Workspaces work

From Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes and Groove, comes this article, with extra references, on the death of e-mail. Some key points:

Anyone who is doing a critical business process online that involves substantial dialog between individuals should NOT be using email at this point in history, and many no longer are.

Think about the rate of increase of “noise” in email over the past two years, which is a very short time. Think about where we’ll be in as short as five years. Can you imagine?

If you have work to do with others, online, try workspaces. There are many different types – from Groove if you like client-based mobility, to SharePoint if you like using Websites.

Ozzie definitely has a vested interest in everyone using Groove, but as you can see from the last quote he also believes in other solutions: whatever works for you.

The thought that hit me the most was the comments about noise in e-mail. The problem today isn’t too much information, as many complain. Rather, the problem is too much noise.

“The problem with abundance”

From Globetechnology:

What do traffic jams, obesity and spam have in common?

They are all problems caused by abundance in a world more attuned to scarcity. By achieving the goal of abundance, technology renders the natural checks and balances of scarcity obsolete…. {snip}

Any technology which creates abundance poses problems for any process which existed to benefit from scarcity.

Obvious ideas once they are laid out in front of you, but not necessarily obvious ahead of time. Think “long-term effects” from “short-term actions”.

Muscle memory (or, “It’s just like riding a bike…”)

This is kind of a follow up to my last post. I played a round of golf today, a company sponsored event. I haven’t played golf in over two years, and never really played that much. Imagine my surprise when it came back to me pretty easily.

Made me think of the saying, “It’s just like riding a bike, you never forget how” (or something like that). Which got me thinking to the whole idea of explicit knowledge, lessons learned, and best practices. I realized, which I’m sure we all have at one point or another (or several), that you really can’t know how to do something unless you learned how to do it yourself.

Of course, this brings up another old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Yes, you can read books, examine case studies, and otherwise look at how others have done something. Until you’ve held the club in your hands, though, and swung at (and missed, or topped, or sliced, or…) the ball yourself, you don’t really know anything about it. As you practice more, and do the same thing over and over, making tiny improvements here and there, your body remembers.

The neurons, the muscles, the breathing, the posture. It becomes second nature. And once you’ve learned, you NEVER forget. Sure, it may take a while for your body to fully remember (it took mine about 13 holes), but it will remember.

It’s the same with an organization, assuming you have the appropriate “infrastructure”, i.e., sub-conscious (knowledge management).

Knowledge management as the sub-conscious of an organization

Another article from Vol 40, No. 4 of the IBM Systems Journal, a special edition dedicated to Knowledge Management: Where did knowledge management come from? by Larry Prusak. As the title suggests, Prusak discusses the history of knowledge management as a field, and how it got to where it is today.

As important, he discusses the future of KM, where it is going. Though he says a lot of good things, I believe the most important view of the future of KM is summed up in this statement from the article:

Knowledge management seems likely to follow one of two future paths. The better one is the direction taken by the quality movement. Its key ideas became so deeply embedded in practices and organizational routines that they became more-or-less invisible.

Some commentators have assumed that the absence of quality from center stage in management discussion suggests its failure; in fact, the opposite is true. People do not talk about it much because it is a given, an integral element of organizational effectiveness.

Knowledge management may similarly be so thoroughly adopted—so much a natural part of how people organize work—that it eventually becomes invisible.

The challenge, it seems, is how to get KM to be such an integral part of operations.

What is your company’s type?

Just as there are different temperament types for people, it seems reasonable to think that there are different “temperament” types for organizations. Understanding the temperament of the organization you are in – or the organization you are consulting for – can go a long way in helping you do what is best for the organization.

Of course, this leads to the question of how do you determine the temperament of an organization? I did a quick Google search on “Organizational Temperament Type” and I got a lot of results for individual temperament types in the context of organizational behavior, but nothing on the “type” of organizations. Maybe I just used a bad search term.

Is there a questionaire out there that could be applied to an organization? How would you apply it, since you can’t really ask the organization questions. Observation, maybe, where you answer the question for them? Or would you maybe ask different people from different parts of the organization specific questions and then pull them together? Would you use the same 16 types? Or would it be a subset of these? Or would it be completely different?

I’ll continue to search for more on that, but if anyone has thoughts on this or knows of something that has already been done, I’d love to hear about it.

You can contact me at

What is your type?

From Vol 40, No. 4 of the IBM Systems Journal, a special edition dedicated to Knowledge Management, is Views of knowledge are human views by Gunter Dueck. In the essay, he discusses the different types of knowledge and different “types” (in the Keirseyian sense) of people.

Bottom line, says that when you are working up your KM strategy you need to keep in mind what “type” of people are in your organization. More importantly, probably, is that you have to remember that your organization is likely made up of a bunch of different types of people.

In other words, there is no one-size fits all solution for KM.

More on Storytelling

Picked up the Matrix Reloaded DVD yesterday. Didn’t have time to watch the movie (that’s OK – I’ve seen it already), but I did have time to check out some of the extras. Unfortunately, the quantity of extras leaves something to be desired, but the quality is pretty good.

My favorite is the breakdown of how they prep’ed for and executed the huge (I should say HUGE, since the budget and time required for this one sequence probably rivals most full movies) freeway chase. As with any good story, they talked about what they were trying to do, how they set out about doing it, the challenges along the way and how they overcame those challenges.

What struck me while watching this, though, was the fact that this story was not told in retrospect – as in, “This is what we wanted to do, this is what we did, etc.” – but as the story developed.

If you are familiar with DVDs today, you know that these making of features are pretty much expected, especially for big movies like the Matrix or Lord of the Rings. In the early days of DVD, before this caught on, many of the making ofs were somewhat retrospective. And if you look at new, special-edition releases of older movies, they’ve gone back to create these featurettes because they know that is what people want.

But today, making the making-ofs is as much a part of making the actual movie as any other part, again especially for big movies that are doing things that have never been done. Obviously, some movies don’t lend themselves to a making-of featurette. Romantic comedies, for instance, are enjoyable to watch but very rarely have anything so new and cool in terms of film-making that make a making of worth making (or watching).

And this leads me (finally) to my point(s):

When considering story-telling as a component of your knowledge management or organizational learning strategy, are you looking at it primarily from a retrospective viewpoint (“Wow, this project worked out pretty good, we should tell the story to others so they can learn”) or do you plan to tell the story from the beginning (“Well, we don’t know how this is going to work out, but we’ve never done anything like this before so we should document it as we go so we can share with others”)?

Do you consider the value of the story you are going to tell in terms of uniqueness of the event? In other words, do you bother trying to tell stories of things that have been done before, or do you focus on the new things that can bring value and competitive advantage?

edited 12/05/05 to add technorati tags

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Knowledge management and organizational learning – part 1

This is going to be a long running, multi-part stream of thought. Just a warning….

When I think of Organizational Learning, I can’t help but start to think of an organization as something, an entity, that can learn. It doesn’t have to be a conscious entity, think of ant colonies. But why not look at it from the context of it being a “conscious” entity?

Acknowledging the risks and short comings of anthropomorphism, I can’t help but look at an organization – say a corporation – in the context of a complex, conscious system such as a person. Once you’ve taken that leap, you can start to consider all sorts of analogies and metaphors for how an organization works.**

To the point: If an organization is a complex, “conscious” entity, then I submit that knowledge management is the sub-conscious of the organization. Individual members, teams, etc within the organization make up the neurons, organs, etc., and knowledge management is what pulls it all together so the “mind-body” connection works.

The obvious example for people is driving a car. How often have you arrived at a destination only to wonder how you got there because you don’t remember the drive?

In an organization, the analogy would be some process, any structured rote process. The ‘know-what’ of the process would be explicit knowledge that each member of the organization acts on, consciously determined by the organization: You do this, they do that, etc. The ‘know-how’ of the process, however, is the tacit knowledge of the organization, something that is embedded in the way the organization works. The organization just does it, with no conscious thought at the organizational level, only action at the ‘neuron’ level.

to be continued…

** It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway): Just because I am looking at an organization as “conscious” for the purposes of this discussion does NOT mean the individual consciousness of the members of this organization is unimportant. If you stick around long enough in the discussion, I hope to get around to how to keep all that in mind to help an organization do what’s best for the organization as a whole and for the individual members of that organization.