GKR Article

Every Day Miracles, Leaning and the Human Condition

The Global Knowledge Review - September 2004




Jo Singel
In the beginning days of my interest in helping organizations build cultures supporting collaborating and doing good work in teams; I had spent considerable time working on my personal development. What I learned in various seminars took time to fully surface in my corporate work. Not unlike any other good ideas, once new thinking takes hold, it’s difficult to ignore.
An instructor shared sage advice. He said no matter what change (the kind of change that involves learning something new) we want to implement, we would be encountering three driving forces of the human condition: the need to be right, be in control and look good. When I first heard this statement, I thought it sounded cool. It was easy to remember, seemed to make sense, and was self-explanatory. Easy! Now we have the answer. Let’s charge ahead.

When the trainer mouthed these words, I looked around the room and thought – hmmm, I wonder if these people “get it”? I felt as if a gong had gone off in my head! As I recall, no one looked particularly moved - a slight curl of the lips - no earth shattering reaction. That was my first clue. Maybe this wasn’t going to be easy.

I began by categorizing everyone I knew. My husband was “look good”; friends were “be right”. I am “control”. Now what? So what if we succumb to these behaviors, what does it really mean in terms of “change” and “learning”? How can this knowledge really make a difference for me in my dealings with people, and my helping teams thrive and learn?

In working with this concept over the years, I’ve discovered several important uses. To provide context, in my Knowledge Management work, I conduct After Action Reviews in which I ask people to share what worked well and didn’t work well, what they learned, and what they will do differently as a result. I ask them to make these lessons learned visible to others, either in a public database or website. I ask them to raise their hand and challenge what another may have said that didn’t reflect their interpretation of the reality of the situation. In training sessions, I ask them to put aside what they already know to learn something new, to trust that I know what it is that I’m talking about and to listen to what others have to share. I ask them to be open to changing their own behaviors, habits or ways of doing their work. When you really think about it, that’s a lot to ask!

Now, if we agree that “being right, in control and looking good” are very much a part of who we are and how we operate as human beings – how do we react if we are, say, a “being right” sort of individual to a request to publicly participate in an After Action Review which asks us to talk about why a particular project or event didn’t turn out the way we intended? Or, if I’m particularly intent on “looking good”, how will I react to someone putting me into a situation where I’m going to have to learn something new? What if I don’t get it right the first time? What if I mess up? What will people think? Or, if, as a manager, I hold dear to the mantra of “always be in control”? Just how comfortable will I be allowing my thinking to be displayed in a public website or database?

Looking through this lens of “what’s so” in the realm of the human condition, I decided to learn all I could about how I operate and what blocks my own progress and, in turn, what may block others. My quest became focused on finding out everything I could on how adults “learn”. Although I am still learning and hopefully will continue, there are several things I keep top of mind when working with any manager, leader, team or implementing any initiative.

I learned that “environment” is the make or break factor. Ideally, I strive to ensure that people feel psychologically safe - non-punitive, free of judgment and non-finger pointing behavior (as much as humanly possible). The space is physically set up so that everyone can see one another – no talking behind heads. Sitting in a circle is best for communication. The sessions are paced so that there’s time for self-reflection. People who need to “do something” have tasks to complete. Everything is organized, yet open to change – maintaining a high degree of flexibility is ideal. Ground rules are established with clear and agreed upon goals. Follow-up sessions are set-up to test what was learned. Print communications support the learning – articles, resources, and websites are supplied. Follow-up individual coaching is provided. Experienced facilitation allows for everyone’s voice to be heard, ensuring the “undiscussables” are aired publicly and honestly.

There are many ways to establish a proper learning environment. When I focus on those things that respect and honor who we are as human beings, amazing results occur. These become the everyday miracles that make my work worthwhile.

Video: KM is like herding cats

In 2001 the large System Integrator company EDS made a very funny commercial which showed a group of Cowboys Herding cats. (1 mins)

Media Information: Image

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership


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