Mittwoch, 13. April 2011

Learning from failures: KM on slides has no value

Life sucks – sometimes. It’s just not fair! It is all there, I indeed did a great job: It is an innovative, important idea that I am – well, yes -  really proud of; I have worked out the process in all details, it seamlessly fits into the existing structures (with some well spoted changes to the machine of course – after all it is an innovation), but I have put a lot of efforts into defining precisely all steps and – yes – it is even well documented; and in order to sell it – I am not a freshman – I have composed an appealing presentation of wit (according to the books of good presentations), inspiring visuals, well motivated –
And the guys in front of me simply don’t get it! They don’t get it. Neither the beauty, nor the hard work. Instead of a soft landing, it is a crash. Or it is a soft landing attended with soft smiles that take my idea nowhere.

Frustrating! They should listen, they should be grateful. And when the frustration breaks free into anger: Who are they to turn down my brilliant idea? They are not even experts, they hardly can define Knowledge Management (neither according to Nonaka, nor in their own KM framework – they have not even thought about a KM framework!).

Time for the moral of the story: Life is seldom fair, and Knowledge Management on slides has no value.
Knowledge Management is people business (that’s why so many implementations of KM from the IT side terribly failed – but that’s another failure). It is not a beauty contest, if you cannot make it work with the people, the people won’t deploy it and value creation does not happen. Simple, isn't it.

Let’s switch to the learning part and dig into the root cause analysis. Why have I failed? I can identify 3 fields of failure: the situation, the people and myself (in the end it is always me who failed, but in a moment you see the difference, so it is not about finding a scapegoat).

The situation: Have you ever tried to speak about Knowledge Management, when there are lay-offs. You can talk about internal positioning, efficiency with reduced capabilities, break into growth – the employees only hear: Dump your precious knowledge into the database, then we can fire you without even feeling any pain. In general the question is: Have you really understood the situation? As said, no beauty contest, no KM for the sake of KM. Have you really understood the business? Or is your great idea based on assumptions and repeating the buzz words (we see this now with Social Media) And finally, do you really know how do people work? How your plan will affect them. Here the borderline to the people field becomes foggy.

The people: Have you understood the effect on people? There is this paradox in game theory, where the better collective solution is not taken, because it is not appealing to the individual. What is in it for the individual in your idea? Great idea, but more work for me? You must be joking. Potentially it is not the first time (that applies a lot to KM with more than 10 years now) that someone is running around shouting “You must all do Knowledge Sharing or we are doomed!” The credibility factor will again appear in the myself field; but even if they like the idea, do they have the heads up for it? Or are they cornered, under pressure that they cannot embrace change, even if they can buy-in to the idea. Well that is a fundamental challenge for change management; often you need to change, when it is not anymore convenient to change (on the other hand nobody will change, if everything is just fine).

Myself: often Knowledge Managers are not anchored deeply in the respective organization. The not-invented-here syndrom demands its right. Why should they trust you? Because of a nice slide package? Neither have you proven yourself, nor that you do understand the situation.
As diversified as the failure fields are, the solution is monolithic: Work together with the people in tiny steps (you might have vision always with you and explain how the tiny steps bring you in time to the moon), prove yourself and test your ideas within the business environment and with the broader situation, in short take a collaborative approach.
And in all this you can develop slides that make a great story, when you have succeeded, and then they really add value. And when you nevertheless fail, you have a great slide package to proof yourself as speaker: "learning from failures".



  1. don't give up. Find a senior level champion and pitch this one on one to him/her and do it over time. Establish a relationship with that person and bring them on side slowly. You have taken a while to come up to speed, don't expect everyone else to come up to speed any faster.

    It takes a long time to become an overnight success.

  2. @researchimpact
    True observation easily forgotten (thanks): It has taken quite some time and efforts to reach my insights, just the fact that I have formulated them, doesn't mean they can be swallowed in a second.

    I like that one:
    It takes a long time to become an overnight success.



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