December 31, 2008

Take An Expansive View

Knowledge managers around the world can learn a great deal from the example of the Hon. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge of the State of New York, whose tenure ends on December 31st. Besides being the first woman to hold the state's highest judiciary office and author of some landmark decisions, she will be remembered for her reform of the judicial system in New York. Chief among these reforms was expansion of the jury pool by eliminating the automatic exemptions that excused far too many from serving on a jury. Prior to the repeal of these exemptions, you could be excused from jury service if you were, for example, a doctor, a lawyer, an embalmer, a maker of prosthetic limbs, a wearer of prosthetic limbs, etc.

Chief Judge Kaye tells an amusing story about why expanding the jury pool was necessary: her daughter discovered that it was "a great place to meet guys." As any loving mother knows, you increase your daughter's chances of making a good match by increasing the number of potential mates in the pool (regardless of the real purpose of the pool).

What works in matchmaking works in knowledge sharing as well. The bigger the pool, the greater the available knowledge on which you can draw. Users of social media are discovering that by interacting more regularly and transparently with their social networks they are able to learn and share more than ever before. In the process, the pool grows and the participants themselves grow. Despite this reality, finding a way to bring the power of the bigger pool inside enterprises via social media tools continues to be a challenge for knowledge management.

In 2009, look for more ways to take an expansive view -- not only in how you work, but in the tools you provide that help make the pool bigger for everyone. If social computing has taught us anything, it is that this generosity is returned time and time again.

December 29, 2008

Why People Resist Change

We're two-thirds of the way through the eating marathon composed of Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Eve. And, as surely as night follows day, many of us are considering our expanding waistlines and the necessity of a diet in the New Year. Just as predictably, many of us will fail in our quest to change our eating habits and keep that weight off permanently. Similarly, in these waning days of the year, our thoughts often turn to the resolutions we plan to make on January 1 regarding the changes we know we need and the great expectations we hope to realize. Unfortunately, we likely will be as unsuccessful next year as we were this year in making radical changes.

Why is change so hard? According to a recent article in Scientific American, from our mid-twenties until our late fifties, we tend to be less open to new experiences and this makes us more resistant to change. As we face the challenges and responsibilities of adult life, our brains seem to prefer the security of stability rather than the chaos that change represents. According to Gerhard Roth,
The brain is always trying to automate things and to create habits, which it imbues with feelings of pleasure. Holding to the tried and true gives us a feeling of security, safety, and competence while at the same time reducing our fear of the future and of failure.

The final nail in the coffin of change is our tendency to have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. This is known as the "false hope" syndrome in which we attempt more change than is wise or possible, and then fail. No wonder most of us find it so difficult to change.

So what happens when your knowledge management program requires a change in behavior on the part of the lawyers in your law firm? You should assume that you will meet passive if not active resistance. But that doesn't give us a free pass to avoid change. Since change often is necessary, we need to plan carefully to ensure that the proposed change can be achieved. This suggests that we set reasonable goals requiring incremental (rather than radical) change and that we frame the change in a way that is least threatening to the sense of stability and security of our users.

Incremental change rarely results in banner headlines, but given what we now know about human psychology, it may be the only kind of change that is viable.

December 26, 2008

Great Canadian Content

Growing up in Canada, we were the "beneficiaries" of Canadian Content, a government policy designed to ensure we had enough exposure to homegrown culture that we didn't succumb to the allure of those cultural hegemonists south of the 49th parallel. When I first moved south of the 49th, it was hard to find overtly Canadian content (although media watchers will know that there are a surprisingly large number of Canadians active in US media.) Today, however, we have access to lots of great Canadian content -- not because of government regulation, but because of the excellence of the content and the open nature of the internet.

To celebrate that excellence, our blogging colleagues in Canada have instituted the Canadian Law Blog Awards, or CLawBies. The creator of the CLawBies, Steve Matthews (the terrific Vancouver Law Librarian and founder of Stem Legal), has implemented an innovative nomination process this year with the goal of fostering "some audience sharing & link-based infrastructure between members of the Canadian law blog community."

In deciding which blogs I would nominate, I was interested to discover that in every case I read these blogs because they are consistently good rather than because they are Canadian. (The fact that they are Canadian is a bonus as far as I'm concerned.) Here are the Canadian blogs I've enjoyed in the past year:

Connie Crosby -- I read Connie's blog regularly and follow her on Twitter. Her background in law libraries and social networking gives her insight into those knowledge management issues that keep me occupied. Above all, how can you not pay attention to a great "Info Diva"?

Law21 -- Jordan Furlong's blog is a must-read for anyone thinking hard about intelligent ways to practice law. And, even if you're not, he's such a good writer that I'd recommend you read him anyhow!

Slaw -- This is a category-busting blog: a community effort that covers a wide range of legal and cultural topics. There's always something of interest and, due to the number of contributors, there is always something new.

Finally, I do want to thank Steve Matthews personally. He has been a terrific supporter of legal blogging on either side of the 49th parallel. Steve's efforts to promote individual bloggers and legal blogging generally are marked with the kind of personal generosity that makes the blawgosphere such a rewarding place for those of us interested in good conversation and community. Thanks, Steve!

December 24, 2008

Christmas Lessons and Carols

One of our favorite holiday traditions is to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast from King's College Cambridge. It provides a glimpse of a useful knowledge management lesson -- in this case regarding innovation.

For those of you unfamiliar with the service of lessons and carols, it is a tradition that began in 1918. It tells the story of prophecy and fulfillment, drawing on sources in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The lessons read from the Bible each year are the same ones read in 1918. What changes from year to year are the carols chosen. After each lesson, the superb King's College choir sings two different carols that are thematically related to the lesson just read. These carols draw on centuries of Christmas music and always feature some golden oldies. However, every year the choir commissions one new carol to be premiered during the service. This year, the new carol is entitled "Mary" and was composed by Dominic Muldowney.

I've written before about the value of incremental change. Not every law firm needs a revolution in order to have a great knowledge management effort. However, every law firm will benefit from knowledge managers who are constantly focused on making incremental improvements to the KM program, especially if those changes result in improvements in the way the firm delivers superior service to its clients. The key incremental change offered by King's College is the newly-commissioned carol. Commissioning a new piece of music is not something you do on the fly. It requires planning, inspiration, effort and time. It also requires the consistent excellence in delivery for which the choir of King's College is famous.

Plan for constant incremental improvements. Cast your net widely to find your inspiration and then cull those ideas until you find something truly worth the effort and time required. Next, be sure that you have staff and systems that operate at a level of excellence. With all these elements in place, your KM program and your law firm will be able to reap the benefits of constant incremental improvement.

Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2008

An Early Holiday Gift from Dennis Kennedy

Our family has a strict rule (guaranteed to drive children crazy): first send the thank you note and then enjoy the gift. In this case, however, the gift arrived electronically and put an immediate smile on my face. In fact, I've been enjoying Dennis Kennedy's gift for hours and this note of thanks is a little tardy.

And what was the gift? Dennis Kennedy was kind enough to include Above and Beyond KM on his 2008 list of notable blogs, also known as Dennis Kennedy's 2008 Law-related Blogging Awards (The Blawggies). I was surprised and delighted to find myself in the company of some terrific bloggers. I invite you to spend a little time with the blawgs and blawggers Dennis called out for recognition. The list covers a wide range of law-related subjects and provides lots of thought-provoking reading.

All of this starts with Dennis, one of the pioneers of legal blogging. I was reading his writing before I even realized what a blog was. He has set a high standard not only for great content and longevity in this business but, most of all, for generosity.

So, thank you Dennis Kennedy!

With best wishes for the Holidays,


And, because I couldn't resist, here's an excerpt from my post on April 15 in which I quote Dennis Kennedy:
In the inimitable words of Dennis Kennedy: "I have no doubt that Tom Mighell has mentioned many more new legal blogs than the number of blogs that have links back to his blog. He's a saint I'm not quite that saintly." Dennis makes this observation in the course of a post entitled "What are the Most Common Mistakes a New Legal Blogger Makes," in which he reminds bloggers who are lucky enough to be mentioned by a more established blogger that they should not be delinquent in thanking the experienced blogger.

December 22, 2008

Pay Attention to People

At the heart of every knowledge management effort has to be the people we hope will use and benefit from it. Yet far too often, they are not considered sufficiently in the design or implementation stage. Most of the time we plan based on our "impressions and preconceptions" of how our target audience will behave. These "impressions and preconceptions" are what we call experience, but they often block us from truly working with people as they are now, rather than how we thought they once were.

What's the corrective for this? Pay attention to people -- pay close attention. In a post about living artfully that is well worth reading as we approach the season of resolutions, Dustin Wax has the following observation about why paying attention to people pays off:
When we pay attention to people, really pay attention, it brings forth something in them that’s amazing. This is something I learned as an anthropologist – people love to tell their stories. All they need is someone to really listen to them. And when people give you their stories, it enriches your own story.
It's those stories that allow us to match our KM program to the current needs or pain points experienced by the people we serve. It also helps prevent our deploying programs that miss the mark. Pay attention to the people first and then see how technology can help. You won't regret it.

December 19, 2008

Choosing Among 31 Flavors

There is a particular kind of paralysis that can overtake a person standing in front of an ice cream shop counter, trying to choose among 31 (or more) flavors of ice cream. Sometimes you end up choosing vanilla just because it seems impossible to make a single choice from all the available options. That's how I felt when Greg Lambert at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog asked me to send him my favorite blog posts. We're fortunate that there are so many folks who have interesting and intelligent things to say about knowledge management, social media, human behavior and all the other topics I like to follow. So nominating some for his consideration was a pleasure. But then came the difficult part: which of my own blog posts did I like the best?

(Cookies `n Cream? Heath Bar Crunch? Mint Chocolate Chip? Butter Pecan? Help!)

So here's what I did. I looked at the blog posts my readers seemed to like the most (based on site traffic reports and comments received) and then I thought about the posts I particularly enjoyed writing. Here's the list I came up with today:

Is Your KM Department Serving Fish?

The Problem with Low-Hanging Fruit

Overcoming Hurdles to Web 2.0

Is Your Knowledge Management Strategic?

Why KM Needs Good Design

KM and the Pantyhose Fallacy

Putting Blinders on to Enhance Productivity

Just One Thing

If you asked me tomorrow, I might come up with a different list. But, for today, this is my multi-scoop alternative to plain vanilla.

Be sure to check back with 3Geeks and a Law Blog. They're planning to publish today the list of all the recommended blog posts. I'm looking forward to reading them.

[photo courtesy of ulterior epicure under a Creative Commons license]

December 18, 2008

In Vino Veritas

We just spent the evening at the home of friends who are in the wine importing business. As you might imagine, we didn't drink much water. There is an old proverb: "in vino veritas." It simply attests to the fact that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of wine consumed and the degree to which one can edit one's conversation. In fact, you learn the most interesting things when your companions are under the influence...

With the advent of social media, teetotalers and imbibers alike now have multiple opportunities to converse online without editing themselves. In case you have blindly assumed that it doesn't really matter how you behave online, you should know that lawyers are now beginning to think about the e-discovery implications of Twitter.

To be fair, if you've ever thought that your activities via social media are entirely private, you've been deluding yourself. Google owns your personal archive. Facebook knows who you know. And millions of folks like you are surfing in and out of your online life. Now more than ever, you need to manage your web presence like Hollywood agents manage movie stars. You no longer can limit your image to the four corners of your resume. Now, every time you hit the Web you add to the world's understanding of who you are. And your digital profile can be powerful -- particularly when it doesn't square with your resume. Be aware and be careful.

[photo courtesy of Rob Bieber under a Creative Commons License]

December 17, 2008

Shall I Tell You Where to Go?

Do you know where you're going to?* That's the critical question Mark Gould asks in his recent post on social media, in which he makes the fair point that there really isn't a one-size-fits-all social media strategy. Each person and each organization has to figure it out for themselves. And it all begins with knowing what you're trying to achieve. Then you choose the tools that will get you to your goal.

That said, I know folks are always looking for the silver bullet, the one sure-fire way of achieving success. Putting to one side the fact that I don't know how you define success, let me make a suggestion: Go where the conversation is. In the brief time I've been using social media tools, I've been struck by how well they facilitate conversations that cut across status, age and geography. Above all, I've been impressed by the richness of those conversations. But don't be fooled by the fact that they can be brief, casual and, on occasion, banal. The reality is that these online conversations build relationships, and those relationships enrich your life. In fact, they can even be profitable in your professional life.

There was a time when the critical business conversations happened on the golf course or in particular private clubs. Increasingly, they are happening online. So if you want to participate, find a social media tool that works for you** and then use it to go where the conversation is.

[*When I first saw the blog title, "Do You Know Where You're Going To?" I thought Mark was joining me in my series of blog posts based on popular songs. Unfortunately, it was not the case. However, for those of you who don't mind a trip down memory lane, here's the song I had in mind.]

[**And, for those of you who have read this far, here's a small bit of advice: try using Twitter for three weeks and then let me know what you think. There are great conversations to be enjoyed there. If you wish, you can find me on Twitter using the tag @VMaryAbraham.]

December 16, 2008

Straight Talk About Social Media

It's been fascinating to watch the reaction of law firms to social media. Some firms have jumped right in and experimented enthusiastically with the new tools. Others have tiptoed around the edges, exploring their options, but not really diving in. And then there are the firms that aren't going to "do it" until all their peer firms "do it," or who believe that social media doesn't offer them anything they don't already have the old-fashioned way.

For the firm that is skeptical about the usefulness of social media, here is some straight talk (not snake oil) from Kevin O'Keefe, who has been equipping law firms all over the country to participate effectively in the Web 2.0 world. When asked which three social media tools deliver the most bang for the buck, his answer is very clear: blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn.

In his typically direct fashion, here's how he describes the value of these tools:

Blogs? Got to have one. How else can you develop a central place where clients, prospective clients, and the influencers (bloggers, media, and social media hounds) pick up on your passion, philosophy, reasoning, and skill? How do you get seen when people search for info? You think I'm picking a pig in the poke by reading a lawyer profile on a website or Martindale? That's nuts.

Twitter? Single biggest learning, brand building, network expanding, and reputation enhancing tool for me this year.
LinkedIn? LinkedIn has won the professional social networking/directory space. The race is over. I get invites from professionals inviting me to join their network elsewhere. Other than LinkedIn and Facebook I ignore them.
So there you have it, straight talk from a man who has been at the forefront of law firm social media deployments. Now, let's hear your questions and concerns. What's holding your firm back from engaging fully with social media?

December 15, 2008

Why KM Needs Good Design

If you don't believe design matters, read this post, buy a can of Altoids and reconsider. I heard a great story at lunch on Sunday of a presentation made by Claudia Kotchka, Proctor & Gamble's design and innovation maven, who explained what made Altoids great. And then, to drive the point home, showed her audience what would result if the green eye shade guys designed Altoids. Once they removed the tin (too expensive) and the paper (unnecessary), they ended up with something Claudia Kotchka calls "Proctoids." The packaging was "a box made of cheap white plastic from P&G's baby-wipe containers." Very appealing. In fact, according to one report, "[w]ith uniform beige ovals jammed into the container, fewer colors on the lid, and no paper, Proctoids taste like Altoids, but they look as appealing as a pile of horse pills." Unfortunately, people aren't as willing to pay the 400% premium for unappealing horse pills in a plastic case as they are for the pleasure they get from opening that Altoids tin.

Now, let's think about knowledge management systems as if they were P&G consumer products. What would your intranet look like if Claudia Kotchka was in charge of its design? What about your blogs and wikis? Your document management system? Not sure? Well, here's the test: Would the lawyers in your law firm pay a 400% premium to use your KM system? If not, you should consider applying Claudia Kotchka's design principles as reported by Chas Martin at Innovativeye:

1. Make it user centric through a deep understanding of user habits [and] need – physical and emotional.

2. Make it collaborative. Never work alone. There is no one right answer, so it’s not cheating to share information. A mix of skills are essential. (See Ten Faces of Innovation)

3. Challenge Mental Models. Ask different questions. The problem will look different, requiring a different type of solution.

4. Abductive. Start with prototype solution and test it. Learn backwards and logic the way to explain the result.

5. Experimental. Designers prototype with visual and tangible models. It’s easier to discuss something you can see. Prototyping starts the dialogue. It’s not the solutions, but [the] first of a continuous series [of] possible solutions. The second version can be radically different.

Good design is about problem solving, making things work better, and finding new opportunities. According to Tom Armitage, web developer at Headshift, "Design is not how it looks." A.G. Lafley, the CEO of P&G, understood this when he asked Claudia Kotchka to incorporate design into P&B's approach to business. In his words: "The goal is to transform the company from a place that's good at selling `more goop, better' into one whose products infuse delight into customers' lives."

Are your customers as happy as P&G's? If not, make sure you incorporate the principles of good design at the planning stages of any KM implementation to ensure an end-product that works beautifully and delights your users.

December 12, 2008

The Wrong Kind of Marathon

Here in New York City, we know something about marathons. The NYC Marathon rightfully is famous as one of the sporting highlights of the year. It takes an enormous amount of dedication and effort on the part of participants and organizers alike to prepare for and complete this marathon.

Unfortunately, NYC also hosts another type of marathon, which occurs daily. It's the "meeting marathon." Worse still, NYC isn't the only town with this sporting event. We've all been in a meeting marathon -- the ultimate corporate test of endurance and, in some cases, sanity. Folks have responded by ignoring the discussion at the meeting and focusing instead on buzzword bingo, texting, doodling, daydreaming ... you get the picture.

I've written about meetings being the credible alternative to work. However, there are times when holding a meeting is exactly the right thing to do. For example, if you're trying to implement innovation by teamwork, a meeting will undoubtedly be necessary at some point. So what should you do? To begin with, be very sure that the person who is calling the meeting actually knows how to run a productive meeting. By this I don't mean that they can convene a meeting without chairs or use some similar gimmick. Too often, the only thing these approaches ensure is that the participants are uncomfortable. They don't necessarily result in a high-quality productive meeting.

Here are some proven techniques for delivering a productive meeting:

- set a clear time frame and stick to it -- this is useful discipline
- be sure the purpose of the meeting is publicized and understood
- realize that the very act of asking the key question changes the outcome of the discussion
- make preparatory materials available before the meeting
- identify potential issues/hurdles and try to address them before the meeting
- understand the constituencies that will be participating -- where they sit in the organization will determine where they stand on the issue you're discussing
- decide whether the goal is to air issues, test a proposal, reach a consensus or close out a discussion and then structure the meeting accordingly
- be clear whether you need a neutral facilitator or a facilitator who actual advocates for a particular position
- be sure you have a meeting facilitator who has the social skills and discipline to help move the conversation along without unnecessarily offending participants

There is no substitute for good preparation. In fact, the quality of preparation is almost always reflected in the quality of the meeting. Chances are that every meeting marathon you've ever attended lacked adequate preparation or was chaired by someone who did not have the necessary skills and focus. Thankfully, preparation, skills and focus can all be addressed and improved. There is no longer any need to waste time at meeting marathons. Insist on productivity!

[Photo courtesy of the City of New York]

December 11, 2008

What Numbers Can't Do

Recently I had the interesting experience of reading survey results relating to a subject I actually knew something about. At first blush, the numbers were quite impressive. And then I read a little more closely and discovered that the presentation gave the impression of results that were better than warranted by reality. Since just the "bare numbers" had been reported, important context and nuance were lost. As a result, the story the numbers told was a little misleading.

So how do we restore context, nuance and meaning? And, more importantly, how do we help initiate needed change within our organizations? According to the folks at Anecdote, the answer lies in telling good stories and then listening properly to those stories:

Surveys and metrics can uncover trouble in an organisation, but they usually don't help you identify the reasons for dysfunctions, let alone generate the resolve to springboard people into action. Instead, learn to use stories as listening posts and tap into the emotion to spark action. From time immemorial, stories have contained collective lessons in condensed form. When gathered and examined, stories that are told in your organisation reveal important themes and patterns that in turn indicate effective solutions.

To be clear, I'm not trying to trash quantitative analysis. However, I do believe there are some things that can be communicated best by numbers and other things that can be communicated accurately only through narrative. Be very sure that when you make your choices about what to measure, how to measure and how to report the results, you choose the right tools and methods. If you cut corners here you will compromise your project and, possibly, your credibility. Why risk it?

[Thanks to Stan Garfield for pointing out the Anecdote post.]

December 10, 2008

A Place for Every Thing

There is an old adage: "A place for every thing and every thing in its place." And yet, if you've ever shared space with another human being, you know how hard it can be to (i) identify that one place and (ii) get everyone to put each thing in its "proper" place. (As I write, I'm staring at a bottle of dish washing liquid that always ends up on the "wrong" side of the kitchen sink, despite my best efforts!)

So why is it we think we can do better in our law firm knowledge management programs? The reality is that people often define the "proper place" for content differently. You only have to look at the variations in social bookmarking to see this. So, for example, instead of creating a rigid top-down taxonomy that imposes a regime of a single place for each thing (and then devoting the necessary resources on enforcement), why not spend your energy creating systems that allow users to organize the content as they see fit? After all, the point is to enable their easy use of the content -- it really isn't about ensuring that they find and use that content only in particular places.

At the end of the day, the purpose of the adage of one thing/one place is to eliminate options so that that you always know where to find your keys, your wallet, your cellphone, etc.  With the advanced search tools available today, we don't need to worry about this quite the same way when it comes to electronic content. So instead of enforcing a single way of doing things, meet your users where they are. I guarantee they'll be happier  -- and then so will you.

December 9, 2008

Persistence Pays

Persistence pays ... when applied correctly.

We all know someone who just keeps at you like a battering ram until you throw up your hands and agree to whatever they are asking. This application of persistence is not dissimilar to the modus operandi of many three-year olds. It may provide short-term benefits, but it invariably takes a toll on relationships and may well jeopardize long-term gains.

By contrast, there is the story I heard recently of how a friend of mine (a knowledge manager at another law firm) obtained the cooperation of the head of his firm's technology committee who had become a roadblock to necessary change. At issue was integrating into a single user interface the firm's intranet with an enterprise search tool. My friend made his case to the partner and asked nicely for cooperation. It was not forthcoming. So, my friend waited a while (presumably checked his own assumptions to confirm they were correct) and then went back a second time. No dice. My friend is famous for his persistence, so he went back a third time and was successful.

What made the difference? Here are my observations: It wasn't a typical battering ram approach. Rather, between the second and third visits, my friend worked on his relationship with his colleague. In a natural (not manipulative) way, he got to know his colleague better. And, his colleague got to know him better. As a result, when that third conversation occurred, each had a deeper understanding of the other's concerns and in the process put more capital in the bank of their relationship. This foundation allowed the partner to step aside and permit the proposed change, despite his own misgivings.

When seeking collaboration or cooperation, it is not enough merely to be persistent or to impose your views through sheer determination. By doing so, you undercut the very ground on which collaboration is based. Rather, take the time to establish understanding and trust with your proposed collaboration partner. We've heard time and again how critical trust is to collaboration. It's equally important for good professional relationships which, in turn, are critical to your success.

So be persistent ... at building trust. You'll reap the benefits sooner than you imagine.

December 8, 2008

Innovation is a Team Sport

A recent New York Times article touted the benefits of collaborating to innovate. Debunking the myth of the lone genius who creates in solitude, the article suggests that the best innovation comes about through collaboration -- where many people and perspectives intersect to create and refine ideas. However, it isn't enough just to put a group of people in a room and ask them to brainstorm. In fact, according to the article, brainstorming is not nearly as productive as we'd like to believe. Instead of asking folks to "solve a problem" or "devise a new strategy" (favorite brainstorming topics), the better path is "systematic inventive thinking" in which the participants are asked to identify products and processes that work, break those down into their components, and then think about how those components can be put to other productive uses.

When I read this description of systematic inventive thinking, I realized that it appeared to share some of the principles of appreciative inquiry, which encourages us to build on our strengths. What a difference from the traditional approach of focusing on what does not work! (In a prior post I talked about the benefits of asking What Went Right rather than What Went Wrong?) Further, when you ask a group to focus on what's good, you stand a better chance of avoiding some of the negative dynamics that emerge in problem-solving sessions such as refusing to speak up out of fear of failure or a desire to hoard ideas.

Whether you attempt innovation in solitary confinement or through a group process, research has shown that innovation isn't a flash in the pan. According to Keith Sawyer, a professor of psychology and education and author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration:
Innovation today isn’t a sudden break with the past, a brilliant insight that one lone outsider pushes through to save the company .... Just the opposite: innovation today is a continuous process of small and constant change, and it’s built into the culture of successful companies.
So what would it take to build innovation into the culture of your company? Sawyer believes that even the lone genius is part of a wider web of ideas and people -- the people the genius talks to, the people who write the things the genius reads, etc. This suggests that a company that wants a robust innovation culture has to build robust social networks that facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas.

How can knowledge management help? KM knows all about social networks and social media tools. KM knows how to reduce information silos and enable information sharing. KM knows how to foster collaboration. We've often said that the whole point of knowledge management is innovation. With this focus on group genius, it's becoming clearer how the things that knowledge management does well can be deployed to build a vibrant culture of innovation within every company.

[Thanks to Kevin O'Keefe at LexBlog for pointing out this article.]

December 5, 2008

Just One Thing

Here is a brief recipe for sanity that should make next week better than this week. As you go through your work today, look for Just One Thing that meets any of the following criteria:

- it is a drag on your efficiency
- it does not contribute to the revenue of your firm
- it could reasonably be done more cost effectively by a colleague
- it is done more from habit than conviction

and then, eliminate it.

Rinse and repeat each business day.

If done effectively, this should remove from your plate tasks you shouldn't be doing and give you more time and energy to focus on those areas in which you really can make a difference.

The result of this exercise? Sanity.

All you have to do is begin today with Just One Thing.

December 4, 2008

Being a Cost Center in Difficult Economic Times

It's budget season in many law firms. If that weren't bad enough, we're preparing budgets against the backdrop of disturbing economic news. And worst of all, most law firm knowledge management departments are cost centers. What are you going to do?

Traditionally, there have been two approaches to dealing with difficult economic times: cut costs and grow revenue. As you plan your budget for 2009, chances are you have been asked to take a serious look at your costs. In a recent APQC KM poll, 44% of respondents expected to cut their KM budgets in 2009, 35% expected to hold the line on their budget and a fortunate 22% expected a slight increase (1%-9%) in their 2009 budget.** The reality is that even holding the line requires great discipline with respect to costs, so fully 79% of the respondents will be extremely cost sensitive in 2009.

Cutting costs in knowledge management programs requires close scrutiny of your KM operations. Do you have the right mix of staff? Are your KM projects aligned with your firm's business strategy? Is each staff member engaged in the right mix of projects? And, is their work being done in the most cost effective way possible? Once you can answer yes to all of these questions, you've probably done all you can do with respect to sensible cost cutting.

If cutting costs is tough, growing the revenue of the KM department can be even tougher. It may be possible for KM staff to get involved in client billable work, but chances are that the billable work will at best account for only a small fraction of total time spent. So how about helping grow the revenue of the firm? Now we're onto something interesting. As you think about implementing KM projects that enhance fee-earning capability, first see if you can identify activities for which there is a direct line between KM efforts and revenue. (We've talked before about the challenges of KM ROI, but that doesn't absolve us from the responsibility of looking for ROI opportunities.) These opportunities can run the gamut from improving realization rates (by maximizing the value of the services rendered) to helping to develop new client services or new market share. Regardless of which revenue enhancing strategies you pursue, be sure that at the planning stage you identify appropriate metrics and methods for tracking KM's contribution to the top line. Too many successful KM programs have gone unnoticed by law firm management because knowledge managers failed to institute a reliable approach to metrics early in the life of the program.

Over the course of the next 18 months, we will be hearing stories of firms that managed (seemingly against the odds) to turn in good results. Pay particular attention to those cases where smart knowledge management made a difference. Hopefully, your firm will be one of those success stories.

(** I've reproduced the numbers faithfully, even though they add up to 101%.)

December 3, 2008

Chasing a Moving Target

When I first began talking years ago about the need to consider more than technology when implementing a knowledge management program, it seemed like a good start to have my technophile friends concede that there just might possibly be elements of user behavior, business process and corporate culture that could have an impact on their roll-out of a cool new tech toy. Now, however, it's time we thought in more granular terms about corporate culture.

In a recent post on culture and knowledge management, Carl Frappaolo reminds us that culture is not static. Like many things in life, it responds and adapts to stimulus in its environment. He takes the example of current economic conditions and the impact they are having on previously happy-go-lucky Millennials who had been approaching life quite optimistically based on their relatively adversity free existence to date. Suddenly, they can't find jobs and their outlook on life changes. And, as that outlook changes, the culture of their generation changes.

Similarly, corporate culture changes as it reacts to its environment. Here's how Carl describes that process:
...the culture of a corporation can change, can move backwards if you will, if serious underlying conditions of an organization change. A culture thriving in “self actualization”, comprised of individuals that readily embrace knowledge sharing and social computing can see itself slip backwards, further down the evolution chain, should it be threatened or altered by radical change in profit, a poorly managed merger or acquisition, a change in leadership, or any such situation that alters the states of basic safety and stability.
Taking Carl's reminder to heart, it's not enough to assess your corporate culture early in your tenure and then treat it as a constant. Rather, you have to take regular readings. Are conditions around or inside your law firm shifting? Is the firm's culture shifting to respond? As we move from the years of plenty to the lean years, are people changing the way the way they work and the way they spend? Of course. So, how are you adapting your law firm knowledge management program to suit this cultural shift?

December 2, 2008

Context Matters

Mark McGuinness would like you to test your perception. Take a moment to read his post, Are You Trapped in Black-and-White Thinking, and then tell me which square is darker. He uses this test to illustrate his concern about our tendency to think concretely in black and white terms -- no ambiguities, no shades of gray. In his view, this rigid approach cuts off creativity at the knees.

Spending a little time thinking about the restrictive lenses we use in daily life and how they affect our ability to think creatively is definitely a useful exercise. However, I'd also like to draw your attention to another aspect of this black/white test: Context Matters. When we saw the square surrounded by dark squares, we assumed it was lighter than it was. Equally, when we saw the square surrounded by light squares, we assumed it was darker than it was. In each case, however, the squares in question were exactly the same color. It was the immediate context of those squares that led us to perceive them differently. But, when we look at both of those squares in the context of the entire board, we get a much clearer sense of their true color.

Without getting carried away by this optical illusion, it is helpful to think about the value of context in knowledge management where there isn't always an objectively right answer. There is a lesson here for folks who think super-search is the ultimate answer to knowledge management challenges or who believe that extracting explicit knowledge and warehousing it in a KM repository is the best solution. With each of these approaches you run the risk of losing valuable context that can help the user make sound judgments about the content in question. In the language of law firm knowledge management, model document X may be the perfect precedent in situation Y and a complete disaster in situation Z. The only way you are going to know for sure is by looking at document X in context.

As you think about your approach to content, think about whether you're doing a good job of providing the context necessary to allow users to make wise decisions about the content they choose to use. Context matters.

[Thanks to ProBlogger, Darren Rowse, for pointing out Mark McGuinness' post.]

December 1, 2008

Safe Mode

I spent some time this past weekend working through some problems I was having on my home computer with Mozilla Firefox. After doing a little research, I found the way through the problem by using the safe mode Mozilla provided. What a brilliant option!

We've talked often about the need to tolerate failure in order to maximize the opportunities for innovation. However, for many risk averse businesses, this prospect is too scary to contemplate much less implement. Dave Snowden draws the useful distinction between the fail-safe approach versus the safe-fail approach. The former is the favorite of anxious risk managers who don't want anything to go wrong -- ever. The latter is favored by managers who understand that innovation usually is the result of trial and error.

If we're serious about innovation, we should consider developing some safe modes of operating in which temporary changes can be tried without great risk. If we, like Mozilla, can find a way to reduce the downside of failure, then we open the door to innovation. Of course, sometimes the really great breakthroughs come about only when we take large gambles. However, until we're ready to really roll the dice, testing incremental improvements in safe mode may be a happy compromise. After all, innovation that results in improvements -- no matter how small -- moves your knowledge management program and your organization forward. The alternative is safe stagnation.