I’m sitting Saturday morning a little bleary (I don’t sleep well around good conferences) waiting for my coffee that can’t brew quickly enough.
This past week I spent most of the days at KM World 2014 in Washington, DC giving a workshop on the first day (Tuesday) “Improving Knowledge Flows: Using Lenses to See Needs in Systems of Engagement”, which started rough (thanks to insane DC traffic that went above and beyond its usual bad) but smoothed out. The workshop was somewhat similar to ones I have given in the past, but the participants were fantastic. What set them apart is, nearly all of them have been running social and collaboration systems of engagement for a year or more and know the difficult task it is and they were asking great questions from understanding that struggle.
Repeatedly through out KM World this year the questions from experience and needing to learn more from people with real experience and living with less than optimal solutions and offerings from many vendors. The sessions this year were very good with a few great sessions (there were a rare few really poor sessions, but those were really exceptions). I didn’t make any of the keynotes as I am local to the event and chose (again) not to stay downtown to be closer to the event and still keep family priorities front and center and there was good things in those that had people buzzing.
KM World Meetings and Informal Small Groups
The meetings around KM World this year, along with dinners and hallway conversations were some of the best, not only at KM World, but any other conference I have been in a long long time (perhaps back to 2006 at a one off conference). I also got to see fantastic friends and colleagues I have grown to know over the last 10 years or so of putting serious outward focus in this area from conferences and client work. I also met people I really should have known and been deep tight buds with for years prior.
Shell Played it Smart
On the subject of meetings I was really intrigued by Shell, who had bought one of the conference rooms and ran a Wednesday through Friday session / demo out of them. The session was showing their system of engagement as intranet that is founded on the Work Out Loud model that Bryce Williams kicked off years back as a framing and many others, including Ian Jones of Shell, have embraced and extended since.
Shell was doing demonstrations of what they had built and was answering questions about how to do similar and lessons learned. One of my workshop attendees asked me to come by and set up a one-on-one session with them. Where I got a descent deep dive. In the session I noticed some things they had managed to do in Sharepoint that is really difficult to do (something that is part of the Sharepoint marketing pitch for compliance minded folks, but like many things in Sharepoint it is buggy and many times not achievable). I liked what they had pulled together as it was a good solid first to second stage social / engagement service (of about 8 to 10 that can be achieved), which many organizations struggle getting to that first stage successfully.
What was curious with Shell is I couldn’t sort out their motive. I couldn’t sort if they were consulting outwardly and this set-up was a really good smart way to show capabilities and offer that to others or if it was a showcase of their capabilities. What I missed (talking with other senior folks around the conference we all seemed to miss) was a third possibility they were crowdsourcing gaps and next steps. They were showcasing what they did, but also getting feed back from other organizations and vendors about how others have done things, but they were pulling the experts at the conference into deep one-on-one sessions. It wasn’t until Friday at lunch, when I sat with one of the Shell guys and he explained that. I then offered another set insights and we had a great chat about where things are headed with enterprise tools (things the “future of…” folks haven’t stumbled into yet) and I got some great insights into some small capabilities Shell folks have found make differences in people’s work life as well as the organization as a whole.
The Shell approach of getting feedback broadly and deeply is so obvious and genius, it is surprising other organizations with budgets for such haven’t done this. I don’t know how quickly this sort of thing would become utterly annoying if there were more than one or two organizations doing this at a conference year after year, but it showed really great thinking on the part of Shell.
Sessions that I Loved
My favorite sessions at conferences are the ones that hit on something I wasn’t expecting and provide a perspective I’ve been missing. I also love good presentation craft and slide craft, which is missing at most business and tech conferences, so seeing that with great content presented with good arcs and pace I also fall for. These that follow are the ones I went to and liked or loved.
The “10 Mistakes to Avoid When Purchasing Digital Workplace Technology” by Jarrod Gingras of Real Story Group was fantastic. Tech purchasing is insanely difficult and most organizations end up with something that really doesn’t fit them well. Part of the issue is they don’t understand their needs and problems well, which is often where I help framing things and setting understandings of what things they will need to know so their 6 month, 2 year, and 5 year versions of their organizations can grow with their selections today. But, once you know your problems and needs well enough, sorting through the minefield of potential vendors and implementers is a whole different story. Jarred’s session was one of the best framings of how go through purchasing process well in vendor / tool selection that I have ever run across (I have run across well over a hundred in the past 10 to 15 years).
I really liked Stan Garfield’s overview of “Practical Social Media Tips”. There wasn’t much new for me, but Stan has great framing of tools services for people unfamiliar and stating simply the value people and organizations can get from each. It is conversational and incredibly helpful. This is an approach I tend to gloss over as I love to go deep and to the difficult stuff, which many new to things are not ready for. Stan’s sessions are always a great reminder for myself on how to get things right for those new to things. (I also love the conversations with Stan where we can go deep). There is a fine art of making things simple for entry to the complicated and complex realities beyond. Most consulting firms and solo consultants try to prove their brilliance and depth (they miss the mark on this front on getting that right) or they lack the depth and only know the simple and can’t go beyond. So, watching Stan is a great pleasure as he has serious depth, but conveys things simply with a light touch.
The half of the “Creating Learning Organizations: Commitment not Compliance” session by Nabil Keith Durand on The Learning Organization: Creating Commitment Not Compliance was utterly fantastic. Not only was the slide craft and presentation craft as near perfect (there were many presentations with slides that were far from readable with content too small or dense for the room size and the hallway conversations and backchannels were insanely brutal hitting on this) as I have seen in a non design / communication professional conference or a something Duarte has worked on. His content and framing was fantastic and talk about the cognitive foundations for understanding how people learn and work, but also how to embrace this to have far more successful projects and programs. I got to chat with Nebil a bit after thanking him for a great presentation, but found he is another with great breadth and depth from a quite diverse and multi-disciplinary background that really shines through.
The session on Cognitive Computing by Sue Feldman may have been my favorite of the whole conference. She clearly mapped out the transitions from the traditional computing and search to the approach cognitive computing has been shifting us to. I loved this as I have been coming at this from other trajectories the past three or four years with approaches with complex adaptive systems modeling, friends and clients building in AI (artificial intelligence) into their tools / services / offerings, and similar working on offerings that offer great solutions through agency (tools working on our behalf in the background). Having a full framing of the dimensions, components, and models and the communities around this side of things was fantastic. Finding a community where things go deep and broad is always a gem, particularly when I haven’t known what things are called (ironic for cognitive computing as it is mostly anti-taxonomy) and finding the thread to pull on to get to the gold mines. This talk may have opened up a door for inquiry that may last me a long long time, so am deeply grateful for it. It is also going to be fodder and sanity checks for some of the Shift Happened series pieces I am writing (now about 14 of them that could be the full series).
KM World this year not only had great content, great meetings, fantastic collecting with like minds and colleagues, meeting many many new people I really want to know better and work with, and had sparks for new things to flesh out, but it helped me hone all of the content I have been sitting on and working to hone and reprioritizes it. A lot of things in my work that have been shown and talked about in workshops and client engagements need to get out into the more open world. KM World was another big kick in the pants to get this moving.
In August I got a few big “welcome back!” messages from past clients, colleagues, and buds in the business and technology communities. They hadn’t seen me as easily reachable in those contexts for a few years. KM World had those August messages echoed even more loudly and with many steps to start to engage for assistance and help moving things forward in their organizations.