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Gurteen Knowledge Cafe at the BT Tower

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 26 February 2009



Gurteen Knowledge Cafe at the BT Tower
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Posted DateThursday 26 February 2009 17:57 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen

BT Tower Knoweldge Cafe
I held one of my more interesting London Knowledge Cafes recently. I regularly hold Knowledge Cafes in London for my community members each month, usually in the evening. I find an organization who is willing to host one, a speaker and we are all set. They are totally free and for the last few months I have been getting 60 or so people along.

But the one last week was a little different in that it was during the day and a somewhat grander affair. First, it was held in partnership with Sharon Darwent, Employee Engagement Manager at BT. It was held in the revolving restaurant at the top of the BT Tower in central London, Dave Snowden was the speaker and it was kicked off with a buffet lunch. We invited 90 people, about 30 from BT and 60 from my community and Dave's Cognitive Edge network. It was so popular that much to my regret we had to turn over 70 people away.

We started off in the restaurant at the top of the tower for lunch and then moved to the ground floor auditorium in a high speed lift. The theme was "How can we best keep employees engaged in their work, in the current economic climate?" and Sharon gave a short introduction, followed by Alex Wilson,Group Human Resources Director, for 15 minutes or so followed by Dave Snowden as the key speaker on the topic for an hour.

Dave, as ever, was his provocative self and I am sure set everyone in the audience thinking. If you wish to have the essence of his talk see both his slides below and the quite comprehensive blog post from Conrad Taylor.

By the time we got to me, we were running late (it took longer than planned to ferry people by a single lift between floors, even at 6 meters per second) and so I ditched my slides and gave a brief talk to introduce the Cafe concept to everyone.

BT Tower Knowledge Cafe

We then ascended the Tower again to the restaurant for the Cafe itself. As you can see in the photos the room is ring shaped and certainly the most challenging venue in which I have ever held a Knowledge Cafe. But we did it - thanks to a sound system that filled the whole room. People could not see me but they could hear me and there was a largish area that we cleared of tables for the whole group conversation at the end. What the room lacked, was more than made up for by the spectacular views over London. I am still trying to assess whether this was the best venue yet for my knowledge Cafe or the Sydney Harbour Knowledge Cafe I held in the AMP building overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House in 2007!

At the end of the Cafe, Ron Donaldson reminded us that it was traditional to go down the pub after an event and though it was only 4:30 in the afternoon that is exactly what a dozen or so of us did ... only emerging some 4 hours later after even more interesting conversation to make our way home.

So what was theme of the day and the topic of conversation? And what resources do I have to share with you? Read on ...

How can we best keep employees engaged in their work, in the current economic climate?

We live in a world of extreme uncertainty and rapid change, a world that requires us (to quote Lincoln) to think and act anew. Based on his award winning article on Leadership in the Harvard Business Review, Dave Snowden will outline a science based approach to decision making in the organisation.

He will address questions of distributed decision making (erroneously known as the Wisdom of Crowds), narrative approaches to understanding the often unarticulated needs of employees and customers alike. Building on the success of social computing and natural network based solutions to complex problems (such as Micro-finance) he will outline a radical new way to reframe both strategic and everyday issues like employee engagement.

Video of the talks by Alex Wilson and Dave Snowden

[I will post this as soon as it is available.]


Alex Wilson

Dave Snowden

David Gurteen

Blog Posts


I took a lot of photographs of the Cafe - mainly views of London that were just spectacular! I did take a few of the speaker session and more of the Cafe itself. As you can see - although the room was amazing in the views it afforded - it was not ideal for a Cafe. Though yet again I proved to myself that given a great bunch of people and an engaging topic You can run a successful Cafe anywhere!

Speaker Biographies

Speaker: Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson joined BT’s leadership team as Group Human Resources Director in July 2002, bringing wide-ranging global experience gained in a succession of senior line and HR management positions in top FMCG companies including Ford, Grand Metropolitan, Guinness and Diageo. Immediately before joining BT, Alex spent 2 years as Senior Vice President Human Resources and Group Communications at ICI. Alex’s has a global perspective gained from his management of business operations across North America, Asia and Europe, and from having lived and worked in the USA for five years. His specialist HR credentials cover many areas of expertise, including organisational transformation, change management, industrial relations, people development, and compensation and benefits.

In his current role, reporting to Ian Livingston, BT’s group Chief Executive, Alex is responsible for HR excellence across the BT group with functional responsibility for the HR Directors of BT’s various lines of business covering the international and UK environments. In addition, he has specific responsibility for organisation development and the executive development of senior management throughout the group, including high potential managers to help build BT’s future capability with particular emphasis on inspirational leadership.

He is also responsible for executive compensation and overall international compensation benefits, as well as developing a coherent HR strategy for the group which directly contributes to BT’s ongoing evolution and success in the world’s most dynamic industry. Alex instigated, and is leading, a major programme to transform the HR function in BT to increase further its commercial connectivity and move towards its vision of ‘People experts at the heart of change.’

Key roles outside BT include membership of the Advisory Board of the HR Masters Programme at Bocconi University School, Milan, Italy, and the Foundation Board of leading international business school, IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland. In addition to his work as Chairman of the BT Benevolent Fund, Alex also actively supports the work of registered charities, KidsOut, working to provide disabled and disadvantaged children with life-enhancing experiences, and The Living Paintings Trust, helping visually impaired people participate in the visual world of the arts.

Alex is married with 5 children, lives in South Oxfordshire, and has been an active and committed school governor for 12 years. A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Alex is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde, and is a passionate supporter of Scotland rugby and soccer. Other leisure interests include skiing and clay pigeon shooting.

Speaker: Dave Snowden
David Snowden is the founder of Cognitive Edge. He is considered to be a pioneer in the field of complex adaptive systems and has developed and applied radical new approaches based on this thinking to organizations and industries from Government to Pharma.

David and members of the Cognitive Edge Network have used these techniques to help companies manage their knowledge effectively, shift the perspectives and behaviors of their leadership teams, manage conflict, stimulate cultural change and engage employees in large scale change. David has a refreshing perspective on engagement that will provoke us to think differently about how we keep people engaged in these challenging times.

Speaker/Facilitator: David Gurteen
David has over 30 years’ experience working in high technology industries. Today, he works as an independent knowledge management consultant, facilitator and speaker, helping people to innovate and to work more effectively together.

He is the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community - a global learning network of over 15,000 people in 154 countries. Community members receive his free monthly Knowledge Letter that is now in its 9th year.

David publishes the Gurteen Knowledge Website – a resource website that contains book reviews, articles, people profiles, event calendars, inspirational quotations, an integral weblog and more on subjects that include knowledge management, learning, creativity and innovation

He is a frequent speaker and facilitator and presents on various aspects of knowledge management and social learning. He is well known for his Gurteen Knowledge Cafés that he runs regularly in London and in other cities around the world. He also facilitates Knowledge Cafés and workshops for organizations and conference organizers.

For most of his career David was a professional software development manager and in the late 80s worked for Lotus Development as "International Czar" where he was responsible for ensuring that Lotus products were designed for the global marketplace.

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
David Gurteen

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