Moving conversations up the trust ladder… and scale of influence

The infinite recognition [R. Magritte, 1963]

The infinite recognition [R. Magritte, 1963]

At the end of the day, as some would say (‘KM is about increasing the quality and frequency of conversations that get your job done’), in KM it’s all about conversations.

Conversations of contact-making (contextual webs)

Conversations of meaning-making

Conversations of joint exploration

Conversations of co-creation (in events and otherwise)

Conversations of trust building

Conversations of network weaving

Conversations of influence

But: we’re not well-suited to have all these conversations with everyone any time. Because that trust is not there, because we don’t understand everyone else’s language, because we don’t know what motivates them, because…

So the trick is – for professional purposes – to converse as often, as deeply, as intentionally with as many people people that are interested or influential in the work you do, so you move away from a small opportunity to talk, towards a small chance to work together up to a major joint endeavour. bearing in mind:

  • What you hope to and what you realistically can achieve with or vis-à-vis the person you’re conversing with…
  • What degree of affinity you have with that/those person/s (remember the 50 shades of influence?);
  • Simply what pleasure you derive from conversing with that/those person/s;
  • And sometimes indeed just drifting by, letting yourself go gently together wherever the conversation takes you, without predefined end destination…

By doing so, you increasingly develop a rapport, trust (once again – and I really have to write a post entirely on this cornerstone of agile KM) so that you can move mountains.

Some ideas for conversing more effectively – if you want to influence things as you go forward:

Step out of your social comfort zone, speak with the people that are blatantly not part of your natural 'clique'!

Step out of your social comfort zone, speak with the people that are blatantly not part of your natural ‘clique’!

  • Converse with the non-converts – you can stick to your comfort zone but this world will change only when you start uniting fronts that are not directly bought to your cause. So go out there and engage!
  • Bring eclectic mixes of people – the way Theodore Zeldin tried it at his dinners – as it is the surest way to get an interesting collage that resembles more the bigger picture than you yourself or you and your friends would be able to paint otherwise;
  • Adopt unconventional standpoints to provoke reactions and additional layers to the conversation(s);
  • Use techniques that push you to take other peoples’ perspectives to understand and shift perspectives… DeBono’s six-thinking hats is only one of various such methods…

But remember that conversations – although they should be enjoyed in and of themselves, simply – are always opportunities to move up on the scale of getting the next big thing done, the next big movement marching on.

So go out and converse, don’t be shy, that’s the way humanity has been going on and growing up… And this way you avoid dotty communication and that’s not a bad starting point 😉

Related posts:


What are we waiting for to walk our talk (on KM and comms)?

Back on the blog after a three-week pause related to important developments in my personal life. Still floating a bit and my blogging practice needs to be oiled up again, but I have some ideas of stuff to blog about, starting with: Why don’t more KM and comms specialists actually walk their own talk?

The past few weeks at ILRI have been about appraisals, 360 degree feedback – so a lot of retrospective thinking and sense-making – and also among others an important demonstration of what we do in comms/KM.

All good fodder for thought (yes, I am influenced by the livestock agenda of my organisation ;)) What strikes me in this first week back is that despite knowing that it really can be difficult to ‘sell’ KM and comms, many specialists of that field don’t seem to walk their talk – and I’m not specifically talking about my direct colleagues here, but about a lot of more distant colleagues who ‘should be out there’ and just don’t seem to.

  • How many of these specialists are really sharing what their doing on a regular basis – both online and face-to-face – to inform others about their work, to work out loud as John Stepper is convincingly inviting us to work?
  • How many of these specialists are really applying the principles of personal knowledge management (or ‘personal knowledge mastery‘ PKM, as Harold Jarche would have it) to manage their information and sharpen their expertise, knowledge and tap into that of others around them?
  • How many of them (of us!!) not spending adequate time performing a simple ‘after action review‘ (AAR) to ensure we keep learning and adapting?
  • How many of us are really curating our own content and ongoing work to ensure that every signal we come across, as much as possible (since obviously it’s impossible to achieve 100% there), finds its way to appropriate sharing channels and storing repositories, with our own added value to it?
  • And how come so many of us are still struggling with assessing and measuring KM when the field has been around… with the possible exception of Nick Milton’s excellent set of quantified KM stories on Knoco stories?

Many gaps in our own practices, it seems, so how can we expect others, who are not dedicated knowledge workers, to buy into KM and comms and use it for their own benefit? Being an effective knowledge worker requires discipline and dedication, all for the purpose of improving one’s and others’ practices and lives (I share because I care!). It is tiring at times, even exhausting occasionally, but it also continually gives a lot of energy.

This relates to another thought triggered by this first week back at work: a colleague gave a very comprehensive presentation about ILRI comms work. It was quite a complicated job, because the presentation was very broad and covered an incredible amount of items, so this is certainly no criticism on my part – there would have been things to improve anyways, but one thing that struck me was that the presentation seemed to miss an essential element: WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

What's in it for me? If we don't start there, how can we expect others to get interested? (Credits: Gino Zahnd / FlickR)

What’s in it for me? If we don’t start there, how can we expect others to get interested? (Credits: Gino Zahnd / FlickR)

Isn’t the trick, in our field of comms/KM, to start from either the concrete and devilish problems that our colleagues, partners, clients are facing or the opportunities to work more smartly? And then to demonstrate how we do this?

It seemed to me that despite the incredible richness of the presentation, there was a bit too much ‘this is what we do’, ‘this is how it works’, not enough ‘this is why it is going to solve your problems like no other solution’ or ‘this is going to strengthen your excellent work in area xyz’… And ultimately, ‘these are a few steps you might take in that direction…’ Remember Spitfire Communications’ ‘Smart Chart’ and its due emphasis on the ‘ask’?

We know (personal) change is slow, everyone wants others to start it rather than themselves, and it has a lot to do with psychology. So while there’s no need in criticising people for being slow at change, we equally cannot afford to rest on our laurels and not practice what we preach as comms and KM folks.

So, WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP to sharpen your practice? Mine will start with more systematic AARs. Next week. Tomorrow. Now! Still a lot of progress for all of us, me certainly included, to get better at explaining, showing and embodying the power of KM and comms 😉 Indeed we need to look at ourselves first, because as Leo Tolstoy excellently put it:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)

What other areas of not walking our talk do you commonly observe in the field of comms/KM? Do you know of similar watchdogs in that field as Shit Facilitators Say (@ShitFacilitator) on Twitter for facilitation heads?

Related blog posts:

Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning… Navigating fractal change through space and time

Change, change, change!

Going up the scale of change

Going up the scale of change

So many clichés about change, so much ado about a big thing, so many ways to look at it and so many barriers to it!

And just so it’s clear: I’m talking about social change (see some pictures about this concept), i.e. change that involves humans and their behaviour, as opposed to changes in e.g. engineering or information systems.

The much desired and (our most loathed) change is at the centre of a lot of agile KM and also development work. We want to understand it, track it, make it happen, or stop it. As a formula. In a box. 100% fail-proof.

The bitter deceit…

Perhaps because we may be overlooking one of the most important dimensions of (social) change: it is the bizarre fruit of the dance of time and space along various factors. There is no direct and pure causality between activity A and change X. Complexity theories have helped us understand this intricacy. But not necessarily helped us find ways to address this.

Here’s a shoot post about a change management toolkit of sorts: Using hidden dynamics to realise how to look at and work around change, with four lighthouses on our journey: scaling, pacing, staging and patterning.


Social change has both roots and branches across space and time. Understanding scaling is a precondition to achieving change. What other geographic scales are at play in a change dynamics? What could be other beneficiaries or victims of change: other teams? Organisations? Projects? Communities? Districts? Regions? Think upstream-downstream, centre-edges, power groups/marginalised groups What mechanisms are intentionally or involuntarily titillating other scales? What are the tradeoffs and what is the aggregate ‘return on investment’ then?

Similarly, what could be long term as opposed to short term changes or effects? We tend to apply a tunnel vision to the scales we are focusing on, but understanding how a given initiative brings about change that affects people differently over time helps us get a bigger picture of the change we are looking at. This is at the centre of the reflection on time scales in social learning for climate change.

Of course we cannot predict all these changes, but joined-up thinking such as collective visioning exercises give us glimpses of these longer term changes… Don’t consider change without careful attention for scales.


Time is of the essence in change, as we’ve seen above. Because behaviour change takes time, all the more so when someone else wants you to change.

Considering longer term effects begs us to examine the speed at which we hope change will happen and the one at which it really happens. As much as a common breathing pace brings people together, pacing activities according to the local context’s normal pace also raises chances for change – remember organic, civic-driven KM?. No need to rush, you might be leading the pack but no one may understand you. Going too slow on the other hand may jeopardise potential for change, time has to be just right. And our pace affects this…


No ‘intended’ social change happens overnight – unless by some miracle all elements are just ready for it and one extra drop takes care of it (ha! the results of edge effects Alice McGillivray is brilliantly talking about). So no change happens in a fingersnap.

And because of the complex interdependencies, no change is likely to happen at (extended) scale right on. Pacing helps us find the right rhythm of each activity, staging activities helps us align them. It gives us liberty to use effective safe-fail probes (more about that in the video below): We can thus explore how change happens in smaller iterations, using the feedback from each iteration to inform the next loop of activities. Like gardening, this is the key to let change grow and become part of the local fabric’s dynamics. Staging is the drip irrigation of change…


Discerning fractal change from any pattern

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

The last but not the least dynamic of the four, and for good reasons: The complexity of social change requires us to sharpen our senses and (ideally collectively) recognise patterns that make up change. Both in the centre of our attention and at the edges… With patterning we can identify the fractals of change, and by continually doing so we can recognise where in the bigger picture of change a certain fractal belongs.

How do you do patterning? Through learning conversations around a theory of change of sorts, and whether formalised or not, continually exploring the ramifications of that change.

In a lot of agile KM projects – and more conspicuously in a majority of development projects – we tend to zero in on specific changes induced by a given initiative. But we are chasing a fish pack and the way the fish pack shapes and shifts, moves and mixes, appears and disappears tells us much about that ever elusive change. Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning are instruments at our disposal to understand the fish better and, occasionally, to fish it better.

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Since change might look like a shark, we might as well be apprehend it better, don’t you think?

Related blog posts:

Musings about learning about action about change in an Exchange

Last week I was on the premises of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) in the UK co-facilitating an interesting Knowledge Exchange about ‘Acting on what we know and how we learn for climate and development policy‘.

Together with fellow co-facilitators Pete Cranston and Carl Jackson and with the benediction of the CGIAR research program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS – with respect to the work we are doing together around the social learning sandbox) we embarked on a triple-loop learning journey…

Social change, mixing learning and action (credits - APC Women)

Social change, mixing learning and action (credits – APC Women)

The design of the event was ambitious in as far as we hoped to induce all participants into a triple loop social learning journey that would reveal and challenge our assumptions out in the open and map the way to action and change – in this case for climate change.

Our plan was simple: look at what we have learnt so far (single loop social learning), what we could do to change this (double loop) and how we might go beyond our current perceptions and unearth new jointly defined solutions to some of our problems (triple loop). Pete already shared his views about the event and what answers, questions and insights it brought forward. Some more posts may be coming and will be shared here. Here are mine, as they relate to the focus of this blog on learning for social change.

Of learning…

We all said it and all felt it: triple loop learning didn’t (really) happen. The kind of transformation that is alluded to in triple loop learning can only really take place with most, if not all, of these ingredients:

  • A full cycle of moving from learning to action and back to learning and back to action and… More about action below, but the point is: working together over time induces triple loop learning because it stimulates…
  • Trust, which leads to understanding each other’s perspectives and the assumptions below. We just surfaced some of these assumptions in the event but did not really went beyond. There was initial mutual exchange and interest but the deeper the trust  the more profound the learning as we can explore rougher edges and less comfortable areas.
  • Multiple and complementary – not similar – perspectives and ‘knowledges’. This was perhaps crucially missing in our event since the majority of participants were Northern academics (a really nice group at that!). All very different of course but with a broadly common socio-cultural and professional background.
  • More time for individual and collective reflection – across three stretches of 1.5 hours  of group work, we hardly had the time to elicit that collective reflection leading to the generation of properly new insights.
  • A collective agenda (not necessarily a common one but one that brings each agenda into a collage) that pushes all to stay on course and go through the ups and downs of engaging with different visions, languages, capacities…

It was only naive of us to hope to achieve any of this in a workshop, even though a good deal of single loop and double loop learning did take place and helped us understand what we have done in the past and what we could do in the near future.

Ha, the near future…

…leading to action…

Is there much purpose for learning that does not lead to action? Knowledge to do what? We did have a marketplace of actions, insights and commitments towards the end of the workshop but I have to confess I am quite skeptical about the intention and capacity (time and attention!) of participants to keep true to their words.

Dealing with elephants in the room like 'power', a prerequisite for learning to ACT! (Credits - Michelle Mockbee)

Dealing with elephants in the room like ‘power’, a prerequisite for learning to ACT! (Credits – Michelle Mockbee)

One of the groups was candid enough to mention that the ideal picture they had developed over the event was not going to happen because of the general inertia of the (policy) system to do anything about our findings. They were probably right. But frankly, shouldn’t we worry about having (great!) conversations that lead to no action? Perhaps we need to turn our reflection up side down and gear ourselves up to action from the start.

I did find a few useful elements in the Knowledge Exchange to think about the linkage between learning and action in such settings:

  • Address the elephants in the room. Power is one of them. Ignoring these big drivers is  unrealistic, yet ending our reflections with them leads to that powerless feeling that none of this matters and nothing will ever change anyway because we’re facing a big challenge. Instead, one group really addressed such issues from the start and got to a very good start in identifying smaller but useful steps to act upon our learning. 
  • Thinking again about the commitments of our participants, we seem to be onto re-evaluating what happened after the workshop in 3, 6, 12, perhaps 18 months… this would be great to help everyone realise that we have to challenge our assumptions about action also.
  • Related to that light evaluation, there is perhaps something to say about facilitating learning for change. Without a finger on the pulse, a (group of) guardian(s) of the action temple, words remain up the air and action has difficulty following learning. This is one of the lessons of that CCSL sandbox mentioned above: the active presence and intervention of knowledge gardeners increases the fertilisation of beautiful knowledge trees.
  • Action finds a fertile ground in tighter-knit groups. Where social capital has been built, the lessons unearthed in an event find a more hopeful pathway to be a seed for something else which might be…

…leading to change…?

Change, like wisdom, is not only difficult to reach – and easy to be reluctant about – but it’s also quite elusive. In a typically complex manner, it is the subtle result of many inter-connections, inter-weavings and interactions, on a long temporal scale and often a multi-layered geographic scale. Even if action happens, and even if it builds on learning, it may not be the guarantee that change itself comes about.

The Knowledge Exchange helped relate change to action and learning:

  • Don’t we just need – as individuals and collectives – to do something about change, genuinely, in a militant sort of way? That’s what I read through Dave Pollard’s writings too. In that sense, realising we may not be able to change the system is – in my humble opinion – simply not acceptable if we care about purposeful learning. 
  • Don’t we yet also need precisely a purpose – and a good timing – for learning and change? In his post, Pete relayed this impression from a participant that we may only act upon our learning and effect change within ourselves much after an event – like dormant sentinels of change ready to be activated when the occasion presents itself?
  • As civic-driven initiatives teach us and some ideas about embarking on an agile KM enterprise, we have to work with the existing ground – the ‘enabling environment’. That is where the large institutional picture comes in, and where social learning is a really promising avenue for social change. Work with what is there already, rather than with (only) an aspirational ideal that ignores the current situation.
  • Real change happens when individuals and collectives coalesce. All the work we have done in groups, as one plenary group and as individuals in this event, to challenge our assumptions and think about what we have learned and what we can do about it is a set of inputs that sooner or later may contribute to a general direction of change. We may not be able to evaluate it, to attribute it or to learn deeply enough about it, but change happens this way anyhow.

So what then?

If I consider that we had fun as facilitators, and that most participants seem to have learned something and to have enjoyed themselves, the Exchange was – despite all shortcomings – quite successful. And as facilitators we always have a slightly different take from an event.

As for triple loop social learning, well, the Knowledge Exchange was a sort of mini-lab to think about it. If anything, we’ve understood that the required scales of time, space and engagement depth are simply not going to happen in such a short setting. Yet, some seeds are planted and, who knows: if social learning is not affected by climate change too badly, we might see new knowledge gardens flourish over time, pollinated thanks to the distant breeze of a Knowledge Exchange.

Related blog posts:

I WANT (YOU) TO CHANGE! Yes but how?

Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits - Dawn Penn on FlickR)

Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits – Dawn Penn on FlickR)

There’s a lot written about change, change processes, change management, behaviour change, social change etc.

This week again Chris Collison was wondering about what’s stopping us from putting knowledge into action, or in other words, from knowing to changing.

This is a bit of an attempt to synthesise the pathways to personal (behaviour) change.

What are the stimuli of personal behaviour change? This video by Robert Cialdini about the ‘science of persuasion‘ offers some clues.

But this is not all of it. There are other factors that affect our pathways to behaviour change:

A realisation that we have to change something. It starts with that. No one changes a behaviour without realising the need to do just that (or do we?). A behaviour change can be sparked suddenly, when we are struck by the lightning of obviousness (e.g. “clearly I need to run meetings differently”). It can also be induced by repeated exposure to ‘signals of change’ (e.g. a regular chit-chat with someone you find inspiring). It could also be induced by a willingness to proactively anticipate events that will require us to change sooner or later anyway. In any case, feedback mechanisms bring about that moment when we realise why we have to change, because we see the unsatisfactory results of our current behaviour.

A more detailed understanding of what we have to change or how. From the realisation that ‘business as usual’ is no longer relevant, we need to examine closely what it is that we have to change. Again here we need some kind of feedback mechanisms, induced by others (direct feedback through online or face-to-face conversations), or by our own exploration e.g. finding out, while reading, that we seem to be out of pace with others doing similar things, or through regularly reflecting again, e.g. via after action reviews

A willingness to change. Even if we understand clearly what we want to change, we have to assess whether, deep down, we are bothered to change… At that stage, we are no longer in the cognitive realm, we are immersed in the emotional world. And this is perhaps where the tipping point is. We may have totally irrational reasons to go against a perceived need to change, as is the case with smoking cigarettes, not washing hands… our will has to spring out of comfort and routine. Willingness to change is about the where and when we are ready to change.

A step up to actively effect change. And finally, we may realise, understand and even want to change, but if we don’t take active steps to change, nothing happens. Perhaps this seems unlikely if the three other conditions are met, but the intensity of all these other factors may not be as strong as required to modify our behaviour. We need to take a bold first step to make change happen. The how is the question here, but certainly small steps are more helpful than grand visions at this stage…

The pathways of change are not straightforward. And yet they are pathways because they go through different steps…

The AIDA pyramid

The AIDA pyramid

Somehow, the marketing model of AIDA comes to mind here too:

  • (grab) Attention
  • (stimulate) Interest, usually through information
  • (create) Desire
  • (generate) Action.

This model is usually applied to bringing people to buy products – but changing behaviour could be the product we’re interested in selling here.

If we look in more detail, we can single out finer granularity details explaining what inspires these four steps towards change.

  • Accidents and incidents. Indeed accidents are major game changers. They reverse the order of priorities. Even incidents have that property to let change emerge. This is where the ‘safe-fail’ probes and approaches come in handy.
  • Being connected. The more we are connected to others, and the more diverse those others are, the more we are increasing our chances of getting out of our comfort zone. Bill Taylor says just the same to learn as fast as the world changes.This is why staying for 30 years in the same company reduces our chances of changing – because we are then connected to a very slowly changing network. This is also why social media have incredibly accelerated change. They have massively amplified our feedback loops.
  • Trust. As we are connected, we tend to follow those we trust – and we now know how complex the trust-building process is. Trust is the kind of cement to relationships that is built upon common experience, reliability, ‘authority’ and the ‘liking’ mentioned in the above video. It also relates to reciprocity, boiling down here to “being the change you want to see”. Along the same lines, rather than listen to us, children also watch us and trust our actions, not our words.
  • Previous ‘tickling’ – the ‘consistency’ message that Robert Cialdini mentions in his ‘science of persuasion’ video shown above. Social change itself, in my view, consists of trying to bend the tree. Doing it ever so slightly each time eventually brings major breakthroughs – a typical case of emergence in a complex adaptive system
  • Reflecting, learning and processing emotions. Having a regular practice of  reflexivity and learning – one of the reasons why blogging is so crucial – enhances our sharpness to signals of change. If being connected (see above) keeps us externally astute to signals of change, reflecting, learning and processing emotions keeps us internally astute to them. What might create the tipping point, again particularly emotions.
  • Ownership – We need to be bothered about the issue at hand to change… Otherwise the ‘not invented here‘ NIH syndrome will kick in. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. It is our change that will last, not others. We can undo what others have changed in us, a typical process for people suffering from tyranny.
  • Passion can be a strong driver of learning and change, whether inspired by sheer feeling towards another/others, inspiration given from a person, inspiration for a vision that has been jointly developed etc. Passion however bears the risk of putting us in the group think bias if used blindly collectively (something which Dave Snowden recently blogged about).
  • Whatever it is, the carrot – the WIIFM – matters. If we see an incentive, we (might) go for the change. Our comfort zone is a very gravitational factor. Asking us to go through the trouble of moving out of it necessitates a very clear and obvious value proposition. The WIIFM includes cost-benefit analysis and return on investment (RoI) calculations. The benefit has to outweigh the cost or risk, at least in the longer run – or it might be lesser as a result of a compulsory move from the institutional environment (see below).


  • The stick… the threat or risks that we associate with not changing our behaviour can also be a strong driver of change. The sense of ‘scarcity’ also mentioned in the video is part of this stick.
  • Institutional pressure and biases. We work (certainly as employees) in a world of rules and regulations, of formal and informal incentives and boundaries. Typically, the heavily donor-driven development cooperation sector is an open field for many biases that can game operations and encourage or deter change.
  • Peer pressure. That could be one of the sticks (or the carrots, to conform) that plays out strongly… positively or negatively for the kind of change. If you go against the flow, you are potentially just one more positive deviant.
  • A certain confidence or at least having an idea of how to move forward and of having the capacities – or the courage – to go for it. Sometimes we postpone the actions we should take because we don’t feel confident enough to undertake them. Learning a new skill (using a PC, driving, managing staff) could be an intimidating first step to getting us to the change we want.

There are two major ways that we may face these factors: alone, or socially. Reading and doing things our way could lead us to change. So might conversation(s) and joint action. There was a while back a conversation (open to group members only) on a LinkedIn group about learning alone or socially, by reading or conversing, by codifying or by personalizing. Both approaches are different and can lead to the ‘aha’ moment that will lead to change.

It seems there are a lot of different learning styles out there – and I also blogged about that in the past – which mean there are many pathways to change.

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

Multiple intelligences & learning styles


What does it mean for our knowledge and learning work?

So where does this leave us?

A lot of knowledge and communication work is about persuading people to change / adapt their behaviour to be able to learn better for themselves, to get to share what they think/see/feel/like with others, to document their work life, to reflect on what is happening and to collectively stimulate others to do so.

Yet we tend to rely on the same levers to pull and buttons to push all the time. And for everyone. Particularly, we fall prey to believing that sheer information will influence people on their own pathway to change. A lot of research ends up accumulating dust on the shelves without any impact for this very reason.

It’s time to shift our approach and to focus on who we are really dealing with (ourselves, our brains and hearts) and to embark on more realistic, more effective approaches to influence change.

The summary table (below) of the different steps on the pathways to change and the factors that influence these (strongly when bold) might help realise where we need to focus our efforts to change our behaviours or stimulate behaviour changes of others.

ATTENTION: Realisation that we need to change
  • Being connected (to hear the signals for the first time)
  • Trust (to accept that these signals might be valid)
  • Consistency, repetition i.e. ‘previous tickling’
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning (to realise something is not quite right)
  • Ownership (co-creation of the conditions to understand we need to change)
INFORMATION: Understanding about what we need to change
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning
  • Observation and reading
  • Being connected (engaging in conversations to gather the facts and drill deeper in the analysis)
DESIRE: Willingness to change
  • Ownership
  • Passion
  • Scarcity
  • Trust
  • Being connected (to keep the fire alive)
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Perceived risk and other ‘sticks’
ACTION: Stepping up to effecting change
  • Peer pressure
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Confidence and capacities (to undertake actions)
  • Carrots and sticks
  • Ownership (certainty of the relevance and of the validity of the vision, whether it brings small but direct benefits quickly or brings greater benefits over time)

In practice, this means that would be well informed to:

  1. Realise where, in the pathway of change, we are (or the person we try to influence is).
  2. Develop strong and rich (diverse) feedback mechanisms.
  3. Work on the appropriate levers and buttons that matter at that stage.
  4. Develop trust with those we want to influence or we believe might influence us positively, to develop strong feedback loops.
  5. Encourage gardening the diversity of our networks to establish rich feedback loops.
  6. Try different approaches for different types of people, based on the trust we have with them and on the kind of cost-benefit and RoI calculations that will form acceptable evidence of the need to change.
  7. Combine a compelling vision of success with small incremental steps that do not feel like we need to change everything in one go or add ever so much more on our (work) plate.
  8. Realise the ‘institutional’ factors (the carrots and sticks, the peer pressure mechanisms) that might influence change too.
  9. As much as possible, co-create our work processes with multiple and diverse parties to bring all of the above together.

The pathways of change are not straightforward, but perhaps that’s for the better: We are all different, and change keeps changing, right?

Related blog posts:

Life after KM?

After so many years working on knowledge management I have grown tired of the term (and even finding it an oxymoron). I like to refer to ‘KM’ because it rolls easily in the tongue, but when I look around at other people that also work explicitly on KM, it gives me the impression that we are a bunch of stuffy dinosaurs fighting an old war.

So what is it that KM really means to me? What could be a better term to describe this?

What's my next destination on this KM sense-making journey? (Credits: James Jordan / FlickR)

What’s my next destination on this KM sense-making journey? (Credits: James Jordan / FlickR)

Recently I suggested that KM was the combination of conversations, documentation and learning. Conversations and documentation are the means. Learning is the end. Is it really? Learning for the sake of it is irrelevant too. It’s learning for action. But what action?

Learning for change perhaps? We mean to change our actions, be more relevant. But sometimes change is not the best pursuit either. Change for the sake of it is no more worthy of attention than learning for the sake of it. Remember the baby with the bathwater?

Ha! I know: Innovation! This surely is the holy grail. But (constant) innovation is yet another fantasy to chase. There is a time for innovation. And that time is not ‘all the time’. Same case as change. Nothing should motivate this innovation hype I already talked about.

Adaptive management is perhaps more accurate? We want to be able to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Yeah, but what about being proactive rather than adapting reactively? And most importantly, it’s not just about ‘management’, it’s about all of us, whether in managing positions or not. I care about empowerment. I want everyone to be part of the movement, each at their scale and pace.

Perhaps it is indeed what Jennifer Sertl refers to when talking about ‘agility’. I haven’t read her book but what I like about that concept of ‘agility’ is that it focuses on a general state of flexibility and for that it encompasses learning (you need to master learning to be agile – you need to practice it in tacit ways); potential change and innovation (if you are agile you can change and innovate); adaptation but also proactive preparation for the next changes; and it doesn’t just emphasise management, it is for everyone – so it implies the use of personal learning/knowledge/networks to amplify the capacity of a group of people to act more effectively and dynamically (i.e. to remain most effective at all times).

The only thing is: agility might be Jennifer’s trademark and I’m not necessarily using it along her understanding. So for now let me stick to KM and just say I work on agile KM… Check this blog header’s title, it’s just started another little life of its own…

Related blog posts:

A new year of fun, focus, feedback and some new ideas

Happy 2012!

I wish you a year of great health, love, success but particularly of fun, focus and feedback! This has been my mantra for the past two years and I’ll stick to it for another year. And this year’s full of more than just fun focus and feedback.

More fun, focus and feedback in 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Peter Ballantyne)

More fun, focus and feedback in 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Peter Ballantyne)

But before looking at some ideas for change, what’s in a mantra, really? What’s in this mantra? Time to explain perhaps…


We spend so much time at work that we might as well have some fun, especially when we work on complex and/or complicated issues. Since learning and knowledge management are a lot about changing behaviours, we’re much more likely to change them through fun. This is the extremely compelling argument behind the fun theory. And perhaps, contrary to what Cindy Lauper used to sing, not just girls want to have fun. I do too! How about you?


Now if we were just having fun we might forget what we’re having fun for. So this is the balancing factor to fun; the filling that makes the cake not only beautiful but also exquisite and memorable; the compass that brings the cool boat to its destination… You get the idea.

So fun is perfect, but it’s only an instrument that should be used to reach an objective, a purpose. Learning is all the more effective as it is consciously aiming at a specific objective.

Focus is also about dealing with only one thing at a time. While it makes sense to do strategic multi-tasking (keeping different balls up in the air, or keeping your eggs in different baskets, to avoid depending on one initiative/partner/client only), it is counter-productive to do operational multitasking – dealing with emails, yammer, blogging, talking on the phone, writing an article at the same time. This is the key point of Leo Babauta in his Focus manifesto. And I believe he’s right.


Now this one sounds perhaps less obvious and yet it is perhaps the most powerful of the three pillars in this mantra. If we are to learn, we need to continually adjust what we are doing towards the intended focus. This is the powerful effect of feedback loops that among others Owen Barder has explained in a blog post about improving development policy.

Feedback has value on both sides of its coin:

  • Given possibly negatively but constructively, it informs us on what we do not so well and need to question and readjust;
  • Given positively it confirms that we are on the right track and reinforces good practices. Not insignificantly it also boosts our confidence in ourselves and in the feedback giver, it builds trust. And it liberates energy, which can be channelled to more fun and focus…

So give feedback relentlessly, either for learning and change or just as a token of appreciation to the others. In a way, the only truly great present you can give others is your presence. And feedback is a great way of manifesting your presence, as a result of observing, listening and caring. Here are some tips for feedback that works.

So I wish you all three in 2012 and also the powerful combination that they make and personally ignites me all year long.

Now, for the new ideas of 2012, here are a few things around this blog I want to give a try in 2012 – your feedback is much appreciated, as ever:

  • Write more but also some shorter blog posts, the tumblers that echo what John Tropea does with his TumblR posts;
  • Interview people about KM, learning, communication and perhaps occasionally invite guest blogging;
  • Feature more videos and presentations that I have prepared or fished around on the internet;
  • Continue with my stock-taking series. One is due on facilitation basics soon;
  • Do more event and publication commenting;
  • And perhaps overhaul the design again. Time to shake off the grey and black frames, don’t you think?

And I have a few other ideas in petto but hey, let’s keep this rolling little by little…

Have a wonderful 2012!

Related blog posts:

Capacity development, organisational development, institutional change – The extended happy families of engagement

Encouraged by your comments on the post ‘Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement’, here is a follow up post attempting to complete the picture of the families of engagement. And despite my immediately previous post, this is the real final blog post for 2011.

So, the three main branches of the family have been mapped out (1): communication, knowledge management and monitoring. But as in any fascinating family, the engagement family has lots of extended branches that enrich the colourful engagement family tree. Here are just a few more that are worth considering:

Capacity development (image: AmuDarya basin)

Capacity development (image: AmuDarya basin)

The Capacity development branch. This branch aims at beefing up the potential of people to do their job better. And since work is better done together, it also focuses on engagement to get more people in its network. This part of the family kept changing names through history. It was originally known as training but its members said it was too restrictive a name for what the whole family does – so the first son kept that name but the whole family itself was re-baptised capacity building, but then it was accused of suggesting that capacity had to be built from scratch. So it became capacity development.

  • Training remains the most prominent son. Under pressure, however, it changed its approach. Where it used to bring people together intensively for two to three weeks, it now invites people for a couple or more days but repeats this exercise across a more extensive period and with more sustained interactions in and between training sessions. It seems to work out better for him now: Engagement around a process rather than just an event. Despite those more recent changes, it is still challenged by other branch members.
  • A sister in the lot is coaching. She has been around for a long time, in fact a much longer time than training although in the old age she was rather known as mentoring and apprenticeship. Her objective is to follow the practice of people over much longer time, to assess that practice in situ, identify good practices and provide a safe space to make mistakes and improve; her approach thus aims at giving better advice, going more deeply in the perspective of excelling at a function and of benefitting from others’ experience. Coaching is thus all about deep, not wide engagement.
  • Quite a few even younger siblings are coming to light: exchange visits, job rotation etc. For this branch of the family, learning is also essential. And it has become increasingly virtual in the past few years. The capacity development branch has been in touch with the distance learning relatives and this is really bringing engagement across various means of communication. Some are jealous of the booming business of this branch – certainly in the development/cooperation arena.
Organisational Development - too top down to fare well today?

Organisational Development

In contrast, the organisational development branch is not enjoying much wind in its sails these days. It is very close to the organisational learning brother in the KM family and it is basically concerned with all the ways that an organisation can perform more effectively. In fact, some argue that this is not really a branch in its own but rather a clan bringing different relatives together from the KM, communication, capacity development and monitoring branches.

  • The one person that rallies all of them under this banner however is the ambitious organisational leadership. Driven by entrepreneurship, this cocky lad is quite happy to shine brightly and show its managerial capacities. But it does so with a purpose: to bring the organisation to the next level. So it’s not pure flash and tack. He knows that without having a sincere goal that transcends self interest, it will never manage to bring the people that form organisation to that next level – so engagement has to be its mantra.
  • To ease this job, he is backed by his more distant cousin group dynamics, who knows how to get teams to work together and contribute to the bigger organisation. It is easier to rely on well-functioning teams than high individual performers only. Yet it’s still not enough.
  • Organisational learning is thus part of this family enterprise to make sure that group dynamics works in accordance with the goal and perceives the value of its successful efforts and the lessons of its not so successful ventures.
  • Change management also joins the club sometimes, to give advice from a system perspective, because the branch realises that it’s not possible to develop an organisation without adopting a broader perspective of systemic change. He is however much more related to the next branch of the family, the institutional change.

Some views on this branch even relate it to action research. It’s unclear where exactly this branch fits… and it is handing over to…

Institutional development

Institutional development

The Institutional change branch: close to the ‘organisational development’ branch, this family has a slightly broader look. It really aims at having a wider effect than the organisational clan. This branch believes in large scale engagement and logically talks a lot about systems thinking, change management and complexity. Subsequently, it is sometimes accused of being delusional (‘how can you achieve change at such a large scale?’) or too intellectual (‘you and your systems!‘). But for all this, it is enjoying a great wave of popularity at the moment.

  • The patriarch of this branch is institutional development. He is a reformed organisational development relative who has decided to branch out and look outside the organisational box. He quickly perceived the importance of the context surrounding the organisation if change is the overall objective. Engagement was in his DNA and he first looked at the edges of the organisation: the networks and personal relations that evolve as conscious or unconscious satellites of the organisation. He moved into networks and foundations, collective units of organisation, including legal aspects (statutes) etc. He has now brothers and sisters that adequately complement his ambitions technically and ethically.
  • Multi-stakeholder processes are the twin brothers and sisters that want to bring all kinds of people together to connect, learn and act together. They are very demanding, they eat a lot of resources (time and money) and they really need someone to help facilitating their interactions. But they offer a relatively practical solution for this branch’s objectives of wide scale engagement. Next to institutional development’s approach of changing organisations, they propose to combine forces between organisations; and that just fits the family ethos.
  • Social change is the turbulent little sister. She cries for social justice, she craves freedom, empowerment and engagement in favour of the (more) socially-deprived. Engagement is her main strategy and she wants to mobilise all her family members to help in this. She’s not considered very serious by some family members, but she knows that some extraordinary figures from the past are on her side, the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And she also knows that focusing on changing people one by one is a long but right track to flip institutions over too.

A family in transition?

It’s worth noting a few trends affecting the main families of engagement:

In the main communication branch, two trends are moving things around. Every family evolves over time to espouse the zeitgeist and practical arrangements that come with it:

  • On the one hand, the communication branch is going ‘strategic’. This is the new motto to bring all family members in the same car for a journey to visit their contacts (their audiences) and have them come together as one, to align their methods and skills. In practice, having all members onboard does not mean that they play a melodious tune together. And the journey can be quite chaotic. But you have to praise the comms family for its intention to have one whole family experience. There’s chances that if they keep doing such journeys, one day they will play a beautiful tune together.
  • On the other hand when the family goes on a journey to developing countries, and perhaps as a result of going ‘strategic’, the communication family is really moving away from their original ‘messages’ approach. It was too uni–directional. They have all realised to some extent the value of genuine bilateral engagement.
  • Some elements of the family are coming back in the picture. It’s the case with coaching but also with the wild cousin storytelling mentioned in the previous ‘happy families’ post. is actually an age-old family member who’s been passing through the history of his engagement relatives time and time again to tell his tales and disappear again. He is celebrated again these days – is it yet another hype or is storytelling going to stick around this time?

Finally, much could be said about all the other clans evolving next to the engagement family. Some commenters mentioned artistic expression, psychology, I would add humour and jokes and all kinds of other related groups that gravitate around the engagement family and other families too.

At the end of the day, regardless of the specific portrait of each family, and regardless of their current and possible future transitions, what matters is that all these families contribute to more engagement across the board and in a networked way. In this sense, the elephant in the room that Harold Jarche mentioned in a post about managing engagement is perhaps indeed the networked approach that all engagement family branches are trying to follow, consciously or not. But perhaps the real elephant in the room is the collective sense-making and mobilisation of energies directed at a wider goal – in this sense social change is perhaps leading the pack.

But we’re not quite there yet, neither in the networked ways nor in the networked social change. Now we’re still at the stage of nurturing engagement, and such a family seems on the right path. For what good and what worth offers a family if not a place to develop deep relationships, trust in each other and trust in life, starting with the most basic steps of engagement?


  1. Again, this family tree does not pretend to be exhaustive nor the way to look at engagement.

Related blog posts:

From evil-inflexible to fantastic-elastic, the not-so-simple shades of willingness to change

In an era of change, it seems very easy and almost officially appropriate to criticise the resistance to change (1) of some people, or simply their need for structure, their uninspired inflexibility. On the other hand, it seems indicated to praise the elasticity of others’ minds – the liquid minds – as they are naturals in embracing change and seem able to adapt to any circumstance.

Yet, this picture is not black and white. Change, and openness to it are dancing along the shades of grey. Inflexibility comes with a reason, and provoking people by pointing to their inflexibility usually reinforces it, if anything. Alternatively, inviting people to reflect on their own stance in a friendly way can do wonders to reduce their inflexibility. If we agree that the challenge, in change processes, is to get people to review their static/solid behaviour and need for structure and turn to a more dynamic/liquid state of mind, then let’s examine some of the major factors at play behind the behaviours stigmatised as inflexible:

There are at least 50 reasons to change and not all are bad (Credits: from MP Bumsted, Biocultural Science & Management)

There are at least 50 reasons to change and not all are bad (Credits: MP Bumsted, Biocultural Science & Management)


Or rather, lack of information. The first barrier to change. Why would you change if you don’t know what you could do differently? However, stigmatising ignorance slows down change as it tends to rigidify behaviours – thus raise barriers to change – whereas providing information or knowledge instead might bring people one step closer to change.

What can be done about it?

Listen to the reasons why they do what they do, ask what’s good about it, ask where it might be limited, ask them if they’ve heard about other ways to do their work, share your own experiences and point them to others with a similar profile to hear their peers’ experiences.


Second barrier. People may be aware about possibilities for change, but they’re busy with something else. Very busy. In the famous – and thoroughly prejudiced – ‘silo’, focus is sometimes what leads people to keep going their usual way. They may not want to dilute their focus. It is not a bad thing, is it? On the contrary, focus allows a team to find a common language and dynamics. It only turns inflexibly bad when the focus is pursued to such an extreme that no change is ever considered. But the primary rationale behind silos is actually valid. In addition, while silo thinking might look static and inflexible from the outside, it can be extremely vibrant from the inside. Think twice about focus…

What can be done about it?

Listen to them, understand their focus, ask what is good about it and where it might have limits, gently hint at the missed opportunities by not communicating enough with other focused minds outside.


Third barrier to change. Perhaps they have all the information needed and they’re ready to move beyond their original focus. But in their change process, they tend to have a rather inflexible and mechanistic approach. Well here’s the thing: the less one knows about a field, the more s/he feels insecure about it. In those circumstances, we human beings tend to fight our insecurity by looking for structure, order and rules to make sense of the field around us and to get to grips with it. We follow the rules by the book and cook the recipe step by step. It might appear slightly neurotic, but actually it’s only following good scientific practice: starting with the maximum clarity and working our way up the analysis chain adding increasingly subtle and confusing factors in the mix. Only once we have enough knowledge of a field – particularly experiential knowledge – do we feel emboldened to look at the edges and play with the rules or reject them altogether to replace them with other guiding principles.

What can be done about it?

Accept that insecurity and don’t stigmatise it. Instead, offer to experiment together with them – and crucially to reflect along the way – to bring them the experiential knowledge that may free them from the rules. If nothing changes still, we should also recognise that we all have different coping mechanisms; they may not seem logical to others, but they work for us, and that’s fair enough. Let it be.

Understanding the dynamic nature of a process of change

For all these reasons, before one changes their behaviour and accepts to move off the wall, out of the beaten track and away from the box, they usually need to stick to the wall, follow the beaten track and own the box. It takes time. It takes experience, trying and trying and failing and thinking and trying again. Little by little, rigidity makes way to softer, more playful approaches and eventually our attitude is liquid enough to go with the flow.

The lessons here?

Don’t be too quick to judge someone’s apparent inflexibility and need for structure (2); instead adopt a dynamic approach and gauge where – in their own process of change – they  are. Then reach out to them, to help them find their own way to the flow of change.


(1)    See all the results of a google search for “resistance to change” to understand that this is a focus area for many.

(2)    See one example in this recent post about ‘how to be creative while following rules

Related posts:

Channelling energy: how do we realise, transform and accomplish ourselves?

For once let’s step aside from the KM and learning world and focus on something that matters to us all: keeping our energy up. This has obvious implications for knowledge and learning work too.

At work and in life we often have ups and downs, fuelled by the circumstances (the environment) that affect us but also by the choices we make, how we shape that environment for ourselves and our interactions with others. What matters in the process – be it indeed work or life – is to keep our energy up so that in bad times we can keep our head above the waters and in good times we can put that energy to good use: for ourselves and for others. In turn, the energy that we radiate infects others and gives us more energy.

Ultimately, that energy is what makes us perform better and accomplish our vision of what we are meant to do in this divine human comedy of life (and , though not so divine, work). Of course we may not follow a static course and our vision changes as we transform ourselves and use new insights to appreciate the world and the role we play in it. In other words, channelling energy is essential to find balance in life, to perform well, to be relevant dynamically (i.e. continually adapting to a changing environment) and to inspire others around us.

I have tried to map the factors that help us gain energy. Hopefully this could help us realise where we are not tapping into opportunities to channel energy and to realise who we are and how we can transform and/or accomplish ourselves.

(Click to see the full scale picture) The energy map .

The starting point of this map is ourselves: one the one hand, what helps us find ourselves (realising ourselves) i.e. being someone grounded and simultaneously aspiring to a certain vision, and on the other hand what we can do by ourselves (i.e. cultivating ourselves) to gain energy.

Then comes the environment (e.g. an organisation or any context for that matters) which gives us a chance – or not – to realise and cultivate ourselves.

A crucial third ripple concerns our interactions with others and the energy that we gain by inspiration, feeling trust, giving to others or receiving something from them. What is crucially missing in this part of the map is love, but that is another matter altogether which would deserve many blog posts, hence my purposeful omission.

Finally, all these energy ripples contribute to our accomplishment and transformation, which affects us and others around us.

Does this map resonate with your experience?