Sunday, 15 April 2012

Mission accomplished: Found convincing indicators to assess impact of networks #kmers

Ever since I embarked on knowledge management and knowledge sharing journey, I've been struggling to find convincing metrics to assess impact of KM/KS activities. In October 2009, I wrote this blogpost: "KM search and rescue operation: Looking for intelligent and KM-enabled indicator!" and got some good feedback. But it still was not quite the convincing indicators I was looking for.

What do you I mean by convincing indicators?  I mean metrics that make sense, metrics that show progress, metrics that combine both qualitative and quantitative aspects.

I am not a great indicator fan. I believe indicators detract attention from the bigger scope. They are very much like this faceless street artist.

Nonetheless, the type of business I am in, requires that we measure our activities and show the impact we are making. And ever since when I've been trying to find convincing indicators for KM/KS related activities.

So you can imagine my excitement while reading Collaboration  by Morten T. Hansen  to come across convincing indicators to measure impact of networks!!! Hansen's book is based on years of research. The book itself is a gem, especially the last chapter where he takes you on a personal journey and acting as coach shows you how to become a collaborative leader.

In this book, Hansen argues that goal of collaboration is to achieve greater results. He identifies the following as barriers to collaboration:

  • not-invented here barrier
  • factors contributing to hoarding
  • search barrier
  • transfer barrier
He makes the case that no collaboration is better than bad collaboration. He argues that for collaboration to happen leaders need to unify people and to do that they:

  • must craft a compelling unifying goal that makes people commit to a cause greater than their own individual goals
  • should pair competition on the outside of the company with collaboration on the inside. People who unite to compete against a common foe are juiced up by competing and by collaborating
  • should not talk competition, but collaboration and collaboration for results
Then he goes on to explain how to build nimble networks and it is in this chapter that after many years I had an aha moment. I finally came across a convincing way to measure the impact of networks.

Hansen starts of by saying:
  • too much networking may be distractive
  • networking is costly because it takes time and effort to nurture relationships (this is if you are serious about it and want to do it well)
  • for networks to be valuable, their benefits need to be greater than the costs
  • secret of networking is to build result-based networks based on disciplined collaboration
He then proceeds to say that networks are good for identifying opportunities to take something further and to capture value and in doing so, effective networks need to reduce the collaboration barriers mentioned above. 

Hansen provides a framework with six network rules, which I see as great indicators to measure success of KM/KS networks. The first four are used to assess the impact of network vis-a-vis identifying opportunities and the last two to capture the value of networks.
  • build outward, not inward: to overcome the not-invented barrier, networks need to build many more outward ties than inward ones. One of the indicators is to measure how much undisciplined collaboration there is. Is there too much networking, too much butterfly syndrome, jumping from one thing to another without concluding anything?
  • build diversity, not size: to overcome search barrier you need to build a network based on diversity. In networks numbers do not count. What is important is the diversity of connections. You need connections that tap into diverse things and diverse people. This is what leads to more innovative products. Hansen challenges us that when we engage in professional relationship we should ask ourselves what diversity does this new contact bring me. He then proceeds to say that disciplined collaboration means adding contacts that bring more diversity into your network. And this too is a great indicator to measure the impact of networks
  • build weak ties, not strong ones: now how counterintuitive can one get. And yet, there is so much wisdom in this statement and this too is a superb indicator. Hansen makes the point that weak ties prove to be much more helpful in networking because they form bridges to world we do not walk within. His argument is that strong ties are to worlds we know and he is very right about this. Building weak ties contributes to overcome the search barrier
  • use bridges, not familiar faces: good networking means knowing who the real bridges are and to use them. Bridges are typically long-tenured people who have worked in different places and know about a broad range of topics. A successful network needs to have enough people performing bridging role. Using bridges and not familiar faces is another tactic to overcome the search barrier
  • swarm the target; do not go it alone: Hansen's advice here is if you believe the target identified in a search may not be forthcoming, enlist the help of others to convince the target. In other words swarm the target with influencers, people who are in position to exert influence and get your contacts to work on your behalf, appeal to common good and invoke reciprocity. If you want to measure the impact of your network, you should ask yourselves, how many times you've turned to your network members and asked them to do something on your behalf and how many times they did it for you. Hansen associates this as a remedy for the hoarding barrier
  • switch to strong ties; do not rely on weak ones: he finishes of his six network rules by providing a remedy to transfer barrier and making the point that to ensure easy transfer you need strong ties between team members so that they can trust each other and transfer complicated knowledge, which in KM language translates to good old tacit knowledge

I must say, I am thrilled to have have finally found convincing and sound indicators for measuring the impact of networks. I now believe it is possible to find equally good indicators for other KM/KS aspects. The dilemma is whether anyone can do so, or whether we need another Morten Hansen with years of research experience to come up with equally convincing indicators.

The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs

Six months after the untimely loss of Steve Jobs, Harvard Business Review in their April edition gave some space to Walter Isaacson to write about "The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs".

Isaacson's piece is definitely a must read for Jobs fans,  for those who believe Jobs had too many dark sides and for those who have the mental flexibility and willingness to learn what it takes to be a visionary and a perfectionist.

Isaacson starts his piece by saying that "Jobs acted as if normal rules didn't apply to him and the passion, intensity and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made." He continues to say that Jobs "petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism".

There is a lot of wisdom in these statements. These behaviours may not be in-line with a lot of modern management dogmas. And this very true. Here we are not talking about management but LEADERSHIP and a VISIONARY LEADERSHIP. This is the difference. This is the difference between Steve Jobs and the rest of the world!!!

Isaacson then proceeds to talk about 14 leadership lessons of Steve Jobs:

  • Focus: Jobs was a great advocate of filtering out distractions and keep focus. When Larry Page went to visit Jobs, this is what he had to tell him: "You are all over the map, focus on few things, you're turning Google into Microsoft and its dragging you down". Page being Page, listened to Jobs and as a result today Google is focusing on Android and Google+. And Page has committed to make these two beautiful the way Jobs would have done!
  • Simplify: Jobs was great at zeroing in on the essence and eliminating the unnecessary components. This is why what ever he has created is functional and elegant. He believed "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" and he was damn right. He also recognized that "it takes a lot of hard work to make something simple and come up with an elegant solution, because to be truly simple you have to go really deep". This is great lesson, especially for all those folks out there who love all sorts of bells and whistles and believe that the more complicated something is, the better it is.
  • Take responsibility end to end: Here is a big one for all those who fail to understand the importance of integration. Jobs was a master for elegant integration. He integrated hardware, software and peripheral devices. This made "Apple ecosystem a sublime experience like walking in the Zen gardens of Kyoto". And those lucky ones who live in the Apple ecosystem can testify to this. We love this sublime experience and feel the torture and abuse when we are forced to take a walk outside of the Apple sublime ecosystem.
  • When behind, leapfrog: This is what Jobs did with iPod and later with iPhone. He cannibalized iPod sales by creating iPhone and he said: "if we do not cannibalize ourselves someone else will".
  • Put products before profit: If there is one leadership lessons that big IT companies should learn, is this one. Jobs focused on making the product great. He used to say if the product is great, profits will follow. And he was right. Look what happened to Sony after Apple put out iPod. In the development world, this would translate into putting the mission of the organization before donor demands.
  • Don't be slave to focus groups: Boy, oh Boy, if I do not love this..... "You need intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed" was Jobs mantra. "Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page". This is why he was visionary and inspired people. He believed "intuition is more powerful than intellect" and yet again he was damn right. 
  • Bend reality: This is one of  my all time favourites along with push for perfection and tolerate only "A" players (see below). And these are amongst the things for which I often get into trouble, but you know what it is worth it. Jobs used to say: "have people do the impossible". Everything is possible!!!!
  • Impute: Now you are probably wondering what the hell is this all about. As a perfectionist, Jobs believed in the importance of packaging because he said "it sets the tone for how you perceive the product" and yet again he was right. Would you like to receive a product in a carton box, or in an elegant box, as if you were receiving a precious piece of jewelry? 
  • Push for perfection: Jobs believed in hitting the pause button to ensure perfection. Many times he stopped development process and delayed launch of products, because he was pushing for perfection and he was never wrong. "You need to love the creation". He was a true artist and had his engineers sign in their names on their works, and this made them go proud of their creation - just like Michelangelo, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Botichelli, Hockney, Hirst.
  • Tolerate only "A"  players: Jobs was not the polite type with mediocre people.  "If something sucks, I'll tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest". Jobs was an inspiring leader and he created groundbreaking products and believed in accomplishing the impossible. He could not have done all of this with mediocre people, this is why he only tolerated "A" players. Quite frankly this is what all great leaders do - tolerate "A" players only!
  • Engage face-to-face: Despite being a computer geek, Jobs believed strongly in face-to-face interaction and the fact that creativity comes from spontaneous meetings and random discussions. This is why good leaders encourage people to get out of their offices and mingle. They promote collaboration and creativity. Another of the many great traits of Jobs was the fact that he fostered free flowing meetings with no agenda and no powerpoints.... "People who know what they're talking about do not need Powerpoint". Next time you are in a meeting and someone stands up to deliver a powerpoint presentation, bend the reality and tell them to do so without the slide deck!!! 
  • Know both the big picture and the details: This was one of the many unique traits of Jobs. He had a vision and at the same time had a great eye for details and I mean minute details. He saw the computer as a "digital hub" and the moved this to the "cloud" and while he was laying down this grand vision, he fretted over the colour and shape of screws....... This is how much he cared about the PRODUCT and not profit, this is how much he pushed for PERFECTION and was obsessed with IMPUTE!
  • Combine humanities with sciences: This one is something that IT geeks just do not get it. Jobs connected humanities to sciences, creativity to technology, arts to engineering. It was thanks to this  combination that he created creative edge in the future. "No one else in our era could better firewire together poetry and processors in away that jolted innovation".
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish: This is a soundbite from Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech. It is more than just a soundbite. It was Jobs' way of life. Be a hippie, be a nonconformist, be artistic, be enlightened, be rebels and troublemakers. Jobs' behaviours reflected contradictions and confluence. 
Jobs believed in putting round pegs in the square holdes and described himself:"while some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do" and HE DID IT. He changed the world and he did it an inspiring way!

Will the world be fortunate enough to have another Steve Jobs in the near future? We'll see. In the meantime, we have to count our blessings for having benefited from his genius and cherish his legacy. May he inspire real leaders and convert less open-minded ones to see the light!