K Street Newsletter :: Directions

December 2020    |    VOLUME 18, ISSUE 12

Season’s Greetings

We've been publishing Directions since Knowledge Street's first year in 2003, trying to find a few things each month that were interesting, useful or both. It’s been our only real marketing vehicle -- a way to introduce ourselves to new customers as well as remind old customers that we're out there. Traditionally, we made the December issue a little shorter. Each year-end issue included a "best of" list, with links to a few of our favorite articles from the previous 12 months. But we dropped our on-line archive when we remade the site in 2014, so the December issue that year was much like any other.

Starting in 2015, we took a slightly different approach, and we're repeating that in 2020. The articles in this issue have all appeared before and are being reprinted in their entirety. If you read them the first time, you can read them again! Or not. But if you missed them, we think you'll find them worth a look. The best of the season to all our readers, be they friends, family, colleagues or customers. Ho, ho, ho.


The Hummingbird Effect

One of the presumed benefits of Knowledge Management is that it would spur innovation. The assumption is that if more people had better access to more information (and experts), ideas would travel more quickly and new cross-connections would be recognized. Steven Johnson is one of our favorite writers in this space, and he examines the mechanisms of innovation in How We Got to Now. He also gets credit for coining this term, which refers to the fact that innovation in one field sometimes triggers innovation in an entirely different domain.

The name derives from the interesting co-evolution of flowers and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds developed the ability to hover so they could sip nectar from flowers, a food delivery system that was intended to attract insects and support pollination. So the mechanisms of plant reproduction led to new wing structures in an entirely different kingdom. The history of ideas evolves in a similar way. The printing press revolutionized the information business by making books affordable, but it also created a new demand for eyeglasses. It's too soon to tell whether KM has actually led to any meaningful innovations, but perhaps someday there will be a good story to tell. In the meantime, you can read a long excerpt from Johnson's book at medium.com. Interesting reading.


Street Smarts 205: Be authentic.

It's not hard to find advice on effective communications, and there are lots of articles suggesting basic dos and don'ts. Most of us who do this for a living understand the  importance of knowing your audience, getting to the point, and making effective use of visuals where possible. Humor is also a good way to break down barriers. But there's probably nothing more important than having an authentic voice. It's the best way to establish the kind of relationship with your audience that will build trust. If you're authentic, people are more likely to believe you.

That's not quite the same thing as being honest, which is obviously important. If you come across as disingenuous or phony, people may doubt your message even if you've got all your facts in order. It's something that politicians are good at, and it's something worth cultivating. Like mom always said, be yourself. You'll find other good communication tips in this article.


Facts Matter

We may seem to be living in a post-truth era, but facts still matter in marketing communications. Good storytelling engages with the audience on an emotional level, and research shows that data also plays an important role. Audiences are not just passive receivers of information. They have questions in mind and particular interests to address. You can better understand them through surveys and various web analytics. Understanding what those questions are, and when they're being asked, helps companies answer them in creative ways. And that boosts the credibility and impact of the overall communication.

Great stories involve a narrative arc but also visualization and detail, and when those details are woven into a narrative effectively they make the story complete.If you can add data visualizations to your content, you can lead viewers to the same sorts of Aha! moments that prompted you to launch a particular product or campaign. When observations are supported by data, it can boost lead generation and improve customer retention. You need to decide what data elements are most important, then decide the best way to present them.

The Humble Checklist

In the world of Knowledge Management, folks talk a lot about KM systems, and they tend to fall into two camps. First, there are knowledge repositories, designed to help users find information related to a given topic. In this kind of system, you're talking about search tools and information taxonomies. There are also tacit knowledge systems, designed to help users connect with human experts. In this kind of system you're talking about corporate yellow pages and social media platforms. But these aren't the only tools available when it comes to managing knowledge. A simple checklist is a KM tool in the purist form: a device to codify best practices in the most condensed form possible.

It's an interesting area, and one that has been deeply explored by Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Harvard Medical School. He did a casual study of ways to improve surgical outcomes, and discovered that a two-minute, pre-op checklist made a dramatic difference. The idea, as described in this NPR interview, is simply that doctors are human and can make mistakes. And it led him to become a full-bore crusader for the concept, as he describes in The Checklist Manifesto.  Something like KM can seem awfully high-fallutin, but it's really just a new way of looking at the ways in which people approach complexity and problem solving. We all do it all the time, whether or not we think of it as Knowledge Management. And for further reading, here's a list of ten reasons why you need checklists.




Directions is an electronic newsletter about things related to KM & Communications, published on the second Wednesday of each month (check out the current issue above). It’s a double opt-in system, which means you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you really want it. Once you click on the link in that mail, you’ll be signed up. You can always unsubscribe using the same link (or by using the link provided in every issue). We will absolutely not give your address to any third parties. What are we, crazy?

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