Strengths,Flow and Knowledge Management

Couple of articles in FastCompany on the need to focus on strengths and on Flow (Based on work by American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) reminds me of a much ignored dimension in managing talent – Identifying and focussing on the strengths of employees and ensuring that the right people are in the right roles.One of the challenges in implementing a successful KM initiative is to foster a culture where people act on the knowledge they have access to. While there could be a number of reasons like culture,organizational/structural barriers,mental models of managers etc., that prevent people from acting with the knowledge they have access to, individual skills also impact effective decision making. Having the right people in the right roles(read aligning with strengths) is a pre-requisite to move into the “flow state”.Chances of people taking the right decisions with the knowledge that they have access to could increase multifold once this alignment and transition to the flow state happens.

Here is what the article has to say about Flow:

In the flow state, Csikszentmihalyi found, people engage so completely in what they are doing that they lose track of time. Hours pass in minutes. All sense of self recedes. At the same time, they are pushing beyond their limits and developing new abilities. Indeed, the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to capacity. People emerge from each flow experience more complex, Csikszentmihalyi found. They become more self-confident, capable, and sensitive. The experience becomes “autotelic,” meaning that the activity actually becomes its own reward. “To improve life, one must improve the quality of experience,” he says. One of the chief advantages of flow is that it enables people to escape the state of “psychic entropy,” the distraction, depression, and dispiritedness that constantly threaten them.”

The two discussed Mike’s belief that flow has several necessary preconditions. These include having clear goals and a reasonable expectation of completing the task at hand. People must also have the ability to concentrate, receive regular feedback on their progress, and actually possess the skills needed for that type of work.”

And Marcus Buckingham in his article says: “The signs of this stalled revolution are many. For example, only 25% of working people say their managers actively coach them in how to use their strengths at work. Even worse, only 17% of working people say that they spend most of their day doing things they really like. I know work is supposed to be “work,” and that only a naive idealist would expect 70% or 80% of people to say they spend most of their time at work doing things they really like. But, still, 17%? What a waste of human potential, not to mention productivity.

When 83% of working people dont spend most of the day doing things they enjoy, it sure will have an impact on the decisions being made and the action being taken.Managing talent from a strengths perspective and a fresh focus on helping people move into the flow state seem to be important from a talent management perspective.This in turn will have huge implications on how people act based on the knowledge they have access to.

More on Best Practices-Does reuse inhibit learning?

Arun Venkataraman with whom I have lenghty conversations about doing KM the right way suggested yesterday that a “reuse culture” may inhibit learning and innovation. I have been trying to see what people do after they find a knowledge asset(This could be a document, a video, a piece of code etc.,) in the best practices repository. They end up doing one of the following:

1. They see that the knowledge asset solves the problem out of the box. There is no difference in the context in which the knowledge asset was judged to a best practice and the current context. This is kind of classic reuse.

2. They see that the knowledge asset does not seem solve the current problem out of the box. They may find that the context is different. They call/IM/email the author and go into a Q & A mode trying to understand the original context and to see how the knowledge asset can be used in the current context.

3. They see that the knowledge asset does not seem solve the current problem out of the box. They may find that the context is different. They decide to discuss this with someone in the team to see if this can be customized in some way to suit their requirements. At times the best practice per se might not help but may lead to other ideas that solve the problem at hand.

Does learning take place in the above scenarios? I believe it does. Inevitably all of the above scenarios involve some form of learning listed below.( From Dave Pollard’s blog)

  1. Apprenticeship (“Watch me, and then you try it”)
  2. Being told (listening, reading)
  3. Classical conditioning (associative learning — “Aha, this always seems to correlate with this”)
  4. Coaching (“Next time try this”)
  5. Concept learning (learning to learn, putting two and two together — “Aha, I know what might work”)
  6. Emulation (“I see what he’s doing, but I think I know a better way to achieve the same end”)
  7. Imitation (“I can do that — watch”)
  8. Latent learning (“Well, that’s interesting, but it’s not immediately useful”)
  9. Local enhancement (“I see. That must be the right thing to do”)
  10. Model/rival learning (“The teacher is showing the other student how to do that. I get it. And I could do it better”)
  11. Observational enhancement (“I see. I know what I could do with that”)
  12. Operant conditioning (reward learning — “Give me another doughnut and I’ll do it again”)
  13. Playing
  14. Practice
  15. Question & answer (interviewing)
  16. Role modeling (“Wow, that’s good. Can I try now?”)
  17. Serendipitous learning (“Oops — hey, that’s interesting, we can use that”)
  18. Social facilitation (“Hey, that’s fun — you mean it’s also useful?”)
  19. Stimulus enhancement (“That got my attention, maybe I’ll try it sometime”)
  20. Trial and error

I guess reusing(or trying to reuse) a knowledge asset opens new avenues of learning rather than inhibiting it, provided one doesn’t blindly follow the suggested path.

Communities Of Practice-Dissecting its complexity

David Meggit and I had a series of conversations in June on “Helping executives understand the value of communities of practice”. David created a mind map reflecting the essence of our discussions.It covers multiple dimensions of the problem :

Enlightening Leaders

Asking powerful questions(We thought Appreciative Inquiry and NLP were good techniques for this)

Managerial Leadership-Inspired by the work of Nick Bontis & JacFitz-enz

Executives learning to be business sponsors. “Nurture” Vs. “Manage”

Creating a healthy environment


Aging Workforce & KM-IBM Business Consulting Services Study

Eric Lesser of IBM in this interview speaks about a IBM Business Consulting Services study, Addressing the challenges of an aging workforce. The focus is on European companies.
Recommendations from the report are:

Based on our research and working with companies on their workforce strategies, we recommend that companies consider the following six strategies for addressing the challenges of an aging workforce:

• Redirect recruiting and sourcing efforts to include mature workers
• Retain valued employees through developing alternative work arrangements
• Preserve critical knowledge before it walks out the door
• Provide opportunities for workers to continually update their skills
• Facilitate the coexistence of multiple generations in the workforce
• Help ensure that mature workers are able to use technology effectively in
the workplace

Jack Vinson had posted his view on KM issues relating to aging/retirement in his blog Knowledge Jolt. He said “Yes, it will be bad if the XYZ expert retires (or otherwise vanishes from the company), but isn’t this what organizations have been managing ever since organizations have been around? Maybe the problem is more in the quantity of retirements and that it is becoming difficult to hire intelligent / skilled replacements (hiring freezes, skills not taught anymore). “

This indeed seems to be the case. In the interview Eric says: “Many companies are beginning to find it difficult to hire new employees within certain disciplines, as the labor pools for younger workers continue to shrink in many countries. A less visible, but no less dangerous problem, is the loss of expertise resulting from mature workers leaving the organization without passing on their knowledge to others. As greater numbers of “knowledge workers” retire, they take with them insights about managing customer relationships, handling critical processes, and a host of other experiences that can cost organizations significant amounts of time, energy and resources to recreate or replace. More often that not, the transfer of this knowledge is often ignored, placing the organization in a position to repeat prior mistakes and expose itself to additional financial and operational risk.”

IBM seems to be practicing what it is preaching. This news article on IBM New Zealand says:
IBM New Zealand has started a programme to retain older workers as they approach retirement, believing this is the best way to meet an ICT skills shortage that it predicts will deepen in coming years. “. They call this the “intergenerational diversity strategy”. The article touches upon most of the recommendations that the IBM Business Consulting Services study makes.

Waypointer:In-Context Process Guidance

Ivar Jacobson’s company Jaczone has an excellent product, Waypointer that seems to be of significant interest from a KM perspective. The primary idea behind the product is “in-context process guidance“. Though the current focus is on software development, I see no reason why this cannot be extended to other knowledge intensive work. While replacing a real mentor with a e-mentor might not be realistic, the kind of benefits that such a tool brings to the table in specific areas(by augmenting a real mentors role) needs to be acknowledged. Some of the other areas where these “in-context” process guidance tools could be helpful include insurance underwriting,quality assurance etc.,

This is what a report in META has to say:

Rather than sitting idle and waiting for the developer or the architect to ask
a question, WayPointer uses rules and agents to actively monitor the process and the state of models. It can then proactively suggest steps to take or design guidance.”

Getting stuck in analysis paralysis or over-engineering early in a project defeats such values. Learning the right mix is hard to obtain from a book or a class, but having an intelligent system watch and guide along the way is more like having a skilled mentor alongside. Because the system can do consolidated reports across a project team, it also enables organizations to not only understand project velocity, but to also identify potential areas where specific training or mentoring may be needed.”

Early users reported reduction inoverall training costs and improved overall productivity.

TalkDigger-Results from 9 major search engines in one place

I stumbled upon TalkDigger in the Social Software weblog. This is a meta-search engine to track conversations and it does this across all major search engines.

This is what the FAQ on “Who can use it?” has to say:

Talk Digger is basically intended to bloggers that want to know, in a single click, if new people talked about their blog or one of their specific stories.

Is Talk Digger only for blogger? Certainly not; anybody can use it; there are some situations where you could want to use it:

  • You are a blogger and you want to know who link to your blog
  • You are a blogger and you want to know who link to one of your specific stories
  • You are reading an article somewhere on the Internet and you want to know who talk about it and what they have to say
  • You are someone that is interested in comparing the results of different search engines “

Knowledge Pentagon-India's National Knowledge Commission

A National Knowledge Commission has been setup by the Government Of India to sharpen India’s knowledge edge in the 21st century.

Quoting from the news item:

The main terms of reference of the Commission, referred to as the Knowledge Pentagon — include

(i) building excellence in the educational system to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21st Century

(ii)promote research in Science and Technology

(iii) improve the management of institutions engaged in IntellectualProperty Rights

(iv)promote knowledge applications in agriculture and industry

(v) to promote the use of knowledge capabilities to make the government effective, transparent, accountable and public-oriented.”

The commisssion is headed by Sam Pitroda who led India’s telecom revolution in the mid-1980s.
He says : “I was sure in the 1980s. At that time people thought I was crazy. I looked weird anyway…For today you see that India’s telecom penetration has gone up from two million to 100 million and we have become self-sufficient in oil-seeds and the literacy level has gone up from 37 percent to 62 percent…We will make a dent. How big a dent, time will judge