Muscle memory (or, “It’s just like riding a bike…”)

This is kind of a follow up to my last post. I played a round of golf today, a company sponsored event. I haven’t played golf in over two years, and never really played that much. Imagine my surprise when it came back to me pretty easily.

Made me think of the saying, “It’s just like riding a bike, you never forget how” (or something like that). Which got me thinking to the whole idea of explicit knowledge, lessons learned, and best practices. I realized, which I’m sure we all have at one point or another (or several), that you really can’t know how to do something unless you learned how to do it yourself.

Of course, this brings up another old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Yes, you can read books, examine case studies, and otherwise look at how others have done something. Until you’ve held the club in your hands, though, and swung at (and missed, or topped, or sliced, or…) the ball yourself, you don’t really know anything about it. As you practice more, and do the same thing over and over, making tiny improvements here and there, your body remembers.

The neurons, the muscles, the breathing, the posture. It becomes second nature. And once you’ve learned, you NEVER forget. Sure, it may take a while for your body to fully remember (it took mine about 13 holes), but it will remember.

It’s the same with an organization, assuming you have the appropriate “infrastructure”, i.e., sub-conscious (knowledge management).

What is your company’s type?

Just as there are different temperament types for people, it seems reasonable to think that there are different “temperament” types for organizations. Understanding the temperament of the organization you are in – or the organization you are consulting for – can go a long way in helping you do what is best for the organization.

Of course, this leads to the question of how do you determine the temperament of an organization? I did a quick Google search on “Organizational Temperament Type” and I got a lot of results for individual temperament types in the context of organizational behavior, but nothing on the “type” of organizations. Maybe I just used a bad search term.

Is there a questionaire out there that could be applied to an organization? How would you apply it, since you can’t really ask the organization questions. Observation, maybe, where you answer the question for them? Or would you maybe ask different people from different parts of the organization specific questions and then pull them together? Would you use the same 16 types? Or would it be a subset of these? Or would it be completely different?

I’ll continue to search for more on that, but if anyone has thoughts on this or knows of something that has already been done, I’d love to hear about it.

You can contact me at

10 Best Intranets of 2003 (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

A list of this years winners and the critieria used to select the 10 Best Intranets of 2003 (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox). As important, or more important depending on your perspective, Nielsen discusses trends of intranet design and where things are going.

Of course, you can also purchase a detailed report of Intranet usability guidelines, etc.

Good stuff.

Time to Make Tech Work (from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

As I was putting together a business case to focus on making better use of the IT assets we currently own instead of buying/developing more, I received an e-mail notification for Time to Make Tech Work (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox). Perfect timing.

Though the article is full of good ideas, three of them stand out for me (in my current situation):

  • Security as default

  • e-mail must be reconceptualized (also discussed in another AlertBox entry)

  • We need an Internet Control Panel…

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.)

– – — — —– ——–

** 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.

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.

Aren’t all organizations “learning organizations”?

In The Fifth Discipline, author Peter Senge describes the concept of “Organizational Learning” and the “Learning Organization.” I think the book is a great resource, with great ideas (the obvious being the fifth discipline itself – Systems Thinking) and is a must read for anyone trying to improve their organization.

I can’t argue with the idea of Organizational Learning, but I feel the term “learning organization” was an unfortunate choice of words. As described in the book, a “learning organization” is an unusual thing, a good thing. It seems to me, though, that all organizations are “learning” organizations – just as all people learn things everyday, good and bad, whether they are trying to or not, organizations are always learning.

You can track the history of any organization and see it “learn.” This learning presents itself most commonly as the “habits” the organization learns, most of which are unfortunately bad habits. Just as with an individual person with no goals or direction in life, an organization with no leadership to guide it in learning “good” habits will be left to the whims of the individuals in the organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any better labels to offer for what Senge calls the learning organization, at least not yet. (I’m in the same pickle with Knowledge Management, another unfortunate choice of words that doesn’t really seem to accurately describe the concept.)

Negative feedback as model for “training”

Negative feedback…is a way of reaching an equilibrium point despite unpredictable and changing external conditions.

The above quote is from Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steve Johnson, who goes on to say that negative feedback is a way of indirectly pushing a fluid, changeable system toward a goal.

Though not the context in the book, this definition and description of negative feedback is also an excellent definition of training (and, for that matter, learning). For what is training if not the process of getting to a point you want to be at based on continued refinement of what you are doing?

“Autistic” Organizations

Going through some of this stuff about organizational behavior, it struck me that if you look at many organizations as a super-organism, and compare its behavior and characteristics to an individual human’s behavior (a stretch, I know), you will see an organization that looks very much like it is autistic.

You can see all the hallmarks: no theory of mind, overload (inability to effectively process) of information.

“Standardization” of Knowledge Management

Though Knowledge Management has been “hot” for some time now, there is still a debate about whether the field is ready for standardization. There is some debate, in fact, about whether KM can ever be standardized.

This press release from KMCI (Knowledge Management Consortium International) presents a pretty compelling argument that KM is not ready for standardization, at least not from the likes of ISO:

The ISO is not an authority in the KM field. It has not developed specific Knowledge Management expertise or capability over a period of years. It has not developed criteria for standards evaluation and validation that are continuously tested and evaluated, but rather has developed such criteria based on mere consensus in the fields in which standards have been adopted and formulated. It has devoted no time or resources to developing a body of knowledge about the scope and nature of Knowledge Management. And its procedures, processes, and validation criteria are not exempt from critical analysis coming from a KM point of view.

In the view of KMCI, therefore, it is inappropriate for KM organizations to recognize the authority of ANSI or ISO in setting standards for KM. In fact, it is KM, as a discipline, and through its own organizations that should be setting standards for the processes of inquiry followed by ISO and ANSI in arriving at standards in other fields, and not the reverse.

I don’t think it gets any more clearly stated than that.