inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #0 of 80: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 7 Nov 02 15:40
    
Our guests are Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, authors of the just-published
_Building the Knowledge Management Network: Best Practices, Tools, and
Techniques for Putting Conversation to Work_, published by John Wiley & Sons
(ISBN: 047121549X). We asked Cliff and Nancy to write a collective bio:

"Living communally and collectively for 12 years teaches you a lot about
conversation and collaboration. With so many opportunities (and
responsibilities) for holding up our own ends of conversations, we learned a
lot about wasting time and effort and, as a result, a lot about getting to
the point and taking action. So it was quite a transition for us to follow
our communal experiences with immersion in virtual communities where there
seemed, at first, to be little binding people together beyond the compatible
technologies they were using. And yet, through those technologies, people
found plenty of reasons to cooperate and provide mutual support.

"Since we left our jobs at the WELL in 1992, we've largely gone our separate
professional ways, we've both pursued the thread of working through and
toward online social interaction. Almost two years ago, curious to figure out
how organizations could benefit from the same level of productive
conversation we've experienced, we looked deeply into the field of knowledge
management. KM to be a somewhat stilted term being used to describe the
common sensical organization of human experience; what was clearly lacking
was the most obvious form of communication: informal conversation.

"So here we are with this amazing Internet and all of its associated tools
for interaction, and the most glaring gap in knowledge generation, exchange
and distribution appeared to be the intuitive practice of fostering
conversation and the interpersonal trust that encourages people to share
their stories and experiences.

"Why weren't more leaders of organizations encouraging their people to talk
more and using email and other onlline interactivity more proactively and
effectively?

"That unanswered question prompted us to write this book about producing
useful online conversation.

"Cliff also wrote 'Hosting Web Communities' in 1998 and his resume includes
stints as community manager for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and
Salon.com. He has consulted for AOL, Institute for the Future, Rheingold
Associates and Cisco Systems. His most fun time (aside from riding herd on
Salon's Table Talk during the Clinton impeachment hearings) was organizing
and managing the discussion boards the Web-based Chess Challenge between the
world champ Garry Kasparov and IBM's massively parallel computer, Deep Blue.
He gets his kicks from hanging out with family, riding his bikes and
backpacking. He doesn't miss TV.

"Nancy found a love of business and embraced both the humanistic
story-sharing side online networks, but also the profitable side as well. Her
journey through the virtual work world led her to leave the WELL in 1992 and
start the first commercial online site dedicated to women's interests. Later
she also founded AOL's first women's 'channel' and was Director, Business
Development at the Tribune Company and AOL's joint venture Digital City. From
there she built dozens of online health-focused communities for an online
pharmacy called PlanetRx.  She loves to relax by dancing, hiking, gardening,
cooking, studying American History, and doing the NYTimes crossword puzzle
every day."

Leading the discussion is Nancy White of Full Circle Associates. Nancy is a
communications consultant with a background in the planning and design of
interactive environments, communities of practice, and online worgroups. She
is also an experienced speaker and facilitator, online and off.

On the web:
Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine: http://www.socialchemy.com
Nancy White: http://www.fullcirc.com
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #1 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Thu 7 Nov 02 18:15
    
Thank muchly, Jon. 

Yeah, we're former communards, but another way of describing our
former home is as an innovation-generating network. Living poor,
sharing resources, scamming and refurbishing critical technologies --
dire necessity gave birth to many inventions. 

People who knew practical stuff showed others, so we developed our own
midwifery crew, our own primary medical care, our own phone system and
printing company. Most of us had useless liberal arts degrees, and had
been raised with few hands-on skills. The Farm was, besides a
community, a knowledge networking school for middle class naifs.

After going through the past 10 years of Internet business wackiness,
we wondered why so many seemingly smart people spent so much money on
so many dumb ideas. Didn't they talk about the obvious flaws in
business plans? Was everyone involved in all of these companies equally
blind? Whatever happened to the voices of the skeptics and doubters? 

The clear and massive lack of truthful communication seemed, in the
end, to be so wasteful and dishonest. Lack of email or message board
skills was not the problem. It was lack of resolve and leadership to
use these tools effectively -- to exchange experience and knowledge in
order to make smarter decisions and to collaboratively come up with
better ideas. Yes, there are skills in pulling off an effective and
useful conversation, whether online or offline. But the commitment to
truth and tolerance has to be there first or no one will bother to say
anything worthwhile.

So, in that respect, I believe the most important purpose of our book
is as a call to conscience (and consciousness) than it is a manual of
skills and a catalogue of research on best practices. We want to reach
the people within organizations who recognize this under-use of
available technologies and of what Susan Scott calls "fierce
conversations" in the workplace. We want to provide fuel and
inspiration to the internal evangelists who recognize the gap between
the potential and the realized use of relatively simple technologies
like email lists, discussion forums and instant messaging to help their
organizations get smarter.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #2 of 80: Nancy White (choco) Thu 7 Nov 02 19:00
    
Welcome Cliff and Nancy. I enjoyed reading your book, which is now
suitably dog-eared, post-it-ized and highlighted! I've already started
dropping quotes all over the place!

From your opener, I see an invitation to dig right down to the heart
of the matter. So here we go!

What conditions enable organization to engage in these "fierce"
conversations? What hallmarks did you find in companies who were
successfull in their move to use online conversation in a tolerant and
truthful manner? Are these hallmarks common in organizations? Rare?
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #3 of 80: Nancy Rhine (nancy) Fri 8 Nov 02 08:11
    
>>What hallmarks did you find in companies who were successful in
their move to use online conversation in a tolerant and truthful
manner? <<

One of those "duh!" but true hallmarks we found was an environment
where at least one segment of the management was already fiercely
involved with and dedicated to the customers, usually through a
commitment to meeting and talking with as many of them as possible,
whether it be by invited meetings onsite, or by traveling to meet and
talk with them around the country. Or by phone or by questionnaires. Or
all of the above. IOW, there was both a commitment to *listening* to
them and encouraging interaction and feedback.  And the "duh-est" of
them all is that the manager enjoys and likes his/her customers.
It always just amazes me that management that does not enjoy or trust
the good sense of its customers thinks it can be successful!  But we
have seen this environment over and over again.  A lack of affection
and trust turns to walls between the company and its customer base out
of, so many times, fear.  This atmosphere infects the employee base as
well and leads not only to knowledge "hoarding" rather than sharing but
knowledge shut down as well.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #4 of 80: Nancy White (choco) Fri 8 Nov 02 08:53
    
Ah, that seems like a real selling point --> the customer focus. LOVE
the customer! LISTEN to the customer! Heh, ENJOY the customer! Keep the
customer --> make the sale! That seems to be a strong purpose to
motivate a company to engage in customer conversations. 

I wonder if we can layer that over the employee target audience. If
manager love (generically speaking!), listen to and enjoy their fellow
employees/team members, there might be more flow in information through
conversation? I remember debriefing a group I was leading through a
new manager training. I asked them to name one value they admired in a
leader/manager they worked with. One person said "my manager really
enjoyed working with us. It showed and we loved to come to work."

What can we do to support that sort of cultural shift - or to nurture
it where it already exists? At what levels? Where do we look for
opportunity? Examples?
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #5 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 8 Nov 02 09:30
    
What we can do is leverage examples of good and courageous practice by
leading organizations whose support of conversation leads them to
success. 

Organizations must recognize their reality in the world. This
recognition should exist not only at the top, where strategic focus is
born and lives, but throughout the organization. Employees must trust
that their leaders will be honest with them and that issues that affect
the whole company are being acknowledged and addressed.

Besides a respect (or love) for customers, there's an element of
responsibility to society and be open to discussion about that
responsibility. That openness needs to be fostered by the company's
leadership, which includes board members and executives. 

I don't know what it is about the Dutch (I know that Nancy W. is
headed to the Netherlands next week), but they seem to have a more
curious and open perspective of the world than other nationalities.
Even their global petroleum corporation, Shell, is relatively
progressive. 

On Shell's Web site, they host an open public forum called "Tell
Shell" where company representatives actually respond to accusations
and indictments for injustices related to Shell's worldwide petro
activities.

Check it out at http://www.euapps.shell.com/TellShell/ . Here's a
typical post by one of Shell's critics:

"To appreciate the negative extent of Shell in their host communities,
you only need to take a look at the activities of Shell in Nigeria.
Shell played a big role in the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa as the brutal
military government of Abacha carried out those atrocities in Ogoniland
to protect Shell business. There are reports that Shell actually
imported arms which were used to slaughter the Ogoni people."

To what extent Shell takes these criticisms to heart and changes its
practices accordingly...we'll see. But at least they are supporting and
participating in a conversation.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #6 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 8 Nov 02 11:38
    
But just as important as it is to allow such criticisms to be
displayed on Shell's website, is the internal conversation that such
public criticism stimulates. How far will public comment go towards
changing Shell's culture and values? 

Difficulty and failure are incentives for change, but conversation is
the means to sort through the many routes that change might take.

We know this all seems like such common sense. We're surprised that so
few companies seem to get it and we're eager to hear any stories about
organizations that encourage open internal conversations. But
organizational culture has been developing in a "central command"
direction for several centuries. Much of what MBAs are taught, even
today, is based on structures and practices that came out of the
Industrial Age -- mass production, mass marketing, "we know what's best
for you". Freshly-minted MBAs were essential to the fate of the dot
com bubble.

The conversations that can wear away the sharp corners of rigidly
hierarchical organizations are much easier to have today, with the Net,
but few organizations realize its potential. Email alone is like the
first rivulet eroding new channels in the old culture. Emergent
communities of workers now invent and manage their own networks and
protocols to get stuff done. 

All we're trying to do is make the expansion of such spontaneous
conversational networks easier.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #7 of 80: I of course ignore the breasts (ruz) Fri 8 Nov 02 13:38
    
I don't have a question right now but I just want to say hi Cliff! and hi 
Nancy!
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #8 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 8 Nov 02 13:45
    
Hey, Ruz! How's it? 

I'm sure the ladies appreciate your pseud. Now that's an icebreaker.

(Organizational kids: don't try this in the office!)
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #9 of 80: Mr. Christian Ruzich (ruz) Fri 8 Nov 02 13:53
    
Oops...guess I shoulda checked that. Things are good. I'll be back with 
something constructive to say once I read the book...
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #10 of 80: Nancy Rhine (nancy) Fri 8 Nov 02 13:58
    
Heya, Ruz!  Nice to see ya here!
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #11 of 80: Nancy Rhine (nancy) Fri 8 Nov 02 14:06
    
Commenting on a couple of points Cliff made:

>>Difficulty and failure are incentives for change, but conversation
is the means to sort through the many routes that change might take.<<

We've also found that *public* discussions, however the public is
defined - it could be "public" meaning the employees or "public"
meaning customers and/or vendors - result in greater improvements in
systems.  When quality of medical service standards are measured via
surveys, for example, varying levels of improvement initiatives
resulted. When the survey results were distributed only to top
management, very little resulting change initiatives occurred. When the
results were made available to employees, more improvements were made.
And when the customers were informed, the most change occurred.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #12 of 80: Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 8 Nov 02 14:16
    
The company I used to work for had an internal Usenet-style newsgroup.
People announced events, bought and sold things, asked about local shops and
doctors, etc. Some people also advocated, even had arguments. They commented
on politics, even the company itself. After a few years the company shut the
newsgroup down without ceremony or explanation.

The company also has forums on its website, for customers to ask about and
discuss using its products. One forum, almost an afterthought, was called
"Take 5." After a while, the weeds of community began to root there:
customers checked in with each other, swapped jokes, and all the rest. The
volume of postings rose, some people got annoyed, and the staff decided it
was too much hassle so they shut that down too.

I know they have thrown a baby out with their bathwater, but it wasn't easy
to make a businesslike case for just letting things flower. How do you speak
to "bottom-line" decision makers?
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #13 of 80: Nancy Rhine (nancy) Fri 8 Nov 02 14:25
    
Hi Andrew,

I asked this very question to the head of Hallmark's customer
community initiatives.  He is one of the top managers there and had
little inclination to trying to analyze why other companies don't see
the value of engaging customers as stakeholders in the company.  He
just said, if they don't get it, they don't get it.

OTOH, if the naysayers or the ignorant are educated by citing examples
of companies and situations where customer-generated ideas and
feedback result in substantial revenue gains, they can quickly change
their minds. It seems few people like to be first in trying something
they consider new and iffy.  
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #14 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 8 Nov 02 14:33
    
If someone pays you to fulfill responsibilities, you should at least
take care of those. If you're yakking away around the water cooler or
on the newsgroup or in your IM client, and NOT covering what you're
paid for, then clearly things are out of balance. 

But if, in those conversations, you find insights that help you do
your job better, win the loyalty of customers and improve collaboration
in the company, the yakking is paying for itself. If the conversations
have a purpose relevant to your job, then they are part of your job.

So, the worker has to account for time spent and what was gained for
the company through the conversation. This can be a hard case to prove
if management is predisposed to see all on-the-job discussion as a
waste of company time. But if management gives purpose to conversation,
it can better appreciate what it gains from them.
 
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #15 of 80: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 8 Nov 02 17:19
    
I'm wondering if the tradeoff isn't over whether there's a community
or not, but rather between a community where most discussion happens on
a company-run server, versus having it happen on an unofficial
off-site bulletin boards.  As a customer I think I'd prefer discussion
to be off-site.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #16 of 80: Nancy White (choco) Fri 8 Nov 02 18:28
    
What about the distinction between "community" and the "conversation."
Are we creating too much expectation if we place the conversation in a
community? Regardless of the location?
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #17 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 8 Nov 02 19:43
    
An offsite "neutral" site for customer exchange is certainly an option
these days. You don't have to worry about the company shutting down
your message board. 

But if companies establish good enough relationships with their
customers, a discussion place provided by the company would simply be
an extension of good customer service. In fact, it could be used
effectively for product development collaboration between the company
and the users of its products.

We chose to de-emphasize community as a goal in this book, instead
aiming for productive conversation. These can occur in project-based
situations and as isolated interactions between customer service and
customer. Sure, some communities form around conversational
opportunities, and trust is an important element in any knowledge
sharing interaction. But achieving "community" can be an offputting
expectation for some.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #18 of 80: Nancy White (choco) Fri 8 Nov 02 21:56
    
:: nodding in agreement ::

Did you run into any instances where companies had this "aha" about
conversations as a way to improve critical thinking? You know that
phenomena of when you think about someting -- problems, ideas, etc --
in your head? You think and think and come up with an idea. Then you
have the chance to talk about it with someone and wow -- the whole
thing takes a quantum leap forward. The act of "explaining" it actually
changes it. It seems to me that this can improve a company's
collective thinking. Do folks see value in that? Recognize it? (Or do
they recognize critical thinking... grin!) 

Oh, this is one of those awful two-parter questions...

If companies recognize the value of conversation in supporting
critical thinking, do they start recruiting for people who know how to
have conversations? What skills might they look for? 
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #19 of 80: Nancy Rhine (nancy) Sat 9 Nov 02 09:06
    
Hi Nancy - well, again, I have to point to my experiences with
Hallmark and Tom Brailsford, one of my online corporate conversation
heroes.  Originally when Hallmark set up targeted, invite-only customer
communities, their goal was to come up with two or three good product
ideas per year out of the group.  What they found were not only a
myriad of those, but entirely new business ideas to boot. The thinking
in these targeted online conversation groups is not only critical and
imaginative but waaaay upstream, as Tom puts it, from mere feedback and
opinions.  It has been so valuable to the company that they started
several vertical niche groups to contribute to company strategic
thinking.

Actually, other than bringing together people who have something
shared in common, in addition to being patrons of a particular
business, I believe just about anyone treated correctly will have
valuable input into their experience not only with your products and
services, but with your competitors' as well.  Now there is a bell
curve of distribution where some will be more active than others, so
the point is that along with good hosting, you can often draw out even
more participation than is statistically and randomly encountered.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #20 of 80: Nancy Rhine (nancy) Sat 9 Nov 02 09:11
    
Brian, re. offsite or onsite company/customer intercommunication
areas, I think it depends on the conscious commitment of the company to
allow, to encourage even, honest feedback. This often means for
management to stay out of the way and let people talk.  It also means
listening, and occasionally, perhaps even on an invite basis, dropping
by to thank the participants for their input and discuss various ideas
with them.  If the feedback is valued, it will come through and can be
even more gratifying to participants than just speaking amongst
themselves.

In some cases, corporations have set up customer feedback areas and
thought that they would have to heavily incent the customers to engage.
What was found was that people were "starved" (one manager's word for
it) for opportunities to give opinions and stories that were respected
and appreciated by companies whose products they purchased and/or whose
premises they frequented. No incentives, other than that, were
required!  So simple, and yet so true.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #21 of 80: Nancy White (choco) Sat 9 Nov 02 11:42
    
Via Email from Denham Grey:

Would you ask Nancy and Cliff about:
a)  the role of shared language, i.e. building common ground
b) how to practice group inquiry 
c) and ways to support deep reflection

as knowledge work practices in a loose network?.

Thanks

Denham
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #22 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 9 Nov 02 20:26
    
Hello to Denham and thanks for his good questions. I'll try to answer
them in order.

>>"the role of shared language, i.e. building common ground"

We've been studying the idea of enabling global online conversations
to join knowledge specialists and funding sources with people needing
specific expertise and financing for their projects. Everyone we've
talked to has emphasized the barriers of language and cultural
perspective. This can be just as daunting when trying to connect two
divisions in the same corporation. Marketing and Product Design are two
very different head spaces in traditional businesses. 

Before strangers can truly open up to one another, there must be some
kind of translation of good will. Reputation helps break the ice and
establish initial trust, but some level of (if you'll pardon the
expression) tail-sniffing needs to happen before strangers in an online
business environment will engage productively.

Eye contact is a very important element in face-to-face that, being
absent in virtual meetings, must be replaced by other methods of
validation. Perhaps, as a colleague of mine believes, some kind of
social contract would be in order to establish a starting point for a
conversation that defines the common ground and at least some basic
elements of a shared language. 
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #23 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 9 Nov 02 20:58
    
>>"how to practice group inquiry"

That's a wide-ranging question. I think if people are serious about
collaboratively finding answers to questions of mutual interest, group
inquiry just happens. But some level of facilitation can help the
iquiry to keep moving ahead rather than stall or go in circles.

In many of the small groups who met online for the two weeks of
Listening to the City, group inquiry was powerful. Facilitation clearly
aided the process. The shared goal you could feel as you followed the
dialogues was a healing from the memories of 9/11 and the pain of the
past year. Motivation was high to have some effect on the redevelopment
of the World Trade Center site. 

It's important, I think, that all members who consider themselves part
of the group actually take part in and contribute to the inquiry. It's
important that there be a person or agreed-upon process to guide the
group forward in the inquiry and prevent it from stalling or circling
inefficiently.

And here, again, there's the idea of a contract that asks each group
member to give "full value" to the conversation.

I hope that's what Denham meant by "group inquiry." The travel
industry, of course, has a completely different definition.
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #24 of 80: Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 9 Nov 02 21:20
    
>>"ways to support deep reflection"

I'm a member of an email prayer list. The idea of it is to take time
to reflect on other people's needs. Well there's too damn much email to
read in my limited time for me to pray much.

Right now I'm probably a good example of someone creating so much for
other people to read that they end up not having time to reflect on
anything I've said. Yet I still recommend that people be precise
("pithy" as Mr. Brand would say) with their words and learn to say a
lot in as few as possible of them.

The better we all get at economizing words and communicating our true
meaning, the more time we'll all have to reflect on that meaning. 

How much time are most corporate workers provided for productive
reflection, really? We can only estimate the potential value to a
company if its people could think about ideas like innovation,
adaptation and efficiency. And a good conversation, like Stephen
Denning's good story, can (and should) be a springboard to new ways of
thinking. 
  
inkwell.vue.165 : Cliff Figallo and Nancy Rhine, "Building the Knowledge Management Network"
permalink #25 of 80: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 9 Nov 02 23:23
    
Cliff, earlier you said about the dot-com thing that "The clear and
massive lack of truthful communication seemed, in the end, to be so
wasteful and dishonest."

I totally agree with that but it seems like there's a certain amount
of willful naivety underlying this conversation.  Let's get down to
brass tacks.  The marketplace has always been a fundamentally dishonest
place - if not outright lies, at least exaggerating the positive and
leaving the negative unsaid.  Public relations, advertising and
salesmanship are fundamentally dishonest.  Of course there are limits,
both legal and the ones people place on themselves so as to be able to
look at themselves in the mirror, but they fall short of true honesty. 
It's fundamentally buyer beware, and especially in hard times the
first priority is usually to keep the organization going.  Since there
are always rumors and leaks, this also applies to internal
conversation.

Most organizations try to put out a positive image of themselves and
hide any weaknesses.  They want to "control the message."  Allowing
customers to talk in a public, uncontrolled forum is always going to be
a little dangerous.  Letting customers talk to each other is great
when things are going well but when something goes wrong, bad word of
mouth gets amplified.

Under these circumstances, how can we really expect organizations to
want open conversation?
  

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