Foregrounds and Backgrounds in Business

In art there is a notion of things being in the foreground and the background when composing a picture. In composing the picture of my portfolio business (and career), I’m playing around with foregrounds and backgrounds.

From the foreground to the background goes Information Management & Knowledge Management expertise and services. To the foreground comes (strongly!) Organisational Change & Learning expertise and services. This perspective switching also comes with a brand change: ‘RHX Group’ takes the IM & KM topical space, and a new brand, ‘Questo’ is the home for the workscape change space. (Questo is one of the business names for the legal entity, ‘The RHX Group Pty Ltd’.)

There’s a different energy and stance for Questo in comparison to RHX Group. It’s what I believe is essential to navigate the future of work and the changing workscape; it’s tackling the challenges for organisations as well as individuals.

As the name suggests, Questo is about quests (exploration, adventure, pioneering, experimentation, emergence) and questions (uncertainty, un-order, challenging assumptions, learning); and there’s a little bit of magic: “Hey Questo!”

Questo becomes my business foreground;  and it comes with its own website and blog space. I, and willing friends, will be writing about the things that makes us Human in an age of advancing technology. ‘Work’ as we knew it is changing in subtle and not so subtle ways, and technology is a big factor in that change. I’d like to help people come to gripes with this situation … and thrive!

As I’ll be investing writing effort and time on the Questo blog, rhxthinking blog will go into hibernation. The posts of old will still be there; there will be few posts of new.

Thanks for being a follower of rhxthinking. Want to now follow the Questo blog? Check it out here!  Questo also has its own Twitter account too.

In the spirit of content re-use, some blog posts from rhxthinking will make an appearance in Questo: You can’t keep good content down!

Signing off from rhxthinking.

Helen P

 

Welcome aboard your flight to the Future of Work

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome abroad Your Work Airways on this flight from the Present to the Future of Work.

Flight attendant or stewardess talking on intercom

Photo Credit: iStock Photo

Before we take off there are a few preparations I’d like to run you through to minimise anxiety and maximise possibility on your career journey.

You might note that our plane is not yet fully built, such is the uncertain nature of the flight you are taking. Don’t let that deter you from the things you can control and organise.

Our Captain today is flying with a compass rather than a map. We fully expect we’ll have to make multiple course corrections as we navigate changing conditions. We have a heading rather than a specific destination. You are going somewhere; you’ll probably know where only as we get closer.

At this time please stow away your luggage or present it to the crew to be taken away. It maybe baggage from your past that will no longer serve you where you are going. Prepare to give up or lose some things.

We anticipate turbulence. When the seatbelt sign comes on, we recommend you stay calm and remain in one place. When things get agitated, there is a temptation to Do Something. Sometimes that best thing you can do is Be Still. Turbulence typically will pass. If you are experience a sense of disequilibrium, know that this is simply a phase as you adapt to a new reality – you are not going mad. There are strategies you can learn to respond and recover from such a state graciously: ‘Mind like water.’

When the seatbelt sign is off, you are invited to get hands on and involved in shaping our flying experience. Our passengers don’t get to be passive spectators – the future is what we make it.

A normal flight would advise you to locate your nearest exit to be used in case of an emergency. You could do that – it can be prudent to have an exit strategy. However, there is a risk that an exit strategy lessens your disposition to take a leap of faith and embrace uncertainty. Like a turtle, you might only make progress if you stick your neck out.

If oxygen masks should appear (or something that seemed to fall on your head) from above – be sure to look after yourself before attending to others around you. If you are struggling to cope, then your needs come first. And remember to Breathe: In, Out and repeat. Oxygen is a fundamental resource for your whole wellbeing.

Reach out for help – your crew are there to help you. You’ll need to identify your own crew. Look about you for a special group of those who you can trust and who will support you with encouragement or a kick in the pants as you might need. Make sure they know they are your crew and you have expectations of the role they will play for you. Consider being the crew for someone else – we all need help at different times.

Should the plane need to make an unexpected landing in unknown conditions, know where to locate your life vest – as you have defined it. When indicated, put it on ensuring it fits your situation. If necessary blow a whistle to attract attention of others who can assist you; your courage to alert them of your predicament is an invitation for their compassionate action.

Unlike normal air travel we won’t be insisting on Flight mode for your communication devices. We recommend openness to variable flows of information and communication as you venture to the future. Something insightful may appear – keep an open mind. To take a break from the information flow, simply disconnect.

Fires have been known to start from excessive decision making. We desire this to be smoke-free flight so we encourage you to lessen decision fatigue by making upfront decisions wherever you can for routine things. Preserve your decision-making abilities for the novel things you have yet to learnt about or resolve.

While there are activities we discourage in the toilets, we admit they are a great place if you need to shut other people out for a time. It’s okay to hide in silent solitude. Silence can be useful if it keeps you from broadcasting an anxious version of yourself into your web of special relationships. It may be a time to listen to yourself and check in with what your inner voice has to say.

This is a flight in which we’ll be figuring stuff out as we go. It can be helpful to write things down, especially when a lot is happening all at once. Whether in the seat pocket in front of you or on your person, consider keeping a notebook so your mind is free to deal with the unexpected, rather than busy trying to remember stuff that could be written down.

On this flight we expect you will need a diverse offering of refreshments. Some of you have boarded with a hunger for knowledge to sustain you on this journey. Others are thirsty for insights to fuel your decision making. Ask for what you need and give yourself suitable time to absorb the full nutrient value. Take a course, digest a book, or savour the goodness of a mentor.

It is our pleasure to provide in-flight entertainment; this consists of an excellent view of the emergent and surprising. It is sure to affect you with a range of emotions as you move through phases of comedy, drama, horror or thriller. We don’t recommend the history channel; your future is an adventure awaiting you in a forward direction – it’s a fiction awaiting to be realised.

For those curious about the future of work, at the top of our inflight recommended reading and viewing list is Lynda Grafton speaking at TEDx on How to be ready for your future and her book, The Shift: The future of work is already here

It’s time to put away things that you don’t need right now – have what you can in order. Know where to put your hands on things quickly; keep large items stowed away for when they are needed.

On behalf of Your Work Airways I’d like to congratulate you on launching yourself to face an unknown future of work. It promises to be unpredictable.

Helen Palmer, co-founder of RHX Group, has not followed a traditional path in her career, nor does she intend to. It’s been her personal experience that she’s made career plans, then life happened and things went in a direction that wasn’t anticipated. As a consequence she’s fascinated by the emergent and serendipitous approach to life and work. She’s been thinking about ways to help others navigate the future of work, given the ambiguous possibilities and opportunities if there is courage to take that journey. And for good measure, she likes to inject humour and originality into her work.

Nuggets of knowledge

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Knowledge in little packages in which I shared some of my favourite aphorisms and quotes.  I keep a collection of these little nuggets to inspire myself, to share with others via micro-blog posts in Twitter or LinkedIn and to underscore a key idea in a presentation or writing.  Sometimes I value such nuggets for triggering a thought that generates new knowledge; sometimes they just make me feel good – and if I’m feeling good, I’m probably more likely to have energy to be generative with knowledge.

Here’s a few more that have made it into my collection recently:

When you write things down, they sometimes take you places you hadn’t planned.
~ Melanie Benjamin

You’ll increase your creative potential once you begin to value your own thoughts.
~ Doug Hall

Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the sail, so that when the wind
comes we can catch it.
~ E. F. Schumacher

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult
~ E. B. White

When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.
~ T.S. Eliot

An engineer is one who can do with a dollar what any bungler can do with two.
~ Economic Theory of Railway Location (1887)

To be a designer is to be an agent of change.
~ Barbara Chandler Allen

Designers are the alchemists of the future.
~ Richard Koshalek

Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.
~ VISA founder Dee Hock

What quotes have been inspiring you or stimulating new knowledge lately?

An explanation for the Knowledge-Information-Record ecology

I have a hypothesis … a working theory (WARNING: Live knowledge work!) that an analogy from nature could help explain the Knowledge-Information-Record ecology, from a Same-and-Different perspective.

This is a view that is not about a hierarchy, where you attempt to resolve questions like: Is Information a subset of Knowledge? Or is Knowledge a subset of Information? This is a different and maybe fresh perspective.

If you are reading this and need to answer the question now about ‘Why would I care about these differences?‘ then jump down to the section entitled “How the distinction might be useful“. If you are still figuring out the ‘What’ it is that you might care about, then keep reading.

Starting with physics

In nature, H20 is a substance that can exist in different forms or phases: Gas, Liquid and Solid. Or as we more commonly say: Steam, Water, and Ice.  There are processes that transition such substances between these phases, e.g. freezing and condensation.

Here is a perspective that recognises Related yet Separate entities: Related = Water; Separate = Solid, Liquid, Gas.

How might this be applied to Knowledge-Information-Record?  How about:
Solid = Records/Archives – as something ‘tangible’ that can be touched/seen; is preserved
Liquid = Information – as something still ‘tangible’ that can be seen; is an input or output of process
(A tangential thought: Droplets = Data – the small bits that come together to make Information)
Gas  = Knowledge – as something less tangible; not seen directly; inferred by its effect on things; very fuzzy boundaries; more problematic to contain and capture

Does that resonate with you?

Changing Form

Science gives us six phase transitions that happen to the Forms of Solid, Liquid and Gas.

              sublimation                             deposition
SOLID  ============>  GAS    ==============> SOLID

              melting                                    freezing
SOLID  ============>  LIQUID  =============>  SOLID

            condensation                          vapourisation
GAS  =============>   LIQUID  =============> GAS

Cognitive equivalents for these phase transitions might be:
Sublimation = reading, thinking and memorising about the content of a record
Deposition = reflecting and working out loud to elicit inner thoughts and record them directly as something concrete and immutable
Melting =  reading and talking about the content of a record
Freezing = talking and writing with others to make the content of a record
Condensation = speaking, showing, writing about your knowledge to make it transportable outside of you
Vapourisation = listening, learning, doing, observing as you take in the knowledge of others and what is around you to ‘store’ it inside you
NB: I didn’t specify ‘inside you’ as your head or mind. Some of your knowledge may be residing in other parts of your body! And that’s a whole other conversation for another day.

There’s an interesting relationship to explore here in comparing these phase transitions with Nonaka & Takeuchi’s SECI model (1995).  For the uninitiated, SECI stands for Socialisation – sharing tacit knowledge tacitly through shared experience or in face-to-face communication utilising practical examples; Externalisation – converting tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge that is in forms that others can read/listen/watch and interpret for themselves; Combination – combining explicit knowledge with other explicit knowledge to create new forms and concepts that can be analysed and organised anew; and Internalisation – understanding and taking in explicit knowledge so that it becomes an individual’s own internal and tacit knowledge.

I leave it to you to explore and make up your own mind about such a relationship.

Defining Form

Another useful construct about each of the phases has to do with shape and volume:  A Solid has a definite shape and volume. A Liquid has a definite volume but it takes the shape of a container in which is resides. A Gas expands freely filling whatever space is available regardless of the quantity.

A Record is fixed; it has a definite form and volume because it captures the cognitive substance to be immutable, a static preservation at a moment in time.  Information is more fluid it has a definite volume but can change shape based on context and utility. Knowledge is amorphous it definitely exists but is hard to see or touch as something discrete or distinct from its surroundings.

How the distinction might be useful

Making such a distinction between Knowledge, Information and Records, and thus Knowledge Management, Information Management and Records Management, might provide useful clarification about differing expertise, differing and related problem spaces and thus fit-for-purpose solutions.

When you think of the different forms of water, it’s relatively easy to think of different roles for attending to each form, e.g. a Gas Engineer compared to a Water Engineer. Also easy to consider the use of different methods, technology and containers for storing gas (or steam) compared to water/liquid and ice (or frozen stuff).

I don’t have the answers for how you might think about the role of a Knowledge Manager compared to a Records Manager, or an Information Manager.  By sharing this concept, I simply intend to catalyse a fresh and potentially useful conversation.

Where will you take this knowledge?

Reference

Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating company. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isnt wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

Getting help with knowledge creation

I am frequently asked for (or I seek) feedback on created knowledge with friends and colleagues. Thinking more about the Knowledge Creation phases of Develop Knowledge and Produce Knowledge described in recent blogs, what kind of contribution is sought and needed?

Scenario 1:  CV writing

My friend Mary needed to update her CV. She knew it didn’t contain the words, content or structure that she thought it should have to be effective and get her a new job. She was stuck on what changes to make. She asked me to look at her CV and suggest changes to the document.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?

Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe she really needed was in the Develop Knowledge phase. She didn’t know what she wanted to say about herself; forget what words we’d use on the page! It was not the best use of our time or efforts to sit with the MS Word document and edit it.

She is, of course, the source of much of the knowledge (history of her work experience, her description of her skill, and her aspirations for the future, etc.) that could be communicated through the CV but it was raw knowledge, half-baked and forming. She was having trouble getting it out of her head and making sense of it before we could shape it into words that could be used to help her get a new job. Words that might make it into the CV, but also to her LinkedIn profile; what she would say in a cover letter; or at the interview; or in general conversation with people about the work she was seeking.

Scenario 2: Proposal development

Charles was a post-grad student who wanted to become a consultant. I was his business mentor and we had started a journey because he had a good idea for a strategy piece of work for potential clients. I was going to help him find his first client to get himself work experience. He had drafted a Business Proposal for a piece of work with a potential client and asked for my feedback to finalise it.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?

Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe he really needed was in the Develop Knowledge Phase. Never having been a consultant before, he had been struggling to keep the content of the Strategy he would produce, out of a Proposal to be engaged to produce the Strategy.

He had lots he wanted to say, and he wanted to show he knew lots of useful stuff but it was not relevant to product nor purpose of the Business *Proposal*. The content may be relevant to later activity, perhaps for an analysis or report.

I chose to treat his draft as a Developed document. I didn’t think the content was fundamentally right, so I focused on the ideas for (re)Development and ignored doing any Producing critique.

Scenario 3: Memorandum of Understanding collaboration

I was asked by the CEO to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between our organisation and an external organisation, as a pre-Joint Venture document. Having never written one like this before, I asked the company lawyer for guidance. He provided a couple of templates, plus an example of a finished one. I took the finished one and deleted text that wasn’t relevant, and inserted rough notes for additional content. This was really rough – and not in legalese which he said he would fix once we got input from the other organisation about what they wanted in the Memo.

I sent the document with a mix of rough and finished text to external organisation, with the intent of being collaborative and simply putting in indicative text to get a collective sense of what the content of the document needed to be. I did this purposefully as I wanted them to have a sense that they were equally contributing to the nature of the content. (Side note: There is an argument that the Lower the Fidelity of a piece of work, the more others will take ownership, plus be prepared to revise and delete aspects rather than simply refine what is there, particularly when deleting is more valid than compromising.)

Was I asking them to contribute in Develop or Produce phases?

Answer: Develop Knowledge phase.

I was seeking feedback on a Developed document. However the external organization gave it to their legal counsel who treated it like Producing phase. They refined all my rough notes into legalese and added their own polished content. While they acted graciously, I sensed judgement that we hadn’t been ‘serious’ in the quality of the content we sent. It was clear we were operating with different intent in the review process. I wondered what kind of quality of collaboration we might have had if we both had a sense of different phases in the knowledge creation process.

The Emerging Role of Synthesiser

As I reflect on these experiences, I see the potential of a role and skill set for people who can bridge the gap between the Develop and Produce phases. Someone who can take half-baked content and shape it into a workable draft. A Synthesiser: A mix of a ghost-writer, investigator, interviewer, critic, editor.

Here’s my wish list of the skills and qualities of a Synthesiser:

  • Listening and asking questions
  • Reading
  • Thinking critically
  • Collecting the fragments
  • Processing
  • Digesting, musing and reflecting
  • Validating – with others; against a brief
  • Structuring thoughts; writing outlines
  • Researching for extra details
  • Organising, sorting and ordering
  • Connecting and linking
  • Presenting in synthesised organised form(s)
  • Having, using, and understanding a notation system that differentiates editorial review vs. content review.
  • Abducting – thinking about what is possible and may not be naturally indicated by the existing thought provided

In the three scenarios outlined above, the role of a Synthesiser would have helped shape all the pieces of content, such that they could be ready for the Produce phase. A Synthesiser could have bridged the gap between Develop and Produce phases by asking questions to elicit fresh thought, thinking critically, digest and ultimately offering a structured response to elevate the initial piece of work into something better and richer.

Learnings from reflection

When I am asked to review material now, I have a quick scoping conversation to gauge and set expectations about the nature of my contribution. I seek to best serve the person requesting help, so the framework of the two phases of knowledge creation is a useful reference for both to use to reach a mutually satisfying agreement.

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

Play toy and hobby illustrates knowledge work

My husband has found a new love: nanoblocks It started out innocently – a single package to entertain a young guest. A few single packets later, he requested the ‘free build’ multipacks for his birthday. Loving spouse that I am, I acquiesced not aware of his emerging passion. Now there are custom patterns, stacks of boxes of block pieces, a shelf full of completed objects and entering competitions.

NanoblockDogs

Breed of Dogs, custom creations by Robert Heslan

What does this have to do with knowledge work? There’s a great parallel!

Inspiration for knowledge work analogy

There are two broad groups of nanoblockers: Those who get the model packs with a pattern and follow the instructions to create an artefact; and those who come up with their own creations without following a documented pattern, producing a facsimile of something in the world or a unique creation from their imagination.

This is a great analogy for differentiating knowledge workers from people who work with knowledge. Knowledge workers are a special class of workers. They can go beyond following the documented pattern or knowledge of others and create new knowledge.

All workers may produce knowledge artefacts, i.e. a report, a presentation, a completed form, a completed process. However, knowledge workers produce artefacts with new knowledge. They actively grow and cultivate knowledge that becomes the valuable content in the artefacts.  The ‘newness’ may be insights, advice or recommendations, a method or a narrative.

The knowledge work of nanoblocks

Beyond using and crafting nanoblock creations, Husband has also got into ancillary knowledge creation activities: he’s joined a Community of Practice; he’s created new tools to assist his actions; and he’s sharing his new knowledge actively and regularly with others.

His passion spilled over first into making a Facebook page to show off his creations (check it out!): creations where he followed someone else’s pattern, and those he composed himself.  Likeminded people found him, and he found others so he joined with them in an online Community of other nanoblockers. In this community, he found himself actively involved in a robust discussion about the credit and recognition of knowledge work (aka IP). Without knowing him personally, you won’t appreciate how extraordinary that is – he’d be a hermit if he had his way!

To be able to share his knowledge creation work with the community, he found he needed a way to capture the knowledge in his head to mobilise and make it definitive for someone else to apply. First he took photographs of each stage of building an object (layer by layer).

But he found it difficult to show useful orientations for someone else to understand what to do and thus copy the build.  He wanted to present his knowledge in images not text; so people could look at images and copy them rather than read written instructions – which would have been very difficult to compose. So he investigated tools for visual creation, like CAD (computer aided design). He found a LEGO® specific one but not one for nanoblocks. And as nanoblocks have a different connection mechanism – the LEGO one just wouldn’t do. He spent the winter of 2014 painstakingly measuring and creating blocks in CAD to get a set of 33 blocks/images.  As a result he could create the set of pattern instructions in colour and multiple orientations very easily. And then he wrote about this process (including graphics) and shared that knowledge!

(For true knowledge workers, it’s not uncommon to creation new tools and methods to represent or curate the new knowledge being created. There is a double level of activity going on: doing the work, plus reflecting on and improving how to do the work.)

When he shared these pattern instructions with the community – they immediately saw the potential of using the images of individual blocks to develop a database/register of blocks.  In the database, meta-data could be captured for each block and enable a consistent reference to blocks, particularly when people were seeking special blocks to solve a particular build or design problem.

It’s an example of two Knowledge Creation phases

His approach to designing new nanoblock objects follows the Develop and Produce phase that I’ve written about in previous blog posts.

In the Develop Phase … He looked about in world for objects he wanted to copy or represent. He checked if a nanoblock pattern existed – often there wasn’t one suitable. So he chose to come up with his own design.  He would get his set of nanoblock containers out and see what shapes he had to play with. He would gather a likely volume of certain shapes he might need and start building.  Following a highly iterative process he gradually figure out the final size, colour, granularity of shape in detail with the blocks, and working components. Yep, these aren’t static objects; he’d graduated to creations with moving parts, e.g. Melbourne Southern Star Ferris wheel.  (His first pattern was an Eskimo dog – in different variations that became a family of adult and puppy dogs.)

At first knowledge creation was in his head and in the prototype the he produced so the idea could be refined, then tested/valued by others. Next he utilised photography to capture knowledge of the final version and the build stages, evolving quickly to using the CAD patterns … completing the Produce phase.

 The evolution

Now he rarely buys a ‘packet’ for a singular object unless it has a unique block or set of colours he can use to solve a design problem in his own creations. What started out as simply applying someone else’s knowledge, has turned into a knowledge production factory.

Recently the love affair went to a whole new level.  He’s written and published a story about how he got into nanoblocks. A complete stranger asked him to do this, and he agreed.  This from the man who says it’s a lot of work to put a few sentences into my birthday cards!

He’s entered some of his creations into competitions sponsored by the nanoblock toy production company. A very astute business decision by them to tap into the cognitive surplus of the nanoblock hobby world and get product ideas for low cost.

I wonder if there is such a thing as a nanoblock widow? At least I got great content to write this blog post.😉

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isnt wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

12 things every knowledge worker should know how to do

As a knowledge worker you are a site of production. You are ‘plant and machinery’. You are a knowledge ‘engine’. Your capability and capacity for knowledge work is a function of the condition of YOU and the conditions you create for yourself. What should you know how to do to be the best functioning knowledge engine?

Here’s a list of twelve things.

Manage self

1. Know your own learning style/preferences (try Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles); your personal knowledge management style (try Six Cs of Personal Knowledge Management by Straits Knowledge).
2. Know your strengths and what to do to play to these (try Clifton Strengths Finder).
3. Use personal resources like Time, Attention, Energy and Relationships effectively (try Activity Time Budget, Honest Digital Calendar, Attention Filter).

Manage information

4. Title documents meaningfully – follow a naming convention that makes good sense. Use Properties and meta-data whenever you can to enrich the information, and enable quick easy discovery.
5. Setup, maintain and use an information organisation system; both for a collection of items, and with the structure within a single item. (i.e. Headings/Sections, Table of Contents, Cross Referencing, etc.).
6. Curate information; manage a collection of useful resources for self and/or others.

Develop knowledge

7. Use reflective practice including after-action reviews, to Think about what you’ve done and what could be done and what you are going to do.
8. Set an intention and test hypothesis; experiment to gain insights. Sometimes you need to Act to discover useful Thoughts.
9. Summarise and distil a set of knowledge (try Notebooking or Mindmapping).
10. Recognise knowledge creation and distribution opportunities and leverage them.

Produce knowledge

11. Create produced knowledge to address different learning styles, with communication medium appropriate for the audience.
12. Package knowledge creatively for production/publication (e.g. document, presentation, slides, session outline).

Learn more about Develop knowledge and Produce knowledge phases in knowledge creation.

If you can do all these, you have the foundations for being knowledge-savvy.

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.