KMRC Conference Blog: Gorjestani

March 31, 2009

Nick.pngOK so its Tuesday in Hong Kong and the KMRC conference is about to start. Our first speaker is Nicolas Gorjestani who I first met in his World Bank days. A lot of the real work on narrative in the Africa Desk there can be attributed to his work and he has emerged in recent years as one of the main speakers. He starts on the current crisis and the need to change. Seventy billion dollars of value lost, where will it be recreated? Current crisis leads to his subject for today which is Mindset Changes in Knowledge Ecology.

Argues that innovation in organisational culture and practice is the most important, technology changes can be copied. Recomments Kegan and Lahey Immunity to Change. Plans to take about changes at the world bank, how it moved to being a knowledge bank; going from supplying sausages to enabling people to make their own sausages. After breakfast I hope this metaphor does not continue, never eat sausages in Asia, they are a Northern European dish.

First thing they tried breaking their hierarchical organisations and went to a matrix, with the thematic groups forming one part and becoming the communities of practice. Now telling the story of what really happened, networks had to have leaders who called themselves “Network Heads” (ironic chuckles from audience) challenged they called themselves network Anchors, lovely phrase from Nick: What does an anchor do to a ship! Overall conclusion, you can change your strucuture but if the mindset does not change then you will have problems. Quotes Einstein here Problems cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them.

No presenting twof images; pipework and waterfall in a glade. People agree that their organisations are the first not the latter. Now presents a series of contrasting terms

  • Drive for results v strive for impact
  • Capture knowledge v harvesting learning
  • Manage people v inspire people

Mindset for Nick seems so far to be about language, which is fair enough. The way we describe things is the way we perceive them to a large extent but I am worried. This could be a confusion of symptoms and causes: language reflects mindsets, but changing the language will not necessarily result in mindset change. He doesn’t pick up on this but moves on to natural images and ideas. Stork migrating to Africa do not go in straight lines, they avoid large bodies of water as heat is absorbed, while land creates heat which means less energy is required in migration. Birds flock based on simple rules, passing reference to complexity theory here, and a positive one. Good images and metaphors, recommends Biomimicry by Benyus.

We grew up in an oral tradition (no disagreements there) and couples story telling with reflection which is an important point. Now talking about his work to collect video clips from around the world. He also personally recorded 30 hours of reflection before he retired. This is the real story work in the world bank and its always been good to hear it. Now we get a basic matrix, its an old one but like the best jokes still a good one. I produced a variation on this twenty years ago on uncertainty which I must blog about some time.

Great image of laboratory scientist and a rat both in white coats (nice touch that) both of whom can detect tuberculosis. The rat is more effective as it can process 2000, not 20 samples a day. This is a great image and example of exploring what we don’t know. Know recommending Theory U and Presence which triggers an allergic reaction in me against idealistic and sometimes pious (in the negative sense of the word) approaches. Another good example though, the traditional healer in the village given a mobile phone to allow direct contact to hospital experts rather than building hospitals 100s of miles away. Reduction of material mortality by 50% in three years by linking knowledge bases in novel ways at low cost. Real stuff this, don’t replicate a western model in Africa but build in evolutionary ways on the potential of the present (my words there but I think this is what he means).

Another Einstein quote now: Not everything that counts can be counted, not everything that can be counted counts Einstein again. Again I agree with this and I can pick up in my closing keynote with some SenseMaker™ examples as this is a IT audience in the main. Drawing to a conclusion now with some good lists.

  • The role of the leader is to relentlessly spread the word on the importance of knowledge sharing and learning, give recognition to supporting behaviour and above all walk the talk, teach by example. this latter point is key, actions of leaders say more (and stories spread faster) than motiviations speeches, emails or other forms of communication; in action all meaning is encompassed (not sure about that, its mine not Nick’s but it sounds good). He argues here that incentives need to be aligned which I am less sure about. I get a hint that he is also uncomfortable as he says the langauge of appraisal was misinterpreted and gamed, something that conforms with my own experience.
  • Some key lessons learnt now. Its not about best practice, its about best local fit. Knowledge resides in brains not databses and its about people not tools. Taking things in small steps, endless repetition for a long journey (aspects here of my fail-safe to safe-fail rule). Need to ember knowledge management in core business to prevent it becoming a fad.
  • Some key shifts are necessary: from designated functions to everything is owned by everyone (what I would call distributed cognition; shifting control from top down to bottom up; switching from explicit to tacit. All of this is too much of a pendulum swing for me, a change of emphasis yes, but we need both.

Finishes with a great quote from Prouse: The real voyage of discovery consitst not of seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes. It’s used a lot in KM but no less valuable. As usual good material year, based on sound practice. My one worry is that the solutions are based on changing to ideal behaviour, defining how things should be. I don’t think Nick means that, and I think (from other conversations) that in theory and practice he believes in evolution not engineering but I think the audience will interpret it in the light of Senge rather than complexity.

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