KMRC Conference Blog: Patrick Lambe

March 31, 2009

Now in the build up to this conference Kim called Patrick a Gentleman; coming from the bands of Australia Women I know I am not sure if this was a complement or not! for He plays a game at the start and asks everyone to stand up, he then asks people who do not consider themselves experts to sit down. Of course everyone bar a few sit down and I mutter false modesty. Not sure what he is up to here but its to do with expertise and the management of expertise.

Two images up now. Firstly the rocket that got people to the moon the Saturn V, where the knowledge was lost over the decades as it was alien in nature to modern engineering but they couldn’t work out how to replicate it and the cost was $200m to recreate the same capability. Second photograph is of a mosque at Aceh which survived the tsunami, still standing as a symbol of strength. This was a great centre of learning, but while the building stood the library was destroyed. Rebuilding is difficult if you don’t have the librarians, the archivists and the scholars but they were also washed away. The main point is making is that people are essential to knowledge, its not just about records. Its a constant theme today, not sure it needed that amount of elaboration but they were good examples and it will allow the audience as a whole to catch up.

Moving on he is talking about the system he and a couple of others have to capture stories from people about their expertise. Its a simple database which works like a blog in which people contribute experience. Now I need to be honest here, I don’t think this will work. The material is high quality, the intent is good but he means of cataloguing it is flawed as it relies on common and consistent use of language; the supporting technology is nothing that has has not been around and tried in KM for years and it (i) doesn’t scale and (ii) does not encourage participation and serendipitous access. In consequence the experts (sic) who interpret the database have too much power of interpretation and discovery. The offer to Patrick to use SenseMaker™ which does represent new methods for this remains open, but the familiar was ever a comfort!

Talking about expertise now as Know-How, Know-Who, Can-do and Remembering Why along with Can Diagnose and Decide The model has types of knowledge as well: technical, skill, memory, experience, relational and role knowledge ,with an acknowledgement to my ASHEN model for which thanks. Good example (which we talked about over breakfast) at the time of the one Singapore Airlines hijack where the process manual was six inches thick and he had twenty minutes, so had to improvise using his deep social networks in the other supporting agencies. Its a similar story to 911 if you know the air traffic controller story there, about the guy who used his networks to get F14s in the air but failed to get them authority or direct to fire. Trust as Patrick says enables knowledge sharing; always a good point to repeat.

Arguing strongly here for social interaction for all aspects of expertise and socialisation of knowledge transfer. Indirect hint here of what I call the Grandparent phenomena : people readily if they skip generations but not to the next generation. Moves on from this to look at something he calls the sting in the tail on expertise. Functional and technical expertise can be managed, but Special expertise is invisible and where you get the surprises. The risk here is the grumpy old man if knowledge is social. Now the grumpy old man example is one he gave earlier. Someone managing legacy systems in banks which is boring work, unable to get anyone else involved. Now I think he is missing a key point here and its the danger of retrospective diagnosis of problems and the creation of idealistic solutions. You know the sort of thing, something does wrong, we study it and they say how it should be, assuming that how it should have been is how it can be in the future. Of course in practice the future will be different and we also have the problem of context. Maybe that type of work requires grumpy old men?

I ask that question and Patrick suggests a cabal of grumpy old me which I like (I think they might be good company at a conference)

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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