“We focus learning more often on failure, rather than success”

Interview to Chris Collison, knowledge management consultant with 17 years of experience with over 100 clients. @chris_collison analyzed with a critical and profound perspective, the knowledge management processes in companies, prompting to learn more from success than from failure and to identify common errors in corporate learning processes. He works internationally, and have access to a network of high-calibre knowledge management consultants who work with me on larger assignments.

What is Knowledge Management in 2013?

Chris Collison: In one way, it is the same as it was in 2001 – a set of tools, processes and behaviors which enable organizations to improve performance by sharing, learning, connecting and creating know-how.

The one thing which has changed, and is very relevant, is the rise of social networking and social media. Some people would say that these have redefined KM. I don’t hold that view. What I would say is that social media have been like a shot of adrenaline for KM. They have accelerated the connections, the collaboration and increased serendipity to that we all get connected with new people, new knowledge and new sources far more than we used to.

However, the fundamentals of KM are unchanged.  It’s about people and creating an environment to help them get the maximum value from what they collectively know.

How the companies can build capability to close the Learning Loop? You might mention 10 essential tips…

Identify the high-value, repeatable activities or processes in your organization.  Start here!

Look at the quality of learning that currently goes on after one of these activities or projects. Does some kind of a review actually happen? Do people ask the right questions?  It is superficial, or an in-depth conversation, designed to help the “next team”?

Look at how knowledge is captured.  Are lessons learned reports sterile documents, or high-level PowerPoint bullets?   Find ways to put the life back into them. Use quotations (with permission), links to the people involved, links to examples and templates, video and audio. Ultimately a lessons learned report should be an advertisement for a conversation.

Consolidate multiple lessons into guidance – find the common themes and capture the practical actions people should take.  If you can embed these in a process – rather than a checklist, than make the change!

How the technology can improve learning processes in organizations? What are the training methods (technology-based) you suggest to implement?

We now have far more ingredients to use in blended learning. Back-channnels for classroom learning via twitter, virtual coaching and support via desktop videoconferencing and data sharing. Social learning opportunities for learning sets using networking and collaboration tools like Ning, GoogleSites and Basecamp.

I run a week-long KM training programme with the UN regularly, which includes a real mix of experiential, social and classroom learning.  This year, the UN Course owner has replicated most of the course through blended learning, with videos, assignments, live virtual classroom presentations via video, real-time chat and on-line discussions.  I’m amazed at how much you can achieve now without all those air miles! I think expectations of training are getting higher and higher as people make more use of technology in their personal lives. It’s an exciting time!

Sometimes, we are successful, sometimes we fail. But what do we learn from these situations whatever the outcome?

I think we focus learning more often on failure, rather than success. There’s an imbalance here.  If organizational learning is only taken seriously when something goes wrong, then it’s an expensive education!

Management guru Chris Argyris wrote an excellent paper called “Teaching smart people how to learn”, which explores how intellectually clever senior people tend to blame “the system” rather than accept their part in a problem.  Entrepreneurs who have worked their way up, are far better at accepting failure as a part of life, and a good teacher.

Learning from success is rarer because there is less of an imperative.  There is no government minister looking for a response; no tragedy to respond to; no lawyers asking difficult questions.  It requires a more strategic, proactive mindset, and I think it needs to be focused on the activities which really matter – the high value, repeatable, predictable ones.

What are the 5 most significant innovation in recent years to manage knowledge?

  1. Instant messaging – knowing when you can get a rapid response without adding to the email burden.
  2. Social Networking tools, and the shift in world culture to be more open, transparent and willing to connect, blurring business and personal.  Knowing where people are in the world, and having smart technology suggest the people you could meet whilst on a business trip.
  3. Microblogging, and the serendipity it adds to life.
  4. Better use of stories and narrative analysis – getting smarter at spotting trends, patterns and signals.
  5. Desktop video conferencing and data-sharing – have added hugely to the effectiveness of virtual teams.




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