Jungian types, personality pigeonholing and finding my pathway and ‘contribution’


The past few days I was at a training course on management development.

A very interesting course, even though I still don’t believe much in training and even though the trainers admittedly mixed up management and leadership (though among many others Forbes reminded us this year that these two fields are quite different).

The training touched upon many things but among others the ‘Jungian types’ – based on Carl Jung‘s work which also led to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The training associates the types with colours e.g.

  • Cold blue (analytical type, introverted and thinking),
  • Fiery red (authoritarian type, extraverted and thinking),
  • Earth green (caring type, introverted and feeling)
  • And sunshine yellow (innovative type, extraverted and feeling).
The 8 personality types from Jungian's work (Credits: CapGemini)

The 8 personality types from Jungian’s work (Credits: CapGemini)

Turns out I’m a sunshine yellow. I kinda saw that one coming. But the analysis of my personality based on the two questionnaires I had to fill out and on the feedback I received from colleagues was bluffingly real.

And as we deepened the analysis of who we are (and as a result how we should manage ourselves and others) it also became clearer that my kind of role is really ‘motivator’ (on the central right hand side of the wheel here on the right).

The problem with personality typologies…

There’s some use in looking at peoples’ behaviours from such lenses (and again the analysis made about me was incredibly accurate). But there are also some issues with these personality types:

  • The risk of pigeonholing people into personality squares: Obviously the first issue is that if people believe too earnestly in this stuff, they start boxing themselves and other people in neat squares and expect them to behave just according to that lens. “Oh you’re a cold blue so of course you think this way”…
  • The single lens bias: Related to the above, there is a danger in using any lens as THE lens – whether it be psychology, astrology, Jungian types, gender, age or any other lens. Each of these framings contains some truth and taken all together they probably give a much more accurate picture of who we really are, but any one of them individually falls short of the complexity of our identity.
  • The relativity of our personas: Let’s even push aside the idea of using various lenses and assume that these Jungian types really work. The problem is that we behave differently in relation to different people. So for instance one person may be really creative when surrounded by not-so-creative people, but find themselves much less creative in the presence of other dynamic creatives. Ditto with introversion and extraversion etc. etc. We adapt to every context. We don’t stick to our box because the other people in the box define how we behave.
  • The danger of static analysis vs. dynamic personalities: Finally, and I’ve already made that point about not judging people because we change, we are not static people. We are dynamic, we evolve, we change, we challenge ourselves and others, we adapt, we anticipate. And that’s why the people-pigeonholing issue is indeed a problem.

Now that this is settled, it’s also fun to think about what this particular lens brings and certain behaviours that are inspired by certain personality types as in…

A (piss) take on Jungian types ha ha ha

A (piss) take on Jungian types ha ha ha

OK so now that leaves me with the final part of this post, a more introspective part about how I’ve myself evolved from where I come to where I’m going.

Finding my contribution, my gifts and how to share them

First of all let’s establish one fact: being an extravert is not necessarily a given. I’ve learned it myself. I was so introverted as a child that my mother was really worried for my (social) future. And the first time I had a real public encounter with a group of professionals coming from outside my organisation, I was so terrified by speaking to them in public that one of the group members came to me to relax me and tell me it was all ok. I had no idea then that working with and for people was going to be one of my utmost inner motivations.

But as I moved into the end of secondary school and into studies, I had started getting out of my shell and really engaging with people. And perhaps it’s something from my family (having an aunt in Mexico and a grand-uncle in Senegal) that predestined me and my modest origins to move out of my native Brittany. And actually being a Breton is a 50% chance that you end up travelling. We export ourselves exceptionally well (heliotropism might also explain part of this)…

When I started working I was not drawn into knowledge management directly. I started off working in marketing which is a field I really dislike now for all the layer of inauthenticity and unnecessary pushing to buy. But when I ended up working in cooperation development, by accident really, I started getting attracted to knowledge and learning.

And as I worked in the Netherlands, I was a victim of acute meetingitis – too many meetings all the time – and found myself more often than once irritated by the airspace that some people were taking without realising they were nibbling into it away from other people. That was a first revelation into process (il)literacy for me and a first calling to do anything in my power to redress this balance. Ever since I was a child I’ve had a strong sense of justice and respect for others. Coming to think of it I’m not even sure why.

I got opportunities to do a bit of time management and traffic management in small meetings and one of my colleagues and friends told me I really had a gift with it. Tadaa! The pathway was quietly shaping up ahead of me.

When I discovered KM4Dev it became one of the greatest sources of inspiration ever. And as I was getting into knowledge management I also started facilitating events and processes more and more, though quite rudimentarily still.

Me facilitating in 2011 (Credits: ILRI / A. Habtamu)

Me facilitating in 2011 (Credits: ILRI / A. Habtamu)

ILRI and my current boss Peter Ballantyne gave me another incredible shot at sharpening my own process literacy and my facilitation and KM skills. It’s been a great ride until now and one that made possible the next step… By now it seems difficult for most people to imagine that deep down I am or have been (also) an introvert.

The final event that set me off on my calling pathway to this very moment was the encounter with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes. They really touched me and inspired me like very few people do with their idea of healthy human systems and the process work that this takes. And in that process I became a trainer to give myself the ‘group facilitation skills’ training that their company Community at Work provides.

Where I am now and what inspires me is a result of all the above, and many more encounters, conversations, subtle events that have progressively shaped me to become who I am, with my gifts and with the contribution I can bring to this world.

And so this week, as we got trained in management development, one of the assignments was for us to develop a ‘contribution statement’ and I am working on it but so far the work in progress is:

I will coach/train/show/help and get people to realise their own value and to empower themselves to take better decisions by themselves (through questioning, reflection, feedback, joint work).

I will also coach/train/show/help and get people to realise the importance of togetherness regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, religion etc. and regardless of the personal affinity I have with them – because that is what unites us into a collective mind, heart and soul ‘grid’ that sublimates the sum of all of us.

I will do everything I can to get people to understand the value of communication, personal and collective improvement, knowledge management and learning so they realise that it starts with each and everyone of us and we all contribute to affecting the entire system we operate in – for the better if we build respectful, loving and generous relationships.

I will also very consciously aim at raising the ‘process literacy’ of people around me so they become better able to relate to others in synergistic ways and use learning, listening, love and fun to deal with the current and future ‘real challenges’ of our times (poverty, racism, climate change etc.).

Finally, I will try and foster a culture of listening and feedback where everyone is invited to share their thoughts and to contribute to smarter collective solutions to face the wicked problems we face.

I will do this with all the gifts that I am given and the realisation that I have many shortcomings myself and I am on the way to learn, to better connect, to better live life within myself, with others and with nature around me.

What is YOUR contribution? (Credits: KPieperPhotography/FlickR)

What is YOUR contribution? (Credits: KPieperPhotography/FlickR)

Sounds pretty text book ‘sunshine yellow/motivator’, don’t you think?

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Enabling change: a manager’s choice (and a leader’s decision)


People don’t resist change. They resist being changed! – Peter Senge

I’ve covered individual change on this blog though various writings (on the willingness or difficulty to change, recognising that the process of changing is slow, wanting others to change), but hardly done justice to the management side of change. And management has a lot to do, and even more to say about change. Particularly about the kind of change that has negative consequences for people (reorganisations, redundancies)…

Are you going to do anything about that change? (Credits: Patrick Mayfield)

Are you going to do anything about that change? (Credits: Patrick Mayfield)

So what are the choices of managers to enable or disable change?
Before we start let’s distinguish two different situations – that often need to be balanced:

  • Change that is internally driven – i.e. decided by that management, or any other group internal to an organisation or an initiative.
  • Change that is externally induced – as a result of signals that were not created by the group themselves.

Recognising this context is essential because it has repercussions on the way other people feel about the change and who they perceive as major beneficiaries or victims of change. Dealing with this well means management can show true leadership. And we know for a fact that complex development work requires many factors to deal with change well.

Internally driven change

What can ‘management’ do here to enable change:

Bring their team on board about the change, as early as possible, to let them see the change as a whole, appreciate positive aspects of that change and how negative ones are really going to affect them – and crucially to let them voice their questions, concerns, feelings, ideas, suggestions.

If even possible, co-create that change and get their ideas on board to shape that change into something very positive that brings everyone’s ideas in the mix to understand the bigger picture – sometimes (often) it is only through this approach that a change can be gauged in its wholesomeness.

Understand that we all have to take consequences of the change and that ‘I WANT YOU TO CHANGE!‘ is not a viable way forward.

Brainstorm (and at the very least, if there is no manoeuvre possible, communicate) about what can be done next, and particularly for that team or group. And also communicate what is not known – but commit to finding out more.

Draw lessons about what happens with that change for the next time around, to be better prepared and to develop the collective capacity to adapt and recombine;

Later assess how the change influenced everyone and what new lessons or measures can be drawn from the whole experience several months after the deed.

The tao of change management (Credits: V. Kotelnikov)

The tao of change management (Credits: V. Kotelnikov)

Externally induced change

This type of change is a result of an external shock or circumstance, and can have either positive or negative consequences (or both – think tradeoffs). All of the above applies here too, but in addition management should:

Analyse with the help of all those who think they understand some of that big picture, what made this change happen, to better understand that whole change and determine with more accuracy how the change will affect everyone. Lead with patterns – and follow some ideas of this Cynefin framework adapted for management.

Management / Leadership in the Cynefin framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

Change Management / Leadership in the Cynefin framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

Help (and encourage) sharpening the foresight capability of the team to ensure everyone contributes to forecasting the next external changes.

In contrast, what can managers do to muddle everything up?

  • Not change anything (about themselves) – and ignore the famous quote “change leader, change thyself“. On the other hand, change brings wonderful opportunities for innovation (and innovative) leadership.
  • Not anticipate change or keep an old lens (used for previous changes) to forecasting. But even change changes and takes different shapes. “Yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems”…
  • Not cultivate collective foresight. Not investing in foresight capabilities is signing an organisation’s death certificate. Not doing so with a wide group – ideally based on the entire collective’s capacity (strengthened by PKM and personal learning networks) is only postponing the delivery of that certificate…
  • Not communicate: nothing about the change, nothing about how it affects people, nothing about the measures taken admit this
  • Not learn: no drawing lessons about drivers, initiatives taken or results recorded, just being affected without any sense of agency… Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?

    The process of transition and the feelings this inspires in us (Credits: JM Fisher)

    The process of transition and the feelings this inspires in us (Credits: JM Fisher)

  • Not involve: no taking into account the opinions, experiences, feelings (and there are many – see the picture below) and capacities of all those affected by the change – even in times when change is not happening. And down with your problems with empowerment, please, you don’t have a real choice.
  • Involve and consult but ignore anything coming out of that. In some ways this is even worse as it tokenises participation and instils longer term defiance viz. future attempts at engaging with the same people.

Taking these principles into account should become the ABC of today’s managers, and change management is the one specialised field they should focus on (and here are some quotes that will help them). Did I hear anyone say ‘process literacy’?

In summary there is much that managers can do to deal collectively with change, and it all has to do with the leadership rules for healthy human systems: involve, communicate, listen, encourage, mobilise, reflect, expand, multiply, respect…

Of course, at our individual level, we also have much to do in order to see change in its whole form. We may still not welcome this process but we can nevertheless always decide to seize the opportunities it brings to do something different, and better. But that is another story.

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What an unforgettable KM boss does


Leadership creates leaders, not followers, taking them by the hand (Credits: Growwear / FlickR)

Leadership creates leaders, not followers, taking them by the hand (Credits: Growwear / FlickR)

I am just coming back from Arusha, Tanzania where I was with a colleague who recently shared an article about what unforgettable bosses do. A very useful article, though quite general…

…so a good opportunity to examine what an unforgettable KM boss does.

Much of the rationale for bosses in general (in the linked article above) still applies, of course, to KM bosses. Yet there are specific traits that KM bosses should also be doing to lead by example. All these have to do with the basics of KM of course: conversation, documentation and learning. Oh, and that little something extra…

Social leadership for KM bosses (Credits: Intersection Consulting / FlickR)

Social leadership for KM bosses (Credits: Intersection Consulting / FlickR)

Conversation: Be ultra-social with a purpose

Unforgettable KM bosses should always be approachable and keep their door open. They should always be the first to share information with relevant people, to be active on social media, to ‘be there’, not to be shown, but to be useful.

Their trademark is to connect people and ideas together to create opportunities for improved action etc. and to make it happen, with creativity, engagement, fun and passion. To be ultra-social, but with a purpose…

Leadership and organising one's information for learning needs (Credits: Anselm23 / FlickR)

Leadership and organising one’s information for learning needs (Credits: Anselm23 / FlickR)

Documentation: Let information flow, simply, and for the people

Unforgettable KM bosses are processing information at all times. Strategic and operational. They let it flow and try to simplify it as much as possible.

In order to do this, they organise information management for their team appropriately and consistently, they create routines for themselves and for others, they encourage everyone to get into personal knowledge management to also (among others) get on top of their own information management routines.

In doing this, they have a keen eye for every detail of that info-structure, but they keep people at the centre of it. Information never supersedes people. Because it’s people that get jobs done, not information…

Learning: Increase the ripples of reflection

Unforgettable KM bosses put all their greatest efforts into learning, because that is what makes them and people around them more effective and also happier. So they do some or all of the following:

  • Review actions on a very regular basis with their staff. From simple after action reviews to larger evaluations;
  • Coach their staff to get the best of them, and to facilitate their own learning – as in the apprentice model;
  • Recognise their own mistakes and draw useful lessons from them – and similarly invite their staff to recognise their own mistakes to distill important lessons from them;
  • Organise regular touch-base chats to get additional feedback loops, without dragging on (one could re-engineer the famous Einstein quote to say: “everything should be shared but not everywhere all the time”)…

And that little something extra…

Transformational Leadership (Credits: GeorgeCouros / FlickR)

Transformational Leadership (Credits: GeorgeCouros / FlickR)

In order to be truly memorable, much like other bosses, KM leaders should be able to inspire collective action. This happens if you do the following:

  • Create an informal atmosphere, which is all the more important since KM feeds off trust;
  • Seek perfection but know when to settle with the 80% (or the quick & dirty) is good enough, again keeping people at the centre of attention;
  • Seek the next challenge, always, and motivate your staff by drawing them onto the collective vision, and bringing KM right into that bigger picture. Stimulate your staff to see that bigger picture and that next challenge at all times;

No doubt, quite an ambitious program, including for me as a newly promoted manager… Well that’s my next challenge then 😉

As for employees, we know what the portrait of the modern knowledge worker looks like already…

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Leaders, innovate please!


Leadership vs management (Credits - ocd007 / FlickR)

Leadership vs management (Credits – ocd007 / FlickR)

Enough!

Enough ‘do what I say, not what I do’!

Enough ‘we aspire to be a centre of excellence’ bla bla bla but we don’t put our heart and money to it!

Enough old potions in new bottles!

Enough 20th century management in 21st century networked leaders’ age!

LEADERS, IT’S TIME TO INNOVATE!

I realise starting this year with a rant may not be the most appropriate debut in a new year full of exciting opportunities.

But somehow I’ve just had enough of…

Leaders, if you want to innovate, do it properly! Start with your staff’s ideas; consider their connections and their networks; see them as the DNA of the company – one that keeps reforming and offering opportunities; allow people to try things out / reflect / report / reframe and reinforce their initiatives; open your circle, heart, mind and soul; and: lead the way, pave the way for all the leaders-to-be that you say your company holds but that your actions implicitly deny…

There are various examples out there. This is just one more way to open up:

The ball is in your court, and the clock is ticking. Dinosaurs go extinct, so in front of that swimming pool of change, risk, unfamiliarity and innovation, your precious company has to just dive or die. The choice is yours, and a lot of people are ready to help!

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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…

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Harvesting insights (1): back to (KM) basics


As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have set out to distil some of the key insights that are in my view at the crux of the success (or failure) of many KM and learning initiatives. What are the most essential insights I have gathered over the last few years working on knowledge and learning? This is a modest attempt at making some of my experience available to others but also to synthesise those years of work into insights that are easier to absorb.

Summer harvesting works also for insights (Photo credits: ToniVC)

Many of these insights or messages seem trivial, yet overlooking them results in no trivial consequence. And the reality offers contradictions which are as just as trivial as my insights. As anything on this blog, this is a try-out and if you think there is a point in working on this ‘harvesting insights’ series, I will work on a handful of posts – there will surely be a sequel to this one anyway. If I’m totally missing the point, please be kind enough to tell me too!

 

For this initial post, let’s zoom in on some insights about the basics of knowledge management and learning:

  • Managing knowledge is impossible. The very term of knowledge management emphasises the possibility to manage knowledge but knowledge is not manageable because it is not explicit and will never be concrete like a newspaper. It is in my view more of a capacity to turn information into insights and ideas, sometimes leading to new initiatives or actions. It is possible to stimulate the conditions in which knowledge emerges – by e.g. helping people meet and discuss. Managing what comes out of those interactions between a person and another one (conversations) or a reading (reflection) is simply a dangerous fallacy. Ditto with transferring knowledge, an even scarier concept: since when can one’s experience be passed on in one block to another person, in the fashion of The Matrix training courses? Dave Snowden’s ‘knowledge can only be volunteered, it cannot be conscripted’ principle is a reference in case here.
  • KM as a discipline is most effective when tailored to specific issues. The orchard of KM initiatives that try to make information (called knowledge) available and usable for anyone anywhere is immense. But it’s an orchard of wilting trees and rotting fruits, and those trees and fruits are the KM strategies, best practice lists and lessons learnt databases that focused on the ‘just in case’ and ‘just in time’. They focus on general examples. But KM and learning is useful only tailored to specific issues. Understanding and addressing the context behind the issue is what makes or breaks KM initiatives. Hence the importance of developing many ‘points of conversation’ in KM initiatives to allow that context to surface and become visible, And that context is difficult to create with just written documents. From information we’ve moved on to sharing knowledge and ultimately paying attention to the context: KM ‘just in use’, echoing the history of three KM generations (see IKM-Emergent’s meta-review and scoping study about this).

  • KM and learning require time and dedicated effort, its rewards should be clear and within grasp. Making time for structured reflection, for talking with others, for collecting information and packaging it in different versions can be a daunting challenge, and it definitely takes time. Whether individuals wish to improve their work practices or organisations set out to develop wider KM initiatives, there is no hope to see learning thrive and KM work in the long run if the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is absent in the proposition. We – lone workers and employees – are ready to dedicate time and sweat to KM and learning, but that dedication comes only if our knowledge work creates energy in return (see this post on channelling energy). The effort we invest has to connect to our personal aspirations. Are you sure that what you are proposing is of value to me, or even to yourself? Already by tomorrow or in a year? Many KMers’ chat events refer to the power of WIIFM and the rewards that should stimulate individual dedication.

  • KM is all about questions and pointers that come from meaningful engagement (and useful information resources). The loop between conversations and information is the playground where KM finds its value. If we want to learn and use our knowledge to improve what we are doing, if we want to develop our energy, we have to connect to others who have faced similar questions or may (should?) face them in the future. These questions arise with meaningful engagement – preferably conversations based on trust or constructive criticism. In the absence of a physical counterpart, information that stimulates these questions and points to paradoxes can be a great alternative. And here are the two arms of KM: knowledge sharing and information management. The application (tailoring) of knowledge to a specific issue delivers the full value to improve what we are doing – which is about posing even greater questions in our endless quest for improvement. This great document about the art of powerful questions (PDF) offers useful avenues here.

  • Knowledge is latent and innovation craves connections of all kinds. Not everything we talk or read about is directly put to use. A lot of latent associations are formed by the information we absorb. The use of this latent ‘knowledge’ happens when connections are made with a particular context or question. The more bridges we establish between all the latent knowledge zones we develop in our brain (what could seem like disconnected zones), the more chances we create to use this knowledge and reinvent it in ever different shapes and flavours. This is what lateral thinking is about and why bringing barriers between professional and personal life down probably makes sense to realise our full potential. Thinking in our own mental silos wilts our creativity and our potential to develop solutions. The more diverse experiences we go through and relate to other experiences, the more likely we are to always find a way up and out. On this topic, the work of Paul Sloane on innovation and lateral thinking, and the work on multiple knowledges by Valerie Brown (PPT) come to mind.

Does this reflect your experience and insights? Where am I missing the point?

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IKM emergency


Last week the IKM-Emergent working group 3 (focusing on the management of knowledge – read on to see what we mean) had two important rendezvous: IKM_logo

  • A two-day internal working group meeting (in Maastricht) to discuss past, present and future activities,
  • An afternoon public discussion (held at ISS in The Hague) to introduce the programme to anyone interested and to discuss some of the IKM work with participants.

It was an intensive and surprising three days and a sense of emergency crawled up as a subtle red thread; I’ll leave the public day for a later post and focus on areas of emergency in the first part.

I felt the emergency at different levels:

To hold thorough conceptual discussions on the most basic term we’re playing with, knowledge;

As a result, to redefine our group name and its focus;

To come to a series of end-of-programme artefacts that would be produced by teams comprising members of all working groups;

To explain the value of IKM-Emergent to as wide a group as possible;

The case of conceptual discussions surfaced several times during the discussions in Maastricht: what is knowledge indeed? Is it an intrinsic property of human beings? Is it something that we develop but keep inside of us? Is it the fruit of social learning by the combination of ideas?

Really not convinced that knowledge is this easy to represent

Really not convinced that knowledge is this easy to represent

We did not all agree on one definition and actually didn’t have a conceptual discussion about knowledge but the term would reappear at various times and confronted us with our confusion.

The only aspects we all seemed to agree on is that knowledge is not a commodity and as such cannot be transferred, stored or managed and that Michael Polanyi’s reference to tacit knowing is a useful reference to understand the concept of knowledge – even though a few of us felt that his legacy had been unfortunately instrumentalised by Nonaka and Takeuchi for the purpose of ‘capturing’ tacit knowledge, which had generated countless KM initiatives seeking to find an illusion (and indeed countless disillusioned people in the post-KM-fad hangover phase).

For my part, I do think that knowledge has two meanings – but as usual on this blog I only offer my views to engage and explore them further with you, not as a truth:

a) Knowledge is the sum of our experiences contained in our head in a semi-structured way, i.e. with many associations and interconnections between words – hence the importance of language in knowledge processes and learning. The key word could be tacit knowing. I like the use of a verb, it’s geared towards an action, and it then feels as if knowledge in this sense is a latent capacity that can be called upon when necessary. This leads me to my second meaning of knowledge.

b) Knowledge could be the avatar or appearance that the interaction between the knowledge mentioned above and an external stimulus takes. In other words we combine those stimuli (by reading, thinking, talking with other people) with our own knowledge (meaning #1) to further explore it and provide a response to the stimulus, or not. This ‘knowledge’ (#2) is influenced by our skills and attitude to create knowledge. If we don’t want to invoke this knowledge, we just don’t. Keywords here are: knowledge generation (or development), combination, application, sharing, social learning.

c) Sometimes knowledge takes even a third meaning when referring to knowledge about a given topic, in which sense it seems (to me) to refer to the collective sum of humans’ experiences and insights with a given field. E.g. ‘knowledge about ancestral rainwater harvesting is vanishing’.

So, on the basis of the first two suggested definitions above, yes I think we have knowledge in ourselves but social learning (or knowledge sharing) is certainly a powerful enabler of new combinations of our respective knowledge (in the first sense) and hence of our capacity to react to stimuli.

Overall, in the absence of a consensus, the discussion goes on in IKM-Emergent and to my feeling pretty much everywhere in the KM world.

A side consequence of this kind of discussion is that most of us in this working group 3 are not really happy with our group label (the management of knowledge). Indeed the term management is oxymoronically related to knowledge: whether you have the perspective that knowledge is personal or that it comes out of social interaction, it cannot be managed; at best its sharing could be facilitated. To help us, Mike Powell, programme director, suggested instead referring to the management of development and its particular relation with knowledge.

And while at redefining our group focus, we also feel that learning in the development sector should not focus only on organisations – usually seen as the central unit for KM and learning – but also on the two ends of that spectrum: personal learning and social learning at a wider scale: in inter-institutional communities of practice, in networks, in multi-stakeholder processes, in human systems at large. The work that will start in 2010 will address these issues even further.

The emergency around the end products of IKM-Emergent is simply because the programme is coming to an end in 2011 and while all working groups have been developing a myriad of activities (see the latest newsletter issue to discover them), these should start converging, at least to some extent, to extract some key insights, suggestions and ideas that will form the legacy of IKM-Emergent, hopefully presented in compelling ways.

In any workshop, event, programme, intervention that includes social learning, there is usually a sequence of divergence – groaning – convergence and I guess we just have to let it all happen as our IKM-E multiple knowledge mix is gently simmering for now. We have put some ideas on the table already and the 1.5 years to come will leave us more time to develop these into exciting initiatives.

IKM-E in the groaning phase? (From Sam Kaner et al.)

IKM-E in the groaning phase? (From Sam Kaner et al.)

Finally, the emergency that’s perhaps felt least but sounds really important to me is to engage a much wider audience around the insights and ideas of the programme.

There have already been a number of public events but I feel we could engage ever more people into our work to let them own and combine the ideas into other relevant ventures.

The urgency is also in releasing more and more of the outputs publicly, in a regular stream of papers, videos, extracts from workshops etc. (and I’m on a personal crusade here to encourage the use of Twitter to quickly share these releases and the insights that come out of our research). Otherwise, there could be a high risk to release wonderful end-of-programme publications without much hope for their use, simply because audiences find it out later without the context. And this gets back to my eternal question of the key KM challenge: shall we focus on point-in-time information that reaches more people but superficially or on dynamic knowledge-sharing and joint action learning on issues that reach fewer people though much more deeply…

IKM-Emergent hasn’t found an answer yet for all these issues, but it grows with the confidence of a self-adaptive organism that is about to shed an old skin and reinvent itself under another avatar, or perhaps a set of avatars, keeping truthful to the multiple knowledges that it wishes to serve. Keep watching the IKM-E wiki, and let us know if you’d like to reflect with us!

the ideas

Top people in bottom up times


What does never change? The fact that the world keeps changing… And with it the people, opinions, practices and eventually cultures…

I personally believe that the change we’re going through is bottom up and increasing decentralised decision making. It is about empowering everyone, about unlocking our energies.
It is about connecting the nodes to the common matrix or grid. It is about all of us working together around a common purpose, vision, a hypothesis of change.

Where in this changing world is the place of top managers? What is their role?

Modern leadership should no longer be top down...

Let’s help the top come down from the stage and mingle!

Isn’t it about:
A) Helping to shape up that vision?
B) Coaching other managers to empower them to bring up the best of all employees?
C) Advocating that vision to patrons and donors that can increase political and economic capital to support the vision?
D) seeing to the strategic health of the initiative by ensuring that the organisational and institutional setup lends itself to the activities required to achieve the vision?
E) And obviously responding to all necessities and formal responsibilities that the function requires?

It cannot be too easy to grasp this way of working and to apply it in practice when these top managers are expected to act as ‘alpha’ managers ruling by fear, facts and figures.
Isn’t it then our task to bring the evidence of the value of bottom up management to our top?

Empowering is not a condescending activity that goes top down either; it is helping everyone, formally above, under or outside of formality to realize themselves and together with others… Let’s work also to help the top reach out to the bottom up!

And In the meantime, I hope that the global crisis will not reduce bottom up times to simply bottom times.

Key reflections on KM


Today I read the great article by Margaret Wheatley about ‘The real work of Knowledge Management’ (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/management.html). It was very inspiring reading touching upon a number of ideas that are also central to my conception of KM – to start with a human conception of KM, not a technological one.

Some other thoughts I particularly liked:

  • Only quantifiable information makes it into our considerations – certainly at work. Without figures, we don’t deem a certain information relevant. What a wrong idea indeed. But how to make everybody understand the value of the the fuzzy unquantifiable?
  • KM and change do not (should not) start from changing people’s habits but looking at peoples’ needs and changing their practices to better address these needs. And yet very accurately Margaret pointed out that we often blame staff for their resistance to change, simply when their situation is not well understood by designers of change.
  • People must trust their leaders to change, manage their knowledge and share it. Managers are still a crucial element that is not well addressed in KM strategies, when they are part and parcel of the solution. And all the while it should indeed be just sooo easy to sell KM to them, as they need their organisations to adapt to change quickly.
  • One final point and a new epiphany for me: knowledge management is an oxymoron. If, as I think, knowledge is never a contained but the result of a process in interaction with a person, a message, a fact, it means that knowledge is about managing data or information, and in that respect knowledge management is an oxymoron, knowledge is management.

This leads me to think that

  1. Although I hate this discussion, we still need to come to a satisfactory common understanding of what knowledge is, what information and data and wisdom and all other elements usually associated with these definition discussions entail.
  2. We need to stop discussing KM among ourselves, converts of learning and adaptive change, and find the strings that will create the tipping point to convince managers of the importance of KM – and as Margaret once again rightly points out, of the importance of reflection, sharing, writing/documenting, even if this appears as unproductive time.
  3. One of the major issues in KM is still to start from the point of view of the end-beneficiary. However obvious that seems, we are still guilty of keeping in our comfort zone (looking from our perspective), trying to adapt others to our ideas, systems and processes, instead of turning those to the needs of the people we claim to help.
  4. When it comes to KM for development, the latter point stresses our failure in letting people in developing countries design their own KM vision, world and tools. We are still in the phase of dropping systems, smart tools, fuzzy concepts on our partners in Africa and other areas, but should their understanding of their situation, their needs, their problems, not define the way we design our actions? Where is our willingness to share the design of our interventions? Knowledge comes in a framework. We are ready to share the knowledge, but not the framework. How can this be our standard?

I am also victim of these shortcomings, but I do hope that we are increasingly aware of this and progressively improving our approach, in projects like IKM emergent (http://ikmemergent.wordpress.com/) and in our ongoing projects. In the meantime, it will take more Margaret Wheatleys to spread the good word.