Archive for February, 2007

Quote for today

Keith February 24th, 2007

To truly show respect to people means to listen to and
value their opinions, engage them in making decisions and
trust them to take risks.  People will only share their
knowledge when they feel that they are trusted and
respected.

Memories are made of this

Keith February 21st, 2007

Kim Sbarcea has a new blog – ThinkingShift.  There is a thought-provoking article there on how “future archaeologists will view 21st Century life.”  It does make you wonder what we will look like…  I am reminded of a short story I read years ago about alien archaeologists exploring a post-apocalypse Earth, and pondering deeply on the cultural significance of a Donald Duck cartoon that had been preserved.

My brother has just completed his Master’s in archaeology.  His wife is writing a history of the city of Darwin for a Doctorate in history.  (This is a sequel to her earlier book, The Evolution of Darwin – you’ve got to love the title!)

In a recent conversation with them, I have only just become aware of a major bone of contention between these two disciplines.  My lay interpretation of this is as follows…

The archaeologist is interested in artefacts – things you can see and touch.  Oral history is not only meaningless to the archaeologist, it is anathema.  To the historian, however, oral history is in some cases the only thing they have to go on.  As you can imagine, there is some (good-natured) debate in my brother’s household.

So how will people remember our organisations in the future?

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Do you SMIF?

Keith February 20th, 2007

Blogs, wiki, instant messaging, CoPs, bulletin boards, email forums and more…  These are all Social Media.  When an organisation uses these as internal tools, then they can be called SMIF – Social Media Inside the Firewall. 

This is a term coined by Andrew Mitchell, one of my colleagues on the Melbourne Knowledge Management Leadership Forum.  SMIF includes anything that we do to help people inside an organisation interact with one another – particularly using some of the newer technologies, but it can include any form of social interaction.  It could be simply meeting over a coffee.

One KMLF meeting last year was a panel discussion of SMIF.  There were some interesting ideas and experiences shared. 

In one organisation, an executive complained: “blogs are useless drivel”.  But, as one of our panellists pointed out, you might as well say something like “paper is useless”.  All the tools we use to support social interaction are just that – tools.  How we use them, and what benefit we get from them, is totally up to the people that use them.

We use some of these in Telstra – and we are currently investigating further use.  The document library that my team operates, called the iStore, includes a feedback option on every document.  We encourage our sales staff to interact directly with the product managers and marketers that write our documents.

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Moving mountains

Keith February 15th, 2007

I just picked up a great Einstein quote at a workshop today: “We are boxed in by the boundary conditions of our thinking”.  The workshop was delivered by a team from “MoveMountains”.

We did an exercise in creative art.  An artist gave us instructions, and in less than two hours we each created our own pastel landscape.  Great fun!  And, along with the rest of the material delivered, very instructive in what you can actually achieve – in spite of the usually negative opinion we often have of our own ability in some areas.

Before I learnt anything about these principles, I used to think that I was not very creative.  Both my mother and my sister were good artists.  My mother, at 93 years of age, is still painting the occasional oil landscape.  My sister Pam, who passed away in 2000 at 55, was a very gifted artist.  I never had any such gift!  Even though I had a very positive upbringing, I nevertheless took on the idea that – because I couldn’t paint or draw – I was not very creative. 

Some years later, I realised that this was a very limiting statement.  In fact, I now believe that I am very creative – but mostly in other areas.  I have played guitar for about 38 years, and have found many other creative outlets.  Even the photo at the top of this blog site shows some creativity!

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So what do you do?

Keith February 13th, 2007

How easy is it to describe your job?  Once upon a time, most jobs didn’t take a lot of explaining.  But in today’s increasingly complex world, it seems to be becoming more difficult. 

For the average knowledge worker, it’s hard enough.  But if you go by the title of “knowledge manager”, as I still choose to do, it can be a bit tricky.  For one thing, everyone has their own definition of KM!  I am also the first to admit that my role really only covers one slice of the broad field.  Of course, many people in this sort of role may choose a different title, but the problem of explaining your work is still the same.

One helpful approach is to have an “elevator pitch”.  (We still tend to call it that in Australia, even though we have “lifts” rather than “elevators”.  “Lift pitch” just doesn’t quite sound right.)  I rather like Jerry Ash’s KM pitch.  My slightly paraphrased version:

“Knowledge Management helps people turn what they know into ideas that make a difference in personal growth, accomplishment and worth; and helps organisations turn what people know into value, competitive advantage and success.”

However, there are times when you may need something even more succinct… 

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How to make your people more creative

Keith February 9th, 2007

Mark Schenk at Anecdote posted an article a while ago on the impact of management style on individual creativity and innovation.  He included a quote from an article by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School on the importance of team leader behaviour.

Teresa found that individual creativity is a critical element of productivity, efficiency and work quality in today’s complex work in organisations. This article gives five key leader behaviours that have a positive influence on people’s feelings – and thus on individual creativity.  My paraphrase is as follows:

  • Support people emotionally.
  • Monitor people’s work in a particularly positive way – give positive feedback on their work, or give them information that they need to do their work better.
  • Recognise people for good performance, particularly in public settings.
  • Consult with people on the team – ask for their views, respect their opinions, and act on their needs and their wishes to the extent that it’s possible.
  • Collaborate – actually spend time working with team members on specific tasks.

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Stop the train, I want to get off

Keith February 6th, 2007

Shawn has just posted an interesting article at Anecdote about the problem with Melbourne’s train system.  With holidays, and other interruptions to my normal commute, I haven’t been using our train service much since before Christmas.  I’m not looking forward to riding the rails again this Friday!

As Shawn has explained, this seems to be more than a mechanical problem, even if a very complicated one.  As soon as you have people involved, it potentially becomes complex.

Back when I worked it the pure IT space (on a system called “EDG”), I had an interesting problem-solving experience.  The problem – and the ultimate solution – ended up being fairly simple, but actually finding the cause was a little more complicated.  However, the whole situation became more complex, due to people being involved.

I was fairly new to the team at the time, but had already become fairly familiar with the system.  However, I was still being treated as the “junior”.  Wiser heads than mine had already solved major problems on EDG; they could solve this one too. 

The unusual aspect of this particular issue was that two different things started going wrong at about the same time.  The senior people set to work, going through the usual fault diagnosis procedures.  Some were addressing one of the symptoms; some were working on the other.  I wasn’t called upon for my (fairly limited) experience.

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