Category Archives: Collaboration

Bye Bye Twitter?

I first joined Twitter in March of 2006. At the time part of my job at Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, a division of The Boeing Company, was to examine platforms described as examples of what was then referred to as Web 2.0, as well as new applications being referred to as “social media.” I was doing this as a member of the Knowledge Management team for the division, and as the Knowledge Management lead for the Space Shuttle Main Engine team.

In 2002, I had been leading the team that introduced one of the earliest “social media” applications to the SSME team and the organization as a whole. We didn’t think of it as social media at the time, however. Our main goal was to provide a tool (we called it an “enabler”) that made it easier to locate subject matter experts (SMEs) and facilitate not only communication between those seeking knowledge and those possessing it, but to capture that knowledge and make it easily accessible for others who might need it at a later date.

The name of the tool we purchased 1000 seats for was AskMe Enterprise. It was, if memory serves, based on a former website of the same name, but was now a proprietary tool meant to stay within the firewall of an organization. Rocketdyne needed something that would be useful internally and had no reason to use something that was open outside the organization’s firewall. In fact, given the nature of its products being open to the outside was anathema and a matter of national security.

At the same time, we were looking for a communications tool that provided one-to-many capabilities and short-form text sharing and publishing. There were several tools that were coming online around that time, including Jive and Yammer, but Twitter seemed to be the most interesting. Nevertheless, it took me something like six months before I could identify a use case for it. At the time it seemed merely a tool for non-productive jabber and gossip.

What changed it for me was when I found out the team preparing the Space Shuttle Orbiter for the next launch was using it to communicate their activities and progress. There were something like two dozen people who were working on various tasks that were independent in numerous different ways. If you’ve ever done project management, especially if you’ve used a tool like Microsoft Project, you know there are several types of dependencies between activities, e.g. finish-to-start (the most common). The Orbiter team, much like many of the teams that organizations (not just Rocketdyne) have to accomplish their work, would meet every morning to present progress and discuss how to proceed with remaining activities.

Twitter changed the dynamic significantly. Now, instead of waiting until the team gathered each morning, team members who were out in the field accomplishing tasks could communicate in real-time with their colleagues (all of them) when they had finished a task which was a predecessor to another team member’s task. All they had to do was Tweet. They didn’t have to compose an email, direct an IM to two dozen people, or make a phone call. They just had to follow each of their teammates.

This may seem a trivial thing, but if a predecessor task was completed at, say, two in the afternoon and that fact could be communicated to the entire team, anyone who needed that information to know where they stood in the flow of activities didn’t have to wait until the following morning stand-up to find out what their status was. Work on complicated engineering projects can be expensive and even apparently small savings of time could add up to saving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

So, that was my introduction to Twitter. I never could get my colleagues at Rocketdyne to use it. I had a hard enough time getting them to use AskMe and soon after I accepted an early severance package in May of 2010 (as the Shuttle program was coming to an end) it became obvious without my constant agitating for its use it wasn’t going to survive. It didn’t.

However, I kept a kind of love/hate relationship with Twitter over the years. There were times I didn’t pay much attention to it, and periods where I was quite active. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, after nearly a decade and a half, I was permanently suspended after I suggested a certain former guy might benefit from a coronary episode (I was only looking out for his best interests!). I created another account, which I am still using. Actually, I created two more accounts, one of which was also suspended, but reinstated upon appeal, though I no longer use it. Now, instead of @rickladd I’m @retreado.

I really wish I still had my real name, but it looks as though Twitter may not survive the petty indulgences of the world’s richest 10-year-old. Toward the end, I found Twitter to be an invaluable source of news, not so much as a primary but as a pointer to in-depth analyses, opinion, and good, solid journalism. It was a great way to keep track of trends and what movers and shakers were thinking, as well as hints as to which direction developing issues might go in. If Twitter does go away, I will miss it, but it won’t be the end of the world. I’ve already created an account at Mastodon and am considering other apps. Time will tell. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind taking a break from the immediacy and constant movement of Twitter. I’m getting old and I appreciate moments of silence more than ever.


Some Personal Space Shuttle History

Thirty-four years ago next month I showed up for work at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne Division. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, I was familiar with Rocketdyne, as during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs the rocket engines they made, which powered the vehicles used to launch our astronauts into space, were all designed and manufactured not far from where I lived.

The factory was in Canoga Park, but the engines were tested at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, which was in the hills to the west of my home. I have vivid memories of seeing the night sky light up and hearing the roar of those engines as they were being tested. I also remember going out at night and lying down on our front lawn to watch Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite (launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957) go by overhead. I was ten years old at the time.

While these experiences didn’t cause me to pursue a career in engineering, they did serve to pique my interest in astronomy and space exploration. They also had absolutely nothing to do with my ending up working at Rocketdyne. My beginning there was entirely serendipitous. I was working for the temp agency, Apple One, where I had been temping at a hard drive manufacturer called Micropolis. Their business model, perhaps the industry itself, was somewhat seasonal and work for temps was boom and bust there. As had happened many times before (we’d heard about it and weren’t surprised when it happened) business slowed down and they decided to lay off the temps, who comprised the majority of the workforce.

That was on a Friday. That evening, my contact at Apple One called me and asked if I could show up at Rocketdyne the following Monday. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the middle of January, 1987, almost exactly a year after OV-099, Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Challenger, exploded as it was ascending to orbit, killing all seven crew members.

I was to turn 40 years old later that year and of course I would show up. I needed to work. However, that it was Rocketdyne I was to show up at was something of a bonus, as far as I was concerned. I had known people who worked at Rocketdyne over the years, and it never occurred to me I could work there. I wasn’t an Engineer or a Scientist. I didn’t even have a college education, though I did have a Juris Doctorate, which I had earned eleven years before. I was the only person in my law school without a baccalaureate. None of that mattered as a temp (or what they called a “job shopper”.) They didn’t ask anything about my background or my capabilities. They just needed a warm body who could perform data input.

So, that following Monday I showed up to work at the plant on Canoga Ave. in Canoga Park. I had never worked at a really large organization before. In fact, with the exception of the temp job I had previously been working at, I had never worked anywhere that had more than a dozen or so people. Most places I’d worked only had five or six, at the most. Rocketdyne had armed guards at the gates. There were at least four entrances guarded by men with guns. It was actually a bit heady.

I ended up hiring in a year later and worked there until May of 2010, when I accepted an early severance package offered to everyone over the age of 60. I turned 63 the next month, June. I’m writing several memoirs, and my time at Rocketdyne will play a big role in at least one of them. However, my purpose here is merely to introduce one of the “awards” I received when I worked there.

I was not a big fan of individual performance awards, believing they tended to pit people against each other when, in fact, we needed to find ways to improve our collaborative and collective abilities. This particular award was given to each of the members of the Space Shuttle Main Engine High Pressure Fuel Turbo-pump team, who labored mightily to manufacture, test, and deliver 10 additional pumps for the program when Pratt & Whitney was unable to certify their alternate design. As our contract ran out, and we knew there would be no new business, the team had to wind down and members had to find other places to hang their hats.

You should note that everyone on the team received one of these shadow boxes, with a flag, a turbine blade, several mission buttons, and these inscriptions (see below.) I’m including the back, because our managers took the time to personally thank each person on the team; there were well over fifty, if memory serves. This “award” hangs in my home office. This coming May it will have been 20 years since I received it, and I’m every bit as proud of it now as I was back then. Plus … how often do you get to have a piece of rocket engine hardware and other space memorabilia?

PS – In case you don’t get to it (it’s on the back of the shadow box) that turbine blade traveled a total of 27,600,000 miles, mostly doing nothing after MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) on each flight.

PPS – Just to be clear, in these two photos (below) I’ve superimposed the award (from the front) on a picture of a shuttle night launch. It has a glass door, which I opened because it’s reflective and I didn’t want that in the photo, and digitally removed with Photoshop. I’ve separately added the two pieces of text from the back, without including the box, and superimposed them on that same night launch photo.

Obverse of My Turbo Team Award
Reverse of My Turbo Team Award

Working Remotely? Here’s Some Help

The need to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have done more to accelerate the digital transformation many have been working towards for years, than all of the bitching, moaning, hand-wringing, and pearl clutching heretofore expended on cajoling knowledge workers to adopt and adapt these technologies.

Five years ago I served as the developmental editor on the 2nd edition of “The New Social Learning.” I had the pleasure of working with the co-author of the 1st edition, who was the principal author of the 2nd, Marcia Conner. Marcia is one of a handful of people who recognized the need for, and the power of, such a transition . . . and this book was an attempt to help leaders and organizations move forward to adopt these new ways of working, and working together.

I recommend this book highly for everyone who is now finding themselves either working at home or dealing with today’s need to be more “distanced” from our colleagues. There’s a wealth of good info here. I urge you to check it out. It’s about far more than just learning.

“The Workplace Has Changed. At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication? Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them?”


Easing Up

While I know it means more lost jobs, ever since we started staying at home, I’ve enjoyed seeing TV pundits and their guests having discussions from their homes. The lost jobs I refer to are primarily the people that see to the hosts’ and guests’ hair and makeup prior to going on camera. That’s not feasible now and it’s sometimes quite obvious that people are putting on their own makeup (if any) and letting their beards grow (that would be the men, that is.)

Trevor Noah and His Books

It’s interesting to see the different levels of technology available to the hosts and guests as well. Some will be using wired earbuds, some will have airbuds, and some are using their computer or phone’s speakers and mic. The hosts, I’m assuming here, have access to more sophisticated equipment, though that wasn’t the case at first. It’s also been interesting to see the evolution of some of these shows, as I’m sure some of the tech they normally use in production has been moved to the homes of the hosts.

I’m speaking here of many of the afternoon and evening shows on MSNBC, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. All of these shows have a plethora of guests, and each one is communicating from somewhere in their home.

Another aspect of this new reality I find fascinating is where these people choose to set up their “studio.” On MSNBC, many of the guests (especially now, when so much of the news centers on this pandemic and many of the guests are medical and epidemiology professionals, as well as public health and service professionals, there are lots of bookshelves in the background.

Some of the guests are situated so it’s possible to get a glimpse of the titles of a few of their books and it’s possible to gain a sliver of insight into who these people are or, at least, what they’re interested in. My entire adult life, whenever I am at the house of someone I know, if I have the opportunity I will always check out their bookshelves. It’s not different when I have the opportunity to do so via the Tube.

Just one example. If I remember correctly, at least until recently, Trevor Noah had two books laying down on a shelf over his right shoulder. I don’t recall if I could make out the titles, but the authors’ names were quite visible and, frankly, that’s enough to get a sense of what he’s giving credence to or what he’s enjoying learning about. The two authors in this case were. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Eddie Glaude, two men I admire.

There are two other shows I normally watch, and each of them has chosen a wildly different approach for how to go about having a show with no guests and no crew (at least not at their homes.) They are Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher. John Oliver, whose show generally consists of him sitting behind a desk, with an audience, now sits in front of a white wall; that’s it. Bill Maher, on the other hand, has chosen to record his show in his backyard and he uses laugh tracks from old (and I do mean old – black and white) TV shows.

I can’t imagine how they’re thinking of doing original dramas, rom-coms, and the like, but I hope they never go back to doing reality shows. The last nearly three and a half years should have cured the majority of the nation from the need to ever see a reality show again.

Regardless, it’s interesting to watch the development of “workarounds” as their crews get more and more creative in dealing with working remotely. I’m hopeful it will result in a lasting change to how we view things like the need for men to wear a suit and tie almost any time a camera is on them. Or the need for women to have perfectly coiffed hair and painstakingly applied makeup. I’d like to see the world lighten up and relax a bit. We could use it.


Casual Everyday?

I wonder if this pandemic, and our response to it, will change how seriously we take ourselves. If you’ve been watching television—and I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume most everyone is—you may have noticed some changes in much of live news and late night programming.
Since nearly everyone who’s reporting is at home, by themselves, it’s obvious that the women anchors, reporters, and pundits are having to do their own hair and makeup. Regardless of how well they might do it, it’s not the same and it’s noticeable. I haven’t noticed how much, if any, makeup the men are wearing, but I have noticed a whole bunch of them has decided it’s not worth shaving right now (I’m one of them.)


So . . . what I’m wondering is, after we are able to return to some semblance of a normal life, where we can gather again so that newscasters and performers can return to the studio, when knowledge workers can return to their cube farms . . . will we? Better yet, should we? I spent the last few years of my career at Rocketdyne working from home. I’d like to think I was at least as productive, if not more so, than I was when I was going in to the office each day.


When I first started working there, I wore a suit and tie each and every day. By the time I left, the only time I wore a tie was if the “customer” (usually NASA) was visiting and we had to blow smoke up their asses. Knit polo shirts and chinos became acceptable and, on Fridays, everyone wore denim. I’d like to think one of the lessons we’ll glean from this (and there will be dozens, no doubt) is that we can be a lot more casual and still perform at a high level. And there are numerous ways to communicate, connect, and collaborate, especially if we’re not hamstrung by unnecessary and awkward notions of propriety.


What do you think?


Leading a Horse to Water

During my last eight years at Rocketdyne (which traversed ownership by The Boeing Company and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division) I was the Project Manager for an internal tool called AskMe. It’s original intent was to provide a method whereby people could find both experts and expertise, i.e. people with knowledge they needed or papers and other publications that expressed useful knowledge. I later came to realize what we were doing was using a social media tool.

During the entire eight years I worked on that system, it was a constant struggle to get people to use it. People clearly believed that sharing was not in their best interests. Either that, or they were too intimidated by the thought of putting their knowledge to the test of time, as the whole idea was to foster conversations that would be saved and could later be searched when that kind of knowledge was needed again.

At any rate, I tried lots of different ways of promoting the tool. This one, below, came about after I received an email (at home) for a penis enlargement product. I thought to borrow the concept and see if it flew. I have taken the liberty of blurring out my colleague’s face, as I’m not sure where he is and, frankly, I don’t even remember who he is!

BTW – Within a couple of years of my departure, much to the chagrin of many who had worked on it, the tool was gone. I’ll share later why I think this was so.


13 Reasons Why People Don’t Share Their Knowledge – and what to do about it

This is another paper I found on my computer. Truth to tell, I have no idea who wrote it. It could have been me, but I don’t remember. I searched the phrase from the title in Google, but could not find anything. Inasmuch as I retired from Rocketdyne (and the pursuit of enterprise-wide KM) nearly 10 years ago, it could be from something I encountered more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, I’m sharing it with the caveat that I’m not claiming to have written it; I’m only asserting it’s an important document for anyone who’s struggling with getting their organization’s people to share their knowledge for the benefit of their company. My experience, as well as my discussion with those who are still involved in the corporate world, is that knowledge sharing is still nowhere near as widespread as I think it should be. So, without further ado, here’s that Baker’s dozen of reasons people aren’t sharing:

  1. They don’t know why they should do it. Leadership has not made a strong case for knowledge sharing. Solution: Have the leader of the organization communicate regularly on knowledge sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.
  2. They don’t know how to do it. They have not received training and communications on how to share knowledge. Solution: Regularly communicate and conduct training, webinars, and knowledge fairs. Web-based training and webinar recordings should be available for all tools.
  3. They don’t know what they are supposed to do. Leadership has not established and communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing. Solution: Establish and communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals.
  4. They think the recommended way will not work. They have received training and communications but don’t believe what they are being asked to do will work. Solution: The KM leaders, knowledge brokers, and other members of the KM team have to convince people in small groups or one-on-one by showing them that it does work.
  5. They think their way is better. They are used to working on their own or collaborating only with a small group of trusted comrades and believe this is the best way. Solution: Regularly share stories of how others are benefiting from sharing knowledge using the recommended ways. This should help sway those stuck in their current ways to consider using better ways.
  6. They think something else is more important. They believe that there are higher-priority tasks than knowledge sharing. Solution: Get all first-level managers to model knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.
  7. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it. They receive no rewards, recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge. Solution: Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge. For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable rewards to those with the top point totals.
  8. They think they are doing it. They are sharing knowledge differently than the recommended ways (e.g., sending email to trusted colleagues or distribution lists). Solution: Assign people to work with each community and organization to show them how to use the recommended ways and how they work better than other ways. Providing a new tool or process which is viewed as a “killer app” – it quickly and widely catches on – is the best way for the old ways to be replaced with new ways.
  9. They are rewarded for not doing it. They hoard their knowledge and thus get people to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions based on doing other tasks. Solution: Work with all managers in the organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop rewarding the wrong behaviors.
  10. They are punished for doing it. As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they don’t achieve other goals which are more important to the organization. Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical processes and performance goals.
  11. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it. They are afraid that if they share knowledge, they will lose their status as a guru (no one will have to come begging to them at the time of need), that people they don’t trust will misuse it or use it without attribution, or that they will not achieve other more important goals. They are afraid of asking a question in public because it may expose their ignorance or make them appear incompetent. Solution: Position knowledge sharing as being a critical success factor for the organization. Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships through enterprise social networks and face-to-face meetings. Recognize those who ask in public, and provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others.
  12. There is no negative consequence to them for not doing it. Knowledge sharing is not one of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced. Solution: Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top – if the leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will happen.
  13. There are obstacles beyond their control. They are not allowed to spend time sharing knowledge, they don’t have access to systems for knowledge sharing, or they don’t have strong English language skills for sharing with those outside of their country. Solution: Embed knowledge sharing into normal business processes. Provide ways to collaborate when not connected (e.g., using email for discussion forums). Encourage those with weak English skills to share within their countries in their native languages.

For My Eyes Also (Part 7)

Here’s that Iceberg Metaphor Again!

Managing Culture Change

Corporate culture consists of three levels: Artifacts; espoused values; and shared tacit assumptions.[1] Each of these levels is important in understanding not only what corporate culture is, but how it works, and how it can be both changed and used to the benefit of the organization as a whole.

Artifacts

Artifacts consist of real, tangible things which can be associated with the organization. For example, McDonald’s has its golden arches, KFC has its colonel, and Nike has its swoosh. These are the most obvious, though not necessarily the most powerful, artifacts which can be associated with a company or organization. The more important artifacts are, for our purpose, things like architecture, décor, and the way people act while at work.

Some of the deepest feelings attributable to an organization’s culture are engendered by artifacts. For example, outside the main entrance to Rocketdyne sits an F-1 Rocket Engine. The engine stands approximately 20 feet high and, at its base, is around 12 – 15 feet in diameter. In front of it is a simple, bronze plaque, which informs you that this is the engine, along with four others, which lifted the Apollo Lunar Modules off the earth on their trip to the moon.

For anyone who works there, and knows anything about the company where they work, this engine evokes powerful feelings of accomplishment and success. I know from firsthand experience and observation that this frequently translates into a willingness (at the very least, resignation) to work that extra hour, to take a little more time in assuring your work is the best it can be.

Espoused Values

These may be characterized by, among other things, an organization’s beliefs, level of communication, and methods of accomplishing it mission. These values may be seen in such things as a company’s rules, policies, and procedures. It may be found on the walls as slogans and posters. In talking to members of the organization you may be told that the company believes in things like teamwork, “best practices”, continuous improvement, and lean manufacturing.

At Rocketdyne, the corporate mantra involves team-based component production, commitment to safety, scientific analysis at all levels of the corporate structure, and lessons learned, in addition to other policies and procedures too numerous to mention. It is the background against which our daily activities take place and translates into copious collections of data, numerous briefings to higher and higher levels of management, and close inspection and analysis of every piece of hardware which goes out the door.

However, while many of these concepts may be spoken of, and may even appear as items of value on the corporate web pages and on slogans and posters put up around the plant and offices, it does not necessarily follow that they are actually carried out in our day-to-day lives. Frequently, managers and others who will say they believe in stated policies, are nevertheless placed in positions where they are required by more specific policies to do exactly the opposite of what the company says it believes in.

At Rocketdyne, this can be seen in the use of individual awards and yearly performance reviews, in spite of the outer appearance given by a team-based organization. This is a case where the management, due to executive requirements, fails to “walk the talk”, and falls back on “the way we’ve always done it”.

This inconsistency leads to what is arguably the most important aspect of culture, the real, deep assumptions by an organization and its members of how to accomplish the daily tasks, the sum total of which are the company’s true vision and mission.

Shared Tacit Assumptions

This is perhaps the most pervasive and, with respect to efforts at change, the most insidious of the three aspects of corporate culture. They are the things which “go without saying”, which we accept as the ways of the world, or the ways in which things get done. People cannot readily tell you what their culture is, any more than fish, if they could talk, could tell you what water is.[2]

In the same way, a company’s shared tacit assumptions are taken for granted. Many, if not most, people are incapable of seeing any other way to perform a task or get a particular result. It is all they know, and to think otherwise is, in a word, unthinkable.

At Rocketdyne there are numerous ways in which this happens. They are frequently discovered only when something goes wrong, or when a series of small things go wrong which, by themselves might go unnoticed, but which lead to a major problem. We have studied the Valuejet disaster in 1995 at some length, yet as soon as we return to our jobs we occasionally find it easy to forget that it can, and sometimes does, happen to us.

We have instituted numerous methods of improving quality and performance, such as quality circles, continuous process improvement, and total quality management. We are in the process of instituting “lean manufacturing” and some of the aspects of the theory of constraints. Nevertheless, we continue to assume individual action and heroics are the real way things get done. We look for the engineer or mechanic who will come up with the answer to difficult problems, and neglect to look to the whole company for answers.

Recently, some managers have been looking for people who can “think out of the box”, who are capable of changing their frame of reference and understanding our problems in unique ways, or approaching them from a different perspective. Still, the focus is more on the individual and not on the team.

If one sets about to change a company’s culture, its view of the world, it is of the utmost importance to understand not only these three aspects of culture, but also the depth with which they pervade the organization. Failing to do so will certainly result in a misapprehension of the difficulty involved in change.

The most important things to realize are: 1. Culture is deep – it is tacit and gives meaning and predictability to our daily lives; 2. Culture is broad – it involves every aspect of our work and sometimes even invades the way we conduct our personal lives, and; 3. Culture is stable – people are generally not fond of change, and are far happier when everything goes along smoothly, just like it did yesterday and the day before. Any attempt to enforce change is likely to produce resistance and anxiety.[3]

As formidable as the technical and procedural issues of Knowledge Management are, the need to change an organization’s culture far exceeds them. Most all have heard the term “knowledge is power”. This is generally perceived to be so and frequently translates into a desire to hoard information. Many organizations have experienced the “building of empires” which stands in the way of its freely sharing collective knowledge. Without a major change in our attitude toward ownership of information, we will not be able to take advantage of the tools available to us.

Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline”, writes of the steps and the “core disciplines” involved in creating a learning organization[4] He points out that, among those disciplines, is that of having a shared vision, and why it is important. Here is what Senge has to say about shared vision.

“In a corporation, a shared vision changes people’s relationship with the company. It is no longer ‘their company;’ it becomes ‘our company.’ A shared vision is the first step in allowing people who mistrusted each other to begin to work together. It creates a common identity. In fact, an organization’s shared sense of purpose, vision, and operating values establish the most basic level of commonality. . . .

“Shared visions compel courage so naturally that people don’t even realize the extent of their courage. Courage is simply doing whatever is needed in pursuit of the vision.”[5]

I can think of no better way to conclude my paper. Moving from our current relationship with collective knowledge, our intellectual capital, may well require a massive rethinking of our entire corporate culture. There are organizations, mostly younger and already possessed of a shared vision which includes becoming a learning organization, who are already pursuing this path.

However, there are numerous, often older organizations which will be hard-pressed to find the courage and character it will take to let go of the control they feel they now have and embrace a new kind of control; that which comes from an entire organization pursuing the same goals and vision. Until we experience the transformation from being data and information driven, to being truly knowledge driven, we will frequently be at war with ourselves.

Knowledge Management provides some of the understanding of the problem, and the vision and direction we must strive toward. However, without fundamental changes in our attitudes the path will be long and fraught with difficulty. It is, however, truly a worthy struggle and is almost certainly inevitable. Changes in technology are coming at us with greater rapidity. We have no choice but to develop new ways of thinking to better take advantage of the new tools placed at our disposal. We owe it to ourselves.


[1] Edgar H. Schein, The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, (San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1999), pp. 15-20

[2] Schein, Op. Cit., p. 21

[3] Schein, Op. Cit., pp. 25 – 26

[4] Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline, “The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization” (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1990; A Currency Paperback, 1994)

[5] Senge, Op, Cit,. p. 208


For My Eyes Also (Part 6)

How We Acquire & Share Knowledge

The amorphous collection of knowledge residing within the minds and computers of any organization is now being referred to as “Intellectual Capital”. The question we face is how to preserve and invest that capital wisely. In order to understand and solve this problem it is important first to understand how we go about acquiring and sharing our collective knowledge.

The processing of knowledge can be seen as occurring in one of four interrelated steps. These steps may be characterized as sensing, organizing, socializing, and internalizing. Each of these steps may be further characterized by specific activities that people engage in to develop their understanding of, and ability to use, the information they receive.

Sensing

Sensing consists of two basic dimensions, discovering and capturing. Every day we are experiencing the world around us, whether at work, play, or rest. Regardless of where we are, be it work or home, the world impinges on us. It is the degree to which we pay attention to our world that determines how much we will discover, and how much of it we will manage to capture (remember).

In order for information to be shared, or even utilized by an individual, it must be captured. Capture in the context of this analysis consists of placing information or knowledge in a form which is accessible by others. One of the most obvious manifestations of information capture is a report, written and/or posted on an intranet site, This aspect of Knowledge Management can also be characterized as turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. It prepares the way for the next step in the acquisition and sharing of knowledge.

At Rocketdyne, this is done through reports such as Monthly Progress, Inspection Discrepancy and Correction, Periodic Schedule updates, Budget Variance, and others. These items memorialize the analysis, by various individuals, of information gleaned from sources as varied as the mainframe computer systems, their own experience, and anecdotal knowledge learned from others.

Organizing

Once information is acquired, it must be categorized and fit into each of our personal set of experiences. People who have been at a particular function for a long time generally know more about that function than those who have just started performing it. This is so because “veterans” have had time to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to adjust their behavior accordingly.

They understand almost intuitively how best to approach particular problems and how best to solve them. This is the area in which we develop our tacit knowledge, our knowledge which we find difficult to put into words, but know deep down.

Organizing also has an external dimension and involves such activities as: The writing of reports and presentations; the compilation of data, specs, or rules, and; the maintenance of databases, spreadsheets, drawings, and other documents.

Socializing or Sharing

No matter what our intelligence and experience, we still need to work with other people. Although not true of all, most of us do our best, and learn the most, when we collaborate and work with others. By working together, and sharing our thoughts and feelings, we are capable of looking at problems and situations from many different perspectives.

This is where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When people collaborate, they are generally capable of getting more done than when they work separately. This is obviously true of producing a complex product, and it is also true of understanding

Socialization consists of all the informal ways in which workers interact with each other and share knowledge. It is the tacit to tacit aspect of knowledge transfer. Informal email, conferencing tools, even meetings over lunch and before and after presentations and briefings fit into this category.

At Rocketdyne this activity take many forms and, in some ways, continues on throughout the day. In addition to the ways in which people share information informally listed above, there are numerous conversations which take place at peoples’ desks, over a cup of coffee, or during a cigarette break outside the building.

Internalization

Once information or knowledge is captured and set forth in explicit form, it is then possible for others to benefit from it. This is done, for the most part, through the reading of reports (however published) and the studying of graphs, charts, etc. This phase may be characterized as explicit to tacit and leads to summarizing, orienting, and personalizing of tasks and content.

At Rocketdyne, this is done in numerous ways. There are briefings taking place on a daily basis. There are Corrective Action Boards, Preventive Action Boards, Material Review Boards, Flight Readiness Reviews, etc. Numerous schedules and reports are placed on the intranet and each product team has its own intranet presence. Additionally, every process has an intranet presence.

Regardless of how we process knowledge, there remains the question of how we actually relate to it and its pursuit. Too often, in our zeal to get through the day, get things done, finish what we started, we fail to take the time to process what’s happening in our lives or on our jobs. By failing to do so, we rob ourselves of the sense of wonder and awe which precedes discovery and invention. A complete approach to Knowledge Management must include an understanding of the importance reflection and relaxation can play in the role of innovation. To do so may require entirely new methods of presenting information to knowledge workers, methods we can only begin to comprehend.

We do know this. These methods will undoubtedly spring from the World Wide Web and the Internet. Already, most large companies are using their intranet more and more to gather and present the collective knowledge of their organization. Both Boeing and Rocketdyne have an extensive intranet presence which includes Vision statements, Mission statements, and items ranging from “Lessons Learned” to benefits information to product part numbers and the Manufacturing Engineers responsible for them. There are pages and pages of content devoted to education, organization, and even Knowledge Management.


For My Eyes Also (Part 5)

Tacit Knowledge

There is one further dimension of knowledge which needs to be discussed, and that is the concept of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowledge which cannot be put into words. Despite the numerous definitions, and the apparent disagreement of what exactly Knowledge Management is, there appears to be a great deal of agreement on the type of knowledge which presents the greatest amount of potential benefit to a business.

IBM states the issue thus, “. . .lots of valuable knowledge ‘falls through the cracks’ within business organizations, never finding its way into databases, process diagrams, or corporate libraries. As a consequence, much of what the firm ‘knows’ remains unknown or inaccessible to those who need it. Such knowledge is present within the organization, but it remains hidden, unspoken, tacit. In business organizations, this hidden or tacit knowledge takes one of two forms: 1) knowledge embodied in people and social networks, 2) knowledge embedded in the processes and products that people create.”[1]

Tacit knowledge, therefore, represents at once both the most important type of knowledge and the least accessible form of knowledge. It is invaluable in efficiently carrying on the activities of an organization, yet is exceedingly difficult to harness in any meaningful fashion. Even when an organization is able to somehow chronicle the experience of its employees, it does not follow that it will be capable of passing that knowledge on in a manner that is both easily accessible and effortlessly assimilable. Two examples which come to mind from the organization of which I am a part are welding and scheduling.

Welding of exotic metals, especially for components which will be used in manned space flight and are, therefore, subject to the most stringent specifications, is composed of both explicit elements and tacit elements. While the former (the explicit elements) may be capable of precise, scientific expression, the latter of these are similar to art. It is not uncommon to find that a welder has retired and, suddenly, the company is without a person who can reliably perform a critical weld. Immediately, the company finds itself in a position where it must either allot a far greater amount of time to accomplishing the weld, or attempt to lure the retired welder back to perform the weld or to teach a younger welder how to do so.

The second example involves the scheduling of complex, time-phased activities which include the procurement, manufacture, inspection, and testing of literally thousands of items used in the manufacture of rocket engines. This task was performed for years by groups of individuals using hand-drawn Gantt charts. It is now being performed by individuals using a combination of mainframe software (e.g. MRPII, OPT21) and PC-based, standalone software (e.g. Microsoft Project98, Advanced Management Solutions’ RealTime Projects). Experience is showing that the earlier, more labor-intensive methods were, against all logic, accomplished with greater accuracy and reliability.

These two problems point to the necessity of Rocketdyne’s utilizing one of the basic elements of Knowledge Management, that of acquiring, retaining, and disseminating the tacit knowledge, gained through years of experience, of its workforce. This is not the same as simply cataloguing items such as tools used, temperatures achieved, lead time per component, and supplier on-time reliability, nor even placing all this information within easy reach through the company intranet.

Inherent in the definition of tacit knowledge is its ephemeral nature, the difficulty of conveying things which are understood, at times, only subconsciously or of which people are only vaguely aware. This, then, is probably one of the most difficult tasks faced by any organization, given our current state of development in the field of Knowledge Management.


[1] Working With Tacit Knowledge. Horvath, Joseph A., Ph.D. IBM

     <http://www-4.ibm.com/software/data/knowledge/reference.html> (undated; accessed October 28, 2000)


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