improve together – because we care. We are eminently social but that social nature still requires active, a sense of purpose,¬†consistency and working on changing our habits and behaviour, so we don’t revel in the happy square of wishful thinkers – for others (I want YOU to change). And building habits together is easier, as every fitness starter knows. Our habits can start there.

As IBM would put it: let’s build a smarter planet together… also through agile KM practice SMARTS.

Let's build a smarter planet together (Credits: IBM)

Let’s build a smarter planet together (Credits: IBM)

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