Tag Archives: Knowledge

Do I Really Have to Look at Your Ugly Mug?

My Babies

No Rights Reserved. So There!!

I had a great lunch with two former colleagues (and continuing friends) at a superb Korean restaurant today; one I never would have gone to on my own merely because it was in a location I just wouldn’t have thought of stopping to eat in. Then again, for many years I haven’t been the type of person who goes out much for lunch. I used to bring my lunch and eat at my desk and continue screwing arou . . . er . . . working. So, during the conversation we got to talking about one of my favorite subject, which is how important is face-to-face contact . . . really?

Lots of people I know insist face-to-face meetings are, hands down, the best way to conduct meetings. They believe the numerous signals that can’t be communicated virtually are so important to understanding and communication that without them too much is lost. To them, conducting meetings virtually is not useful enough to justify engaging in often. To some, it is of no value at all unless it includes a voice connection (at the least) as well. I’m not sure I agree with them. Actually, I don’t agree with them at all. I am in the opposite camp.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of face-to-face meetings. After all, you can’t go out drinking together if you aren’t actually together. Nevertheless, in today’s environment and, perhaps, regardless of how much the economic situation improves, travel is expensive in all kinds of ways. There’s the money spent on the travel and lodging itself. There’s the lost productivity while stuck in airports or overcoming jet lag. There’s the societal costs associated with the resources used to fly jets, drive cars, etc, etc. There’s being away from one’s family and the pressure that brings. There’s the cost of bringing souvenirs home for your kids that will often as not end up under the couch within a couple of days, not to be seen for a while (and surely not missed).

I just don’t buy the argument that being able to read facial expressions and body language are all that important. Perhaps when negotiating a complex contract, where there’s a bit of gamesmanship going on, it’s absolutely necessary. However, in the kinds of arms-length transactions that make up the bulk of the activity people travel to conduct, we can usually presume a desire to achieve the same, or similar, results – can’t we? I have a lot of relationships these days with people I have never met in person. I’ve seen still pictures (mostly avatars), but nothing else of them. Frankly, I don’t even know for sure it’s what they look like. Yet, there are ways in which trust is attained; built up in thin, seemingly tenuous layers of  engagement; in the sharing of innocuous details of one’s activities and interests, etc. Some of my “virtual” friends I feel closer to than I do to many of my “analog” friends.

This I attribute to the richness of communication that generally emerges with the proper use of a good social system. For instance, Twitter allows me to engage with people on several different continents. Over time, I know (and I can reasonably confirm it to be true) where they work, what they do, what they like, and – especially – what they think about things I like to think about. Over time I can determine whether or not they keep their word; that is, how trustworthy they are. In communication and collaboration, nothing is more valuable in my opinion than trust.

I want to repeat my position here. I am not suggesting meeting people in person is not valuable or that we can do away with it. I do believe, however, if we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to work with someone we just wouldn’t have the opportunity to sit in the same room with . . . it wouldn’t be all that terrible. I’m going to Boston next month to attend the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. Frankly, my main reason for going is to meet – in person – at least a dozen people I have been interacting with for various periods of time who I have grown to trust and respect. I wasn’t going to go, despite my desire to meet up with these new friends. Fortunately, one of them (@ITSinsider, aka Susan Scrupski) made me an offer I just couldn’t refuse. Had I not been able to attend in person I still would have continued my relationships with these friends, and I believe they would have grown and improved.

So. I kind of hope I’ve gored someone’s ox. Otherwise, why do I reveal myself this way? Who’s going to join the fray? Virtually speaking.


Older People Aren’t as Dumb as you Think, Kid

Whenever most people talk about technology and people my age, it amazes me how many assume we can’t set the time on a VCR (remember those?) or that our view of IM is that it’s a tool primarily useful for young teenagers to plot their escape from under their parents’ watchful eyes. Perhaps, as a generalization this is somewhat true, but it’s not really a correct depiction of how we more “mature” folks use and view technology. The reality is far more complex.

As someone who struggled for well over two decades to bring the latest technology into a large, ponderous, and eminently cautious aerospace company, I have encountered all types of people, from foot draggers (lots of them) to early (and enthusiastic) adopters. Obviously, my favorite is the latter but the challenge really presents itself in the former. One thing I found is that things aren’t always as they seem either.

For instance, I was working with a person who was the Director of a newly formed organization. He was nearing the end of his career, which had been very successful. He was a wonderful person; friendly, helpful, and full of joy and excitement for his job and the work of others. He was very supportive of using newer technology yet, despite continuous efforts to engage him in instant message conversations (our offices were quite a ways apart), he never responded to me. Frustrating!

One day I happened to be in his office to talk with him for a while. As I was sitting there he was composing an email. It was then I realized why he wouldn’t answer my IM communication attempts. He used what an old friend of mine used the call the “search and destroy” method of typing; what most call “hunt and peck”. Carrying on an IM conversation for him would be like talking with a very bad stutter and it just didn’t leave him with a warm fuzzy, so he did the best thing for him. He opted out.

So be careful how you categorize or pigeonhole people. This very successful individual had spent a long career doing just fine without IM. As much as I believe it was a superior tool for communication and that it served to enhance our ability to share (I sometimes now think of it as a stunted form of micro-blogging) information and knowledge, virtually all of his career had proceeded rather nicely without it. I knew I had to accept this and make adjustments.

He retired within a year and I, for one, was very sorry to see him go. Keep in mind there are many more wonderful people in your organizations like him – to one degree or another. Don’t shortchange them or your company by selling them short just because they don’t see the use of technology exactly like you do.


Has Knowledge Management Been Bad For Us?

In the world of Knowledge Management, we frequently talk about at least two different types of knowledge we deal with. The first is explicit, or codified, knowledge (stuff that’s captured and, hopefully, readily accessible in some useful form); the second is tacit, or tribal, in-the-head, “between the ears” knowledge. For most of my nearly 15 years of knowledge management practice in the aerospace business I have noted we spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and money working on the former.

At the same time we have continually asserted the vast majority of useful knowledge was the latter. Here, for instance, is a graphic showing the ratio of explicit to tacit as 19 to 1.

For me, this is huge! In fact, where I come from we tended to use an adaptation of the Pareto principle, i.e. an 80-20 distribution, so this graphic helps make my point a fortiori. Now let me get to my point. Last Wednesday (12 May 2010), Rob Paterson published a wonderful post at the FASTforward blog entitled “Have books been bad for us?”, where he discusses the question of whether or not the web is making us stupid, as well as his belief the opposite is true. He argues that books have actually stunted our ability to innovate and create new knowledge. You really have to read the whole post, but here’s a sample I like:

But with the book comes authority. With the advent of the book, much of knowledge development stopped. Only the in group was allowed to play. What mattered was not observation. Not trial and error. Not experiment. Not sharing. But authority. Most of the accepted authority were texts that had no basis in observation or trial and error. Ptolemy, St Augustine and Galen ruled.

Rob goes on to argue, rather than making us stupid, the web is providing us with the kinds of information and knowledge connections we used to have before the book removed the more communal ways in which most of our collective knowledge was arrived at in the past.

So, here’s where I find an analogy to the work I’ve been doing for some time. Much of of what we call Knowledge Management (at least in my experience) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time and expense on dealing with the 20% (or 5%, depending on who you listen to) of an enterprise’s knowledge that is explicit. We work on organizing share drives, federating search capability, and scanning and rendering searchable (through OCR) much of our paper-based, historical information. I’m sure there are other ways in which explicit, recorded information is analyzed and organized as a function of a knowledge management activity.

But I think we’re missing the point about the real value of knowledge. If, in fact, the largest (by far) percentage of an enterprise’s useful knowledge is locked between the heads of its employees and, if (as we frequently say about tacit knowledge) much of it can’t be accessed until it’s required, why are we not spending more of our limited funds on facilitating the connection and communication, as well as the findability and collaborative capabilities of our employees?

I’m not suggesting there isn’t value to content management, smarter search capabilities, etc. I am saying, however, that I think most organizations are missing the boat by not spending more of their resources on the thing that offers to connect their people; to create organizational neural pathways that promise to be far more beneficial to the overall health of the company in terms of product innovation and design, manufacturing processes, customer relations, project management, etc. (or on and on). I am speaking of Enterprise 2.0, on which I will have a lot more to say in future posts.

The problems we face with acceptance are monumental. People in organizations that have traditionally been hierarchical and within which silos and fiefdoms emerge, turf wars and power struggles go on, and people are both kept in the dark and made afraid for their jobs hasn’t exactly set the stage for the trust required to do any kind of knowledge management effort. Nevertheless, if we’re going to participate in the struggle, we ought to be shooting for the things that are going to prove the most valuable – in both the short and the long run.

I’m a book lover myself. My reverence for books is almost stupid, actually, but I’ve worked hard on overcoming it. Unlike Rob, I no longer wonder. I see the web, and the enterprise and its internal network, as the future of our group intelligence and knowledge. What do you see?


Saying “I Don’t Know” Will Set You Free

If you’ve ever been in sales, I’m willing to bet you know it’s never a good thing to pretend you know something you don’t. Unless you’re making an opportunistic, one-off sale and you don’t really care about any relationship with your customer, it’s far better to admit ignorance and pledge to get an answer ASAP. Frankly, I think it’s always the best tactic regardless of your relationship; it’s just plain ethical and, a bit ironically, smart.

Most people know when they’re being fed a load of crap and pretending to know something of which you are ignorant can open up so many cans of worms it’s hard to define all the consequences. One of the major ones, however, is never being believed no matter what you say. Not a good thing, whether in sales or elsewhere.

Anyway, this came up again for me today because of a tweet by @wallybock, who pointed me to an article in the New York Times’ Corner Office section. The post is entitled “What’s Wrong With Saying ‘I Don’t Know‘?” It’s a good interview of Rachel Ashwell, founder of Shabby Chic and, besides her admonition to not be afraid of admitting ignorance, there’s a wealth of good business (and life) advice in her words.


Once more unto the breach, dear friends

I’ve probably used this title a bit too often over time, but . . . what the hell, eh? Not sure I’ve publicized it, but I have decided to accept the early retirement package offered by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to all employees who have celebrated their 60th birthday. I will, therefore, at the tender age of 63 (well, a couple weeks prior to achieving that particular milestone) be a retiree. I’m not, however, actually retiring, as I can’t truly afford to. So . . . I’ll be looking for interesting things to do that will also bring in a little bit of income to supplement my modest pension and the reduced Social Security I will be “forced” to apply for a bit early. So watch for me to get increasingly “vocal” as I feel the need to make a little rain for myself. I’m hopeful I can do that without being obnoxious, but one never knows. Others will have to be the judge of that.

Transportable Medical Records

Being at the Doctor’s office (routine visit) reminds me of a pet peeve. I am all in favor of any move toward digitizing and sharing my medical records with my providers; present & future. I hope that our sensitivity – I might allege hypersensitivity – over medical privacy isn’t crippling us from moving forward with an effort to save us from repeatedly filling out the same histories every time we go and for every new provider. Just a thought!

Rick


Are We Really Communicating All That Better?

In my over twenty years of experience at the large, very successful aerospace company where I labor, I have spent a great deal of time trying desperately to get the IT people to talk to the Engineering people. I haven’t, for the most part, been all that successful. Back in the day IT was truly an empire unto itself and it was pretty blind when it came to listening to the needs of the Engineering community. Furthermore, many of the systems that were used by various programs were dictated by the customers who were paying for our services and our products, basically NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and DOE.

This resulted in some very interesting problems with respect to systems, tools, and their use and subsequent development. What used to happen was Engineering would get an itch for a certain type of functionality but, since it hadn’t been contemplated in the original contract and since it might be some time before it could be renegotiated in order to get some money for developing the code required, Engineering would take it upon themselves to develop what they needed. You can imagine what happened many times. Though not an Engineer myself, I believe all Engineering students study one or more computer languages . .  . I’m fairly certain most of them  do.  Well, they would just get on the problem themselves, either writing code or – even worse – creating a tool in Excel.

So now we find ourselves in the interesting position of having something like a couple hundred tools, many quite useful, many overlapping in functionality. Many of them are unwieldy and kind of out-of-date, yet we don’t quite know how to get rid of them. This does seem to be changing somewhat as the tools of Enterprise 2.0 are gaining traction, i.e. blogs, wikis, user-generated content in general. Regardless, there are still numerous choices for how to deal with each of these as well. What wiki should we use? What about Open Source? (Anathema, btw, in my company – at least for now).

So the beat goes on. We keep adding tools, if at a slightly slower rate than previously (I think), and we seldom shed any. I suspect, as more and more content gets generated through the use of social media, and the ability to organize and make sense of it improves, we will eventually move away from many of the tools we’ve kind of grown up with. Data, too, will probably migrate toward a common format that can be accessed easily by anyone who wishes to and has authority to do so. It would be nice to see everyone on the same page, rather than pockets of people talking about the same thing in slightly different, and frequently incompatible, formats and locations.


We Lost Another of the Absolutely Best Minds in Management This Week

There are two Management thinkers who have influenced my life, and the lives of  many of my colleagues – even as we struggle to have their ideas embraced where I work (a titanic, long-standing struggle indeed). One of them, W. Edwards Deming,  has been gone for some time now, but the other – Russell Ackoff – just died this past Thursday.  Russ was a giant in the field of Systems Thinking. Russ proposed what I’ve seen referred to as the spectrum of learning. He believed the content of our minds could be classified into five basic catergories: Data; Information; Knowledge; Understanding, and; Wisdom.

Russ had been in the habit of visiting us here on the west coast to share his wisdom and wit at the beginning of every year. He would spend an entire day with, usually, a large group of interested people, sharing stories of his experiences over the years. One of those I remember the best is his experience with Bell Labs. He quite accidentally was involved in the design of a lot of today’s telephone system. From that experience he later would go on to develop his concept of idealized design – a method whereby one throws out everything that’s known about a product or system and attempts to design it based on what would be ideal, then work backward to where you currently are.

Another thing I loved to hear Russ say, which he would do frequently was his admonition that it was much harder for a large organization to stop something once it had started than to agree to supporting any activity that was outside their comfort zone. In other words, “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission”. Russ also pointed out that doing the wrong thing better only made what was being done “wronger”.  Russ was so full of wisdom one could easily spend days listening to his stories and the knowledge he gained from his experiences, which were many and varied. Russ spent a large part of his life helping Anheuser-Busch truly dominate their market . . . and become the “King of Beers.”

For the past two years Russ had decided no longer to travel out here to speak to us. He was having back and hip problems and dealing with the incessant screening and the long lines and waits in the airport had become too much for him. My colleague, Bill Bellows, who had for years organized monthly telecons with some of the best speakers and writers in the field of systems thinking and management, asked me each year to accompany him to Philadelphia to visit with Russ and our friend Johnny Pourdehnad, a professor of Organizational Dynamics at UPenn. I was fortunate enough to spend many hours with both Johnny and Russell. One of my last memories of Russ is spending a lovely evening with him and his wife, Helen when Bill and I took them out to dinner for Russ’s 90th birthday. At the time Russ was suffering greatly from the pain he was experiencing associated with what he called “a shredded hip”. It was late January and there was lots of ice on the ground. We had to walk to the restaurant from  where we parked and Russ was using a walker. I hovered over him like a brooding hen, scared silly he would slip and fall. He didn’t, thankfully (I had caught him once in his home office), and we had a great meal followed by a birthday dessert. I snapped a picture with my BlackBerry and now wish to share it with whoever may find themselves here.

My Last Visit With Russ

Russell Ackoff Celebrates His 90th

There are numerous posts and websites where you can learn more about Russ and his work. You found your way here; you know how to search. However, I would like to give mention to one that has been writing about Russell for some time. Ironically, because of one word in the name of this blog, my company’s web filter blocks access to it from inside our firewall. I am referring to “The Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog“, where I got the title for this post.

Russell will be sorely missed by many people. I am hopeful his ideas, his wisdom, his tremendous intellect, and his enthusiasm for understanding and application of systems thinking will find even greater voice now that he is no longer with us. It seems a sad irony of life that so many people only become truly influential after their deaths. Doesn’t say much for us . . . but that’s the way it’s been. I hope Russ’s life will be instructive to many so that we can slowly evolve away from the mundane things that seem to attract us and pay a little more attention to things that matter.

Rick


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