The Two Halves of KM And Why I Partially Agree with Don Tapscott’s View on KM

I stumbled upon Don Tapscott’s article on KM in Mckinsey website. In his interview with Mckinsey, Tapscott reiterated his views that he described in his book: Wikinomics about how social collaboration can boost productivity at work by reducing the need to meet face-to-face.

I liked the way Don Tapscott articulated clearly on the value of KM to the organisation, which is improving productivity though collaborative tools such as wikis, shared calendar, document library, etc. But I think he is being bias towards his own work, which is about promoting the use of collaborative tools at work. He didn’t put enough emphasis on the importance of having quality conversation during face-to-face meeting. He may not see how KM can improve the quality of conversation.

What’s so important about the quality of conversation? Low quality conversation is also a productivity killer! You are probably have experienced being stuck in an unproductive face-to-face meeting where the participants are locked in their respective views and they are unable to decide on the best approach to reach a common goal. In this kind of meeting, you and other participants did not collaborate and did not learn. To put it simple, you and the other participants aren’t practicing KM.

What would happen, if you go ahead and implement the social collaboration tools in the organisation that doesn’t have the habit of high quality conversation, is that you’d only gain few believers (i.e. early adopters) and – even with CEO’s blessing – the practice of using collaborative tools will not spread beyond the small band of believers.

Furthermore, you will not be able to bring the practice of social collaboration to its pinnacle of excellence: Information Findability though best practice Information Architecture and Staff Engagement through active discussion forums, wikis, and blogs. The reason is simple: what the staff practice on face-to-face platform will be “projected” onto social collaboration platform.

Here are some illustrations of behavior projection from face-to-face platform to social collaboration platform:

  • No habit of meeting project deadlines? Then forget about using collaborative tools (e.g. shared calendar) because people don’t see the need for using the tools.
  • No habit of presenting ideas in coherent manner? Then forget about information architecture because their mindset is fixed on “doing information download and leaving it to the audience to interpret”. People will not embrace the idea of organising information and especially the practice of tagging for future findability. People would just stick to their habit of uploading documents and then forgetting where the documents are stored.
  • No respect/trust on others’ ability? Then forget about collaborative tools because they would rather create something new from scratch than build upon others’ work – even if that means they would be unproductive. And people will not seek others’ knowledge in the social collaboration platform because people don’t trust that their colleagues can produce anything that is useful.

I hope I have convinced you that you can’t advocate and successfully inculcate the habit of using collaborative tools if you haven’t inculcate the habit of having good quality conversation. And that you can’t get others to cooperate and to collectively use the collaborative tools unless you cultivate the culture of openness where people are willing to discuss and test new ideas.

You probably have heard the above argument before and are agreeing that cultivating knowledge sharing culture is important. But I’m encouraging you to pay more attention than just cultivating the right culture. I’m talking about having a coherent KM approach. I’m encouraging you to synchronise both parts of KM when implementing KM.

Understand that both parts are meant to reinforce one another. Attempt to implement one without the other, and I can guarantee that you would, at best, achieve partial and limited success. I can guarantee that you would fail most of the times. Link both parts of KM and communicate the interrelation between the two. You will see KM comes to life and becomes part of the organisation’s DNA.  

Good luck! Any thoughts?

iCollaborate: Collaboration According to Steve Jobs

I stumbled upon these two fantastic Youtube videos about what Steve Jobs think about collaboration.  I’m absolutely delighted to learn that Steve Jobs’ opinion on collaboration, resembles mine. That is successful collaboration involves competent individuals who have the right skill sets and attitude.

Here is the first video.

In the above video, Jobs argued that Apple is an extremely collaborative company. There is no committee in Apple and the whole organisation is organised like start-ups. He said:

one person is in-charge of iPhone OS, one person is in-charge of Mac hardware…another person is in-charge of world-wide marketing, another is in-charge of operations. We are the biggest start ups on the planet!

Notice what he was saying (bold text): one person is in-charge of something. Not two person, not five, not ten – but one. This is the “collaboration gospel” that I have been preaching. In fact, I gave a talk about this in GovCamp Singapore (#GovCampSG) in November 2011.

Collaboration isn’t about fake camaraderie where two or more people are in-charge of a single task. True collaboration is organised like start ups where highly competent individuals collaborate to achieve BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) – that they can’t achieve individually.

Here is a second video that emphasises the need to have talented people in the collaboration team (fast forward the video to 1 minute). He said:

You’ve got to be a really good talent scout, because no matter how smart you are, you need a team of great people and you’ve got to know how to size people up fairly quickly, make decision without knowing people too well…

There! Collaboration according to Steve Jobs. Gosh, I miss him. I still regard him as my mentor and role model – even though I have never met him or known him personally.

Do you agree with my interpretation of what Steve Jobs said about collaboration? Any thoughts?

Q&A on The Game of Collaboration Talk, in GovCamp Singapore 2011

I was pleasantly surprised by the onslaught of questions at the end of my GovCamp Singapore talk: The Game of Collaboration, at the Rock Auditorium, Suntec City, Singapore. Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone would bother to ask any question.

Unfortunately, because of the limited time, I couldn’t address all the questions and my answers at that time may not satisfy those who asked the questions. I felt guilty about this.

So in this blog post, I would like to thank those who asked questions and would like to provide quality answers to the questions. Furthermore, I hope to continue the conversation about collaboration and gamification beyond GovCamp Singapore.

1. Q: What is the leader’s role in collaboration? 

A: The leaders have three main roles: (1) to set direction to the collaboration; (2) to manage the conflicts within the collaboration community; (3) to design incentives – so that self-interests are aligned to the collective interest (the goal of collaboration).

2. Disagreement: Someone disagreed with me about kicking-out incompetent people from collaboration. He added that the result of collaboration can be about learning.

Comment: The bulk of collaboration community is lurkers – who give minimum contribution to the collaboration. These lurkers can certainly learn from the active members and tribal leaders if they want to. And the lurkers can become active members or tribal leaders once they acquire the necessary skills or experience (this “upward social mobility” is called Legitimate Peripheral Participation).

What I mean by “excluding incompetent people” is to exclude them in key decision making in the collaboration, in setting the direction of the collaboration, and in rewards-and-recognition. But we shouldn’t stop them from learning.

And I’m not saying that the incompetent people should be despised and looked down upon. In fact, I truly believe that everyone has a talent. Therefore, people should collaborate according to their talent. Forcing people to stay in the collaboration team where they can’t make valuable contribution, is equivalent to creating lose-lose situation for everybody.

3. Q: Does the leaders in collaboration need to be visible to outsiders?

A: Yes the collaboration leaders need to be visible – within and outside the collaboration community. Visibility means earning well-deserved reputation for those who become the collaboration leaders. The leaders become collaboration leaders because they want to known as the champion of a cause, i.e. they do it to increase their personal credibility/brand.

So visibility is important because it boosts the leaders’ personal brand and rewards people intrinsically for being the leaders. When you are a passionate advocate / thought leader on a certain topic, being visible is inevitable. People will see you as the collaboration leader even though you don’t have a formal recognition as “leader”.

4. Q: Why bring gamification to leaderless movements such as Slutwalk, Occupy Wall Street?

A: Gamification helps more people to see who the collaboration leaders are, and helps to shorten the process of peer-recognition.

So, in leaderless movements such as Slutwalk or Occupy Wall Street, gamification be used to identify the leaders of the leaderless movement.

The leaders are not necessarily the organisers of the leaderless movement. More leaders could emerge from the community. And it is not always easy to identify who the collaboration leaders are – unless you are deeply involved in the community.

But, using gamification, anyone can easily find out who the collaboration leaders are – at anytime.

5. Q: What kind of incentives in gamification? intrinsic or extrinsic?

A: Gamification incentives should be tied to intrinsic motivation. The incentives have to be meaningful to the right people. i.e. passionate people with the right skills and attitude.

Badges, points, or level-ups are not extrinsic reward. Those are intrinsic reward because they are tied to the person’s reputation / personal branding.

It is wrong to use badges, points, or level-ups in collaboration without any purpose. You won’t attract the right people, and people will soon get bored with the point system.

Instead, use badges, points, or level-ups to motivate people to attain mastery in certain skills / personal development.

6. Q: Why you need gamification in a company? Is gamification the same as the traditional reward-and-recognition in organisation?

A: No, gamification isn’t the same as the traditional reward-and-recognition. Gamification incentives are tied to the intrinsic motivation as I have explained above.

You need gamification in a company to make work meaningful by giving task autonomy, making progress visible, and recognising people who have achieved personal mastery. The traditional reward-and-recognition isn’t enough to make work meaningful. Gamification can fill the gap.

7. Q: How effective gamification in sales team if they aren’t rewarded by something tangible?

A: Gamification can be effective in many team settings – including sales team. To be effective, as I have explained earlier on, the gamification incentives (badges, points, or level-ups) should be tied to intrinsic motivation, i.e. attaining personal mastery or boosting personal branding.

Do you have further questions on collaboration or gamification? Post your questions / thoughts in the comment box below. I’ll be happy to offer my view. 

Why Collaboration Fails And How Gamification Can Help

I had the pleasure to speak at GovCamp Singapore, on 18 November 2011, at the Rock Auditorium, at Suntec City Mall. The title of my talk was The Game of Collaboration: Why Collaboration Fails and How Gamification Can Help. Here are the video of my talk and the slides.

The Game of Collaboration from Roan Yong on Vimeo.

And here is the minutes of my talk (I change some of the words and cut some points for easy reading).

Collaboration is the most spoken word in private and public sector. But it is also the most misunderstood word. A lot of people take collaboration for granted. They assume that collaboration works like magic. And that open data, shared purpose, and similar ideas work like magical ingredients for collaboration.

In my talk, I intend to share my thoughts on why collaboration fails and what we can do to make collaboration works. I propose gamification as potential solution to the issues of collaboration. But first, let’s see how “self-interest” drives collaboration.

Why People Collaborate

The reason for collaboration seems simple enough. We need 10,000 hours (8 – 10 years) to master one topic. And we innovate by merging our ideas with other ideas. So we need to collaborate, in order to improve our productivity and to innovate.

Therein lies our self-interest in collaboration. We collaborate because we want to achieve something great that we can’t achieve though individual effort, i.e. greater productivity and innovation.

Why Collaboration Fails

Collaboration fails because of three main reasons:

1. Distorted sense of Altruism and Socialism

When working in team, we are often told that we need to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others and that everyone should receive equal reward regardless of contributions.

Well, the truth is we can’t turn everyone into mother Teresa. People who are motivated by altruism alone, are extremely rare. And believe it or not, most people will kick-out liabilities from the team – just like what we have seen in the European Union (EU). The EU bickers on saving Greece – their own European brother. I believe Greece will be kicked out of the EU soon.

So collaboration is never about altruism / socialism. It is not about helping the weak, or the incompetent. It is about achieving something great that people can’t achieve through individual effort.

2. A false belief that shared purpose can overcome self-interest

Shared purpose is a good starting point for collaboration, but it is not enough to make collaboration happens.

As we have seen in the failure of world leaders to collaborate on tackling climate change, the hardest part in collaboration is managing self-interest / conflicts and getting people to agree on a set of collective actions to collaborate. Self-interest will not magically “disappear” – just because people have shared purpose.

3. A false belief that collaboration needs to be leaderless

We are fascinated by being leaderless. We believe that being leaderless is all good and is superior to having leaders. But as we can see from two “leaderless” movements, namely Occupy Wall Street and Slutwalk, being leaderless has two issues: you send mixed message and you can’t think strategically to solve the problem.

Not everyone is born equal in collaboration. In collaboration community, we can find “tribal leaders” – people who are very passionate in and committed to the collaboration. They form about 1% of the community. We can also find “active members” – people who actively contribute to the collaboration. They form about 9% of the community. Last but not least, we can find “the lurkers” – people who give minor contribution to the collaboration. They are the majority and form about 90% of the community.

To transform collective action into collaboration, we need to connect the tribal leaders – the 1%. We need to get them to think and set direction to the collaborative effort.

How Gamification Can Help

Gamification is the use of game-design techniques and game mechanics to solve problem and engage audiences. Applied correctly, gamification can bring the fun, engaging, and additive elements of gaming, to non-game environment, i.e. the business world.

What makes gaming so addictive? Gaming is addictive because it injects capitalism. That means, you have the autonomy to master the skills that you want, and you have the rights to earn incentives that you deserve. In addition, gaming is addictive because progress towards goal and character development, is visible. Progress visibility motivates us.

Gamified collaboration appeals to self-interest, so that people with the right motivation would participate in the collaboration. And incentives would motivate tribal leaders to connect, and would reward contributions so that no one left out (the ones who are being left out, are people who don’t give any contribution, i.e. the incompetent).

To gamify collaboration, we need to make collaborative task visible so that people can have the freedom to choose the task that suits their ability, time, or interest. We need to make collaborators’ strengths and weaknesses visible so that people can form collaboration team with complimentary skill set. And we need to give fair incentives based on contributions.

Gamifying collaboration makes sense because playing games is about collaboration. In games:

  • quests’ characteristics are visible. This enables us to gauge whether we are ready to take on a certain quest.
  • each character’s strengths and weaknesses are shown. This enables us to form collaboration team with complimentary skill set.
  • each action is recorded and rewarded. This enables us to build reputation and allows leaders to emerge from the collaboration community. This also ensures each action, big or small, is rewarded accordingly.

Web 2.0 will make collaboration gamification a reality. To create lively discussions among their community members and to build collaboration community, TED has incorporated some gaming elements in their discussion forum (TED Conversations), namely task autonomy, social validation tools, reputation system, and expertise search.

TED is not alone in the effort to gamify collaboration. I give you another example: Salesforce. Salesforce makes personal development visible, so that people are motivated to collaborate, and to achieve goals in workplace setting.

The future belongs to organisations who gamify collaboration.

How do you find my talk above? What do you think of using gamification to make collaboration works? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

If you like my talk above and would like to book me to speak at your event / conference, then email me at roan_yong [at] yahoo [dot] com. (I give free talk for non-profit organisations and for public agencies.) 

If you would like to find out more about how to gamify collaboration and how to design incentives for gamification, then read my free e-book:, or skype me at roan.yong, or email me at roan_yong [at] yahoo [dot] com. (I’m always open to meet people for lunch / dinner). 

Here is a list of recommended readings that you may find useful:

Amabile, T, and Kramer, S. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Harvard Business School Press.

Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The Suprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Trade.

Hansen, M. (2009). Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. Harvard Business School Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Press HC.

P/S: I also captured my talk in MP3 format Podcast_TheGameofCollaboration. You can download it to your iPod, iPad, or iPhone. Feel free to distribute the materials in this blog post (please acknowledge roanyong)

Why Civic Groundswell Is Pure Madness

Leaderless civic movement (civic groundswell) shows that social technology is an effective tool to get attention, but it isn’t the right tool to produce a strategic comprehensive plan. What really blunts the groundswell’s strategic edge, however, is the lack of means to resolve conflicts. That’s the main drawback of being leaderless.

Slutwalk, Cook-a-pot-of-curry, and Occupy Wall Street (and its franchises). What do they have in common? Yes, you are right. These are leaderless social movement empowered by social technology like Facebook and Twitter. In other words, these are groundswells.

Groundwell is a term coined by two Forrester researchers, Charlene Li and John Bernoff, who wrote a book with the same title: Groundswell in 2008 (they have since published a revised edition in 2011).

In essence, groundswell is a spontaneous movement of people, who use online tools to:

  • connect with like-minded people
  • influence each other’s opinion (as opposed to getting information from organisations)
  • and express the collective opinion, often by encouraging collective action such as boycotting a product, organising a mass protest or a strike.

In the book, Groundswell, Li and Bernoff argued that groundswell is increasing in numbers – thanks to the endless social media tools at customers’ disposal. And they offered advices on how to use groundswell as organisations’ competitive advantage.

Though the two authors are clearly defining groundswell in organisational context, it can also be used to illustrate the phenomenon of leaderless civic movements / active citizenry.

We are seeing an increasing trend of activists / citizens, using social technology to spread a message and to connect with like-minded folks, and expressing their opinion by taking a stand over social problem.

Does civic groundswell excite you? Are you fascinated by leaderless movement? To be frank, I’m not excited nor impressed, and neither should you. Let me tell you why.

In his article, Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted, Malcolm Gladwell brilliantly pointed out that Social Technology is useful when you want to bring the world’s attention to the social problem that you are championing, but it is less useful when you want everybody to collectively solve that social problem.

Groundswell is an emotional cauldron that has no place for critical thinking. People in groundswell, are usually expressing their emotionally-charged opinion that stokes more (usually negative) emotions. It is an effective conduit to make the collective opinion louder.

Alas, the collective action that spring from groundswell, sends mixed messages. Which one is Slutwalk’s message? (a) “women can dress what they want without getting raped”; (b) “stop rape”; or (c) “let’s celebrate feminism”. And which one is Cook-a-pot-of-curry’s? (a) “immigrants should respect Singapore culture” or (b) “stop influx of foreigners”. Let’s not talk about Occupy Wall Street. I totally don’t understand what the protesters want (I’m with Herman Cain on this. Check out the video clip above).

What sorely lacking in these so-called leaderless movements is, well…leaders. In leaderless organisation, everyone has equal rights to interpret the purpose of the movement and to determine the best way to achieve that purpose.

Therein lies the problem. If everyone (translation: all leaders) has big differences of opinion on the movement’s purpose and strategic direction, then how to get everybody on the same page?

Yes people in groundswell may agree on the main theme of the movement. But that’s the easy part. People can agree on almost everything from birdeye view. However, to produce a strategic plan, these people have to scrutinise the details and to do a series of collective action. This requires high-level commitment to solve the problem – something that people in groundswell are lack of.

And if you can’t produce anything strategic, you don’t have a concrete plan to solve the problem that you are championing. In other words, you are just being noisy but not helping. To me, that is madness!

Further Readings

Flanagan, C. (4 Aug 2011). The Trouble with SlutWalks: They trivialize rape.

n.a. (21 Aug 2011). Curry Smell Fuels Singapore Immigration Row.

Riaz, S., & Bapuji, H. (14 Oct 2011). Occupy Wall Street: What Businesses Need to Know.

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 Gen Y’ers Would Make Organisations Nimble

Gen Y’ers (also known as the Millennials) refer to those being born between 1980s and 1990s. Since I was born around that period, I’m one of 76 million members of Gen Y. Gen Y’ers are valued by the employers because we grew up internet era. We are (usually) IT-savvy. We know how to apply social networking tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blogs, to the business field. But we are also known to be  job hoppers. Many Gen Y’ers, like me, have high expectations for personal growth and will have no qualms of changing jobs if ‘we are not ‘growing’ in our current job. A Straits Times report in April noted that many Gen Y’ers change jobs frequently, staying in each job for an average of just 18 months.

It is important to understand that Gen Y’ers quit jobs that are not engaging, and not because we are lazy.  We do care about our work and want to thrive in our roles and responsibilities. What we don’t want is a job that doesn’t require much ‘critical thinking’ skills. We don’t want a supervisor who would tell us ‘just do the job’. We expect to be told the reason behind each complex task, that our boss wants us to do. We prefer not to work with people who do things because ‘the boss says so’. I’m not making these up. Take a look at the following excerpt from a Reuters article: How IT Will Change When Gen Y Runs The Show:

Gen Y workers “don’t see career paths in the traditional sense. They’re looking for companies that are much more flexible,” says Celia Berenguer, co-author of the June 2009 report “Catalyst for Change: The Impact of Millennials on Organization Culture and Policy,” from Monitor Co., a Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy. “The traditional development and training processes are probably the least effective for millennials.”

Carol Phillips, president of market research firm Brand Amplitude and an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame, has studied millennials and what drives them. “They need frequent bite-size promotions, and things can’t be ambiguous. You have to tell them where the goal line is. They need it more than past generations,” she says.

Because these younger workers are so hands-on, giving them real-world experience is the best way to groom them for leadership roles, Phillips says. “You can’t lecture to this group. They get bored so easily. They learn best by doing. The way they learn is by figuring it out,” she says. “So give them tasks that stretch them a bit but that they’re still able to do.”

The past generations, the Gen X’ers and Baby boomers, may balked at giving what these Gen Y’ers demand: flexibility and autonomy. But here is the thing: They have no choice! As more Baby boomers are retiring, and Gen X’ers move into middle / top management position within the organisation, who would fill-up the bulk of rank and file positions? the Gen Y’ers. Despite the possible misunderstanding between the past generations and Gen Y’ers, more Gen Y’ers presence in the workforce should be seen as an opportunity because we (Gen Y’ers) can make organisations more nimble.

According to, we are perhaps the best educated generation ever. But good education is not the reason why we would make organisations more nimble.  The product of this so-called good education, will make organisations more nimble because:

  1. We would actively tell our colleagues and supervisors about our ideas and suggestions. Some bosses (especially those who subscribe to Taylorism) would prefer to tell their subordinates ‘what to do’, instead of to receive suggestion from them. But we (Gen Y’ers) will not accept the outdated idea of ‘supervisors-think-and-subordinates-do‘. Whenever there is an issue crop up at work, we will not wait for our bosses to come up with a solution. We will analyse what went wrong , and propose a solution to our bosses.
  2. We are more willing to experiment with our ideas. There is no better way to develop our thinking skills than testing our ideas. We learn best by implementing our ideas, or adopting others’ idea into our situation. Exchanging ideas / thoughts with others and experimenting with ideas, can lead to innovation. More Gen Y’ers in the workplace means more people who would build on others’ idea and innovate. In other words, Gen Y’ers would contribute towards bottom-up innovation in the organisation.
  3. Our familiarity with web 2.0 tools means we can tap into collective intelligence and collaborate with others who share our ideas / thoughts. Leveraging on collective intelligence is not possible in the past, because there is no easy platform where like-minded people can meet and share their ideas. That easy platform is here now: social networking (web 2.0) tools. So, we (Gen Y’ers) are in better position to implement business initiatives such as Open Innovation, Crowdsourcing, Knowledge Management, or Marketing via new media (Social Media Marketing). The web 2.0 tools also allow us to call for collective action – a mass initiative by people who believed on a common cause. For example:, campaigns, Encyclopedia of Life.

Though the above pointers can cut through bureaucracy and speed things up in the workplace, it also blurs the role between supervisor and subordinate. And therefore not all bosses would welcome it. But then again, we (Gen Y’ers) consider personal growth as more important than career advancement. Thus, we wouldn’t lose sleep if our ‘self-starter‘ behaviors offend our bosses. We will simply change our job!

Just as people can’t be nimble without practice, organisations can’t be nimble without providing conducive environment for Gen Y’ers to share ideas, collaborate and innovate.


10 Teamwork Lessons from Invictus

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. – Nelson Mandela -

I watched Invictus recently. If you haven’t watched the film, you should because it is more that just “an-underdog-team-overcomes-all-odds-to-be-a-champion” kind of movie, it offers lessons on cultivating teamwork*. And as we all know, teamwork requires unity – something that South Africa lacks of, in the mid-1990s, post-apartheid era.

Nelson Mandela - former President of South Africa

Nelson Mandela (picture taken from Wikipedia)

We also know that teamwork in any organisation, is easier said than done. Though we are all aware that “teamwork is good”, we aren’t doing it because we don’t have a good working relationship with our colleagues. Working relationships deteriorate when we disagree with our colleagues on “how to get things done.” And if this disagreement doesn’t get resolved, then there will come a day when we can’t work with those colleagues of ours. Unconsciously, we will form the “us-against-them” mentality. We will start to think that “they can’t appreciate what we are trying to do.” What happens next is, we do things our way, and “they” do things their way.  The virtue of teamwork is forgotten. Teamwork is dead.

Teamwork is about creating common ground – a common cause to unite people with diverse views – and in this regard, lessons from the film Invictus can be applied to organisational life, beyond the issue of unity of a multi-racial country. Teamwork is important in any organisation, because a typical modern organisation consists of people with different education, experience, expertise, and social background. These people often have diverse views, which are great (diversity is a necessity for Innovation to happen), so long as the views can be “brought together” to achieve the common organisational goals.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Mandela -

To unite diverse views in the workplace, we can draw the following lessons from Invictus:

  1. “See the world” through the other person’s eyes. Mandela argued against discarding the South African rugby team name: the Springboks, which according to the black South African, represents the apartheid era. Mandela said that when he was imprisoned in Robben Island, he studied the Afrikaners’ (the White South African) habits and culture, in order to understand “the enemy.” Mandela also emphasized this need of understanding the other’s view, when he argued with his daughter – who dislikes the Afrikaners – and told her, “you criticize without understanding.”
  2. Explain the reason behind your decision. Mandela explained the reason behind his decision to support the Springboks. He explicitly said, “let me tell you why ….”. Francois, the captain of the Springboks, also explained to the team, the meaning behind the new anthem of South Africa (Nkosi Sikeleli Africa): God Bless Africa, when he asked the team to sing the new anthem prior to the match.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do what’s necessary, even though it is unpopular. When Mandela’s secretary tried to persuade him not to support the Springboks, he said, “If my people elected me as their leader, then it is my duty to inform them that they are wrong!”
  4. Have a compassion towards your co-workers. Mandela has strong compassion towards his subordinates. He makes an effort to remember each staff’ name (even the name of a tea lady). He also asks about their family well-being.
  5. Forgive and forget. When Mandela first took office, he noticed that the white staff are packing their stuff because they thought a black president would not want white staff in the office. Mandela hold a staff meeting immediately and told all his staff, “What past, past.” He added, “we need your help…we want your help…” Note that the white South African imprisoned Mandela for 27 years. So it took an extraordinary effort from Mandela to “forgive and forget.” and yet he had done it effortlessly and sincerely (at least that’s how the movie portrayed him to be).
  6. Observe teamwork issue in your organisation and address the issue by giving a common task. Mandela has good sense of disunity in his country. He observed that the white South African supported their team – the Springboks, while the black South African did the opposite. i.e. they cheered the opponents of the Springboks (the South African Rugby team in which only has one black player). To forge unity between the black and the white, he implemented at least two “forced interactions” between them: (1)when the team had to conduct “rugby clinic” for, and to play rugby with the black population, as part of the team’s PR effort; (2) when he asked his bodyguard’s team leader, who was black, to work with additional bodyguards, who were white.
  7. Change when situation demands it. “If I can’t change when circumstances demanded it, then I have failed as a leader”, Mandela answered when he was asked why he supported Springboks now when he did not support the team in the past. Francois – trying to persuade his team to conduct “rugby clinic” for the black population – said, “Time change, probably we should as well!”
  8. Moral support is important, as team with high morale performs better. Mandela understood this and supported the Springboks wholeheartedly. He flied on a helicopter to bid good luck to each team player, before a crucial match against Australia. He asked the Sport minister for a report on All Black (the powerful opponent of Springboks in the final) team profile. He told his personal assistant to free up his schedule on the final match day, so that he can support the Springboks and watch the final game. And guess what he did to support Springboks? He wore the team’s jersey on the final game! (That jersey used to symbolize the Apartheid policy)
  9. Let the experts do their job. Though Mandela wondered how Springboks can beat the powerful All Black, he did not intervene on the Springboks’ play strategy. When the Sports Minister suggested calling the Springboks’ coach to discuss the team strategy, Mandela told him, “No! I did want to disturb their focus, not even for one minute…” Mandela knows he is no expert in rugby, especially in devising a rugby game strategy against a powerful opponent.
  10. Don’t underutilise the word “Thank You”. When South Africa defeated New Zealand, Mandela said to Francois, “Thank you for what you have done to your country!”. When his domestic helper made his drink according to his preference, he said, “Thank you, you have been good to me.” When the tea lady delivered tea in the afternoon, he also said “Thank you”. The point is: No one is too big or too small for Mandela to say: “Thank You!”


*Teamwork is often used interchangeably with collaboration. In this blog post, I’m referring to collaborative teamwork whenever I mentioned teamwork. But, Collaboration and Teamwork are not necessarily the same thing. Collaboration is the highest form of teamwork, and thus collaboration is a subset of teamwork. There are three kinds of teamwork: (1) Coordination – where teamwork is about coordinating who does what; (2) Cooperation – where teamwork is about getting the other party to work according to our plan (this kind of teamwork often happens between boss and subordinate); (3) Collaboration – where teamwork is about collective action among peers. Collaboration happens when the parties involved, are inspired and engaged to achieve a common goal. For more details, please see my previous post: Will The Real Collaboration Please Stand Up?

Find Wicked Problems – and Knowledge Will Be Shared

I have been thinking lately about my job: Knowledge Management (KM) consultant. Though it is not my formal designation, it is how I see my role in the organisation (after all I’m part of the KM team in the organisation that I work for). After trying hard to convince my colleagues to share their knowledge and failing most of the time, I have reached a conclusion that asking people to share their knowledge is like searching for the Holy Grail, i.e. much efforts and enthusiasms but little results. Of course during my studies, I was told that cultivating a knowledge sharing culture is going to be difficult and I was not worried because there was a ‘model’ answer to address this issue.

So what’s the ‘model’ answer? The classic KM textbook answer to get people share their knowledge, is: (1) weave KM processes into the work processes; (2) gather ‘low-hanging fruits’; (3) and then show the management about the value of KM to the organization. Eventually the management will give their blessing and staff in the organization will be doing KM without they even knowing it (which is a very ideal situation – I should have known that ‘model’ answer, by definition, implied idealism). The textbook answer is wonderful and quite close to useless at the same time. To understand why, let’s take a closer look at the ‘model’ answer:

  • Weave KM processes into the work process. We are in the 21st century (and thus technology can always make business processes more efficient, can’t it?). And this means, according to the KM ‘experts’, we can build intranet with workflows to ensure people capture their knowledge – for example in the form of After Action Reviews (AAR), or stories. Yes technology allows us to build workflows. But does prompting people to complete the workflows can really capture knowledge? Does technology can really persuade or coerce people to spend time to store and share their knowledge? I don’t think so. Compliance does not guarantee the quality of work. There is a real possibility that people are not capturing knowledge that is of value to the organisation, i.e. the people fill up the knowledge repository, for example best practice database, with whatever they can remember, and without much discussion and reflection of what they have learned.
  • Gather ‘low-hanging fruits’. Ok this is vague. How to ensure everybody has shared understanding of ‘low-hanging fruits’? It is difficult indeed. Furthermore, quick wins, or ‘low-hanging fruits’, can be associated with results with low value, and thus they don’t always translate to the top management’s support and commitment.
  • It follows that if we can’t weave KM processes into the work processes and gather ‘low-hanging fruits’, then there is little we can do to win the top management’s commitment that we badly needed to roll out KM initiatives.

Therein lies the problem. If we can’t show the value of KM to the organisation, how are we going to show our worth as KM professionals to the top management? In order for KM to be of strategic value to any organisation, it has to deal with wicked problems in the organisation. Wicked problems, by their nature, are difficult to define. Here is a quick way to understand wicked problems: multi-causal problems with no clear solution,  socially complex problems, and problems that involve changing behavior, for example: smoking control, tackling AIDS, climate change. Wicked problems, however, don’t always have to be inter-organisational problems, they can also be found within the organisation, for instance: Innovation, improving customer/staff satisfaction.

There is no sure fire strategy, or framework, to solve wicked problems, though collaboration is seen as key to crack the problems. And when people collaborate, they are sharing their knowledge! without knowledge sharing, collaboration will not happen. Of course the assumption here is people are willing to collaborate. So, do people collaborate when dealing with wicked problems? I’m confident that they do because when dealing with wicked problems, people find value in bouncing of ideas from each other, and in tapping other people’s experience and expertise – which motivate them to seek out others with similar interest or stake in the wicked problems.

Collaboration can not be mandated. And more collaborations do not necessarily lead to better results, because each collaboration carries a transaction cost, that is (mostly) time.  So, in order for collaboration to be useful and effective, the value of collaboration has to exceed its transaction cost. If I can do the task by myself then there is little incentive for me to seek others, because I can be more productive by doing the task alone. Thus, collaboration is worth the effort (transaction cost) when people – as a group - can surmise that they will be more productive through collaboration and working collectively. The caveat here is we should identify the problems first, then foster collaboration, and not do the other way. It can be very painful to ask or coax people to collaborate to solve problems, especially when they don’t see the need to collaborate.

In conclusion, as a KM professional, we can prove our worth to the organisation by fostering and managing collaborations around wicked problems.

Who could claim as a collaboration strategist?

Stay on trackDue to lack of regulation in insurance industry, the insurance agents in Singapore used to be able to claim as financial consultants. There was a lot of confusion between people who offered insurance services and financial services. Though insurance services could include investment linked plans and early retirement plans, they are essentially offering insurance, which is a different breed from financial services, which covered investment in stocks, bonds, properties, and other wealth accumulation devices.

The main reason for the insurance agents to call themselves a financial consultant is that people, i.e. potential customers, shuns insurance agents but not welcomes financial consultants. There is a lingering perception that financial consultants are better educated and more knowledgeable than insurance agents. Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) noticed the issue and sorted it via regulation that says who are eligible to use the title ‘Financial Consultant’ as their job designation or on their name card.

I can see the same scenario happening in the Knowledge Management (KM) world. We know that people scowl at us whenever we mentioned the word ‘KM’. Too often we are demoralized by the rejections, cynicism, and sneers from the people whom we talked to. Despite our good intention, people resist the word KM. However the opposite happens for using the word ‘collaboration’. Suddenly, we become heroes of the organisation and are welcomed by our colleagues. People are eager to listen to what we have to say.

Despite the magic that the word ‘collaboration’ brings, I urge every KM professionals to use it conscientiously since exploiting it without careful consideration would dumb down the word ‘collaboration’. And as a result it may someday loses its charm. Here is a real-life example of how the word ‘collaboration’ should not be used.

On early Nov 09, I attended a masterclass on collaboration at Hyatt Hotel by an expert from New Zealand. The masterclass was advertised in a KM society newsletter in Singapore, and the expert, whom I shall not name, claimed to be a collaboration strategist. Since collaboration is an intimate term for every KM professional and sponsored by my company to attend the course, I signed for it. Unfortunately, the bulk of the talk is about how to use Microsoft Sharepoint to facilitate collaboration / information sharing, which in my opinion, undermine his self-claimed job designation -  a collaboration strategist.

In my previous post, I have explained that collaboration is beyond determining who does what and thus it requires more than collaborative technology. And much to my chagrin, this expert added the word ‘strategist’ after the word ‘collaboration’. As impressive this title seems to be, it may mislead many people. Collaboration Strategy should include people, not only in getting their views on certain technological features in a collaborative platform, but also:

  • creating collaboration-friendly climate in the workplace, for example: rewarding people for collaboration.
  • identifying and encouraging most valuable collaborations in the organisation. The management should intervene when any of the most valuable collaborations does not happen.

A more suitable and fitting job designation for the expert would be collaborative technology architect or collaboration technologist, instead of collaboration strategist. I’m sure that the expert that I mentioned above was not the only person who abuse the word ‘collaboration’ to impress others. Thus given the condition, it is difficult KM field to mature further, unless there is a regulation on what these people – change management, KM, and IT consultants – could claim their expertise as, so that majority of KM professionals could have common understanding of the word ‘collaboration’ and who are eligible to claim themselves as a collaboration expert.