Dave Snowden

Le sens commun est fort rare

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Its the KM Conference season so I am in Washington for KM World.  I don't know if its a compliment to me or a reflection of harsh facts that I have now keynoted at this event for 12 years on the trot.  And in a couple of weeks I head to Singapore for a repeat of the same longevity at KM Asia.  The flight over yesterday saw me clear 300 emails which is a KM statement in its own right.  Deprived of access to Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia I knuckled down and worked.  I'd also brought the wrong lead for the AA flight so I was paranoid about running out of battery power which resulted in a tight focus.

I have three slots at this event so I am out for the week.  Today was a half day workshop on creating a KM strategy and you can find the slides here.  Now the core material here goes way back over a decade and it's about that long since I last taught it.  I originally developed the method when I had little if any knowledge of complexity theory so it was educational earlier today when I created a slide set for the iPad.  Basically the sequence is fairly simple:

  1. Create a bottom up, narrative based map of all decisions made within the organisation and then identify associated information flows. 
  2. Compare the resultant map with the process model, which is almost inevitably a top down ideal model.
  3. Take executives through the reality of the differences between the two; reality rarely conforms with the ideal.
  4. For each decision cluster as the ASHEN question, aimed to gain multiple perspectives.
  5. In parallel get executives to agree and prioritise the key elements of their organisation – the things that keep them awake at night.
  6. Re-cluster ASHEN into knowledge objects (cohesive things that can be married) and map the dependencies between knowledge objects and the above mentioned key elements.
  7. Define two types of project:  managing one asset impacts many elements & improving one element requires you to manage several assets
  8. Identify common features of those projects and then re-jig to avoid duplication
  9. Map the resulting portfolio of projects onto the Cynefin framework and get started.  This is new, originally the map was on to a cost-risk matrix but the principle is the same.

Now that was the pre-complexity model but there is little reason to alter it.  It managed the three core heuristics of managing a complex situation:

  1. Use finely grained objects – so multiple small projects linked to specific objects rather than grand KM plans
  2. Distributed cognition – mass engagement in defining decisions and ASHEN
  3. Disintermediation – Executives have visibility of the projects and their direct relationship to the various elements that are keeping them awake at night.

Now when I created all of this the best part of two decades ago it just seemed common sense.  But there again complexity is the science of common sense so its applicability is not that much of a surprise. But it remains novel for people, although on the evidence of today well received.  Common sense is all too rare, as Voltaire (our picture for today) said: Le sens commun est fort rare

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