Category Archives: Networking

Knowledge brokering

In response to a post about knowledge brokering by Richard Vines on the ACT-KM listserv, I thought I should also share my comments here.

Before knowledge management came along and gained some traction as a discipline (or at least, a particular kind of management approach) we had libraries where information was provided, some of which was used to solve business problems and improve decision-making. While this form of explicit knowledge transfer was usually one way, in smaller special libraries inside organisations (especially corporate institutions), there were opportunities to harness tacit knowledge through knowledge brokering (even if at the time we weren’t calling this a knowledge broker role).

In my experience in working in special libraries in international banks in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, it was indeed one of my key (implicit) roles to act as a knowledge broker within the organisation. The reason was that it was my job to help people solve problems and improve decisions through providing information and knowledge. And even back then, some of us realised that books and journals and newspaper clippings weren’t the stuff of real competitive advantage – human capital was.

My knowledge broker experience sought to match up those with the right knowledge at the right time to those who needed it. In many cases, this brokering role became an addition to the basic information search, analyse, and deliver role I was already playing. The matching was often serendipitous, often opportunistic, and had relatively poor scaleability en masse. However, it did require me to build relationships and trust, while at the same time demonstrating keen awareness for what people were working on and what interested them. In this sense, the knowledge brokering was highly personal.

Nevertheless, knowledge brokering in these contexts of the time performed the role of matching existing tacit knowledge within the organistion to those individuals where it was needed. At the same time, my knowledge broking role also considered the compliance and “Chinese-Walls” issues so important within investment banking.

Finally, I must say that the opportunities arose because the “library” was regarded as being “neutral” and thereby had the ability to leverage trust, conversation and multiple interactions from which knowledge brokering was possible.

The bottom line, however, was in making conversation and establishing people connections; something that knowledge management still strives to reproduce (with more scale) today.


On network culture

One of the interesting things about humans is their interrelationships with other people.  There are historical reasons for this based on family, tribe, and community.  Such groupings were necessary to survive.  In most human societies today, the family unit is still the foundation of people’s relationships.  Friends and the people we socialise and work are also part of the human interrelationship matrix.  And interestingly, people have relationships with characters in books and on television, they have online relationships, and they have virtual relationships in digital spaces such as Second Life.

It should therefore be self-evident that people relationships are significant in nearly all that we do.  In fact, modern humans are truly part of the networked society as a consequence of the internet and World Wide Web.  We have in fact extended the possible reach of our relationships, widened the scale of intensity of relationships (between very weak to very strong); and increased the scalability of our relationships.  So shouldn’t we now recognise the importance and value of the network culture?

In many organisations, relationships are grounded in an “old style” corporate mentality dealing primarily with direct work-based relationships, often hierarchical in form.  In most cases, the network is based on physical proximity.  However, relying only on work-based physical contacts to get one’s work done is not enough these days.  In order to get the right person with the right information at the right time, we need more than just physical proximity.  We need access and immediacy.  We get access and immediacy through our networks, often facilitated through information technology channels.

In a recent blog post by Stefan Lindegaard, called How to create a networking culture, Stefan outlines some ideas for establishing and recognising a network culture within an organisation.  Not surprisingly, this recognition starts at the top. Stefan says: “Leaders [need to] show a genuine and highly visible commitment to networking. Leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. … Leaders should also share examples of their networking experiences whenever possible”.

At the practical working level, Stefan has identified the following: “People [need to be] given time and means to network. Frequent opportunities are provided to help individuals polish their personal networking skills. Not everyone is a natural networker. But almost everyone can become good at it with proper training and encouragement.   Both virtual and face-to-face networking are encouraged and supported. Web 2.0 tools and facilitated networking events maximize the opportunities people have to initiative and build strong relationships”.

Now this all makes very good sense.  Why wouldn’t organisations want to leverage individual and groups’ people networks to get things done more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively?  Such networks are at the heart of collective intelligence and knowledge management.

Why not use all the network facilitation services available in our modern world, from coffee shops to internet and Web 2.0?  And why should there be any doubt about the value of people networks when we can see how fundamental interrelationships between people have been over time?  Network culture should no longer be revolutionary – it should be accepted organisational practice.

On making patterns and links – meaning and illusion

One of the natural wonders of human life is the way in which we look for connections, patterns, and links. We try and make sense of potentially unrelated events and actions by looking for relationships between them. One of my high school teachers told me that I look for things that aren’t there, so I have a strong sense of looking for relationships and connections! But by the same token, I am acutely aware that imagined connections may appear to have some meaning but in fact have no real relationship at all.

My long-time  interest in psychology brought me to the attention of the work by Harold Kelley, and in particular,  attribution theory and causal attribution. The gist of it all is that people to seek to attribute a certain causal relationship between two (or more) events to themselves, often a self-rationalisation and often completely unrelated to the actual reality (causality) of the relationship being considered.

So I was therefore not surprised when I read this news story about a tree stump in Ireland that purported to show an image of the Catholic “Our Lady” in the wood grain. The news story reminded me of a similar event years ago when a spilt milk shake in a lift in the US yielded a similar iconic response.

We look for patterns and links to explain things to give us meaning. It is not just primitive societies seeking explanation for drought and flood from sun gods and rain gods; modern society also looks to find meaning and explanation for things that happen or are likely to occur.  Superstition is everywhere.

At the same time, we need to be wary of attributing causality and seeing relationships and linkages that are not really there. If we are not discriminating in our thinking or analysis, then we can come up with some rather ridiculous explanations for things that have no real relationship at all – and history is littered with them, and not just in Ireland.

Now, I am beginning to look at how to map some workplace relationships (the work-oriented ones rather than the social ones at present) and communication channels between groups in order to get a picture of how people share information within identified networks. I am interested in levels of intensity, direction of flow, and whether there are particular gatekeepers or knowledge hubs.

Yet I am conscious of using this information without looking for relationships and making conclusions that don’t really exist – attribution theory and causal attribution are certainly on my mind. Are the linkages showing real relationships and do those linkages and relationship really matter? Care will clearly need to be taken in drawing out meaningful observations and conclusions.

Let’s look at the following list and try and identify what they each have in common (I love playing this type of game with my daughter, so bear with me on this one). I know it’s not as sophisticated and meaningful as the oft-used Dave Snowden example – cow, chicken, grass – but this is more for fun to illustrate a point.

  • Richie Blackmore
  • Greenpeace
  • Judy Garland
  • Goorialla

So, does it matter?

On conference presentations and workshops

I promised to report on the act-km conference (day 2) that I attended on the 15th October. The papers from the conference are up on the web site.

I won’t go through my notes on this one because I want to focus my thoughts on a broader discussion around conference formats. In particular, I want to discuss conference presentations and workshops.

Most conferences have traditional stand-up-the-front presentations, usually accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation of varying degrees of quality. Such presentations usually take 20-60 minutes, depending on whether the presentation is a keynote or not. The presenter is often rushed because of insufficient time – a problem that many speakers don’t address before getting started. But still there is the challenge of makng presentations more interesting. [On a personal note, I’d love to be able to give a conference and Powerpoint presentation like Al Gore in the documentary, An inconvenient truth!]

One response from conference organisers is to make the conference sessions more interactive. This at least keeps the audience on their toes! And one method of audience interaction used at conferences is what might be described as a mini-workshop.

A mini-workshop approach was used by a couple of presenters on the day I attended the act-km conference in Canberra. One workshop in particular was of great interest. The workshop by Laurie Lok Lee from Optimice on value networks was really very interesting – people at tables had to play the part of two archetypes and discuss how they would view the value of their particular knowledge management initiative and the value of the initiative from the other archetype. Value was to be determined using a scorecard that covered a value for both tangible and intangible activities. The archetypes would need to work together (partner) to get the knowledge management activity happening.

The workshop would have been improved with more time and this is often a problem. The benefits are not fully realised because the workshop is allocated the same time as for a stock-standard presentation format. A workshop and a presentation have different time management needs.

I am wondering if the workshop approach needs to be an actual conference highlight, akin to a keynote, where extra time can be allocated. The impact of the workshop could be enhanced by linking the issues with later standard presentations. A final workshop wrap-up (with sufficient allocated time) would tie everything up and maintain a good level of participation and thinking. Too often the final conference presentation is a panel where not much happens, or where a couple of selected presenters give their impressions of the conference for the rest of us.

I must say in this penultimate paragraph that I really enjoyed the act-km day, appreciate the efforts of all involved, and thank them for stimulating my thinking about a range of issues, including workshops and conference design.

I’d be interested in hearing any opinions on whether workshops really do add value to conferences and/or how conferences can be improved through different presentation delivery methods.

On upcoming conferences – 2008

As anyone who has followed my blog should have noted, I think that particular conferences are exceptionally fruitful as networking and learning experiences. It should therefore be no surprise that I am eyeing some upcoming conferences.

There are five that I have my eye on at the moment, although I won’t be able to go to RMAA in September unfortunately.

Whether I can go to all of them will depend on what leave I have available and how much I can afford in conference fees. However, I will definitely be going to Online Information in London (thanks for the non-profit organisation discount) since that is the key reason for my UK trip, fully paid for by myself I might add. For the other conferences, I will have to see what is possible.

On possibly an announcement from WordPress

A couple of months ago WordPress started adding automatically generated links to the bottom of the comments section on WordPress blogs. WordPress calls them “possibly related posts”. The rationalisation was that these automatically generated links gave the commenter or comment viewer the option of seeing similar blogging posts from WordPress bloggers. The idea seems to make sense, based on the options one has on Youtube and Amazon (although I have more faith in Amazon than the others).

However, I have noticed some interesting links popping up at the foot of my comment sections. My post yesterday generated a couple of comments and so the automatically generated links were added by WordPress, one to a site on rude cartoons. Now I am definitely not prudish, but I didn’t really feel that such a site was really appropriate to the kind of stuff I want to talk about and the tone of my own blog.

By inference, these links are associated with me and the character and content of my own blog. I have no control over what automatically generated sites WordPress chooses to associate with my blog. I have no say over whether the content is appropriate, according to my standards. WordPress and their monkeys at Sphere determine these links using a “document genome” to do the link matching (sounds exciting, doesn’t it?).

The other issue is that maybe I don’t want my readers traipsing away from my site to explore these automatically generated links. I may want the readers of my comment section to stay on my blog and browse the rest of the site’s content without being drawn away by possibly related posts. And “possibly related” hardly fills me with great confidence that the linked blog posts have any commonality at all.

Furthermore, I can see how this particular automatically generated linking feature could be extended into the realm of advertising, akin to Google ads. How much of any revenue stream will be made by WordPress and how much by the bloggers? I’d be interested in hearing if WordPress is looking at commercialising the automatically generated links to make advertising available in this manner.

Now I want to give WordPress a chance with their automatically generated links to other WordPress blogs. I do believe in serendipity and I do think that cross-linking with other blogs on similar topics is an interesting feature (although doesn’t a blogroll perform the same or similar function?). WordPress said that they are looking at “tweaking” the results to your liking so this is a move in the right direction.

WordPress does allow the automatic linking feature to be switched off all together. I will monitor the automatically generated links more closely in the coming weeks and decide how useful or distracting these links turn out to be. I want to give WordPress a chance but I am annoyed at the lack of control I have as to the relevance and appropriateness of the automatically generated content.

I am playing “wait and see” for the moment.

On demographic change and the social

Jeremiah writes a great blog post about the way in which organisations (employers) will need to deal with the entry of socially-connected Gen Yers into the workforce, and the problem employers face with the loss of corporate knowledge with the exiting of the baby boomers.

There is little doubt in my mind that employers should make use of the networked Gen Yers as much as possible. Networking can provide a pool of intelligence beyond the internal reach of an organisation. At the same time, Gen Yers are adept at using their peer networks for both social and workplace connectivity. Being connected is the norm for Gen Yers, and part of their identity and skill set they bring to a job.

As to the potential loss of corporate knowledge as baby boomers retire, this is a more fundamental problem. It is true that alumnis provide a way of establishing a connection between a former employee and the organisation. The question is: are alumnis effective and do they really make a difference?

I suspect that alumnis have a range of outcomes, from practically zero to the occasional peaks, depending on how the alumni is set up and how members choose to make themselves available.

The key to keeping your exiting baby boomers connected, to my mind, is not just the business connection, but the social connection. The social connection is more likely to keep ex-employees interested, especially in the retirement years when additional time is available. Social relations occur at work all the time, perhaps under-appreciated by employers, but nevertheless important to employees. Tap into these social networks with your alumni or some other social-business model. The chances of keeping the exiting baby boomers connected with the organisation and its people will be all the more likely.

As you can see, the common element that organisations need to embrace is social: both the Gen Yers and the exiting baby boomers can be of most use when they stay socially connected as well as business-connected.