• David Griffiths

Does your KM team have the variety to succeed?

Does your Knowledge Management team have the variety to succeed? To answer the question, you need to know what's in your BASKET.

One of the toughest engagements I have undertaken as a Knowledge Management advisor was working with a KM Director in Singapore. What made it tough was a dysfunctional team that lacked the requisite variety of talent to succeed.

The KM lead, Sarah, not her real name, had recently inherited a small KM team formed of successful Project Managers. The team had attended a one-week KM certification course two years before Sarah arrived, which was the extent of their KM knowledge and understanding. 

The challenge was that as a collective, the team were not that interested in KM, it was a functional promotion, and they were struggling to report on impact from their work. I acted as the external reviewer for the Global Executive (GE), where, unless Sarah and I could demonstrate the potential for creating meaningful influence and impact, the KM function would move from being independent, reporting directly into the GE, to an offshoot of IT. 

The result was a restructuring/redeployment of the team, where six years later, Sarah is now a member of the GE and the KM team has doubled in size. One of the conceptual tools I used on that engagement was the Insight Crosshairs, but before I explain what that is, I want to talk about the North Pole.

Did you know that at one time the North Pole was purported to be the Land of Avalon? Such claims brought adventurers the world over to the Arctic, all trying to be the first to the Pole. Many failed. I'm going to introduce you to one of those failed quests and ask what you can do to ensure that you don't go the way of one of those early adventurers and succeed in creating high-impact Knowledge Management programmes.

Question: do you have the requisite variety of talent to succeed as a Knowledge Manager?

Do you have the variety in your KM BASKET to succeed?

You will succeed as a KMer where others fail when your motivation, your passion, and your ability (Beliefs, Attitude, Skills, Knowledge, Experience and Talent (BASKET) meet the needs of the organisation's internal and external environment. 

In today's connected world, if you do not possess the necessary BASKET to succeed, you need to access them via your team or have the ability to acquire them via your network rapidly. 

Imagine yourself caught in Insight Crosshairs that take aim at your motivation and skills. There is only one way to escape, which is through the top right quadrant. 

Do you and your team have the BASKET to escape the Insight Crosshairs?

  • High Ability | High Motivation If you are in the top right quadrant, you need to stretch your capabilities and stay alert. If you do, you'll stay fit and continue to thrive. 

  • High Ability | Low Motivation If you find yourself in the bottom right quadrant, you need to re-evaluate the way you relate to your environment by exploring how you relate your values, beliefs and standards to your situation. [see my blog on self-determination]

  • Low Ability | High Motivation The top left quadrant means that you need to challenge yourself to extend your knowledge, skills and experience.

  • Low Ability | Low Motivation In the bottom left quadrant, you have work to do if you don't want to go the way of the Dodo!

You need to continuously ask yourself whether you have the requisite variety in your BASKET to keep up with your environment because if not, you will quickly drift into irrelevance.

Don't take my word for it, it's Ashby's Law

One of the most powerful and little known laws for determining success and failure in any given work environment is Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety

Ashby's Law states that you need variety to overcome variety. You rely on your range of talent, attitude, knowledge, experience and skills to thrive in your environment. As a Knowledge Manager, if your BASKET fall short, you don't have enough variety, then you fail. If you can't develop or access the necessary BASKET to overcome your shortcomings, you fail. 

When your motivation writes cheques that your skills can't match: the story of Evelyn Briggs Baldwin

In his 1885 book Paradise Found, the President of Boston University theorised that the North Pole was home to the mythical Avalon.

"This book is not the work of a dreamer. Neither has it proceeded from a love of learned paradox. Nor yet is it a cunningly devised fable aimed at particular tendencies in current science, philosophy, or religion. It is a thoroughly serious and sincere attempt to present what is to the author s mind the true and final solution of one of the greatest and most fascinating of all problems connected with the history of mankind." (Paradise Found: the Cradle of the Human Race at the North Pole (1885)

Enter Evelyn Briggs Baldwin, a man with high levels of motivation, but lacking in knowledge, skills and experience. Baldwin had the Arctic bug, which led him to publish The Search for the North Pole. Or, Life in the Great White World in 1886. While passionate, his talent as an adventurer was questionable; his experience listed as that of an Assistant Observer at the United States Weather Bureau. Professor Capelotti of the Penn State University Polar Centre goes further, saying that Baldwin's CV was a blend of fabrication and exaggeration. Ultimately, Baldwin had a passion for adventure but certainly lacked the knowledge, skills and experience.

In 1897, Baldwin's dreams came true when the explorer, Walter Wellman, made him second-in-command of his polar expedition. That winter, Baldwin led an advanced party to establish a forward base for the main expedition party that would arrive the following spring. Baldwin left two men at the base with inadequate supplies. The main party arrived the following spring to find one man dead and the other sleeping next to the corpse. There are questions about ultimate blame, but it seems fair to say that Baldwin's leadership and decision-making skills were, at best, questionable.

However, Baldwin's failure did not follow him, and in 1901 he led a new expedition funded by US baking soda magnate, William Ziegler. Baldwin's passions had gained him access to the best equipment and resources that money could buy, including three ships and a 42 man team.

From the very first Mr Ziegler has evinced a sympathetic interest in the fruition of the single purpose which I have so long kept steadfastly before me. On the day when he made my heart glad by announcing that he would finance the expedition (Baldwin's expedition announcement)

The expedition once again failed, where Baldwin was unable to make progress toward the Pole. Professor Capelotti says that Baldwin's leadership skills were 'sparse' and cites Ziegler as describing Baldwin as a man who spent his time eating pies and smoking cigarettes. Ziegler fired Baldwin when he returned to the US emptyhanded in 1902.

Question: Do you and your KM team have the variety in your BASKET to succeed where others have failed or will you go the way of Baldwin?

If you want to learn more about the founding principles of high-impact Knowledge Management, drop me an email and start a conversation (david@k3cubed.com)