Gurteen Knowledge Letter: Issue 201 - March 2017


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Gurteen Knowledge Letter: Issue 201 - March 2017


  1. Introduction to the March 2017 Knowledge Letter
  2. The Hawthorne effect: does being watched effect behaviour?
  3. How do we speak truth to power?
  4. Why we never think alone
  5. The Knowledge Café as a metaphor
  6. Churchill on Democracy
  7. Gurteen Knowledge Tweets: March 2017
  8. Upcoming Knowledge Events
  9. Subscribing and Unsubscribing
  10. The Gurteen Knowledge Letter

Introduction to the March 2017 Knowledge Letter

I have been running Knowledge Cafés in London and pretty much all over the world for nearly 15 years now but never in the town I was born and grew up in - Worcester, England.

And so I am hugely looking forward to running one there next Wednesday 5th April for Worcestershire Innovation.

Topic of the evening: Innovation is the answer. Have we forgotten the question? Are we neglecting the “problem phase” of innovation?

If you just happen to be the area - do come long - it is free.

The Hawthorne effect: does being watched effect behaviour?

The Hawthorne effect is where individuals modify their behavior in response to their awareness of being taken notice of or observed. Credit: Wikipedia: Hawthorne effect

You are probably familiar with the Hawthorne effect. It is frequently referenced in management literature.

What you might not know is that the research was flawed and the story is a bit of a myth.

This does not mean that being watched does not affect behaviour - it does - just that the Hawthorne research does not support the idea.

This is what the Economist says in a 2009 article Light Work: Being watched may not affect behaviour.

And here is the original research paper by Steven Levitt and John List: The Hawthorne effect is a myth.

Thanks to David Creelman for pointing me to this research.

How do we speak truth to power?

You may have come across the phrase "speak truth to power" a lot in the last year and wondered quite what it meant, and it's origin. The Quakers coined the phrase during in the mid-1950s. It was a call for the United States to stand firm against fascism and other forms of totalitarianism.

I think it can take two meanings.

The first meaning is in keeping with the Quaker use and maybe typified by Shari Runner in this Huffington Post article:

Speaking truth to power means believing deeply in what you say and fighting every day to have that heard.

It may not be popular; it means taking a risk, it means standing for something.

But depending on the context, it has a second, less grandiose meaning that I can best describe like this:
“Speak truth to power” means speaking what we believe to be true to someone in authority who might take it as a criticism or be offended and who has the power to punish us in some way.

In writing my blook, I am researching the barriers to what makes a good conversation and being afraid to "speak our minds" is clearly one of the obstacles. There are many reasons why we might be reluctant to "speak up." Fear of authority is one of them.

But I am starting to use the phrase in a slightly different way. Fear comes from the power difference between ourself and the other person. We feel we have less power (perceived or real) than them and so are afraid. But there are many forms of power difference:
  • seniority
  • gender
  • education
  • class
  • articulateness
  • accent
  • nationality
  • race
  • dress
  • financial
to name but a few.

What I am trying to better understand is how we learn to "speak truth to power" in all of these contexts or create conversational environments that make it easier.

I welcome your thoughts :-)

Why we never think alone

I went up to the RSA in London recently to hear a talk "Why we never think alone" by Steven Sloman, a cognitive scientist, .

The talk was to promote his recent book co-authored with Philip Fernbach: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.

And quite a fascinating, thought provoking talk it was too. Here are few clips from the book.

We think we know far more than we actually do.

Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works.

How have we achieved so much despite understanding so little? Because whilst individuals know very little, the collective or ‘hive' mind knows a lot.

The key to our intelligence lies in the people and things around us. We're constantly drawing on information and expertise stored outside our heads: in our bodies, our environment, our possessions, and the community with which we interact -- and usually we don't even realize we're doing it.

The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know more than we really do, why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change, and why individually oriented approaches to education and management frequently fail. Our collaborative minds, on the other hand, enable us to do amazing things.

The video of Stevens talk should be available on the RSA website soon.

I have bought his book and although I have not had time to read it yet, I doubt that he mentions the term Knowledge Management once but I think his work has profound implications for KM.

How do we manage our knowledge when we understand so little but think that we know it all and resist being proved wrong?

And how so we mitigate the fact that we are unknowingly influenced by what everyone else thinks in our close circles?

The Knowledge Café as a metaphor

I am often asked how the Knowledge Café got it's name.

Well, it is not just a name for a conversational method to bring people together in conversation but a metaphor for that process. Let me explain.

The term "café," frequently written as "cafe" without the e-acute accent, comes from the French and means "coffee."

And of course, a café is a small restaurant which mostly serves coffee, tea, other drinks and an assortment of snacks. But cafés are far more than places to eat and drink.

They are places where people, usually friends and sometimes strangers, meet in pairs or small groups to have informal conversations and to socialize. They are also places to read books, magazines, and newspapers.

Many cafés have comfy, easy chairs or sofas or small nooks where people can relax, chat in comfort and chill a little.

Today, many people use them to access the Internet through their laptops or smartphones, sometimes to browse the web, other times to work but frequently to chat with other people on Facebook or Whatsapp.

In short, cafés are hospitable, social places where people go to connect, to have conversations, face-to-face or virtual and to read.

In some ways, the coffee and food are secondary, though conversation is always enhanced while eating and drinking together.

Cafés have a long and distinguished history as places of creativity and innovation where people meet to talk and exchange information going back to the Enlightenment Coffeehouses (or penny universities as they were sometimes known) of 17th and 18th century London.

And "knowledge"? It is through conversation that we learn and develop our personal knowledge.

So the term "Knowledge Café" makes a great metaphor for the types of conversation you might have in a café.

Churchill on Democracy

I came across two interesting but connected quotes from Winston Churchill recently (or at least I thought I had). Both very relevant in current times.

The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time ...

Then in doing a little bit of due diligence - something I do far more often today - given our era of "fake news" and "alternative facts", it seems there is no record that Churchill ever made the first statement :-)

But two interesting quotes nevertheless regardless of author.

Gurteen Knowledge Tweets: March 2017

Here are some of my more popular recent tweets. Take a look, if you are not a Tweeter, you will get a good idea of how I use it by browsing the list of micro-posts.

If you like the Tweets then subscribe to my Tweet stream.

Upcoming Knowledge Events

Here are some of the major KM events taking place around the world in the coming months and ones in which I am actively involved. You will find a full list on my website where you can also subscribe to both regional e-mail alerts and RSS feeds which will keep you informed of new and upcoming events.

Knowledge For Development, Global Partnership Conference 2017
03 - 04 Apr 2017, Geneva, Switzerland

9th European Conference on Intellectual Capital
06 - 07 Apr 2017, Lisbon, Portugal

5th International Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship 2017
26 - 27 Apr 2017, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

APQC's 2017 Knowledge Management Conference
27 - 28 Apr 2017, Houston, United States

12th International Conference on e-Learning
01 - 02 Jun 2017, Orlando, United States

KM UK 2017
14 - 15 Jun 2017, London, United Kingdom

ISPIM Innovation Conference
18 - 21 Jun 2017, Vienna, Austria

KM Conference 2017
21 - 24 Jun 2017, Novo Mesto, Slovenia

4th European Conference on Social Media
03 - 04 Jul 2017, Vilnius, Lithuania

Theory and Applications in the Knowledge Economy
12 Jul 2017 - 14 Jul 2016, Zagreb, Croatia

KM Australia 2017
01 - 03 Aug 2017, Sydney, Australia

18th European Conference on Knowledge Management
07 - 08 Sep 2017, Barcelona, Spain

12th European Conference On Innovation and Entrepreneurship 2017
21 - 22 Sep 2017, Paris, France

KMO 2017: the Twelfth International Conference on Knowledge Management in Organizations
21 Sep 2017 - 24 Dec 2016, Beijing, China

Subscribing and Unsubscribing

You may subscribe to this newsletter on my website. Or if you no longer wish to receive this newsletter or if you wish to modify your e-mail address or make other changes to your membership profile then please go to this page on my website.

The Gurteen Knowledge Letter

The Gurteen Knowledge-Letter is a free monthly e-mail based KM newsletter for knowledge workers. Its purpose is to help you better manage your knowledge and to stimulate thought and interest in such subjects as Knowledge Management, Learning, Creativity and the effective use of Internet technology. Archive copies are held on-line where you can register to receive the newsletter.

It is sponsored by the Henley Forum of the Henley Business School, Oxfordshire, England.

You may copy, reprint or forward all or part of this newsletter to friends, colleagues or customers, so long as any use is not for resale or profit and I am attributed. And if you have any queries please contact me.

Gurteen Knowledge
Fleet, United Kingdom

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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