Posts Tagged ‘mloxton’

The Big D-word and Knowledge Management.

February 20, 2010

Downsizing, rightsizing, layoffs, or whatever euphemism is used for it, the process is usually ugly and the results are often no better.

With global competition there is an urgency and importance of eliminating waste and reducing cost – and carrying costs surplus to requirements harms an organisation’s ability to survive. However, the quest for lowest internal cost has to be balanced against ability to execute – after all, you don’t compete on the basis of who has the lowest costs, but rather on execution and who actually wins the deals.

This involves having the right amount of the right intellectual talents to match the operational requirements and the business mission*.

Layoffs can unfortunately reduce costs at the expense of execution to the point where an organisation ceases to be able to survive in the medium or long term, and can eliminate people who carried vital skills or tacit knowledge – or even the ability to put explicit knowledge to work.

Part of the problem is a social one to do with attachment and motivation – several hundred thousand years of evolution have shaped us to assimilate and acculturate into groups of about tribe-size, and we put more into a work relationship and expect more from it than simply a zeroed balance-sheet on payday.
The slate isn’t really cleared each month, and we don’t really experience a layoff as just another business transaction. This is a good thing though, since people that put heart and soul into their work as a team are likely to execute far better than a similar sized and equally talented group who view their job as a strictly work-to-rule 8-5 affair.
It is important to protect the integrity of teamwork and commitment because without a sufficient level of teamwork no organisation can survive.

Another part of the puzzle is that it is frequently what staff know that is the core of what an organisation does and whether or not it can execute to achieve its mission. Unlike the Taylorite vision of workers as simple units of production, intellectual assets vary and to a large degree subsist entirely within the heads of the workers.

During one turbulent time in the IT industry, I watched as several staff members in a small specialist department of a large computer company were retrenched because their job titles seemed generic and the firm needed to reduce costs. Shortly after this, the sales department called up for specialist knowledge as part of a very large turnkey project bid – Unfortunately the firm had laid off the last remaining person who knew how to put together the security-management part of such a bid.
Nobody else had the relationships with the many different specialist sub-contractors, and nobody else understood the technologies, the terminologies, or how to put a viable security solution together for a multi-million dollar computer centre project.

As a result the firm was unable to submit a complete bid, and did not win a crucial tender.

I have seen this scenario played out many times over the years, and believe that in some instances, it was the salient mechanism in the collapse of the firms involved.

The medicine for this is a simple matter of fundamental KM practice – you need to know who knows what, and you need to know what knowledge is needed to deliver your organisational objectives. Being ignorant of either what intellectual assets are needed, or what you have, is a sure recipe for organisational collapse.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it

* I will deal with the issue of knowing what intellectual resources are needed to achieve organisational goals and acquiring them in another posting.

Matthew Loxton is the director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management.
 Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and he has an aggregation website at www.matthewloxton.com
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by
Mincom, but they should be.

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Knowledge Management and Intellectual Asset Management.

February 13, 2010

Knowledge Management (KM), as I have said in “Why Nobody has to ‘Get’ Knowledge Management”, isn’t something one would ever have to “get”.
It is something you already do, (whether you like it or not), and if you don’t like it, or didn’t know that, you are probably doing it , um … less well than you could be.

KM spans every part of your business and has multiple facets that range from purely operational, to behavioural, to legal, and so on – and if your KM activities are supporting your organisational vision then they are “good” and if they are acting against achievement of organisational goals, then we can call them “bad”.

Now, about Intellectual Assets.

For the sake of discussion, let’s use the 1998 IASC definition – “an identifiable nonmonetary asset without physical substance held for use in the production or supply of goods or services, for rental to others, or for administrative purposes”, but let’s add to that another component – that of the people themselves.

So what counts as Intellectual Assets? – for starters here are a few:

  •  Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks
  • As yet unpatented or un-patentable methods, techniques, or designs
  • Rules and policies
  • Organisation* 
  • The skills, abilities, experience, and goodwill of the staff

What seldom appears in such lists however, is opinion – and opinion is something that should be carefully nurtured and grounded as part of good Knowledge Management practices.

For example, a specific article in a newspaper may be of only superficial interest to almost everybody in the organisation, but let’s suppose that one expert in the organisation tags it, drags it into view, and then surrounds it with context and implications, and describes why this article is significant to the organisation and what needs to be done.
Suddenly enormous value is created, and organisational learning and perhaps adaptation can take place in the light of new understanding. It is the expert opinion that places the context and meaning to an otherwise valueless artefact, and adds to the Intellectual Capital of the organisation.

Not making use of the opinions of staff in such a manner is poor Knowledge Management.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

Matthew Loxton is the director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management.
Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web at http://au.linkedin.com/in/mloxton and has a web page at www.matthewloxton.com

*Don’t discount the organisation of work or people as an intellectual asset – The difference between a bag of parts and a working cuckoo clock isn’t the components, but their organisation i.e. how the parts are brought into relationship with each other.

Information Overload, or just poorly designed information?

February 4, 2010

 We have all heard the plea about how modernity has deluged us with information, and have read the articles about how today we are bombarded with more information than ever before.
It evokes images of a simpler time, a time where information arrived at a leisurely pace.

I think that the image is dead wrong

For one thing, it ignores what and who we are, and where we came from – and only counts artificial information as information.
Picture yourself a hundred thousand years ago standing on the African savannah – no TV to be sure, no billboards, no TV Evangelists, no Viagra ads, no neon signs, no spam email, and no junk in your mailbox.
The bush is dead quiet, nothing stirring, all is peaceful – right?

Well no, not even close.

There would be a cacophony of sounds, movement all around, smells in abundance, and sensations flooding in from every square centimetre of your skin. Light and shadow, heat from the sun, the breeze, things buzzing, flying, crawling, hooting, rustling, creeping, galloping, even things landing on you, crawling on you – All mingled in an absolute deluge of sensory information.
A brain the size of an orange would probably process all that with ease, and we have a gigantic brain*

We are kitted out with information processing equipment that makes the largest computer look like a wobbly abacus with a few strings missing – in around 2000 the comparison was that a single human brain had the equivalent processing power of all the world’s computers put together. The most complex thing in the universe, and an organ that eats up the lion’s share of energy in your body.

So what’s the deal with “Infoglut” and “Information Overload” ?

My argument is that it isn’t the amount of information, or even the rate of change that is a problem – a person living in the Amazonian jungle gets information change at a far higher rate than a stockbroker, but that it is an issue of fit or Informational Ergonomics.
Information that fits our evolved processing capabilities is dealt with with consummate ease, but information that poorly matches our innate processing profile is a problem.
The time and effort required to decode and assimilate a poorly designed chunk of information is a problem.

Present us with loads of badly composed artificial information and we quickly saturate and our performance degrades steeply – and we exhibit all the natural responses: irritation, anger, stress, avoidance, etc.
The answer to infoglut isn’t to have less information, it is to have better information, where “better” means “information crafted to fit the hand”. The problem is not to reduce information, but to limit the amount that is high in unnecessary decoding and processing costs.

Information Ergonomics, not information reduction! – make the information fit the human, not the other way around.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it!

Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web at http://au.linkedin.com/in/mloxton

*Our brains are way bigger than they should be given our body size, and there are strong arguments that the cause of the oversize brain is the complexity of social signalling and decoding and tracking social interactions with other humans doing exactly the same thing.

I’m too busy for my shirt, too busy for my work, too busy for …

February 1, 2010

 

There is a meme that circulates and thrives in a lot of organisations and which causes people to busy themselves to the point where they wear their busyness like a hairshirt and display it with pride – It  results in a social pecking-order in which busyness is the hierarchical determinant.

So what, you may wonder, is bad about being very busy?
Surely it means that the job is getting done, and that very busy people are productive and job-oriented?

Well no.

It more likely means that they aren’t taking time to reflect and to maintain the big-picture – and that spells the destruction of learning, of innovation, and of adaptability, and ultimately results in not just doing the work wrong, but even worse, doing the wrong work.

To learn, you have to not just do something repetitively, but actually reflect on what you have done, locate it in a context, and then build a mental map of where it fits into the big-picture and why.
Innovation and learning require time, and busyness puts a crimp in that.

Way back when I was a paid tinkerer maintaining big mainframe computers, my site manager (Erwin, are you still out there?) drummed into us that losing the “big picture” was certain death to solving a bug, and time and again each of us would learn this the hard way – following trace after trace, circuit after circuit, getting nowhere because we had lost the “big picture” and become too absorbed and busy to notice that we had left the terrain in which the fault could feasibly lie, and had ventured off the map entirely.

Chronic busyness precludes keeping a stable link to the big picture.

 A common theme in research into the psychology of problem-solving and of innovation is that the human brain needs time to reflect in order to solve complex problems and to innovate, so chronic busyness is detrimental to innovation and organisational learning.

However, perhaps the worst outcome of chronic busyness is that its sufferers tend to neglect their own self-improvement – or as Covey put it, to take time to “sharpen the saw”.
They ensure their own obsolescence by simply not investing the time and effort in developing their own transferrable skills and experiences – they lock themselves into a self-sealing mode of operation that is sure to ultimately degrade their abilities, performance, and their own employment security.

One way that people can break out of this mode is as a result of a catastrophic life-changing event such as being laid off.

A less traumatic way is through leadership – a leader that shows them the need to orchestrate slack-time in which to do some self-improvement or job-enrichment work, and gives them an example to copy.
Leadership provides a meme that says “it is ok to spend time on self-improvement”, and is a good antidote to the meme that says “just look how busy I am, I can’t even afford to think”

The question we must each ask ourselves is what sort of example we are setting in this regard, and to what degree we are showing leadership that encourages and allows others to improve themselves – indeed, are we providing ourselves with good leadership and setting ourselves a good example?

That’s my question, and I am sticking to it.

What can we learn from a tired doctor?

January 23, 2010

 This post is more aimed at the multitude of Knowledge Management professionals out there, but I hope it also has some value to those who just wish we would help them with their problems.

In the last few weeks the doctor behind the very informative Brain Science Podcast has been using Twitter to say when she is doing her shift in the ER, (an example of how Twitter is finding a role in professional circles) but what stood out most to me was that Ginger is pulling a 24hr shift and that I had some definite Knowledge Management opinions on that fact. 

The evolutionary science and psychology end of KM suggests to me that humans don’t really function well knowledge-wise without sleep and we are deeply pulled by a circadian rhythm that probably goes back millions of years back in our development – so not something we can simply wish away or unlearn.
The point here is that KM must take into account who and what we are, and not build business processes that ignore our limitations and natural biases or preferences.

On the other hand, we could just assume that there are good practical reasons why Dr.Campbell is pulling 24hr shifts and pose a different KM question – how should knowledge be managed if we assume the agent is sleep-deprived, physically tired, and dealing with life-or-death situations?

Once we start down that road, a whole terrain of thoughts and follow-up questions present themselves.

– What kinds of things do we forget or remember wrong when we are tired?
– Should job aids be changed or presented differently?
– How will organisational memory be best served if the agent is unable to take time to make rich notes?

… but most of all
– How will we use situations like this to learn methods that can be deployed to other realms where the problems might not be quite so starkly illuminated.

This is where I see a double benefit of a Community of Practice of KM professionals – to jump in and help people like Dr. Ginger Campbell by using KM methods and principles, learn from situations where the risks and constraints are high, and then draw that learning back into the domains where we practice our craft for our wages.
A good way to drive beneficial innovation across the field?

So hat’s off to Dr. Campbell for yet another 24hr shift in ER – but now let’s put our heads together and see what we can do to help her.


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