K Street Newsletter :: Directions

April 2018    |    VOLUME 16, ISSUE 4

Knowledge is Good

You may recognize the title as the motto of Faber College, the mythical center of learning that serves as the backdrop for Animal House. (It was also a slogan we used on buttons to help promote our own KM programs back in the day.) However, knowledge is only good when it's shared, and that was the primary objective for this thing we call Knowledge Management. Would it have spread any faster if it were called Knowledge Sharing? One wonders.

Most companies at least acknowledge that knowledge sharing is a good thing, from leadership to junior staff. However, they may expect it to happen organically, as a natural offshoot of business interactions. That's not how it works. If a company is to have a knowledge-sharing culture, it's something that needs to be nurtured. And this article gives several reasons why it's worth doing. Knowledge sharing promotes employee input, which makes the organization smarter about what's actually going on. Both internally, and in customer relationships. It builds accountability, which is a key element for supporting successful teams. And it helps companies retain talent, since high performers thrive in an environment where there's easy access to information and resources. Organizations that are actively engaged in knowledge sharing will outperform the competition, as long as they have the right tools and incentives in place.

 

Live Your Own Story

The business section of any bookstore is full of volumes written by successful entrepreneurs, telling the stories of how they got to be where they are today. And the scope of those stories is vast, covering business strategies, technology shifts, market changes and competitive factors. There are lessons to be learned there, perhaps, but the most successful companies are the ones that followed their own path. You can't be successful by copying another company's culture or business model. You have to live your own story, and that's a matter of leadership.

Good&Co founder Samar Birwadker offers this advice in an article at entreprenuer.com. He credits his own success to a willingness to start from scratch rather than trying to build on a template borrowed from someone else. His feeling is that if you don't build it yourself, you will never truly own it. At the end of the day, a company's culture is a product of everyone who works there, so hiring people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets will naturally lead to original thinking. A diverse employee base makes a company stronger, and more flexible, too.

 

 

Street Smarts 174: Meet creatively.

The idea of "brainstorming" as a technique for stimulating group creativity goes all the way back to the 30s, and was outlined by Alex Osborn in Your Creative Power in 1948. So it's no surprise that it seems old-fashioned in these days of virtual teams, mobile computing and social media. It's still a good way to generate ideas, but there are some tricks to getting the most bang out of a brainstorming session.

The objective is to leverage multiple points of view, so the first trick is to invite a diverse group of people. Don't just rely on your usual work team, but pull in folks from other parts of the business. It's also a good idea to keep the session short and focused. Aim for less than 30 minutes and make sure everyone understands that's the time limit. No off topic banter or side-bar conversations, and turn off the smartphones. Finally, help everyone be prepared by providing some context and goals, at least two business days before the meeting. You want everyone to be ready when the meeting kicks off, so you don't waste time going over the background. You'll find more ideas in this article. Give it a look, and happy brainstorming!
 

 

It's Not (Just) the Money

Every company wants its workers to be engaged and enthusiastic, which is something the workers want as well. Traditionally, money is considered the greatest motivator, and many companies feel the best way to keep their employees happy is to pay them as much as they can afford. Studies suggest that's not the case, though, and money is only part of the employee satisfaction equation. Based on his own research, psychologist and author Barry Schwartz suggests companies ask themselves four questions, first considering if the work itself is engaging and meaningful.

Employees are more motivated when they're given autonomy, and feel they have a level of independence and flexibility. A boss who micro manages you is a real morale killer. Workers also want opportunities for personal development, so they don't feel stuck in a boring routine. Finally, a positive social environment that recognizes performance and rewards teamwork is a very strong factor in overall satisfaction. If you can deliver on those four vectors (meaningful work, worker autonomy, personal development and a supportive environment), you'll get good results without constant salary pressure. For another take on the same question, check this article about seven pillars for building a positive workplace culture.

 

The Last 20 Inches

There's a lot of buzz today about infographics, which is an area we've worked in since before Knowledge Street. Twenty years ago, people called it Information Design --the art of presenting information in a way that fosters understanding. Our hero in this field is Edward Tufte, and we highly recommend any or all of his books on the subject. His lectures are also well worth your time.

This article from the MIT Technology Review considers one particular part of "the information journey:" the last 20 inches from the screen to the viewer. There's a lot of raw data available on the Web, but access to it often comes without context. Visualization tools are critical if people are to extract its meaning. The article includes several examples of how such tools make things easier. There's a mail interface that uses email metadata to present a picture of the user's social network. It lets people consider email in terms of correspondents rather than just as stacks of messages. There's also a link to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, which visualizes international trade data that would otherwise be inaccessible. And another maps internationally known celebrities to their birth countries, and categorizes them by profession. We think all of this stuff is very cool.


 

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