K Street Newsletter :: Directions

September 2019    |    VOLUME 17, ISSUE 9

We're Older Than We've Ever Been

You may not be able to recall September 2002 in much detail, but it was a month of interesting news. Serena Williams won her second US title, beating sister Venus at the US Open. Josh Whedon's Firefly had its debut on Fox. The Bush Administration announced plans to invade Iraq, sparking protests around the world. Switzerland joined the United Nations. And Knowledge Street opened its doors, with an intended focus on Knowledge Management and Communications. Like Serena, we're still here.

Our services have evolved over the years, moving away from formal KM and into general MarCom work. We've largely moved away from web site building, but still consult on web design. We've written video scripts, designed and administered audience surveys, developed messaging plans, produced desktop videos and offered advice on branding. We've handled everything from the smallest copywriting jobs to multi-phased communications programs (from logo design to press releases). It's been a hoot, to be honest. So each September, we like to take a moment to pause, smell the coffee, acknowledge the anniversary, and say thanks. Thanks to our clients, and thanks to all the friends and colleagues who've supported us.
 

Solve One, Fix Many

When you think of your last call to customer service, you probably won't be thinking of its Knowledge Management aspects. But knowledge-centric processes are really at the heart of good customer service. Companies that understand this can address individual calls more efficiently. And by learning from the patterns in call center activity, they can also find ways to remediate problems and head off complaints before they happen. It's the idea of solve one, fix many.

This article outlines a number of scenarios where KM concepts can enhance the customer experience. One scenario imagines a media streaming service that has a short glitch in its output. The system would know who was watching at the time. An old fashioned approach would be wait for complaints and issue refunds on request. But the system could also send an immediate email apology, as well as a refund and a coupon code for a free movie. It would be a fully automated routine that detected the problem, corrected it and worked to compensate the customer. Service like that can really drive loyalty. People will talk about it.
 

 

Street Smarts 191: Create a knowledge sharing culture.

One thing that KM practitioners understand is that Knowledge Management isn't something that can be addressed by technology alone. Technology can make it easier and more efficient, but KM is really an organizational or cultural issue. In some organizations, people take naturally to knowledge sharing and collaboration is par for the course. In others, people tend to hoard their knowledge, something that's often driven by fear. Fear of looking foolish or fear of losing a possible competitive advantage. One of our favorite papers from the early days is Georg von Krogh's "Care in Knowledge Creation." He postulates that "low care" cultures are characterized by distrust, a lack of empathy, little or no access to help, authoritative judgments and cowardice. That kind of culture will never succeed with Knowledge Management.

But it doesn't have to be that way. This article offers some tips for building a culture that will be more open to collaboration and sharing. It suggests that you design work tasks in a way that will encourage sharing. Aim for a low pressure environment, by not overloading your team and supporting individual autonomy. Don't emphasize competition, and don't label people as winners or losers. Don't use performance appraisals as a way to send that same message. Most of all, be a positive role model. Demonstrate that you trust your colleagues to make use of the information you share with them, and give explicit credit to folks who share their knowledge with you.
 

 

Looking to Science Fiction

Some questions seem to have obvious, if complex solutions, but others can leave us in the dark. This article recalls that New York City was facing a horse-manure crisis at the end of the 19th century. In 1898, urban planners were completely at a loss for how to address the problem. They weren't able to imagine horseless transportation, even though it was less than 20 years away. The author thinks there's at least one way to open your mind to less obvious outcomes: read more science fiction.

Reading science fiction gives you a taste of alternative realities, and can help free your thinking from artificial constraints. It can lead you to ask different questions and consider new possibilities. It's not that it's directly predictive, but it can re-frame your perspective and help you question your assumptions. Some recommendations? How about Infomacracy, which explores how software could alter public institutions. Or New York 2140, about the intersection of rising sea levels and stock markets. Or Change Agent, about the sweeping effects of synthetic biology. The truth is out there.
 

Going with the Flow

Research shows that most people do best at creative tasks when they're in a state of "flow." That's what happens when you become so engrossed in what you're doing that you lose track of time. And that's the mental state that best supports creativity. Unfortunately, if you leave those flow moments to chance, you may be undercutting your creative potential. It's easy to be distracted by noncreative tasks, because they sometimes feel more important. This article offers several tips to help move into a flow state.

Start by eliminating distractions. Turn off your phone, sign out of your email client and shut off any social media channels. Try to find a flow cycle that's right for you. How long can you work with intense focus before taking a break? One study found that 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break worked well, but you want to find a time that reflects your natural sweet spot. Once you've selected a time, be purposeful about it. Anything you do while working toward a creative goal will contribute to the flow, even if it has no obvious connection to the outcome. Finally, be disciplined about the breaks. When your flow timer goes off, take a break. Harnessing flow states can be a key to creative fulfillment, so it's a skill that's well worth developing.
 

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