Posts Tagged ‘best practice’

Knowledge Pathways in a Learning Organization (#21)

May 9, 2009

I wrote in the previous blog about the “Organizational Brain” (lower right or yellow quadrant in the diagram below). The Organizational Brain is a superb instrument for storing, providing, replicating and leveraging explicit knowledge but explicit knowledge by itself cannot create value. Information just sitting in a database does not create value. It is only when PEOPLE apply knowledge that value can be created (upper left or green quadrant in the diagram).

K pathways in OL

There are few exceptions. In a fully robotized factory, technology (~explicit knowledge), almost by itself, creates value. I said “almost” because there will always be humans overseeing the factory. Even in highly automated systems such as Ultra-Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs), about two dozen crew members are needed to manage its sophisticated technological systems.

Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

Value may be created from explicit knowledge such as when a company sells the patents, copyrights, tools, software and formulas it had internally developed. Of course, the original source of this explicit knowledge is the tacit knowledge of the employees who developed them.

In short, the main creators of value are PEOPLE: individuals and teams using their tacit knowledge: this is a central tenet in the knowledge economy. In the diagram below, these are located in the left quadrants, particularly the green quadrant. Structural capital and technology (right quadrants) are only supportive. Note that the diagram is again based on Ken Wilber’s framework. You can go back to the following blogs to read about Ken Wilber’s framework: (click on any link)

There are four critical tasks facing a Learning Organization:

    Task 1: Enhance employees’ tacit knowledge (green quadrant) especially those that create most value for the organization.

    Task 2: Convert useful individual tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge — the form easily replicable and re-usable by more people in the organization (conversion from green to yellow quadrant using Pathways 2, 3 or 4).

    Task 3: Facilitate re-use or practice of the right explicit knowledge by the right people (conversion back to green quadrant). Pathway 6 does this. Through practice explicit knowledge is converted into the practitioner’s own tacit knowledge (see “D4- Converting Tacit to Explicit Knowledge and vice-versa”). Some organizations analyze, recombine, correlate and mine their Organizational Brain into more useful forms (Pathway 5).

    Task 4: Acquire needed knowledge from outside (Pathways 7-10 in the diagram below)

Sourcing K from outside

Some KM tools for Task 1 are:

  • Pathway 1 or replication of individual tacit knowledge: Mentoring, coaching, understudy, buddy system, lecture-demonstration, peer assist, cross-visits, knowledge sharing among a community of practitioners. Some of these KM tools tend to lie “outside the radar” of HR practitioners because the HRD framework looks at the individual employee as the unit of management, while the KM framework is based on managing value-creating knowledge across employees.
  • Various tools to enhance employee motivation and engagement; our empirical findings at CCLFI reveal the importance of motivational factors (see: “A Success Factor in KM: Motivating Knowledge Workers” and “Practical Exercise: Ingredients of Effective Group Action”)

Some KM tools for Task 2 (individual tacit knowledge to group explicit knowledge) are:

  • Pathway 2 (the predominant knowledge pathway for Task 2): Manualization, process documentation, learning history, individual mind mapping, blog, surveys and questionnaires.
  • Pathway 3: Lessons-learned session, after-action review, wiki or collaborative authoring, group exercises for thinking together such as mind mapping, causal flow diagramming, fishbone diagramming, etc.
  • Pathway 4: Video capture of story telling, company visioning exercise accompanied by documentation, minutes or aide memoire of a meeting and conceptual design brainstorming among architects

Some KM tools for Task 3 are:

  • Pathway 5 or recombination: Data mining, performance metrics followed by identification and study of best practitioner, multiple regression or path analysis to detect causal linkages and contributions, statistical summaries and fitting trend lines to data.
  • Pathway 6 or group explicit knowledge converted to individual tacit knowledge in many: Practicum, learning-by-doing, on-the-job training, workplace-oriented mentoring, action research, R&D, experimentation and replication/adaptation of best practice.

We know that the usual means for Task 4 are: purchase of knowledge products, hiring new employees, buying a franchise to quickly use a ready product and its support network, engaging a consultant, copying from the public domain, business intelligence procedures, etc.

I have written about these knowledge pathways in Section 3.5 of my Overview chapter in the book “Knowledge Management in Asia: Experience and Lessons” published in 2008 by the Asian Productivity Organization, Tokyo, Japan. If you wish to receive a copy of this chapter, send me an email.

See also: “Knowledge pathways: 3 case studies” and “Appreciating Nonaka’s SECI model”.

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KM Practice #19: Techniques in Knowledge Innovation (or: You Experience How Da Vinci Thinks)

April 29, 2009

Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of his helicopter screw concept (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of his helicopter screw concept (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Listen to Secretary-General Takenaka of the Asian Productivity Organization:

    “The days when incremental or continuous improvement preoccupied corporate managers are over. It is to innovation and breakthroughs that those managers have turned their attention. For achieving innovation, the most relevant tool is no longer quality control or quality management. It is KM in its broadest sense, which includes value creation or knowledge creation that is the most relevant.”

Listen also to the guru of all management gurus Peter F. Drucker:

    “…the major task in society – and especially in the economy… [is] doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done.”

Here are some practical techniques to hone your skills in knowledge innovation. Do not just read this. PRACTICE! Set aside one day to PRACTICE each bullet point:

  • LISTEN to alternative views on an issue. ASK several people the same question; you will learn different ways to view and think about something.
  • Practice more CURIOSITY. Ask stupid questions. Do you recall how you thought and behaved when you visited a foreign country for the first time? Bring that kind of thinking and behavior here and now.
  • When something goes wrong, ask why. Ask why again. And again. Dig deeper to discover the ROOT CAUSE. When something goes wrong or did not work well, you can bet an action was performed without correct knowledge about something. Don’t blame the person; he did his best according to what he knew. Instead, discover and supply the missing knowledge.
  • Don’t be afraid of criticisms. Go beyond your usual initial emotional reaction and try to better UNDERSTAND the thinking behind the criticism. If you automatically defend yourself when criticized, you will never learn or improve or innovate.
  • Even if nothing is going wrong and business is proceeding as usual, ask your internal or external customers: how can we improve our output? Don’t aim to just satisfy her, try to discover how to DELIGHT her.
  • If you are allowed by your boss or organization, experiment doing things differently or doing different things. In your personal life, look for how to do the same thing better. More importantly, look for better things to do.
  • Visit trade fairs, technology fairs, product fairs, scientific fairs, book fairs, etc. — and let your mind welcome, absorb and enjoy the FLOOD of new ideas. One of those ideas could re-emerge one day or re-combine with your other ideas.
  • When your company keeps losing money, it means your company must stop doing something and/or start doing something new. Answering those questions can lead to knowledge innovation.
  • Study and learn to apply what are the best practices in your profession; as you copy and apply them, keep asking: what is missing in this “best” practice? What “NEXT practice” is even better? The moment you discover this, you now become the new “best practitioner” and everybody else will copy from you!
  • When you hear about a crazy or weird idea, stop and ask yourself: why do I think it is “crazy” or “weird”? It is one of your HIDDEN assumptions or beliefs that is making that judgment! Ask yourself: is my assumption still valid? Hearing about a “crazy” or “weird” idea offers you an opportunity to discover your unconscious LIMITING beliefs.
  • Practice DIVERGENT thinking. For example, get a simple and common object like a pencil. A pencil is used for writing. Think of 33 other ways of using a pencil. For another example, get a dictionary. Randomly select a word. Then randomly select a second word. Now try to COMBINE the unlikely two words into a new and useful idea, story, practice or whatever.
  • Practice problem FINDING. Wherever you are now, list twelve problems — big or small — you are experiencing. Did you discover a NEW problem you or your office colleagues never noticed? If not, List twelve more. Any NEW problem? Keep going until you find a problem no one had seen before. Voila! The solution to that new problem can be an innovation for your office! Problem finding (NOT problem solving) can lead to innovation.
  • Talk to an entrepreneur who had started more than ten successful enterprises. Listen and learn how he looks at things. Watch how his mind works in revising and devising new BUSINESS MODELS and business concepts. He is constantly looking for better things to do. KM is about doing something well, but knowledge innovation is about finding what are better things to do. If you do not check what is the right thing to do, then KM might just be doing well the wrong things!
  • Break your routines every now and then. Routine is the ENEMY of innovation. Try eating a new kind of food. Visit a place you have not gone to. Do something new for your spouse or significant other. Perform a “random act of kindness” to a stranger. Don’t allow the resulting initial discomfort to push you back to your usual familiar routine.
  • Finally, if people will adopt, copy or use your ideas then it means those ideas are USEFUL. Then you are innovating!


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12 Types of Learning

April 19, 2009

To prepare the ground for my next blog post (Q24- KM and power: constant bed fellows), we will use the KM framework introduced in F2 (Intangibles: More Essential for Value Creation) and F5 (A Proposed KM Framework) to look at different ways that we learn.

I have illustrated 10 different ways to apply the KM framework in 10 past blog posts:

Delineating the 12 types of learning (see diagram below) will be the 11th illustration of using the KM framework. I am using the same color codings (yellow for knowledge, crimson for action and green for results) as in the above 10 illustrations. This typology refers to the channels or modalities of learning and does not presume whether and how far in fact the knowledge receiver learned (thanks to Bill Kaplan of Washington, D.C. for pointing this out).

12 ways we learn

Person A and Person B are co-equal in power, authority and influence. Interactions between people with unequal power are discussed in the next blog post on “KM and Power”. In the diagram, we start with Type 1 at the extreme right and proceed towards the left for Type 2 and the rest.

Type 1 is simply studying What Works Better, where A and B compare results of their actions; the two learn when they discover which action produces better results.

Type 2 or Communal Validation is similar to Type 1 but it involves a community and its protocols for knowledge validation. For example, the scientific community learns and generates new knowledge through scientific protocols on observation of results of actions/experiments up to analysis and interpretation of data. In a community of practitioners (CoP), identification, documentation and transfer of best practice follow similar protocols: results of many similar actions are compared and a “best” practice is identified, documented and shared with the rest of the community. Ken Wilber calls the steps in Type 2 learning as “three strands of valid knowing”; see his books “The Marriage of Sense and Soul” or “A Sociable God”. (Thanks to Mark Wolfe for pointing out that the feedback does reach back to enculturation and training.)

While Communal Validation is a feedback from observed results to mental models (=knowledge, beliefs, paradigms), when we rework our mental models or re-organize what we know (thanks to Katherine Bertolucci for pointing this out) we Reframe how we view the world. This learning process is the feedforward back to observation of results.

Type 3 is similar to Type 1 and 2 but Reflective Practice can involve only one person. Types 1-3 involve feedback or observation of results to improve knowledge and practice. A common variant of Type 3 is Learning from Doing, which happens largely semi-consciously. If you wish to learn more about Type 3, start by reading the book “The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action” by Donald A. Schon.

Type 4 is Presentation where A or B talks and the other listens, such as watching YouTube, listening to a lecture or reading a book. This type of learning is suited for learning concepts but not skills. Discussion occurs when participants take turns in presentation and then proceed to a mix of Type 1 and 2 learning, and oftentimes with Type 5 and 6 thrown in.

Type 5 is Criticism, Praise or Judgment where B — using his own knowledge, beliefs, interests or values — judges a statement or action of A. If A and B do not share the same knowledge, beliefs, interests or values, then A will defend himself based on his own knowledge, beliefs, interests or values. If A and B are co-equal in power, and neither will give up their own knowledge, beliefs, interests or values, or they are unable to shift their discourse towards Type 1-2 or Type 8-12, then the result is —

Type 6 is Debate. Learning can still happen through Type 5 and 6, but this learning is least likely to happen compared to other types. Unfortunately, when one or both of A and B strongly believes he is right, or avoids being proven wrong, or is unable to shift to Types 1-2 or 8-12, then each tries to convince/criticize the other but the other then digs in and defends himself, and the process can degenerate to an ugly downward spiral (I have seen this many times in one of the KM discussion lists). In a debate, the objective is no longer learning but winning, or proving the other person is wrong, or pushing for one’s pet theory or belief. In the end, people hardly learn or change their beliefs as a result of debate; and goodwill is often the casualty. It is unfortunate that many people allow themselves to be drawn into this inutile form of communication. This is common among people holding on to different religious and political beliefs, but I also see it among intelligent people holding on to different academic schools of thought. I wrote about Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue in a previous blog post. If you want to learn more about the difference between debate, discussion and dialogue, start by reading the book “Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together” by William Isaacs.

Type 7 or Exemplar is when A through his actions and speech models, manifests, demonstrates or acts as exemplar of a knowledge, belief, interest or value such that B learns through observing A. This is the process that occurs during mentoring when the apprentice watches the mentor perform, and when a child watches her parents and teachers. The mentor initiates the learning process not through trying to convince but through demonstrating how certain actions produce desired results.

Type 8 is when A and B consciously and jointly review or revise their Mental Models, underlying assumptions or frameworks that sponsored or led to specific actions or statements. This is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization according to Peter Senge. Learning or changing one’s beliefs is more likely to happen by making our assumptions explicit and examining them together than by trying to convince, argue or attack another person (Types 5 and 6). If you have not read the landmark book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization” by Peter M. Senge then I suggest you do. John Naisbitt’s “Mind Set! Reset Your Thinking and See the Future” is entertaining to read. A prevalent variant of Type 8 is the unplanned or semi-conscious process whereby two or more people through conversations Reconstruct their shared view of social reality.

Type 9 is Conscious Living, where a person studies why he does what he keeps doing, reflects on his own assumptions and beliefs, and consciously manages how he thinks, perceives, interprets, values and makes daily life decisions. My NGO — the Center for Conscious Living Foundation — has been developing, practicing and teaching tools under this type of learning since 1999. Check our website for more information.

Type 10 is Storytelling and Story Listening, where B shares his experiences with A. If A is able to truly listen, or to listen while suspending his judgments and beliefs, he may understand or appreciate why B thinks and believes the way he does. Then A can discover new ways of looking at the same thing they are both looking at. Check out the book by KM gurus John Seely Brown, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak: “Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling Is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and Management.”

Type 11 is Insight or Intuition, when new ideas or thoughts emerge in one’s consciousness — through processes the thinker himself is not clear about — that can provide the basis for better action.

Type 12 or Generative Dialogue is the process where a group of people have reached a level of trust and skill in performing Types 8-11 such that they are able as a group to reflect and explore how and why they think, see and interact the way they do, consciously discover their limiting assumptions and biases, reframe a problem or issue, revise or improve their mental models, and generate new options or solutions. Learning is more likely in Types 8-12 than in Types 5-6 which are hampered by inability or unwillingness to reflect and to suspend judgment. I have written about Generative Dialog in a previous blog post. Besides Isaacs’ book mentioned above, check out also Adam Kahane’s “Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities.”

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Two Important Trigger Questions in a Lessons-Learned-Session (Practical Hint #2)

December 24, 2008

In connection with the previous post on “Best Practice versus Next Practice”, when you perform a Lessons-Learned Session (other KM practitioners call it “After-Action Review” or “Post-Mortem” etc.), there are two important trigger questions:

1. What worked well?

The answers to this question leads to useful knowledge that can be re-used in similar activities: work templates, approaches, tools, directories, checklists, etc. If something worked exceptionally well, then it is a candidate for best practice (or call it “good practice” if you have no comparative metrics to prove it is “best”).

2. What did not work and why?

Many teams find it difficult to address this question, and some people with personal issues will habitually shift to justifications, blaming others, excuses and all other sorts of unproductive defensive reactions that will prevent the team from understanding why what went wrong did so. BUT, if a team can develop the culture of trust, continuous improvement and constructive inquiry (instead of “witch hunting” or “blame game” or “taking things personally”), the question “What did not work and why?” can lead to improvement and innovation of NEXT practice!

If this happens, the obverse KM question “What did not work and why?” will prove superior to the KM question “What worked well?”. See my previous post on “Cost of Ignorance” on what is the meaning of “obverse knowledge management.”

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D16- Best Practice versus Next Practice

December 24, 2008

The KM tool of transfer of best practice is NOT the best! Why?

Transfer of best practice means –

  • You are improving your productivity BUT
  • You are merely copying from the benchmark setters;
  • You are always catching up;
  • You are looking at what had already happened (backward-looking);
  • You are competing with others who are also seeking the same best practice.

Innovating NEXT practice means –

  • You are THE benchmark setter;
  • You are setting new standards or new market niches;
  • You are forward-looking;
  • You are ahead of the pack and others are copying from you;
  • Your revenues will grow earlier and/or faster than the others.

According to Jesper Kunde, author of “Corporate Religion: Building a Strong Company through Personality and Corporate Soul”, “Companies have defined so much ‘best practice’ that they are now more or less identical”

Management guru Peter Drucker said that “…the major task in society and especially in the economy… [is] doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done.”

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