Wednesday, September 23, 2009

If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original

Two things came together for me today. One I was reflecting on the E2.0 meetings that I attended last week and the 2nd was listening to a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Education (thanks to those at weknowmore for posting this great talk).

In his talk Sir Robinson made the statement "if you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything new." As I listened to this I was struck by what I had heard last week from a group of 30+/- year olds who are working on E2.0 technologies in a large, innovative technology company. "If you are not willing to fail - you will never get anything done."

The group of 30 year olds were working to get tools like Yammer behind the firewall of this large tech company - and they were being quite successful. When I asked them what advice they had, based on their experience, for those that were just embarking on implementing E2.0 they said "you need to be willing to fail. So start small...if you are going to fail, you don't want it to be a big failure. And communicate, communicate, communicate." They could not emphasis enough the importance of making the work visible - and of explaining how it was relevant to the business and to the individual.

Lesson learned....when trying something new start small but tell lots of people about it and the benefits it can have for them and the organization....

Do others have stories and lessons learned about implementation of E2.0 technologies in their organization that they would be willing to share?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are we weakening our brains through Twitter

Last week I had the opportunity to spend 2 days with people from a variety of companies that are actively pursuing the use of Enterprise 2.0 technologies both internally and externally. Internally to promote knowledge sharing, increase innovation...and to retain staff (who think that this is fun and cool). Externally they are using it for marketing, accessing ideas and recruiting. In many of these companies E2.0 tools such as Blogs, Yammer, Twitter and Wikis are having a remarkable impact in all of these areas. of the comments we hear about the use of these technologies is ...yeah...this stuff is interesting...but are we weakening our brains though the use of tools like Twitter? Are we putting ourselves in a position where we are less likely to remember key facts -- or where we have such short attention spans that we can never accomplish anything significant?

In a recent post in author and English professor Dennis Baron, from the University of Illinois, talks about this phenomena and his new book "A better pencil." In the book he puts this discussion into a historical perspective.

I start with Plato's critique of writing where he says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember things. Our memory will become weak. And he also criticizes writing because the written text is not interactive in the way spoken communication is. He also says that written words are essentially shadows of the things they represent. They're not the thing itself. Of course we remember all this because Plato wrote it down -- the ultimate irony.

We hear a thousand objections of this sort throughout history: Thoreau objecting to the telegraph, because even though it speeds things up, people won't have anything to say to one another. Then we have Samuel Morse, who invents the telegraph, objecting to the telephone because nothing important is ever going to be done over the telephone because there's no way to preserve or record a phone conversation. There were complaints about typewriters making writing too mechanical, too distant -- it disconnects the author from the words. That a pen and pencil connects you more directly with the page. And then with the computer, you have the whole range of "this is going to revolutionize everything" versus "this is going to destroy everything."

In our teaching at Cal State North Ridge in the KM distance learning program we are finding that these tools increase both the connections between faculty and students as well as learning. Students not only "learn from the faculty," but equally importantly they share their experiences and knowledge with each other using these social media tools. Based on what we are seeing these tools are not handicapping our students, they are enhancing the learning experience. Just as writing did for Plato and his students, movable type did for Gutenberg and millions of readers of books and the computer has done for Job's and millions around the world these new tools are allowing us to more easily communicate and learn.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

KM is alive and well at Cal State Univ Northridge

KM is alive and thriving at California State University Northridge. We have just graduated our first completely on-line cohort from our Master's in KM (MKM) program and are now in the midst of recruiting for our 3rd cohort, which will begin in January of 2010 (the 2nd cohort began in January of 2009 and will finish in December of 2010). The students in this first on-line cohort came from across the country and from a wide variety of organizations and industries ranging from pharmaceutical companies such as Amgen, to the US Military (the Marine Corps), to aerospace (Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne) the energy industry (Chevron) as well as independent consultants. These students are now applying what they learned in the MKM program within their organizations.

The program focuses on the full range of KM topics that enable students to develop and help implement a "knowledge strategy" for their organization that is aimed - not just sharing, leveraging or creating knowledge -- but at improving the performance of the organization. The students learn about the history of KM and how it has evolved, they learn about the key processes and technologies that can help leverage and create knowledge as well as stimulate innovation and finally they learn the leadership and management skills that are required to be successful in today's knowledge based organizations.

The faculty for the program includes well know KM practitioners, such as Kent Greenes (if you don't know Kent - he is considered one of the fathers of modern KM with his pioneering work at BP and his subsequent work with a wide variety of clients around the world) as well as academics steeped in the knowledge of the disciplines that underlie a successful KM program. We also draw on faculty from organizations such as the US Army and their Battlefield Knowledge System (BCKS) as well as from consulting companies such as Ernst and Young.

But why would anyone what to take an on-line program? Of course there is the obvious reason - it allows students to take the program from anywhere in the world. There is no requirement for face-to-face meetings. What this means from the students is that they are exposed to and work with other students from around country and from a wide variety of industries. It also means that we can draw our faculty from literally anywhere in the world. Ah - all well an good - but isn't a distance learning program the "poor cousin" of an on campus program. As it turns out - no. What research is showing is that from a "learning outcomes" perspective (academic speak for what the students know at the end of program) Distance Learning (DL) programs are in fact superior to face-to-face. There are a variety of reasons for this. Two of them are (1) students tend to spend more time in a DL setting than in face-to-face and (2) as a result of the extensive use of what we would now call Social media tools (ie., wikis, blogs, forums and IM) the students spend more time reflecting on what they are learning, which leads to better "learning outcomes." If you want to see more on this there is an interesting paper just published by researchers at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) for the Department of education. I will warn you - that it is an "academic paper" so it's heavy on the methods - but the findings are very interesting not only from the perspective of education - but also for the KM implications and how we can effectively share what we know across and organization using DL techniques.

For more information on CSUN's MKM program you can go to

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pepperdine KM conference

For additional blogs on the conference check out Eric Mack's blog at as well as his Tweets at @ericmack

Notes from the Pepperdine KM conference

Over the next couple of days I'll be posting a few notes from the 3rd annual KM conference at Pepperdine.

Rick Brennen on KM and the challenges / opportunities in the DoD

Rick Brennen, who works extensively with the DoD on KM talked about the changing nature of warfare and the resulting changing nature of the military. Key to his discussion was what this has meant for sharing knowledge – and in particular sharing knowledge on the battlefield.

Rick has an interesting background in that he was a navy fighter pilot, worked for Sun in the 80’s, worked for Jack Welch in acquisitions – and now consults for the DoD and works as a Venture Capitalist. He is someone that has great insights…..

Notes from Rick’s talk.

We are struggling with how to effectively share knowledge real time on the battle field. And these are related to several of the same issues that corporations face

  • culture
  • business model
  • organizational structure
  • security policy
  • systems inertia

The cultural divide Our war fighters are digital natives – our leaders are immigrants. Today’s leaders don’t recognize that these technologies are built into the fabric of today’s lives. May leaders still say “we don’t trust this technology—we need to go back to the basics.” Thus it is difficult to get our leaders to say “we need to study this to understand how to effectively get more info to the warfighter – that they can quickly understand and act on.

Business model DoD is struggling with the open systems concept. Systems are built by large contractors – and their products frequently don’t talk to each other. This makes communication, coordination and knowledge sharing between military personal very difficult.

Organizational Structure and tie to KM: Organizational structures are not good or bad – but they need to be designed to meet what you are trying to do. In an organization where you are looking for repeatable performance a hierarchical org with strong rule-based structure works. But they are very poor when things are changing rapidly. Here you need flexibility & innovation. This is where flat structure and strong influence works… Organizations flatten to adapt to rapid rates of change… The knowledge management structures in these organizations are horizontal… In the past military organizations were hierarchical – missions were pre planned at least a day in advance. Today – when an airplane is launched the mission is designed after the aircraft in the air. In this case – knowledge flow has to be horizontal. Need to communicate with the army guys, the marines, the tanks and the civilians.

Security policy: How do you build a KM system that can tap into multiple secure systems and release it to people that need it. People don’t have the time to decide who can see what data when. In particular when dealing with things that need to happen within minutes to be successful. We don’t know how to do this yet.

Systems inertia: Most DoD systems are designed – not to be refreshed. Moore’s law says processing capability will double every 18 months – but military systems are not designed to be refreshed. Thus – they don’t take advantage of rapidly evolving technology

Summary / Recommendations

KM is critical to the future of the military – on the battle field. It is a critical component of the DoD’s ability to respond appropriately to a rapidly changing world

Adopt open systems: Break the ppopreietatry strangle hold of large prime contractors have on key systems.

Org structure: deign systems to support flattened, COCOM structure crossing serviced, agency and nation state boundaries

Systems inertial: take open systems and scalability concepts seriously and design them in approximate at the platform and Enterprise level

Security policy: build multi-level security infrastructure for real battlefield KM systems

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The power of “Yes and….” in KM and innovation

What we can learn from Improv Theater...

How many times have you hear…”Yes…but….”

What’s this telling you? What’s the person saying? Yes but…is really “NO…here is what I think.” Or " are wrong." What does this do to a conversation? What does this do to your willingness to listen and learn? What does it do to creativity and innovation?

What if instead you hear “Yes…and.” What does it do to the conversation – what does it do to your willingness to listen, to learn and to build on the conversation?

On yesterday’s NPR program Fresh Air; the shows host, Terry Gross, interviewed Allison Silverman, the executive producer and head writer for the Colbert Report. Silverman talked about how many of the writers have backgrounds in improvisational theater. As part of this conversation she talked about one of the tenants of improv is the Yes…and. In this game you are always building on what the pervious actor had to say. And I suspect that if you have been to an improv theater you have witnessed the power of this technique.

Silverman talked about building sketches for one of last weeks programs. At the morning "pitch session" two ideas presented stood out. One centered on “President Obama – and the fly swatting” and the second on how one of the networks is "dedicated exclusively to his demise."

Through the power of "Yes…and" the writers drew a connection between the two ideas – and they merged into one powerful sketch – "Murder in the Whitehouse.” The news anchor from the network that has nothing good to say about the president – starts off with praising the president for his masterful swatting of the fly – but then quickly goes to “Extraordinary negative coverage” and the flies family in morning. They then bring in Jeff Goldblum – who played in Jurassic Park and a number of other films – got his start by playing the fly in the 1986 film “The Fly.” According to Silverman – these three parts to the sketch – all came from the use of “Yes…and…” The masterful hunter, the negative network and Goldblum.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Murder in the White House - Jeff Goldblum
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorStephen Colbert in Iraq

So what does this have to do with KM? And what does it have to do with Creativity and Innovation?

Think of a scenario where a project just went very well. The conversation starts of – we did this to make this could well. Yes---and in addition we did this. Yes…and…did you know that team B did this – and it really worked well, perhaps we could add that to our process. Yes -- and next time we could do it even better if we....

Or – this project didn’t go very well. The conversation starts "here is what happened. We didn't plan this as well as we could have. We could have brough in someone with planning experience for just a few hours to get us started on the right foot - yes and I know just the person that could do that for us. We didn't didn't test this before we used it. Next time - we can build an extra day into the schedule for that testing..yes and make that day up here in the schedule where we had some extra time. Yes...and here are a could of other things that we could do to make it go better next time ---. Yes and we could do this as well ---. Yes – and if we avoided this it could be even better. Yes---and if we built in …. Yes...

Contrast this with. This project didn't go very well. We didn't plan this as well as we could have. really wasn't our fault. We needed more time. Yes...but management wouldn't give us more time. We needed someone with marketing experience. Yes...but we couldn't get the person we wanted. We should have tested this. Yes...but we didn't have time...

Or think about innovation. We could do this…yes.. but…I don’t think that would work because…opps wrong technique.

We could do this…yes and if we got stuck we could to this. And we could bring in Fred who’s done this before and have him share his experience. Yes and we could talk to Laura – who tried something similar – but ran into some road blocks. We could talk to her about that experience as well. Yes...and...

The power of “Yes---and.” Do you have experience using similar simple techniques to promote sharing of knowledge – and building on ideas?

Saturday, June 20, 2009


What inspires you? What is it in a person that you admire?

Last night I had the opportunity to photograph a bike race in Reno, Nevada (it's what my wife refers to as my hobby job). There were two things that really stood out for me - and that inspired me. Making me say - if these people can do this - what can I do?

The first was the hand cycle national championships. These are athletes that are physically handicapped in some way - usually involving lose of the use of their legs. These men and women were amazing. They raced for 35
minutes on very challenging and technical course - that is by no means flat. You try and power your self up a hill just using your arms.

The person that won the men's event, Alejandro Albor , puts out over 700 watts (for anyone that is a cyclist - and uses a watt meter - you know that for most people it's tough to put out this much power with your legs). Alejandro's next stop - is the world hand cycling championships where he will be one of the favorites to take the world title.

The second is an athlete - Chad Gerlach - who has made an incredible come back. When Chad was in his early 20's he was rising star in the world of cycling. He raced with some of the top cyclists in the world - including Lance Armstrong. He was on the inaugural US Postal Team. But then things went ba
d - very bad. During the off season Chad would party. In 2001 he started taking street drugs and by 2003 he was taking crack...and it was over. Up until less than a year ago he was homeless - and addicted. But someone gave him a chance to come back - Roberto Gaggioli a friend that is now running a cycling team called and asked him to join the team. And he is winning races and inspiring people. For the past two days - Chad has ended up on the top step of the podium - first in a race in Truckee and then in the Reno race. This Sunday - Chad will be racing in Nevada City - once again up against Lance Armstrong.

So what motivates you? What inspires you? For me - these two individuals show me that regardless of where you are - and what has happened - the possibilities for the future are endless.

For more on Gerlach - check out the article in Cycling News or the recent interview on NPR