Learning from others – shedding new light, or entering a hall of mirrors?

Bringing the right knowledge to bear on the important business issues – isn’t that the essence of the contribution that knowledge management makes to organisations?
But how do we know what the ‘right knowledge’ is in a given situation?

Knowledge management has much to offer in terms of techniques for bringing knowledge together: in addition to the various content collation, curation and social tools, we can introduce numerous in-person processes for sharing anecdotes and stories, conversation-based knowledge cafes, speed-consulting, communities of practice, peer assists and peer reviews – to name but a few.

Some of these techniques bring focused expertise to solve a defined problem, and drive continuous improvement whilst others bring more diverse views and provoke innovation.
This may be an obvious point to make – but it’s a good idea to be clear about what your desired outcome is.

Are you looking for a group of people to critique, test, improve and “kick the tyres” of a proposal or strategy? You might want to try ‘critical friend facilitation’, run a pre-mortem, formalise a peer review process, experiment with Cognitive Edge’s ‘Ritual Dissent’ or Victor Newman’s ‘Predator’ exercise.

If you want to combine diverse knowledge inputs to surface innovative ideas (and have the space and intent to act upon the insights you gain), then you could employ knowledge cafes, pilot randomised coffee trials, apply speed-consulting or anecdote circles, and run peer assists.

Problems can arise when we use a technique in the wrong context, with without the right mix of participants.

Taking the last examples – Peer Assists. These can go wrong when the invited group of peers have too much overlap and common ground with the person or project requesting input – a lack of diversity leads to group-think.

Pictorially, a good Peer Assist would work like this:


Pick the wrong blend (wander down the corridor and ask a few friends on closely related projects), and when cognitive and experience overlap is too strong, this can be the outcome:



Or to put it another way – a hall of mirrors is great if you want to see yourself from different perspectives, but less so if you are looking for an innovative new view. You need to let the light in for that.

Here’s a question –do the people you follow on twitter act as a hall of mirrors to your area of specialist interest, reinforcing shared views and improving current practice? Or do they represent a diverse source of new innovative thinking.