The gifts of attention in the garden of knowledge: presence, engagement and investment


This year as ever – no, more than ever! – our attention will be a battleground for all kinds of media and dissemination channels pumping out ‘stuff’ whether legitimate, wanted, useful, applicable, or not.

With an attention span that is currently estimated at a staggering 8.25 seconds, no wonder that our books, papers, articles, communities of practice, discussion groups, websites, blogs, tweets are suffering from growing disinterest from among their members. Maybe we are slowly but surely going towards ever smaller ‘groups’ of highly active members that have decided to invest their time in this or that arena, while the empowered listeners (yeah, us lurkers!) are increasingly superficially part of ever more groups.

In that world, there are three gifts of attention that anyone can give, that really make a difference – and ever more so:Mind Full v. Mindful

The gift of presence

The first obvious and yet very hard-to-reach gift that you can give anyone, any group, any conversation, any initiative, is your attention, your true and unconditional presence, in the best possible meaning of the word.

Being there, listening – deeply and with a true emotional care for who and what you are listening to – paying attention is one of the most precious gifts you can give these days. Our time is divided by ever more activities derived of ever more options. Your presence is not to be taken lightly. Mind this for yourself, as you pay attention to specific conversations, but mind this of others when they are giving you this presence.

The first gift of attention is what makes or breaks nascent spaces, nascent relationships. It’s the water that gets the shoots off of our quirky life moments.

And if you are up for it, you can offer…

Up And Away Engagement (credits: Brian Wolfe)

Up And Away Engagement (credits: Brian Wolfe)

The gift of engagement

Engaging is a difficult word to grasp. Here’s what MacMillan Dictionary has to say about it:

engage with someone/something to make an effort to understand and deal with someone or something

But in the context of giving your attention to information and knowledge initiatives, engaging would be the next step from presence. It is when you start dealing with the person or conversation, over a period of time, talk with, react to, share, reflect, do things together.

In more familiar KM terms, this is what makes the difference between a platform set up for people and a community of practice, or between an online brochure and a vibrant community website, or between a linear/boring/unidirectional meeting or process and one that brings the best interactions and learning out of groups.

The second gift of attention is the light that makes shoots grow up strong and wide, and become bushes, forests and entire worlds.

And if you are ready for it, you can proceed to give…

The gift of (emotional) investment

The ultimate stage is when you are so invested in the person or initiative that you actually put all your passion to it and start championing it from all your heart. When you invest your time to be at the forefront of an issue, when you are the ultimate connector, the introductor, the builder, the visionary, the patron, the adviser, the coach, the parent, the executive, the director, the leader, then you are at the heart of the matter. And it doesn’t have to be an exclusive matter, the more the merrier and the more passion the more energy – but also the more need to channel that energy.

This is the stuff that builds the universe, the spark that turns head bulbs on and up towards the next challenge, the next (seemingly) silly frontier. That’s the stuff true leaders are made of and it is the most precious gift of attention that you give and one that you should choose to give carefully as it really can take energy off of you.

The third gift of attention is the love that gives the shoots their unique beauty and switches secret levers and buttons in us, to trigger us to do something, something beautiful, transcendental, radically different.

So where are you going to distribute your gifts of attention in 2016?

Related blog posts:

How social can you be?


Where are human beings in the 'social revolution'? (Credits: intersectionconsulting / FlickR)

Where are human beings in the ‘social revolution’? (Credits: intersectionconsulting / FlickR)

Let me keep this short, and in question style…

Is the internet all about being social? Doesn’t it wear us out? Doesn’t it keep brilliant introverts away from the action? Doesn’t it turn us into online social animals but offline antisocial beasts? Are we not living and going through life increasingly alone?

Also, does ‘going social’ mean we can never be purposeful any more because we always react epidermically, superficially? Like having difficulty finding a balance between thinking and acting?

Is ‘getting social’ our collective goal? Is that the only guarantee that people will share, learn and improve, or are there propositions on the table?

Is the ‘spacing of social moments’ not a useful alternative? Like organising special social happenings, and letting people be the rest of the time? Or can we not resist getting connected but shunning real conversations?

What is better: ever social or ‘intensively social at times’ like the difference between my organisation’s campus in Addis and its ever-social cafe/bar vs. the ‘Last Friday of the month dance bonanza’ of my organisation’s headquarters in Nairobi?

Or is it actually better to keep social at all times to keep sharpening our social sense, one of many aptitudes to develop for the future?

Is the creation of extra, informal ‘social spaces’ (link subject to log in credentials) what it takes for meaningful interactions? Like designing coffee break spaces and other ways of unwinding outside formal event sessions for instance?

Or is the solution not to create safe social spaces for different types of social animals? To encourage dialogue – and sometimes creative conflict – including people that may not otherwise get to speak?

Do we not have different aptitudes to face the ‘social wave’? And if so, do we want to all become more social, or do we want to encourage that difference and the complementarity of minds and souls (like introverts and extroverts) that it might bring about?

Is ‘Social’ the real path to empowerment? Or the golden prison that we’ve been forced to love? Who decides the rules of this game? Who sets the limits?

What are the limits of the social revolution?

How social do we want to be? 

How social can you be?

And really: to do what?

Time to think carefully about this, before we treat ‘getting social’ just like the next email management challenge… with a much bigger hangover upon awakening… You reckon?

Related blog posts:

My KM year’s insights, top posts… and a Merry Christmas!!!


What reflections and patterns come up in the KM world anno 2013 (Credits - Ekkaia / FlickR)

What reflections and patterns come up in the KM world anno 2013 (Credits – Ekkaia / FlickR)

That time of the year, when we are packing up for holiday and family celebrations. A good reflective time though the festivities can make it harder than summer holidays to find time to reflect.

As I’m just about to also take a few days off, here is what I’ve observed in my KM (for development [research]) world this year.

  • KM is not dead, it is more than alive! And more and more people are joining KM forums, discussion lists, communities of practice (3500 people on KM4Dev!!!). See some of these forums and networks here. It’s booming business.
  • Big data has been all over the place of course and is going to keep going strong as software applications are able to process increasingly fathomless data sets. However the question of who decides how to analyse that data remains most of the time unclear. A slightly similar development as the explosion of ICT applications in ag business which needs to be channelled and solicited by some demand… which is why, for the big data revolution to really offer its fruits…
  • Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is gaining ground (credits - Harold Jarche)

    Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is gaining ground (credits – Harold Jarche)

    …the recognition of knowledge workers is also gaining ground. We need capacity to analyse data, to make sense of it. So we need to be individually stronger at analysing our world. This means that on the one hand PKM (see this presentation by Stephen Dale on personal knowledge management) is gaining ground – with the idea that everyone in the organisation can contribute their energy, capacity, network to solve problems and that…

  • …On the other hand, more efforts in the KM world are coming up to federate, rally, convene minds and hearts to solve complex interrelated issues. These ‘change conversation’ spaces have to be facilitated – no longer managed. So KM is being stretched on its individual (PKM) and on its holistic frontier, when it used to focus mostly on organisational learning (see the presentation below)
  • Generally networked KM dynamics is taking central stage as everyone is wondering how those dynamics can stimulate innovation, ideation and (inter-) institutional change, including in rural development areas.
  • Assessing KM through e.g. social media metrics is slowly but surely coming of age as testified by this recent article and those reflections from the recent ICT4Ag conference. We are now talking beyond reach into engagement, use, learning, action… Still lots of progress to be made but we are going forward!
  • Closer to development work, the idea of ‘blurred boundaries’ between e.g. KM, communication, monitoring and learning etc. is making headway. Communication is no longer just a support cabinet that can be called upon to polish ‘messages’, it is part and parcel of operations and rebranded under a general ‘engagement’ approach. Because engagement leads communication, learning and action. See some excellent collective reflections about recent workshops I was involved in, on this.

This recent presentation by Nancy Dixon also gives us some additional views over KM in late 2013:

What this suggests is that KM is becoming the art and science of stimulating collective sense-making conversations and integrated actions, while relying on solid individual practices and skills. I expect more will happen at the junction of individual (networks, capacities, passions) and collective (ambitions, agendas and wicked problems) dynamics in 2014 and beyond. Perhaps I’ll even try some predictions early next year…

But back to 2013: Here were the most popular posts (including the ‘top 10 published in 2013’ in bold) on this blog this year:

  1. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  2. Tinkering with tools: What’s up with Yammer?
  3. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  4. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information…
  5. The art of blogging: Taking stock
  6. What is common knowledge about knowledge? A visual tour…
  7. Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock
  8. What the heck is knowledge anyway: from commodity to capacity and insights
  9. The feast of fools of feedback
  10. Why on earth would you want to be on Twitter?
  11. The lessons I learned about lessons learned
  12. What to put in a KM training, off the random top of my head
  13. We need more / better communication! But not from me…
  14. Assessing, measuring, monitoring knowledge (and KM): Taking stock
  15. Modern musings on a KM evergreen: institutional memory
  16. Engagement and deeper connection in social networks, a dialogue with Jaume Fortuny
  17. What’s really new about social learning?

Now I wish you all Merry Christmas and hope catch up soon, perhaps even before the new year! Thank you very much for all the good work around KM, learning, engagement, empowerment, for following this blog, for sharing thoughts and quality time with me and many.

Keep up the good work in 2014!

Merry Christmas (credits - Ceanandjen:FlickR)

Merry Christmas! (Credits – Ceanandjen:FlickR)

Why on earth would you want to be on Twitter?


Given the cutting-edge experience of my personal learning network (yes, you, who follow this blog and whom I’m following on various social media generally) this question seems strange, but there are many Twitter skeptics out there. It’s great! Long live the skeptics! Long live their ability to raise important questions… that is, so long as it leads to open-ended conversations… Because as much can be said in favour of Twitter as can be said against it.

So, for my skeptical friends, here’s what I have to say about Twitter:

Why you might be skeptical:

  • You haven’t tried Twitter for yourself yet – perhaps you’ve created a Twitter account but never really used it – so it doesn’t bring anything interesting in return (obviously)!
  • None of your friend or family is on it – so none of the people you trust seem to perceive any value from it, quite logically.
Twitter - sometimes unfiltered for the worst of all (credits: CarrotCreative / FlickR)

Twitter – sometimes unfiltered for the worst of all (credits: CarrotCreative / FlickR)

  • The only people you know who might be on it are the IT crew, communication specialists and a few other ‘looneys’ – people you don’t necessarily identify with.
  • You hear a lot of caution in the (traditional) media about Twitter and social media in general – this is common in France but I suspect in many other places too.
  • Most examples of Twitter use you hear about are from silly people tweeting about enjoying their tomato-mozzarella sandwich, half-brained adolescents sharing all details of their private life without any measure of decency, or celebrities glossing over their latest celeb-do’s…

Well… I can’t blame you for being skeptical. If that’s the picture you have, I share your despair for the human race.

Except that…

I personally know about the power of Twitter. I see it around me everyday (in my Twitter stream of news), I experience it every week, I’ve experienced it in various Twitter chats too. So let’s also have a look at this side of things, but first…

The basics: what you need to understand about Twitter

  • A lot of people don’t understand that social media can be used for your private life and/or your professional life. They are not one and the same, even though some half-brainers might mix the two – The Social Media Guide for Africa tried to inform readers about this.
  • Actually, I would argue that a medium like Twitter is much more adapted to professional uses (or at least to topics that might interest more than a small in-crowd), because it has a great ability to rally people around topics (as opposed to already formed social relationships).
  • The whole secret about Twitter is about following the RIGHT people. The right people to YOU. No strings attached with Twitter, no need to feel any sense of obligation towards anyone. It’s not your family email list, it’s not your University mates’ network. It’s your personal learning network. At least part of it, since other parts of your community might be in other social networks. And that personal learning network needs care, for engagement to genuinely happen.
Twitter vs. Facebook (credits: cambodia4kidsorg / FlickR)

Twitter vs. Facebook (credits: cambodia4kidsorg / FlickR)

  • So Twitter can be used to make contact with people that are interested in the similar topics as you are. It is actually described as the social network where you meet people online that you’d love to encounter face-to-face, while Facebook is the social network that allows you to get in touch face-to-face connections you’d rather have forgotten 😉
  • Like any social media, it takes time to get a handle on Twitter – and it takes practice, dedication, purpose. It’s not going to take a week, not a month but probably closer to a year of (some kind of) practice before you see REAL return on investment with more interaction, a highly relevant network, a good handle of all options, using some related Twitter tools. And in the meantime it will be a good ride still, because you’ll get a lot of relevant information.
  • You can be passive or you can be active. The latter is even better and will bring you even more benefits, but simply reading tweets can be immensely rewarding. As you can see below, a minority of Twitter users are active anyhow. It doesn’t mean they’re passive, they’re just choosing to listen.

The advantages: How can Twitter *really* help you

  • The main advantage of Twitter is that it’s a great overall filter – to sift through tons of information – because if your network is good, it brings up good, relevant stuff up to the top.

“It’s not about information overload, it’s about filter failure” (Clay Shirky)

  • Twitter is a great live reporting channel. News often breaks out more quickly there than it does on mainstream media – because it relies on mobile inputs from web-enabled knowledge workers using their phone, tablet, PC etc. to share what is happening.
  • It takes no time to go through your feed. Since every tweet is only 140 characters, every message is quickly digested. Even a flow of 100 tweets missed in the space of a few hours can be quickly scanned and ignored at will. And then it may also reveal some gems.
  • Because it’s all based on the network and it is a social network, you can really engage with the people you are following or who are following you; you can mention them, message them, have private conversations with them. You can strike partnerships, friendships or simply trusted relationships with people you have never met in real life.
  • As it has a very viral nature, it can be an excellent relay for information you come across, that you produce, that you curate etc. – so that more people can benefit from this information and experience too.
  • Against the problem of dealing with intense email flows, Twitter also allows diverting some of the traffic away from your inbox. A Twitter contact of mine shared this example of using Twitter to replace collective email lists.
  • It’s a personal record of interesting thoughts, links, information etc. which can be tracked again later (through Twitter tools like TwimeMachine and many others)… As a thought repository, it is also useful to help reflection and analysis.
  • And from my colleagues, here are a few other personal benefits:
    • “I can do a much better job of assembling high-quality people to listen to/stay in contact with (via social media such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, blogs, etc.) than can traditional media, who mediate that process for me”
    • “I continue to read article published in traditional media (e.g. Guardian, Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Times), but I increasingly find these great article NOT on those websites but rather by referral (aka curation) by those I follow on social media.”
    • “Serendipitous discovery in high-quality social media (where the quality is determined by the reader and who that reader follows) is infinitely higher in quality that similar discoveries available in traditional media. Where some editor is trying to put together materials for the masses. Just saying.”

And yet more from Twitter contacts:

Oh, and it must be serendipitous zeitgeist because Harold Jarche just beat me to this topic by blogging about ‘the value of Twitter‘.

The challenges: what are some of the possible limitations of Twitter

  • As any other social media, it can be overwhelming to work with Twitter at first – and it is a challenge to ‘trim’ your social network. But it’s essential because your Twitter news stream will be as good (or as bad) as your Twitter network’s relevance.
  • Finding the balance between what’s ‘tweetable’ and what’s not remains a bit of a learning exercise for all of us – and so is learning how to tweet, how to make use of the technical options of Twitter (to tweet, send direct messages etc.) – this is why it takes quite a few months to really benefit greatly from it.
  • And perhaps a question mark – I wonder if Twitter doesn’t work better for information and knowledge professionals simply because we are more likely to try it out and reach the critical mass that allows you to have good conversations. So it may be more difficult for some to use the potential of the no.2 social network.

Now what then?

Despite this post, I certainly don’t want to encourage you to use Twitter cost what cost. Really!

But on the other hand: can you afford to ignore Twitter just out of principle, without having tried it for yourself? Can you afford to ignore what could possibly be a much smarter way of working, of navigating this world of information we live in? Are you going to be the last skeptic on Earth about Twitter? Go on then, play around, reflect, inform your decision and contribute to the twittering choir about Twitter. Then, and only then are you allowed to remain skeptical – and to sharpen my mind with your challenging questions 🙂

PS. Twitter is only one of the social media channels that you might want to consider. See this presentation to give you an idea about the options with the social learning landscape anno 2013/2014…

Related blog posts:

At the edges of knowledge work, the new beacons of ever-sharper collective intelligence


Modern knowledge workers don’t really exist. Not with all the highly desirable features we may want them to have. But breaking down what such a super human should do into distinct functions could be a good start to training us all at becoming better knowledge workers. I noted a few of these functions in the profile of a modern knowledge worker such as documenting conversations, filtering information etc. Yet these functions are dynamic and reinvent themselves, and new ones appear.

What are the next knowledge work super-hero functions? (credits - Photonquantique / FlickR)

What are the next knowledge work super-hero functions? (credits – Photonquantique / FlickR)

These new functions are partly addressed already by agile knowledge workers, but perhaps not always with enough intent and consistency. While we may not recognise the following functions, they may become increasingly pertinent in the modern knowledge era, with the intention of mobilising collective knowledge as best we can, particularly around events (online or offline) that bring people to strike rich conversations:

Ex-post sense-maker 

An event that is documented properly leads to rich notes on e.g. a wiki, a Google document, a written report (or otherwise). This is great: anyone participant in such conversations – anyone at all actually – can find and use these traces of conversations. But digital conversation notes are often TOO rich. Too long, too complex. A very useful extra mile for knowledge work would be to go through these notes and tease them out in useful bite-size chunks and compelling formats. An excellent example of this is this documentation of work done on ‘anticipating climate risks in the Sahel‘.

Memory connector (literature sifter)

This is the normal job of researchers. They dig through past documentation and build upon it. But they do it in a specific way – not always most straightforward. So before any planned/structured conversation happens (or any event gets organised), having someone go through all the literature related to the issues at hand, summarising key questions and issues that were raised around that field the last time around (picking up on the trail of ex-post sense-makers), on the latest recommendations etc. would add immense value to the conversations. It’s about mapping out the grid of our collective intelligence and building on it.

Too often we reinvent the wheel out of laziness or lack of awareness about related past conversations. The trick is again to package that preexisting information in ways that make it attractive to the people who will be engaged in the audience. Cartoons? A short video? A Pecha Kucha presentation (see example below)? A list of documents commented with humour? There are many ways to do this. So why do we too often fail at linking the past with the present?

Visualisation engineer

The documentation of conversations is more often than not done in a written format. Or in the best of cases in a myriad of videos. This makes it hard for us to absorb and synthesise that information. So how about visual engineers: people who are able to prepare visual handouts as the conversations unfold, organise intelligent lists of contacts that make networking and connecting easier, sifting through stats and presenting graphs in a radical and compelling way, developing complex thoughts into an-image-is-worth-1000-words kind of graphs and conceptual models.

Graphic recording - a whole palette of options before, during and after... (Credits - Susan Kelly)

Graphic recording – a whole palette of options before, during and after… (Credits – Susan Kelly)

There’s already a lot of graphic recording (see above) happening. I believe in our Instagram-culture of Pinterest drives we are only at the dawn of on-the-spot visual engineering. And this is perhaps not as much a function as an activity that just should occur more systematically.

And here’s another example:

Social network gardener

Perhaps this function is covered under any of the above. The idea is that someone really uses the information recorded and nuggets harvested to plant it/them in the right channels, networks and locations. Combined with the work of a visualisation engineer, this job allows targeted sending of compelling information to the right people.

Social media gardening - takes time but pays off! (Credits - j&tplaman / FlickR)

Social media gardening – takes time but pays off! (Credits – j&tplaman / FlickR)

Social network gardening does take time, but really adds a lot of value to the exchange that happened in the first instance, because it contributes to a universal information base that can reduce the learning curve the next time a group of people are wondering about a similar set of issues. And it does so not just by making information available but also by connecting people, i.e. knowledge – so it’s much more dynamic. Of course a lot of modern knowledge workers are already doing this to some extent. The point is to add structure and intent to this, to maximise opportunities for interaction beyond the group of people already involved.

Interestingly, what all these functions have in common is to combine conversations (knowledge sharing) and their documentation or processing (information management) both before, during and after the conversations happen… Acting upon the conversations as they happen, the nexus of agile KM don’t you think?

Related blog posts:

Open knowledge, working out loud, sharing ideas and our mind at large


A simple and small shoot: to open our mind out large…

Opening our mind, such a simple complicated thing... (Credits - Tanyew Wei)

Opening our mind, such a simple complicated thing… (Credits – Tanyew Wei)

I always wanted (and still do) to try the experiment of accepting with one or more persons – for a given limited time – to give each other the option to check at absolutely any time what the other is thinking about and to accept sharing it. A risky experiment, I agree, but what a fabulous shortcut to each other’s mind and ideas this would be too. The power of Open, in all its terror.

Another experiment I always wanted to do is to share what we are working on as we are working on it: opening Pandora’s box of our half-baked thinking, our weak reflections, our incomplete search for evidence, our half-started/half-aborted attempt at revisiting good sources from the past and combining new ideas. Now that is not too risky an experiment, and it’s a direct contribution to ‘working out loud‘, with perhaps even wider implications for the audience we might influence at large.

My colleague Peter Ballantyne recently wrote this excellent blog piece from a recent trip he did to Michigan State University to attend an ‘Open Knowledge for Agricultural Development Convening’ and he’s also sharing views about the importance of collective work using e.g. wikis. Have a peek at the presentation, it’s really worth it!

Even before we reach that collective stage, we can open up our working cabinet to let others in on our thinking, on the ideas that are crossing our mind. Blogging is a way to do this of course; yet, however draft-like our thought pieces become, they are already polished one level further compared with the moment when we get struck by an idea…

Tweets are another point in case. We can reveal what’s crossing our mind on a tweet – but rarely do we end up exploring this with our Twitter crowd much further than another tweet or two.

One piece is missing thus. John Tropea has got it: with his ‘snippets’ TumblR, he’s keeping track of some useful fragments of text that strike a cord with him and that he might want to come back to.

I have just decided to start my own TumblR as an experiment – as an antechamber and experimental springboard to this blog. On that TumblR I plan to keep fragments of writing that I find interesting and want to come back to later. I will also share simple ideas that I may come back to on this blog for (slightly) more elaborate thoughts. I might start by pasting the list of blogging ideas I have on the side (about 50 or so ideas for possible blog posts).

The idea is simple: the earlier we share our ideas, the earlier others can use those ideas, reflect and comment on them, and the more likely we are all better off with enriched ideas, good conversations and stronger relations. And better suggestions for the next blog posts…

Let’s see where this leads me…  and you!

Related blog posts:

The constant knowledge gardener


If we live in a true knowledge ecology (and the idea is not new as you can see here and there), nature lets its children grow naturally. Yet gardening can help boost some results – without going into the ins and outs of a possible knowledge conservation agriculture.

Knowledge is not just a tree but a whole orchard - it can blossom and give, or rot and doom us

Knowledge is not just a tree but a whole orchard – it can blossom and give, or rot and doom us

Time to revisit the gardening metaphor perhaps and to think about cultivating knowledge? This is the job of the constant knowledge gardener, a job whose demand is in constant progression.

Gardening knowledge means cherishing certain varieties or ‘cultivars, that is the general strands of knowledge and specific themes that matter to us (as individuals, groups or initiatives such as projects). What are the areas we want to see blossom? These varieties and cultivars may become tall trees under which we rest, smaller and fluffier bushes that bring about a diverse biodiversity or beautiful flowers that come and go.

Planting knowledge seeds means actively labeling the themes we want to keep abreast of by thinking about it, conceptualising it (by means of describing that field and why it matters to us), referring to it with keywords and meta-tags and inviting others to visit those knowledge cultivars. And as much as seeds require careful attention as they are too fragile to be left on their own, these new cultivars need to be attended to carefully or they may never see the light.

It further requires trimming and weeding. To keep the cultivars blossoming throughout the years, we need to keep the stems strong and to manicure our knowledge flowers, bushes and trees and get rid of dead leaves: data management, information management, personal knowledge management are all manifestations of that. We need to keep the information that is out there clean and easy to process – for us and for others – and to remove the ‘noise’ that we have created (dead links, bugs, out-of-date information, untagged products, uncontextualised information). This allows us to keep focusing on the gems of the garden rather than lose focus in the clutter of an organic mess.

For the more innovative knowledge gardeners it means to take cuttings and cross breed cultivars. Replicating the themes that matter in other areas of an organisation can be a useful way to create clout for those themes and to ensure more people are on board. Bringing the edge of our themes close to one another allows new connections and is the basis for innovation.

For even more effective results, we can try and fertilise the varieties and cultivars. This can be done by pouring in some fertiliser (additional expertise from a recognised source – though which source will really strengthen our knowledge plants might be difficult to assess). It can also be done very effectively by mixing and mingling cultivars. Some plants grow better when brought closer to certain trees. There are natural ways to fortify our garden. Mixing fields of expertise and themes together is a great way to innovate too and to re-instill vigour in a specific theme and in the conversations that go around it.

If we want to keep our garden beautiful for a long time, we probably need more than one gardener to do all of the above and contribute to a year-round show of nature. In our knowledge garden, this means working in teams and with networks, keeping our edge sharp and expanding the base of people who care about that knowledge garden.

However, and perhaps most importantly, a knowledge garden – whether humanly manicured or otherwise – requires a soil that is appropriate for it. The graft of knowledge seeds does not always work out. And the reason is that certain knowledge plants are not appropriate for a given soil. Certain themes are not adequate for some areas, certain conversations are not ripe yet for a certain crowd, certain contexts are not ready to work around new ideas. The knowledge garden soil needs careful preparation and has to work symbiotically with the themes that are put onto it. This will make or break the planting of knowledge seeds. We may plant these seeds anyhow but they may never bloom – or they might but then wilt and vanish only a tad later. The context of knowledge interactions is key and should be prepared with extreme precaution. This is the essence of successful development interventions too.

As we experience different gardening seasons, we also need to remain critical and focused on what we are learning from our interventions with the garden. It is what will allow us to make the right dosing, cutting, weeding and breeding. A strong learning focus is essential for knowledge gardeners to remain good, and that usually happens more easily in combination with other knowledge gardeners.

If our constant knowledge gardeners bring love (the passion and energy for the field or theme) and expertise in paying attention to the above, then our knowledge garden is likely to remain strong and giving, with the capacity to renew itself continually and to reveal the full potential of knowledge ecology, combined with the beauty of dedication.

Shame though it is for a frog like me, I have to confess I am more inclined towards English gardens and their careful mimicking of nature’s organised chaos, rather than the pompous vanity of ‘jardins à la française‘. And my observation of those French knowledge gardens confirms what sounds true in my own heart of constant knowledge gardener: our garden needs a sensible dose of ‘let it be’.

Related blog posts:

Through the blissful darkness of ignorance, with concepts-lights at my side


Ignorance is bliss

So they say, and truly I can relate to this saying. Knowing all the details of sordid stories, knowing all the issues that await us when tackling a problem is not always the best guarantee for action. Sometimes it causes the paralysis of fear or concern…

Ignorance is also the mother of curiosity, which gives the greatest push towards learning. So it’s not all that bad to ignore a few things…

The Johari window (from Peter Dorrington's article about "unknown unknowns and risk")

The Johari window (from Peter Dorrington’s article about “unknown unknowns and risk”)

…that is, if you know that you ignore them, and want to do something about them. In the proverbial Johari window, there are a few things that caution tells us we don’t know – the real key to learning evoked above.

But there are also things we don’t know that we don’t know and those are the things that through experimentation, individual and social learning, we will hopefully find out that we don’t know. It’s that little extra information that gives us the depth of details we were not yet aware of – which makes also the difference between the caution of an experienced person and the over-confidence of a lay person.

There are gazillions of things that I do not know of course, but there are also a few concepts that are currently my guiding lights in my own learning experience around the fascinating ‘knowledge realm’ and moving around my own Johari window – hoping I will never end up in a real bad case of amnesia 😉

A few concepts as lights in the knowledge realm

What follows here is a rather mixed bag but these concepts definitely relate to one another and sometimes originate from the same authors or sources…

Knowledge work

To start, ‘knowledge work’ is the mother of all other concepts here, as it relates to the overall umbrella of concepts that relate to learning, knowledge management and communication (in its engaging side, not its messaging tradition – see the happy families of engagement). Knowledge work is quite vague but simultaneously it stresses the importance of knowledge in all its relations. Knowledge work is not (just) about information, it’s not just about management (like some takes on KM), it’s not just about learning, it’s about all these areas of work that contribute to this ‘knowledge era’ we are in, where knowledge, its development, sharing, exploitation and ongoing transformation are seen as assets to give us an edge. This, by the way, is just an observation, not necessarily my opinion: I think the next frontier will be about harnessing the power of feelings and intuition, not just cognition.

Working out loud

I came across this concept only a few months ago in John Stepper’s post ‘Working out loud: your personal content strategy‘ and it has taken my mental world by storm. Working out loud is quite simple: journalling your work and sharing it – but the three words contain a lot of challenges and opportunities of (agile) knowledge management and learning. The simplicity of this concept and its appeal to working in a smarter way are nothing short of genius for us all knowledge workers, seeking ways to get our perspective acknowledged and valued. Working out loud also resonates with my blogging practice and all the great things it has given me – which are echoed and amplified in another author’s blogging experience (see which author in the para below).

Personal knowledge management

This topic is closely related to the former. Working out loud fuels personal knowledge management. But personal knowledge management (PKM) goes also into the personal use of information management: it’s not just about journaling but also about organising our knowledge and learning work. I first became acquainted with this concept on Harold Jarche’s blog.

Personal knowledge management or PKM (credits: Jane Hart)

Personal knowledge management or PKM (credits: Jane Hart)

What I like about this concept is that it is about using structure to free yourself from structure: Personal structure and discipline to use and learn from social networks to subvert hierarchies and other structures imposed from outside. And even if you work for an organisation, PKM is something that your firm should be paying attention to, as a foundation to improve organisational KM and learning… No organisation can hope to thrive at ‘organisational learning’ if its individual employees do not see the value of applying it to their personal needs and aspirations. Long live the age of individualism where it reinforces collective dynamics…

Retrospective and inquisitive coherence

This is a lesser concept perhaps but it is relevant to think about learning and what we think about when looking back at the things we didn’t know before. Analysing a complex chain of events and how they led to a certain result -ex-post- makes so much sense all of a sudden: it is retrospectively coherent. Yet, when first confronted with a complex issue at hand, we often have no idea about the way forward. What is useful here is first and foremost to keep some modesty as to what we know or not; it’s also about embracing complexity to look at the bigger picture – the best bet to pave the ways toward inquisitive (forward-looking) coherence. Retrospective coherence was, I believe, developed by the Welshman Dave Snowden.

Positive deviants

Positive deviance was brought to my knowledge via the excellent IKM-Emergent project (closed now) and the work around disruption of systems. Positive deviants are people who follow a successful – albeit uncommon – behaviour, with usually the result of disrupting the foundations of the environment which they challenge with their atypical approach. In knowledge work, where so much relates to behaviour change, incentives and the systemic dynamics that plays around knowledge initiatives (i.e. the enabling or disabling environment and organisation or set of organisations involved), positive deviance is an enlightening concept to explore new pathways of change through the actions of single agents. Local agents affecting the global system: a true characteristic of a complex adaptive system, which will be one of the objects of my next blog post.

Disruptive technology

Not only people (individual positive deviants) can have a profound ‘change’ effect, technology can also play that role. And indeed social media, smartphones, the internet generally and soon cyborg-type implants and other smart devices are or will be totally transforming our lives. But let’s park the sci-fi fantasy for now and focus on the here and now of. When cynics doubt about the value of social media without having really tried them out, it strikes me that this is a typical Johari window example of not knowing what you don’t know, or perhaps not knowing what you might need next. Ditto with a smartphone: until you have it, you cannot imagine what it can do for you. And to you.  We live in a highly techno-driven world of perpetual evolution. Understanding technology is essential: it allows us to understand how it could give new possibilities for our behaviour, but also to know  how we might or should keep control over that technology. A fine balance… and an illustration of how important this concept of disruptive technology has become.

Cynefin framework

Another invention of Dave Snowden, the Cynefin framework is a five-slot framework to understand in what kind of environment we are – or are facing an issue. It could be either simple, complicated, complex, chaotic or unordered.

The Cynefin Framework - where complexity is but one possibility

The Cynefin Framework – where complexity is but one possibility

This framework has been referred to many times and for good reasons, as it is quite intuitive and has been declined in various renditions. Like any framework it doesn’t hold all the truth and it has been criticised in the past, but this framework makes us think about the interactions and types of learning and action approaches best suited to deal with any issue. I also my reservations about the framework but find it a fascinating tool to keep thinking about complexity in a rather simple way but with wide-reaching and sometimes very complex implications.

Empowered listener

We are part of various online and offline communities. Increasingly so. And we cannot invest as much time as we would like in being active in each of them. But we nonetheless choose to be present in those communities. We decide actively what we are listening to because we think we might gain from it. So we all are lurkers in some communities, or as I recently suggested, ’empowered listeners’. And I believe this is not a trend that will wane all too quickly.

Agility

This is the last but not the least on this list, as it led me to rebaptise my blog ‘Agile KM for me and you’. Jennifer Sertl recently shared with me her definition of what agility means (see image above). In reaction, Dave Snowden (him again) recently put some words of caution to the agile crowd to avoid the past mistakes of the KM clique – and most likely rightly so. However I like the emphasis of this approach towards a more dynamic approach to learning and knowledge work, which is not just about innovation or just about managing assets or solving today’s problems. It reflects the dynamism of the world we live in and the added imperative to think and act increasingly proactively and reflexively.

With such guiding lights, I surely should be able to quickly highlight many other areas of my own ignorance. Phew! To learning there is really no end – but learning also is bliss…

Related blog posts:

Welcome to the UN-world! (Let’s rewire it)


(And – for your pleasure or your disappointment – this is not about the United Nations, although  there is much to blog about the UN system too, on KM and other issues).

This is one post I meant to draft a long time ago, but my question is still here: why are we creating this UN-world?

Why so much UN-doing?

Rather than focusing on un-learning, let's re-think, dynamically and together (Credits: HNBD / FlickR)

Rather than focusing on un-learning, let’s re-think, dynamically and together (Credits: HNBD / FlickR)

We are living in a negative polaroid of our world: We don’t do conferences anymore, we do ‘un-conferences’; We don’t do learning now, we do ‘un-learning’; We don’t write books any longer, we write ‘un-books’. I guess with the criticism about social media getting us  connected by our disconnection to reality, some would probably even argue we live an un-life without realizing…

What is it really? The urge to come up with alternative and punchy marketing in our 2-second-attention-span world? The quest for immortality that drives us (sometimes) to reinvent the wheel?

The necessity to deconstruct what we have been doing so far to rediscover the true meaning?

Perhaps a mix of it all.

A few ideas emerge:

  • We have seen the limitations of ‘doing business as usual’: same old conferences, same old books, same old ideas.
  • We probably live indeed in the permanent beta state that Harold Jarche refers to.
  • We have long held assumptions and we therefore need to challenge these assumptions, much like an adolescent all of sudden realizes that the world is not the way his/her parents always portrayed it when s/he was a child;
  • Our society is interconnected in ways unimaginable before, which creates unequalled possibilities to reinvent and recreate endless combinations of ideas, activities and people;
  • But the point is not so much that books, learning or conferences are intrinsically bad – the way they are used is just (sometimes) not creative and pertinent enough… It’s now time to connect our creativity and unlock the power of the collective, the promise of symbiotic holism which combines and transcends all other knowledges (as seen on this presentation by Valerie Brown which I already introduced on this blog in the past).

What seems important for agile KM to be effective, given these considerations, is: to challenge everyone’s pre-conceptions (question your education and educate your questions, a tabula rasa), to think in dynamic and ever-changing terms rather than in the security and comfort of fixed plans and guarantees (which simply don’t work in the world of social change) and to actively work on connecting ourselves to others.

And rather than focus on what we are doing badly (which all these un-items react against), I would rather rewire the un-world and focus on what we are not doing enough of: re-consider, re-adapt, re-learn, re-think, re-connect…

The world ruled yesterday, the un-world runs today, the re-world might be tomorrow’s zeitgeist. Let’s open to the RE-(e)volution of our connected creativity…

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