Why Your Change Effort Requires A Dose of Spiritualism

Jesus. Steve Jobs. Nelson Mandela. Inna Shevchenko. What do they have in common?

Yes, they are all the world’s most radical change leaders! They went all out to advocate and implement change that is bigger than themselves. The first three names in the above are household names. But who the heck is Inna Shevchenko? In case you haven’t heard of her, she is one of the leaders of Femen, the world’s most radical feminist movement. And during her interview with the Atlantic, she talked about her devotion to her cause.

“I don’t need a boyfriend. I don’t need human warmth. At this stage of my life, I’m devoting myself to my activism, and that’s that.”

Inna Shevchenko

What a bizarre statement! Who doesn’t need human warmth? Aren’t all of us social beings? What was she thinking?

Inside the mind of Radical Change Leader: Spirituality

In fact, all radical change leaders eerily serene when forsaking their personal relationships and devoting their life to realise their seemingly impossible idea. Both Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela neglected their family, while Jesus denied his own family – as described in Matthew.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12: 46 – 50

I think the lesson that you and I (and the rest of common folks) can learn is not so much about prioritising work over life to achieve success, but is about adding steel into our feeble mind or having resilience when leading change initiative.

Change is hard. Leading change effort can be depressing. Over many years of leading the most difficult change initiatives (i.e. KM efforts), I have never seen smooth-sailing change initiatives. I question myself many times on my ability to lead the change initiatives, on whether the change is heading towards the right direction, and on whether I should deem the change as a lost cause. I bet, just like I do, you have those crazy moments too.

This is where you and I can learn from the world’s most radical change leaders. I think, and I have mentioned this earlier this year, all change leaders should embrace spiritualism. I’m not encouraging you to be a religious zealot, but to be spiritual without being religious. Being spiritual will strengthen your determination and grant you wisdom to retreat when necessary. And being spiritual will bring you joy and sense of meaning especially when the whole world seems to go against you.

Spirituality-laced Change Management Is Not New. Embrace It! 

Am I out of my mind to suggest infusing spirituality into change management? Not at all. I’m not the first who propose this idea. Peter Senge in his bestselling book – the Fifth Discipline mentioned about personal mastery (see the following illustration for Learning Organisation’s Three-Legged Stool framework). That’s the “spirituality” that I’m referring to! I certainly don’t mean Deepak Chopra type of spirituality.


Spirituality to me is about having personal mastery. In brief, Peter Senge defined personal mastery as follows:

Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.

Further explanation of personal mastery definition can be found here.

Have you ever encounter unreasonable people who just can’t appreciate the reality or who don’t have any aspiration? This is where Peter Senge’s insight on personal mastery (i.e. spirituality) comes in. Senge is right to say that personal mastery is one of the five disciplines of Learning Organisation (i.e. transformational change). He is right because pre-requisite to change initiative is maturity. Mature leaders (who have mastered personal mastery) are required to sustain and grow the change effort into a successful one.

Spirituality/personal mastery can nurture people to be a mature leader, a change-ready leader. Embrace it and use it to transform yourself and your organisation.

Have you embraced spirituality? Why? Or Why Not?  

The Serpent-Dove Mandela: What KMers Can Learn from Nelson Mandela

Mandela's death at 95

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10:16

On 5th Dec 2013, Nelson Mandela belonged to the ages. And so said president Obama in his moving speech at Mandela memorial. Indeed, Nelson Mandela was the most inspiring leader on earth with his enduring message of compassion and forgiveness. Mandela’s messages connected so deeply with many of us because we all need to deal with difficult virtues of compassion and forgiveness. Mandela would be dearly missed. RIP Nelson Mandela.

During his lifetime, Mandela never fail to remind people that he is “not a saint”. And I believe that he isn’t. There is more nuances in Mandela’s story than just using sports (Rugby) as a means to spark change movement, i.e. reconciliation and healing to the nation. As you and I know, it takes more than just good intention and sincere heart to bring about change.

More than just being a naive nice guy, Nelson Mandela is being a Serpent-Dove-like person. What do I mean by that? Simple. Mandela is a shrewd change leader. He understands political settings of the system that he wants to change and he cleverly uses Halo effect to win over people to his side. So he is wise like a serpent and yet pure like a dove. All leaders of change initiative and KMers need to learn from his style of leadership to be successful.

How can you and I evoke Mandela’s “magic” to bring about change in our life and work? Like Mandela, we should master these two critical skills:

1. Reigning over destructive emotions. 

…when he learned he and de Klerk had received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly in 1993, he was quietly outraged, confessing the extent of his distress only to his closest friends…Mandela mask, always so tightly worn, did actually slip once, and in public…

John Carlin’s note on Mandela’s humanity

Destructive emotions such as anger, impatience, or arrogance kills relationship. And because building relationship is so critical in winning people over to commit to any change initiative, destructive emotions can eventually cause failure in change effort.

It’s not easy and, just like Mandela did, anyone would struggle to reign over destructive emotions – especially when you disagree or are disappointed with people, or when your best ideas aren’t accepted / implemented.

Bear in mind that the survival of the change initiative depends on your ability to show restraint and self-control. No one wants to work with chronically angry people. Unless that someone is Steve Jobs. But then again you aren’t Steve Jobs. And I’m not Steve Jobs too. So let’s not think that we can get our ways by being angry. Nothing last can happen through intimidation or coercion.

Perhaps the best personal benefit on being able to reign over destructive emotion is that it would create halo effect. You would occupy the moral high ground and have credibility to influence people’s behaviors.

2. Seeing the social dynamics of the situation.

Scold, flatter, demand, cajole — when you occupy the moral high ground, your tactical options are practically limitless. Mandela’s genius was knowing how and when to deploy them all.

Paul Taylor’s observation on Mandela’s political acumen

It would not have been wise to have emerged from jail bristling with ill will towards the white minority who had kept all power to themselves

John Carlin’s observation on Mandela’s social dynamic

Nelson Mandela is fully aware of who he needs to work with to achieve his vision: a united South Africa. More importantly, he knows how to “move” them like a chess piece.

Mandela understood that de Klerk was ready to negotiate not because de Klerk was a nice guy but because de Klerk knew that Apartheid is no longer sustainable because of the international sanctions and growing isolation from the international community. (In his autobiography, Mandela mentioned that PW Botha – de Klerk’s predecessor – is not the right man to negotiate with.)

And, to me, the uncanny ability to get people to act is what made Mandela great. Almost everyone know how to identify the stakeholders in change initiative, but only great leaders know how to influence the right people to do the necessary at the right moment.





Two Real Reasons Why KM Initiatives Failed


Like many other KMers, I hear a lot about why KM initiatives failed. Among the most popular reasons for KM failure, three reasons stood out: (i) lack of senior management support; (ii) weak change management efforts; (iii) weak alignment between KM and corporate goals.

So to ensure the success of KM in their organisation, KMers should do the following best practices:

  1. win senior management support by telling them about the advent of knowledge economy,
  2. ramp up their change management efforts by producing nice collaterals (posters, newsletter, etc)
  3. somehow (often in vain) try to align KM with corporate goals such as shorter learning curve, protecting intellectual capital, retaining organisational tacit knowledge – which is a competitive advantage to the organisation

I wonder how effective the above best practices are. I’ve tried them all and thus far I only have mixed successes in my five-years endeavor in KM. You probably think that I ought to “do better” and “never surrender” in the three KM efforts listed above. I beg to differ. It’s not a matter of competency or perseverance. I think trying better and harder wouldn’t help. There is a deeper underlying issue on why getting KM off the ground is so god darn difficult!

So why so many KM initiatives failed? What’s the root-cause? No one seems to be able to offer satisfying answers to the question. I too don’t have a good answer to the question until I’ve read Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy book and Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article: Slow Ideas. Now I’ve finally understood the root-cause of KM failure.

The root-cause of KM failure is not so much about senior management support, or about better change management, or about aligning KM with corporate goal. But it is about lack of focus in KM initiative and about the invisibility of organisational pain point that KM is trying to address.

1. Lack of Focus in KM Initiative (Vagueness in KM Initiative)
A typical KM initiative suffers from an identity crisis.”KM initiative should be interwoven into the fabric of the organisation” – the thinking goes to rationalise the identity crisis.

So according to this thinking, KM must be practiced by everybody in all aspect of their work. And KM technology should include CRM system, intranet, HR database and system, e-Learning platform, and practically every other IT system (since all IT systems contain data – which, according to DIKW model, can be converted into knowledge).

Therein lays the problem. While I admire the brave and bold thinking, I have doubt on how such philosophy can be realised because it simply doesn’t have any focus. Without a focus you can’t have a robust coherent KM strategy. And without strategy you can’t implement KM.

To be successful, KM initiative needs to have a focus in its purpose/vision. Using vague, motherhood language is not going to impress anyone and is definitely not going to sell any KM initiative. People, especially C-level executives, need to understand what is the specific problem that KM initiative is trying to solve.

So how could you call CRM / HR / intranet issues (and other seemingly KM-related issues) as KM issues when the owner of the problem-area doesn’t define it as KM? You can’t. And most likely the C-level executives don’t see the issues as KM issues too. That means there won’t be resources allocated for KM. And KM initiatives will be buried under other organisational initiatives and will soon be put in the back burner.

2. Invisibility of Organisational Pain Point that KM is Trying to Address
Even if KMers managed to inject a worthy cause to their floundering KM initiative such as organisational learning or internal communication excellence, KMers still facing uphill battle because the specific problem that they are trying to address is not visible to the organisation.


Just like what Atul Gawande highlighted in the story about Anesthesia and Listerism (Anesthesia gained faster adoption than Listerism), KM suffers from the lack of immediate tangible output from its initiatives. Yes organisational learning is important. And yes internal communication is important. But these organisational pain points are hidden in plain view.

Yes, you can highlight immediate success stories in KM by showing “low-hanging fruits” (low-impact tangible results) such as improving information findability. Alas the stories will remain good-to-have stories in the ears of C-level executives. It’s unlikely that the senior management would make KM a priority after hearing such low-impact stories.

Therein lays the problem. Chances are the senior management will lose patience with KM long before KM initiatives begin to show strategic impact to the organisation. KM is a long term organisational-wide strategic endeavor (about 7 – 10 years) and unfortunately organisational KPIs, even the “strategic” ones, are much shorter than that.

And before you blame the senior management for their lack of support or for their “short-term” thinking, you should consider whether it is realistic to expect people to have an unwavering support on a corporate initiative that lasts 7 – 10 years. I don’t think it is realistic unless the corporate initiative is about organisational transformation

Prostituting Change: Why The World Doesn’t Need Pussy Riot or Femen

One of my favorite tv-series in the 1990s was Dark Justice. Check out the opening video clip above. It contains the coolest opening line ever – too bad it is in German. (No, I don’t speak German, but it is the best quality video that I could find in Youtube).

Here is what it says:

As a cop, I lost my case due to legal loopholes, but I believe in the system.

As a DA (District Attorney), I lost my case due to crooked lawyer, but I believe in the system.

As a judge, my hands are bound by the letter of the law, but I believe in the system.

Until it took my wife away. And then I stopped believing in the system. And start believing in Justice!

The Dark Justice opening lines are not only cool, but also emotionally engaging. Everybody lives within systems, whether it is a justice system, social system, technological system, cultural system, or any other system that exists in this world. Systems are everywhere!

But not everyone is happy with the system. Groundswell initiatives like Occupy Wall Street and its variants, Slutwalk, and more recently Pussy Riot and Femen -  show a disturbing trend. People began to believe that they can radically change the system by simply voicing their displeasure via the social media or by staging civil disorder acts.

Perhaps the rise of social media emboldens people, especially the gen-Ys (a.k.a. the Facebook generation), to commit these socially irresponsible acts. But as a gen-Y myself, I can hardly see the value of staging a protest inside a church ala Pussy Riot, or a naked protest ala Femen (uh-oh, thank God, Femen members are all female. See Femen’s Not Safe For Work publicity stunt here and here).

And what do these so called activists get in return? Far from reaching their goals, pussy riot members are indicted and convicted to two-years jail term, and Femen members are subjected to sexual jokes. What a pathetic, lame, and sad effort to launch a change initiative.

A better alternative to launch a change initiative is through a concerted lobbying campaign ala KONY 2012 or 350.org, that can spark a change initiative within the system. Yes, this requires lots of planning, strategising, and communicating – things that Pussy Riot and Femen don’t want to do.

Pussy Riot and Femen prefer to take a shortcut to change by creating maximum publicity with as minimal effort as possible. They are not heroes. They are publicity-seeking lazy bums who are naive enough to think that they can change the world.

Alas the world doesn’t reward laziness. There is no shortcut to change. In fact, there is no shortcut to anything without creating anarchy. Members of Pussy Riot and Femen got what they deserve for being anarchists. The world certainly won’t miss anarchists.

What’s your opinion? 

Want Change? Use Video

Okay, hands up if you’re struggling with making change within your organisation?

The greatest challenge in the change management is making people care about the message that we are telling them. This isn’t an easy thing to do – especially in organisations, where people are swamped with daily work activities.

Most people just want to get on with their daily routine and maintain status quo. It’s not that people are lazy. They just need to be convinced that the change is worth their attention and energy.

So the question for us – the people who roll-out change in organisation – is how to grab people’s attention and tell an engaging story. To me, the answer is by launching great marketing campaigns to initiate the change effort.

Posters and a website are the foundation for a good marketing campaign, because they create greater awareness and inform people on the reason behinds the change effort. To have a great marketing campaign, however, you need to produce fantastic videos.

The Power of Videos

In recent years, more people and organisations are using videos as a change management tools, because videos are the best medium to store and convey stories – especially the emotional elements of the story.

Take for example, KONY 2012. It is a successful viral campaign that calls people to take (simple) action to stop Joseph Kony. (if you don’t know who he is and you don’t care, then I was at the same boat with you – before I watched the video clip below).

Here is another brilliant example of the use of video as a storytelling tool: the trailer of the movie, Prometheus. By using real event brand – TED – and projecting it into the future, i.e. year 2023, we are unconsciously drawn into the story. It’s akin to getting invitation to participate in the future – told by the movie.

Why the Adoption of Video Has Accelerated

The use of video has been increasingly important over the years, and will be critical in change effort in the future, for at least two reasons. First, the effort and cost to produce and to host videos have been steadily decreasing over the years. Second, the technology to support the consumption of videos, such as broadband internet, mobile platforms like iPad / iPhone, and sharing tools (i.e. social technology) is widely available.

Even within the organisation, the infrastructure for hosting videos can be easily acquired and it is now more affordable to invest in such technology. In sharepoint 2010-based intranet, you can consider Kontiki enterprise to host and distribute videos.

In short, the time is ripe to make use of video as the leading tool in change initiative. By not investing time / effort in producing videos and not investing in infrastructure, organisations are making change more difficult. And these organisations are not agile, are less innovative, and will get left behind.


Further Readings

Bailyn, E. (19 March 2012). The Difference Between Slacktivism and Activism: How ‘Kony 2012′ Is Narrowing The Gap. Huffington Post

Tsukayama, H. (10 March 2012). Kony 2012: The Anatomy of a Viral Campaign. Washington Post.

Suddath, C. (16 March 2012). Five Reasons the Kony Video Went Viral. Bloomberg Business Week.

Pomerantz, D. (18 April 2012). ‘Prometheus’: When Movie Marketing Goes Very Right. Forbes.

Prometheus Viral Clip: David The Android. Youtube

Singtel’s Transformation And How to Make It Happen (An Outsider’s Perspective)

Singtel's bid to become more Silicon Valley, less Singapore Inc

A Snapshot of The Business Times, 16 April 2012.

What’s up Singtel? After a study trip to Silicon Valley, the company reshuffled its senior management team and the CEO, Chua Sock Koong, said that the kind of talent that they would recruit into Digital Life were people from media, internet space and digital space.

Wow! Can a single study trip change the mindset of the senior management? In Singtel’s case, it seems to be. I’m happy for Singtel, not because I’m their loyal customer for the past five years, but because I think they are moving in the right direction for two reasons.

First, Singtel understands that, to be successful in today’s economy, they have to bring-in talents with skills in social media / PR. It is folly to think that customers (employees included) will keep their opinions, on new ideas and on service dissatisfaction, to themselves -  when they are highly educated and armed with social media and mobile gadgets. Today’s economy is about co-creation. And Singtel gets that.

Second, Ms. Chua’s philosophy on innovation. She has definitely hit the right tune by looking wide at the whole business ecosystem, to come up with innovative adjacent product / services like AMPed and skoob. This perspective on innovation is advocated by Ron Adner in his book, The Wide Lens: A New Strategy for Innovation.

Don’t get overly excited, however, by the senior management’s good intention to make change happen. They may not succeed because of – you guess it – the middle management’s resistance to change.

To deal with middle management’s resistance and to increase its chances in changing mindset of their people, Singtel has to do two things well.

1. Promote the right people, i.e. people who share the senior management’s views and are able to translate their vision into day-to-day actions, and convince everyone that the change is the right thing to do via dialogue and focus group conversations.

2. Adopt social organisation model. Singtel has taken a huge first step in being a social organisation. It has Expresso – Singtel’s internal Facebook, and blogging and sharing platform.

Expresso is certainly a laudable effort in stimulating quality conversations among employees and cultivating internal communities.But, to make it work, Singtel has to think about social intranet strategy, i.e. how to have user-generated contents, how to store/retrieve contents easily, and how to maintain the quality of contents in the intranet.

Social intranet strategy has to be accompanied by social media strategy. To strengthen its social media effort, Singtel have to think about connecting with customers via online conversation – especially in Twitter, because Twitter is the king when comes to real-time digital conversation and tracking the reach of the conversation / measuring online influence.

Singtel got to act fast, because Starhub has been tweeting for awhile now!

Singtel's Twitter account (as of 22 April 2012)

Singtel's Twitter account (as of 22 April 2012)

Starhub's Twitter account (As of 22 April 2012)

Starhub's Twitter account (as of 22 April 2012)

When the proposed transformation is completed, I believe Singtel would become a more customer centric organisation than it has ever been and a truly exciting multi-national company.

Thoughts? Agree / Disagree?

In Defense of Facebook Timeline: 5 User Adoption Lessons

Facebook Timeline is awesome! That’s the first thing that runs through my mind when I tried the new feature in Facebook. Essentially, Facebook Timeline is a beautiful storytelling tool that helps you to lay-out milestones in your life. Isn’t this cool?

Oh wait, perhaps Facebook Timeline is not so cool when you have dirty little secrets. You know, stuff that you don’t want people to know (read: private stuff, e.g. partying hard, getting drunk).

But then again, you shouldn’t let people to be your Facebook friends if you don’t want them to know about your life. Better still, don’t post anything stupid in your Facebook – especially if your boss is your Facebook friend (*silent panic*).

If you are still concerned about your privacy, then consider these options: “un-friend” people you don’t trust, or adjust your Facebook privacy settings. It’s that simple. You have complete control over what to share on Facebook.

I don’t understand why a lot of people aren’t happy about Facebook Timeline. Yes, Facebook forced it down our throat and gave us only seven days prior notice to do some profile clean up. This is a rather insignificant inconvenience, considering Facebook Timeline is a vast improvement to the current Facebook profile.

5 Things Facebook Can Teach You About User Adoption

The truth is people want to maintain status quo as much as possible. In physics, this is called inertia. In business, this is called “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. In intranet / technology lingo, this is called user-adoption challenge.

Many times in our daily course of work, you and I (KM-ers) have to deal with user-adoption issues. We usually face it when we are introducing new features, or new collaborative tools in the social intranet.

We can definitely learn from Facebook. I really like how Facebook roll out its Timeline. Despite what the critics say, I think Facebook has a sound understanding on how people behave.

Here are five takeaways from the roll-out of Facebook Timeline:

1. Leave them no choice but to adopt the new feature. Are you thinking to persuade your way to get people to adopt the new feature? (*cynical smile*) Let’s get real. There is no way you can get 100% user adoption using persuasion alone. Even the best demagogue in the world, Barrack Obama, can’t get all Americans to agree with him.

2. Explain what the new feature is using one-liner and creative contents, e.g. video, visual illustration. Check out Facebook Timeline page. Facebook describes Timeline in one simple sentence: Tell your life story with a new kind of profile. And Facebook illustrates Timeline using great videos and visuals. Neat!

3. Use Social Proof. At the bottom of Facebook Timeline page, you can see how many of your friends are using the new feature. Nothing is more persuasive than “peer pressure”.

4. Make the transition easy. To use Facebook Timeline, you only need to click Get Timeline button. In one click, you can instantly see the preview of your Timeline page. You can then fine-tune further and publish your page.

5. Give “opt-out” function to hide (sensitive) information.You can’t not force people to share information that they don’t want to reveal. People will resist fiercely to protect their information. So provide an “opt-out” function so that people can choose not to share (sensitive) information. See how Facebook does it.

Thoughts? Do you like Facebook’s user adoption method? 

Further Readings:

DailyMuse. (2 Feb 2012). Just Friends? What to Consider Before Befriending Your Boss. Forbes.

Winter, L. (27 Jan 2012). Facebook Timeline: what’s the fuss about?. The Telegraph.

Kristo, K. (23 Jun 2010). 6 Things You Should Never Reveal on Facebook. CBSNews.

Desmarais, C. (29 Jan 2012). Facebook Timeline Looms: What You Need to Know. PC World.

How Uprisings Happen

This is not a hit list, although it looks like one: Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, and Col. Muammar Gaddafi (a.k.a. the Mad Dog of the Middle East). The first two names are the ex-dictator of Tunisia and Egypt respectively. While the latter is the Libya’s dictator – who is fighting hard to save his regime.

Yes, I’m talking about the so-called Arab awakening (the Middle East uprisings). The interesting thing about it, is that, it happens now - which inevitably begs the questions: why does it happen now – not earlier? why do the people of the Middle East wait until 2011?

Before I answer those questions, let me share my thoughts on how the uprisings happen:

  1. It began with a deeply emotional story that touches many people’s life. The Middle East uprisings was inspired, at least partially, by a story of Mohamed Bouazizi. He was a college graduate who worked as a fruit seller. He was harrassed by corrupt officials who demanded bribes. He refused to comply and burned himself to death. It’s a tragic story, I know. But that’s not the point. Who cares about a fruit seller? I can bet with you that most Tunisians don’t – unless they share Bouazizi’s frustration. Unfortunately in Tunisia – where 14% of the population is unemployed, many people could empathise with Bouazizi story and decided to rise againsts the government.
  2. The story went viral thanks to social media. Bouazizi story is not going to spark a movement, unless many people know about it. The new media is a perfect platform for this, where someone could post a powerful story, and others pass it on to their friends, and their friends send it to their friends’ friends and so on. Social media beats the other media platform, because people are more likely to read stories forwarded by their friends. And there is no censorship. So, stories can travel very, very fast in the social media.
  3. Influencers could find out who share their thoughts, using social media. A powerful viral story is still insufficient to start an uprising. It’s a matter of fear. Fear of being beaten to death by the police. Fear of being thrown to jail for opposing the government (this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). But what happens if someone knows that there are others who want to start an uprising? the sense of fear goes down. And when more people know that there are many others who feel the same way, the fear-level goes down even further. And eventually, when there is enough “psychological safety”,  a collective action (an uprising) will happen.

Look closer to my point #3 above. I said the influencers, not the mass. Why? I think not everyone would be able to translate the meaning of a story to their personal lives. Those who are able to, are the influencers. I’m sure, in the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, there were influencers who interpreted the Bouazizi story, as a cause for a change. And the rest followed the influencers.

As a side note, mass collaboration / uprising / change is always started by a small group of passionate (dedicated) people. In Innovation lingo, these passionate people are called the early adopters. In KM lingo, they are called the influencers. In Design Thinking lingo, they are called – well – the designers or story interpreters.

So, to summarise, I think the uprisings happen now because:

  1. Many Arabs empathised with the Bouazizi story.
  2. A small group of influencers was able to share their interpretation of the story, over a censorship-less platform: the social media.
  3. The influencers attract followers. The best part is, social media makes it easy to know: (a) how many followers that you have; (b) who the other influencers are. This creates a “psychological safety” – where people feel safe to speak their mind and take a collective action.

Recommended Readings:

Yong, J.A. (2011). Uprisings Possible Without the Internet. Straits Times.

Anderson, C. (2010). Crowd Accelerated Innovation. Wired Magazine.

Branson, R. (2010). Make The Most of Social Media For Your Business. Today.

How To Tell Your Story Visually, Using Social Network Analysis (SNA)

In my previous blog post, I mentioned about the importance of analysing social network to design better knowledge management initiative and collaboration. In this post, as promised, I’m going to reveal how to administer social network analysis (SNA) without conducting the dreaded SNA survey.

Before I begin, I would like you to cast away your natural tendency, or should I say the academic-beast within you?, to get optimal and all-encompassing results. SNA, in my opinion, is not about maximising the result, but it is about satisficing – that is getting adequate result that meets our needs. What I’m trying to say here, is this: there is no point of administering SNA in a grand-scale and generic way! You would encounter difficulties in interpreting various relationships among the people, since relationship evolves over time while SNA is nothing but a static snapshot of relationships.

To pin-down the meaning of relationships so that you could analyse it before it evolves, you need to specify the context for the SNA. Think about your own work environment, or a situation that you are familiar with. Which collaboration that doesn’t makes sense to you? Be specific on this. Identify: (a) What you are trying to accomplish; (b) Who the collaborators are and their skills; (c) What tasks are involved.

Once you have done that, the next thing you need to do, is to change your perspective from SNA as an analytical tool, to SNA as a design tool. This has two big implications:

  1. Storytelling. Rather than administering SNA from a third-party eye, why not using SNA as a means to tell your story? That implies, you don’t have to come up with questions that suit  everybody’s work environment. Heck, you don’t even need to get accurate depiction of the social network. It doesn’t matter! You just need to draw up the social network from your perspective. Your story!
  2. Building collaboration prototypes. Once your story is out, you could get others to tell their story. Once everyone’s story is heard, the collaborators should engage in dialogue on how to collaborate better (build collaboration prototypes), by taking into consideration: (a) the team’s resources; (b) the members’ expertise; and (c) the role of influential members. For example, you could get better collaboration by building capacity, or increasing the influence of a certain member.

Let me illustrate what I meant, using a personal example.

I was in a team that tasked to build a website for an organisation-wide learning event. Now, as we all know, website requires planning, content writing and programming skills. It so happened that, in our team, only me (R) had the programming skills (ok, it is not programming skills, it is a skill to use adobe dreamweaver). But, there were two of us – J and R – who had the software installed on our laptop.

So, I thought (remember, I’m talking about my perspective here) the collaboration that happened did not make any sense, because the two persons-in-charge of the project: J and K, should be empowered to upload the content to the website directly. Getting me as the “content uploader guy” (as mentioned, I’m the only person who knows how to do it), would increase the cost of the collaboration. In other words, the collaboration could be done without me, if someone else in the team knew how to use the software. Lesser collaborators, same result. Definitely, an increase in team’s productivity!

Ok, the only problem was: how to communicate this to my boss. Imagine me saying: “boss, can you exclude me from this project? I’ve got more important thing to do”. I think she would kill me. So, I decided to use SNA as a visual storytelling technique. First, I drew this up:

The light blue arrows represented reporting lines. The red arrows represented the content flow. The brown arrows represented the ideas flow. The green arrows represented planning and decision making. The orange arrows represented access to software.

Second, I defined influence in this social network as the number of inward light blue arrows. So, YY was very influential, since she had 5 inward light blue arrows (guess, who my boss is). The second most-influential person was K, since she had 2 inward light blue arrows. The third most-influential person was R (that is, me). Although R didn’t have anybody reporting to him, he could consider adobe dreamweaver reporting to him, since he was the only one who knew how to use it. The rest of the team had equal influence.

Third, I downloaded and installed a free SNA software – SocNetV. To depict the social network in the software, I defined influence as the node’s size. So the more influential a person was, the bigger his/her node was, in the social network. And then I merged the other arrows into one line.

Here was my social network:

I used yellow color for K and J node, because they were the persons-in-charge of the project. While I depicted adobe dreamweaver, as a green square, because it is a software not a person.

The good thing about having social network nicely drawn-up was, my colleagues and I could immediately saw that the collaboration wasn’t an effective one, because:

  • J, as one of the persons-in-charge of the project, should be more empowered. In other words, J ought to have more influence in the team.
  • R could take more responsibilities, considering he was the third most-influential team member.
  • If R left the team, nobody would be able to utilise adobe dreamweaver. R had an important knowledge that he ought to share with the rest of the team.

Of course, there were many other things that I could interpret from the above social network. But that’s outside the scope of this blog post.

Most importantly, I have shown you that you can use SNA as a visual storytelling tool and prototyping tool to design better collaboration. That way, you can use SNA as a conversation (dialogue) starter.

Why Social Network Analysis (SNA) Is Important And The Trouble with SNA Survey

Many KMers have read Rob Cross’ books on social network analysis (SNA). Two of them are:(1) Driving results through Social Networks: How Top Organizations Leverage Networks for Performance and Growth; and (2) The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations. I think the majority of KMers could agree that analysing social network is important, because we could find out:

  • who are the influencers in the social network. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point, argued brilliantly that not everyone is born equal when it comes to spreading social epidemics. There are three kinds of people: Salesmen, Maven, and Connectors – who are more influential than the rest. So, to make KM pervasive in organisations, you need to find and get these guys to become KM ambassadors, who would provide role-modeling and promote knowledge sharing tools throughout the organisation.
  • whether collaboration that happened, makes sense for the organisation. Many top executives view all collaboration is good. So the more collaboration that happened, the better. Alas, that kind of view is far from the truth. In his book – Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results – Morten T. Hansen argued that not all collaboration is good, because collaboration has a cost. That is, a cost to: (a) get everyone share the same vision, (b) establish common ground, and (c) make various team roles palatable for the collaborators. Thus, collaboration only makes sense when every collaborators could benefit from the collaboration work, more than when each individual works on their own. It is a leader’s job to communicate this benefit to the collaborators.  What I mean by communicating the benefit of collaboration, is to share the vision and sell how each individual benefit if they stick together. Not to give instruction to the individuals, to collaborate.

The concept of SNA is really beautiful. And I truly believe, by analysing social network, we could improve organisation performance and learning. This made possible because, thanks to SNA, we could (as mentioned above) design better KM initiative and collaboration work.

If we could just have the means to analyse social networks…

The trouble with SNA is, there is no easy and reliable way to get the data for analysing social networks. This could be attributed to the sensitivity of conducting SNA. Some people would be worried about the implications of the SNA, for their career.

Conducting a survey, is one way to collect the necessary data, but there are at least three issues with this method:

  1. You need senior management buy-in to conduct organisation-wide survey. This may not as easy as it seems. The senior management, is usually skeptical of SNA benefits. They would want to know what SNA could achieve, before they decide that SNA is worth doing. The thing is, there is no way you could predict the impact of SNA to the organisation – unless you have the data. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.
  2. Those who do not trust the organisation, would give “politically correct” answers in the survey – which would skew its result. Of course, you could conduct follow-up interviews to verify the result. But, then again, if they could give “politically correct” answers in the survey, what makes you think they would spill the beans during a follow-up interview?
  3. It is very difficult to design survey questions – that suit the majority of people working environment. If you design the questions too specific to a certain context, some people would not be able to relate to the questions. But if you design the questions too general, the answers may not be meaningful for the organisation.

Due to the difficulty in administering SNA, many KMers give it up, and declare that SNA is an academic exercise with little practical use for organisations. That’s a real shame because, to manage knowledge, you need to have quality conversations across the organisations. And SNA is a damn good way to start a quality conversation. So please don’t write off SNA from your KM tools list, just yet.

Realistically speaking, we need to change the way SNA is being administered. Forget about conducting SNA survey! There is another way of administering SNA. And I will show you how in my next blog post.