GKR Article

Answers on the back of a postcard please ...

The Global Knowledge Review - March 2005




Chris Collison
A few months ago, I was given a golden opportunity to engage Centrica’s executives in the topic of knowledge management. I had a two-hour slot at one their twice yearly top management events, to educate, inspire and gain the support of their top 60 directors. How could I maximise my chance (perhaps only chance?) to engage this diverse group?

In the ‘80s, psychologist and author Howard Gardner pioneered the ides of multiple intelligences. Gardner identified seven different kinds of intelligence, each one lending itself to a different learning style, and hence a potential executive hot-button.

Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Musical, Visual-spatial, Kinaesthetic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal.

We each possess all seven of the above intelligences to a greater or lesser degree. In principle, a well-designed learning event will address several of these intelligences to maximise the overall levels of engagement in a group. It seemed like a good theory –now to put in into practice - although achieving all seven would be a bridge too far!

Designing a multi-faceted executive event

For those with linguistic orientation, I provided an “exhibition of KM-related quotes” drawn from business leaders, philosophers and writers, and asked them to walk around, reflect on and discuss which ones were most meaningful for them.

For the logical and mathematically-minded, I provided the statistical outputs from a survey of Centrica’s top 1000 senior managers, including their assessment of the potential value available to the company if we shared and applied knowledge more effectively.

The visual-spatial thinkers were in their element with the wax-crayon exercise “draw a large (A2) picture which illustrates the state of knowledge-sharing in the company today”. This activity yielded pictures of silos, barriers, mazes, walls, hot air balloons and even flying pigs!

For those with well developed interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, I had prepared some video recordings of young children describing how they feel when asked to share toys – with their friends, and with people they don’t know. The fact that the video included some of their own children heightened the interest! Hannah, my three-year old provided the cute-factor with the line “I don’t like sharing with Lilly because she be’s bossy with me!”

Having stimulated the multiple intelligences of the group for 90 minutes, they used the remaining time to agree some actions. These were the kind of recommendations you’d expect: launch networks to fill key gaps, move staff between businesses more frequently, improve the intranet, build knowledge-sharing into the leadership competency framework and reward people according to their behaviours. I have to confess, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself at this point, Howard Gardner was right! However, I’d forgotten the “power of the practical”….

“Tell me what I need to do differently tomorrow morning.”

As he was leaving the room, a finance director turned to me and said – “You know Chris, this is good stuff, but what I really need is something simple to challenge and remind me tomorrow morning what I need to do differently. Something which fits on the back of a postcard.”

With the help of my team, I proposed a set of personal challenges below for that director to stand on his desk the next day – they have since been shared with the entire senior community.

    • When encountering a business problem, I reinforce the importance of learning from others - rather than simply providing an answer.
    • I personally demonstrate that “asking for help” is a sign of strength rather than weakness
    • When reviewing a project proposal, I challenge to ensure that it brings to bear knowledge from other projects.
    • Does my team see failure as something to learn from, or something to hide?
    • How much time this week will I spend thinking and learning, rather than just reacting?
Creating these simple, practical challenges for leaders proved to be a highly effective way of describing a vision for knowledge management in Centrica, and engaging the senior team in a more sustainable way.

So if you could send a postcard to your board of directors, what challenges would you identify?

Video Playlist: Alfie Kohn

This is a playlist of video clips of Alfie Kohn

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


request help
visitor book
Monday 24 June 2024
01:34 PM GDT