Case study: I don't know what you do but I have a problem - "speed dating for new knowledge"

The following is a case study that demonstrates one of many approaches taken to craft knowledge sharing culture.

Bruce had met me briefly during a presentation I'd been asked to give about how my experiences in knowledge sharing had created the culture leaders wanted.

Some weeks had passed since the presentation and circumstance saw Bruce and I sitting together for a 'no agenda' catch-up when Bruce said: 'I don't know what you do but I have a problem.'

'OK' I replied. 'What's your problem?'

'I have very limited time and I have to create a policy and am struggling to know where to start.' Bruce shared.

I responded, 'Do you have a rough idea of the people who you think might have something to contribute to solving your problem?

'Yes that's easy'.

Can you think of a gathering question? I asked.

'What's a gathering question? said Bruce.

'A gathering question makes clear why the group is getting together. It helps sets the scene in people's minds.' I replied.

Bruce responded that he couldn't think of one but was happy to do a little on the spot brainstorming. So after a short and informal brainstorm we'd come up with our gathering question.

'How can we work together to develop a useful relationship management framework?'

That done, I asked if Bruce would be prepared to book a meeting room and email just the gathering question as the subject in an invitation to the group of people he thought had something to offer while I prepared an agenda so Bruce knew what to expect on the day.

He agreed. So, after our short meeting we were all set and we parted.

Within the hour I'd emailed Bruce my plan in agenda form for how we were going to arrange things for the coming knowledge creating conversation. Which he was fine with. Bruce booked the meeting room and got the invitations out. Bruce shared with the group in his invitation that there was no special preparation – he was simply hoping for open minds and willingness to speak frankly.

On the day, Bruce asked me if he needed to do an 'around the table' so people could introduce themselves as most didn't know each other. I responded that the process looked after that and I felt we'd be better applying the ninety minutes we had together to getting straight to work. Bruce agreed and we both kicked straight in to a simple welcome so we could get to work with the precious ninety minutes he'd allocated.

A few minutes in and the room was buzzing with focused chatter. After twenty minutes we had dozens of categorised and prioritised questions the group felt relevant. So we were ready to create knowledge focusing on what mattered most to that group at that time on that topic.

Just less than ninety minutes later we had dozens of poster sized pages with dozens of thoughts Bruce later confirmed were mostly 'usable and useful' ideas all relating to Bruce's gathering question. We closed with a quick 'around the table' to capture 'If I was in Bruce's shoes right now I would …'.

The group parted and I began the work of sorting the new knowledge 'wheat from chaff' for the next step of creating a body of knowledge Bruce could usefully use to help his decision-making that he could access quickly and reliably from anywhere, anytime.

I planted Bruce's body of knowledge in the single launching point I'd setup sometime earlier for the Department's emerging global knowledge so all - with the appropriate permissions – could access it reliably and almost instantly.

With the meaningful verbal part done in the morning and now the meaningful non-verbal part done in the afternoon it was time to share the result with Bruce who commented …

'That was like speed-dating for new knowledge'.

Some weeks later I checked back in with Bruce who expressed that he was delighted with the comprehensive collection of ideas, information and knowledge he felt relevant and usable. He was confident he could apply his mind to his many other tasks knowing, when he had the opportunity, he could quickly turn his attention, to this body of knowledge which had made clear what needed to be done to meet this challenge.

Having been through the exercise, Bruce communicated that he was now confident this approach at sharing knowledge allowed him to simply think of a challenge then gather the group.

I added that agreeing on a gathering question for the invite would help, but if he felt the group was OK with it we could work that out on the day as well.

This exercise highlights how, once people are clear on which role they play, systematic approaches to sharing knowledge can allow the thought leader to focus on two important things:

A. What's the challenge? and,

B. Who knows something relevant we can invite to a knowledge creating conversation to solve it?

With the right people on the right seats on the bus, 'the knowledge creating process' runs from there yielding high return on effort.

(The above is one of many practices applied to solve challenges by sharing knowledge. In this particular case this approach was based on a mix of World Café, Knowledge Harvesting and Knowledge Transfer techniques.)

Job complete.