More on Tacit Knowledge…

Sitting here studying some statistics – I’m sorry, “quantitative analysis” – listening to and watching a Joe Satriani DVD: Live in San Francisco (2001). I love listening to his music, and enjoy watching him and his band play even more.

Part of my fascination, especially as an amateur piano player, is watching the ease with they play even the most difficult pieces. It is as if their fingers, hands, indeed their whole bodies just know what to do. Of course, my point is exactly that: through extensive training, practice, repetition, and learning from mistakes, the body basically goes on autopilot.

This is not to take away from the performance. Not at all. You can still see the concentration it takes, especially on the difficult ones (they all look difficult to me, but that is beside the point), but it is a comfortable concentration. They are focused on the outcome, not on the playing.

They are having a hell of a lot of fun, and you can tell.


apropos to nothing…

Going through a bunch of stuff about Knowledge Management, one of the most common things you come across is the various definitions of things like data, information, knowledge, wisdom, etc. etc. Every now and then, you will come across a discussion of noise, but following my recent thoughts on PowerPoint I don’t think noise is given quite its due share.

I pick on PowerPoint for obvious reasons: The actual content in a typical PowerPoint presentation is a tiny percentage of the total number of bits within a presentation file. Even using PowerPoint properly, there is usually a huge amount of junk on every slide (pictures, etc) that add no value to the overall presentation.

When looking at how you can use IT resources effectively, reducing the noise (or more appropriately, raising the signal to noise ratio) should be right at the top of the list of things to do.

Analog vs. Digital

There are many ways to look at the differences between analog and digital. The way music CD are produced provides a useful analogy to use when looking at analog vs. digital uses of corporate information technology.

There are three acronyms printed on CD cases to indicate how the music was recorded, mastered and stored: (definitions from the dictionary)

  • AAD means that the music was recorded in analogue (A), mastered in analogue (A) and then stored digitally (D).

  • ADD means that the music was recorded in analogue (A), mastered in digital (D) and then stored digitally (D).

  • DDD means that the music was recorded in digital (D), mastered in digital (D) and then stored digitally (D).

Obviously, since we are talking about CDs the last letter will always be D, since a CD is by definitition digital storage. You could extend these definitions to include analog storage (LP or analog tape), so that you would have a wide range of possibilities: AAA, ADA, AAD, ADD, DAA, DDA,DAD, DDD.

I propose use of a similar classification system for business processes, either organizational or individual. Obviously, the three positions will not represent recording, mastering, and storage but something more appropriate to business processes. I suggest the following:

  • Position One:
    • A = Initiated “in person”, either face-to-face or via telephone, etc.
    • D = Initiated in Bits

  • Position Two:
    • A = Processed manually, either on paper or on a computer or other device (such as a PDA)
    • D = Processed automatically

  • Position Three:
    • A = Relevant information maintained by individuals
    • D = Relevant information automatically maintained in a central location

Hmmm. Will need some tweaking, but I believe it is a good starting point. Will look back on it and see how it fits as I layout various processes.

Quick example of individual productivity gains/savings based on “digital thinking”

Using the ideas from my last post I worked this up as a quick example of how changing the way you do things to take advantage of the capabilities of IT (hereafter referred to as digital thinking) can save you money (or at least productivity):

Using MS Powerpoint in an analog** way to build presentations is very time consuming. You build each slide from scratch, or you copy an old presentation and go through and replace the information, hoping it all fits, etc. You may change a font here or there, have to move a text box because the size isn’t quite the same as it was before. A lot of time wasted worrying about formatting the data. A very conservative estimate for the amount of time spent on formatting is ten minutes per presentation.

Using Powerpoint in a digital way (that is, how it was intended to be used), you have a slide master that takes care of all the formatting for you. You simply hit Ctrl+M to create a new slide and start filling in the blanks. The spacing is correct, the fonts are correct, the colors are correct.

Now imagine you have an organization where 15 presentations are created/edited, on average, every day. Using Powerpoint in an analog way results in a significant productivity loss:

(10 minutes/presentation) – unnecessary time spent on formatting

*(15 presentations/day)

*(250 days/year) – obviously work days, not calendar days

*(30 dollars/hour) – need to consider loaded rate, not just salary, this is obviously a WAG

*(1 hour/60 minutes) – to get all the units to work out


$18,750 / year

Nearly 20 grand a year spent for people to tweak fonts and box sizes instead of adding true value to the content of the presentation. (Again, these numbers are very conservative, actual productivity loss because of this is probably much, much worse.)

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** By analog, here I mean using PowerPoint as a collection of pages, each of which must be individually formatted and prepared, similar to the old way of laying out and preparing overhead transparencies. Before you say to yourself, “No one does that anymore,” consider that just yesterday I sat through a presentation given using transparencies and an overhead projector, with slides that were very recently created, obviously slide by slide.

Foundations for Leadership training course

Writing about The Fifth Discipline got me thinking about it all over again. I have to admit that the last time I read the book as a whole was well over a year ago, and it has been several months since I’ve even referenced it. As a result, everything I said in my last post is likely a load of hooey. Since I don’t have the book handy, I did the next best thing and went to the Society of Organizational Learning‘s site to see what is new in the area of organizational learning.

The leading item was the Foundations for Leadership course of the subject of this post. From the site, who should attend:

This course is intended for everyone commited to deepening their capacity for effective leadership – including those in senior management positions and those with no formal authority. Teams are encouraged to attend to further develop their collective leadership.

I’ll leave the rest of the site for you to explore…

What if the “organization” doesn’t want to learn?

Anticipated learning from the Foundations for Leadership course mentioned before:

The special contribution of this leadership course comes as people discover the profound connections between personal mastery and systems thinking, seeing that deep change in our social systems and in oneself are inseparable from each other.

For the target audience of the course, this is perfect. Anyone willing to take the three days and spend the tuition obviously wants to gain personal mastery and affect a deep change in themselves and social systems. And these people are typically the leaders, whether formal or not, of an organization that they want to change.

Unfortunately, the members of an organization – especially a large and well established (ie, old) organization – may not have this same desire. How does an organization overcome this lack of interest and turn it into the burning desire to grow and excel that is the trademark of a learning organization?

In a word: LEADERSHIP.