Archive for December, 2007

Records Management and KM

Sarah Heal presented today for NZKM in Christchurch on Records Management as a part of KM Strategy. Over the last year she has detected some unexpected and at times inconvenient signals, a growing body of anecdotal evidence that something is not quite right in information management. There have been lots of failed IM/KM initiatives, and EDRMS is the “Emperor with no clothes”. There just aren’t any really good exemplars in NZ of very successful deployments. With project budgets often ranging from $0.5 million to $1 million, this is an expensive problem.

People she’s met say that the EDRMS are “Too hard to use”, “it takes too long to file things”, “they can’t find things” – if the information design is wrong implementations start to creak after the first year or two, and the ab0ve starts happening. The implementation process has to be about getting into a stable orbit, rather than just getting the launch done.

Problems that manifest are – “Perfunctory use, overfull email inboxes, people hate it and you” OR “Wide spread use, out of control, people can’t find things”.

The way to address this she says, is to make sure that systems and processes implemented are:

  1. Useable – quick to file stuff
  2. Useful – how can I find stuff
  3. Used – chicken and egg of use, I file we all find, others file I find (real world compliance)

On the KM front she says that KM is all about making experts in your business. It’s about managing ‘know-how’ rather than managing knowledge. Using this frame of reference it’s important to get a smooth transition between informal know-how (wikis, blogs, communities of interest), definitive self-help ‘nuggets’ (faqs, articles, lessons learned, stories, training material, discussion topics), file and find repositories (records, documents, email management), instruments and mechanisms (business processes, templates, job records, forms etc), definitive (SOI, vision, values etc). Often very records management/compliance focused projects will miss the ‘informal know-how’ and ‘definitive self-help nuggets’ aspects, but these are of most value in terms of encouraging use of the more formal aspects.

Greg, one of the participants, thought that the project mindset was often behind these challenges, rather than an iterative process that is more associated with web sites (it’s never finished, it’s always evolving). EDRMS projects can take so long they involve many different people over time, across organisational restructures, and fall over because of lack of continuity.

In the group there seemed to be an emerging understanding of the role of the different tools in different stages in the lifecycle of information from informal to formal.

While I expect some of my underpinning beliefs and theoretical frameworks on knowledge and KM differ from Sarah’s I thought she was a fantastic presenter and had a real depth of experience in the boundary between RM and KM.

The best part of the session for me though, was that we had two different groups from the same organisation in the room. They hadn’t met each other before, and were working on very similar initiatives. Seeing them talking to each other at the end of the session reinforced to me why I put time and energy into organising NZKM events.

Cognitive Edge Workshop – Applications of Social Complexity

We had the Cognitive Edge Accreditation workshop in Wellington this week. It’s the first time we’ve had this in NZ since 2004, so it was great to have Dave Snowden back. Viv Read from Australia co-facilitated. It’s fantastic to see how much the methods have evolved in the last couple of years.

The following are my notes (just rough snippets I captured) on some of the ideas, concepts and examples from the workshop. If you’re familiar with Dave Snowden’s work, some of the below might resonate. If you’re not, have a look at the web site for some intro articles and podcasts.


Blogs are a huge source of narrative material.

Preconditions for innovation are starvation, pressure and perspective shift (e.g. people will die in Apollo 13). Creativity is a symptom of innovation, not an input

The way that people recall things they know are not the same as the way they actually know in the context in which they know it. Human application of knowledge in the field is fragmented, not structured.

Communities of practices work within the first year (due to novelty), and then they’ll fail. So set them up with the expectation that they’ll be taken down in 18 months time. If at that time they want to keep the community going, let them do so, but they have to pay for it.

See-Attend-Act are separate tasks, rather than a natural response. People see more than they pay attention to, and they attend to more things than they act on.

Efficiency vs effectiveness (not and) – efficiency is stripped down to be optimised for the current circumstances, in a sense it’s in tension with effectiveness (which requires some redundancy/slack in the system to be adaptive to changing circumstances).

Language and the brain have co-evolved together. Languages have evolved be able to be learned by people who haven’t yet learned how to learn.

The cynics are the people that actually care about the organisation. Choose people 15 years or closer to retirement who’s careers have been impaired by undue cynicism, people who have been there for less than 5 years who are going the same way.

Creating environments where people can see the way other people see them.
If you ask for individual information items and you have a clear need people will give them to you (Just in time KM). If you ask people to give you everything just in case it’s needed in the future, they won’t (Just in case KM).


“Religion is part of the sense making capability of the human condition.”

Terry Eagleton – Holy Terror – if you believe terrorists are evil or mad, you’ve lost. If you can’t see through their eyes you can never defeat them.

“Stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself” – Terry Pratchett. Dominant myth structures will influence people’s behaviour.


Leadership development – IBM, 300 people identified as the future leader’s group. Each year 50 people will drop off the group.

Italian sales people – no longer had to write sales reports. Instead record a five minute audio 5 minutes before, and 5 minutes after a sales meeting.


Create a body of paradoxical stories where there isn’t an obvious right answer. Then get particular groups to index the stories (e.g. theology students and MBA students – to get the spectrum of good and evil :-). Then get other groups to index the stories to see where they as a group fits in that range.

Use anecdote circles where people have a common experience and need to communicate that experience. You won’t get objectivity in an anecdote circle in the same way as with individual capture. It’s important to ritualise capture so you get coherent anecdotes. Remember though that groups norm very quickly, so break the groups up after half an hour.

Population sampling – e.g. 5 demographic bands based on length of service. Chose 50 people at random from each group. They got an email from the CEO telling them they’d be getting a digital tape recorder, and asked them to find one person who represented the values of the future for the organisation, and one person who represented the value of the past, and ask them these 5 questions, and get them to index their responses.

Naturalistic vs idealistic approaches. Idealistic – you can train facilitators to be non biased. Naturalistic – humans are inherently biased so the process has been designed to minimise the impact of this.

Participative observation – hiring students to gather stories by working with the workers in an apprenticeship style model, working shifts with the most junior apprentice.

Naive interviewing – use people who the interviewees consider naive, e.g. 1st year engineering students for oil rig engineers (building the abstraction level into the method). Or using school children to interview old people.

Resilience vs control is a trade off in probe design (experiments) in the complex domain

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.
Thomas Jefferson