Category Archives: Decison-making

Day 1 KM Australia

Yesterday I was in Sydney for the first day of the KM Australia Conference. The conference is a two day event at Milson’s Point.

David Gurteen opened proceedings with an introduction extolling the benefits of conversation. David made references from Theodore Zeldin – “The kind of conversation I like is one in which you are prepared to emerge a slightly different person” and David Weinberger (Cluetrain Manifesto) – “better to understand the knowledge we already have”. The basic message is to engage, listen and learn.

The two stand out presentations today were from Nicolas Gorjestani (ex World Bank) and Pete Williams from Deloitte in Sydney.

Gorjestani focused on obstacles to change from existing mindsets, noting that cultural change at the World Bank started  in the mid-1990s with the ideal of a “knowledge bank” but that the ideal is still to be realised. That’s not to say that nothing has changed; however, change takes time and continuous encouragement.

Moreover, sometimes “unlearning” something is just as important as learning something new. Human mindsets see only some things; something that has been reinforced with me over the years with readings and presentations from people such as Dave Snowden from Cognitive Edge. Gorjestani emphasised the need to ask “what could be?” rather than “what can be?”  I imagine a few mindsets in some organisations that need a jackhammer of gargantuan proportions to shift….but that’s another story.

Pete Williams from Deloitte emphasised how existing communication tools can be used for good business outcomes. He was specifically focusing on social tools that allow connection and collaboration between individuals and teams. He informed us how Deloitte uses Yammer to share information and experiences within Deloitte. He gave many examples as to how the system was used to ask and solve problems; problems that might otherwise take much longer to solve or deal with. In a telling point about Sharepoint, Williams said this about the Microsoft product: “if I want to get a glass of water, Sharepoint wants to dig a well. Why not go to the tap that’s already there?”.

And the meaning here is that there are fabulous tools out there already to use.  So why spend time and resources building new things when it already exists, especially at such low cost? He continued by commenting that in many cases the customisation of Sharepoint from previously requested work still hasn’t been finished so how could new work be taken on board and completed in a timely manner? Indeed.

Williams also highlighted new ways to present information through mashups and through minor adjustments to existing software apps. Bamboo was a product that he mentioned that I need to investigare further. Again, Williams advocated a culture of “can do” rather than “won’t do”.

Deloitte actively encourages good ideas in many ways. They provide time and financial resources for new ideas to be tested and developed. Microfunding is available to anyone with an idea that has potential, approved by the innovation team.  In addition, Yammer is used across Deloitte to not only solve problems and respond to questions but to comment and improve upon decisions. Williams gave the example of the change from a per diem rate for expenses to actual cost recovery by individual receipts. When it was pointed out by many people that this procedure would take forever for those in consulting jobs at sites for months at a time, the CEO took this on board and changed the policy back.

All of these ideas and experiences work because of a culture of can do and of encouraging ideas for improvement. Unfortunately, many organisations prefer a command and control model where innovation is unlikely to get very far.

I look forward to hearing what speakers bring to the table on day 2.

End of ER and L Conference for 2011

Today was the third and final day of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference in Austin, Texas.

There were presentations given on standards; acquisitions and assessment, web discovery, ebooks, and content indexing.

From the presentations I saw, there were two stand-outs. The first was the presentation by Hana Leavay of the University of Washington Library who gave an interesting and informative talk on assessing electronic resources. Considerable thought had gone into the data collection, the sorting and analysis, and then finally the input into decision-making. Once again this presentation demonstrated to me why we need to better capture a range of statistics and work out ways of using the data for management and reporting purposes.

The other presentation was a group presentation about web discovery. The prime mover here was John Law from Serials Solutions and the product called Summon. Tammy Allgood from Arizona State University Library and Anne Prestamo from Oklahoma State University Library both provided practical ways in which Summon could (and did) work. Summon is a way to search across electronic journals from different sources and providers, with the added benefit of consistent indexing across repositories and databases, and quicker retrieval of material. I will investigate this product further when I get home.

I am organising a couple of library visits tomorrow and hope to see more live music before I start my way home with a flight to Los Angeles on Friday afternoon.

Finally, Austin is a great place to visit and you gotta see the Eric Tessmer Band live – awesome!

Reflections on Web 3.0 social media conference

I have had a few days now to reflect upon what was presented and discussed at the Web 3.0 social media conference that was held in Sydney last Thursday and Friday.

The key point is that social media cannot be ignored by companies and nor can it be ignored by “marketeers”. “Marketeers” is obviously some cutesy professional term used these days to describe marketing executives or marketing departments; a noun that I find strangely childish and stupid.  But I digress.

For the organisation, social media offers scope, range, and reach to potential customers and clients. Using social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allows organisations to communicate using channels that are becoming increasingly popular. 

Mark Higginson from Nielsens reported that growth in the online sector in Australia was strong, even showing a growth in online media use from the 55-plus demographic. Moreover, in the words of Alex Crompton from Aussie (Home Loans), “It’s (social media) where the people are.” In other words, look at where your audience is and work out the best (if not all) the media channels necessary to connect with them. The online space will continue to eat into traditional advertising channel revenue as people spend more time online.

Not surprisingly, the case for social media use was strong. Not only did presenters emphasise the communication and marketing aspects, but many also told us of the importance of “community”, “engagement” and “the social” aspects of the online universe. Online brand reputation and “tribal support” are significant, as both Alex Crompton (Aussie) and Karen Ganschow (Telstra) indicated in their presentations. Products and services can be improved by using social media as a way of listening to customers, and then using the feedback to enhance the customer (and brand) experience – all good commercial sense. Generating online champions who advocate (and even solve problems) on your behalf, is even better!

Nick Love from Fox Interactive Media was confident that the internet in the near future would be totally about “the social”. Nick was so confident , that he forecast that “social” media would become redundant since the social aspects of online use and interaction would become embedded into everything that happens online. Nick referred to the “social web” as a way of explaining how pervasive the shift to social networks was becoming. Mark Higginson from Nielsen wasn’t convinced (and nor was I) that the internet in the future would be totally social, but I think Mark and I would agree that the social aspects of online communication and engagement will continue to grow and become very important.

The three of us would agree, however, that social media has an important “reputation currency” associated with it, something at the heart of authenticity and engagement. It remains to be seen how marketeers will leverage “authenticity” and “engagement” to sell their wares and promote their brands.  Actually, it is already beginning to happen on social media sites such as Youtube where content is becoming monetised (product placement is a classic example).

Karen Stocks from Youtube keenly promoted (financial) success from Youtube celebrity spinoffs and content creators such as Australian Natalie Tran. Youtube offered global reach, attention, and eyeballs for product placement and brand awareness. At the heart of Youtube success was “viral marketing” – some authentic and often accidentally successful Youtube clip that captured “people’s imagination” and took off. One quoted example was the Mentos mints in the bottles of diet coke that literally took off, and with it sales of diet coke to boot! Of course, it’s not all beer and skittles (or mints and coke) for Youtube content creators. Naomi Klein warned us in No Logo that companies prowl for ideas from a range of sources (and these days social media is one of them) for emerging trends and then commercialise without any profit going to the edgy content creators who displayed their ideas first.

Michael Kordehi proved that Microsoft has informed and entertaining speakers with a great presentation on enhancing a richer and deeper personal experience with the web. Michael showed off some of the IT whizz-bangery that he and his team had done for NineMSN’s Grazia magazine. The image quality of the digital fashion shoot photos were enhanced for much finer image detail (something clients wanted from fashion photos online) AND also to enhance the way readers could share these images with their friends. Using your own navigation around the images, you could then save and send it to friends so that they saw the same sequence of images as you did. I think he referred to it as an “e-journey” but I think he’ll need to do more work on that term to make it part of the popular lexicon.

Other professionally presented talks were from Paul Borrod of Facebook and Cliff Rosenberg from LinkedIn, both of whom promoted the social media benefits of their respective services. I already use LinkedIn but I must say that I am a little more inclined to take Facebook  more seriously than I have in the past, based on some improvements to the interface and an assurance to improve privacy.

Marc Lehmann (Saasu.com) talked about the naturally selected web which pretty much was about getting the web to cut through the mess and give you exactly what you want without relying on search. Because we are all still time-poor, we need a more life-like web that relates to our own needs and our own digital identity. Marc thought that today it is not about the web, it’s all about the data. How can we get the data we need and personalise the information to meet our individual demands and save us time?  And Nicholas Gruen, in his presentation on Government 2.0 and web 3.0, also advocated how the provision of (government) data could be used by people in many different ways – the classic example was the Gov 2.0 mashup late last year at which an inventive bunch of people reframed and rearticulated government data into informative and interesting ways. In other words, put the data out there and let the people work out for themselves how they will use it and what meaning they will derive from it.

One of the best presentations from the conference was from Sandy Carter of IBM. Sandy gave some excellent real-life examples of companies using social media for a variety of strategic purposes. The message was clear: before using social media, an organisation must articulate and understand the problem it is trying to solve and then work out how (or if) social media can make a positive difference. In fact, 80% of your time should be about planning and setting out the objectives and the strategy, while the remaining 20% is about the technology and the tools. Much of what Sandy had to say, and in far greater detail, is in her book The new language of marketing 2.0. The book outlines a set of six steps (ANGELS) that provide a useful guide to utilising traditional marketing techniques with what web 2.0 has to offer. And thanks Sandy for the free copy!

There  were other interesting papers that I summarised in my notes but I need not go into detail here. Suffice to say, the conference encouraged thought and good discussion about how social media can be leveraged to improve communication, enhance marketing and customer engagement, and promote new forms of interaction and community among online participants. The conference was very impressive indeed.

On experiencing context

I want to talk about experiencing context.  I want to investigate what it means to experience something that is really going on rather than what is supposed to be going on.  I want to see what happens in practice as distinct to what the theory might suppose.

I am reading the classic book on urban planning by Jane Jacobs, called The death and life of great American cities.  As a lapsed economic geographer, I am always drawn to the intersection between economics and space and how in practice these two dimensions work.   The first observation, certainly if you are from Sydney as I am originally, is that there is a dark nexus between property developers and urban development.  Much has been made about the power of developer influence on government planning, for instance.

In fact, I recall one big developer wanting to concrete over the beautiful Kuring-gai Chase National Park in the north of Sydney to build more multi-dwelling housing!  The worst part, of course, is that besides giving the developer more profit and more power, the architecture of said multidwelling housing leaves a lot to be desired with their prefab look and feel.

In the introduction to Jane Jacob’s book, she cites an example of a so-called slum in Boston (in the 1950s) called the North End.  To much of Boston, and certainly the city planners, North End was a major slum.  Yet when Jane Jacobs visited the place before a future-planned “redevelopment”, she was amazed by the life and vitality of the place.  She rang a planning friend who confirmed he thought it was a slum, albeit a slum with pretty good health and socioeconomic statistics behind it.  Moreover, her planner friend actually visited North End and found it to have a “wonderful, cheerful street life”, even better in summer.

Jacobs says: “Here  was a curious thing. My friend’s instincts told him North End was a good place, and his social statistics confirmed it. But everything he had learned as a physical planner about what is good for people and good for the city neighbourhoods, everything that made him an expert, told him that the North End had to be a bad place” (page 15).

The story certainly tells me how important it is to experience the context.  I doubt whether it will always be good enough to just look at the theory, or the statistics, or the expert opinion, without experiencing the context for oneself.  More importantly, however, is the finding out about the experience from the people active within it.

It therefore comes as no surprise that in many areas of our professional lives where we have to make decisions, we often rely solely on past experience, our previous training, and the thinking that pervades ourselves and like-minded colleagues.  This is quite insufficient.  We need to explore other ideas and other people’s views, especially the views of the people involved – the real stakeholders.  And if we can break these patterns, either through our own determination or allowing some disruptive thinking to break through from elsewhere, then we can at least look at the world in a different way.

If we can experience context, and include the contextual experiences of those involved, we can make more informed choices and decisions that reflect the real context as distinct from our personal-world-view context.

On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

On internal and external sources of knowledge

I just received my latest Gurteen Knowledge Newsletter from David Gurteen.  David alerts us to a new book by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell  entitled No more consultants: we know more than we think.  I have already ordered the book for my personal library and look forward to reading the book when the order arrives.

I have often wondered what the appeal of hiring external consultants is when people already working within an organisation could do the same or even better job at solving a perceived problem.  There seems to be an attitude that only good knowledge exists outside the organisation; a situation that I feel undervalues the existing knowledge assets of an organistion, or at best, underutilises that existing knowledge capability. And perhaps this is where knowledge management needs to make more of an inroad – in bringing these knowledge assets out in the open so that they get the righful attention of decision-makers.

Of course there will be times when people are busy working on other things and so a consultancy allows for an issue to be looked at sooner rather than later. But in many situations, it’s almost like the organisation doesn’t think highly of it’s own staff being able to undertake the work, something a bit strange when the staff are best placed to consider the workplace context.

Now before readers get the wrong idea, I do think that consultants have an important role to play, especially in offering a new approach to problems and in looking at issues in a different light.  Good consultants really want to help their clients overcome obstacles, look for new opportunities, and solve problems that really matter to an organistion.

I often take on the “consultancy role” when I start a new job or where I want to begin a new project: I seek to determine the current position of the organistion; what are the problems, constraints or concerns about the project or activity; what are the priorities and capabilities within the organisation; how this all fits within the organistion or business unit’s overall strategy and desired outcomes; and then I look at solving problems and issues within the organisational context using whatever combination of people and resources is required for the task at hand. 

Management certainly need to consider the effective utilisation of knowledge assets that exist within the organisation as well as what external knowledge assets can bring to an organistion.

On bright minds and serendipity and passion

Here are a couple of quotes that are important to me when I think about knowledge work, and pretty much everything else to do with life.  I like the fact that randomness and passion have such a strong impact on what we do.

“Chaos is very important to me. I keep my office very messy because it creates interesting random thoughts. Often I have to look for a paper and on my search to find it I will find other things that trigger off new thoughts that I probably wouldn’t have had if I had found the paper straight away. Often in problem-solving you have to think outside the box, go sideways, and I think the chaotic mess in which I work often facilitates this. I also find yellow paper useful. I love working on yellow legal pads with black ink; it’s really good for thinking” (Professor Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician).

The quote is from an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald today (syndicated from the Sunday Telegraph in London) in which some of the brightest minds in the UK are asked to talk about everyday things.  The bright minds belong to Professor Marcus du Sautoy,  Professor Nathan Seiberg (particle physicist), Henry Marsh (brain surgeon), Daniel Jubb (rocket scientist), Michael Beloff (QC), and Nigel Short (Chess Grandmaster).

And finally, what about passion? This from Nathan Seiberg (particle physicist): “If you love something you become obsessed with it and then you eventually solve the problem. I discovered a passion for science at a very early age. I always enjoyed solving puzzles: logic puzzles; maths puzzles; jigsaw puzzles. I was obsessed. The passion is no guarantee of success, but without the passion it won’t work, that’s for sure.”