Gurteen Knowledge-Letter: Issue 3 - 3rd August 2000


First Published

August 2000


Ellen J. Langer

The Gurteen Knowledge Letter is a monthly newsletter that is distributed to members of the Gurteen Knowledge Community. You may receive the Knowledge Letter by joining the community. Membership is totally free. You may read back-copies here.


Welcome to the third issue of the Gurteen Knowledge-Letter. This
newsletter now goes out to over 600 people - mainly in the UK
but more than 100 overseas - primarily the US. What is
surprising is that I personally know over 400 of you! It has
been a great vehicle for putting me in touch again with many of
my old colleagues.

I've been receiving some very encouraging feedback and would
like to extend the distribution list. If you find the
knowledge-letter useful and have friends or colleagues whom you
feel would like it too - could I ask you to forward this copy to
them and suggest they sign up. Thanks David.


1 - Individual Influence
2 - An Introduction to After Action Reviews
3 - The Coffeemachine
4 - Book Review: The Power of Mindful Learning
5 - Quick Clicks
6 - Events


When ever I hear consultants talk about Knowledge Management or
Organisational Learning or Quality - they almost always
emphasise the point that such initiatives must be led from the
top if they are to succeed. On the other hand I so often read
about the failure of such initiatives because they were led from
the top with little buy-in or commitment from people lower in
the organizational hierarchy.

If you wait for leadership from the top - you may wait for ever
and if, and when, it comes, it may fail. So why wait? Why not
start within your own sphere of influence - in a small way - to
make a difference in your organization by leading by example.

In light of this philosophy I am always drawn to disciplines and
tools that empower the individual whether its the CEO of an
organization or a new graduate.

The following discipline of the "After-Action Review" is one
such tool. It can be employed by an individual to his or her own
work without involving anyone else; it can be employed at the
departmental or team level or it can be deployed company wide as
an organizational learning tool.


One very powerful learning tool is the "After Action Review".
An "After Action Review" or AAR as it more conveniently called
is a simple process for improving learning on a daily basis. It
originated in the US Army and has been widely evangelised by
Edward Gutherie of Values International.

The concept behind an AAR is incredibly simple. After a business
event - you conduct an AAR. You ask the questions:

+ What were the planned outcomes?
+ What were the actual outcomes?
+ What were the differences and why did they occur?
+ What can be learnt?

But what is a business event? Well it is any task or activity
that has:

+ a beginning and an end
+ a purpose
+ measurable objectives

It may be an entire action or small part of a larger action such
as a meeting or a presentation. For example:

+ a complete client assignment
+ a day with a client
+ a telephone call
+ a day in the office
+ a week's work

BP-Amoco has developed the discipline further to include the
concepts of "Learn Before", "Learn During" and "Learn After".

+ Learn Before: before a project starts - a project leader
might call upon people who have run similar projects previously
and a meeting is held to discover what can be learnt from the

+ Learn During: during a project - AARs are conducted on a
regular basis.

+ Learn After: finally at the end of a project - a large more
formal AAR is held to determine what can be learnt from the
whole project.

One important facet of an AAR - is that it is not about
"performance appraisal" - it is not about "judgement" - it is
not about "blame" - it is about "learning".

Another key point is that we can all start to conduct AARs
today. They are easy to run and their payback is high. We can
start by just conducting them personally for personal events or
if we are a team leader or manager for team events.

We also have the opportunity where appropriate to suggest them
at any meeting we attend. Quite simply at the end of a meeting -
suggest holding an AAR. It need only take a few minutes. Ask the

+ What was the purpose of this meeting?
+ Did we achieve it?
+ If not, why not?
+ What was learnt?

If it's a meeting with a customer - we can a conduct two AARs -
one with the customer and the second back in the office or in
the car where maybe quite different learnings emerge. We can
also use the above questions to help document meetings or

The AAR is a very powerful tool and as individuals we have the
ability to take it and adapt it to our own needs and to
evangelise its use throughout our organizations.

At a personal level, I find it useful for reviewing a day's work
and for reviewing a week's work. Another nice feature is that
when you come to ask the question "What were the objectives of
this event?" - you often find that you had no objectives or at
least no agreed ones. A lesson in itself - if you start to take
AARs seriously then you find yourself thinking about and setting
objectives for every event in your daily work lives. Now thats
got to be a good thing!

If you are interested in learning more about AARs, see:


I was recently introduced to The Coffeemachine by Professor
Clive Holtham of City University Business School (CUBS), London.

The Coffeemachine is a network of knowledge management
practitioners, set up by current and former members of CUBS.

Regular meetings are held, usually at the Business School, with
the aim of encouraging discussion and the exchange of ideas
relating to Knowledge Management. Anyone is welcome to attend.

If you would like to know more take a look at:

For other events relating to Knowledge Management and
Organizational Learning see:


This is a thought provoking book on "education" and "learning"
by Ellen Langer, a professor of Psychology at Harvard. She
argues that traditional methods of learning can produce mindless
behaviour because they tend to suggest that there is only one
answer to a problem or a single correct way to tackle a task.
She also argues that it is important to teach skills and facts
conditionally, to adopt varying perspectives and to set the
stage for doubt and an awareness that different situations may
call for different approaches or answers.

The book describes seven myths that in the view of the author
undermine true learning and discuses how we can avoid their
debilitating effects. The myths are:

1. The basics must be learnt so well that they become second
2. Paying attention means staying focused on one thing at one
3. Delaying gratification is important.
4. Rote memorisation is necessary in education.
5. Forgetting is a problem.
6. Intelligence is knowing "what's out there."
7. There are right and wrong answers.

The arguments are backed up by a number of scientific studies -
many of them conducted by the author her self.

Whether you agree with all her ideas or not - the book will
cause you to question some very deeply held beliefs - something
we all need to do from time to time!

See the book:

See the author:


Here are a few quick clicks!

Difficult Conversations (book):
Silicon.com (IT news):
Contentious (site for writers):
BBC(R1 ... R4 streamed audio and much more):

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

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