The fine art of (not) lecturing

Posted by Daryl Cook - December 7, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

I just read a great article over at the about Nobel laureate Carl Wieman who wants professors to rethink how they teach.
His message? In a nutshell: reduce the load; stimulate the brain.
A lot of what he recommends is not just applicable to teaching science, it’s also relevant to anyone who presents information to others or works with groups (meetings, presentations, workshops, training etc).
Basically, we need to up the interaction quotient folks!.

Comments Off


Our need for the knowledge worker is over

Posted by Shawn Callahan - November 3, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

The term ‘knowledge worker’ is now a meaningless concept in developed countries because the shift Drucker started to notice in the ’50s from jobs requiring manual work to jobs requiring knowledge work is now complete. Today all work is knowledge work because even the most manual of activities such as farmer digging post holes for a fence requires pre-planning using their spatial information system, the use of GPS to position the hole and entry of data when it’s done. The ubiquity of technology is one major factor that makes everyone a knowledge worker.

Sadly, when we use the term ‘knowledge worker’ today we are often unfairly saying one type of job is superior that another. It’s an dark undercurrent and tacitly becomes a basis for discrimination. “Our salespeople are knowledge workers but our gas fitters are not.” I suspect this feeling of superiority comes from the erroneous data-information-knowledge model where knowledge (and even more ridiculously, wisdom) sits at the pinnacle of the pyramid. See here for an alternative model for thinking about data, information and knowledge.

Have you ever seen anyone in recent years define what they mean by knowledge workers and knowledge work? They tie themselves in knots and confuse their readers. The people who write about knowledge workers see themselves as a knowledge worker and wish so very hard that the term is true and useful. But alas it’s not and the sooner we realise this the better so we can get back to asking more useful questions like, “How does knowledge help us to work better?”


Making information find us

Posted by Daryl Cook - October 23, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

I really enjoyed watching this video about the web challenging our most basic assumptions about ‘finding’ information.

Technorati Tags:


Why don’t they just follow the procedure?

Posted by Mark Schenk - October 21, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

On 29-30 August, a USAF B-52 bomber mistakenly armed with six nuclear tipped cruise missiles, flew from Minot, North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The incident has sparked enormous media attention and it is the first time the US military has publicly commented on the whereabouts of nuclear weapons.

The Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations announced the results of a six-week inquiry into the incident yesterday, the results of which pretty much conclude that the procedures were correct but the personnel simply didn’t follow them. The incident was evidently not a one-off: “there has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards.” The airmen replaced the schedule with their own “informal” system, he said, though he didn’t say why they did that nor how long they had been doing it their own way. Apparently, up to 70 people will be disciplined over the incident; a wing will be removed from wartime status and the base commander has been relieved of his command.

My 20 year career in the Australian Air Force, and consulting back to Defence since, makes me pretty familiar with the rigorous documentation of policy and procedure in the military…. and with the way these procedures are often used. I remember the mantra “policies are for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools” and how this was embedded into many of the stories told in the bar and on the flight line. What was also evident was the enormous amount of experience, knowledge and understanding of context that enabled the tailoring of procedures to be done effectively and with due regard to the circumstances. The ‘people’ bit was always much more important than the ‘process’ bit.

If we wanted a procedure to be followed precisely there was a lot of work up front ensuring the necessary understanding (knowledge, context) was provided and a lot of resources monitoring compliance. As the drive for military ‘efficiency’ bit in the late part of my career the extent to which the basics were done dropped dramatically. In the Australian Defence Force this was exemplified by the annual audit of Defence accounts being qualified (a very bad thing) for years on end due to a decade of neglecting the simple act of stocktaking. It was like the organisation just started to assume it would get done ‘because everyone knows its important’ and yet it behaved in a way that gave no indication that it was, in fact, important. Hmmm, sound familiar?

So, in the case of the recent ‘nukes across the US’ incident, I would love the opportunity to do some narrative-based research (probably using anecdote circles) to find out what was really going on. Of course, if the objective was to determine blame we would not get much better information than provided by an investigation. But if the objective was to understand the context and behaviors relating to the incident the insights could be incredibly valuable. And with something important (and I guess nuclear safety would fall in that category) we should be using the full range of investigative/evaluation approaches available to us rather than relying solely on traditional, linear ones based on the scientific method and focused on who was at fault.


How not to organise information

Posted by Shawn Callahan - October 2, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

I’ve recently been telling everyone about a presentation I saw on You Tube by David Weinberger called Everything is Miscellaneous. David’s argument is that in the past we organised our information into neat categories and then we had one category called miscellaneous to cope with those things that didn’t fit. Now with the explosion of information most of information is in the misc category.

This 45 minute presentation by David, and follow on debate, raises some important questions about how we are locked into a physical world’s way of organising, the role of social networks and implicit knowledge, and the importance of findability. Don’t be put off by the electronic introductions.

Comments Off


Social search – getting your community and colleagues to help improve findability

Posted by Shawn Callahan - September 24, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

Why does Google work? Because on the internet people link between sites. Popular sites are popular probably because they are relevant and more people link to these sites. As a result Google ranks them higher than others and hey presto when you Google the most highly ranked sites are at the top.

What happens on an intranet? Pages and pages of material is published and by comparison to the internet there is no linking. And as a result it’s hard to work out what is useful and what’s not. How many of you have searched for the “car booking” procedure for your department to find a myriad of other gumf totally unrelated to what you need? I have. And it’s a pain.

That’s why social search is going to be important. I’ve been playing around with social search for a while using Eurekster’s Swickis. Here’s one I’ve created for people interested in business narrative.

Grab this swicki from

The idea is that whenever you do a business narrative related search and you find a hit that is a good one, you vote for it. Over time its ability to server the business narrative community improves. I’ve added it to the bottom of our blog and you can easily add it to yours as well.

Imagine using this type of tool on your intranet where over time you good efforts make the search engine work for you rather than something you have to battle with. In fact we will be relying more and more on our colleagues and community members to keep abreast of the tsunami of information coming our way. This is one was to do it.


What do we mean by tacit knowledge?

Posted by Shawn Callahan - August 14, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

Most of our work here at Anecdote involves working with tacit knowledge. But it is clear that there is a broad understanding about what’s meant by the phrase. In the knowledge management world there are two camps: one that believes tacit knowledge can be captured, translated, converted; and the other that highlights its ineffable characteristics. I must admit I was for a long time firmly ensconced in the latter category and our white paper on “How we talk about knowledge management” reflects this view. But I realise now it is simply impractical to adopt an either/or perspective and so I would like to propose a way forward that focusses on why knowledge is tacit (remaining unspoken, unsaid, implied, unexpressed) and then based on these reasons we can start thinking about the appropriate approach to capturing or transferring tacit knowledge.

Tacit Iceberg

I think the iceberg metaphor is useful. Below the waterline lies an organisation’s tacit knowledge. Near the water surface lies tacit knowledge that’s easier to work with but as we go deeper the nature of the tacit knowledge changes, it becomes murkier and harder to see and grasp. As we increase in depth we can think of the different reasons why our knowledge is unspoken.

Hasn’t been recorded. Most organisations put their efforts in in dealing with this type of tacit knowledge. Probably because it’s easy. “Let’s find out what we know and then document it.” As a result wikis are popping up everywhere. Creating more explicit knowledge then creates a new problem of findability And as Peter Morville says, “what we find changes who we become.”

Will never be recorded. There are some things you know, that you could quite easily tell someone else, that you would never want to write down or be widely known. Imagine a diplomat who has an intimate knowledge of their counterpart’s peccadillos in an allied government. Perhaps not the type of thing that would be written down. More benign examples include stuff ups and when people are breaking the rules for the right reasons (or even for the wrong reasons).

Too many resources required to record. Sometimes it just takes too much time and effort to write down what you know. For one thing, when you write it down you have to assume a broad audience (not like a conversation where you are assessing whether the person you are taking to is getting it), which makes the task even harder. Imagine Einstein walking in the room and someone without advanced physics knowledge asking him to explain the general theory of relativity. It would be impossible for Einstein to provide a comprehensive answer because his knowledge requires stimulation in order to be forthcoming. Dave Snowden encapsulates this idea in his aphorism, “you only know what you know when you need to know it.”

Everyone knows it (taken for granted). Now we are getting into the type of tacit knowledge that’s more difficult to identify. This knowledge often represents the core values and beliefs in an organisation. It can manifest as metaphors. For example, I visited a investment bank in Sydney and their language revolved around gambling: “We can take a bet on that.” “Let’s roll the dice and see what happens.” “Everyone was poker faced.” Another organisation was fixated with traffic metaphors: “It’s a real roadblock.” “We got the green light.” “We have a clear roadmap now.” No one noticed how they were using these metaphors yet it guided their actions every day. I guess we call these things ‘culture.’

Individuals don’t know but groups do. Have you ever read Cognition in the Wild? It tells the story of the bridge crew of the aircraft carrier USS Palau and how together they can dock this enormous ship yet no single individual could describe how it is done. Many teams have this underrated and generally unrecognised this group-based ability.

Can’t be recorded. Much of our tacit knowledge falls into this category. The effects of this type of tacit knowledge (some would say the only true tacit knowledge) are displayed in our action and therefore it’s impossible to capture or convert it. The approach here is to become mindful and reflect of what is displayed—conversations, coaching, shadowing. Sure, we can video tape people undertaking tasks but time and time again practitioners have discovered there are qualities that are not captured and the task cannot be completed successfully. My favourite example is those white-coated gentlemen in France who test whether those humungous wheels of cheese have ripened. Using a little hammer they tap each one and know instantly which ones are ready to eat. How do they know? Is it the sounds, the bounciness, the smell? I recall a group of scientists set about to measure all these characteristics in order to create an automatic cheese ripeness testing machine but as hard as they might try they paled in comparison to the experience of the practised cheesemaker.

Technorati Tags:


Three principles for learning

Posted by Shawn Callahan - July 19, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

My wife, Sheenagh, went to a conference on literacy last week. She’s a primary school teacher and teaches a 1st grade class. One the speakers, David Hornsby, said there were three principles you should keep in mind when helping children to learn.

  • Move from the heart to the head
  • Move from the meaningful to the abstract
  • Move from the known to the unknown

Great principles for any learning initiative at any age.


Real knowledge management

Posted by Shawn Callahan - July 12, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

A few years ago I attended KM Australia in Sydney. It was the early days of KM in Australia and I remember one of the keynote speakers spent a large portion of this presentation typing knowledge management into Google and everyone marvelling at vast quantity of hits returned. KM was really popular on the net.

The following speaker was Dale Chatwin from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Dale opened his talk by opening his browser, surfing to Google and typing in the following:


The number of hits was reduced dramatically and Dale simple said: “And that is knowledge management.”

I was reminded of this incident this week because Daryl and I were in a meeting of 12 people and when we mentioned that you needed to surround a phrase with quotes to find exact phrase matches half of them were totally unaware. And everyone in the room were frequent users of Google.

Sometimes we try too hard with sophisticated KM initiatives. What would happen if we could just get the simple things right?

Technorati Tags:


Learning before…

Posted by Mark Schenk - June 30, 2007
Filed in Knowledge

Our friend and colleague Amanda Horne sent us an e-newsletter with an essay about a brilliant networker called Catherine Fitzgerald. The essay describes some of the ways that Catherine networks by helping others and sharing her knowledge and experience. One of her activities is to to set up ‘Collegial Consults’ that described as follows:

Catherine has also designed an approach to supporting colleagues during times of intense professional change, such as a new entrepreneurial venture or a new book that is really taking off.

She arranges a day-long “collegial consult,” to which she invites six to eight savvy, experienced, creative, and generous colleagues.

During that day, the person who is in transition describes his/her current situation and his/her hopes, concerns, and questions.

The group asks clarifying questions and brainstorms ways to help the transition be as successful as possible.

People who have had collegial consults have found the day-long attention of wise and supportive colleagues to be invaluable.

And, by the way, Catherine doesn’t charge for arranging and facilitating collegial consults for her colleagues.

The ‘collegial consults’ sound like a great idea and I know I could have used them many times in the past. In the knowledge arena we would probably call them Peer Assists (that we regularly use in Anecdote for new projects, ideas and for supporting our clients). One of the great things is that everyone in the ‘collegial consult’ learns as part of the process, not just the person being assisted.