posted 18 Dec 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 4
Letter from… Singapore
By Jerry Ash
For the past seven years I have been virtually virtual in my presence in the knowledge management world. The last time I attended a physical gathering of knowledge management (KM) thought leaders and practitioners was at a think tank in Austin, Texas more than a decade ago.
Perhaps I’ve been rationalising my virtual presence to cover for my lack of travel money, but I honestly have believed one can build strong personal relationships without face-to-face (f2f) contact. After all, e-mail is just another communications medium and it’s as good as the skills of its users. I am a professional communicator; I have a conversational writing style and I have established some strong virtual connections over the past 12 years.
But I have to admit – my experience at KM Asia taught me there’s nothing like human contact. I remember the early days of the Association of Knowledgework when I met Steve Denning for lunch in Washington, DC; he told me that because of our meeting, he felt more connected. We have been close personal friends ever since, sharing what we might not otherwise share in a virtual, setting. There are others in my personal network who are of the same mind.
Leif Edvinsson, one of the earliest pioneers in KM practice was the lead keynote at KM Asia and, while we had been connected by a close mutual friend, we had never met f2f until KM Asia. I don’t know what Leif learned about me at the conference, but I learned enough about Leif to deepen my respect for him as a true gentleman, scholar, practitioner and friend.
His deep wisdom gave the conference a great start, but it was his constant presence on the ‘A’ row (front and centre) of the theatre that impressed me most. Of the three keynote speakers, he was the only one who was not virtual and made the effort to make himself available to attendees from start to finish. And, as many of us were competing with him on the last day for workshop attendance, Leif attracted the second largest group, topped only by Alex and David Bennet.
I had not ‘met’ David Bennet virtually, but had developed a strong professional relationship with his wife and business partner, Alex Bennet, the spiritual leader of programmes at their Mountain Quest Institute and Retreat in my native state of West Virginia. We became acquainted some time ago when I wrote a case report on the US Department of Navy, titled ‘The Art of War’ (see IK, May 2005). Alex knows how to build close virtual relationships, but our time together at KM Asia gave us a new dimension – a close personal relationship.
Alex and David were also at the conference. I noticed that if no one sought them out during breaks, they would approach attendees in the true style of KM evangelists.
I also want to give a special mention to Richard Cross, former ‘Xeroid’ (Xerox employee) who is now an independent KM consultant. Richard has been collaborating with me for more than a year now. He was not a speaker but came to KM Asia on his own partly to meet me in the flesh. I talked the conference organisers into squeezing some time for Richard and I to present two KM role plays.
In the first I played the character of the CEO of a 150-year-old life insurance company who was grabbing a snack in an airport somewhere. He had just finished a meeting with his board and key stockholders where he revealed the company would be celebrating its 150th birthday by going out of business because of its resistance to change in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Richard was the company’s chief knowledge officer (CKO), though I didn’t recognise him and wasn’t particularly pleased to make his acquaintance at that moment.
But Richard spotted me and came right over. Soon I was spilling my guts to Richard about the events at the company and Richard was suggesting possible solutions taken from the KM bag of ideas. The skit ended with Richard being invited to a game of tennis next day and a bite to eat afterwards. They would talk strategic solutions.
In the next skit I was the chief learning officer of the company and came to Richard’s office to see if I could capitalise on his good fortune by proposing collaborative effort encompassing training and development, self-directed learning and KM.
In particular, I recognised the communities of practice Richard was developing and suggested we might insert the learning initiatives of my department into the infrastructure and mission of his and participate in his plan for saving the company. Richard was very receptive because KM strategy also focused on real-time learning through knowledge sharing. He put me on the multi-disciplinary team he was forming to develop a change proposal for the company, which would be built around KM theory and practice.
During the three days I met other ‘old virtual friends’ including David Gurteen and Raj Datta (see Inside Knowledge, July/August 2006) and came away with deeper relationships. So, I’ve learned the value of f2f and can’t wait for the next Ark Group event or KM Europe . . . maybe as a speaker (hint, hint)...
Jerry Ash, KM coach and writer, can be contacted by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.