Posts filed under ‘Knowledge Management’

Retiring? Meh!

So if you’re a regular ThinkingShift reader, you’d know I’m on the verge of leaving the Lucky Country and choofing off to New Zealand. Collective Aussies shake their heads (no Aussie can believe really that one would voluntarily leave Oz for New Zealand, a country that has 4.3 million people and probably 8.6 million sheep!). For my American readers, there’s a lot of friendly (and not so friendly rivalry) between NZ and Australia.

My father, who was a very proud New Zealander, who describe it this way:

  • Aussies have the larger country but it’s hot, dusty, bush fire prone and has annoying blow flies;
  • Australia was settled by convicts; NZ by free-settlers. He’d usually stop at this point in the comparison, assuming that I knew all the consequences of this observation. When I was young and he realised I had no idea what this might mean, he’d say well, that means that Aussies are embarrassed by their convict origins, have a chip on their shoulder and are a little vulgar. The unsaid part of this was that clearly he felt New Zealanders to be more “refined”;
  • New Zealand has the better scenery;
  • New Zealanders are just as good at sport (“Go the All Blacks” was his motto) it’s just that the Aussies crow about their achievements more.

Now, whether this is all true or not, I won’t get into. Suffice to say, this was the view I grew up with as my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts were all New Zealanders. And it leads me to wonder what sort of reception I’ll get in NZ – so far it’s been hugely welcoming. When we visited NZ to search for the right place to live, I got the impression that the people we spoke with were secretly pleased that Aussies were moving to NZ (because it’s usually the other way around). I’ll be living in a small village in rural NZ and I guess my Aussie accent will stand out.

I digress. The point of my post is to tell you that I am NOT retiring. Everyone has asked me “oh are you retiring?”. Obviously, I must look like a truly old goat about to totter off into senior citizenship. So I’ll take the opportunity on this blog to say noooooooo I’m not retiring. If I was in my 20s (which I’m not) the question would most likely be “oh are you having a career break?” or “are you going overseas to travel and maybe work?”. But I get “are you retiring?”. Sigh.

So what the heck will I be doing? I’ll be taking a “career break” and then I’ll see. I’m in no rush to get another job in an organisation. In fact, what I’d like to do now is provide some observations after working in organisations for years. None of this will be earth-shattering for those of you who work in soulless organisations.

  • organisations are artificial structures that throw together people who quite possibly would never wish to know each other and certainly would not want to mingle socially.
  • inspirational, visionary leadership is missing in contemporary organisations (at least the ones I’ve worked in). There’s a lot of talk about values or codes of conduct but the actions of management show that they really don’t give a toss. I use the word management because leadership is something entirely different. Most organisations are stuffed full of managers who focus on anything but helping employees to develop.  Managers try to beat the weaknesses out of employees by sending us off to courses or providing new objectives. They don’t always play to strengths or encourage hope within employees. By hope I mean inspiring someone to look at a problem or situation differently, helping to reframe goals and objectives, or promoting a positive mental attitude.
  • The baby boomers have a lot to answer for. Mostly boomers (and of course some Gen X) are those filling the roles of CEOs, COOs, CFOs and senior managers. They cling desperately to the command and control paradigm. There’s a lot of talk about collaboration, sharing, mentoring and so on but whilst the command and control mentality is predominant, organisations will remain soulless places.
  • Generation Y is not Generation Why?  In the last two years or so, Gen Y have been close co-workers and I’ve found them to be what boomers are not – they are collaborative, inquiring, respectful, prepared to challenge things and ask “why is it this way?”. One Gen Y colleague is responsible for triggering off my current obsession for fantasy fiction. I’ve been impressed with their professionalism and real concern over societal issues. They can see that management is acting in a way that is contrary to espoused values but they’ll be braver I think than boomers or Gen X – when it gets too much, they will leave the organisation and seek one that is more authentic. They will not stick it out in an organisation for 20 years out of loyalty (and be given a gold watch for retirement and totter off). They will simply leave.
  • And from a KM perspective: it remains hard for KM practitioners to carry out their work. In my consulting work, I’ve been lucky to work in organisations that do “get it” but we’re still in a situation that when the going gets tough (ie the GFC), budgets get screwed and KM people may come under the spotlight. I’ve seen some KM colleagues retrenched or seen a KM initiative be dispensed with because there aren’t the resources for KM work. Again, I’ve been lucky that this hasn’t happened to me but I can see that organisations have a way to travel before they truly understand the amazing benefits KM can deliver.

I’m sure this sounds like I’m very bitter and twisted but I’m not: I’m just giving you the cold, hard observations from a 20 or so year career. I now have a sense of freedom: never again to sit through a performance review opposite a boss you don’t really like or respect; never again to sit through endless meetings that seem to go nowhere; never again having to work in a “blame culture”; never again overhearing colleagues despairing over a lack of leadership. As Martin Luther King said: free, free, free at last.

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April 25, 2010 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Making KM projects work

Before Patrick Lambe (the silver fox) and I launch ourselves into facilitating a panel discussion on 50 years of KM, we hear from David Gurteen. David is being introduced as a “KM legend”. I haven’t seen David for about 4 years, so looking forward to his session.

Wants to pull together his thoughts on what to do in your organisation to make sure your KM projects are a success – not so much focus on KM tools. Says he is not here to give answers but to trigger thoughts.

The potential of KM is enormous but many KM projects have failed to live up to expectations. Why?

  • KM projects are NOT focused on the business
  • KM projects are tough
  • KM project leaders are often inexperienced
  • KM projects poorly conceived
  • Lack of senior management support

Four key things we need to think about:

  • what are the business problems we are trying to solve?
  • how do we ensure support from senior management and how do we sustain that support?
  • how do we engage the people in our organisations?
  • how do we think and learn for ourselves?

In good times, KM means knowledge management; in bad times it means ‘kill me’ (his point being that in downturns, KM staff are often retrenched).

Some thoughts from David:

  • think for yourself
  • no substitute for thinking
  • no recipes
  • no simple set of steps
  • KM is very contextual
  • everyone of us is different; organisations have different cultures;
  • anything could influence a KM project in a negative way

You don’t “do KM” – meaning, you solve business problems and develop business opportunities using KM tools and techniques.  There are no KM initiatives or strategies – there are only business projects. KM people conceptualise the problem and don’t always talk about the business issues. We jump far too quickly to a “solution” without understanding the problem. People will not share their knowledge – this is not a business issue.

These are not business outcomes:

  • doing KM
  • improving K sharing
  • creating a learning organisation
  • creating a K driven organisation
  • setting up communities of practice

David advises – talk to CEO and senior business managers. What keeps them awake at night? Talk to the stakeholders – the sponsor, senior managers, employees affected, KM team. Who are the sceptics and opponents?

Key message – for KM to be successful, you have to work with people and not be “doing things” to people. David says you cannot motivate people to share knowledge; people have to find the motivation for themselves; attempts to motivate or manipulation and people see through it and this results in adverse affect.

What should you be doing instead?

  • listen to people and show respect
  • help them find their voice and have conversations with them
  • engage and trust them
  • given them responsibility and recognition

David says: do not reward people for sharing their knowledge. Research shows that giving rewards actually results in worse performance and undermines motivation. Points us to 2 books: Alfie Kohn Punished by Rewards and Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Always pilot a KM project and adopt iterative prototyping. Learn from small steps. Allow for change and emergence. He leaves us by asking us some questions:

  • is my KM activity focused on the business?
  • have I really understood the problems?
  • are senior managers bought in?
  • are employees and other stakeholders bought in?
  • how do I demonstrate value?
  • am I measuring business outcomes and not just activity?
  • what do I do in place of rewards?
  • am I really thinking for myself?
  • am I committed to my own personal learning and development?
  • am I walking the talk?
  • how can I take an active part in the global KM community?

March 30, 2010 at 8:38 am 1 comment

Managing IC in the proactive enterprise

Karl Wiig up now. I had lunch with him yesterday. He told me he is 76 years old but my goodness, I’ve never seen such a lively 76 year old. And he skippered a yacht to the Caribbean recently. Lovely man. So his session at the 2010 Knowledge Management conference here in Hong Kong is Managing Intellectual Capital in the Proactive Enterprise.  He starts off with a slide about proactive and healthy enterprises:

  • manage IC assets deliberately
  • pursue vigilance to prosper
  • believe in constant preparedness
  • create opportunities
  • focus on priorities – ignore irrelevancies
  • maintain broad and long-term perspectives
  • emphasise critical systems thinking
  • renew goods and services repeatedly

Proactive enterprises are chaordic he says. He has struggled with over the years – learning about the two aspects of any organisation and he quotes Peter Drucker here:

  • societies ARE – subjective world, people interacting, culture, values, opinions
  • organisations DO – objectives and goals, artefacts and technology.

(Love Karl: he reminds me very much of Leif Edvinsson). Organisation DOES and Society IS model that he shows, the two must work together. The problem with KM is that it has consistently focused on what the organisation DOES and neglected the subjective world of the organisation. As a result, there is a dismal record of success in KM because we have ignored the most basic part of how an organisation works – that is, how people work to make the products and services that are delivered.

We need to deal with the dual nature of the enterprise in its social and objective dimensions. We do need to be able to blend these two worlds together in our applications and in what we deliver to the organisation and help it. We must match the business structure, operational practices with the people, culture and social needs.

Now talking on intellectual capital (IC) and how it has focused on structural, social and human capital. There are IC resources to PERFORM. We have been labouring under false assumption that world is stationary and that the knowledge we need already exists. But world is in constant change: and values and understandings we had yesterday, will not be applicable tomorrow. We have ignored a whole set of IC drivers: mindset capital (leadership – where is it that IC or people’s mindsets are taking this organisation?).

We need to introduce enterprise culture as part of IC, that is built through people’s intellectual activities as they work together, establish values systems etc. And it can be changed – if the enterprise culture is not conducive to good performance, you might start thinking about how you can modify the enterprise culture.

Is management the solution or the problem Karl asks (ah, let me guess: management!).  What model should we choose when dealing with management? Discovery model – informally searching for solutions. Planning model – formalising processes. Quest model – unstructured & goal oriented. Science model – operationally efficient. Karl says that management becomes efficient when it is open, innovative.

Back to IC:

  • every IC element affects enterprise performance
  • for best performance the entire IC assets portfolio must be balanced and elements must complement each other harmoniously
  • different IC elements support different enterprise functions – often we find structural capital supports product leadership in terms of R&D; social capital addresses customer intimacy; human capital addresses expertise, knowledge; mindset capital addresses WHERE the organisation should go and WHY.
  • strategy is a contextual vision that should change minute by minute if that is necessary and the mindset of the organisation will direct how well you achieve this.

And here is an issue with KM – KM focus is typically on enterprise IC elements (process capital, practices, IP areas, information capital, R&D programs). Other areas of IC remain untouched by traditional KM – doesn’t address all the things we need to pursue in the organisation.

Managing IC: management of IC touches on every aspect of the organisation; ICM considers strategic, tactical and operational needs; ICM integrates conventional KM and is informed by it.

Chaordic environments: how do we perform better in this environment? 5 different activies that are relevant: innovate, manage change, operate effectively, motivate, facilitate. And which IC elements are being touched on by the need to improve these 5 different areas.

The effective ICM consists of group and individual actions of knowledgeable and motivated people supported by broad capabilities ranging from enterprise culture and management philosophy to infrastructure and technology. Infrastructure is back-bone of behaviour and facilitation within organisations.  You need a thoughtful, energetic, proactive, broad-minded management.

Shows diagram of 119 different countries – you will find a cluster of advanced nations that are very successful innovators (eg Nordic countries, NZ, Hong Kong, Germany, Netherlands). These countries have opportunity to lead where societies will head.

March 30, 2010 at 4:33 am Leave a comment

Strategy in the age of uncertainty

Now we get to Dave Snowden’s session. I always enjoy listening to Dave. Very measured – theoretical yet practical illustrations. He goes over the 7 basic principles of KM:

  • * knowledge is a voluntary act – cannot be compelled
  • * we only know what we know when we need to know it. We are pattern-based intelligences not information processors. People will know things in the right context but not independently of that context. KM has thought its role is to summarise, aggregate and reduce. But summary etc is specific to your context.
  • in the context of real need, few people will refuse to share their knowledge. But no-one will share it in anticipation of that need. So if you reward, you are rewarding info sharing only.
  • tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. Human brain pays more attention to failure than success.
  • the way we know things is not the way we say we know things. Embodied knowledge of experts is not something that can be transformed into decision rules.
  • we always know more than we can say and we will always say more than we can write down
  • everything is fragmented.  Fragmented micro-narratives. True KM is about creating conditions for messy coherence and not orderly “filing cabinets”. Humans do best when trying to make connections in exciting, novel ways.

Now Dave moves onto – thinking differently and ways we think about our organisations. Talks about S curve – new idea or concept comes into play and gets little traction. Slow acceptance. But then becomes dominant way of thinking before it declines due to excess use. Very few people see the new things until they are already present. First S curve we lived through was scientific management (dominant narrative). Then new paradigm comes in; old paradigm suppresses adoption of new. Organisations that don’t make the switch to the new paradigm never get a second chance. Example: IBM dominated IT then failed to see switch to distributed computing and nearly went down.

Systems thinking 1980s: dominant metaphor being engineering. BPR, Senge’s Learning Organisation. It says things are joined up and connected but we can still understand connections, model them and define where we want to go. This is where KM came from. Nonaka is firmly in this dominant metaphor.

Now moving into third based on complexity and cognition. Future is inherently uncertain. So two or five year organisational plans are useless. We are dealing with a complex ecology – requires new methods and ways of thinking. Technology role = can provide cognitive augmentation, augments human decision-making – does not replace it.

3 ways of thinking: deductive (scientific mgt, control of function); inductive (systems thinking, control of information); abductive (complexity and cognition, cognitive augmenation). Abductive processes facilitate novelty.

Question for organisations: will you continue on an upturn or will you fall down because you dominate? New way of thinking now: natural sciences, complexity.

Uses example of London taxi driver – novice spends 2 years of life driving around streets of London until he knows name of every street. In exam, has to describe London street by street, landmarks etc on a given route. There is a 40% pass rate. This two to three year process changes structure of the brain. Then we have a map of New York – public transport system –  codified knowledge and deeply symbolic. But map didn’t tell Dave that muggers and whackos lay along the route he was taking. But everyone who lives in the area knew not to go where Dave did. So….the narratives that people tell are important.

Now Dave goes through his projects:

  • cultural mapping – micro-narratives of day to day living
  • Inzalo in South Africa- education – learning diaries and look at patterns of behaviour based on day-to-day and not on questionnaires.
  • understanding customers – real time feedback and disintermediation
  • staff engagement in strategy – micro-scenarios, real time construction
  • decision-makers need to sense/see patterns as early as possible
  • ethical and safety auditing in South African mines – attitudes to safety, moving from compliance to attitudes.
  • innovation across silos – gathered stories about what people like about their gardens, lights – 5 new service offerings. Brought knowledge together in real-time.

Key lessons for management:

  • technology and original vision of KM are now aligned. And technology is largely free, low cost. You change your software to match your needs.
  • applications co-evolve within architectural constraints with changing software components in varying forms to adapt but also exapt
  • constraints are key, shift from compliance to attitude and from outcome to impact
  • context is everything – it’s the big word that everyone forgot in KM
  • risk and outlier detection – most risk is assessed on Bell curve. Everything else is an outlier I can ignore. Problem – this is an abnormal distribution. What happens in nature is Pareto distributions. So Bell curve is crap.
  • our ability to detect failure early is paramount and a resilience strategy is necessary.

Another great Dave Snowden talk.

March 30, 2010 at 2:37 am Leave a comment

Managing knowledge strategically

So here I am at the Langham Place hotel in glittering Hong Kong. About to start the 2010 Knowledge Management Conference: Making KM Productive. I’ll also be tweeting using the hashtag HKKMS10. I’ll be live tweeting – I’m @kimmar or you can watch the live tweets on the right hand panel of this blog. So far I’ve met up with various KM luminaries – Dave Snowden, David Gurteen, Max Boisot, Karl Wiig and the “silver fox”, Patrick Lambe (since I last saw Patrick, he’s sprouted a rather spiffy beard thingo and has very distinguished silver grey hair).

First up, in the speaker line up is Max Boisot – opening keynote – his topic is Managing Knowledge Strategically: The Challenge of Selectivity. He’ll be followed by Dave Snowden (I always enjoy meeting up with Dave – although he’s a bit miffed that the Welsh didn’t do well in the Rugby Sevens).

He will look at 3 questions re KM aims to help organisations make good use of their knowledge assets;

  • how does an organisation discover which of its K assets are strategic?
  • how should an organisation then deploy its strategic K assets?
  • how might an organisation then extract value from its strategic K assets?

Boisot presents a conceptual framework. There are 3 types of knowledge: experiential, narrative and abstract symbolic. You move towards abstract symbolic representations to speed up K sharing. Abstract symbolic = codified & abstract. We can own it, sell it, store it – but you lose the context that formulated the message.

Knowledge flows and it evolves as it flows. Shows knowledge creation cycle –

  • proprietary knowledge (codified and abstract)
  • public knowledge
  • common sense
  • personal knowledge (uncodified and concrete)

Scanning is process of picking up available data; problem solving process works it up into something structured; diffuse and internalise. Once it’s internalised it is knowledge.

How do we extract value? it’s not just utility. Knowledge becomes more useful when it is codified and abstract.

Looks at Boston Consulting Group business strategy framework – how competitive you are compared to competitors. How do I allocate scare resources to compete in business?  He suggests that we look at the knowledge base that underpins the business. Let’s call codification and abstraction the “attractiveness” of the business. The extent to which knowledge is diffused defines my competitive position.

Lots of talk in business of core competences. Can we identify that kind of knowledge in a firm that defines competitive advantage? Core competences are hard to imitate – so it’s uncodified and concrete.

Key takeaways:

  • map/represent knowledge assets that are strategically relevant
  • decide what to sell, licence
  • within the knowledge assets, identify your competences and gaps
  • identify where you have learning strengths & weaknesses
  • use the maps to build external value-adding networks
  • map is a guide to strategic use of your knowledge base
  • examine how cultural processes blocking the learning cycle – this cycle needs to move faster than your competitors.

March 30, 2010 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

Off again

So at the end of March/early April, you’ll find me in Hong Kong again speaking with the luminaries of the KM world – Dave Snowden, Max Boisot, Karl Wiig and David Gurteen. 

This year, I’m speaking on something a little different though – Design Thinking and its impact on KM. I’ll be speaking with design strategist, Rui Martins (who’s also an architect), and we’ll be doing a workshop as well. There will also be a session on the early history of KM that I’m looking forward to. So if you’re in Hong Kong, check out the brochure for the conference below or contact Les Hales on

You can download the brochure here. I must say that my hair isn’t quite THAT orange (reminds me of Lucille Ball) and I seem to have been spread sideways a bit. I hate my photo being taken and that one is particularly dodgy as it was a “posed” work photo taken for an internal KM campaign. Note to self: get a newer, better photo.

I’ll be live blogging from the conference, so will bring you all the fabulous sessions and juicy bits and pieces. And I’ll be live tweeting using #HKKMS10 (no doubt my tweets will also include things like “Managed to avoid The Brands at Harbour City”).

So mark Tuesday March 30 in your diaries as KM Day with Kim.

March 9, 2010 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Design thinking

Study the following photos. What sort of space are you looking at?

What did you say? Architectural office or a funky space for people to hang out sipping coffee and surfing the net? Hotel reception and ground floor area? University student area?

Nope. Believe it or not this is a bank. Yep. It’s the Umpqua Bank in Oregon USA (how on earth do you pronounce this bank’s name?) and it’s a great example of design thinking (DT). I’ve been reading a lot on DT recently. And I think it’s basically about creative resolutions for problems or issues. New possibilities emerge from the DT process. And DT consists of four stages that knowledge managers surely go through:

  • define the problem
  • create and consider many options
  • refine selected directions
  • pick the winner and get going.

The goal of DT is to produce better, more useful objects, experiences, services and systems. It’s not the same as critical thinking (which is judgement-oriented) because DT is process-oriented. Business has not taken advantage of how designers think and approach problems nor have knowledge managers. Design Thinking means ”approaching managerial problems as designers approach design problems” (Dunne and Martin 2006) and by focusing on problems, DT becomes knowledge work in my view.

But back to the bank with the funny name: Umpqua Bank had a business problem. The bank is a regional bank with over 65 branches throughout Oregon and largely provided banking facilities to lumberjacks and farmers since 1953. Its long-time president retired, so the bank faced a question: sell up or reinvent ourselves? They decided on the latter and appointed Ray Davis as president. And Davis thought like a designer and reconceptualised financial services as products. So the question became: “How do we sell products well?” And the answer was by being a service-driven retailer like Starbucks or a major hotel. Davis did not look to a major bank for inspiration.

A flagship store front was designed and embodied the bank’s values of universal customer service, a willingness to take on the establishment, and a quirky, self-effacing style. The Umpqua Bank experience is not about stuffy old-looking bank interiors full of marble and bored looking bank tellers. The banking space invites customers to read the paper, enjoy a free cup of coffee, surf the Internet, check their email and shop for banking products. Check out the case study.

What I really like is there are no bank tellers. They are called Universal Associates and the bank is now a retail store that offers an experience for customers. By applying design thinking, the first week the store was open, it generated a record US$1 million in deposits. Nine months into the first year of opening, Umpqua’s new store had a record $50 million in deposits.

The question occupying my mind is: how can Knowledge Management benefit from Design Thinking? Stay tuned – a future post coming up.

Photo credits: Architecture Week; The

January 8, 2010 at 2:00 am 1 comment

KM measurement

So you know I was recently in Taipei, Taiwan. I was invited to attend a KM Study Meeting. There were 24 participants from countries such as Iran, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines, Fiji and India. I was invited as a KM “technical expert”. We spent four days together talking about KM measurement and I promised I’d bring you a blog post summarising the discussion. I haven’t quite finished my report that I have to prepare but I can tell you that it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time reflecting on all facets of measurement and even explore the question – should we measure KM initiatives at all?

Some of the participants were university Professors, so they brought a lot of pointy-headed theoretical stuff to the meeting (including me I guess since I’m an Adj Prof). There were quite a few people who were just starting out on what we all seem to call the “KM journey”, so they had little idea of what KM itself was all about let alone measurement techniques. Some participants had implemented KM projects before. There was a mixture of Government, education and not-for-profit organisations taking part.

So guess the best thing to do is just summarise for you the key discussion and/or learning points. We also undertook a group exercise – trying to prepare a metrics template. I don’t have all the group presentations yet but can post an example of the sorts of metrics one group came up with. I was relieved (frankly) to see that other countries are struggling with KM measurement. Of course, in my KM work I produce qualitative and quantitative measurements but am usually so busy just implementing KM, that I don’t have the time to design a full-on KM measurement framework with bells and whistles.

Here’s what we talked about:

  • KM measurement (KMM) should not detract from the important task of KM implementation – there is a danger that too much time and energy can be spent on KMM at the expense of KM itself. This is a question of cost of KMM versus value of KMM. Is KMM part of the old organisational paradigm?
  • There is no clarity around what to measure exactly;
  • How does an organisation assess the readiness to measure KM? At what point in a KM implementation would the organisation and individuals be acceptable to using metrics? Should metrics be part of the Deployment phase of KM? Or should metrics (such as benchmarking) be used at the start of a KM project?
  • Any KMM framework must take into account People, Process, Technology, Content and Leadership domains – so that all facets of KM are being measured;
  • How can critical or new knowledge be identified? Measured?
  • Learning should be a key aspect of KMM;
  • KMM should take into account individual/team/organisational/societal capabilities;
  • What exactly is the OUTCOME of KM and what to measure? Innovation? Learning? Capabilities? Growth? Profit? All of these?
  • How can KM contribute to the sustainability of an organisation and how can this be measured?
  • Can consistent metrics be used across different industries and sectors? eg education, manufacturing, service industries.
  • What is the impact of trust issues?

Actually, trust (a topic I’ve blogged on before here and here) took up a fair bit of discussion time and a working group (which I will be part of) will develop a trust instrument to measure levels of organisational trust. Here are a few slides from one of the group presentations showing ideas around KM metrics. We also delved into Intellectual Property Rights such as patents but I don’t have slides for this yet.

We will now move to a site like Ning and continue our work on developing more specific metrics. It was a great meeting to make new connections. One of the Professors from Indonesia has asked me to help with one of his Masters students, who is doing a thesis on Social Network Analysis and trust networks. Looking forward to that.

November 29, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

The library as conversation

Are you going to get a Kindle? Have one already? I don’t get it because I prefer to hold the book in my hands. So what’s the future of libraries, stuffed full of wonderfully musty smelling tomes? Does the library have a future at all? Will it be full of Kindles that can be loaned out? If they eventually come in hot pink, I might be tempted 🙂

I came across this fantastic presentation and audio from R. David Lankes, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, which provides insights into the future of libraries and librarianship. He starts off with a fairly confronting statement:

“(Librarians) have become so busy and adept at keeping the library efficient and well-managed that we have lacked the space to step back and observe it from a high level”.

And then goes on to say that: “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities“.  So it’s not about books and collections. I remember when I first started my career in knowledge management there was a lot of angst over whether librarians were information managers whilst knowledge managers were some sort of more evolved species dealing with knowledge (and some dudes even call themselves “wisdom architects”, which if you believe the twaffle of the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom pyramid, is the most evolved of all species).

But now I think we’ve reached the point in the debate where we can say that we are all doing the same thing, albeit concentrating on different aspects. So records managers, information managers, knowledge managers – we’re all attempting to facilitate knowledge creation, transfer and continuity. The fact that records managers concentrate on retention and compliance whilst knowledge managers may focus on collaboration and decision-making are simply different lenses looking at the same thing. In fact, my KM colleague, Baoman, has a well-crafted reflection piece on his blog in which he ponders this very subject, inspired by gentleman and scholar, Patrick Lambe.

So I very much liked Lankes’ vision for the mission of librarians (not libraries note) and that knowledge and learning is created through conversation and conversation theory. Conversation theory consisting of:

  • language
  • memory
  • conversants – exchanging language
  • agreements – between conversants (even if it’s agreeing not to agree)

So he’s suggesting that librarians are in the conversation business and need to be facilitators of conversations. Lankes uses the term “participatory librarianship” and says that participatory librarians “seek to enrich, capture, store and disseminate the conversations of their communities”. Further, he queries the rigidity of catalogues when users are now familiar with tagging and folksonomies and asks – how do we build systems that all users can use and he looks at social networking sites (where users build the system around themselves and their own language). Users now construct an open discovery space.

Lankes also emphasises that skills change eg cataloguing skills and that library education should equip a librarian for change. And this means librarians as activists, lobbying for change, innovating and proactively serving the community. He believes the best days of librarianship are ahead of us not behind us. To get maximum benefit out of the presentation, listen to the audio. Almost makes me want to go back into librarianship.

Also, check out Lankes’ website, which basically provides you with a Participatory Librarianship Starter Kit (articles, presentations and webcasts). Great stuff!

November 3, 2009 at 3:00 am 2 comments

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