Kate Pugh has been dealing with hard Enterprise Collaboration issues for years. She uses proven methodologies of “old school” Knowledge Management and Systems Analysis to solve real-world problems. And she recently captured her signature methodology in a book “Sharing Hidden Know-How: How managers solve thorny problems with the knowledge jam”. This review highlights some of the valuable gems in the book, and why you should read this book too. (Note: Books cost less than a tank of gas and take you farther.)
Why read Sharing Hidden Know-How? It deals with an old problem that will not go away any time soon. Organizations have people who need to know something that other people there already know. They need to get it together. As simple as it sounds – getting knowledge seekers to find knowledge originators is a huge problem in a large and dynamic organization. Getting knowledge originators to convey knowledge to seekers in a useful manner is yet another huge problem. The Enterprise 2.0 fantasy is that new social business tools solve these problems. Yes, they help. But they alone are not the solution. It is the myth of becoming athletic by owning an expensive treadmill. Reality tells me that you need more than gear. Sometimes you need an expert personal trainer, maybe a physical therapist too, to get you to peak function. So let’s talk about reality. This is where the Knowledge Jam comes in.
Kate’s clients reach the critical realization they need results and help. Hope is not a business plan. As you’ll see in her book, she is all about business and process. She takes the best theory from the experts and lessons she learned at the school of reality and blends them to make the Jam. The “Jam” methodology is inspired by the larger “IBM innovation jam” events. It’s an event that brings people together, a focus that makes the event purposeful, and a good amount of preparation and post-processing. A Knowledge Jam is not a fancy name for a well-facilitated meeting – it is the game plan for something more like a full-scale intervention.
Kate describes the methodology via detailed explanations and examples. For every concept shared, she provides insight that is one step deeper than you might have expected. And she includes personal anecdotes too. She does not negate the online-social tools, but rather helps you focus on the strategy of their usage, along with the reality of the high-touch process for those targeted situations.
The book begins, as many do, with context setting stories and descriptions of the problems as well as the limitations of existing solutions. It’s all good stuff. But then it gets really good – when Kate gets into the thought-preparation behind the methodology. This is the part that everyone can use to be a more effective professional.
Chapter 4 is probably my favorite of the book. Kate gets take the word “conversation” and turns it into an art form – based on guidance and insight from Harvard Professor Chris Argyris and MIT/Dialogos’ William Isaacs, Kate’s words go very deep into the fundamentals of engaging in a purposeful conversation – both from the perspective of organizational culture as well as personal behavior. She describes the process of inquiry, how specifically to prepare yourself to listen, how to receive information in a manner that helps you create a mental model that can be preserved as knowledge heritage, without losing details by over-abstracting. She breaks down the art of dialogue into 4 component steps, and shows you how to identify when you veer off these steps into areas that limit the success of the conversation.
I read a fair number of books – I never see authors get to this level of insight in a way that combines business practicality with what I might best describe as “spiritual posture”.
Chapters 5 and 7 take you post-conversation into the art of making knowledge into a durable asset – the often-forgotten part of the process.
In Chapter 8, Kate collects a dozen other knowledge gathering methodologies and compares them to the Knowledge Jam – highlighting their strengths. It’s no surprise that she ranks the Jam as the best – and you can decide if you agree. But you get to see a very helpful review of the alternatives.
There are 5 appendices – with templates and case-studies. Content rich.
A summary of one of Kate’s case studies might help bring this together for you: A medical non-profit dedicated to improving worldwide healthcare hired Kate to run a knowledge jam for some of their client hospitals. They noticed that some of the medical teams seemed to “gel” faster than others – and in environments where there are frequent re-organizations of the teams, this ability to gel faster results in far fewer medical mistakes. Learning how to make new medical teams gel faster means more lives are saved. (Whoa!) You can’t put up a wiki and get a bunch of doctors and nurses to describe (or read) how to form a team. Reality does not work that way. Getting any value out of the issue requires understanding the very nature of the question, finding the right people to help, taking them on the journey to self-discovery, and creating something from the conversation that can be taken to other hospital administrators and implemented: aka. A Knowledge Jam.
This book is an excellent resource for anyone who needs to understand how to transfer know-how between people. And if you work in an organization and care about knowledge – then this means you.
Let me reveal my bias (we all have biases – I believe it’s important to reveal them): I had the opportunity to work with Kate at Fidelity Investments – where she ran the KM program for one of Fidelity’s largest companies. And she quoted this bog in her book. (cool!) She’s also someone I greatly admire. So yes, I knew that her book was going to be great because I’ve seen the quality of her work – and it is top notch.