Originally published on April 30, 2019
This is the 43rd article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Chris Collison is a Knowledge Management consultant, coach, trainer, and speaker based in Ascot, Berkshire, United Kingdom. He is the owner and director of Knowledgeable Ltd, where he works with a wide variety of organizations, helping them to improve their performance by discovering and sharing what they know.
I have quoted Chris for many years in my blog, and I met him at KMWorld 2015 in DC. Chris is one of at least five KM thought leaders to have worked at BP, including Geoff Parcell, Nick Milton, Tom Young, and Kent Greenes.
Chris joined BP in 1989, occupying a series of positions in Research, IT and Organizational Development. In the late 90s, he worked as part of BP’s acclaimed knowledge management team, a team that was credited with generating over $200M of value through knowledge management. As part of BP’s Organizational Capability team, he led the company’s efforts on knowledge-enabling systems, and carried out in-depth research into Innovation.
He then worked on a major operational excellence initiative which combined knowledge-sharing with performance improvement. It was during this time that he co-wrote the book Learning to Fly which has now become a business best-seller and is a standard work in the field of knowledge management. His second book, No More Consultants, was published in 2009.
In 2001, Chris joined Centrica, fulfilling a series of director-level posts in Finance and HR, including Director of Change and Knowledge Management, He delivered a knowledge-sharing strategy for the group.
Chris is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and since setting up Knowledgeable Ltd in 2005, he has been a visiting lecturer at Henley and Cranfield, Skolkovo Business School, Moscow and Sharif University in Iran. Chris is a regular blogger and an editorial board member of the Journal of Knowledge Management.
University of Exeter: BSc 1st Class, Chemistry, 1989
- Knowledge Management: More Than Just Know-how
- Capturing And Structuring Knowledge Into Reusable Assets
- Creating a Sustainable Yellow Pages System
- Keys to Successful Communities of Practice (Networks)
- Leadership Behaviors Which Encourage Knowledge-Sharing
- Lessons Learned and How To Identify Them
- Engaging senior directors in knowledge management — Case Study from Inside Knowledge
- Conducting an After Action Review
- Cooking up a Community of Practice
- Practice what you Preach: Lessons Learned
- Avoiding the typical barriers to effective KM: Seven syndromes to look out for in your organization
The seven deadly syndromes that hinder effective KM
- Tall Poppy syndrome: Where people are reluctant to share because they fear being “cut down to size” by their peers.
- Shrinking Violet syndrome: Where people don’t believe that they have anything to share.
- On the Web syndrome: Where people confuse capture with sharing — capture it once, then it’s shared forever.
- Communities of Practically Everything syndrome: Where communities are incorrectly perceived as a panacea.
- Not Invented Here syndrome: Where people believe their culture and company is unique, with unique problems and solutions suggested by external sources will not work.
- Ignorance is Bliss syndrome: Where lack of curiosity, or inflated self-confidence reduces the demand for learning.
- Real men don’t ask for directions/TomTom syndrome: Where asking for help is perceived as a sign of weakness.
The first four syndromes are barriers to knowledge sharing:
1. Tall Poppy
The first common issue is “Tall Poppy” syndrome. It’s said that the poppy which grows the tallest is the first specimen to be cut down. We see this dynamic at play in the British media, where a celebrity is put on a pedestal and then the same media that put them there take great delight in knocking them down.
2. Shrinking Violet
The next deadly syndrome is “Shrinking Violet.” It’s related to Tall Poppy syndrome, but plays on a different mindset. People suffering with Shrinking Violet might be heard to say, “Oh, we don’t have anything special to share,” or, “We’re different here,” or even, “Let’s leave it to the real experts.”
3. It’s on the web
Our third syndrome is a phrase that I hear increasingly in organizations that place great emphasis — too great perhaps — on knowledge capture. I’ve called it, It’s “On the Web” syndrome.
4. CoPs of practically everything
The final syndrome which impacts the supply of knowledge and outward flow of ideas is a sister syndrome to It’s on the Web syndrome and is almost as dangerous when it takes hold. I’m calling it “Communities of Practically Everything” syndrome.
The final three syndromes are typical of people not seeking or demanding new knowledge:
5. Not Invented Here
Let’s start with an old favorite — Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome typically embodied by comments such as, “Ah, you don’t understand — we’re different here, we couldn’t possibly learn from you.” Or, “We have our own unique culture with unique problems,” or even, “Actually, I quite like coming up with unique answers!”
6. Ignorance is Bliss
Next up is “Ignorance Is Bliss syndrome,” detected most often in poorly connected, rapidly growing/merging/acquiring multinationals.
7. Tom Tom
So that leaves us with one final syndrome. I’ve called this “Real men don’t ask directions.” But that’s the long name — it’s more commonly known as “TomTom” syndrome and I’m afraid it affects us men the most — preventing us from asking for help. TomTom syndrome can be diagnosed with comments like this:
- “If I ask for help, my colleagues will think I’m incompetent!”
- “I didn’t get where I am today by admitting weaknesses.”
- “In this organization, the successful ones are the ones who have been self-sufficient.”
- “…But, I’ll be happy to share my problem once I’ve solved it.”
Articles by Others
1. The Seven Deadly Sins of Knowledge Sharing in Networks by Linda Ferguson
- Tall Poppy Syndrome — Based on the idea that the tallest poppy in a field is the first to get cut down to size, this syndrome illustrates a reluctance to put your head above the parapet and a tendency to keep a low profile and not get involved.
- Shrinking Violet Syndrome — Another “sin” that stifles the supply of shared knowledge in a network, based on a feeling of false humility, and that you have nothing useful to share.
- Not-Invented-Here Syndrome — This syndrome impacts the demand for knowledge sharing; the view that your organisation or team has a unique set of problems that can’t be fixed by adopting other people’s solutions. Besides (the thinking goes) why use someone else’s solutions when you can gain kudos for inventing your own?
- Tom Tom Syndrome — Also known as Real-Men-Don’t-Ask-For-Directions Syndrome. A reluctance to ask for help when you’re lost, due to a fear of being seen to be incompetent. This “muddling along” approach is another barrier that stifles knowledge sharing by reducing demand.
- Lacknowledgement Syndrome — The perception that by sharing good practice there is somehow a “lack of acknowledgement”, and a suspicion that someone else will take the credit for your hard work.
- Lock-it-Away Syndrome — Here, a potential solution, idea or example of good practice is not shared, either because it is never quite finished, or because everything produced by the organisation or team is locked down by default due to security policies.
- Hamster-on-the-Wheel Syndrome — This “sin” comes down to time — or lack of it. A feeling that you’re just too busy going round in circles to stop and share what you’re doing.
3. Jack Vinson
4. A Conversation with Chris Collison by Moria Levy
5. We focus learning more often on failure, rather than success — America Learning & Media
6. Knowledge Worker 2.0 by Luis Suarez — Some incredibly inspiring quotes, like this one from Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell: “You can’t manage knowledge — nobody can. What you can do is to manage the environment in which knowledge can be created, discovered, captured, shared, distilled, validated, transferred, adopted, adapted, and applied.”
As Quoted by Me
1. KM Vision
Chris Collison posted Knowing what good looks like, his attempt to describe what “good” looks like when it comes to knowledge management. I had previously mentioned a panel discussion at KMWorld 2012 which I led with Bill Ives and Kent Greenes, and which included input from Chris:
You know knowledge is being effectively managed when there is:
- Leadership. Leaders in the organization are role models, challenging people to ask for help, seek out, share and apply good practices. This inspires curiosity and a commitment to improve. The organization is learning!
- Learning. People instinctively seek to learn before doing. Lessons from successes and failures are drawn out in an effective manner and shared openly with others who are genuinely eager to learn, apply and improve. Lessons lead to actions and improvement.
- Networking. People are actively networking, seamlessly using formal communities and informal social networks to get help, share solutions, lessons and good practices. The boundaries between internal and external networks are blurred, and all employees understand the benefits and take personal responsibility for managing the risks.
- Navigation. There are no unnecessary barriers to information, which is shared by default and restricted only where necessary. Information management tools and protocols are intuitive, simple and well understood by everybody. This results in a navigable, searchable, intelligently tagged and appropriately classified asset for the whole organization, with secure access for trusted partners.
- Collaboration. People have the desire and capability to use work collaboratively, using a variety of technology tools with confidence. Collaboration is a natural act, whether spontaneous or scheduled. People work with an awareness of their colleagues and use on-line tools as instinctively as the telephone to increase their productivity.
- Consolidation. People know which knowledge is strategically important, and treat it as an asset. Relevant lessons are drawn from the experiences of many, and consolidated into guidelines. These are brought to life with stories and narrative, useful documents and templates, and links to individuals with experience and expertise. These living knowledge assets are refreshed and updated regularly by a community of practitioners.
- Social Media. Everybody understands how to get the best from the available tools and channels. Social media is just part of business as usual; people have stopped making a distinction. Serendipity, authenticity and customer intimacy are increasing. People are no longer tentative and are encouraged to innovate and experiment. The old dogs are learning new tricks! Policies are supportive and constantly evolving, keeping pace with innovation in the industry.
- Storytelling. Stories are told, stories are listened to, stories are re-told and experience is shared. People know how to use the influencing power of storytelling. Narrative is valued, captured, analysed, and used to identify emergent patterns which inform future strategy.
- Environment. The physical workplace reflects a culture of openness and collaboration. Everyone feels part of what’s going on in the office. Informal and formal meetings are easily arranged without space constraint, and technology is always on hand to enhance productivity and involve participants who can’t be there in person.
- Embedding. Knowledge management is fully embedded in people management and development — influencing recruitment and selection. Knowledge-sharing behaviors are built into induction programs and are evident in corporate values and individual competencies. Knowledge transfer is part of the strategic agenda for HR. The risks of knowledge loss are addressed proactively. Knowledge salvage efforts during hurried exit interviews are a thing of the past!
2: How can you measure the benefits of KM efforts?
A: Collect success stories to demonstrate how KM helped teams to be successful. For more on this approach, see Why measure the value of KM? by Chris Collison, where he says:
“Measuring value can often seem like a time consuming effort for knowledge workers. Is it worth it? Is measuring the value of KM initiatives a worthwhile way to spend time? Don’t get me wrong; clearly any KM activity needs to be linked to the creation of business value, and we need to be able to illustrate that convincingly. But, the concern is that to try and separate out the unique contribution than KM activities make can become something of a cottage industry and counterproductive to ‘getting on with the business of making a difference.’ ”
3. KM Maturity Models
4. In Appreciative Inquiry and Knowledge Management? No problem. Chris Collison described the four steps of an Appreciative Inquiry:
- Discover (Inquire into what works.) This is a filtered process of reflection and storytelling to set the context for what is possible, building a “positive core” from the sharing of stories.
- Dream (Imagine how good it could be.) This is a creative vision-building step — constructed by amplifying the reality of the examples from the discovery step.
- Design (Agree how good it should be.) This is a prioritization process, finding ways to connect the colorful hot-air balloon of a long-term vision to the ground with some actionable propositions.
- Destiny (Commit to what will be.) Identify specific actions and start to plan for success.
An approach which combines Reflection, Storytelling, Visioning, Prioritization and Action and generates positive energy for change? Why would I not want to employ that? So if you’re a knowledge professional who hasn’t considered or explored Appreciative Inquiry, let me commend it to you as a valuable mindset to integrate into your KM toolkit.
5. Proven Practices
6. Measurement and Demonstrating Value
Measuring value can often seem like a time-consuming effort for knowledge workers. Is it worth it? Is measuring the value of KM initiatives a worthwhile way to spend time? Don’t get me wrong; clearly any KM activity needs to be linked to the creation of business value, and we need to be able to illustrate that convincingly. But, the concern is that to try and separate out the unique contribution than KM activities make can become something of a cottage industry and counterproductive to ‘getting on with the business of making a difference.’
“I can remember the second year of BP’s KM program some years ago, when we were asked to demonstrate $100M of business value through the application of KM approaches and tools. We did this by asking senior managers, directors and VPs who had been applying KM tools (mostly with some support from our team) for anecdotes and stories with $ value attached. Many of them did and when we passed the $250M barrier we stopped counting. Was it scientific? No. Did it comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles? No. Did they have credibility as stories? Absolutely yes — because of who was telling them. Did the stories inspire others and give momentum to what was going on? Definitely. However, one senior VP in Mergers and Acquisitions refused to be drawn on the specific contribution that KM had made to a recent acquisition. “It’s a big number” he said, “but it’s in there with the spaghetti…” (meaning, the other approaches that had also been brought to bear on this acquisition). I have a lot of sympathy with that view. Whilst I recognize that we need to be able to illustrate the value that knowledge sharing brings, with compelling examples and stories, my preference would be to commit the minimum time necessary to the activity of measurement. Like that manager — I’d rather than get on with eating the spaghetti than don a white coat and spectrophotometrically analyze the Bolognese sauce.”
8. Lessons Learned
- What’s wrong with Lessons Learned?
- ·Getting Lessons Learned Right
- No More Consultants? How To Make Best Use Of Your Own Organizational Capability And Knowledge
- Henley Forum — reflections and projections for Knowledge Management
- BP Knowledge Management with Geoff Parcell
- April 21, 2020 SIKM Leaders Community Call: Chefs’ Stories from the KM Cookbook
2. Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations with Geoff Parcell
Today, no one is, nor can be, an expert in everything. In every challenge, it is easy to feel that you don’t know enough to keep up with the accelerating pace of change inside our organisations, let alone the world outside. Start with the assumption that somebody somewhere has already done what you are trying to do. How can you find out whom, and learn from them? Learning to Fly shows exactly how to put knowledge management theory into practice, sharing the tools used and the experience and insights gained by two leading practitioners.
Completely updated for the second edition, Learning to Fly shares the authors’ experiences from BP and other leading knowledge organisations. and incorporates new material on implementation and best practice, including a CD-ROM with KM tools and exercises.
Table of Contents
PART I: OVERVIEW
- Setting the Context
- What is Knowledge Management?
- The Holistic Model — It’s More Than the Sum of the Parts
- Getting the Environment Right
- Getting Started — Just Do It
PART II: TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
- Connecting Sharers with Learners — Using Self-Assessment
- Learning From Your Peers — Somebody Has Already Done It
- Learning Whilst Doing — Time to Reflect
- Learning After Doing — When it’s All Over
- Finding the Right People — If Only I Knew Who
- Networking and Communities of Practice
- Leveraging What We Have Learned — Capturing Knowledge
PART III: TODAY AND TOMORROW
- Embedding it in the Organization — Preparing To Let Go
- Review of the Book — What Did We Set Out To Do?
- Learning to Fly Community — Former virtual community of fellow-readers and knowledge management practitioners — some starting their journey, others with more experience and insights to offer.
- Review by Patti Anklam
3. No More Consultants: We Know More Than We Think with Geoff Parcell
- Review by Mark Gould
- The KM Cookbook Site
- Our Recipe: How we wrote the KM Cookbook
- Review by Martin White
- Review by Bruce Boyes
- Other Reviews
My Review: Chris Collison, Paul Corney, and Patricia Eng have written a practical and easy-to-understand guide to knowledge management. The KM Cookbook combines a helpful explanation of ISO 30401 — the first international KM standard — with methods, tools, and stories to support successfully implementing KM. It uses the clever metaphor of a restaurant to describe the KM standard, tools, and stakeholders. The KM Chef’s Canvas is included as a useful tool to assess KM programs applying the new standard.