Welcome to the Gurteen Knowledge Log for 2014 - 2015. See the side panel for other years.
In this blog I write about items of interest that I have found on the web, experiences or insights that I think you will find useful mainly but not strictly limited to the area of Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning.
Like the rest of my site - it an eclectic mix.
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When I first began to run my regular evening Knowledge Cafés in London back in September 2002, I also started to run them in one or two other locations around the world.
The one in Adelaide, Australia is still running but has metamorphosed into the Adelaide KM Group.
And the one in NYC stopped operating a few years back - well until now - it has been resurrected thanks to Suzanne Roff-Wexler and Sharon Gai.
The next Café is on August 3rd.
So if you live in the NYC area - try to get along - I am sure you will have a great evening :-)
There is also a Knowledge Café in Hong Kong run by Maria Leung. It is not one of my Gurteeen Knowledge Cafés and the topics and format are not quite the same but if you like interesting conversations - take a look.
I am always looking for ways to experiment with different formats of my Café.
Some of you may be familiar with the Café Debate format that I trialed recently at the KM Legal Conference in London. It was a big success.
And then there was the series of three Cafés I ran at St Ethelburga's in the City late last year entitled Do your little bit of good which worked well but not quite as well I had hoped.
You also may be aware of the Randomised Coffee Trials I am running in London to bring people together random to have coffee with each other once a month.
There is also my Espresso Café - a Café that can be run in 30 minutes which I had hoped to run at KM UK but because of illness had to drop out at the last minute. Ian Rodwell of Linklaters ran a slightly modified version that I am told went well.
But for a long time now I've had the idea of what I call a Serendipity Café in my head.
Unlike my regular Cafés, in a Serendipity Café there is not be a speaker and a single conversational theme. I am looking to create an environment where people can have a multitude of short conversations with lots of different people about all sorts of random things and see what emerges.
I haven't quite figured out the precise format yet, but my current thinking is this:
Each participant brings along one object with them. The object could be a book it could be a piece of jewellery, a toy, a magazine article, an ornament, a photograph or a clipping from a newspaper. Anything that appeals to them but ideally something personal that has a story attached to it in some way. Something to talk about. Something that the individual feels passionate about.
After an initially extended round of speed conversations the participants each take a few seconds to say a few words and thus share their object with the room. Maybe I should call it a "show and tell" café. LOL People then continue the networking style conversations in twos or threes where they talk about the objects they have bought along to the event.
Finally, as with my regular Cafés, everyone comes together at the end to share the insights they have gleaned from the conversations and any serendipitous events that have resulted in their going away with something unexpected from the Café.
Conversare Events in Adelaide and London - Comments
My good friend Alan Stewart has a similar passion to me for hosting interesting conversations and organises events called Conversare which he started running in Hong Kong several years ago and now runs regularly in Adelaide Australia. This is how Alan describes his events:
The name Conversare (pronounced conversari) comes from the Latin: to turn or to dance together. Conversare events are social gatherings in public places in which participants converse – talk well to each other. There is a host who co-creates with those present an ambiance in which everyone feels welcome, included and ready to participate in face to face conversation.
The purpose is to have safe, friendly contexts in which all who come – whatever your background – quickly feel welcome and at ease. With a setting which is gentle and accepting, by the end your fellow participants don't feel like strangers at all.
A central feature is engaging, in pairs, in one to one conversation with a stranger. Everyone in the room does the same; everybody participates fully. Not knowing anything about this person means having to be aware of how to question, listen and contribute appropriately. Doing this often leads to the finding that, no matter who the person is, the pair have much in common even though their personal histories may be quite different.
And so here is an opportunity to meet others who have different life experiences, lifestyles and fascinating stories to share; people who know something you don't know. There can be totally unexpected outcomes – learnings and insights! – from doing this.
Developed firstly in Hong Kong these new kind of social gatherings are now being held regularly in the Adelaide Central Market after trading hours on weekday nights.
These events can be held in diverse places such as cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, community centers … Being public places means that anybody is welcome to participate. And it is not necessary to know any of the people present before coming to join in.
In our modern, complex, and often quite fragmented lives, there is little opportunity to have satisfying conversations other than with people we already know. And many find it very difficult to meet new people in ways which may lead to satisfying friendships.
The events are for people who yearn to be heard and to listen to stories of lived experience which they could not have imagined. They bring attention to people that there are now places in which these happen
They are similar to Theodore Zeldin's Conversation Dinners but without the conversation menu. You can learn more about them here.
Alan Stewart will be in the UK in July. So what better opportunity to hold one in London for my Knowledge Community.
Alan will be hosting the evening and If you love the idea as much as I do then come along on the 19th July and enjoy the conversation.
It may well be the first of many such Conversare Cafés in London :-)
And if London is a tad too far for you - why not get in touch with Alan and talk about running one yourself. Or take part in one of his events in Adelaide if that is any closer for you :-)
Here are some of the major KM events taking place around the world in the coming months and ones in which I am actively involved. You will find a full list on my website where you can also subscribe to both regional e-mail alerts and RSS feeds which will keep you informed of new and upcoming events.
In November 2015, I gave a talk at KM Asia (a large annual Knowledge Management conference) on Conversational Leadership in Hong Kong. One of my fellow speakers was Frankie Lai, a Knowledge Manager at Huawei Technologies Co. – the world's largest telecom equipment and solution provider, based in Shenzhen City, China.
As part of his presentation, Frankie talked about the Huawei Break the Book Community or BBC for short - a form of book discussion club.
It is such a simple but powerful example of peer learning that has so much in keeping with the principles of the Knowledge Café and what I call a Reading Group Café that I asked if I could interview him by email and document in detail the background and philosophy to the Huawei BBC and how it was run.
This is the recent interview with him.
Take a good hard look at this, it is something that you could so easily implement in your own organization.
Buying second hand books in mint condition - Comments
A few months back I ordered a second hand book from America via Amazon that was out of print. It took some weeks to arrive but it was in near mint condition at a fraction of the original price.
So a week or so ago, rather than ordering new copies of three books I wanted again via a Amazon I decided to buy them second hand.
This time I ordered them from 3 separate UK suppliers to ensure I did not need to wait so long.
They all arrived within a few days and without exception they are as good as new.
I could afford to buy them new - but why should I? In fact, it means I will buy more books :-)
I bought a few Kindle books a year or so back that in retrospect I wish I had bought as hardcopy. I may just go back and order them - second hand of course :-)
"I'm afraid the senior managers in my organisation have got no interest in conversation. They see it as far too soft."
How many times have I heard that comment or something similar? Far too often, I am sorry to say.
I have a different perspective. Paradoxically, I think conversation isn't soft; I believe that it's extremely hard.
It is hard in two ways:
First, it's hard to convince people of the power of conversation. Such difficulty is not too surprising as few of us have experienced the types of compelling conversations that make a difference in our organizations.
Managers think they need to be seen to talk tough and argue and debate things and conversation or dialogue is soft and wooly.
How many times do you hear that something needs to be debated, but you rarely hear that we need to have some creative dialogue?
We need both – dialogue and debate. Each has its place.
Second, conversation is hard in that it creates some solid outcomes.
Making a decision may seem like a hard result. And of course, it is. But what if that decision is flawed. It's a hard outcome but a bad one.
Now imagine a conversation that helps a group of people make sense of a situation and thus put them in a better position to make an improved decision.
Is this outcome – “improved understanding”- soft or is it hard?
It's hard of course! Conversation is anything but soft and wooly.
If history could be folded, where would you put the crease? - Comments
I walked past Southwark Tube Station during the week and could not miss this work of art - a huge eye level bill board that said:
"If history could be folded, where would you put the crease?"
What an amazing question! Where would you put the crease? Would you crease it vertically, horizontally or diagonally? Are there other ways of creasing it?
When designing my Knowledge Cafés, I often wonder what it is that makes a really good provocative question and I am trying to write something on the subject but I feel there is a "secret sauce" that I have yet to discern.
But this question, seems to hold out a clue. Is it something to do with metaphor?
The idea is amazingly simple but at the same time powerful. In Johnnies's words:
"We invite up to 12 people via MeetUp. We don't specify a topic, rather letting people talk about whatever they want. Apart from briefly describing our idea, we use one very simple device to support the conversation.It's a talking piece. We pick an object and whoever holds it gets to talk. And everyone else listens. Which means the speaker won't get interrupted. (And I add that you can hold the object and not speak… you can hold silence until you're ready to speak.)"
And a comment of his:
"After lots of these conversations, I am appreciating more and more how surprising people can be, given a bit of space to think and express themselves. Conversations are rich and complex, with much less of the battling for attention we often experience."
Taking the time to have slow meandering, reflective conversations is never a waste of time. It's an investment in building relationships and all sorts of amazing insights and ideas can surface from them that are unlikely to be gleaned in any other way.
And I am totally with Johnnie, when he says we need less flip charts and post-it notes and other bells an whistles when facilitating such conversations. If anything worth noting or following through on surfaces it will get followed up on naturally. All the usual workshop paraphernalia just gets in the way of the conversation.
Call for book chapters on Organizational Learning - Comments
Idongesit Williams and a colleague Albert Gyamfi are editing a book titled "Evaluating Media Richness in Organizational Learning". The publisher of the book is IGI Global and is due by March 30th, 2017.
I ran a Knowledge Café Debate at the KM Legal UK conference in London a few weeks back.
The debate format is still a bit of an experiment and so I was delighted with the feedback. Carol and Claire my two debaters did a fantastic job!
Many thanks again for your participation in the recent KM Legal UK event.
Please find your speaker feedback below. Overall speaker average was 5.8.
12:15 – David Gurteen, Gurteen Knowledge Community
Carol Aldridge, Burges Salmon
Claire Stripp, Browne Jacobson
Presentation style - 6.4/7
Content - 6.1/7
Thought-provoking and stimulated good debate.
Great, very interactive.
This was fun – and a good opportunity to share and chat with others.
Very good; well-structured, good presentations, thought-provoking discussion.
Excellent presentation/debate style, dynamic. Topic to be discussed could be less determined (i.e. difficult to argue ‘against').
Loved this session, really effective.
Another of my favourite sessions, entertaining and genuinely got us talking amongst the room and meeting others.
Liked the interactivity of the format.
Really enjoyed this – a bit of fun and meant the audience mixed which was very useful from a networking point of view.
Very engaging style. Felt having two debaters with opposing views gave the right environment in which to contribute freely. Credit to the debaters too - they were excellent.
But this piece of feedback hit me the most - the debate format seems to help reduce social silencing.
David's Knowledge Café, rather than just bringing up a topic for discussion, began with a debate.
The two excellent debaters provided polar opposite views on the topic as a starting point for a larger discussion.
These views, I felt, established the environment for the larger discussion – encouraging honest and more provoking conversation than expected.
It effectively gave permission for us all to push the boundaries, and feel safe to do so.
Personally, I felt more confident to offer left-field views to the group than I would have done during a normal conference discussion.
Credit: Andrew Pope, Consulting Partner, Innosis
Andrew, wasn't the only one to comment on this. I am going to experiment more in light of this feedback.
They also run an annual conference and regular workshops.
Most of these events are only open to members but increasingly they are making a small number of places available to non-members.
They have a 2-day Advanced Course in Knowledge Management facilitated by Dr Christine van Winkelen coming up in July. for example. I often get people asking me where they can find a really good Knowledge Management course and this is one - go take a look.
I am often asked to host a Knowledge Café as part of a conference.
To run a good Café, ideally, I need two hours but I can run them in an hour at a pinch.
But I have never tried to run one in less - until now that is.
I have come up with the idea of an "Espresso Café" - one that can be run in as little as half-an-hour.
I will be trying it out for the fist time at Knowledge Management UK 2016 in London in June.
I have been taking part in this conference for more years than I care to remember. It's an excellent conference - take a look if you are not already registered. Paul Corney and Nick Milton are among the speakers.
And then Café Debates, I have talked about them in the past.
I am delighted to be running one at KM Legal UK 2016 in London in May.
The motion, I think is an interesting one:
"This Café believes that legal KM can only be successful if embedded in the organizational culture."
I have found two eager debaters to debate the motion and then we will open things up to Café style conversation.
If you work in the legal sector, take a look at the rest of the agenda, the conference has a great line up of speakers and topics.
I am looking forward to this one!
Humble Inquiry is the first and most important step in building any kind of relationship - Comments
Some people seem to think that Knowledge Management is dying or has died but it hasn't - it is alive and well.
One of the reasons for this misconception is that so much that falls in the realm of Knowledge Management masquerades in another form or under another name.
Humble Inquiry - a term invented by Edgar Schein is one such example.
Quite simply, in Edgar's words, "Humble Inquiry is asking the question to which you already don't know the answer, bolstered by an attitude of inquiry, an attitude of interest in the other person, a curiosity."
He goes on to say that
"And the importance of that very curiosity, that interest in the other person, is precisely why Humble Inquiry is the first and most important step in building any kind of relationship, whether you are just making a new friendship or wooing a girl or trying to talk to a team-mate on a more personal basis. It should usually almost always start with some form of Humble Inquiry."
Watch this video, where Edgar explains what it is all about, and notice this is not just at the heart of KM but about face-to-face conversation and relationship building - something that Conversational Leadership is all about too :-)
It keeps bringing me back to the words of Peter Block:
We must establish a personal connection with each other.
The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality - Comments
I have a degree in physics but my scientific life is long ago in my past.
But I try to keep up with scientific thinking and still regularly read New Scientist.
As I get older, I become more and more curious about the world, why we are here and the nature of reality. Maybe more philosophical questions than scientific ones LOL.
I have long suspected that we have got reality all wrong. That there is something fundamental we are missing that what we see is some sort of mirage. But these are just idle thoughts of mine, I am no expert in the matter.
And then this morning I came a across this article The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality and the thinking of the cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman.
I must admit I don't fully understand all of what he has to say but he has seriously provoked my thinking about reality. This sentence especially so:
"It's not that there's a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It's that there's no brain!"
What are we really? Does it matter?
Take a look, in some ways it is a little scary :-)
A Cafe Debate is a powerful way of triggering deeper conversations - Comments
Although the context for a Knowledge Café conversation is usually set by a single speaker giving a short talk and posing a question there are a number of other approaches – a Café debate is one of them.
In a Café debate, the context is set by two people (or more) debating opposing views on a topic – the motion of the debate - that also forms the Café question. The Café then proceeds as normal and concludes in a vote being taken.
This goes a little bit against the philosophy of the Café as some people may hold on to fixed views in order to “win” the debate but this style of Café can be great fun if people do not take it too seriously and are prepared to “win” or “lose”.
The value is not in the outcome but in the conversations that are held at the tables and the insights into the issue that are gleaned by the participants.
I have run Cafés like this in the past but more recently I ran one at an open Knowledge Café at BAE Systems in Farnborough and I am hoping to run one at KM Legal UK 2016 in London in May. I just need to find a hot topic and two good debaters!
They work well - see here to learn more about the process.
My good friend John Hovell popped around for a cup of tea the other day and during our conversation explained a fascinating concept of his that had been lying dormant in his head for the past few years. Our conversation reawakened it and having walked home he shot a little video where he describes it.
It's a strange two-by-two matrix for reflecting on the world in the context of time, where both axes are on the surface identical, that he calls Time Chasm. It takes a little bit of getting your head around. Take a look and see what you make of it. The video is only 5 minutes long.
I am not a great fan of "10 ways to do something". The items are far too often, trite or just plain wrong..
But take a look at this TEDx talk from Celeste Headlee (@CelesteHeadlee) on How to have a good conversation. It's quite good.
I was talking to someone recently and they told me that although people engaged enthusiastically in the workshops that they organised
that when they returned to the office they fell back into their old ways of working and failed to collaborate.
Someone had suggested to her that they did not have sufficient motivation or lacked the time or that it could just be weight of habit and of culture.
But an alternative explanation occurred to me - when you organise events for people - they will usually take part, engage and enjoy but they will never learn to do it for themselves.
You make them dependant on you.
I think we need to organise more open space type events where people get to determine what is important to them, what they want to talk about and what they want to do. They take ownership.
We should then join in as an equal participants or get out of the way!
I am still working on my online book (my blook) and adding to it each day and now have over 150 posts. There is still a huge amount of work to do before I make the content generally available but I am opening up certain posts as I go along for comment and feedback. Here is one - it is how to use a debate to trigger a Knowledge Café conversation. I hope you find it useful.
I have run Cafés to this format only a few times in the past but I tried the process again recenlt at one of my recent Farnborough Knowledge Cafés. The two debaters took a more conversationalist approach than a debating one as explained in the post and it worked a treat.
How many times have you taken part in a meeting to make a decision about an issue where they have been two factions in the room?
The first faction have already made up their minds what the decision should be and see the meeting as a means of coercing the others in the room to agree with them while the second faction wish to explore the issue further before making the decision.
The two groups do battle and it is usually the ones who have made up their minds ahead of time who win. This group tends to comprise the more senior managers, the more dominant characters and those who are used to getting their way.
In my corporate life, I experienced this many times. They were painful affairs.
But it need not be like this. There is a simple solution.
Split the meeting into two parts.
The first part is a dialogue: exploring the issues with no predetermined outcome in mind other than to better understand the issues.
This can be run as a whole group discussion but is better run to the Knowledge Café format.
The second part is more of a debate: actually making the decision. This can be as passionate and as heated as any meeting where a tough decision needs be taken but the in-depth exploration has been got out of the way.
You go into the fist part saying “We are going to take some time to explore and discuss the issues – to gain a better understanding of the situation. We are not going to make a decision and it is important that everyone's voice is heard”.
You then go into the second part by saying “Look we have spent time exploring the issues, you have all had your opportunity to contribute to the discussion but at the end of the day we need to make a decision. Time for dialogue is over – we must now make a decision.”
The gap between the two meetings could be a tea break or a morning and afternoon session or better still several days where people have the time to have side conversations and explore some of the issues further. It may even make sense to have two or more dialogue sessions if the decision warrants the time taken.
Try it, like here. It is such a simple thing to do.
As Stephen Covey points out we tend to listen with the intent to reply rather than to understand or we fall into the trap of ditting other people's stories or we start to judge or evaluate what they have to say.
There are many techniques that we can learn to improve our listening ability such as empathic listening.
But there is a fundamental problem with listening that Patrick Callaghan pointed out to me after my recent post on ditting.
Even if we can withhold judgement and although we may be genuinely intent on listening, how ever hard we try to listen, the instant a spark of a response enters our heads we stop listening and start to compose our response silently in our mind.
It is hard not to do this, it's a conversation after all and we are afraid that when it comes our turn to speak we will have nothing to say or have forgotten our earlier ideas or that we may be somewhat bumbling in our response if we have not rehearsed it in our heads.
On the surface this may seem like an insurmountable barrier to really listening to someone. But maybe it is easier then we think.
Just drop all intention of replying at any point in the conversation and simply listen and when those responses pop into your head ignore them.
Then when there is a pause in the conversation and it makes sense to respond just go with it in real-time.
I realize this takes some confidence and trust that you won't make a bumbling fool of yourself and there may be longer silences between taking turn in the conversation and you may not even get to say much but then you are trying to listen after all. And in any case short periods of silence where everyone can reflect on things can only be good.
I do love Seth Godin's blog - almost every post is short and a gem. Here is a recent one
Ten questions for work that matters
What are you doing that's difficult?
What are you doing that people believe only you can do?
Who are you connecting?
What do people say when they talk about you?
What are you afraid of?
What's the scarce resource?
Who are you trying to change?
What does the change look like?
Would we miss your work if you stopped making it?
What do you stand for?
What contribution are you making?
Hints: Any question that's difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.
Leave nothing but footprints - don't try to dent the universee - Comments
Dave Winer says Leave nothing but footprints.
I've always wanted to help improve the world, so in many ways I disagree with him but I can see where he is coming from.
There is an argument that says the Universe is just OK as it as and could not be any other way and that problems only exist in the human mind.
Should I really just try "to do something nice that won't change anything in any lasting way"?
No, I need to try to do more. I may make things worse (in some small way - hard to see I am going to have a big impact for the better or the worse) but is not in me to observe and do nothing.
Ditting is the the art of sharing anecdotes while trying to trump the story of the previous person.
Too often conversations fall prone to it and we end up not listening to the other person's story but recalling and rehearsing our own in our head so we can trump their story.
We all do it at one time or another when really we should just take the time to listen to and fully appreciate the other person's story.
I told you about Blab recently. Now take a look at another video app - Periscope. This is how the developers' describe it.
Just over a year ago, we became fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else's eyes. What if you could see through the eyes of a protester in Ukraine?
Or watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Cappadocia?
It may sound crazy, but we wanted to build the closest thing to teleportation. While there are many ways to discover events and places, we realized there is no better way to experience a place right now than through live video. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.
Like Blab, the video and sound quality are superb and it is possible for the broadcaster to interact with the viewers via text messages that appear superimposed on top of the video - a little crude but effective. I suspect we are going to see some very interesting citizen journalism.
The larger the organization - the larger and more grander the reception area.
Huge impressive, impersonal halls of glass, stainless steel and marble.
What a waste of space!
I wish I could recall the name of the law firm I heard about in Germany who transformed their reception area by moving both their library and cafe there.
It was not only used to hold internal meetings and meetings with clients but clients were even welcome to come in to have coffee and make use of the library.
I have been giving a lot of thought on how to run virtual Knowledge Cafés of late and have some thoughts as to how to run them using a series of telephone conference calls but I have also been looking for a
a video application similar to Skype group video or Google Hangouts that would allow up to 4 people have a conversation Café style.
Well I may just have found what I am looking for.
It's called Blab. It is still in beta but works exceptionally well - the video and sound quality are excellent.
It's really designed to allow people to host their own little chat shows and invite in participants but I think it would work well in the context of a Café.
Fine, if the Café is a public one, as at the moment all conversations are broadcast publically (they can also be recorded to be viewed later) but if the Café is private then there is no option to have a private group conversation but I am hoping that might be a future feature. If so, it might prove a near perfect tool for virtual private Knowledge Cafés!
In my work on Conversational Leadership I am researching and thinking about conversation and a big part of that work is about the power of questions to trigger meaningful conversations.
So the question I have been asking myself is
"What makes a powerful question?"
And Wes Saade helped me realise that at a high level there is a very simple answer.
There are everyday questions and then there are powerful questions.
What is the purpose of a question?
Well to solicit an answer of course.
If I ask "What time is it?" Someone might tell me "ten past two".
I have asked my question and received an answer.
But are questions that solicit simple informational answers powerful questions?
So what is different about a powerful question?
A powerful question is one that compels others to think.
At long last I am writing a book.
Well not quite. It is a blook - a cross between a blog, a website and an on-line book.
Why like this?
Well I realised I could never sit down and write a book in one go.
I wanted to release it in revisions - I guess a little bit like a software app.
I wanted it to be multimedia, with photos, video and with multiple ways to navigate it via categories and tags.
Also, for each page or post to be stand-alone and to be short enough for each to be read in less than 5 minutes to make it easy to browse.
I wanted it be responsive and to be readable on a range of devices without any need to modify the code.
I also needed the ability to write it in small pieces and to add to it at will and to continually restructure it as I went, as it evolved.
But more than anything else I wanted feedback as I wrote it.
The best platform I could find for the job was Wordpress and with the help of a small number of plugins and some minor tweaks to the code I have a platform that is not perfect but does the job.
The subject? Well its is about Conversational Leadership and my Knowledge Cafe.
But it has turned out to be great thinking and research tool and so I am not so sure what is going to eventually emerge. Already I am straying off my original topic in many areas but I see at as a good thing and its why I am taking this blook approach.
I don't foresee ever completing it - just continually updating and improving it as my ideas develop.
At the moment it is hidden from search engines and so you need the URL to find it.
but I have started to open it up to a small number of people.
Let me know if you are interested in taking a peak but the pledge you make is to give me some critical early feedback. :-)
How do we transform the world for the better? - Comments
Four quotations that are churning around my mind as I dwell on the problems of the world, transformation and what it takes to achieve it.
For both the rich and the poor, life is dominated by an ever growing current of problems, most of which seem to have no real and lasting solution.
Clearly we have not touched the deeper causes of our troubles.
It is the main point of this book that the ultimate source of all these problems is in thought itself, the very thing of which our civilization is most proud, and therefore the one thing that is "hidden" because of our failure seriously to engage with its actual working in our own lives and in individual life of the society.
Evernote is a great writing and thinking tool - Comments
If you have not tried out Evernote yet - give it a whirl.
It's an amazing app.
I do all my writing in it these days but I also use it as a thinking tool to capture and pull my fragmentary thoughts together.
It synchronises my notes and articles between my laptop, iPad and iPhone.
I do serious writing on my laptop.
I tend to proof read and reflect on my iPad and while waiting for my wife at the station or travelling into London on the train I use my iPhone for both reading and minor editing.
I just love to able to read, write and edit like this any time, any place.
And I can work off-line and it syncs via the web later when I'm connected to the Internet.
I love the ability to create different notebooks - a bit like categories and its great also to be able to tag items.
But what I think is the coolest feature of all is the Evernote Web Clipper.
This allows me to capture webpages straight into Evernote. There are various options but if I capture a page as a "simplified article" - its strips out all the ads, all the menus, all the side bars - pretty much all the junk and leaves me with nice clean text.
I tend to use it mainly to capture a blog post or an article. In this way as I read through the item later I can strike through the paragraphs that I feel are junk and highlight the good stuff.
Then a few weeks later when I come to read it again I can focus my reading on the critical text.
Oh and I can mail stuff into the database too - so I also use it to capture ideas and fragmentary thoughts that I can dwell on and pull together later.
Take a look, it has many more features I have not mentioned, I think you will love it.
Paul Sloane has a great way of initiating creative conversations - Comments
I love this idea from Paul Soane's latest newsletter.
One of the exercises on my Creative Leadership workshop runs like this.
People in pairs have short conversations. In the first conversation one person makes a suggestion for something new that could be done for customers (say).
The second person replies with an objection.
They start their sentence, 'Yes but ...'
The first person then rebuts the objection with another sentence starting, 'Yes but ...' They carry on, ensuring that every sentence starts with the words, 'Yes but ...'
After a couple of minutes they stop and then begin a second conversation. One person starts with a suggestion for something new that could be done for employees (say). The second person adds to the idea with a sentence beginning, 'Yes and ...'
The first person responds with a sentence starting, 'Yes and ...' and so it goes on.
The results are instructive. Typically the first conversation spirals down into an argument with no agreement.
The second conversation goes to all sorts of creative and unusual places. It is fun and leads to interesting ideas.
I then ask the delegates which conversation type is more common in their organization.
It is always the 'Yes but ...'.
Knowledge Sciences Symposium: St. Bonaventure University October 8-9 - Comments
It is not very often I get invited to speak at a KM conference in the US. I think the last time must have been KM World in 2007, so I am really delighted to be speaking at the Knowledge Sciences Symposium at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York October 8-9.
Getting rid of annual performance reviews and rankings - Comments
I have never liked annual performance reviews - either receiving them or giving them when I was a manager.
They took huge amounts of time and emotional energty and I always felt that they did far more harm then good. I also got to see them distorted.
I can still remember one year going through the process and my manager submitting the proposed salary increases to his VP - only to have the list come back marked up in red with the VPs adjustments based as far as we could see on who he liked or disiked!
And yet another year having to reassess everyone to fit a predetermined distribution curve.
It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes - Comments
I often get criticized when I talk about the power of conversation.
People conclude that I think conversation will solve all our problems and nothing else is needed.
Or that I am ruling out debate or other powerful forms of human interaction.
I am not.
Conversation is not a panacea for everything. It can too easily descend into chit-chat and people being too nice to each other and not confronting the real issues.
It can be dull and boring or a conversation can turn quickly to an intellectual scrap where relationships are destroyed.
We should not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to recognise these problems and limitations and learn to engage more positively in conversation and to architect more powerful conversations.
This is what Conversational Leadership is all about.
Douglas Adams got it right when he said: "It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes."
The world is far too complex to think that there is a single solution to anything but conversation is one tool that we too often overlook.
Is your organization a listening organization? - Comments
I talk about Organizational Conversation so it intersting to find someone talking about Organizational Listening - albeit in a different context.
While listening receives extensive attention in relation to interpersonal communication, there is little focus on organizational listening in academic and professional literature, with books and articles focussed predominantly on disseminating organizations' messages (i.e. speaking) – a transmissional or broadcast approach to public communication
Are you in any doubt about the perverse outcomes targets can cause? - Comments
I have never been a big fan of key performance indicators (KPIs) for a variety of reasons including they are too easily gamed, they often have unforeseen negative consequences and they can too easily become explicit targets in their own right removing the need for people to think and do the right thing in an increasingly complex world.
So I was delighted to see this news-item recently.
Maybe the UK Government is at last waking up to the "perverse outcomes targets can cause" as the Home Secretary Theresa May puts it. Though frankly I doubt it.
What would be really interesting to know, is why these particular indicators were set and not others and how the values attached to them were determined. The strategy adopted to meet them would also be of interest.
The Seven Ages of Information & Knowledge Management - Comments
David Skyrme retired some years ago and does not do any formal KM nowadays.
However, he has written up an interesting retrospective of two decades of IKM (Information and Knowledge Management) based on a presentation that he gave on the 21st anniversary of the UK networking group NetIKX.
Do we need more conversation and less brainstorming? - Comments
During my corporate life I never liked brain storming.
It just never worked for me.
And I wasn't convinced it worked for others either.
Brainstorming sessions can be conducted in all sorts of ways and it could be that I just had some bad experiences but I am not so sure.
Some time ago, I was invited to give a talk and run a knowledge cafe as part of a large workshop and I stayed on and took part in the rest of the workshop.
At one point we had to think up ideas, write them on post-it notes and stick therm on the wall.
As I did this I was talking with the people around me until the facilitator ordered me to keep quiet and to focus on what was doing!
I explained that I didn't find trying to think up ideas on my own very effective.
That good ideas surfaced from the conversations I was having.
He was not moved so I kept quiet.
But this reminded me of my corporate brainstorming days. You were not allowed to discuss the ideas - just shout them out to be captured on a flip chart with no discussion and especially no criticism.
The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they'll end up saying nothing at all.
The appeal of this idea is obvious: it's always nice to be saturated in positive feedback.
Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution.
The whiteboard has been filled with free associations.
Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity.
But there is a problem with brainstorming.
It doesn't work.
Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.
Osborn thought that imagination is inhibited by the merest hint of criticism, but Nemeth's work and a number of other studies have demonstrated that it can thrive on conflict.
According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints.
“There's this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone's feelings,” she says. “Well, that's just wrong.
Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.
Organizational Conversation - the life-blood of an organization.
I talk a lot about conversation these days - its the focus of my work.
One thing I feel the need to do is to give a label to the everyday conversation that takes place in an organization and quite naturally I call such conversation "Organizational Conversation". This is how I describe it:
Conversation permeates our organisational lives.
David Weinberger in the The Cluetrain Manifesto says: "Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation - literally. And 'knowledge workers' are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations."
Alan Weber, in the Harvard Business Review says: "In the new economy, conversations are the most important form of work ... so much so that the conversation is the organisation."
Organizational Conversation is the myriad of such conversations that take place on a minute to minute basis everyday within organizations
Conversations take place in formal settings such as meeting rooms but often the more important conversations are the informal ones that take place in the corridors, at the water-cooler or in the cafe.
It is through conversation that knowledge flows directly from person to person, learning takes place, insights are gleaned, connections are made and relationships are built.
But conversation is so much more.
Conversation provides a medium through which we reveal something of who we are: our values, beliefs and what is important to us.
Conversation helps break down departmental-silos, build trust, motivation, commitment, engagement and accountability.
Conversation helps us make better sense of our world, leading to improved decision making and stimulates creativity and innovation.
Conversation is the life-blood of an organization.
The key to my mind is in recognising its importance as the role and impact of everyday conversation is so often overlooked.
The inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - Comments
A friend asked recently why we seemed to get on so well in conversation. I replied that we both tended to be non-judgemental and open minded and thus we felt safe. But it reminded me of this quote from Dinah Craik.
Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
Don't forget this year's big UK Knowledge Management event - KM UK coming up in London on 10th June.
It' should be a great two day conference with speakers including the BBC, DWP, Oxfam and Bentley Motors.
I tend to get there most years but unfortunately I can't make it this year as I will be in Turin running a workshop.
And take a look at their rejuvenated Inside Knowledge Portal - it pulls a lot of stuff together that is going on in the Knowledge Management world: KM blogs, KM videos, lKM podcasts and more.
Seth Godin thinks we are all social entrepreneurs - Comments
If you are not a follower of Seth Godins blog - take a look - his posts are short, frequent and mostly deeply insightful.
This recent one for example, is a gem. We are all social entrepreneurs in some way - it's just that some people have a bigger impact than others :-)
It's tempting to reserve the new term 'social entrepreneurs' for that rare breed that builds a significant company organized around the idea of changing the culture for the better.
The problem with this term is that it lets everyone else off the hook. The prefix social implies that regular entrepreneurs have nothing to worry about, and that the goal of every un-prefixed organization and project (the 'regular kind') is to only make as much money as possible, as fast as possible.
But that's not how the world works.
Every project causes change to happen, and the change we make is social. The jobs we take on, the things we make, the side effects we cause -- they're not side effects, they're merely effects. When we make change, we're responsible for the change we choose to make.
All of us, whichever job or project we choose to take on, do something to change the culture. That social impact, positive or negative is our choice.
It turns out that all of us are social entrepreneurs. It's just that some people are choosing to make a bigger (and better) impact than others.
Henley Forum: Making a Difference through knowledge and learning. - Comments
This year's Henley Forum members are actively working on Making a Difference through knowledge and learning.
If you work for a large public, private or third sector organisation and believe your organisation could benefit from membership of the Henley Forum, this is a chance to spend a day with thrm.
The event will give you insights into how to change mindsets and behaviours which research suggests is a critical step in making a difference.
You will have the opportunity to hear speakers at the forefront of the change challenge, meet current members, join the conversation and take away some actionable insights that help you operate more effectively in a knowledge based business.
Nokia Venturing Organisation was established in 2000 to grow the 'next new business' for Nokia. In addition NVO was also mandated to develop 'new ways of working' for the Finnish Mobile communications company. This gave those working within NVO the space to work in a more entrepreneurial and experimental mode.
NVO set up teams to focus on future global trends and insights as well as exploring new approaches to strategy development, innovation and rapid implementation. New measures were introduced to evaluate the amount of learning extracted from successful and abandoned ventures, as well as measuring the strength of the networks and relationships that new ventures developed.
As part of this, the NVO HR team adopted 'Creating space for conversations' as their HR Strategy. Their approach was to encourage more dialogue and connection around the organisation so that new ideas and opportunities could emerge. It was translated into practical actions such as designing meeting agendas with more space for dialogue, running large scale workshops which brought diverse teams together and facilitating sessions so that all voices could be heard regardless of hierarchy.
NVO soon gained a reputation within Nokia for encouraging diversity and doing things differently. It helped launched a number of new ventures which eventually became independent businesses in their own right.
Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size on conversation - Comments
Over the years, in running my Knowledge Cafes, I have discovered through trial and error and careful observation that the ideal size of a group for interactive conversation is four people. If not four, then five is OK but three is better.
Anything more than five and the conversation does not work so well: one or two people tend to dominate; the conversation breaks into two, even three; frequently one person is totally cut out of the interaction and there is little energy in the group.
This research paper confirms my observations.
Current communication models draw a broad distinction between communication as dialogue and communication as monologue. The two kinds of models have different implications for who influences whom in a group discussion.
The experiments reported in this paper show that in small, 5-person groups, the communication is like dialogue and members are influenced most by those with whom they interact in the discussion.
However, in large, 10-person groups, the communication is like monologue and members are influenced most by the dominant speaker.
The difference in mode of communication is explained in terms of how speakers in the two sizes of groups design their utterances for different audiences.
So in those workshops and conferences where people are sat in groups of 8 at large round tables (often the only tables available in hotel conference centres) or long, narrow tables, no real conversation takes place!
To have a good conversation you need to be in touching distance of each other and each person in the group needs to be equi-distant.
I have been trying to encourage conference organisers and managers to take a more, conversational, interactive, participatory approach to talks and meetings for some years now.
Do people like Johnnie, Nancy, Donald and myself have it so wrong or are people just reluctant to change the habits of an organizational life time? Actually, in my day it was the same in school though I doubt things have changed much.
How often have you experienced the situation where he chairperson asks "We have time for just one long-winded self-indulgent question that relates to nothing we've been talking about." Well, no, they don't actually say that do they? But it is so often what they get!
Lastly, you may find this little video amusing Chicken chicken chicken but see it through to the "Any questions?" session at the end :-)
It gives a good overview of how the Cafe is run and the details of the conversation in this particular Cafe.
Cloudy with a hint of fog
A personal account of a Gurteen Knowledge Café hosted by Core.
David Gurteen promotes the practice of ‘Knowledge Cafés', a kind of discussion workshop which is structured to encourage creative conversations around a topic, with the aim of bringing the knowledge of the participants to the surface, sharing ideas and insights between them. In process, a Gurteen Knowledge Café is related to the World Café process originated by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in 1995, but the Gurteen café meetings are run with shorter table-group sessions, and smaller attendance overall. Not only does this make a Gurteen Knowledge Café easier to organise and to host, but with typically forty or so people in the room it is also possible to close out the event with a discussion in the round.
For a number of years David Gurteen has run a series of occasional Knowledge Café events in London. The principle is that an organisation hosts the meeting, providing the venue and some refreshments, and the meeting is open to all comers and free to attend. Note that the Café methodology lends itself very well to internal organisational knowledge sharing, but David's London Café series is left deliberately open and free, encouraging networking and inter-networking.
The most recent Gurteen Knowledge Café event was held on the evening of 16th April 2015 at the Rubens Hotel by Buckingham Palace, and like the previous café event was generously hosted by Core. Core is a Microsoft business partner company with special interests in secure mobile working for government and business, virtualised managed IT services and such like (See http://www.core.co.uk).
To seed the series of round-table discussions at a Gurteen Knowledge Café, the normal practice is for a presenter, who is generally from the hosting organisation, to speak quite briefly to the proposed topic, winding up with some open questions which the participants can then discuss. In this case, the meeting had been given the title ‘Cloudy with a chance of fog?' (explanation follows shortly!) After Joyce Harman of Core had welcomed us and David Gurteen outlined the process for the Café (generally about half the people who come have not attended one of these events before), Core's senior technology strategist Andrew Driver gave the talk.
There is, of course, an advertising process which David runs through his mailing list, so that people are aware of the event and attracted to it. It makes sense then for me to directly quote the topic synopsis which had been circulated about this meeting:
‘If you send and receive email, share photos or documents from your computer, or do your banking or shopping online, you are using ‘Cloud' computing.
‘Hotmail, Skydrive (now OneDrive), iCloud and Dropbox are all examples of cloud computing which we now take for granted.
‘This is IT consumerisation; allowing an individual or a business can buy their IT the way they might buy any other subscription based product.
‘Now we have the 'Internet of Things', the idea of everyday objects like cars and toasters being connected to everything else. What next?
‘What are the wider implications for the future?
‘As well as the many benefits of a more connected world, should we be concerned about a future led by terms such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.
‘Further, what is the gap between what we believe and reality?'
Defining the Cloud
Now, I had been thinking about the assertions in the above text, and doing some reading around, and it seems that the term ‘cloud computing' only really became current towards the end of the 2000s, when it became possible to use ‘software as a service' (SaaS) and remote storage and computation-on-demand services available over the Internet. By this definition, I considered my early use of email and file transfer (via SMTP and FTP) not to be that ‘cloudy', so I asked Andrew early into his presentation for clarification.
Andrew's usage is a very wide one; as far as he is concerned, it is a newly-minted term, but it describes arrangements that have been around for a long time. He said, ‘Cloud computing is whenever you have a collection of computers performing a function [for you], but they are not directly your responsibility.' By this token, the advent of the Internet itself was ‘cloudy' because it pooled the resources of all the participating networks (owned by companies, universities etc), and the routers forwarding data between them; every one of these items may have been owned by someone, but nobody owned The Internet per se.
(I wonder how far the envelope will stretch; and speaking of envelopes, if we remove the requirement for computers to be involved, was the Royal Mail even in Victorian times ‘cloudy' because once you dropped the envelope in the post-box, the business of who fed the horse, drove the train or tramped the pavements to get your letter to Aunt Emily was not your concern?)
Wherever we draw that line, it is clear that people and organisations increasingly use online remote services, some free of charge and some paid for by subscription, to host email accounts and web pages, back up large amounts of data and so on. Helping companies to do this big-time is one of the reason's for Core to be in business.
One can also, said Andrew, have a ‘personal cloud'; at home he has a several-terabyte Western Digital ‘My Cloud' drive attached to his home network (that is, Network-Attached Storage or NAS) where all his Stuff is kept. He can also access that remotely.
Turning to ‘a hint of fog', Andrew revealed Fog Computing as a concept that's been swirling about only in the last couple of years (and yes, there is a Wikipedia page about it). It refers to the sharing of computing resources between larger numbers of smaller machines and devices that are often rather more local to each other towards the ‘edges' of the Internet, in comparison to the more established model of cloud computing reliant on big central data centres. An article in IEEE Spectrum (1), for example, highlights the service provided by Symform, which federates the computing resources of its customers and uses them as a distributed storage resource with good redundancy built in, making it less likely that data will be lost in, for example, a large natural disaster. (Note that a data centre's backups are not *that* secure if the back-up disk sits in the next rack to the primary disk.)
Andrew then moved on to the ideas of ‘the Internet of Things' (sometimes called the Internet of Everything). This is a vision of things which are not traditional computing devices now being hooked up to the Internet to send and receive messages and data. One example might be a local authority using Internet connections to link its borough-wide CCTV cameras to a control centre rather than having dedicated fixed cables. But there are also stranger ones: Andrew described a refrigerator on the Microsoft campus which barcode-scans the container of milk as you remove it to make your tea, and weighs it as you replace it, to compute when it is necessary to resupply the fridge with a fresh bottle. (Andrew didn't say whether it also can sniff the milk to see if it has gone off.)
We had a bit of fun wondering whether a network-attached toaster might constitute a security risk (horrible thoughts of hackers mounting a Denial of Toast attack). I think it's a bit ludicrous to speak of everything talking to everything else. But generally speaking, we can expect more and more devices (sensors, environmental monitors, GPS locators, whatever next?) to communicate with relevant end-points using the Internet.
There are going to be a lot of emergent applications in health and social care, for example, helping to guarantee safety in independent living for elderly and vulnerable people. Londoners in particular have seen many aspects of cloud-connected things improve the capital's public transport, with GPS-tagged buses, Oyster and contactless-card payments, and bus-stops which offer increasingly accurate estimates of when buses will arrive (though I confess I do have a giggle when the bus-stop ‘crashes' and displays its IP address and an error code).
Machine Learning and AI
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are two more terms with contested scope and meanings, and they do not necessarily imply anything cloudy at all. However, Andrew was focusing on what they might imply in the context of a ‘cloudy world', when the software services which we access are programmed to try to learn more about us and our preferences. Facebook and Google do this to direct advertising at you in a more targeted way. I have recently passed some sort of age threshold, so that Facebook no longer offers me dates with attractive African ladies, and has started to suggest solutions to incontinence and ways of paying for my funeral.
Should we worry? Professor Stephen Hawking has recently offered the opinion that we should be careful about what might emerge from machine intelligence, as they may not turn out to be those benign guardians, those ‘machines of loving grace', as the poet Richard Brautigan dreamed of in 1967. Might it be more like the Cyberdyne Systems ‘Skynet' computing cloud envisaged in the ‘Terminator' film franchise?
Some of us are wary of sharing too much about ourselves online lest machine intelligences get us in their sights; but as Andrew said, many of the younger people we know, the ones who seem permanently wired into social media, seem to care far less.
And so in conclusion, Andrew opened up to us the question, should we welcome the universality of connection, the wired things surrounding us, the machine intelligences keeping an eye on us? What sort of understanding do we have of where this is all going? What is the gap between what we may believe, and what is in fact true or probable?
Table group conversations
The next, arguably the main phase of a Gurteen Knowledge Café, is the point at which the audience stops being an audience, and the table group conversations begin. The idea is that we sit four or five to each table (the small tables at the Rubens pushed us towards three and four per table), and we share whatever ideas come to us around the topic, for ten minutes until David Gurteen blows his magic whistle.
Some of the people at each table should then move to another table, and the reconstituted groups continue for another ten minutes. Quite often this second session includes a period of people sharing what just happened conversationally at the first table group they found themselves in. Chances are that the conversational trend was different at various first-round tables, so the conversation ‘re-fractures' in new directions. After another ten minutes, David blows the whistle again and a third session is initiated.
There will always be some people who say more and who may dominate the table conversation, but having small table groups tends to mitigate against that. However the groups are big enough not to put undue pressure on people to feel forced to contribute.
I made notes and recorded at each of the table groups I was at. However, it makes better sense to skip to the final in-the-round session which in a sense gathered all the conversations together. It's never a complete picture because in the larger group some feel ill at ease speaking out, and back-and-forth reactions will foreground some issues and throw dust over the traces of others. But as a lightly-managed method for knowledge sharing, it does pretty well…
In the round
Following the table groups session, we gathered our seats into a big circle and David asked us to share as we wished. This session lasted about 40 minutes.
The first person to speak said that in the conversations he had had, the issues seemed to be less technical than socio-political. For example, machine learning might make middle class and managerial professionals redundant, and this could result in serious social dislocations.
Andrew referred to a recent conversation with the person at a client organisation moving their email out to the Microsoft Office 365 system; he feared he might be left with nothing to do. No, said Andrew; at present you use the systems you have to facilitate communication in the business, and surely you will continue to have the same job, but using a different technical system.
Several people chipped in with worries about what machine learning and machine ‘intelligence' might do for a tier of middle class support jobs: amongst paralegals, legal researchers and journalists for example. The top fee earners won't be threatened, but the ranks who support them might indeed be replaced by expert automated systems.
One rather scary aspect of machine intervention is represented by the research trend towards ‘autonomous killer robots', drones and missile batteries and battlefield weapons which are coming close to being granted powers to decide whether to kill or not. They may be constrained by their coding, but when there is the need to react quickly, quicker perhaps that human judgement would take, how long will this remain the case? South Korea has automated gun emplacements along its border with the North (the Samsung SGR-A1 system), currently under human control but capable of being made autonomous.
One lady mentioned that South Korea may be the only country which has actually developed an ethical framework for robotic behaviour, possibly akin to what the science fiction author Isaac Asimov put forward in ‘I, Robot' and other books. For South Korea it is significant not just because of the defence system mentioned above, but also because they hope to drive towards each Korean home having a robot by 2020.
Richard Harris, in his book ‘The Fear Index', suggests that we may control the morals and parameters of robotic systems, but it may still be the case that a system decides its behaviours for itself. The scenario is based on automated decisions in the investment banking industry. Now, one hopes that good decisions would be coded in; but it is often the case that we have lost control of the code, and no-one knows how it is working.
As a thought experiment, someone imagined a self-driving car. A small child runs out in front of the car and the car must act. To the left is a bus stop with eight people in the queue; to the right is a precipitous cliff. Which choice should the vehicle make, and would it make that choice?
One of us raised the issue of how different generations think about privacy behaviours and privacy laws.
The conversation took a turn towards the second question Andrew had launched at us, about the gap between perception or belief on the one hand, and reality. Challenged to explain, Andrew expanded by saying that he was often in conversations with people who he might have expected to have a wider vision, but was coming to appreciate that many senior and experienced people have their mindset in a kind of rut, ill-prepared for what is about to bring radical change. For himself, he thinks it behoves us to show an interest in our future.
Someone recalled the perceptual experiment that asks people to count the number of times that a basketball is passed, and hardly anyone charged with this task notices that someone in a gorilla suit walks right through the shot. It's what we might call ‘entrained thinking', the captivating power of mental models, and though mental models have their uses, so does naïvety? Assumptions undermine our ability to understand the world, especially in novel contexts and arrangements.
I asked if any of the table groups had addressed the question of ‘the Internet of Things' and someone replied that yes, on her table they thought it had the potential to create some large security risks and loopholes.
David Gurteen said that as an iPhone user, he recently became aware that when he has his phone plugged in to charge in the same room, he has become aware that ‘Siri' (the natural-language control interface for the telephone) is listening to every second of time and his every word. Siri has imperfect ears, and might hear David and his wife use a phrase in dinner conversation and interject, ‘How can I help you?' I raised the recent news stories about the Samsung voice-control TVs and the talking Barbie doll, both of which use an Internet link to a natural language processing software system ‘in the Cloud' and which therefore are also continuously listening to whichever human is in the same room (though soon, they start to listen and react to each other).
Someone remarked that there is a kind of trade-off between gaining increased machine help and losing our privacy and control over our own information. A trade-off along those lines may be perfectly acceptable, were we able to decide about it ourselves. But do we really understand what are the terms of the trade off? And who is in charge of those terms? Until Edward Snowden enlightened us, how much did we understand about how those trade-off were handing vast amounts of information about us to the security organisations?
What, for example, are we to make of the harvesting and mass pooling of our medical records and genetic data? It has some huge potential to advance medical science through Big Data analysis.
We had a bit of a debate about whether ‘radical transparency' with respect to our data is asymmetric (they want to know everything about Us but don't let us know much about Them), or whether the information flow is more symmetric than that.
In closing out, Andrew Driver suggested we check out a book by Peter Fingar called ‘Process Innovation in the Cloud', which is related to an article called ‘Everything has changed utterly'. The book, he suggested, is not that exciting, but the article is worth a look.
At this point David Gurteen thanked our hosts; he got people's unanimous agreement that it was OK to share emails amongst us, but we demurred at him sharing those with his toaster. And so we rose, and spent some more valuable informal time networking with the aid of wine and beer generously provided by our hosts.
Endnote: Privacy, protection and control
To the above I will add that at my first table group there was a strong focus on issues of privacy and confidentiality in email communications and in personal data in the cloud. For example, medical records are supposed to be kept securely, and this raises worries when suggestions are made that these could be kept ‘in the cloud'. Indeed, the most popular GP records system in the UK, EMIS, is moving to a cloud-based model for data storage, and this does provide substantial protection against data loss (for example in the case of a fire at the surgery). But just exactly where is the data being stored, and who can take a look at it?
Many cloud storage providers use servers based in the USA. When George W Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into force in 2001, its Title II in particular gave unprecedented powers to the US government agencies to snoop on the communications and data of individuals and organisations. This has caused concern amongst organisations in the European Union, which through Directive 95/46/EC has fairly stiff provisions in favour of protecting personal data. Companies operating in the European Union are not allowed to send personal data to countries outside the European Economic Area unless there is a guarantee that it will receive adequate levels of protection.
There is an agreement called ‘US-EU Safe Harbor' which was negotiated between the US Department of Commerce and the EU; this is supposed to provide a fast-track way to assure European customers that American cloud service providers will comply with Directive 95/46/EC, but it has been subject to at least two critical and sceptical reviews as regards to compliance and enforcement. It seems still very important to know where your data is, even if ‘cloud theory' says it isn't!
A further point that came up in one of my table groups was how companies use our information, and whether we mind about that. As has already been remarked, young people seem less concerned about privacy than older people, but perhaps that is a bit of a caricature, and it is more significant to know what value our information is to them, and what we get in return. Maybe we don't mind if by allowing a supermarket to associate our identity with our purchasing habits, by swiping a club card, we get access to special offers. But what about the recent sale of hospital data to commercial entities? Even if it is anonymised, said one person, we are ultimately the providers of that data, so should we not get some remuneration or benefit for allowing out data to join the pool?
The difference between a Knowledge Cafe and a Community of Practice - Comments
I am frequently asked the difference between a Knowledge Cafe and Community of Practice (CoP) as it is not always clear to people.
Etienne Wenger defines a Community of Practice as a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact on a regular basis.
A Knowledge Cafe on the other hand is a highly adaptable face to face conversational process that can be used in many different business situations to bring a group of people together to have an open conversation for a specific purpose.
A Cafe can be run as a one-off event, for example to explore the impact of a new technology or as a regular series of events, for example a series of talks/cafes on a specific theme or a variety of different themes.
A Cafe or a series of Cafes does not constitute a CoP. And although a series of Cafes for people with a common interest may appear very CoP like, in reality a CoP will adopt many different ways of interacting rather than just the Cafe format. e.g. less structured conversations, open space technology sessions and on-line discussion forums.
So in summary, the Knowledge Cafe is a powerful conversational tool that can be employed by a CoP but is not the same as a CoP.
The Red Cross Red Crescent have been one of the pioneers to implement them on a global scale.
This report from Shaun Hazeldine describes their experience with them in connecting over 600 people from around the globe to have regular "virtual coffee meetings" with each other once a month. The bottom line: "people loved them".
In the Red Cross Red Crescent the RCTs were implemented as a component of a broader Learning andEngagement Plan for Volunteering Development. A core principle underpinning this plan has been to createspaces (both physical and otherwise) where people could come together and talk, learn from each other andcollaborate for solutions and innovation. The plan focuses on conversation as an underestimated tool forlearning. A number of similar ‘conversational approaches to learning' have also been implemented alongsidethe RCTs in the Learning and Engagement Plan.
Larry Prusak has written an introduction and highlights some of the more important points. Here is the key one he makes:
The ﬁrst highlight that stands out is the very substantial value the respondents place on the identiﬁcationof “critical” knowledge. This is essential, yet often difﬁcult to do. It's essential because without this activityone can drown in the huge amounts of “stuff” labeled knowledge in any organization, which leads to greatwaste. It also gives knowledge activities a bad reputation. At the same time, it is difﬁcult to do, because thevery word “knowledge” encompasses many forms of “knowing” that are more tacit and, not only uncodifed,but often not easily codiﬁed at all. We sometimes call this type of knowledge “know-how” or practiceknowledge, and it is often difﬁcult to identify in ways that make it more scalable and effective.
Do we need to learn or do we need to adapt? - Comments
You are no doubt familiar with Peter Senge's quote of "the only sustainable competitive advantage is an organizations ability to learn faster than it's competition".
But maybe we should take the lead from Charles Darwin:
According to Darwin's Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
Is Social Media silencing personal opinion? - Comments
Social media is not living up to its promise of being an online outlet for discussion that mirrors our communications and conversations that take place in the offline world. In fact, people are less willing to discuss important issues on social media, than they are in real life, a new report from Pew Research Center has found.
A major insight into human behavior from pre-internet era studies of communication is the tendency of people not to speak up about policy issues in public -- or among their family, friends, and work colleagues --when they believe their own point of view is not widely shared. This tendency is called the “spiral of silence.”
Some social media creators and supporters have hoped that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter might produce different enough discussion venues that those with minority views might feel freer to express their opinions, thus broadening public discourse and adding new perspectives to everyday discussion of political issues.
The survey reported in this report sought people's opinions about the Snowden leaks, their willingness to talk about the revelations in various in-person and online settings, and their perceptions of the views of those around them in a variety of online and off-line contexts.
People were less willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they were in person.
Social media did not provide an alternative discussion platform for those who were not willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story.
In both personal settings and online settings, people were more willing to share their views if they thought their audience agreed with them.
Previous ‘spiral of silence' findings as to people's willingness to speak up in various settings also apply to social media users.
Facebook and Twitter users were also less likely to share their opinions in many face-to-face settings.
The research confirms some of my observations over recent years about face to face conversation and the problems of creating forums for good online conversations that I spoke about in this recent talk on Smarter Online Conversations at the University of Brighton.
Keynote Talk by David Gurteen on Smarter Online Conversations at ECSM 2014
The book reviews the development of the field of
intellectual capital reporting, including core concepts, latest
developments, the main components of intellectual capital,
how a statement is built, and key indicators of each
Dialogue Rendezvous: the sageless stage - Comments
My good friend John Girard has a rather nice twist on the Knowledge Cafe/World Cafe process called a Dialogue Rendezvous.
I never wish to see the Cafe process set in stone and I think of it more as a set of principles for designing "interesting conversations" for a specific purpose and so I am always on the lookout for variations.
John uses TED talks to trigger the engagement, thinking and conversation of his Dialogue Rendezvous - an approach I rather like.
Conversation is more than communication - Comments
Face to face Conversation is far more than just communication.
When we have a Conversation we don't just exchange information.
That's what computers do. It's not what people do.
People filter, interpret and elaborate on what they hear.
Everyone does this differently.
Two people can hear the same thing and take away very different ideas.
In fact, we actually have little idea what others really takeaway from a conversation or what they are thinking.
Conversation is spontaneous and dynamic. It is not planned or scheduled.
We don't plan our response to something that someone says - it emerges spontaneously.
The Conversation can be thought of as being in charge. Conversation takes us where it wants to go.
Conversation is shaped by our moods. A conversation held one day will take a very different path and have very different outcomes compared to the same conversation on another day.
The environment in which a conversation is held also has an impact on the actual conversation.
Conversation held in a quiet room will take a very different form to one in a noisy cafe or one on the train on a boat or in a car or while walking.
And it's not just the words spoken that form the communication.
The speed and volume of delivery, the tone and the emotion in the voice shapes the meaning of the words conveyed.
And the eyes and the smile convey so much along with other body language.
We have evolved to be very sensitive to body language and can detect deceit, lies, stress and other underlying emotions.
Someone said to me recently "I don't quite trust her, she smiles far too much when I talk with her."
Conversation can inspire and motivate us or it can depress and turn us off.
In conversation, we make new connections in our minds and our thinking can be triggered down entirely new paths.
It's probably not an exaggeration to say that a good conversation can entirely change our lives though such conversations are rare and we hardly ever recognise the long-term impact of the conversation at the time.
A single conversation or a series of conversations over a period of time can have a huge impact on us.
We start to make different decisions not realising the influence that earlier conversations have had on us.
A conversation held today is heavily influenced by conversations held in the past.
Conversations shape and mould our minds and thus our thinking and the decisions that we make.
Conversation shapes our lives.
What does research tell us about the effectiveness of lectures? - Comments
Most people who know me are aware of my views about the lecture - certainly, if you have attended one of my knowledge Cafes or workshops you will be.
It was death-by-powerpoint lectures that provoked me to start to run my Knowledge Cafes back in 2002.
This is what Tony says the research shows about the lecture.
The lecture is as effective as other methods for transmitting information (the corollary of course is that other methods – such as video, reading, independent study - are just as effective as lecturing for transmitting information)
Most lectures are not as effective as discussion for promoting thought
Lectures are generally ineffective for changing attitudes or values or for inspiring interest in a subject
Lectures are relatively ineffective for teaching behavioural skills.
Oh and make sure you read the comments - they are not totally supportive and add some additional insight into what Tony has to say.
An innovative way to document meeting minutes - Comments
I was on the Expert Advisory Group for a large meeting being held in Bangkok recently by the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)
We had a long discussion via Skype at one point and I almost fell off my chair when I saw the meeting minutes!
What a great way to write up meeting outcomes with a YouTube video: Expert Advisory Group Minutes 2nd meeting.
Take a look - not only an innovative way to document the outcomes of a meeting but some interesting ideas for making meetings more participatory also.
Step 3 - the idea to consider the four questions from Peter Block came from me - I have used them at meetings and conferences in the past and I think they are a great way to get people to think about the degree to which they will participate in an event and help actually improve their engagement. Question four is the key.
The Participatory Narrative Inquiry Institute - Comments
I received this note from Ron Donaldson on the 21st December - a fascinating story and an introduction to the Participatory Narrative Inquiry (PNI) Institute.
Stonehenge wasn't oriented on the summer solstice sunrise, but the winter solstice sunset - and not to any winter solstice sunset, but one every 19 years that coincided with the New Moon. This would be special as it's the longest, darkest night in the whole 19 year Metonic cycle. And tonight's that night! Tonight the longest night of the year is not broken by any moonlight
It corresponds to a mythical point in time, like the Egyptian Zep Tepi - the First Time, which is the days before or out of time in which the gods were born or the cosmos created; the lack of sun and moon on the longest night are important as this mythic time was thought to have been before either sun or moon were created. - and was seen by our ancestors as the day of re-creation, of an end of one cycle and the start of the new. This night, then, is a repetition of that moment.
The Bronze Age excavation at Flag Fen in Peterborough, where I live, has a causeway that led out to an island in the fens. The Archaeologists have recently discovered/realised that it was completely rebuilt every 19 years, presumably to match this 'day of re-creation'.
With great serendipity, Cynthia Kurtz (author of 'Working with Stories), myself and a few learned colleagues are at the point of launching a new initiative to encourage more people to work with stories. We are inviting anyone interested to join with us around what we are calling the Participatory Narrative Inquiry (PNI) Institute.
More details and the option to register can be found on our new website at https://pni2.org. All forms of story workers are welcome especially those who engage in any form of participation and return the stories and meaning back to the community where they arose.
Wishing you every success for the next nineteen years, Happy, double dark, Winter Solstice
Ecology of Knowledge Ltd
Over the last 15 years that I have been producing this newsletter, I am occasionally criticised for writing in the first person. I am told that I use the word "I" far too much and that it is a sign of narcissism.
I find this amusing as I quite deliberately use the word. I strive to avoid the passive voice. Both my website and my newsletter are personal endeavours and so it makes sense to write in the first person, but it took me a while to learn that.
In the early days it was feedback from a friend who said, “Hey David, I love your newsletter but it is so much more interesting and authentic when you are ‘yourself' and speak in ‘your own voice' about something you feel passionate about”. That helped convince me to write in the first person.
It was also at that time I first read the book The Cluetrain Manifesto and the thoughts of David Weinberger on voice:
We have been trained throughout our business careers to suppress our individual voice and to sound like a ‘professional', that is, to sound like everyone else. This professional voice is distinctive. And weird. Taken out of context, it is as mannered as the ritualistic dialogue of the 17th-century French court.
But it goes deeper. I was educated as a scientist. I was instructed to write in the passive voice. That's what scientists do. I never really questioned it. Well at least not until I came across an article in New Scientist magazine by Rupert Sheldrake, the biologist and author. Here is how he started his article:
The test tube was carefully smelt.' I was astonished to read this sentence on my 11-year-old son's science notebook. At primary school his science reports had been lively and vivid. But when he moved to secondary school they become stilted and passive. This was no accident. His teachers told him to write this way.
Writing in the passive voice is meant to make science objective, impersonal and professional. Maybe it makes it seem that way, but it cannot disguise the fact that despite the Scienticfic Method scientists have the same cognitive biases that we all possess.
Unfortunately, this style of writing has spilt over into our business world
To my mind one of the best examples of the distortion caused by the passive voice are the biographies of conference speakers. Everyone knows they are not written by an independent person, but by the speakers themselves. So when they read, “Dr John Smith is an internationally acclaimed educator, speaker and trainer … he is a world renowned thought leader, author and practitioner,” you know it is highly likely that you are reading hype.
Writing like this is misleading. It is alienating. But if you write your bio in the first person then it becomes harder to write such rubbish. You are making it personal. And before someone points it out, most of my bios are written in the 3rd person - conference organizers demand them that way but I hope I manage to avoid the hype!
The active voice is more truthful. It gives us ownership of our work. It makes it harder to distort things. It involves us with the subject more. It liberates us to be ourselves.
Bloggers and storytellers have already discovered this.
So I love to use the word ‘I'. I hope you are inspired to write more personally too.
The Running Desk: another form of Randomised Coffee Trial - Comments
When I was at the annual KM Asia conference in Singapore in November one of the speakers was Janan Goh who works for BASF in Kuala Lumpur.
During his talk he spoke very briefly about something he called "Running Desk".
My ears immediately pricked up as it sounded similar to a Randomised Coffee Trial and I asked Janan if he could send me more information.
This he has very kindly done and has also taken the trouble to translate it from German into English. Thanks Janan.
The concept is a little bit more elaborate than an RCT but the essence is the same. It's about bringing people together across silos in an organization to get to know each other better.
In BASF's words: "It creates a better understanding between, scientists, engineers and business people"
Take a look here
Dave Snowden takes down sacred cows, little tin gods and a paper tiger or two - Comments
Dave Snowden - people either love him or hate him - sometimes both at the same time :-)
And for good reason - he speaks his mind - and has a wonderful way of questioning things that we take for granted or have held sacrosanct for far too long.
I don't always agree with him - but even when I don't agree - I am left with a nagging doubt that he may be right or there are elements of truth in what he says.
This causes me to think harder and more deeply about my own views and beliefs. That has always got to be a good thing!
So, I was delighted to see that he is writing a blog post (an attack blog as he calls it) for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas in which in his own words he plans to "take down sacred cows, little tin gods and a paper tiger or two". Here are the first few in the series:
There is nothing new about the Knowledge Cafe or is there? - Comments
There is nothing new about the Knowledge Café or is there?
When people say that something is not new, they usually mean that they are familiar with the concept and its in common practice.
To my mind, when this objection is levelled at the Knowledge Cafe - it means that they do not fully understand it.
When I look at how organizations operate and the behaviours of people in organizations - it is quite apparent that people are either not aware of the fundamental principles and the power of good conversation or they understand them but do not to change their way of doing things either out of habit, laziness or choice.
Why in meetings and presentations are we still so dependent on Powerpoint? Why is the dominant format of a talk, a long presentation with lots of Powerpoint slides and a very short time for Q&A? Why is no time included for reflection and no time for conversations amongst the participants in order for them to engage with the topic or issue? Why do we insist on talking at each other rather than with each other.
Why is the dominant layout of our meeting rooms: either lecture style or large tables, when we know from experience and observation that these layouts are not conducive to good conversation? The research shows that good conversations take place in small groups of 3 or 4 people sitting around a small round table or even no table at all.
Why in meetings, especially those where the people do not know each other well, do we not allow time for socialisation and relationship building before getting down to business when again the research shows that such socialisation improves people's cognitive skills.
Why are circles rarely used in meeting's when the research and our own personal experience demonstrates their power?
Why do managers and facilitators seek to control meetings so tightly and are afraid of negative talk or dissent. By surpressing people's fears, doubts and uncertainties - you do not eliminate them - you just drive them underground. Peter Block says "Yes" has no meaning if there is not the option to say "No". You need to bring people's doubts and fears out into the open and talk about them at length.
And why when we know from research that group intelligence relates to how members of a team talk to each other. That it depends on the social sensitivity of the group members and on the readiness of the group to allow members to take equal turns in the conversation. And that groups where one person dominates are less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns are more evenly distributed, do we allow the same old people to dominate the conversations in our meetings and do nothing to encourage the quieter ones to engage and speak up.
The Knowledge Cafe may not be totally new but it addresses all these issues and more but as a conversational method is still sadly very poorly adopted.
In fact in many organizations conversation is seen as wasting time. But slowly this is changing. More and more people are starting to understand the power of conversation and take a conversational approach to the way that they connect, relate and work with each other. They see themselves as Conversational Leaders.
One of the things I like about conferences is that they trigger thoughts and ideas in my head as I listen to the speakers. Interestingly, the thoughts often have little to do with the subject of the speaker.
Usually I just make notes of these thoughts in my note book but at KM Russia 2014 in Moscow. I decided to tweet a few of them.
A thought: Conversation is a simple tool for making sense of a complex world.
Another thought: We should not try to control the outcomes of a conversation but let the conversation take us where it wants to go.
A thought: Conversation is a powerful tool for helping us challenge our existing mindsets.
A thought: get older managers to have open conversations with their youngest employees to learn about social tools and new mindsets.
Thought: we inspire each other through conversation.
Thought from #kmrussia It's not that communication is key. Conversation is key!
Clearly my mind was focused on the power of conversation.
A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something -- and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.
That definition makes clear that this book is not about grand philosophical or spiritual questions -- Why are we here? How does one define "good"? Is there life after death? -- all of those great questions that spark endless, impassioned debate ... the focus here is on questions that can be acted upon.
Knowledge cafés, a fairly new technique used to facilitate knowledge sharing, offer individuals within organisations the opportunity to interact on a face to face level with topics that are relevant to a particular organisation, and enhances knowledge transfer.
One of the major impediments of knowledge cafés is that, to date, there is limited literature concerning this knowledge sharing technique.
For this reason data was gathered through a Delphi study to investigate and discuss various aspects of knowledge cafés as used for the purpose of knowledge sharing.
The results of the study provide guidelines, advantages, disadvantages and similar techniques to knowledge cafés.
The core differences between knowledge cafés and world cafés are also highlighted.
Essentially it is the aim of this article to add knowledge cafés to the existing repertoire of knowledge sharing techniques by firstly reviewing literature on the existing techniques used for knowledge sharing and then elaborating on the value of knowledge cafés as a knowledge sharing application.
I wrote extremely briefly recently about Group Think & Group Polarization
to make the point that two of the biggest challenges facing group conversation are how to overcome Group Think and Group Polarization.
When I get a little bit more time I will write about how to how to ensure that when you design a Knowledge Cafe - you can avoid or at least reduce Group Think and Group Polarization as although the Cafe process naturally tends to avoid these issues, in some circumstances extra care needs to be taken.
There is something special about meetings in the flesh, which cannot be replicated digitally - Comments
I wrote a little while back about Serendipity and Randomised Coffee Trials and since then I seem to keep coming across articles on the role and importance of serendipity in organizations. Here are a few quotes from two recent articles.
Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.
We get a particular intellectual charge from sharing ideas in person.
If you just think of serendipity as an interaction with an unintended outcome, you can orchestrate pleasant surprises.
Serendipity has always been a big part of what my Knowledge Cafes have been all about.
You can never predict the outcomes of a conversation.
Conversations have a life of their own - you have little control over them.
They take you where they want to take you - sometimes down blind alleys but more often than not to fascinating places you would have never have visited on your own.
PEER ASSIST! Calling all charters, codes of conduct and guidelines - Comments
Sparknow would love your help. They're currently doing some benchmarking of cultural charters at organisations - knowledge, information, records management, behaviour, values, greenness, diversity, ethics, moral compass, risk management, even running effective meetings - in fact any charter, code of conduct or guidelines that codify and make explicit what's expected of people and what they can expect of each other.
An example of a charter, and of bringing it to life, would be the Natural England's 2008 ‘ask, learn, share' knowledge charter which you can read a little about here
Could you please share with Sparknow
any charters, codes, guidelines etc (by whatever name) at all that you might have been part of making or involved with implementing
any case studies you like, have experienced or know about
any personal experiences of how (not) to get something like this done
They will consolidate whatever they get and share it back of course, upholding a principle of generosity and generating shared resources.
Introduction to the October 2014 Knowledge Letter - Comments
At the risk of getting a little boring I'd like to briefly talk about Randomised Coffee Trials again.
Quite simply, if you have not taken a look at them yet - then give over a few minutes of your time to learn about them.
I also just came across
a service called Global Hangouts which is designed to
"ignite inspiring conversations about pressing global issues by introducing young people from different countries to each other."
It seems a great concept and you can see the connection to RCTs.
I would give it a go myself but I don't quite fit the "young people" profile. Maybe I should create one for "oldies" like me :-)
Actually, I think it would be far more interesting to connect young people with old people across cultural divides - it would make for some potentially interesting conversations.
What they are doing is fantastic!
They started RCTs about 10 weeks ago and currently have 400 people from 70+ countries signed up and it grows every day by 5 - 10 people.
They run it in 5 languages and it seems feedback from the first round is overwhelmingly positive.
They have 17 million volunteers and 400,000 staff so there is a lot of space for growth yet.
Recently I also got in touch with Michael Soto - one of the co-inventors of the RCT concept.
I am pleased I did as I discovered he had left Nesta to form Spark Collaboration to take all the admin hassle out of running RCTs
A Randomised Coffee Trial or RCT for short is a rather fancy name for an incredibly simple idea.
RCTs are used to connect people in an organization at random and give them time to meet to have a coffee and talk about whatever they wish.
The original idea was inspired by Pedro Medina and developed by Michael Soto and Jon Kingsbury of Nesta UK in 2013.
Nesta is an innovation charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life.
An RCT can be run in a wide variety of ways but one way is like this.
Anyone interested in taking part, sends an email to a central address and asks to be randomly connected with someone else in the organization.
An administrator collects these requests and enters them into a specially designed spreadsheet that matches people at random.
Some organizations use a simpler technique like drawing names from a hat or use more sophisticated software that automatically does the matching. (See the commercial services listed below.)
The administrator then tells the person with whom they have been connected.
It is then up to them to get in touch with that person and organise a 30 minute chat over coffee.
It need not be a coffee - it could be tea, lunch or dinner. What ever works best for them.
Better still, in a geographically dispersed organization - the meeting could be a virtual one say over Skype.
This is what Nesta says about the benefits
Provides legitimacy to chat to people about things that aren't directly work related. Although every time there have been direct beneficial impacts on various projects and programmes.
Totally random conversations, as well as some very useful work related conversations. Breaks silos at Nesta in a really effective way.
Offers the chance to make time to talk to people they should be talking to anyway, and to meet people who they won't be directly working with but it's nice to know who they are!
It's a really good way of revealing links within the organisation and encouraging us to collaborate. It's interesting that being part of the wider 'RCT' banners gives permission to spend and honour the time. Less likely to cancel a catch up if it's an RCT coffee than a social catch up on a busy day.
They like the prompt to talk to someone new (or someone they already know), and the permission to take 30 minutes just to see what's going on, without any particular agenda or goal.
As of September 2014 in various languages explain how the Red Cross Red Crescent are using them globally via Skype.
Some early feedback from the Red Cross Red Crescent trials
I came to know that in Austria students are teaching the way of building disaster shelters as well as awareness in hygiene promotion and disaster where in my country it's such a technical session we have not introduced in schools. But I realized this is a very good practice and of course I will introduce it here in Bangladesh also.
It was a great experience and I think we definitely will connect again! We also exchanged email IDs to keep each other posted on new youth developments specifically (since we're both involved in youth work).
I have a coffee partner from Trinidad and Tobago. She is a volunteer leader overseeing Red Cross activities for children and teachers in her District. She is so passionate about her work! I was very inspired and will have our next meeting next month
The first round went remarkably well, as I was paired up with a brilliant woman from Australia who provided me with a good picture of the Australian Red Cross and general Australian civil services; amazingly, our different countries have very similar strategies in our communities! We're also planning on keeping in contact with one another for fun / for cultural education (including Red Cross information)
I wanted you to know that I just did the first coffee meeting at 6am this morning before work and it was such a lovely way to start the day! Great idea to link up volunteers and staff from different national societies. As well as a good chat, we both learnt a fair bit and hope to maintain the connection.
What were the chances that I got connected with someone who shared the same name with me! We had a wonderful chat...I am looking forward to my next "hook up" :).
Thank you for providing the opportunity to share and forge links with other volunteers world wide. I had my first virtual coffee trial today and it was an awesome experience. Discussing our work and sharing our experiences just added the right flavor to what we do regardless of the distance. We are not alone . We have a voice. Thank you. Looking forward to the Second Round.
There are a number of commercial organizations that provide an RCT type service:
This is how Spark Collaboration describes their RCT service:
"Spark is a simple tool to help people meet. Colleagues who spend time socializing are more innovative and more productive. The problem is, it's hard to socialize with people you don't already know. That's why Spark was built. It's a tool that introduces people who work together and invites them to meet for lunch or coffee."
Footnote: Where did that seemingly crazy name Randomised Coffee Trails come from? Well its a play on the concept of Randomised Control Trials. Ben Goldacre of Nesta talks a little about them here in this post on his launch of Randomise Me - a free online trials generator.
Two of the biggest challenges facing group conversation are how to overcome Group Think and Group Polarization .
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.
Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
Ray Ozzie launchesTalko - an app for collaborative voice communications - Comments
Those of you who know me - know I used to work for Lotus Development and of my involvement with Lotus Notes
My website and this newsletter for example, are brought to you courtesy of code I have developed in Lotus Notes (I am still a techy at heart!)
You may also know of Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes who went on to create Groove (another amazing collaborative application) that was later acquired by Microsoft.
Ray was named chief software architect at Redmond in 2006, ultimately taking over software strategy from Bill Gates, who stepped aside in 2008. Ray left Microsoft in 2010.
Well it seems Ray has been hard at work on his third startup Talko.
Talko is a fascinating new app for the iPhone. Take a look at how Ray introduces his new baby here
Welcome to Talko! - especially this segment (may emphasis in bold):
I passionately believe that there's immense latent potential in voice -- to convey tone and emotion, to quickly resolve issues, to make decisions and to get things done.
There's simply no faster and no more effective way to express essential emotions such as urgency, anxiety, understanding, confidence or trust.
Quite simply, amazing things can happen when we just choose to talk.
Looks like Ray and I feel the same about the power of voice and of the importance of conversation :-)
This is how TechCrunch describes the app:
Talko ... replaces your usual conference line with VOIP, cloud-based calls between team members. The app records the entire live conversation to make it accessible to those who can't tune in while it's going on. It also enables users to create bookmarks within the conversation and tag other users with action items.
Perhaps most importantly, the conversation doesn't end when a particular call is over. Any member of the team can start a new call or add voice-based follow ups to the conversation, and they will be shared asynchronously with the rest of the participants. By doing so, it makes certain that everyone is on the same page, whether they were able to call in or not. Users in a group can also add text and photos in line with the conversation, which get shared with all participants.
I have many great tele-conversations with people and have long wished to record them in a useful way to play back later and reflect on the ideas and insights that surface and that are so often forgotten. Talko seems to be a great way of doing this and so much more.
If you have an iPhone - connect with me - I need a few people to chat with to experiment with the app.
Gurteen Knowledge Tweets: September 2014 - Comments
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for August to September 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
The real task of leadership is to confront people with their freedom. Peter Block http://bit.ly/1DzmICV #GurteenTalk
The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization. Sigmund Freud
Introduction to the September 2014 Knowledge Letter - Comments
You may have noticed that some Knowledge Letter's are long, others are short.
It's a function of how busy I have been during the month - the busier I have been, the shorter the newsletter and the later in the month it gets published :-)
This is a short one on account of two weeks in Indonesia. It was mainly holiday with my wife Leni but I got to run three Knowledge Cafes on Conversational Leadership while there.
It works! Everyone who hears Dave speak talk about him for days, weeks, even months afterwards. They don't always agree with him or appreciate his style. But he engages them and challenges their thinking!
Some years ago, I recall recording one of Dave's talks and playing it back to myself on the train home, pausing every few moments to take in an outlandish statement of his and reflecting - "Is this really true?" "Have I had this so wrong in my head for so long?" or "Is Dave just saying this to provoke the audience?". Either way he sure gets me thinking.
Another good disruptive technique is to read the descriptions of other speakers and deliberately create the odd virus like the five most dangerous things people say about X which includes paraphrases of points you know will come after.
Good speakers take this in their stride and give as good as they get, others get flummoxed and that is no bad thing as we need better speakers, oh do we need better speakers.
The point about all of this is to create diversity for learning.
Conferences where all the speakers agree with each other are turgid.
Dave also makes the point that "Good speakers stimulate debate and discussion at events and organisers need to provide for that."
It's why I am so keen to promote conversational techniques such as Knowledge Cafes at conferences.
The Cafe is often seen as people talking nicely to each other and thus prone to Group Think.
Some times this is true, some times it is not.
There is nothing I would like to see more in my Knowledge Cafes than more passionate but respectful dialogue and debate around a significant issue.
Some time ago Dave suggested that I run Ritual Dissent sessions in addition or as part of my Knowledge Cafes. Somehow I have never got around to this. It's about time I did :-)
Ritual Dissent is a workshop method designed to test and enhance proposals, stories, ideas or whatever by subjecting them to ritualised dissent (challenge) or assent (positive alternatives).
In all cases it is a forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse.
The basic approach involves a spokesperson presenting a series of ideas to a group who receives them in silence.
The spokesperson then turns their chair, so that their back is to the audience and listens in silence while the group either attack (dissent) or provide alternative proposals (assent).
The ritualisation of not facing the audience de-personalizes the process and the group setting (others will be subject to the same process) means that the attack or alternative are not personal, but supportive.
Listening in silence without eye contact, increases listening.
Overall plans that emerge from the process are more resilient than consensus based techniques.
Ritual Dissent is meant to simulate the process of delivering new ideas to management or decision-makers, and to open up new thinking to necessary criticism and iterations.
The process is meant to enforce listening, without disruption.
The scenario replicates real-life proposal making especially with regards to new and non-conventional ideas - as more experimental approaches are commonly met with the most challenges from management.
IKI Talks: Interviews with 34 International Experts in Knowledge Management and Innovation. - Comments
The Institute for Knowledge and Innovation South-East Asia (IKI SEA) at the Bangkok University in Thailand has interviewed 34 International Experts (Practitioners and Academics) in Knowledge Management and Innovation.
They have asked all of them the 6 same questions and are publishing one new interview each week. Six have been published so far, interviews with Davd Snowden, Patrick Lambe, Eric Tsui, Geoff Parcell, Kate Andrews, Waltraut Ritter, Dr. Manasi Shukla and Prof. Rivadávia C. Drummond de Alvarenga Neto.
The six questions:
How do you explain the difference between information and knowledge?
What will be the most important topic in KM in the future?
How do you foresee KM as a discipline in the future?
How do you explain the link between Knowledge Management and Innovation?
How do you foresee the future of Innovation Management?
Why do you think companies are still struggling to implement Knowledge Management and Innovation Management?
At one point, we talked about RCTs (Randomized Coffee Trials. CIMPA knew the concept and liked the principles of it but raised the concern that in the business environments they are used to dealing with there would be a need for tangible business outcomes from an RCT.
In further conversation, an interesting variation of the RCT concept emerged.
take a group of people
take a small collection of business problems/challenges/issues
randomly match two people with a random business issue
ask them to meet over coffee and discuss the selected issue (no reason why they cannot discuss other things too)
at the end of the session, each person writes up a short summary of their conversation and any ideas that emerged - these are posted and shared centrally in someway
a further variation on this idea:
take one big issue and over a period of say a month, run RCTs where all the pairs discuss the same issue
at the end of the month bring them ALL together in a Knowledge Cafe style gathering to discuss the issue further and draw some conclusions
This could be a powerful innovative process.
I think the real beauty and success of the RCTs is in the organic flow of the conversation. Focusing on tangible business outcomes although worthy and useful is maybe a little bit too organised and just a short step away from being another form of business workshop. I therefore wonder, can this variation still be considered an RCT?
What do you think and have you experimented a similar form of RCT?
Introduction to the August 2014 Knowledge Letter - Comments
I'd like to remind you this month of some of the services available to you as a member of the Gurteen Knowledge Community.
If you would like to be an active member of the community and not just receive stuff then you should join the Gurteen Knowledge Community Group on LinkedIn.
It has over 4,500 members and is a great place to meet and have discussions with like-minded people.
You can join here: http://www.linkedin.com/groupRegistration?gid=1539
In addition there are several other services. Here are just three of them:
I have no idea of the cost but I suspect it's a tad too expensive for wide use at conferences and in any case when getting a coffee at a conventional coffee machine its not too difficult to start up a conversation with the person next to you.
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for July to August 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
Casually occupying yourself as you putter around an idea increases the quality of ideas http://read.bi/WY0oCn
I have been designing and hosting conversations in the form of knowledge cafes for the past 12 years or more.
and during this time I have developed some simple principles that help ensure the engagement of the participants and the quality of the conversations.
My focus has always been on face-to-face conversations and not ones mediated through social media
but during this time many people have asked me how to run virtual knowledge cafes or how to improve the way that people hold conversations online.
Online conversations are fraught with difficulties.
Often they are an exchange of monologues - a series of highly crafted statements by the participants.
They are not like normal face-to-face conversations and I would argue that they are not in fact conversations in the strictest sense of the word.
Misunderstandings abound; certain people dominate; trolls deliberately stir up trouble, intellectual arguments and fights break out and conversations rapidly become ad hominem.
Quieter, more reflective people, people who favour dialogue over debate stay away or lurk silently in the background.
In my talk I reviewed what I've learnt about face-to-face conversation in developing my knowledge cafes and how the principles that underpin them might help improve socially mediated conversations.
The dinner was quite fascinating - we sat in pairs, our partner had already been selected and as well as the dinner menu we were given a 'conversation menu' by Theodore.
For each course there were several questions about ourselves we could chose to discuss. We were instructed to only talk with our partners.
The questions were intended to help us discover what sort of person we were talking with, their ideas on different aspects of life, such as ambition, curiosity, fear, friendship and the relations of the sexes.
I enjoyed the experience so much that back in November 2005, I held an "Intimate Conversations" Cafe at the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Then on 8th July 2014 (yes that's nearly 9 years later!) I ran another "Intimate Conversations" Cafe at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in London.
During the evening, I paired people off with each other and give them a short list of questions from which they could choose to discuss.
The questions were designed to be open-ended and to give them the opportunity to reveal as much of their inner-selves to each other as they felt comfortable.
Here are three of the questions:
What are your earliest memories of your childhood?
What brings you greatest happiness when you think back on your life so far?
What would you like to be engraved on your tombstone?
I had 20 people - 10 pairs and
as I knew from past experience that it is possible to be matched with someone whom you don't quite get on with- I broke the conversation into two 40 minute sessions.
I allowed people to have a 1:1 conversation for about 40 minutes and then told them to switch partners but if they really wished to carry on their conversation and stay with thie current partner they could.
Only 5 pairs (half the people) switched partner.
I also let people select their partner - I did not do it for them randomly (that may or may not have been the best way).
We then came back together at the end in a circle for about 30 mins to share our thoughts on the Cafe - almost everyone engaged and was enthusiastic about the event.
What a great way to break down barriers: get people talking about themselves and give permission to go deeper and engage in a way that you would never normally do with a complete stranger.
Credit: Sally Gurteen,Senior Digital Communications Executive
I enjoyed the Intimate Conversations Cafe last night. One of the main things that struck me was how open complete strangers were with me about quite raw events in their life e.g. death when I was open with them.
Maybe this is something we can learn from and adapt in a business environment to make them less of a battlefield?
Credit: Sara Culpin,Head of Information & Knowledge
I was later asked by someone who did not attend -
whether it was transferable in-house to say use as an ice-breaker at the start of internal conferences or alongside Randomised Coffee Trials
which was something I had not considered.
Reflecting on this, and reviewing the questions, I realised that questions like
"Describe your perfect partner?" could become "Describe your perfect job?"
and "When are you at your best?" could become "When do you do your best work?"
So the answer is yes!
If you are interested, get in touch and I can send you the list of questions that I used.
This is a simple and effective way of allowing people to get to know each other better at a deeper level and is no where near as "scary" as it sounds.
Although I had one person say that were not coming as they were not prepared to talk quite so intimately with a complete stranger.
Introduction to the July 2014 Knowledge Letter - Comments
I did not know 15 years or so ago when I started to travel the world with my work that I would make so many wonderful friends and learn so much about other cultures and religions.
Least of all to find myself a beautiful Indonesian wife.
During my travels, the most important thing I have learnt is that despite our different languages, cultures and religions, we all have similar fears, insecurities, hopes and aspirations. It's what it means to be human and I have learnt to respect all people.
What if we could bury forced-ranking and focus on releasing the best from our people; start managing talent collectively rather than individually, and reform closed performance management into collaborative knowledge sharing?
Question: What would be the implications for socety if we discovered we didn't have free will? - Comments
I have often thought about posting interesting questions on my blog to include in my monthly knowledge letter.
When somebody tells me what I or society has deeply believed for aons is not correct - rather then get defensive I ask myself the question - "what would it mean if we have been wrong about this all the time".
It's rare that I change my mind on the issue unless faced with strong evidence but it makes for an interesting conversation in my head.
Andrzej Marczewski also spoke on Gamification at KM UK 2014 and an exercise was run to explore how Gamification could be used in a KM environment.
Although Andrzej was an articulate and knowledgeable speaker and removed many of my doubts about gamification I am still not sure that I fully appreciate the concept but these are my thoughts to date:
Gamification is not about turning something into a game.
Gamification is of value (I am no longer quite as sceptical as I was)
When ever I design a system of any sort in the future, I will stop to think how gamification might be of benefit in helping to engage people.
Key "gamification elements": Think about how to give more timely feedback to people; how to introduce elements of competition and how to give frequent small psychological rewards. (I suspect there are a few more I have missed).
Consider carefully the possibility of people gaming the game or other unintended consequences.
Be careful not to undermine intrinsic motivation. Like most "rewards" intrinsic motivation can be easily undermined.
I have yet to see or been told about an application in the KM field that works and does not have any of the above pitfalls. Hence my scepticism.
One of the best examples of Gamification I have come across. It can't be gamed. It does not undermine intrinsic motivation and there are no obvious unintended consequences. But then it is a very simple situation.
As many of you know, I have been spreading the word far and wide about Randomized Coffee Trials (RCTs) and so I am delighted when ever I hear that my efforts have yielded some results.
Sunita Anderson, Head of KM - Group Commercial at SABMiller (the brewing company) mailed me recently to tell me that she and Sara Bell were both at the February Henley Forum and heard me talk about RCTs
and this inspired the birth of their Random Beer Collaborations (RBCs).
Naturally beer is SABMiller's beverage of choice and at their offices they have a bar area that serves their brands of beer from 4:30pm every day!
The RBC process is a simple one. This is how Sunita describes it:
We created a group on Yammer and through this, internal comms and physical posters we announced the launch of RBC, inviting people to sign up by posting #pairmeup on the Yammer group.
Sara and I randomly paired people up making sure that they did not belong to the same Function. We keep a log on a simple excel spreadsheet.
They are introduced by email and then encouraged to make their own ‘meet up' arrangements. They are not compelled to drink beer – they could meet up earlier in the day over a coffee. Whatever works best for them.
Early days yet but we have asked the pairs to feedback on their sessions via the Yammer group. If new ideas have come up as a result of this collaborative conversation, we hope that they will share these and we have offered a prize to the best idea.
I am now looking forward to hearing stories about Random Tea Learnings, Random Water Sharings and Random Fruit Juice Innovations!
Oh I forget to mention, the Bank of England has a form of RCTs they call CoffeeFours where four people meet up once a month for conversation. There are all sorts of different ways of running these things.
Give them ago, the cost is minimal and the potential outcomes high.
Every three weeks, country office and field staff gather for a two-day ‘Learning Circle' to share their successes, challenges and experiences, and at times to engage with external participants and speakers.
These have helped them understand key developments in their specific area of work, and gain new knowledge and skills from their colleagues and visitors.
Examples have included their finance director sharing insights on global economic markets, the Office Drivers sharing their safe driving techniques and a local attorney advising staff on estate planning.
Initiatives such as these are simple and effective.
Not only do they encourage people to reflect more deeply and more broadly on various aspects of their work, they also encourage them to interact and learn from one another.
Yes - that's two whole days every 3 weeks for the Learning Circles - I'd love to see more organizations take such initiatives.
I have been taking part in this annual conference for far more years than I care to remember and this year I will not only be chairing the first day but giving a presentation on Conversational Leadership.
On the second day, my good friend and colleague Paul Corney will be chairing the event. As ever, it looks like being a first class conference with some great speakers including Dave Snowden, Bonnie Cheuk, Paul Corney and many more.
I have not quite decided what I am going to talk about yet - its next on my todo list - but I am tempted to use Cory Doctorow's quote “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” as the title for my presentation.
I would like to get across the point that conversation is our most social of social media and should not be overlooked.
The shift in the world begins with a shift in our thinking.
Shifting our thinking does not change the world, but it creates a condition where the shift in the world becomes possible.
Peter believes that the key change required in our thinking is to move from thinking of ourselves as the outcome of something done to us i.e. effect,
to thinking of ourselves as the cause of what is happening.
So in any situation, a question to ask ourselves is "What is cause and what is effect?" "Which way around is it?"
What would it mean if our way of seeing a situation was reversed. If we reversed how we saw cause and effect.
Are we the ones actually causing the situation rather than others? Are we trying to solve a problem that we attribute to others that is in reality a problem of our own making?
Did this cause and effect co-evolve - is there no right answer?
Interestingly, Peter says it does not matter if the reversal is true or not but to ask yourself which form of thinking is the most useful - which gives us the most insight and the most power.
So in any situation, you don't have to believe it, just pretend that things are around the other way. What insight does that give you? What would it mean?
Here are some reversals to provoke your thinking (one or two of them especially so) - most of them Peter's but a few of them mine:
The audience creates the performance
The conversation creates the speakers
The consumer creates the marketeer
The subordinate creates the boss
The child creates the parent
The employee creates its leadership
The student creates the teacher
The future creates the present
The listener creates the speaker
An openness to learn creates the teaching
Problem solving occurs to build relationships
Think about it. I believe this is a powerful personal and group thinking tool. I may try to use it in someway in a future Knowledge Cafe.
Business is a conversation because the defining work of business is conversation - literally.
And 'knowledge workers' are simply those people whose job consists of having interesting conversations.
It's always struck me that David didn't say productive conversations or conversations with "hard outcomes" - he simply said interesting conversations.
I recently shared this quote with someone and their response was but "to what aim are such conversations?"
This strikes at the heart of the matter - many managers, to my mind most managers, worry that people will spend their time talking about things that are not important.
They feel the need to control or have oversight of the conversations to ensure they are focused on the business and are efficient.
They don't trust people to decide what to talk about - what is relevant - what is important - what is interesting.
My message to managers "Let your people go - they are in a much better position than you to decide what is interesting and what is not."
Counter intuitive conversational research - Comments
As I research and write about Conversational Leadership I am forever on the lookout for good research papers and articles concerning conversation.
If you are aware of any such papers - do let me know.
Here are the few I have discovered.
Research Papers on Conversation
Recent research that has not been widely published throws some fascinating light on the power of conversation.
Some of it is surprising, even counter intuitive.
Who would have thought that having a friendly conversation can boost your cognitive ability or that team performance can be improved by increasing the amount of face-to-face communication regardless of what is talked about.
Friends (and Sometimes Enemies) With Cognitive Benefits:
What Types of Social Interactions Boost Executive Functioning?
By Oscar Ybarra, Piotr Winkielman, Irene Yeh, Eugene Burnstein, Liam Kavanagh http://spp.sagepub.com/content/2/3/253
Talking with people in a friendly way can make it easier to solve common problems. But conversations that are competitive in tone, rather than cooperative, have no cognitive benefits.
In small, 5-person groups, the communication is like dialogue and members are influenced most by those with whom they interact in the discussion.
However, in large, 10-person groups, the communication is like monologue and members are influenced most by the dominant speaker.
Performance is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.
I started running my Knowledge Cafes over 10 years ago out of my frustration with death-by-power-point presentations. Little did I know back in 2002 that they would take over my life!
Since then I have run many hundreds of them all over the world and have further developed the concept. What I love about the Knowledge Café is that it works in all the cultures I have encountered.
Gather people in small groups of 3 or 4, remove the barriers to conversation especially fear, allow people to converse in their native tongue around a topic in which they feel passionate and they will engage enthusiastically every time.
Today, my interest has broadened to the concept of "Organizational Conversation" and "Conversational Leadership" and the multitude of ways that conversation can be used in organisational life.
So I was delighted when Dr. Vincent Ribiere of the The Institute for Knowledge and Innovation (IKI) - South-East Asia and Thailand Office invited me to be the editor for the May Edition of their iKnow Magazine for Innovative Knowledge Workers and agreed I could build the issue around the topic of Organizational Conversation.
I am pleased to have some wonderful contributors. First, I take a broad look at conversation. Nancy Dixon looks at what makes a conversation effective. Keith de la Rue talks about conversations for innovation. Shawn Callahan writes about the role of storytelling – a very natural form of conversation. Mariette Peters takes a practical look at what it takes to get lawyers to open up, talk with each other and share their knowledge. And Carla Sapsford Nemman looks at conversations as catalysts for inciting strategic storytelling.
I believe that conversation is our most powerful business tool and that each and every one of us has the potential to leverage our personal effectiveness by taking a conversational approach to our work.
So let's have no more of the "stop talking and get to work" and more "get to work and start talking."
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for April 2014 to May 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
Introduction to the April 2014 Knowledge Letter - Comments
I spent the Easter Saturday on an over night flight to Dubai and Easter Sunday speaking on Dubai Eye 103.8 - a Dubai radio station and then travelling on to Abu Dhabi.
I then spent Easter Monday delivering a Knowledge Cafe workshop as part of a Leadership Communication Conference. The Tuesday was the main day of the conference and on the Wednesday I flew home.
So that was my Easter break gone.
I would have rather been at home with my wife as we do not get that many long weekends together but my job means that I need to work anywhere in the world and be available 52 x 24 x 7.
I don't have a problem with that and my wife supports my decision.
So when Euan Semple talks about Proper days off I have a lot of empathy with him .
Some years ago I gave a series of mini-interviews that I posted on YouTube.
(I am not going to check how many actual years it was as I look so much younger then!)
One of them was entitled "How do you make people share?"
You can view it here.
In the video, I talk about the need for ownership of any change you wish to instigate in an organization verses trying to get buy-in through bribes such as rewards.
This is still an issue dear to my heart as I continually see so many organizations get this wrong.
In her email she shared several resources with me including a great handbook entitled Engaging Everyone with Liberating Structures
It is full of useful resources and advise but what quickly jumped out for me was the section on "Ownership verses Buy-in".
Here is what she has to say.
Ownership is when you own or share the ownership of an idea, a decision, an action plan, a
choice. It means that you have participated in its development; that it is your choice freely
Buy-in is the exact opposite. Someone else, or some group of people, has done the
development, the thinking and the deciding, and now they have to convince you to come along and
buy-in to their idea -- so that you can implement their idea without your involvement in the
initial conversations or resulting decisions. Aiming for buy-in creates lukewarm, pallid
implementation and mediocre results.
When it comes to solving intractable socio-technical behavioural problems in systems the notion
of buy-in is just not useful – people in the system need to own the new behaviors.
Anytime you or someone around you thinks or talks about buy-in, beware! It is a danger
signal telling you that your development and implementation process is missing the essential
ingredient of involving all who should be involved.
3 mini-interviews with Kuebel-Sorger Ludger, head of the KM practice at Boston Consulting Group. - Comments
Ankur Makhija recently emailed me to let me know that three new mini-interviews, recorded at the KM India Summit in Bangalore in February with Kuebel-Sorger Ludger who heads the Knowledge Management practice at Boston Consulting Group have been added to the
eClerxServices KM Channel on YouTube. This makes over 40 mini-interviews now, including some early ones with me.
One of the problems of discussing issues in on-line forums is that it is far too easy to be misunderstood.
When you compose a post, you often overlook to explain a lot of the background context and much of your reasoning and so you open yourself up to misunderstanding.
And when reading another person's post, maybe their reply, you misinterpret what they have written in a similar manner.
Unlike face to face conversation, you can't correct misunderstandings easily and quickly. and so it is easy to slide into an argument.
What makes things worse, is that you know there are possibly hundreds of observers watching the exchange and you do not wish to lose face.
You also have the problem that when having a conversation with someone you know well you can read between the lines. Even when they state something badly, you know what they really mean.
But of course the observers don't and so you feel the need to respond to the issues as stated and not as understood else you are in danger of being misunderstood yourself by the observers and thus open yourself up to attack.
This is just one of the reasons why I think online forums are great for sharing stuff but not so good for two way interactive conversations especially where the participants do not know each other well.
One thing I said that seemed to resonate with Andrew and Rob was relationship before collaboration - in other words before you can effectively collaborate in an organization you need to establish good relationships first.
Those of you on the ball will recognise this is an adaption of the words of Peter Block when he says connection before content.
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for March 2014 to April 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
What is it about conversation at times?
I see someone struggling with what to do in a situation. They ask for help.
I want to have an open conversation with them to explore ideas.
But as soon as I start to talk - they start to argue, they defend, they attack -- I say "look just reserve judgement for now" - but they seem incapable of that.
They state assumptions as a matter of fact - I suggest there maybe be other causes/reasons - they are categoric that their view is the only one and the right one.
They turn the conversation emotional.
Actually, this is not really a conversation - it never can be.
Maybe I am not skilful enough - maybe what I say or the way I say it seems like an attack on their judgement - on their intelligence.
But in some situations - how ever I play it - the conversation is turned into a debate - a fight as to who is right and who is wrong.
But maybe there is another way of looking at it?
Advice is unfriendly to learning, especially when it is sought.
Most of the time when people seek advice, they just want to be heard.
Advice at best stops the conversation, definitely inhibits learning, and at worst claims dominance.
Capturing actionable insights from Knowledge Cafes - Comments
I have long wanted a way to capture "actionable insights" and feedback from my Knowledge Cafes that did not get in the way the conversation, was easy, simple; that everyone could do and that allowed me to collate and distribute the items to the participants.
A few weeks ago, after some inspiration from Paul Corney and Mark Field, I decided it was time to try an experiment
and I have developed a system to capture items by SMS and post them to a page on my website that I am calling an "SMS Wall".
Why do it like this rather than use Twitter or some other social tool? Quite simply, I wanted everyone to have the ability to post to the wall.
Not everyone, has a smartphone, not everyone uses Twitter and not everyone has an internet connection but almost everyone has a basic phone with SMS and knows how to use it.
People can also post messages before the Knowledge Cafe, during the KCafe, at the end of the KCafe and even on the train on the way home.
I can also dump the messages to a text file and email them to all the Knowledge Cafe participants as a record of the event.
I'll be trying it out a London Knowledge Cafe very soon. I plan to display the messages on a screen at the end of the KCafe but I think the real value is not so much the ability to see them in real time but to be able to view them in retrospect - say the following day but as I say this is a bit of an experiment and we will see how t all plays out :-)
This of course took a bit of technology to put in place:
a laptop with a 3G modem that receives the SMS messages
a clever bit of software called SMSEnabler - this takes incoming SMS messages on my laptop and sends them on as email
being able to email messages into a Lotus Notes database i.e. my website
about 2 days worth of coding effort by me to write an agent to process the emails and post them to a webpage (my techie background comes in handy sometimes!)
One of the reasons that people often give for not taking a more conversational approach to their work is the lack of time. Many even see it as a waste of time.
But its through conversation that we learn, make better sense of the world, glean insights, spot new opportunities and avoid pitfalls.
The time invested in a conversation almost always has a payback and saves time in the longer term.
Ponder what these 3 great men have to say :-)
The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, 'Wrong jungle!' ...
Busy, efficient producers and managers often respond ... 'Shut up! We're making progress!'
If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for Feb 2014 to Mar 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
Not long left! Free access to Knowledge Management Research & Practice during March! http://bit.ly/1hbzglB #KM #KMers
One of the issues that occassionally comes up when I am designing a Knowledge Cafe for an organisation is the fear that people will use it as an opportunity to dissent about some issue. And managers wish to know how I will prevent that.
What I have never been able to understand is why managers are so afraid of people dissenting - so much so that everyone knows that "no" is not an option and so give lip-service to the agenda on the table and moan or bitch behind his or her back - there is no real commitment.
If people, are not happy then surely, as a manager you would wish to know that.
As Peter points out its your job to surface doubts and dissent. They need to be discussed.
"No" should be the beginning of a conversation and "Yes" really does have no meaning, if we cannot say "No"
Social software tools to facilitate research and researchers in achieving their objectives - Comments
My good friend Professor Dan Remenyi is developing a repository of social software tools which will directly facilitate research and researchers in achieving their objectives.
He is looking to collect examples of useful products and websites and also anecdotes about how they have been used and what type of results have been achieved.
This will eventually be published on a website and in an e-Book and all contributions will be acknowledged.
Please contact him if you would like to make a contribution to this repository of knowledge.
His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
How do we transfer knowledge through everyday meeting talk? - Comments
It's not too often I get the opportunity to help out someone who is doing some really fascinating research into Knowledge Management and conversation.
So could anyone help out Lesley Crane please?
Lesley is a final year PhD student investigating organizational knowledge work - knowledge transfer and sharing.
Her study focuses on how such work is accomplished in everyday meeting talk.
This seems to me to be an original approach in that it locates the study of knowledge in talk and text, and it is this discourse which she is analysing to investigate how and with what effect people share and create knowledge.
She is looking to engage with organizations who would be willing to take part in her study.
It is unobtrusive - she doesn't even need to be present!
All she needs are good recordings of any type of organizational meeting.
The only proviso is that participants need to be English speakers!
Confidentiality and anonymity are guaranteed.
The consequences of wolves and our actions - Comments
One of the things that has long intrigued me is the unintended consequences of our actions.
We do something either intentionally or by accident and as a consequence of that action a whole load of unintended consequences follow.
Those consequences can be good or they can be bad.
If they are bad and we notice them we can take corrective action.
But too often, we either do not notice the consequences of our actions or if we do, we do not attribute them to our original action.
Things change and we have no real idea why and the last thing that we do is to put it down to our own actions.
This little video about wolves in Yellowstone Park is a wonderful example of this in action
The last wolf was killed in Yellowstone National Park in 1926 and they were not reintroduced until 1995.
Seems the impact has been amazing. Would you ever expect less than 100 wolves to actually have an affect on the course of the rivers in Yellowstone Park. Take a look at this video and see why!
How wolves change rivers or read about it here in the History of wolves in Yellowstone.
What else do we do or decide not to do in this world but have no idea of the real consequences - many of them long them where the connection between cause and effect is lost?
Gurteen Knowledge Tweets: February 2014 - Comments
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for January 2014 to February 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
The only reason to come together face-to-face is for people to be in conversation with each other @NancyMDixon http://bit.ly/YJHM5A
Disruptive innovation, conversation, requires no enterprise social media, no 2-yr IT project, no so-called management http://bit.ly/1c9v9Vc
Introduction to the February 2014 Knowledge Letter - Comments
I upgraded my iPhone just before Christmas to an iPhone 5S.
I wasn't expecting a great deal. I was expecting it to be faster to have a longer battery life and of course a better camera.
I certainly wasn't expecting it to have a major impact on my productivity.
What is the magic app that is making all the difference?
Quite simply it is the in-built speech recognition facility.
It's quite amazing. If I speak slowly and clearly it is 100% accurate.
I use it all the time to dictate SMS messages.
But more than that I use it to compose emails and blog posts. I am using it right now to create this newsletter.
I gather there is a similar function on other smartphones but I have no idea how good the transcription is compared to the iPhone.
What surprises me though is that I discovered it quite by accident.
Like me, you may not be familiar with the capability.
I have mentioned it to several people with iPhones and they were not using it.
Try it out, if you haven't, you will be gobsmacked.
What is really cute though, is that with a little bit of my own coded Lotus Notes technology I can record a blog post and email right in to my website.
It's a dream!
The Sustainable Organization Library (SOL) - Comments
I was talking with Holly Shukla at the AKISS conference recently and she told me about
the Sustainable Organization Library (SOL) -- an online collection of book chapters, journal papers and cases on sustainability and social responsibility.
If your business is interested in sustainability and CSR (and damn it you should be!) then this looks an extremely valuable resource.
If you would like to know more about the SOL library then contact Holly at GSE Research and if you mention my name she will give you a free trial access and a discount on any subscription you may take out.
Imagine looking into another room through a glass window and as you walked around in your room the perspective of everything in the room through the window changed just as in real life.
In other words, when you move, the video follows, adjusting itself in real-time to give the effect that it was a real window! Everything displayed of course is life size!
The Kinect makes this possible by having a depth detecting feature, allowing 3d video capture.
10 Kinect cameras are used for capture and 1 for tracking.
I am imaging that the screen/window was a cylinder in the middle of the room that you could walk around. Is that possible?
It reminded me of a Knowledge Cafe I ran at an ECKM conference in 2007 in a University in Barcelona where the chairs were actually screwed down to the floor ... so we went across the road and held it in a real Cafe!
Does Pope Francis know something about Knowledge Management? - Comments
Does the Pope Francis know something about Knowledge Management? Here is a recent quote from an interview with him.
To my mind, it's not only the Church that needs to preach less and listen more- we all need to :-)
Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense.
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.
Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs.
This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas.
The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.
And then recently, I was talking to Kitty Wooley on Skype about this and we decided it would be interesting for her to join one of my London Knowledge Cafes virtually as an experiment. So this would be one virtual person in a sea of real people.
My first thought was to have the "virtual Kitty" sit at a table as a laptop or better still as an IPad and to connect via Skype.
It seemed to me that this could even work more generally if there was just one virtual person per table.
But as I reflected on it - I realised that there might be some better technology available than a laptop or an iPad.
My first thought was a remote controlled WiFi webcam such as this one
BESTEX remote controlled webcam
But it was obviously not ideal and so I Googled around a little and found Beam+
Both are wonderful but expensive pieces of technology that I am sure will come down in price overtime and will have their place.
But I wanted something simpler and less expensive and it did not need to be mobile.
I then came across the Logitech BCC950 ConferenceCam
At first glance, it looked as if in combination with a laptop, it might work well until I realised that the person "beaming in" could not control where the camera was looking.
A big disappointment!
But I am sure it is only a matter of time before I can purchase something like this at a reasonable price and simply place the virtual person on a chair with the others at the table and for a good group conversation to take place even though it will still fall short of a genuine face to face, "body to body" conversation!
... The common knowledge management
focus on best practice is in effect contrary to
natural practice; an attempt to impose an
idealistic structured process onto the natural
activity of learning and knowledge transfer
through a focus on efficiency at the cost of
Here are what I consider some of my more interesting Tweets for December 2013 to January 2014.
Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.
Making post project reviews more conversational - Comments
I am currently documenting the many ways in which I have seen the Knowledge Cafe taken and adapted by organisations for different purposes.
I am also writing about further ways in which I think the KCafe could be used.
Early last year, I wrote how I thought it could improve the Post Project Review process for a colleague, hoping that we might have the opportunity to try the process out with one of his clients but nothing came of it.
Rather than letting my thoughts sit on my hard-disk for another year or so I thought I'd publish them here. They are a little rough but I hope you will get the general idea.
If anyone would like to experiment with this process then get in touch with me.
Introduction to Conversational Post Project Reviews
Many post-project reviews rely on people filling in forms.
Or on meetings where the whole group is asked a question and people reply individually.
Or where people present their pre-filled forms to the group.
Others are based on interviews.
Often they are highly structured and formal in nature, with check-lists, specific categories of questions, pre-defined questions and pre-allocated times for discussion and so forth.
There is nothing greatly wrong with this structured analytical approach and there is no one way to run post-project reviews but its fair to say that in general they are not very "conversational".
By and large, it is assumed that people already know what the problems were and all that is needed is to capture the "lessons learnt".
The Knowledge Cafe Philosophy takes a different approach by assuming that until people start to talk openly about how the project went many of the problems and missed opportunities and insights will not be surfaced.
It takes group conversation, people talking freely and openly in small groups of 3 or 4 to achieve this.
It's not that the more formal approach does not work, it's that it does not surface the deeper, more important stuff.
One or more Knowledge Cafes can form part of any larger post-project review process and elements of this conversational process may be built into other activities.
A typical process might be as follows though this methodology can be adapted in many ways to meet the needs of the review.
The cafe process is described to the participants if they are not already familiar with it.
A speed conversation session is run. Here the participants are asked to join each other in pairs and have a brief conversation about anything they wish. Three rounds of 5 minutes each might be sufficient.
Some one talks for 5 to 10 minutes to set the context of the conversation.
They then pose a question to the group to trigger the conversation (more on the question in a moment).
People are seated in small groups, 3 or 4, at the very most 5 people group. There are no table leaders.
The small groups have a conversation around the topic/question and after about 15 mins are asked to change groups.
This change of groups takes place twice thus there are 3 small group conversations.
Everyone comes back together to form whole group. People move their chairs to form a circle and everyone sits in the circle.
The conversation then continues where people share their insights from the small groups with everyone.
Finally, the KCafe leader goes around the circle and asks everyone to share one lesson that they have learnt from the project and/or their KCafe conversations.
Recent research (Friends With Cognitive Benefits -What Types of Social Interactions Boost Executive Functioning? by Oscar Ybarra, Piotr Winkielman, Irene Yeh, Eugene Burnstein, Liam Kavanagh)
shows that talking with other people in a friendly way makes it easier to solve common problems.
Conversations that are competitive in tone however, rather than cooperative, have no cognitive benefits and actually suppress the ability to solve problems.
This is the reason for the short round of speed conversations at the start of the Cafe. It relaxes, people, gets them talking about uncontroversial things and actually boosts their thinking ability.
The essential ingredient of the Cafe is the small group conversations and the fact that each group is only 3 or 4 people in size (never less than 3 and never greater than 5).
Research on group size (Group Discussion as Interactive Dialogue or as Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size by Nicolas Fay; Simon Garrod; Jean Carletta) shows that in small groups the communication is like dialogue and members are influenced most by those with whom they interact in the discussion.
However, in larger groups, the communication is like monologue and members are influenced most by the dominant speaker.
Large groups tend to be dominated by one or two members to the detriment of the others.
In other words, if you are looking for highly interactive conversation that connects observations, thoughts and ideas and surface new things, then a small group size of 3 or 4 is essential.
The whole group is more suited to reporting back and sharing knowledge rather than surfacing or creating it.
The circle that is used for the whole group conversation is a very powerful.
By sitting in a circle, first and foremost everyone is equal.
Everyone can also easily see and hear each other. Its not easy to hide and its actually more difficult to dominate.
Importantly, the Cafe leader can also see everyone and through eye contact and body language to some degree can shape the conversation by indicating to dominant people they should talk less and encouraging the quieter members of the group to speak up.
There is usually only ever one question asked in a Knowledge cafe and as it is the trigger for the conversations that ensue it is of the upmost importance and it is essential to think about it and craft it carefully.
The KCafe is about creating a conversational experience.
In some ways the question should not be designed so much as to get answers to specific issues but to generate engagement.
Engagement at times can be important then content.
We are not looking for surface issues here we are looking for deep ones.
If the KCafe is held early on in the post project review, maybe it is the first item, then it sets the conversational scene for the remainder of the session.
We want people to feel relaxed, free from fear, energised and engaged.
One way to do this is to make the questions personal, responsibility and action oriented.
What did you personally learn from this project?
In what ways do you feel personally responsible for the outcome of the project?
What would you personally do differently next time as a result of your experience of working on this project?
What opportunities did you miss to do things better?
What was the most valuable thing you accomplished in this project?
Building elements of the Cafe into the post project review process
One very simple adaptation of the KCafe process is to build time for conversation into your existing process.
For example, at present, you may ask the participants as a whole group to answer a specific question and let some sort of conversation emerge around that question.
The KCafe approach, would be to have people seated in small groups of 3 or 4 and to ask them to discuss the question in their small groups first before coming together to discuss as a large group.
Forming a circle for the large group conversation is also a powerful KCafe technique to adopt.
There is not one, prescriptive way to do this but I think we need to get away from the rigidness and formality of so much that we do in corporate life and make processes such as this one more relaxed, engaging and conversational.
If you like these ideas, experiment and let me know how you get on.
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