Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How do you incentivize good KM behaviors, Carrots or Sticks..?

This question was posted to four KM groups on LinkedIn. The groups & response rate are shown below as are full details of the question and a full transcription of the replies.

The question was formed on the basis of a discussion internally about alternate ways we might seek to change the currency and so the sharing of knowledge within the organization.

There is a more detailed discussion of this here but in summary we concluded that more knowledge 'socialism' is a good thing.

Building on this then, we go down a level to contemplate a series of ‘vectors’ that can be brought into play that will restructure the traditional flows of knowledge such as to afford them more lateral movement and thus spark innovation across more of the organization, often through serendipitous connections.

What are those vectors in a real and practical sense..? Who has used them and where? this was the reason for the question.

The question in summary asked: 1) what are the behaviors for better sharing generally? 2) what improves lateral sharing?…this is a more tricky issue.

Included was a request to contextualize your answer by industry vertical and geography…these things matter a lot, at least in my experience.

Teasing out the vectors and the organizational changes that instantiate them is at least partially informed by the survey results returning from LinkedIn members across many business areas who are in the practice of Knowledge Management.

The outcome of this survey is clearly not intended to be prescriptive but it is insightful and in my estimation, fairly indicative.

Selecting the right vectors for a specific organization or, for the various parts of the organization is part of the craft we as KM professionals (familiar with how our own organization functions and also versed in the nuances comprise human relationships and behaviors) bring to the table and this is where we are at our most valuable to the organizations we service.

I should note that I learned the word “Coactive” in this survey which seems to be an conjugation of "collaborative" and "active", at least so I think.

The (contextual) definition of Coactive as provided is:

“Coactive, ('power with') ….structural power (networking relationships etc).”

I have summarized the detail provided below by excerpting what I perceive to be the key points being made. Of course this is colored by my experience and point of view. Your mileage may vary.

Summary of LinkedIn groups and responses

CKO (Chief Knowledge Officers) Forum = 7 responses
Knowledge Management Best Practices = 4 responses
Knowledge Management for Legal Professionals = 0 responses
McKinsey Knowledge Centre (Unofficial McKinsey Group) = 0 responses

Question and Summary of responses

How do you incentivize good KM behaviors, Carrots or Sticks..?

There are two ways to incentivize knowledge workers in the ways of good KM practices.
Top down incentives (Sticks) that promote KM through positive performance reviews and commensurate benefits.

Bottom up incentives (Carrots) that encourage KM through peer recognition and virtual 'status' building as well as actual status enhancement.

Both of these tend to work well in a vertical sense, ie sharing within the silo but which ones have you seen as most effective..?

Your top three ideas would be appreciated and please contextualize by describing your area of business (Finance, health care etc) and locale (India, UK, USA etc) as these are very important.

Bonus question:

How do you promote sharing across silo's (business units, locations etc) using incentives..? What has worked for you best here...please contextualize as above.

Thanks in advance for your insights.

Summary of response key points made that seem to have universal resonance…to me anyway:

1. a focus upon the development of the core collaborative competencies needed to build effective integrative working relationships that bridge organizational and functional boundaries.

2. Develop collaborative competencies across the workforce (as a core organizing competency)

3. Increase incentives that are aligned to collaboration rather than compliance (less management and more leadership)

4. Provide support systems that facilitate connection and connectedness (i.e. technology, cross functional projects, education/training, leadership) - identify, strengthen and tap into structural power.

5. Perhaps part of the role of a good CKO or Knowledge Steward is to help craft the KM value proposition from several different perspectives.

6. I've also found that the more opportunity people have to help design and initiate the programs, the less you have to worry about "incenting."

7. Associates will be more likely to share their knowledge if they see their leaders sharing knowledge.
8. For greater payoff, you need to resolve cultural issues rather than encouraging incentive programs for knowledge sharing activities.

9. ..once money is involved, out go all intrinsic motivators

10. …one should reflect upon the disadvantage of applying old ways of thinking (carrot and sticks incentives?) to new ways of organizing

11. Walk the Talk and Role play are important too. …. it needs commitment from the headquarters.

12. It is really an internal organic process that requires no incentives / sticks.

13. ….but I suspect the lowering the approval barriers (for knowledge contributions) gives technicians a stronger sense of ownership. I.e., they have full access because we trust their skills and knowledge.

14. Organizations change, so if you only have one driver, and it falls away, it could endanger your initiative very quickly. If you have multiple drivers and 1 or 2 fall away, it is easier to sustain a certain level of participation

A discussion of these points (and others) within a single organization would be a good way to tease out what is contextually possible and, what would likely fail.

The outcome of such a discussion would be a good first step to developing a working model within that organization for the changes to be considered and also what the instantiation mechanisms of those changes might be.

Additionally, identification of several strategies and their champions would be a great way to begin a process of top down changes that, while respective of contextual differences across the organization, should be coordinated on the basis of standardized goals and objectives as outlined in the KM component of the organizational business strategy.

This approach seeks to use the efficacy of a top-down approach (which is how strategy must be) to create the framework, identify the outcomes desired and then select the vectors to drive the changes but acknowledges that the vectors themselves do not have to be top down at all and, as we see from the list of ideas that has come back, they may better be, anything but.

From this we can see the emergence of a top-to-bottom approach for organizational change that will in this case will be used to facilitate inculcation of Knowledge Management behaviors into the organizational genome (the localized adaptation of KM Memes) as a step towards the development of a more richly innovative and thus responsive organization.

We see the approach comprise many dimensions of organizational execution to develop, lead and enable the constituent practitioners to make the changes needed to complete the execution of the strategy but, it is strategy while driven in the large, ultimately pragmatic in the detail.

We will develop this further shortly.

Thanks for your time so far and a special thanks to all the smart people who took the time to share their views and provide such great insights.


Appendix A: Details of the Survey for reference.

How do you incentivize good KM behaviors.Carrots or Sticks..?
There are two ways to incentivize knowledge workers in the ways of good KM practices.

Top down incentives (Sticks) that promote KM through positive performance reviews and commensurate benefits.

Bottom up incentives (Carrots) that encourage KM through peer recognition and virtual 'status' building as well as actual status enhancement.

Both of these tend to work well in a vertical sense, ie sharing within the silo but which ones have you seen as most effective..?

Your top three ideas would be appreciated and please contextualize by describing your area of business (Finance, health care etc) and locale (India, UK, USA etc) as these are very important.

Bonus question:

How do you promote sharing across silo's (business units, locations etc) using incentives..? What has worked for you best here...please contextualize as above.

Thanks in advance for your insights.

Group: CKO (Chief Knowledge Officers) Forum

Comments (7)

1. Nick Milton
Director, Knoco Ltd - Knowledge Management strategic and tactical advisors. Know-how is our business.

In the initial stages of implementation, carrots are useful. Use recognition, both peer and corporate, to highlight good behaviours.

Once KM is established as a core company discipline, then you bring out the stick for non-compliance, just as you would for non compliance with any other core discipline.

As Melissie Rumizen said to me once, "At Buckman labs our approach is nore stick than carrot. If you do KM, we incentivise you by letting you keep your job"

I dont think these principles are country-specific or industry specific; I think they are pretty generic.


2. Peter Spence
Principal at Strategic Planning and Negotiation Services

Hello Michael,

The carrots and/or sticks concept is aligned to the 'power over' workers i.e. coercive and reward power, hence the vertical orientation. I would suggest that it is also oriented more toward self interest and the individal, rather than the collective. To promote the sharing (flow of knowledge) within and across organisations, teams etc, perhaps a more collaborative approach may be warranted, for example focussing more upon coactive ('power with') rather than coercive power sources and applications i.e. structural power (networking relationships etc). Incentives that reward and flow from networking (i.e. collaborative advantage), communication and feedback on the benefits to sharing knowledge (i.e. increased resouces, power, market opportunities etc) to reinforce sharing vertically, horizontally and diagonally.

I currently work in the Health care field, also planning and negotiation consultant. In the primary health care field, a range of financial incentives and resources (reward power) have been introduced to promote integrative care (sharing of knowledge, care coordination etc) and this has achieved some positive change, yet with limited success - the incentives have not included a focus upon the development of the core collaborative competencies needed to build effective integrative working relationships that bridge organisational and functional boundaries.

Top 3 suggestions?

Develop collaborative competencies across the workforce (as a core organising competency)

Increase incentives that are aligned to collaboration rather than compliance (less management and more leadership)

Provide support systems that facilitate connection and connectedness (i.e. technology, cross functional projects, education/training, leadership) - identify,strengthen and tap into structural power.

Kind Regards

3. Pam Holloway
Founder and Partner of About People

I'm not a big fan of the carrot or stick approach and agree with Peter that it's really more about building a collaborative culture. That said, long term success also includes understanding and appealing to individual motivations and value perceptions. One size does not fit all. What motivates me to share what I know or seek out knowledge from others may not be the same as what drives you. Perhaps part of the role of a good CKO or Knowledge Steward is to help craft the KM value proposition from several different perspectives. I've also found that the more opportunity people have to help design and initiate the programs, the less you have to worry about "incenting."

4. Bob Godber
Application Manager at GMAC Insurance

To me good KM behavior is sharing knowledge. So much of the valuable knowledge in an organization is controlled by the associates in the company. In order to capture and synthesize the knowledge it is necessary for asociates to share their knowledge. The idea of sharing knowledge rather than protecting it is a cultural change that requires real leadership. So we the leaders must set a positive example. Associates will be more likely to share their knowledge if they see their leaders sharing knowledge.

My experience is in a US based insurance company.

5. Rajiv B Deo
Author, Speaker & Consultant

My experience is that use of either carrots or sticks is detrimental to building of social capital of any organization. Sustained social capital growth is essential for building culture of knowledge sharing. For greater payoff, you need to resolve cultural issues rather than encouraging incentive programs for knowledge sharing


6. Philippe Leliaert
Co-Founder SyntaxisNetworking - worldwide consulting/knowledge brokering network

Earlier this month McKinsey Quarterly launched a discussion on "Motivating People: Getting Beyond Money" ( ) with as the lead in: "The economic slump offers business leaders a chance to more effectively reward talented employees by emphasizing nonfinancial motivators rather than bonuses". It strikes me as not just a little hypocritical that "business leaders" talk with pride about how non-financial rewards and incentives are better at attracting and retaining talent, while arguing in other discussions how top managers/executives can only be attracted and retained by offering them astronomical bonusses.

Let me point to the 'crowding out' effect that extrinsic (financial) rewards have on intrinsic (non-financial) motivation (see Frey BS "Motivation Crowding Theory: a New Approach to Behaviour", Roundtable on Behavioural Economics and Public Policy, Melbourne, August 8-9 2007) : once you start offering your kids money for washing your car, they will expect to get paid for every littly chore you ask of them, instead of doing it out of kindness or as a return favour or because they love you. Same thing in business: once money is involved, out go all intrinsic motivators!

In view of Frey's conclusions, the high salaries and bonusses that are offered to senior management, on top of whatever other incentives and rewards they receive, will only help to diminish whatever intrinsic motivation they may have to do their jobs. That makes it rather hollow for them to then talk about employee loyalty and motivation. (The same, by the way, applies to politicians, whose motivation is supposed to be about representing their constituents and the power that goes with that. In view of expenses scandals at the British and the European Parliaments - which no doubt could also surface in many other countries - it seems clear that many are not shy of getting every last penny out of the system while they're there).

By contrast, I am convinced that there are sufficient numbers of top talent who would relish the challenge and opportunity to take the helm of some of our top companies, and would do so for very modest salaries.

Now that would be rather compelling evidence of how non-financial rewards can truly motivate people!

7. Peter Spence
Principal at Strategic Planning and Negotiation Services

Bob raised a very good point around sharing rather than hoarding knowledge which may be another good reason to implement the carrot and stick incentives with caution. Individual rewards or punishments may promote a competitive rather than collaborative organisational culture. Workers may be encouraged to hoard knowledge as it provides them with power and advantage in a highly competitive/incentivised environment. If you are seeking to build a more collaborative organisation, icrease social capital and implement effective KM then perhaps one should reflect upon the disadvantage of applying old ways of thinking (carrott and sticks incentives?) to new ways of organising - you may well end up with an organisation of diverse, highly autonomous, knowledgeable and skilled workers who are more focussed upon pursuing self interests/goals rather than collective interests and purpose of the organisation - does herding cats come to mind?
Group: Knowledge Management Best Practices

1. Prajuto PRAJUTO
at Medco E&P Indonesia

For Indonesian culture, I think stick is better and I call it "Management enforcement". I am sure here Management Committment is not enough. Management Enforcement is next step if the program does not work properly. Walk the Talk and Role play are important too. For sister companies, it needs commitment from the headquarter BoD.
Medco E&P KM Advisor
Data & KM Masterclass Facilitator


2. Phyllis Wasmuth
Service Desk Manager at CH2M HILL

Vertical is global engineering firm. My desk supports 18K+ internal customers 24/7 mainly in the U.S, (including AK and HI), Canada and Puerto Rico.
I find that sticks are not necessary.
Our Knowledge Base has always been an essential tool - it is our "Bible" for process, troubleshooting, one off support events and used heavily in our training program.

Our analysts pride themselves on getting the customer taken care of quickly and meeting their resolution rate goal. If we provide a well documented KB this assists them in succeeding.

If you incentivize a quota of KB entries you will get duplication just to meet the goal - we have tested this. This causes extra work for your documentation team as well. A lose-lose

We promote a team support atmosphere. We have POCs that handle the questions from the floor when support information is not documented or is unclear to the anlyst or it is discovered that the information is outdated. The POCs (or any analyst) may submit updates to the DocAdmin team which updates the documentation daily so that the analysts see the results immediately. This immediate turn around and use of the information by team mates encourages them to use the process
I hold a monthly Tier1/Tier2 Live Meeting to highlight process updates and discuss any need for adjustment to current process. All tiers of support having an active voice in the process and seeing immediate implementation drives everyone to participate.

The more we resolve at Tier1 due to our excellent documentation the less Tier2 must handle - Either way the customer is ahead.
It is really an internal organic process that requires no incentives / sticks.

Phyllis Wasmuth
Support Center Manager
Denver, CO
3. Doug McNamara
Vice President at Morgan Stanley

Phyllis' comments are true in my experience as well [Finance Industry, about 6000 customers in our division]. While our reinforcement is more the "stick" variety (I praise individuals who are active in generation of content and follow the standards), I don't see that as having the same influence as the internal benefits the teams are receiving in the form of just making their jobs easier and allowing them to meet other goals. One team told me they reduced their training time (from "date-of-hire" to "performing-basic-level-one-support") from 2 months to about 2 weeks with the new knowledgebase. That directly impacts the team's day-to-day work.

In addition, allowing all technicians to edit the KB openly (Wiki) appears to have increased contributions. I haven't asked the question yet, but I suspect the lowering the approval barriers gives technicians a stronger sense of ownership. I.e., they have full access because we trust their skills and knowledge.

There may also be peer-to-peer competition, encouragement, status-seeking, etc., but I'm not aware of it.

4. Frank Leistner
Chief Knowledge Officer

My experience is that (especially in the earlier phases of introducing a KM initiative you need a portfolio of approaches. I agree with Phyilis that having it fully embedded in the culture is the best way, and if you don't need any type of incentives since you have it all embedded into the process you are really quite far along. In large organizations (like SAS, the Business Analytics Software and Solutions provider, 11000+ emps), I found that it depends on the phase of the KM initiative you are driving forward, and as people are different, it might need a portfolio of instruments, instead of a decision, to only take carrot OR stick. Stick can very much backfire if you turn it into personal measures (You might get better quantity but poor quality at the same time). On the other hand if you integrate knowledge sharing goals into group measures at the beginning you might get something that might otherwise be hard to get by: Attention. The other parts of your portfolio - carrots like praise, fame, recognition etc. will then be needed to sustain this. But as people are different, you might not get eveybody by each of those tools. I.e. some people just love that moment of fame, when they are openly praised, some are intimidated by it, and it might work the other way for them. Another reason for using multiple (what I call drivers) is some degree of redundancy. Organizations change, so if you only have one driver, and it falls away, it could endanger your initiative very quickly. If you have multiple drivers and 1 or 2 fall away, it is easer to sustain a certain level of participation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Globalize, Localize, Glocalize your KM

The human genome, all genomes: accumulated knowledge assets culled from the great evolutionary experience of being here for eons.

The genome is a master set of instructions at the molecular level directing the creation of an organism. Cabbage, Whale, Lichen, Eagle, Woman, we all on this earth have one.

The genome is a series of instruction sequences, each of which directs the creation of proteins through three basic building blocks, mixed and recombined endlessly and packaged through an infinitely complex series of folding instructions to create the hundred million cells we comprise.

A revealing modern understanding of the genome is that it contains large sequences identical to those found in ancient (and so modern) bacteria and viruses'. How is this?

The genius of evolution has been to steal shamelessly from all and any organisms that can be conjugated with, dissected, plundered and subsumed to serve our own selfish ends: individual adaptation and so the improved potential for survival in a complex and changing world.

After all, a living being is simply a mechanism for a genetic sequence to perpetuate itself.

As a living knowledge document, our own genome represents the currently understood best practices in the building of human beings along with a complex set of alternate versions of the current model that can be chosen depending on the context for which that being will need to survive in.

Interpretation or expression of the most suitable alternate attributes (the accident of the gene if you will) is a gradual process that takes a number of generations to get underway and many more before the benefits begin to accrue the organism. One example of this in the realm of our own recent genetic history is evident in our ability to derive nutritional value from the milk of the cow.

Until recently this milk was indigestible to us, the digestion requiring an ability to disect the sugar component of milk, Lactose. To do this, we need an enzyme to help in the breakdown of the milk to more easily consumed compounds.

This missing enzyme is now common in northern European populations and is called Lactase.

The lactase enzyme was co-opted into the human genome in the recent past in response to our growing practice of animal husbandry and the subsequent wide-spread availability of cow’s milk, a rich food source with great potential nutritional benefits if it could be metabolized. The genetic capability for this enzyme is largely absent from southern European and African populations giving rise to what we call lactose intolerance when these peoples consume milk and milk products.

This is a case-study for localized adaptation in the genome and a good example of how the master plan can be adapted to meet the needs of the organism on a local basis.

Our own knowledge systems must also reflect this type of localization facility to be adaptable and so we come to the term Glocalization, a lumpy word coined almost a decade ago by Thomas Friedman. It refers to the positive side of globalization, it means the ability of a culture or country to absorb enriching influences of other cultures without being overwhelmed.

We can learn from this concept and extend the use to inform how we design our KM systems so they are reflective of the difference between local and global needs as found in the diverse knowledge ecosystems within a large organization.

The diversity can reflect geographic disparity or merely functional, the response is the same; a native mechanism that enables a localized reflection of the application’s core value proposition while enabling the local rendering to remain conjoined with the global mission and accrue to and from the benefits of the globalized mission as a whole.

In other words our knowledge management platform strategy should be defined in holistic terms to reflect the enterprise mission as articulated throughout the various levels of the organization but, the practical realization of this strategy must reflect in a systemic way the functional variance and the local, regional and top level (HQ) needs for knowledge capture, distillation, storage, dissemination and reuse.

Let’s come back down to earth here and ask, “How do we glocalize a KM application”

In a past experience at a large law firm we used a product-customization approach to achieve this with a good degree of success.

Here are some of the learning's from that experience, shared knowledge for you to reuse as you need to…note this is not an exhaustive list, merely indicative.

1) Functional localization considerations:

a) Our experience with different cultures and styles of local leadership / organization led us to offer several ways to navigate the knowledge stores.

One was purely by search on key words, a simple enough concept initially but one that rapidly got complex as we considered all the synonyms that begin to emerge when you cross versions of English with non-English speakers understandings and use of English. Don’t forget support for the 5 Asian character sets in your application navigation.

b) Infrastructure smart enough to know who you are and where you be. Once these two things have been ascertained, the right data store on the right local server can be connected to the user. This should be factored into the architecture right at the beginning otherwise you risk connecting the travelling user to a store thousands of frustrating miles away or, connection to a local store of no relevance whatsoever to the traveler.

c) Don’t forget the administrative functions. Forgetting the power users who will actually be doing the heavy lifting in keeping the system valuable, is key. They are the champions you will depend on to keep the engine running and they must be consulted.

2) Content Localization:

a) A key element at the top of the content consideration list is the value of a local Taxonomy. You can be 100% sure it will not be one that works well outside of the locality and also that there is no other that will work within it.

Be prepared to offer guidance on key nodes within the master taxonomy for inclusion in the local but support the initiative to grow local nodes from those top levels, particularly when the usage will be downwards and not rolled up.

This is an important recognition of how localized the currency of Knowledge really is as distinct from say, financial reporting or key performance indicators. Always keep the following question uppermost in the discussions: ‘who will use this most..?’ and ‘who MIGHT use this and find it of benefit’. A local taxonomy is intrinsically more valuable if it is also reasonably easy for a non-local to quickly assimilate and traverse.

b) Local synonym support. This speaks for itself but be prepared to face a fairly complex set of variations that need to be accommodated. Also anticipate that, even in a perfect implementation of localization, the locals themselves must be trained on the taxonomy and the synonyms otherwise frustration will result.

3) Security

Never underestimate the complexity and difficulty you may encounter trying to establish any sort of consistent application level security solution for knowledge. There are so many views on this subject that the only consensus is the lack of any.

To illustrate this a little further: within a legal practice there are those who believe that the implicit confidentiality of the relationship between an attorney and client explicitly denies the sharing of work-product resulting from this relationship.

In practical terms, this means all legal work product in this paradigm is by default subject to an almost zero sharing policy, it is locked down to all but the intimates of the matter. This is a stance often found in mainland European practices or practices where there is a high degree of long term confidentiality required, for example large arbitration or litigation practices. To some degree this is reflective of the current Opt-In approach to personal data in the EC.

Contrary to this there is the approach that has its roots in the idea that ‘Information just wants to be free’, an approach that in legal KM tends to direct Knowledge architects and KM practitioners (in the US and UK for example) to push for open-access to all documents that are not explicitly excluded. This is like the Opt-Out approach used in the US in regard to personal data.

This is the obverse approach and right away you can see the enormous potential for inter / intra-continental and inter-practice conflict.

Tread carefully here, your best ally is a fully articulated localization policy for security matters that puts local concerns ahead of global, nothing else will allow you to keep the peace and keep moving forward.

You will also need to be sure you carefully articulate who should own these interpretations in each locale. Effective local syndication of the process and results plus the full representation of it is very important.

KM focal points, KM specialists, Paralegals, PSL’s or however your organization recognizes the local KM roles will need to be the owners of this aspect of the system design.

Be sure they engage enthusiastically by providing them the means for local expression in the product you will deliver.

Further discussion of this would probably be better suited to another forum but, some critical early thinking within your own organization around Glocalization of efforts, ahead of any initiative taking shape; will do wonders to improve the potential for survival and success of the initiative as a whole.

Put another way, your initiative will need to be able to accurately reflect local concerns and requirements as a part of the global perspective in order to have a chance at survival in a complex and changing organization.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Knowledge: Currency, Potential, Impedance and Serendipity.

There is a widespread understanding, come of recent years, that organizations benefit enormously by sharing best practices and know how between their distinctive functional areas as opposed to simply within these functional areas.

This sharing can be shown to have major impact on business efficiency and employee morale as well as providing a competitive advantage in terms of being responsive and innovative to change demands made of the business units and the enterprise as a whole.

The organizational discipline best placed to enable this type of sharing is often called "Knowledge Management" or KM, a rather dull and sleepy term with implications of librarians and heavy top down control.

Notwithstanding this, KM is a handy way to begin a study to better understand the way the organization currently uses it's knowledge networks and by extension to define a vision and a path to change the current picture to something better.


KM exists everywhere in a natural form. It is practiced best by those who inherently understand the value of knowledge and instinctively know how to turn its possession to their own best advantage.

For example:

"Joe, do you have that report we sent over to HQ a few months back. The one that described the best way to set up a water purification kit distribution network in east European countries?"

"Sure, give me moment to look for it later today and I will send it over"

Joe provides the report because he has been diligent about keeping a copy of it and, always made sure that while the report was being created he kept abreast of the most recent copy and always updated his own copy with the newest one.

Joe has good KM hygiene practices and people know this which is why they ask him first. He also has a well organized knowledge store on his hard drive, email folders and network shared drive. People often recall when the section head called on Joe for a copy of one of his own emails because he had lost his original.

It is worth noting that Joe may not provide the request item immediately although he could because he is well organized. He adds some delay because instant access might imply easy access and he could be called upon to always instantly provide the material requested.

No, for Joe to extract the true potential value of the report he must add value of his own beyond the work he did keeping abreast of the versions and then filing it carefully. He must do some additional work to get the report for you, because you asked for it ie this was an additional effort on top of what is otherwise his normal effort of managing his knowledge store.

By doing this for you, you in effect owe Joe some credits which he may choose to exchange with you for something else of value, like a quick summary of what was said at the meeting he was not invited to or, the contents of an email from the boss he did not get.

Knowledge movement in this environment encounters pervasive access impedance, often created to increase it's perceived value.

Joe and the nodes of knowledge exchange are often called knowledge hoarders but might be better called knowledge "brokers" (though some really do hoard) as they trade up and down their own unit using a network of contacts with whom they are constantly exchanging things.

It may be the case that they are also, like brokers, aware of opportunties to capitalize on a peice of knowledge before others do and in this case they are just like real market makers in our financial system, trading on somewhat specialist knowledge about the value of knowledge.

It is said that when put in a demanding situation, possessors of hoarded knowledge will usually offer it up for free.

If you think about this further you can see that it is not free but a different sort of currency is being used to purchase the knowledge. This is still a very valuable transaction. Who looks good when they can come up with the information so badly needed..? The value on offer simply moved to the front of the transaction.

Because of the value component, knowledge has a viral means of locomotion through organizations. This comes about as a result of it's potential. Original attribution of knowledge is often indeterminate so the apparent source of the knowledge, the broker, accrues some additional value which might otherwise have accrued to the author. This increases it's value for the broker.

All of the above is Naturally Occurring KM or NO-KM.

This occurs inside business units and typically means that knowledge moves up and down the unit, generally from a realm of initially shared and open access (low impedance) to later restricted access where it has a cost of retrieval. The knowledge accrues value by it's scarcity and by the access impedance it gathers as the brokers put it away.

The more important something is, the further up the silo it will move and the higher the value that will accrue to it because, well, that's where the money is.

For a knowledge broker to trade across business units or 'silos', there has to be something of value on offer. The transaction with a senior member of another business unit may indeed be of value but more likely is not so often there is no offer.

Equally, the transaction with a peer in another unit may be of value but it assumes the peer has had a chance to get a summary of the knowledge at some point and already determined it has value. This is actually a hard thing to do as it means that person had to deliberately reach beyond their own domain to inquire of someting in another, typically this act alone generates high impedance.

Notice here that the seeker has already a clear idea of what it that is valuable about this knowledge "artifact" and has located a possible source. The seeker has done considerable work to get to this point and have encountered substantial impedance consuming substantial capital.

Now they need something to trade with and they may not have anything as they are in a different business unit whose currency of power may not convert readily into the one valued by the broker.

We can see that these are classic market principles at work.

Clearly then we can say that, in typical organizational structures with well defined business units and verticaly integrated functional units, the normal movement of knowledge does not include movement across the functional units.

Why then would knowledge shared freely be a desirable thing?

Is this really what widespread thinking now proposes when market principles of knowledge dictate that it is not valuable across boundaries of function and enterprise?

The answer comes from a fairly new understanding.

It turns out that organizations thrive on innovation and innovation thrives on serendipity.

The availability of a few pages describing the way a development project in Senegal structured it's emergency communications program to achieve maximum impact with minimum points of failure and in the shortest time may turn out to be the catalyst for an idea that, when developed by HQ becomes the basis for a global communication channel to be used in all business units that results in far greater effectiveness in information transmission for emergencies.

Or: the piloting of a simple program where SMS TXT nuggets carrying basic ID, Health and Treatment data for children in remote locations with no internet connection may turn out to hold the germ for an innovative, simple and cost-effective system to be used in all vaccine-drop locations to instantly cross-check the shipping manifest with the viability of the delivered product and so facilitate an instant re-order to cover the difference and save many days over the traditional paper and Fax methods.

Imagine a local office has introduced a pilot program to debrief field officers by use of a small questionnaire delivered by via mobile phones as the data gathering step before getting a summary of lessons learned posted to the office intranet. This new process takes 24 hours instead of the typical twenty days.

The regional office get to hear about this effort and the learning behind it as part of a formal KM review process that heppens weekly and encourages offices to share their best knowledge with each other. This gets rapidly circulated to the regional directors and the subsequent regional deployment of the new debrief workflow to all mobile phones results in dramatic levels of field level process improvement in particularly complex programs.

These ideas and many more come about when we introduce a serendipitous element into our planning and innovation processes along with incentives to freely share knowledge.

This is how the human mind works best.

So, from an enterprise perspective we can see that there is huge value proposition for any organization as a whole when it's own knowledge resources flow sideways and not just vertically.

However, because the extant value framework in a NO-KM environment does not typically reward the brokers to facilitate this sideways flow, they do not accrue any obvious credits when a program in another group at a different level of function turns out to be successful simply because someone got access to the seed of an idea in a KM document the broker gave away for free.

So, for enterprise KM to take root, the value framework must be changed such that the ingrained NO-KM behaviors begin to accrete negative value to the broker. They diminish broker stature. This is not punitive in the formal sense, it simply sends the message that the currency for trading knowledge has changed and there is a new currency to be adopted.

Once adopted, the brokers may find themselves in a rather different position but there is strong likelihood they will still be central to the process. After all the most valuable knowledge is not just what you know or, what you know has been written down, it is what you know others know, this is a form of broker inside information.

This last point is very important. Organizational knowledge brokers are a crucial part of the process and must continue to be encouraged to practice their discipline and good KM habits, but these behaviours need to be ubiqitous in their adoption and aligned to support lateral knowledge flows and this is achieved by introducing a new currency and transitioning off the old.

No more NO-KM.

So team, how do we change the currency?

Monday, October 5, 2009

What, exactly, are we doing here......?

Finally an answer to this question in the form of a paper published by the ODI:

"Implementing Knowledge Strategies:
Lessons from international development agencies
Ben Ramalingam
April 2005
Overseas Development Institute
111 Westminster Bridge Road

Buried in some fairly dense text is the following:
2.3 Knowledge for development: background

Despite the growth of the knowledge economy as described above, the awareness of the central role of knowledge in economic and social development is far from new. The initiation of the age of
development itself has been linked by many thinkers (Sachs, 1989; Rist, 1997; King and McGrath, 2004, among many others) to Point Four in the inaugural speech of United States President Truman in 1948.

Because of its clear focus on the transfer and utilisation of knowledge, the text of the speech is worth reproducing here:

‘...Fourth, we must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.
More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery.
Their food is inadequate.
They are victims of disease.
Their economic life is primitive and stagnant.
Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas.

For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people... The United States is pre-eminent among nations in the development of industrial and scientific techniques. The material resources which we can afford to use for the assistance of other peoples are limited.

But our imponderable resources in technical knowledge are constantly growing and are inexhaustible. I believe that we should make available to peaceloving peoples the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations for a better life...’ (Truman, in speech, 1949, emphasis added)

But this transfer was also increasingly recognised as being far from simple a process. As it was put in an American Economic Review lecture in 1966:

‘The recognition that development is essentially a knowledge process has been slowly penetrating the minds of economists, but [they] are still too much obsessed by mechanical models…to the neglect of the study of the learning process which is the real key to
development.’ (Boulding, 1966)

Such ‘mechanical models’ of knowledge have informed much of development theory, in the form of modernisation theory and its variants, and development practice, through for example, technical assistance. However, knowledge and learning was brought high on the development aid agenda in 1996, in the inaugural speech of the incoming President of the World Bank.

Before 175 international Finance Ministers, James Wolfensohn – a former investment banker – made the following announcement:

The Bank Group’s relationships with governments and institutions all over the world and our unique reservoir of development experience across sectors and countries position us to play a leading role in a new knowledge partnership... To capture this potential we need to invest in the necessary systems that will enhance our ability to gather development information and experience and share it with our clients. We need to become, in effect, the “Knowledge Bank”.’
(Wolfensohn, 1996)

There is some evidence to suggest that the motivation for this strategic shift was not simply the stated vision of improving effectiveness (King and McGrath, 2004). At the time, the Bank was facing increasing criticism for its practices, and the knowledge programme was a key response to this.

It is worth noting that the development-specific rationale for the shift was to come later, in the 1998 World Development Report, Knowledge for Development, which stated that:

For countries in the vanguard of the world economy, the balance between knowledge and resources has shifted so far towards the former that knowledge has become the most important factor determining the standard of living – more than land, than tools, than labor.’ (World Bank,

Since the publication of Knowledge for Development there has been a rapidly increasing emphasis on the knowledge and learning, leading to a renewed attention on both development processes and development organisations as essentially ‘knowledge-based’. This has led to the widespread adoption of knowledge-based strategies amongst the plethora of agencies within the development sector, including donor agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), research institutes, and institutes based in the South (King and McGrath, 2002).

There is now an increasing appreciation, in development organisations of all sizes, of the value of knowledge and learning practices in terms of enabling timely access to institutional knowledge (Creech and Willard, 2001).

The trend through which the knowledge and learning approach has seen its apotheosis in development agencies has been variously termed ‘knowledge for development’, ‘knowledge-based aid’, ‘KS’ or ‘OL’.

The specific practices advocated cover all of those outlined in the conceptual model articulated in section 2.1 focusing on better knowledge and learning within given organisations. The movement also includes, however, a set of practices geared around the notion of sharing knowledge with Southern counterparts and the poor, and a further set which addresses knowledge economies in the South and attempts to overcome issues of the ‘digital divide’ (World Bank, 1998).
Thanks for sharing that.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


So whatever happened to this technology..?

A wizard idea, one I first heard discussed by an eccentric Russian we had hired to work in the device lab at Razorfish. We met one summer day at the Lafayette street offices, downstairs in the lab. He explained the coming role and importance that Personal Area Networks would play in the immediate future. PAN's, (not LAN's) for the people.

In one sense he was right on the money. PAN's have indeed become something to be factored into technology strategy in Mobile computing and more recently, consumer products as Bluetooth connectivity shows up in all sorts of white goods nowadays but, the actual implementation of Bluetooth seems to be just as random as it ever was.

My own experiences are one measure of this. I still struggle to get my laptop talking to my Blackberry (as I type this I am instead tethered by a wire) though a different laptop manages it seamlessly. I have yet to manage a file transfer between two Bluetooth devices and yet they all say they support it.

Devices once paired often seem to unpair and can only be reconnected by going through the pairing process all over again with it's seemingly long pauses between recognition and authentication. There is really no reason why exchanging keys between two devices at megabit speeds should take upwards of a minute.

And on that topic, just what is the data transfer rate between Bluetooth devices anyway..? It depends on which version you are using and a summary of versions and features follows courtesy of Wkipedia (usually 98% correct) and the full story is linked:

We will start at version 2.0 as it is already out of date and prior versions seem to have been too flawed for use.

Bluetooth 2.0

This version of the Bluetooth specification was released on November 10, 2004.

It is backward compatible with the previous version 1.2.

The main difference is the introduction of an Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) for faster data transfer. The nominal rate of EDR is about 3 megabits per second, although the practical data transfer rate is 2.1 megabits per second.

According to the 2.0 specification, EDR provides the following benefits:

Three times the transmission speed — up to 10 times (2.1 Mbit/s) in some cases.

Reduced complexity of multiple simultaneous connections due to additional bandwidth.

Lower power consumption through a reduced duty cycle.

Bluetooth 2.1
Bluetooth Core Specification Version 2.1 is fully backward compatible with 1.2, and was adopted by the Bluetooth SIG on July 26, 2007. It would appear to be the version most devices are now equipped with.

Provides more information during the inquiry procedure to allow better filtering of devices before connection.
Reduces the power consumption when devices are in the sniff low-power mode. Human interface devices (HID) are expected to benefit the most, with mouse and keyboard devices increasing their battery life by a factor of 3 to 10.

Secure simple pairing (SSP)
Radically improves the pairing experience for Bluetooth devices, while increasing the use and strength of security.

Near field communication (NFC) cooperation
Automatic creation of secure Bluetooth connections when NFC radio interface is also available. This functionality is part of SSP where NFC is one way of exchanging pairing information. For example, a headset should be paired with a Bluetooth 2.1 phone including NFC just by bringing the two devices close to each other (a few centimeters). Another example is automatic uploading of photos from a mobile phone or camera to a digital picture frame just by bringing the phone or camera close to the frame.

Bluetooth 3.0
The 3.0 specification was adopted by the Bluetooth SIG on April 21, 2009.

Its main new feature is AMP (Alternate MAC/PHY), the addition of 802.11 as a high speed transport.

Bluetooth low energy

On April 20, 2009, Bluetooth SIG presented the new Bluetooth low energy as an entirely additional protocol stack, compatible with other existing Bluetooth protocol stacks. The preceding naming as Wibree and Bluetooth ULP (Ultra Low Power) has been outdated by the final naming as Bluetooth low energy.

Expected use cases include watches displaying Caller ID information, sports sensors monitoring the wearer's heart rate during exercise, and medical devices.

The Medical Devices Working Group is also creating a medical devices profile and associated protocols to enable this market. Bluetooth low energy technology is designed for devices to have a battery life of up to one year.

Let me say that when it works it is nothing short of magical. Playing music from the laptop to the $100 stereo unit in my living room via Bluetooth or letting the kids play music from the new iPod in their pocket is a simple but totally perfect example of how this technology can fill all sorts of gaps currently handled by wires and random sorts of connectors.

The advent of a version to operate at the really tiny power consumption level as mentioned above is very exciting and I can only just imagine how this might impact the medical industry. Think of the opportunities to instantly communicate details of patient data between devices or initiate communications between complex monitoring equipment and the Dr's PDA for an instant update of activity.

Much has been said of the security risks that accompany the opportunity but I think with WiFi ubiquitous we already know this path and what to to do. Most all WiFi networks are pretty well-secured now when needed and between WEP keys and MAC address filtering, not too many holes exist there any more.

The opportunities for this technology are huge....why isn't it working..?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Roots and Shoots and the KM Stumbling Point

Great session of the IKMU yesterday at UNICEF, congratulations to all who put it together, it was a terrific education for me.

I was lucky enough to share a table with representatives from the Health group, the Emergency supply group, from Water and sanitation and Gender rights. It was quite an eye-opener after corporate law and business consulting.

We spent time delving into what these groups use in order to create, diseminate and use Knowledge more effectively and of course, what the challenges are to the above.

A theme that resounded for me was the disparate and decentralized nature of the resources available, the lack of clarity about what and who the resources were and, how to find this information when it was really needed and, as I am learning at UNICEF, when things are really needed, they really are needed.

So my take-away was that, like many other organizations (law firms too) KM has taken root as a bottom up activity with very little profile on the top down radar.

This is a great way to get things going but at a certain point it always stumbles.

You know this point has been reached when the lack of KM responsibilities in people's formal job titles, lack of prescription or formal support in the use of tools and the ongoing lack of funds to do more than simply build a web site staffed by volunteers, become a barrier to the organization doing anything more than KM by Silo.

UNICEF has a recently declared mandate of ten strategic goals, one of which includes investment in Knowledge Mangement and so it seems reasonable to suppose that there is now the top down will to move beyond the stumbling point.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Office 2007....?

So whats up with Office 2007..?

I have been using it for a year now and my productivity has slowly crept back up to perhaps 60% of what it was with Office 2003.

This is a catastrophic release of any new product. The decision to redesign the interface was almost on a par with the astonishing error of releasing Vista...two zingers in a year...way to go Mr Softee.

I am no longer ranting about this but I have spread the word to as many people as I can: IT folks at big corporations, KM folks in big law firms, friends, family and neighbors.

Why? Because I am hopeful that if enough people simply refuse to upgrade and wait for the next release instead, the next release will restore some semblance of the old interface so we can all get back to work

While Redmond may like to tell us they have boosted productivity with this smart looking redesign, they are all wrong all the way. The whiz kids who did the usability research forgot the simple fact that Word is now a Legacy product (capital "L") and so all changes MUST be retroactively compatible.

There are over 100 million people out there using MS Word daily. Most of us learned it the hard way when we were forced to migrate from Wordperfect etc. We mastered the Word clunky interface and found all the useful but buried commands, eventually learning how to get to them with closed eyes and great speed.

Now in 2007, none of that works anymore.

Simple tasks can take agonizing minutes of searching. You can be trained all over again but the speed is lost....may never come back.

I might just switch to something else altogether.