Posters. Yes, posters. Surprisingly effective social media!

Sometimes I come across organisations which have a way of working which naturally encourages the sharing of knowledge – so naturally, in fact, that they don’t realise that the way they operate is different from most other companies.

Posters – perhaps the most effective (and overlooked) social media?

I spent most of last week with a knowledge-friendly Swiss company which has developed a “poster culture” over the past 5 years.  Corridors, office walls – pretty much every piece of available  wall-space has a poster describing a project, initiative, programme, summary of an event, description of a team and its responsibilities.  Every corner you walk around, you pause and think “hmmm, that’s interesting!”.  They prompt interaction and conversation.

It’s a surprisingly simple low-tech thing, but it goes a long way to helping people discover what’s going on. No surprises. No closed doors.  It puts clear labels on the silos. (see my earlier post – “in defence of silos”)

The same company ran a workshop/conference to update the group on progress on several projects. Rather than using PowerPoint, went to the trouble (and expense) of producing large posters so that people could be walked-through their story.  I joined the groups who were circulating between different poster sessions, found myself reflecting on the dynamics.

Yes, in many cases, the posters looked a lot like several PowerPoint slides arranged side-by-side.  But even where that was the case, as the reader, I was still in control of which ones I read.  Whilst the presenter was talking, I could still flick my eyes back to the material she had just covered, and get a sense of what was still to come. If she’d showed me exactly the same slides, but in the more conventional linear sequence, projected on a screen, driven by the presenter - it would have been different – and I would probably have lost the plot.  In the poster environment, I had more control over my own journey through the story.  Pointing and asking “could you just clarify what you meant in that bit”, is much easier than interrupting the flow with “could you go back 4 slides – I think it was 4, perhaps 5 – no one more...”

In other cases, the poster-makers took full advantage of their canvas, and drew timelines, rollercoasters and journeys to illustrate their talks, and provided pockets of depth and detail in parts of the poster.  You just can’t do that with a conventional 4x3 slide.

Did it cost more?

Yes – $100 per poster – and large posters are unwieldy, require space and take time to put up.  Most companies don’t have 2A0 chart-plotters/printers in house – but don’t let that stop you.

Did it add more value?

Disproportionately yes, I would say.  Spend the money.  Plant some trees to offset the extra paper. Revel in the fact that you don't have a projector in the room.

Did it make best use of the knowledge in the room and encourage dialogue?

I hardly need to answer that.

Yes.  After my poster renaissance moment last week in Switzerland, it’s a +1 from me for this form of social media.

In defence of silos

Are we being too hard on silos? I regularly hear clients describing their workplace as being siloed. It’s common in public, private and third sector.

Sometimes people mean that their organisation is structured in silos.  Sometimes they mean that their information is managed in silos.  Sometimes they mean both.

As KM professionals, we can be a bit militant in our language when it comes to silos.

They have become our public enemy number one – we need to demolish silos, tear silos down, break silos up, eradicate silo working...  you get the picture!

A wise leader once challenged me with a simple question.  I was being evangelical about knowledge management, sharing and networking and painting a picture of how the company could be different if it was restructured with knowledge in mind. His thoughtful response was:

“That sounds really good Chris, but can you also tell me what we would lose?”

It’s easy to slip in to a mindset whereby we view our organisations as completely dysfunctional, and “only radical KM surgery can save them”. Of course that’s never true – and raises the dangerous prospect that in our quest to find knowledge-enabled improvement, we fail to recognise what’s good and working well, and how our actions can impact that.

So is the presence of silos always a bad thing?  They seem to work well for managing grain! Are there areas in your organisation where you need to collect, protect, store, securely develop, and preserve things of value for future use by others?

Perhaps it’s not the presence of silos which is the real issue, it’s their invisibility, anonymity and unnecessary impenetrability! The problems arise when people don’t know where the silos are, whether they are empty or full, how to access the content and who is working on them.  In which case, there will be times when smashing them down isn’t the solution.  It will be more appropriate to discover and  recognise them, map their existence, understand their contribution, check that there’s no duplication, open them up for access and/or contribution by others (inside and outside?) and finally  to communicate how others can get the benefits.

Here’s a quote from the Organisational Learning Strategy at TEAR Fund, who I had the pleasure of working with earlier this year.

We have a great deal to learn from each other across teams and groups, and so we need to reframe the idea of breaking down our silos, to one of opening them up.  We should be continually finding ways to build bridges between and within our teams and groups.  Silos are used to store grain, and our groups and teams need to nurture their learning, and then communicate it with others.

I think there's much more than a grain of truth in that.

How children share - Davenport's Kindergarten Rationale

I've always believed that we can learn a lot from children as analogues for behaviours in organisations. They're just like us, but usually more transparent about the motives for their actions.

A few years ago, I was asked to present at an internal conference for a large Oil Company and had the opportunity to put that to the test.  Tom Davenport, co-author of Working Knowledge once shared his "Kindergarten Rationale" for why children share:

  • You share with the friends you trust
  • You share when you’re sure you’ll get something in return
  • Your toys are more special than anyone else’s
  • You share when the teacher tells you to, until she turns her back
  • When toys are scarce, there’s less sharing
  • Once yours get taken, you never share again


With the help of the of the local team (and the permission of the parents!), we video-interviewed several of the children of the leadership team, asking them questions like "What makes you want to share?" and "What kind of children do you like to share with?".

You can imagine the impact that these vignettes had when played back to the 200-strong audience, who delighted in spotting which children belonged to which leader, and particularly enjoyed the moment when the 6 year-old son of the Finance Chief said that he only liked sharing with people who  gave him something just as nice in return...

Perhaps we should ask our children some other interesting knowledge management questions:


How do you come up with new ideas?

What stops you asking for help?

What kind of people make group-work easy?

Why do you make the same mistakes more than once?


Wise words might be closer (and cheaper) than we think.

You know knowledge is being effectively managed when...

There was a helpful thread in the sikm-leaders forum last week when someone asked for ten responses to complete the statement “You know knowledge is being effectively managed when...” I thought it was a really practical way to explore how it feels, and looks – how people behave, when KM is really working.   Here are my ten suggestions:

You know knowledge is being effectively managed when...

Leadership. Leaders in the organisation are role models, challenging people to ask for help, seek out, share and apply good practices this inspires curiosity and a commitment to improve.  The organisation is learning!

Learning. People instinctively seek to learn before doing.  Lessons from successes and failures are drawn out in an effective manner and shared openly with others who are genuinely eager to learn, apply and improve. Lessons lead to actions and improvement.

Networking. People are actively networking, seamlessly using formal communities and informal social networks to get help, share solutions, lessons and good practices. The boundaries between internal and external networks are blurred and all employees understand the benefits and take personal responsibility for managing the risks.

Navigation. There are no unnecessary barriers to information, which is shared by default and restricted only where necessary. Information management tools and protocols are intuitive, simple and well understood by everybody.  This results in a navigable, searchable, intelligently tagged and appropriately classified asset for the whole organisation, with secure access for trusted partners.

Collaboration. People have the desire and capability to use work collaboratively, using a variety of technology tools with confidence.  Collaboration is a natural act, whether spontaneous or scheduled.  People work with an awareness of their colleagues and use on-line tools as instinctively as the telephone to increase their productivity.

Consolidation. People know which knowledge is strategically important, and treat it as an asset.  Relevant lessons are drawn from the experience of many, and consolidated into guidelines. These are brought to life with stories and narrative, useful documents and templates and links to individuals with experience and expertise. These living “knowledge assets” are refreshed and updated regularly by a community of practitioners.

Social Media. Everybody understands how to get the best from the available tools and channels. Social media is just part of business as usual; people have stopped making a distinction. Serendipity, authenticity and customer intimacy are increasing.  People are no longer tentative and are encouraged to innovate and experiment. The old dogs are learning new tricks!  Policies are supportive and constantly evolving, keeping pace with innovation in the industry.

Storytelling. Stories are told, stories are listened to, stories are re-told and experience is shared. People know how to use the influencing power of storytelling.  Narrative is valued, captured, analysed and used to identify emergent patterns which inform future strategy.

Environment. The physical workplace reflects a culture of openness and collaboration.  Everyone feels part of what’s going on in the office.  Informal and formal meetings are easily arranged without space constraints and technology is always on hand to enhance productivity and involve participants who can be there in person.

Embedding. Knowledge management is fully embedded in people management and development, influencing recruitment and selection. Knowledge-sharing behaviours are built-into induction programmes and are evident in corporate values and individual competencies.  Knowledge transfer is part of the strategic agenda for HR. The risks of knowledge loss are addressed proactively. Knowledge salvage efforts during hurried exit interviews are a thing of the past!

Now your top ten will probably be different to mine (although you’re very welcome to borrow and adapt them). This kind of approach encourages us to look well beyond the technology which often disproportionately demands our attention.

Taken from the Consulting Collison Column in an upcoming edition of Inside Knowledge

Fifteen minutes of.... Reflection.

I secretly love the moment when the air stewardess utters those magic words:

"as we prepare for take-off, please turn off all electronic devices..."


Actually, I think the whole plane breathes a collective sigh of relief. Fifteen minutes of enforced separation from the electronic world of work.

Fifteen minutes at the downtime oasis between the instant your iPhone/Blackberry goes off, and the moment your laptop is allowed to be switched on. We're so always-on, info-stimulated, response-charged that it's a bit of a shock to the system. Once I've leafed through the in-flight magazine and perused the safety card, I confess I sometimes find myself nodding off!

Fifteen minutes. That’s the time typically allocated for After Action Reviews (AARs), at least for informal AARs, pioneered by the US Army and now a widely used knowledge management approach. Let’s take a deeper look at this classic, simple process and see why it provides such a welcome quarter of an hour of reflection and learning for a team.

Firstly, the name can create a level of confusion. Informal AARs take place immediately after an event or activity and are designed to provide a safe, honest, space for a team to review performance and identify the learning. In that respect, they are really a tool for learning-whilst-doing. You wouldn’t use this kind of AAR to review a major project in order to generate detailed narrative, lessons and recommendations for the next team. There are other KM methods in your toolbox for those situations – such as Project Reviews, Retrospects and Sensemaking techniques.

The climate for an AAR is important. The US Army describe those fifteen minutes as a “rank-free zone”. University College London’s “Learning Hospital” (to be featured in a future edition of Inside Knowledge), which is training hundreds of its staff as AAR facilitators describe the technique as making it possible to “speak the truth to power”. The ubiquity of AARs in the hospital make it safe for a junior technician to comment on and challenge the actions of the most eminent surgeon, because everybody understands the need for a climate of honesty when patients’ lives are at stake.

Having clarified the name and the climate, let’s take a look at the four simple questions which comprise an AAR. Simple enough to be remembered without a crib-sheet, and familiar enough that people know exactly where they are in the process.

AAR - 4 simple questions
AAR - 4 simple questions

Question one:“What was supposed to happen?” focuses on the facts This may sound surprising, but sometimes it can be difficult to even get agreement on the answers to this question!

Question two: “What actually happened?” – the US Army calls it “ground truth” – again, this is purely a statement of facts about what happened – not an exchange of opinions. Sometimes there are unexpected, positive things which happen in addition to the expected outcome – note these down too, as you might want to repeat those elements in the future.

Question three:“Why was there a difference?”. This is the time when the team can move from stating facts to giving their opinion as to the reasons for any differences; the facilitator uses the time wisely to ensure that contributions are made from as many team members as possible, and discussed where necessary.

Question four: “What can we learn from this?”. This is the most important question, as it is the one most likely to identify what needs to change. It moves the team from reflection to action, and make a difference to the next time they attempt a similar task.

So that’s it. Four simple questions, addressed rapidly by the team with the facilitator (a team member) capturing a brief record on a flipchart to keep the focus on shared opinions and actions. All in all, a straightforward technique. The power of AARs comes in the structure; the slowing-down effect of the four questions. Let’s face it, as intelligent professionals, we like to think we have a pretty good idea about what the learning points are, even before we’ve discussed it. AARs are designed to stop people just like us from bypassing steps i, ii and iii and jumping to conclusions as to what the learning was, without having verified that there is agreement about what actually happened.

In our always-on world, where we re-tweet things around the globe before we’ve even read them, and connect with people we barely know – fifteen minutes to slow down, reflect and think – together - is invaluable. Now... where did that duty-free magazine go?

Taken from the Consulting Collison column in the next edition of Inside Knowledge

When answers aren't clever...

Naguib Mahfouz was a Nobel prizewinning Egyptian author who published over 50 novels, and died a few years ago, aged 95.  I have to confess right now that I haven’t read any of his work - but I often cite one of his quotations, and use it in my "Quotations Gallery" icebreaker exercise:

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

I think that nicely articulates some of the problems we see in discussion forums and other knowledge exchanges, and one of the reasons that communities of practice are sometimes difficult to get started. We can coach and  encourage people to be wise – to be willing to ask questions and request help and advice – that’s a healthy and valuable stimulus for discussions within a community. However, often the person reading their requests can feel that they need to provide “clever answers”. All too often, that’s where it stops.

I was talking with a knowledge manager last week who has been supporting communities in her organisation for several years, and has had particular success with her on-line discussion forums.  I often find myself working with organisations who are struggling to sustain momentum with this kind of thing, so I was interested to see what was different in her approach.  She talked me though the way the forum worked.

“and this is our Q&R section..”, she commented, clicking deftly through the tabs in the software.

“Q&R?  What’s that?”. I stopped her.

“Q&R?  Why, it’s questions and responses.  We used to call it “questions and answers”, but we found that it inhibited people who didn’t feel that they had a complete answer, but were willing to offer some kind of a response.”

I think that’s a great insight.  When we use the word “answer”, we raise the stakes for anyone thinking about making a contribution. But if I’m just being asked for a response, and the requester will make a decision on how to interpret and apply it... well, that’s a far less threatening proposition, for the person answering and the person asking.

ConocoPhillips, another company whose KM activities I admire, structure their discussion forums under the banner of “Ask and Discuss”.  You want me to join in a discussion?  That sounds fine!

I blogged earlier about a technique called “Speed Consulting”, which applies time pressure to a problem-solving meeting so that sharing “consultants” only have time to offer imperfect suggestions – rather than perfect solutions. It’s the same principle.

So let’s leave it to the people who ask the questions, to derive their own answers from our responses and inputs into the discussion.  After all, as Naguib would say, they’re the wise ones.

To be published in the next edition of Inside Knowledge

No marks for clever answers! 

No marks for clever answers... (but I bet the examiner smiled!)

Knowledge Sharing Behaviours 2.0

I'm currently working with the Henley KM Forum on a project which is exploring how the rise of social media have changed knowledge-sharing competencies and behaviours - and how we can help people to understand and embrace this We've set up a LinkedIn Group entitled Knowledge Sharing 2.0 to engage a wider group in the discussion - please sign up and join in!

Meanwhile, to give you a flavour, here are a couple of posts from yesterday:



Chris Collison • Hi Susan, I think there are several dimensions of knowledge sharing where social media have significantly accelerated, amplified, or positively skewed good old-fashioned KM. [You know – the kind of knowledge-sharing activities that we’ll tell our kids about one day, and they’ll laugh at us... just like they can't believe that we once used land-line telephones with wires connected to the receiver]

Here are five areas/behaviours which I can think of for starters...

Immediacy: - Presence, IM and microblogging have all changed expectations in terms of how quickly people respond and react. Most transactions happen within minutes or hours. I almost hesitate to respond to things what are a few days old now... That never used to happen.

Imperfect incompleteness: – This is related to the immediacy point above. People don’t wait until they have the ideal solution before they share now – you get raw, partly formed ideas, suggestions, contacts, 140 characters. Responding is now less pressurised – it’s no longer about competition, it’s about contribution. That has to be a good thing in not-invented-here cultures. There's less pressure to reject something which is delightfully imperfect.

Serendipity: - Twitter and its equivalent now connect me with people and content that I would have never have stumbled across. It’s like those Brownian motion experiments we did in chemistry – increase the intensity of temperature or pressure, and the chances of a collision increases.

Connectivity: – It’s just so easy now to get plugged into everything. Barriers to entry are minimal. And the connections you don’t know about, you get alerted to.

Transparency: – I’ve had to get used to doing more of my thinking out loud, and have often been surprised by a proactive response to something as simple as a status update. Sometimes help comes when you didn’t even ask.

Any more, anyone?

1 day ago

    Ron Donaldson


    Ron Donaldson • Hi Susan I fully agree with the five areas Chris has identified and would like to add five more:

    Diversity: - I now have connections with people with a huge diversity of interests and perspectives across for example storytelling, complexity and Nature. This results in much greater crossover of ideas and occasionally avoidance of mistakes already made in a different field.

    Pheromone Trails: Pursuit of new knowledge is now unbelievably similar to ants foraging. Anyone can find something and blog or tweet it. This is then retweeted based on how useful that knowledge might be for others. Trending themes quickly emerge and highlight areas of common interest.

    Chaining: - I love the way simple connections between social software tools allow a simple tweet to flow from Twitter, to Facebook, to Linked-In, to Plaxo and pick up comments from each of the quite different networks which end up back as emails. This means that people can use whichever tool suits them but still be connected and aware of something new.

    Maturity: As the first tools in each of their niches mature they are being added as standard to mobile phones, widescreen TV's and probably fridges and hoovers as we speak. This makes it much easier to maintain connections and thereby keep informed wherever you are which was never possible five years ago unless they phoned you.

    Feedback: My favourite aspect of Wordpress blogs is the dashboard site stats. This gives you a daly read-out of the terms individuals used to access your daily utterances, which pages they clicked and which links they took to others. Once you get over the depressingly low numbers of visitors it is great encouragement to attract greater interest so the feedback really does build a stronger 'system'.

    My only concern is that Social Media is still the domain of the early adopters. A lot of my ex-colleagues in nature conservation have so much vital and important knowledge, but they have absolutely no interest in social media. They really should be forced or at worst, paid lots of money for opening up their knowledge for the benefit of the planet.

    Any more, anyone?




    How "steal with pride" did battle with "not invented here"...

    I often tell this story (complete with the parrot and gold doubloons!) when engaging leaders in thinking about practical steps thay can take to demonstrate their commitment to learning from others.


    To summarise - and for those of you for whom YouTube is still a corporate no-go area:

    A business unit leader in Amoco recognized that insular "not-invented-here" behaviour was limiting the potential of his business, which existed within a group of around 100 business units in the newly-merged BP Amoco. He wanted to create a culture of curiosity, encouraging his staff to look beyond the boundaries of their own business unit. He decided to create a simple monthly recognition scheme, under the banner of "steal with pride". The award was given to a member of staff who could demonstrate that they had found a good practice from a different business unit, applied it, and created value. Each story would be celebrated on the intranet, and the winner received an award in the form of a cuddly parrot, which would sit on the desk of the winner for a month (prompting questions from passers-by), before moving onto the next winner, and leaving in its place, a solid gold "pirate" doubloon worth several hundred dollars - which was theirs to keep.

    I think that the parrot worked particularly well as a recognition scheme because it was visible, lighthearted, symbolic ("steal with pride" - giving permission to look outside), frequently awarded, and both clearly supported - and initiated -  by that business unit leader.

    Ironically, the "steal with pride" award scheme wasn't replicated by the leaders of the other 99  business units. Perhaps they had their own personal struggles with "not invented here"....

    Knowledge Management and Flower Power!

    Just finished my column for the next edition ofInside Knowledge, exploring someof the barriers to knowledge-sharing in organisations.   Whyis it sometimes so difficult to motivate people to share good practices - or to encourage people to look to others for potential solutions?I've looked into four syndromes which impact either the "supply side" or the "demand side" in any knowledge marketplace:  Tall Poppy Syndrome, Shrinking Violet Syndrome, Not Invented Here Syndrome and finally TomTom Syndrome (aka "Real men don't ask directions"!)

    Here's the video to go with the article...