Principles of life to live life with good heart and good intelligence


Big Ideas go beyond discrete facts or skills to focus on larger concepts, principles, or process" (Credits: Ken Whytock)

Big Ideas go beyond discrete facts or skills to focus on larger concepts, principles, or process” (Credits: Ken Whytock)

Over Christmas holidays I had an interesting exercise with my father to identify what would be the principles of life that guide our life and that we would like to leave as our philosophical legacy to our ‘next of kin’s’.

I am coming back to this because, just like a contribution statement helps you become an effective person, worker, leader, principles of life help ground you in life and -if you manage to really live by your principles- give you real pleasure and a sense of harmony.

Needless to say, principles in knowledge management and communication are just as important. But today this is more of a personal set of principles. Still, some of them are useful for collaboration, group communication and knowledge management.

Hereby the list from our conversation…

From my father…

  • Love yourself
  • Love the people around you
  • Remember there are other ways to look at things, out there
  • Show (illustrate), don’t just tell
  • Remember that how to do things comes before you let others know how things should be done
  • Always be serious (in your intentions) but never take yourself seriously

Which I subscribed to and to which I added…

    • Believe in the good of people
    • Be humble because you (we) don’t know very much
    • Be curious about others and about everything, get out of your comfort zone
    • Listen to others and the world with all your senses
    • Do not be afraid, trust yourself
    • Create and then give, don’t just criticise and destroy!
    • And finally: Believe in the goodness in others and draw it out.
Come Together (Credits: Hartwig HKD)

Come Together (Credits: Hartwig HKD)

And these are some principles that hopefully will give my life, and perhaps at intersections other lives, some sense and grounding too.

Do principles dictate your life? Your work? Which ones? Why?

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Use a precise language for precise results


Language is a challenging issue.

People have different relations to it and different abilities.

Language

From which it results that, we more often than not, not quite understand each other the way each person talking is hoping to get understood. Which is why, by the way, paraphrasing is a good idea for today and every day.

We aren’t all native English speakers (to take the example of English). I am not. We aren’t all paying attention to how detailed someone says something. We aren’t all ready to take the time to discuss ‘semantics’.

Yet having a precise language is really important! All the more when we give feedback to each other. Here is why:

  • Detailed language allows us to be very precise and focused about what we are talking about, thus it eliminates a lot of unnecessary vagueness and generalities around what we are discussing. “The table of contents of this document is missing a couple of key items, let’s get back to the author Michael M” is vastly better than “There’s something wrong with the table of contents” (of what by the way)?
  • Detailed language can give much more information than just the ‘what’ we are talking about, it gives information about the kind of statement or question, the intention, the focus, the scope, the kind of response it pitches for etc. “What I mean to say here is that it saddens me to see you struggle with putting together the pictures for that information brief because it’s not the first time I’ve noticed this and I would like to offer my help to avoid falling back into that trap” is again vastly better than “You’re not dealing with that job well”.
  • When giving feedback to each other, precise language zooms in on the one ‘technical’ area that we are focusing on, which means it’s easier to accept than receiving general feedback e.g. ” Your presentation was good” – erm what about it was? The technicality of the content, the pitching, the tone used, the delivery of the presentation, the length, the visuals, anything else from wow presentations?
  • More generally, while semantics can lead to tiresome conversations, a decent measure of it helps develop enough common ground for a ‘working definition’ that may not be perfect but should be good enough to work with for a given group for a given time. Putting semantics under the carpet is only inviting more and more and more questions, acrimony and waking the dead man from the carpet up again.

So it’s really useful to invest in sharpening our language. And here are some tips for both speakers and listeners.

Speakers:

  • When talking about someone, be considerate enough to be precise about WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY and HOW. A statement like “He did that to him” is considerably less clear than “John Doe charged Bob Smith 200 USD extra”. Even if the statement is obvious to you, it may not be to your listener.
  • If you’re giving feedback, you might want to ask questions rather than give feedback as statements.
  • If you do give a statement of feedback, one of the best ways to do so is to say: “when you did(/said) xyz, the effect it had on me was abc”. That is basic hotel school training and a lifeskill to learn.

Listeners:

  • Even if you’re not yourself paying much attention to precise language, pay attention to whether the speaker is, and then pay attention to every word they say, and question (clarify) their use of this or that word.
  • Paraphrase again and again, to make sure you understood – and check that you got it right.
  • And both listeners and speakers could do worse than ask each other whether they like semantics discussions and pay attention to details in their language before they create misunderstandings with each other.

So much to improve on interpersonal communication at every level. So let’s get going and discover the trees in the forest of our minds!

Language is an old-growth forest of the mind #quotesRelated blog posts:

 

Be genuine and genuinely care for your neighbour’s pace on the way to change


A lot of conversations, in general and also on this blog, are exploring past reflections and previous conversations. I am in one of these iterations about Alignment and authenticity.

I’ve said before that -for me- authenticity is essential in what we do, when we engage with others, because that genuine approach shows the real us and helps others develop trust with us (and I’ve also stated elsewhere that ‘TRUST is the truth‘).

However there is one exception to this principle: the pace. Pace of language and of motion.

Courses on communication remind us to mimick the other person’s behaviour, tone, body language to subconsciously create a positive rapport with that other person. And that is very true (though I usually don’t pay conscious attention to this). And as much as that is true, the pace of how we talk, and the pace of what we think and do is really important to create a fertile ground.

I’ve learned in that recent management training course (where I discovered my contribution statement for what I bring to the world) that:

“One step by 100 men is greater than 100 steps by one man”

And so it derives that to achieve this one step taken by 100 men, we need to adapt to others. We may have our own personality and our original ideas, but if we are to achieve any stage of common sense-making and action, we need to slow down (or occasionally speed up) the way we talk, think and act to level with these other people we want to take on the journey with us.

We must care for the pace of our neighbours. Because ideas will not come really into fruition before their time…

Ideas don't blossom before their time anyway (Credits: QuoteAddicts)

Ideas don’t blossom before their time anyway (Credits: QuoteAddicts)

This means that while we can’t force things to happen (ish), we can prepare the ground for it by mirroring the pace of language, thought and action of the people around us.

I tend to be very quick in many things we do. I even talk fast. And I’ve had to come to terms with that, particularly when I’m facilitating. I still have much progress to make in terms of adapting to the pace of action of people around me, and adapting to their thought model. But the road to real change emerges from the combination of all our little trails together. When we converge and align we start taking a direction that is much firmer and stronger than the one we were on.

That is my very modest ‘shoot‘ for this week: remain genuine to your ideas and who you are, but connect to the pathways of others by adapting to their pace. That is an effort worth investing in.

Alignment (Credits: Aftab Uzzaman / FlickR)

Alignment (Credits: Aftab Uzzaman / FlickR)

What’s coming up for you?

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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?

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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.

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Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners… Mind your attitude for the knowledge ecosystem!


No revolutionary KM thought today, just some mundane observation, with deep implications for knowledge work and its broader knowledge ecosystem though…

We react differently in front of challenges: we can be silent or vocal about them, and we can do something about them, or we don’t. For agile knowledge management, attitude is certainly one of the key factors that makes or breaks initiatives and feeds the knowledge tree and ecosystem (see graph below and related post) or not.

The knowledge tree & ecosystem (credits; CIAT/CTA?)

The knowledge tree & ecosystem (Credits: CTA)

If we were to imagine a four quadrant graph where the x axis would be about being active or passive about the challenges faced and the y axis would plot complaining about challenges (being vocal about them) vs. keeping silent (and focusing on what needs to be done), one ends up with four possible quadrants:

  • Wailers, who are neither active nor particularly silent about what is going wrong;
  • Whiners, who are not silent but are doing something;
  • Waiters, who are not complaining but are also not doing much;
  • Winners, who are not complaining but are actually doing something.
Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners

Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners

Wailing is of course the worst situation, but is probably a temporary situation or predicament, not a constant… At least I hope so. It could also be a stage that is necessary before bouncing back. But there’s no immediate benefit here!

Whining is just complaining about what is going on. And sometimes it really feels good to complain (just see my series of rants on this blog for instance, ha!). But the problem of whining is that, as I’m learning through my meditation work with Headspace, we tend to add thoughts to the feelings we have and just make the whole situation worse. And whining creates waves of negativity that can have a deep impact. The same whiners are typically the people that want you to change. And yes, you can also be a passive whiner, but then in my typology you’d just be a wailer – and not the musical type, Jah!

Waiting can be a good strategy sometimes, sitting it all out, letting things simmer to see some crucial signs emerge, and at least it’s not a situation where frustration is vocalized, but it also means little action emerges. Again, good for a time, but mostly to meditate (which about being actively conscious) but limited after a while. And if nothing happens, it means it’s probably time for action.

Winning is the combination of attitude and action and is what a knowledge ecosystem requires to change more deeply or rapidly. It’s that attitude that inspires change. Bouncing back, rebounding up all the time, taking adversity as an opportunity to change and improve – even though it’s difficult – and neither boasting about it nor complaining about the problems. Easier said than done, for sure, but worth remembering.

Think about it when you’re struggling in your next agile KM move. It takes just a bit of silence, a lot of action and some role modelling. And yes, meditation helps 🙂

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KM on a (creative) shoestring


What can you do when you don’t have budget?
Not much you might think? Think again!

Lack of resources boosts creativity, much like ‘near-miss’ experiences (so well described in Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath) produce confident life champions that fight through adversity.

So, if your KM budget is small, or non-existent, what can you do?
Not much you might think? Think again!

Following Nick Milton and Stephanie Barnes’s book about ‘Designing a successful KM strategy‘ you can devise simple measures to go through every step of the process they recommend.

Here is what I would suggest as one palette of shoestring KM options:

  • Talk to management and other people in the initiative of which your KM work is part, to understand the bigger challenges they are facing, and share your insights with them and try and convince them of the value of agile KM;
  • See what the people in your initiative are doing. Map, very simply, their good and improvable practices as individuals and as teams or collectives – and present back your findings;
  • Hold conversations to share information, insights, knowledge, contacts, questions, to create trust [LINK] and to connect with the wider picture;
  • Set up simple off-the-shelf systems – follow the example of ILRI in using existing, off-the-shelf platforms that do not require heavy programming;
  • Hold reflection meetings and set up learning mechanisms and approaches to periodically reflect on what is working or not in your approach.
Becoming a data scientist on a shoestring (Credits: Timo Elliott)

Becoming a data scientist on a shoestring (Credits: Timo Elliott)

And if these prove useful, you might want to advocate for more budget in the future, and go for the Cadillac process that Milton & Barnes are talking about. But maybe you don’t even want to fall into comfort?

Whatever the range of approaches, think about how to develop communication, documentation and learning. At any rate these simple steps above could already go a very long way. And this is just the fruit of a very quick reflection. I’m sure you can devise just as many steps without much budget.

What shoestring KM mechanisms have you implemented? What would you recommend?

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Sharing and learning: the ‘glue and grease’ of comms and (I)KM


The ‘glue and grease’ – what a horrible expression!!!

The glue and grease: sharing/learning (Credits: GaryPuppa)

The glue and grease: sharing/learning (Credits: GaryPuppa)

 

The first time I heard a former colleague of mine use that expression to refer to the role of communication I didn’t like it either.

But I’ve got to say that until I find a better expression for it, it’s a pretty accurate description of what our (then) comms team was supposed to be to others: the glue that brings everyone together, and the grease that lets knowledge flow easily.

But the ‘glue and grease’ only happens when the sharing (and learning) in KM comes together with communication.

Not many organisations have a KM unit that covers knowledge sharing. Not many companies have a comms team that looks into the learning and sharing that true agile KM offers… In a typical (research for) development organisation, one finds a ‘comms’ unit that typically takes care of media contacts, press releases, corporate communication and public relations, and generally publications. It’s the ‘big mouth’ of an organisation. And then one finds a ‘KM’ unit which essentially is an information management unit taking care of databases and portals and all kinds of information systems etc. That’s the ‘legs’. But where are the hands and arms that join forces and the brains that connect all actions with intentions?

The glue and grease is the sharing and learning (not in a literal, respective manner). And it’s time to bring comms and KM together, to power comms with KM inside, to pay a central attention to processes of sharing and learning. So: what are you doing in your organisation or environment, to ensure there is this glue and grease?

And add that to your process literacy kit, please 😉

Image from page 344 of "Anthony's photographic bulletin for .." (1870)

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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 purposeconsistency 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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We are a system, you cannot I-solate yourself, so surf and co-create the wave of our collective grace


This could be one of the fundamentals of this blog: it takes two to tango and we are all part of a (same) system. The ‘I’ has a much lesser role to play to in our WElcoming world than we perhaps like to admit.

According to Eric Weiner’s study about the geography of bliss, happiness in Thailand is not a concept framed around unique individuals but around entire families, lineages. The goal, to be happy is not so much to be the most successful person on earth, but to make sure you add your (stepping) stone to make your whole family’s saga richer and better.

Social Ecosystem Diagram (Credits: Erin Malone / FlickR)

How about creating a social ecosystem, online and offline? (Credits: Erin Malone / FlickR)

And, surely, every step we take impacts others. There is no real I-solation possible…

Which means…

  • We should not just look at our activities but always at the whole system with it. We shouldn’t try to improve just ourselves but the whole ecosystem behind.
  • It does not only make sense to role model behaviours to influence others’ practices, but it also probably happens anyway because we are connected. Role modeling just accelerates the connection and alignment of us all, the nodes, to the mother grid.

Our only hope, our only grace, should be to connect more widely and more deeply to affect the whole system more directly, to actively contribute to creating a social ecosystem… surfing collective waves, and co-creating them.

But one thing is certain: we are not alone, we are a human and earth system… And our success depends on our ability to connect with each other in that system. So much for egoism!

Of successful people, and other people... (Credits: ??)

Of successful people, and other people… (Credits: ??)

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