Organization in the Way

Another example of the push and pull between individuals and the larger organization – which can also be seen as a question of decentralization vs. centralization – is discussed in Organization in the Way: How decentralization hobbles the user experience by Peter Merholz and linked to by Karl on his Information Management Weblog.

Putting, for example, web publishing capabilities in the hands of many de-centralized units within a business is the goal of many Content Mgt projects. But, without strong central leadership, organizations often lose site of the goals and audience. So, how best to structure web content creation, especially given that this role is often an add-on in many organizations?

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Making Time to Learn

From Learning and Training Innovations magazine is the article Making Time to Learn. The author presents several approaches to overcome the problem “lack of time is the major impediment to learning,” including:

  • Make learning an official, voiced company or unit goal (iow, Give your employees permission to learn)
  • Link training explicitly to individual goals
  • Tie training to annual performance reviews

A key quote from the article:

Many companies understand the links between ongoing learning, a knowledgeable workforce, high performance, and ultimate business success. Truly enlightened companies also walk the talk. They make professional development a voiced, company goal, and they support the alignment of corporate, unit, and individual goals (emphasis added by me). Continued learning is an expectation and often a requirement- whether a course required upon becoming a manager, training for specific skills required for a new task, or a training program tied to a company event, such as budgeting, or to a company initiative, such as a change effort.

A lot of discussion of KM involves the relative value/importance of organizational vs. personal KM. A focus on aligning all aspects of the KM spectrum, as in the learning example here, I think is a more appropriate approach than a focus on any single aspect. Obviously, each individual area needs a focus to improve performance at that level, but only if it is not at the expense of the whole effort.

Best Practices in Action – Video Game Strategy Guides

The other day my 13-year old (Zeke) decided he was going to sit down and “beat” the game SuperMario 64 on the Nintendo 64. We’ve had the game since it first came out with the N64 (I think in ’96) and he played the game quite a bit over the years, but he had never beaten the game before. (In point of fact, he never expressed much interest in beating it and simply enjoyed playing it.)

If you’re not familiar with the game, it is like many others: Your character is on a mission to save the princess, and to do that you have to navigate a bunch of worlds on a bunch of levels and overcome the enemy to collect coins and stars. If you collect all 120 stars, you’ve beaten the game. Not only do you have to figure out how the character works (moves, jumps, etc), you have to figure out how to get around.

To help him in his quest, Zeke used the “official” strategy guide for SuperMario 64. The strategy guide is basically a beginning to end description of the game, including maps of the various worlds/levels, location of stars and other special items, and tips on how to overcome enemies, etc. An excellent example, in other words, of best practices in the form of explicit knowledge of the game.

If you’re not familiar with these types of strategy guides or you’re not a gamer, your first thought may be something along the lines of, “But that’s cheating, if you know where everything is and how to do it.” As we all know, however, just because you have the instructions for something doesn’t mean you have the ability to execute those instructions.

Out of curiosity, I convinced Zeke to let me try one of the more difficult levels towards the end of the game. Strategy guide in hand, Zeke watching and giving advice, it still took me many (many many) tries before I had accumulated the skill (tacit knowledge) to do what I needed to do.

What Zeke brought to the game that allowed him to beat the game relatively quickly (in an almost non-stop all day marathon) was his tacit knowledge of the game including such things as how to control the character, best ways to get around in the worlds, and hitting the jump and punch button at just the right time to get done what you need. He hadn’t played this game in years, but it all came back to him as if it had never left.

I guess the short point of this long story is this: Best practices are good, and sometimes essential, but you can’t always rely on them alone to achieve what you need to do.

Too much information? KM and an organization’s “subconscious”

In recent post, Jack posted a link to a survey being conducted by Marvin Rosenburg on, you guessed it, information overload. Specifically, the survey seeks to gather information on which countermeasures (see below) are most effective:

  1. Personal Factors
  2. Information Characteristics
  3. Task and Process Parameters
  4. Organizational Design
  5. Information Technology

While this particular survey, and in fact most discussions of the topic, focus on the effect of information load on individual knowledge workers, I think it is worthwhile to look at the issue from an organizational standpoint.

When I first became seriously interested in how the human brain, and mind, work I obviously did a lot of reading. One of the facts that stuck with me was the comparison of how much information the human body, brain included, actually receives and processes compared to the amount of information a typical person is consciously aware of. The body/brain recieves millions of bits of information per second, yet we (the conscious part of the system) can only effectively keep about 4 things in our personal RAM (according to David Allen in Getting Things Done).

Organizations, especially large, complex organizations, are not much different. The leadership focuses on a few key things at a time, for the most part ignoring how the parts of the organization are actually getting things done. Assuming the leaders have done their job, the parts are well trained and capable of nearly autonomous action.

Information overload, from an complex system/organization standpoint, occurs when the constant input being received is not properly processed and ends up in – or not very far removed from – its raw form in the “conscious” part. As an example, imagine that every bit of information detected by your skin – the air blowing across the hairs on your arm, the pressure of your fingertips on the keyboard, the tightness or looseness of your clothes – ended up in your conscious thoughts. You would not be able to function because all your RAM was taken up. Now imagine that you had to consciously process everything little thing you hear, see, smell. That is information overload. (According to various sources and based on personal experience, this is what it is like to be autistic, unable to effectively process input.)

The answer, then, is to figure out how to effectively process the information that comes in. Some of this is built in, some of this is learned (nature vs. nurture). If you are injured, nature takes over and forces you to respond. If your shoelace is coming untied, your learning takes over and brings that bit of sensation to the conscious while continuing to ignore the myriad other inputs to the system.

While the human system has evolved to do what it does over many many many millenia, organizations have to figure it out for themselves over much shorter periods. As I’ve said before, I see Knowledge Management as the “sub-conscious” of an organization, making sure that the routine input is handled properly while the non-routine can be brought to the conscious for appropriate action.

Blog software for Mac?

My elder son has an iBook that he uses for some school work. One of the key things he uses it for is a daily journal, where the teacher asks a question and he has to write a response. The teacher will then write a response back. Since he is autistic and still somewhat non-verbal, this helps with his communications skills and getting his thoughts out of his head. Over the last couple of years I’ve set up a couple of different schemes for him to do this, from HyperCard to an AppleWorks database. They work fine, but a blog would be much better.

For various reasons, I don’t want to have him to blog his journal on the internet. I would like to install blog software on the iBook (running OS X 10.3.5), but I’m not familiar enough with the back-end of blogs to know what would work.

Anyone out there have suggestions?