posted 1 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 2
Don’t patch; break it
Here I go again, getting personal. But I cannot think of another or better way to share the lessons learnt from the experiences I’ve had over this past year, and the impact this issue’s Be’er Sheva report has had on me and the Association of Knowledgework (AOK).
Perhaps you will remember a book published in 1991 titled If It Ain’t Broke . . . Break It! And Other Unconventional Wisdom for a Changing Business World, written by Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Patler. Kriegel was a former all-American athlete and pioneer in the field of performance psychology. Patler was president of the BJT Group that brought ‘Break-It!’ thinking to corporations, associations and governments.
The promotional blurb on the back of the book noted the conventional business wisdom of the time (and too much so today) was to “work harder and faster”, “stay the course”, “don’t mess with success”. Ahead of most of our KM times, these guys said that this conventional wisdom would doom enterprises with outmoded ideas, obsolescence and failure. They said that in the ’90s, people had to turn the old rules inside out, upside down and backwards not only to succeed but to survive.
I went scrambling to my personal library to dust off that book when the juxtaposition of my writing of the Be’er Sheva report clicked with my AOK woes. And now (as I announced in the final paragraph of this month’s cover feature) the Association of Knowledgework has taken its first steps toward transforming itself from worn out ‘talk network’ to dynamic ‘Enterprise Future Centre’.
The AOK woes were crucial. After seven years of dynamic knowledge exchange and applause, a malaise had set in. If you have not yet had the benefit of the wealth of knowledge archived over those seven years you should review one or all of the Next Generation Knowledge Management (NGKM) volumes published by Ark Group (see contact information below). But this year, the dialogues were not always producing the in-depth quality they once had.
It was clear to me that we were at a point where we had exhausted all the primary topics and I began searching for fresh thinking by engaging practitioners more than thought leaders as guest moderators. Many of these practitioners were indeed practical thought leaders in their own right and good conversation was possible. Nevertheless, the refocus on the practical application of KM lost purchase among many of the thought leaders. Contributors to the dialogues began to dwindle.
Amidst that void, a handful of stalwarts carried the water. Most times their conversations were respectable and sometimes a few of them got out of hand. Members complained the network was becoming an unsafe environment - further reducing activity – and I was noticing we were not generating an archive that would suitably convert someday to another volume of NGKM. Even the good stuff was ‘old stuff’ and would be redundant with much that would fill the pages of NGKM through Volume 5.
Then the craziness began. I chastised a couple of the stalwarts about ungentlemanly conduct which actually caused an escalation, the removal of one member, the resignation of two and one subjected to an approval process.
Now some of the stalwarts were dissidents, unhappy with a management process that had been in place and acceptable for over seven years, and characterised me as some sort of power-happy tyrant. I was so shocked and offended, I would not fuel such accusations by attempting to defend AOK or myself. It would be like responding to the question ‘Have you stopped beating your wife’
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first identified the ‘Stages of Grief’ as:
Denial (this isn’t happening to me!);
Anger (why is this happening to me?);
Bargaining (I promise I’ll be a better person if . . .);
Depression (I don’t care anymore);
Acceptance (I’m ready for whatever comes).
I went through all that, except for the bargaining part to which I actually agreed, but it never came to pass.
A lesser known definition of the stages of grief is described by Dr. Roberta Temes in the book Living With An Empty Chair:
Disorganisation (intensely painful feelings of loss);
Reorganisation (re-entry into a more ‘normal’ social life).
I like this definition better and think it compatible with the If It Ain’t Broke ... Break It! Philosophy – reorganise and move on.
Then in the midst of all this, serendipity struck. Some force caused me to do the Be’er Sheva story just as the AOK problems were coming to a head. I had just hosted a two-week STAR Series Dialogue that produced a disappointing 15 posts. And I had suspended the Series until further notice, fearing the voluntary time of the guest moderators I had recruited would be given short shrift.
Like Dr. Temes describes, I was at first numb, then having intense feelings of painful loss, not knowing whether I would ever restart the STAR Series Dialogues.
As time passed, I began feeling better about the suspension and philosophical about the events that led up to it. That’s when I grabbed the Break It book and on its heels came my lengthy collaboration with Ron Dvir. With almost every word I felt myself drifting further away from any thought of reviving the STAR Series, which had become the core of AOK.
Many of my strongest supporters were urging me to reopen the Series, but when I floated the idea of transforming AOK from ‘talk network’ to future centre, the idea soared. As a future centre, we won’t be engaged in debate and navel gazing: we will be engaged in collaborative conversation and action. We will break out of our small circle of KM aficionados and extend the reach of knowledge management into the strategic futures of as many fields and projects as we can reasonably take on.
And we will keep on learning and sharing knowledge – reorganised and rejuvenated. Just as it was in Be’er Sheva at the teacher development centre, so it can be for any organisation in crisis. If it ain’t broke, break it. You probably just think it ain’t broke anyway. And, even if it’s only coming apart, break it anyway and move on.
Jerry Ash is KM coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, www.kwork.org, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is author of the Ark Group’s Next Generation Knowledge Management series. To order any of the three volumes, contact Adam Scrimshire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerry Ash can be reached at email@example.com. The new AOK Enterprise Future Centre will be recruiting people with a wide range of professional interests and expertise – not just KM specialists, but people engaged in knowledge-driven activity. You are invited to get in on the ground floor and participate in the building of the Future Centre. Join AOK at http://www.kwork.org and get involved.