How to separate, implement, and optimize the divergent and convergent stages of every problem-solving process
As I began to read this book, I was reminded of a passage in one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls. He and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” Whenever asked if two heads are better than one, however, I reply, “Which heads?”
Organizational judgment can often be substantially better than the judgment of any one person but as Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie correctly point out, “in the real world, discussion often leads people in the wrong directions. Many groups fail to correct the mistakes of their members. On the contrary, groups often amplify those mistakes. If groups are unrealistically optimistic, groups may be more unrealistic still. If people within a firm are paying too little attention to the long term, the firm will probably suffer from a horrible case of myopia. There is no evidence that the judgment mistakes uncovered by behavioral scientists are corrected as the result of group discussion.”
Sunstein and Hastie organize and present their material within four Parts: In Chapters 1-5, they explore the sources of group failure. They explain how to avoid or correct (a) members’ errors, (b) embracing a herd mentality, (c) becoming more extreme, and (d) valuing shared information at expense of unshared information. Re the latter point, Carla O’Dell and Jackson Grayson have much of value to say about that in their classic work, If Only We Knew What We know. Then in Chapters 6-13, Sunstein and Hastie shift their attention ton to the sources of group success. For example, in Chapter 7, they explain the immense importance of distinguishing between two quite different processes when attempting to solve a specific problem: identification of a list of potential solutions, and, selection of what seems to be the best solution. With regard to solving problems, I am again reminded of an observation by Peter Drucker in 1993: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Sunstein and Hastie’s coverage:
o Group Failures (Pages 19-99)
o Amplification impact: nature and extent (43-46)
o Group biases (53-55)
o Cascades of positive and negative momentum (57-75)
o Risk-taking (78-80)
o Group Successes (101-212)
o Eight ways to reduce failures (103-124)
o Devil’s Advocates and leaders (115-118)
o Identifying and selecting solutions (125-142)
o Using bias reduction (138-140)
o When crowds are wise (143-156)
o “Experts” (157-164)
o Tournaments to generate good ideas and spark creativity (165-180)
o Friedrich Hayek and prediction markets (181-194)
One of Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie’s primary objectives is to help teams make better decisions. In my opinion, these are the most valuable lessons to be learned about all that from the abundance of information, insights, and counsel they provide.
o Make absolutely certain that the team’s focus in on answering the right question, solving the right problem, etc.
o When in group discussion, team leaders should devote at least 80% of their time listening and observing; no more than 20% speaking.
o They should strongly encourage a diversity of perspectives, especially principled dissent.
o When obtaining the information required by the given process of decision-making, all relevant sources should be consulted.
o In terms of division of labor, tasks should be assigned to those best-qualified in terms of knowledge, experience, and judgment.
o Implementation of a decision should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate unexpected changes.
o Use a “devil’s advocate” approach when subjecting each option to rigorous scrutiny.
o Then consider using a “red team” approach to challenge the primary team during its implementation of the given decision.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out two others: Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, co-authored by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis.
Carla O’Dell is president of APQC and is considered one of the world’s leading experts in knowledge management (KM). In 1995 and under O’Dell’s direction, APQC launched its first KM best practices consortium study called Emerging Best Practices in Knowledge Management. Thirty-nine organizations sponsored the groundbreaking study. Since then, APQC has conducted over 25 consortium studies on topics related to KM, involving more than 300 participating organizations and producing the world’s largest body of actionable best practices in designing, implementing, and measuring KM. APQC has led more than 150 custom KM projects. APQC was the first nonprofit organization to be awarded the Global Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) award, as well as the North America Award, a total of six times.
In March 2011, O’Dell and Cindy Hubert, two leaders from APQC, released the definitive book on how to implement knowledge management (KM), The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business. The book is a follow up to O’Dell’s best selling business resource, If Only We Knew What We Know, co-authored by C. Jackson Grayson, that played an instrumental role in firmly establishing KM as an accepted and widely used management discipline.
Hubert is the executive director of APQC’s Delivery Services, which provides individualized and collaborative approaches to solve business problems and address strategic needs. Over the past 16 years, Hubert and her team have worked with more than 400 organizations to provide assessments, strategy development, project management, transfer of best practice design and implementation, and metric and best practices research engagements using APQC’s proven knowledge management methodologies.
Hubert has played instrumental roles in the innovation, development, and implementation of APQC’s Levels of Knowledge Management Maturity™ and Knowledge Management Capability Assessment Tool. These best practice frameworks are used by organizations across the world to guide, develop, and execute their KM strategies and approaches.
Morris: Before discussing your book, The New Edge of Knowledge Management, a few general questions. First, for those who are unfamiliar with the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), tell us a little bit about the APQC’s mission and history in KM.
O’Dell: APQC is a member-based nonprofit founded by C. Jackson Grayson to help organizations improve productivity and quality. We are known as a global resource for benchmarks and best practices in finance, supply chain, HR and many other disciplines. We are one of the world’s leading proponents and advisors in knowledge management (KM), communities of practice, measurement, using social media and other related disciplines.
Working with more than 750 organizations worldwide in all industries, APQC has spent more than 15 years studying what works—and what doesn’t—in the fast-moving arena called Knowledge Management (KM).
APQC is the leading source of trusted KM tools and information for both those just starting on their journey to KM excellence and those already advanced in their KM practices. Companies and governments use APQC’s KM implementation guides to quickly build an enterprise knowledge management strategy to span organizational silos, build a common way of working, and lead to more reuse of knowledge in new and innovative ways.
Morris: Why did you write this book?
O’Dell: Our first KM book, If Only We Knew What We Know, was published in 1998. A lot has changed since then. Many recent changes in the way we do business and communicate in general have exciting implications for KM. Even companies and governments with mature KM programs have adjusted their strategy for these game-changing trends.
- The digital world has begun to reshape KM. Online social networking has shaken up traditional KM. Although new technologies always present new challenges, no KM function can ignore this opportunity. Enterprise 2.0 tools may be the best thing to happen to KM since the water cooler.
- In their personal lives and on the job, employees have become digitally immersed. All ages of employees expect more engagement and access to information and want work processes that reflect the ease with which they communicate outside of work.
- Smart phones and other mobile devices now allow us to communicate and share any place, any time, and with anyone. KM can take advantage of these always-on and always-on-you devices to make content available to employees at their most teachable moment.
- A huge demographic is now leaving the work force. As baby boomers exit the playing field, their absence puts a greater need on incoming employees to get up to speed quickly.
These societal shifts have changed the power dynamics for how all organizations operate. An increasingly savvy work force is dictating how and when they need information, and organizations face tremendous opportunities to turn individual employees’ knowledge into organizational intellectual assets.
Employees need vivid, relevant examples and practical advice for everyday work. Executives need a tangible and substantial ROI. And organizations need to respond to the forces at work and create new approaches. In this new environment, KM is an absolutely necessary core business practice to face the competition. With it, employers can reasonably expect better knowledge-based decisions from their work force.
Morris: During the last decade, what has been the single most significant change in how knowledge is managed? What are its major implications? Please explain.
O’Dell: Organizations realize that you don’t “manage” knowledge, but you manage the processes that help knowledge flow. Knowledge management professionals realize that a portfolio of approaches with supporting technologies is required opposed to “one way” to collect and disseminate knowledge. For example, a community of practice can be foundational for other approaches, such as lessons learned, that allow knowledge to flow. Communities also promote collaboration that can be enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis and blogs, that also provide interaction and documentation of critical knowledge.
Organizations operate more virtually than they have in the past, which reduces the face-to-face opportunities that are such a rich environment for creating and responding to teachable moments.
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If you wish to read the complete interview, please click here.
APQC cordially invites you to visit its KM expertise and services: http://www.apqc.org/knowledge-management.
For many who read this book, it may well be a “surprising truth” that innovation succeeds “not by breaking free from constraints of the past but instead by harnessing the past in powerful new ways.” I am among those who agree with the prophet Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun; also with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who asserted that everything changes…but nothing changes. I also agree with Hargadon’s emphasis on the importance of an innovation strategy that seeks to take full advantage of what can be learned from the past in order to create the future. His core concept is “technology brokering” which he introduces and then rigorously examines in Part I; next, in Part II, he describes the “networked perspective” of innovation, explaining how this strategy influences the innovative process within organizations, regardless of their size and nature; finally, in Part III, Hargadon provides specific and practical examples of how various organizations have designed and then implemented technology brokering strategies. Throughout the narrative, Hargadon explores in depth with rigor and eloquence his core premise: “that breakthrough innovation comes by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies.”
In this context, I am reminded of what Carla O’Dell asserts in If We Only Knew What We Know when discussing what she calls “beds of knowledge” which are “hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined.” She suggests all manner of effective strategies to “tap into “this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation — all the while increasing profits and effectiveness.” Almost all organizations claim that their “most valuable assets walk out the door at the end of each business day.” That is correct. Almost all intellectual “capital” is stored between two ears and much (too much) of it is, for whatever reasons, inaccessible to others except in “small change….there is no conclusion to managing knowledge and transferring best practices. It is a race without a finishing line.”
I think this is precisely what Hargadon has in mind when insisting that the future is already here, that the “raw materials for the next breakthrough technology may [also] be already here [but probably] without assembly instructions,” that decision-makers must find their “discomfort zones” rather than remain hostage to what Jim O’Toole calls “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom,” and that they should build a “bridge” to their own strengths but also to their weaknesses because, as they perform, so will their organization. I agree with Hargadon that innovation must unfold at the ground level, “in the minds and hearts of the engineers and entrepreneurs who are doing the work.” Also, that — meanwhile — they and their associates must be guided and informed, not only by their own organization’s “beds of knowledge” but also by external sources of information concerning prior successes and failures of the innovation process elsewhere. In the final analysis, there is good news and bad news. First the bad news: “New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone.” Now the good news: “New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone.”