Help needed: Where do you share your hack?

I’m sure you’re a hacker. Yes, you. I am sure you already hacked something at least once in your life. You don’t believe me?

Remember when you were on a picknick without your pocket knife and used a long toothed key to cut your tomato? Remember when you …..

Sometimes, such hacks are not only moment-savers, but they lead to something new, something improved, something cost-saving. Something that may help other people too.  Or something that is just funny. So why not sharing?

Indeed, you find quiet a bunch of platforms on the internet where people share their hacks. Like Ikea Hacks, Mom (and Dad) Hacks, Lego HacksLawn Mower Hacks, or MacGyverismsBut what about hacks from and for work?

During my PhD I was known as the person who hacks Western Blotting protocols, cutting the running time to half. I taught some other people how to achieve this face-to-face, but as human interactions normally are limited, it did not spread widely. As many other good-to-brilliant ideas by many other creative people did too.

I remembered this when I recently read an article: Cooking, Nursing and Making: Harnessing Tacit Knowledge for Discovery and Innovation. It talks about a platform for nurses sharing their hacks.

Now, as then, nurses are loaded with this kind of tacit knowledge and insight – hard-won observations from the trenches about what is needed and useful. Every day, working outside the limelight of the “professional” innovation discussion, they are quietly fabricating solutions to many challenges on the front lines of patient care.

The question is how to channel and amplify all of that latent creativity to best effect. That’s just what MIT researchers Jose Gomez Marquez and Anna Young, at the Little Devices Lab are attempting to do with MakerNurse – a project that brings together nurses with the right support and tools to unlock their tacit insights and give expression to their creative solutions.

So I got curious: Do other professionals share their hacks too? I am not talking about Best Practices or Standard Procedures or list of resources, I am talking about how to do it, how to improve it, how to hack it. Tacit knowledge.

I started with the field I am familiar with: Bio lab work. That’s what I found:

  • 25 real lab hacks on a biotechnology company website (and they’re good)
  • Some conversation on reddit about hacks but difficult to read
  • A platform claiming to share wisdom on lab issues (some good articles but most of it are basic explanations, not hacks)
  • The Biohacking Laboratory (2013-2014) of the Medical Museum in Copenhagen (check out their self-made centrifuge :-))
  • And a handful of blog posts with some tips.

That’s all? Really? Please tell me that’s not true. Please help me- do you know platforms on the internet enabling people to share their work-related hacks, their experiences, their tacit knowledge? Do YOU share knowledge, and where?

Picture taken from Medical Museum

Dead or alive? Act agile!

When I tell people I am dealing with Knowledge Management, I normally get one of these three reactions:

Wide eyes: What the hell are you talking about?
Appalled eyes: How the hell can you work voluntarily on this?
Pitiful eyes: Why the hell do you join a sinking ship?

While Nr 1 and 2 are easy to deal with (they either never got in contact with KM- or in a way one shouldn’t get in contact with it), Nr 3 is a more difficult one. Because it is justified to ask if KM isn’t dead already.

There was the time when everybody had to do KM. Which in most cases meant document management (please tag your documents according to this taxonomy here and store it in the folder according to these rules here and be sure the document has the structure given here) or implementation of After Action Reviews or World Cafes (please block two of your precious working hours to sit with us discussing what may be useful one day after you left the company or are retired). Accordingly, and that’s where reaction 2 occurs, people got very bored by those consultants learning their organization how to improve. And management did not see the effects expected. So KM faded….

Tom Davenport, one of the „Big Ones“ of KM, lists in his LinkedIn article more reasons for the ship to sink:

  • It was too hard to change behavior
  • Everything devolved to technology
  • The technology that organizations wanted to employ was Microsoft’s SharePoint
  • There was often too much knowledge to sort through
  • Google also helped kill KM
  • KM never incorporated knowledge derived from data and analytics

He concludes: Any chance that this idea (of KM) will come back? I don’t think so.

Kaboom…. Even the gurus don’t believe in it anymore…  But although all those points are relevant, isn’t something else even more blamable?

By looking at KM strategies, we often see big projects, carefully planned, with defined outcomes. Designed within project management tools including process owners, aims, activities. And, I am sure, monthly reports.

But knowledge is human, and it’s management is dependent on human interaction, human needs, human motivation. It is not a process or a production chain.

And- it is AGILE. What you need to know today is not the same you need to know tomorrow. What sounds perfect for one group may not work for the other unit. What started to be useful at one point may not be useful anymore later.

So why not look at software development again? How does this sound:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Want to read more?  Agile Software Development

And want to know how it’s done?

It’s done in a self-organising, trustfulness team. Uuh, sounds familiar, not?
It’s done with face-to-face communication. Heard about this before, not?
And: it is done iterative. Small steps are taken. The product is evaluated frequently, the requirements are re-defined frequently, the customer ( aka the users) are included frequently, and the whole team supports a flexible mindset and planning.

And that’s how management of knowledge should be executed too. Start with something small; talk to people about their needs and about their experiences with what you implemented so far; redesign according to what you heard; let people evaluate again; expand to the next level; talk to people; redesign; evaluate; expand; talk; redesign; evaluate; expand…

So follow Davenport: If another notion that’s related to yours comes along and gains popularity, don’t shun it, embrace it. Implement an agile approach to your knowledge management!

Picture taken from

70-20-10: Origin, Research, Purpose – 70-20® Blog

70% Learning from challenging assignments, 20% from others and 10% from coursework (formal), that’s a golden rule of learning theory. But where does it come from? Is it proven? Bob Eichinger explains.

To Whom It Apparently Concerns,

Yes Virginia, there is research behind 70-20-10!

I am Robert W. Eichinger, PhD. I’m one of the creators, along with the research staff of the Center for Creative Leadership, of the 70-20-10 meme [the dictionary defines a meme as an “idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person”].

At the time in the late 1980s, Michael Lombardo and I were teaching a course at the Center called Tools for Developing Effective Executives. […] One of the study’s objectives was to find out where today’s leaders learned the skills and competencies they were good at when they got into leadership positions.The study interviewed 191 currently successful executives from multiple organizations.

Read more: 70-20-10: Origin, Research, Purpose – 70-20® Blog

Knowing what it is that we know- using storytelling to get to our knowledge

In the management of knowledge, neither the individual nor the community is fully aware of the depth or range of its knowledge. Asking an individual what he knows in isolation from context of knowledge use just does not work. Useful knowledge is triggered by events and circumstances. So one has to re-create the events and circumstances in order to identify knowledge.

Observation of knowledge use in day-to-day business works when business cycles are short. But in long-term settings, other approaches need to be implemented.

Interviews fail as while describing the past, history will be changed to ensure the story of the past meets the requirements of the present (e.g. sale numbers).

But indirect approaches like storytelling provide the needed information. Storytelling as a pervasive technique that triggers the memory of knowledge and triggers a desire to acquire knowledge.

As an example, workshops can be undertaken where teams talk about the former cases of lost and won businesses in a relaxed atmosphere. Teams should be prevented from telling stories in a linear time sequence as their inevitably led to distortion as a pseudo-rational model was imposed on the past. Free flow stories reveal a considerable number of decisions that would not have been revealed through conventional interview, and some material is only triggered to be remembered by a powerful story from another team member.

Observers then note every decision made and consolidate them into simple flow diagrams which are then consolidated by the team members. For each decision point, the participants were asked which knowledge they used there, both explicit and tacit.

The result is an idealised model of the decision process and associated information forms and a consolidated register of knowledge assets used.

Distributing knowledge to a wider community

For effective knowledge transfer, an interaction between trainer and trainees is necessary as knowledge is contextual. By collecting anecdotes, underlying values and rules can be identified. Anecdotes can then be decomposed and reconstructed to stories that include the desired values and rules.

In distant learning, anecdotes told in the non-virtual course can be collected, decomposed and re-written with the main values, rules and characters to guide through the online learning, to create identity and the drive to bond, to entertain and – to motivate!

Based on Storytelling and other organic tools for Chief Knowledge Officers and Chief Learning Officers; David Snowden, Founder of the Cynefin Center

Can we use the secret of Open Source Software for Knowledge Management?

Right now, sitting in your chair at your desk, you are reading a post of a blog based on WordPress. Pretty sure, you heard about WordPress before. It is one of the most widely used software to generate a blog or a webpage, and it’s completely free and has tons of extensions to fit all of your needs.

The development of WordPress started when 2001 somebody needed a tool to create a blog and published the code. 2 years later, somebody else picked it up, started to improve and extend it, and published it again. More and more people followed, contributed a piece of code or an extension, and published them. Since then, WordPress got several „Open Source Software“ awards and was downloaded more than 20 million times.

So what’s the secret behind people working voluntarily and for no money on a high quality product, which is then freely distributed to and can be changed and extended by anyone? And- can we use this secret to get people engaged in knowledge management projects?

Looking at the key motivators for programmers to engage in a open source software project, we can identify several ones. First it’s personal interest. People contribute because they can use the product for their own needs. On the same ground, they have a high interest to get a solution of good quality and usability. Looking at WordPress, there are so many extensions programmed because they were needed by somebody familiar with coding who just did it. Second it’s ambition and reputation. People contribute at their best to get reputation and respect by their peers. For many workers, reputation has bypassed monetary awards and got one of the most motivating factors. Third, it’s the organisational structure of open source projects. People contribute if they can do it independent of their expert level. In an open source project, a small core group of experts coordinates the project on a regular basis. Around the core is a large group of peripheral contributors. They work as they can, with variable work loads, in many different areas, and on many different expert levels. They may write a new module, improve an existing one, eliminate a mistake, or collect ideas of improvement. Around that layer there is a third, huge group of users. They may not even be able to code, but they use the product, give valuable feedback and inputs, and do quality control, somehow like „co-developers“. This three-level-structure enables everyone to contribute, independent of his expertise. An last, it’s the constant improvement of the product due to the inputs of the users. People contribute if they see the product growing and improving. In an open source project, the product is permanently evaluated and advanced.

So can we transfer these insights to a knowledge management setting? First, there is one major difference difficult to overcome: In an open source project, the number of contributors is huge, while in many companies and organisations it will not be possible to engage a large number of employees or members. Therefore, the dynamics will never be the same. Still, there are options and factors that can be considered:

  • Personal Interest: The knowledge strategy or tool has to be designed in a way members have a personal benefit or interest to contribute and develop. Time invested by a member has to be in a positive relationship to the profit.
  • Reputation: A culture of reputation has to be implemented in the organisation. This may happen in imitation of already established incentive patterns, like not only being recognized as an author of a scientific paper but also as an author of an in-house article.
  • Three-level-structure: Knowledge management projects need to be organized independent of hierarchical structures, solely based on levels of expertise. The core group has to form itself by inviting other experts. Other members contribute based on their interests- developers may join as peripheral contributors, practitioners may want to apply and give feedback in the user group. Everybody is invited to be a part of the project.
  • Evolutionary development: Projects should be designed small and flexible in order to constantly and immediately implement inputs from the users and to improve in an evolutionary manner. Instantaneous development values the contributions of the members, initiates further improvement, and enables flexibility for future needs.

Knowledge management can indeed learn from the open source movement. While it will be difficult to mimic the group dynamics of an open source project, evolutionary development and the culture of „contribution by everyone“ can be very valuable to enhance acceptance and interest of knowledge management within an organization.

Inspired by „Was Wissensmanagement von Open-Source-Software lernen kann“ by T. Böhmann et al