Posts Tagged ‘knowledge diffusion’

Expert Wisdom and Slurping up Context

December 20, 2011

Most firms employ experts, and let’s be honest, don’t really use them much.

Considering that being smarter, that is fielding better knowledge resources, than one’s competition is a key survival criterion in business.
After all it is putting knowledge to work, or the actual deployment of Intellectual Capital that is typically what makes one firm survive and another die or get eaten.
So it is curious that many firms fail to leverage their expert’s discretionary effort, subject interest, and awareness.

In this blog I will provide a practical technique for using your experts better to increase your holdings of Intellectual Capital and for improving your firm’s awareness of its business environment, and perhaps even taking another step in the direction of becoming a learning organization.

In a recent webinar for the ic knowledge center I presented some ideas on Knowledge Management & IC and you are welcome to download the presentation slides from the ICKC website, or to join the conversation.

Objectives of Knowledge Management

Firstly, let’s just remind ourselves of the two main forks in Knowledge Management objectives

  1. Operational Excellence
  2. Niche Mastery

In the first we want to put knowledge to work and by doing so to reduce cost due to wasted effort and duplication, increase output and efficiency by replicating best practices, and by propagating knowledge across the organization.

In the second we want it to be seen that we do this, and make it clear to potential customers, investors, and would-be employees that we are masters of our craft and market niche.

Expertise is the gold, but alone it is insufficient – you can’t just have expertise, you must put it to work in as many ways as possible in order to make it a competitive advantage rather than just an “also-have”.

The Learning Organization

As I have outlined in previous posts, a major cause of corporate mortality is failure to learn – in essence a fatal learning disability.

One of the primary features of such a learning disability is an inward focus and a steady loss of awareness of what is going on outside the firm – such firms stop using external events and information to drive change within their organization.
For a firm to learn I believe there are several components that must be satisfied.

Inter alia, a firm must successfully engage in and master:

  • Environmental Awareness
  • Processing & Contextualization of external information
  • Deriving Synthesis & Meaning from external information
  • Adaptive Behavioral Change

A firm needs its experts to be aware of what is going on in the world and specifically in terms of their area of expertise, to have a high index of curiosity, and to do something with what they see.

Specifically, what I have in mind is that they will place a context around things that would otherwise simply pass the rest of us by unnoticed or unmarked, and as a result the firm will adapt to external conditions and innovate.

How an Expert Tags Novelty

What this means in real terms is that I want experts to be aware of things going on in the outside world, for example news items, events, technological changes, and market movements, and then to pull those into the firm, and provide an explanation of what this means, how it is relevant to what the firm does, and finally, to suggest actions that could put this to use for the firm.

In the presentation I give two examples, but your use is likely to be different and should be driven by your experts because they are the only portal through which new ideas can enter your firm without triggering the embedded immune systems that usually crush novelty as a form of error.


Here then are the steps I suggest you use in getting your experts to pull in Intellectual Capital for your firm

  1. Capture Content from external sources
  2. Provide a Context from the eyes of an expert
  3. Explain why this is Significant to the firm
  4. Add an Evaluation to test message integrity
  5. Provide a Social Environment for interaction
  6. Layer with advised Actions

Although hosting the content in a CRM, LMS, or Wiki will help, don’t prioritize IT systems over the people element – most KM practitioners I have polled believe that people-factors account for 80-90% of the success of this kind of thing, and technology only 10-20%. So spend proportionate amounts of time and effort on organizing, motivating, and helping the people and don’t get distracted by the shiny IT toys.


Experts are often underutilized and pigeon-holed into highly specific roles that reduce their effectiveness as agents of organizational learning that can boost operational performance and increase adaptive capacity. By deliberately encouraging your experts to retrieve found articles of information from the outside world and add value to them by explaining context and implication to the firm, and by specifying recommended actions, the expert can extend their value and that of the firm.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions. Matthew is a peer reviewer for several Knowledge Management and Information Science Journals.

Knowledge Management, Training, and Ongoing Professional Development

October 14, 2010

In a previous blog I covered the results of a case study into eLearning utilization and how the single biggest predictor of whether a person used an eLearning license was whether they thought their manager would smile or frown or be neutral if their staff used eLearning materials during office hours.

Not only did people who thought their managers would smile, use the licenses more and for longer, but they also put in significant amounts of their own time after-hours.
The big disconnect was that managers thought they were smiling but staff didn’t see it the same way.

This has significant implications for both the investment in learning materials and for ongoing professional development on the whole.

In this blog I will cover some of the next steps and what I have found by experience.

The Next Step – Engage the Managers

The obvious remedy is to engage managers and get them to conspicuously engage in their own ongoing professional development, and therefore by example demonstrate not just that they would be likely to smile, but that they were themselves eager participants.
Action, it would seem, might speak louder than words, or what managers believe their words portray.

Two immediate obstacles are likely to present themselves though – firstly, many managers regard themselves not as professional managers, but as SMEs who by virtue of seniority have been burdened with the unwanted baggage of managing other SMEs.
Secondly, even once that hurdle is crossed, the selfsame problem of perception about leaders disposition towards eLearning applies to managers – they are unlikely to take advantage of learning opportunities if they think that their managers do not value ongoing professional development.

This leads to infinite regress all the way to the CEO and beyond.

Before the managers will stick their necks out they need to know that senior executives would approve, and also to see learning behavior exhibited by the senior execs.

It comes down then to whether the senior executives will not only say good things about ongoing professional development, but also model the desired behavior themselves – If managers do not see both forthcoming from the executives, then they are likely to demure on self-development with the simple excuse that they are “too busy”, which is essentially shorthand for “not unless my boss makes it a priority”.

What to Do?

Getting senior executives to participate is the easiest thing, and the most difficult.
If managers ask for it, the execs are likely to wholeheartedly agree that budget needs to be allocated to training, that it should be done during office hours, and that managers have the duty to see that it happens – and they will generally be quite happy to include some choice phrases to this effect in their memos and speeches.

However, they simply won’t do any themselves.

The reason for this seems in many cases to be a mixture of three causes, one familiar, and two new.

  • Our old friend, “My boss doesn’t value it”
  • “I do my own development and it’s none of your business what that is”
  • “I don’t need any”

There are many technological ways to smooth the path, such as putting short audio-summaries of current books on their Blackberry’s or iPhones, printing out the 8-page pdf summaries for them to take on the plane, or subscribing them to business podcasts that deal with their divisional specialization or industry. Recorded interviews with business luminaries or respected leaders can be put on Blackberry or iPhone, as can short video clips from industry analysts. Technology updates on things like SaaS, Cloud Computing, and many other topics can be made available at the touch of a button (or few), and many can be done automatically via RSS feeds or concentrator applications like iTunes.

However, if they do not view it both as part of their duty as custodians of the corporate learning culture, and in their own benefit – and more to the point: that the CEO thinks so, then it is unlikely to happen no matter how technologically enabled it is.

The key would seem to be the CEO then.


The CEO is under constraint and direction of the Board, and they in turn are beholden to the major shareholders who mostly want to know about EBITDA contributions and share-price growth, not training and ongoing professional development.
Likewise, the view of analysts and customers must be considered, and while customers are generally very happy to hear that a supplier keeps their staff well trained (and might be prepared to petition for it), it isn’t going to be very high on either constituency’s list of desired corporate achievements.

The problem then boils down to whether the CEO feels strongly enough about learning to stick their neck out and make it an issue, which they are not likely to do unless it has a good chance of success and has broad support and enthusiastic champions within the rank and file. Sticking out their neck on something that is likely to be a flop and not highly demanded is not a habit that many people acquire on their way to becoming a CEO!

Which brings us back to D’Oh, … or rather, to middle management.

Back to the Middle

Unless the middle management show passion about developing the skills of their staff and are prepared to push the executives on the topic, there will not be the kind of groundswell that would make a CEO likely to take up learning as a cause.

It all boils down to the importance of middle managers and their self-image as professional managers responsible for the well-being and development of their staff, and being prepared to make an issue of learning even though the executives do not seem to be modeling learning behavior (yet).
However, once they take the first step and have the initiative to step forward and be the example first and to drive learning in their own teams, then the door opens for the CEO to step through and for the executives to follow and start modeling the behavior themselves.
Once middle managers take the initiative to view learning and modeling of learning behavior as something for which they must make time, then the rest can follow.

It is the middle manager who can add learning activities to annual staff performance appraisals, and make that part of the criteria for awards, bonuses, and other rewards. It is the middle manager who can regularly ask staff about their progress, and who can align training units to team objectives. It is also the middle manager that most knows precisely what training is needed and which staff members would most benefit (and most deserve) the funding for training materials. They are also the only people who are in a position to allocate time for people to use the training materials, or to present tutorials to other members of the team.

It is again a case of organizational change happening from the middle up and middle down, and a clear illustration of why it is vital that middle managers see themselves as management professionals rather than as SME’s with an unwanted burden of having staff!


To get a culture of learning embedded in an organization and to reap the benefits of a highly-trained and current workforce, my experiences and research lead me to believe that two constituencies are crucial – the passionate activism by middle-managers on behalf of their staff, and a CEO that is prepared to be the sponsor for a learning culture (even if they later delegate it to a prominent CxO or EVP).

If you miss the middle, the ends unravel.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Uncovering Your Knowledge Assets by Watching Your SMEs

September 29, 2010

In this blog I will attempt to lay out a skeleton of how to gather more value from your SMEs and provide you with a foundation for how to discover who your thought-leading SMEs are in the first place – and then how to use them to drive more consistency and quality in your knowledge-workers.


In a previous blog, I talked about gleaning more value from what your executives think, but the topic is of course broader than just mining the execs, and should cover the three other main categories of knowledge-builders in your organization:

  1. Executives
    The folks with the budget and control, who have the fancy office, and who provide your organization’s mission, high-level goals and objectives.
  2. Subject Matter Experts
    Your “Gold Collar” Knowledge Workers that take your biggest corporate assets home at night and on whom you rely to produce the products and services with which you compete against business rivals. Without this cadre you have structure and a mission, but no stuff to sell.
  3. Process Experts
    The people who provide the administrative structure so that things work in a consistent and efficient manner.
  4. Non-corporate Experts
    The hidden category that exists inside other categories, and who know people and know stuff that could be very handy if you only knew what they were passionate about and who they were. These are people whose friend at the model-boat club is also the CIO at a firm to whom you want to sell products.


The objective is to build an informational framework and knowledge ecosystem that (obviously) includes Content Management, Learning Management, and Knowledge-Bases, but that also makes it visible to staff what other people’s informational habits are in terms of business-related subjects and particularly in their domain i.e. (See also Social Network Analysis)

The concept is that once you have established who your thought-leaders are, making their information consumption visible will drive the followship of people who will also use the material and thus allow your SME to dynamically drive the informational material that others use – reducing duplicated effort, providing more visibility of critical informational sources or artifacts, and reducing variation and improving quality.


This effect can be achieved in practice in many ways, but will typically involve a software tool that tracks information usage and might also make use of tagging, rating, and other features. An example of this in the academic scientific world is Connotea

The information you will want to make visible includes mainly the following:

  1. What they read – journals, blogs, periodicals, textbooks, etc.
  2. The Podcasts or other materials they listen to
  3. Any Video materials including vlogs that they watch
  4. The seminars, conventions, symposiums, etc. that they attend
  5. The groups, fraternities, SIGs, and CoPs they belong to

As part of this you mainly want to know how your SMEs rate them and what they think of them, and most importantly – how they think the material relates to the company and the industry.
By knowing the opinions of your thought leaders, others are able to not just find information sources in a better and more natural way, but will also be able to more readily gauge trustworthiness and reliability.

In order to drive this information-consistency, it is necessary to capture three major meta-informational aspects:

  1. The identity of the SME that reviewed or captured the information
  2. How they rated the article in terms of
    1. Trustworthiness
    2. Completeness
    3. Accuracy
  3. Why they view it as pertinent to the organization or domain
  4. The vocabulary they use to describe the information i.e the internal or domain-specific jargon that will form a controlled vocabulary

In addition you want to make the information-sources that your SMEs use visible i.e.:

  • Who they think the thought leaders are in the industry or domain
  • People or groups they think are authoritative
  • Sources of information they trust


This does several important things for your firm:

  1. It uncovers and makes visible who your staff perceive as subject matter experts
  2. It allows followship which consolidates knowledge and drives consistency of use rather than having inconsistent practices and variation in methods and techniques.
  3. It forms the basis of leadership-replacement
  4. It feeds your Knowledge-bases with content that is rated and self-cleaning
  5. It builds a Controlled Vocabulary

Possibly the most important effect it has though, is that it builds Communities of Practice that in turn lead to higher staff retention and improved job performance respectively through an alternative career path to line-management, and faster access to better job-related information and knowledge sources.

An alternative to career progression through line management is progression as an expert, and a CoP provides the basis for recognition and peer approval in a domain of excellence. This allows people to earn a reputation for knowledge and expertise that is a valid and sought-after alternative to “going into” management.

By allowing the SMEs to select, rate, and drive usage of materials and sources, a significant amount of intellectual value is created, and re-use reduces duplication of effort and variation in practices. Since the SMEs are qualifying materials and sources, the average applicability and quality is higher than if people were finding their own way.


There are significant benefits to building an information and knowledge infrastructure that enables staff to see what materials and sources the SMEs consume and how they rate them. The net effect can include increased quality of work, decreased costs, and more work consistency with lower variation in quality.
It also provides a social structure to recognize expertise without requiring promotion into management positions, thus paving the way to lower turnover and increased tenure of your thought-leaders.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Knowing What You Know – and Doing Something About It

September 16, 2010

“If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times as profitable” Lew Platt, HP

I love that quotation, and wish I could thank Lew Platt for saying it.

This blog covers some of that ground, but also gives an historical example to use as reflection on two basic problems in making use of what you know or even being in that position at all .

As I wrote in a different blog, science advances pretty much inexorably overall and so indeed does business, but delays in diffusion or acceptance of knowledge may be pretty devastating to those directly involved, and the happy recipient of the value of knowledge may not be you, even though technically, you might “own” it.

Take Ignatz Semmelweis for example.

In 1847 Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, concluded after ruling out other causes that contagion was responsible for the high death rate due puerperal fever in the obstetrics ward, and he reduced the untimely deaths from nearly a third of deliveries, to less than 1% – simply by requiring doctors to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution.

Unfortunately it was decades before other scientists and doctors came to the same conclusion, and improved sanitation became the standard.

In the mean time a great many women and infants died, and Semelweiss himself had a nervous breakdown, according to some, as a result of stress and despondency at the unnecessary deaths.

So while science as a whole got to the right conclusion in the end, it came too late for the women who died or were injured by puerperal fever.

Part of the problem was an “Old Guard” of physicians who simply didn’t want to accept what was published by Semmelweiss, and had to retire or die before younger physicians without the baggage replaced them.

Another part of the problem was that many doctors never got the message – the publication was not global, it was only in German (His book “Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever” wasn’t available in English until the early 1980’s), and no mechanism existed at the time for indexing it in other countries or even advertising it within Germanic countries – this was after all 160 years ago and The Lancet was yet to come into existence and email was far over the horizon.

So the problem seems to naturally separate into two distinct areas

  • A cultural resistance to change and to novel ideas
  • A problem of awareness, and of simply knowing that the knowledge existed

Cultural resistance can be addressed by leadership and building an attitude of mutual support and sharing, but may require stronger tactics – like moving people. Change management is also crucial to reduce the perceived and actual disruption, and ease people into accepting new ideas.

Improving awareness on the hand sounds easy but whereas in 1847 the potential audience was starved of information from peers, today we have the opposite situation – infoglut.

The idea ecosystem is already crammed with competition and they crowd each other out, so the challenge is to find ways to tunnel through the abundance of conflicting information and highlight the few that we want to use.

Oddly enough, this may come back to leadership again, but not the hierarchical corporate power structure. Instead what we want to leverage is the leadership of SMEs – people who are the recognized experts and thought-leaders in the organization.

By implementing a framework in which the approval or authorship of the acknowledged experts is visible to others, it is possible to build the leadership into the process itself.

This can range from leveraging the opinion of your SMEs to making sure you get your money’s worth from failures, but at the very least it implies knowing what your SME’s read and use, how they rate it, and what they say, is made visible so that people can follow their thinking.

Sitting around hoping that knowledge will naturally flow to where it is needed and be used by those who require it, is not a luxury that any business in a competitive market can afford. If you don’t take positive steps to get the knowledge to those who need it, and find ways to put knowledge to work more readily, your competition will.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Aspects of Questionnaire Design

August 19, 2010

I have blogged before about using executive presentations and other artifacts as part of organization-wide organizational learning (see below), and in this blog I will cover some aspects of questionnaire design.

I will assume that the reader either already knows or will research the basic questionnaire-design constructs like having clear agent of action, avoiding double-barreled questions, speaking in the active voice, and the like.

Why Create a Quiz?

The objective of a quiz is to perplex and mystify the reader, or so you have been led to believe over the years of taking them yourself and being mystified at the purpose of some questions that seem to delve the depths of irrelevancy, and perplexed by the minutes of your life ebbing away as you answer them.

However, this is not at all the purpose of setting questions.

Setting questions achieves the following:

  • A second shot at highlighting to the audience what you regard as the important take-away points. You should set questions only on the things you want the reader to know are the most important bits – by posing a question you are saying to the audience “…and this is the important part
  • Finding out if there is something inside your material that is systematically misleading the audience. If significant numbers of people get the wrong answer, then you have misled them someplace and you need to fix that.
  • Finding out if there is a bias of some kind in the audience population. If only one department, or a specific age-group, or only people over six feet tall get certain answers wrong, or pick a specific incorrect answer from a list, then something is going on that you need to look into – which is probably something you told them previously.
  • Finding out if what you said made a lick of sense.
  • Discovering if the person felt confident about their answer or not

Of course this gets a tiny bit more complicated, but then that is why you are in this business – you like complicated things.

Which bring us to How.


  1. Only ask questions that test understanding on something you regard as a vital point – don’t waste your time and theirs on setting questions on irrelevant material.

  2. Never offer frivolous alternatives in a multiple-choice question, each alternative should be something the person is likely to pick due to a misunderstanding that you have already discovered.

  3. If in doubt, leave it out.

  4. Test and retest before launching.

  5. You need the SME to be involved in building a questionnaire because only they can know which questions are significant, and which answers are valid.

How to Create a Quiz

I have a book on my shelf that is written by the guru on questionnaire design, A.N. Oppenheim (Oppenheim1998) and one of the few books exclusively focused on the topic of designing questions. The preface to the 2nd edition starts off with the following:

The world is full of well-meaning people who believe that anyone who can write plain English and has a modicum of common sense can produce a good questionnaire. This book is not for them”

The basic drift is that it isn’t that simple to construct a good questionnaire, and boy, isn’t it in spades!

Ask a bad question, and you will get nonsensical answers and be left wondering what the audience thought you meant.
You will also have wasted your chance, and have wasted the respondent’s time – for which there is no excuse whatsoever.

There are plenty of texts (such as published by O’Reilly) dealing with the technical side of questionnaire tools both SaaS ( Survey Monkey, etc.) or embedded within Learning Management ( Moodle, WebCT, etc.), Trouble-Ticketing ( Remedy, OTRS, etc.), and other suites.
But that’s the easy part, albeit the part with the thickest manuals.

What I am going to cover here is the more tricky part of how to build the dialogue involved in asking questions in an eLearning context.
You cannot see the puzzled look on your respondent’s face in an eLearning situation, so you will have to plan for it when you design your questions.

Step 1 – Critical Elements

Identify the critical concepts or facts that you want the audience to understand and retain, jot these down.
If you get past 15 or 20, consider breaking your course into more than one part – a tutorial with more than a dozen critical points is starting to get really big, and unlikely to stick. Five is a good number, try to keep it that focused.
Keep it tight, keep it light, and rather build more tightly-focused courses than trying to solve the world’s problems in one fell swoop.

Step 2 – “By George She got it”

For each question, consider what supportive information you can give for a correct answer.
You are getting another shot at contextualizing and once more to drive a point home, don’t waste it.
You should present the respondent with a text of your choice and you should conform to the dialectic form of “
yes, and …”.
Affirm the correct answer and then provide the context of why that answer is right, and drive the point home a little deeper.

Step 3 – “um… no, because …”

For each incorrect answer you provide or which might occur (you will enable them to pick a wrong answer, right?), you need to furnish targeted corrective information.
Try to present wrong alternatives not to confuse, but to identify what you think are common mistakes or potential mistakes you want to address, so that once more you can drive your point home and provide a context.
The idea is to provide them with enough information (including referring or linking to other sources), so that you get the issue cleared up in their mind before they move on.

Step 4 – Concluding Summary

Many questionnaire tools will give you the option (which you will naturally take) to provide a feedback statement after they have finished answering it.

This is once again, an opportunity to provide additional context or remind them of the facts.
It allows you to place the question and answer in perspective in the broader picture, and provide the respondent with an additional link in why this is important and how to picture it.

Step 5 – Confidence

There is a big difference between getting something wrong when you are taking your best guess and being wrong and simultaneously being very confident about your answer, and it is very useful to know which is the case.
Consider constructing your questionnaire to add a rider to each question to measure how confident the respondent is – a simple five-point
Likert Scale should be fine.


By now you can see another reason why asking irrelevant questions is a waste of effort – for each question you need a comment for a right answer, comments for wrong answers, and a comment to put the whole question into a meaningful perspective.
A whole bunch of work that you only want to do if the question is worth the effort.

Remember, you are in an asynchronous dialogue with the respondent, and the objective is to pass on not just facts, not merely information, but knowledge – and you can only do that by also providing perspective and context.

Good Luck!

Some previous posts on Organizational Learning:

“How to get added value from corporate presentations”

“Knowledge Transfer”

“Niche Mastery – How KM can add a few hundred million dollars to corporate worth”

“The Corporate College is dead, long live the Corporate College!”

“Corporate blogging and web2.0 – training wheels first

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


[Oppenheim1998] Oppenheim A. Questionnaire design, iterviewing and attitude measurement. . Pinter, 1998.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

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