Knowledge Management

A Learners Point of View of Storytelling 0

Author Julie Dirksen discusses how to use storytelling during the The Learner’s Journey. Julie is the author of  Design For How People Learn (Voices That Matter.

Related Podcast and Transcription: A Path to Better Learning

Joe: How does storytelling take a part in learning? It’s not really in your book as much. You always hear that you have to tell stories. You always hear that all the time. Could you put some context to that?

Julie: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a whole slew of really interesting reasons why storytelling is particularly powerful from a learning point of view.

One, it’s easier to learn something if you already have a framework for it. A lot of times, when we’re learning things, when we don’t have any context or framework for something, it’s hard to hang on to the information. I have this analogy about how your brain is like a closet. Experts have tons and tons of shelves, and it’s fairly organized and your novices have, basically, no shelves and a pile of clothes on the floor.

One of the problems is that experts want to take the entire contents of their closet (all the clothing) and just hand it to novices. “Here. I’m just going to give you all this information about something.” One of the challenges with that is that they don’t have any way to sort it or organize it when it’s handed to them. The way that we build closets, structures or shelves for our information is usually by interacting with the information, solving problems and things like that.

Another thing that we do actually already have some structures for how we understand stories. Whether we know it or not or whether we’re conscious of it or not, stories have a pretty predictable structure. I’m going to introduce the main character. There’s going to be an event that happens that kicks off the action. There’s going to be a series of things that cause rising action. There’s going to be a climax that’s going to be the big point of the story. There’s going to be a follow-up and some explanation afterwards about why I’m telling you this story in the first place.

There’s a variation in that obviously. It’s not always exactly identical to that. But once somebody starts telling you a story about this one time, you settle into this comfortable place because you’re pretty able to predict that sequence of things that somebody’s telling you.

When you’re using stories for learning, it actually has (again, I’m going to use this term) cognitive load. It actually has a lure of cognitive load because you already have this comfortable framework for how a story is going to work. So, instead of you trying to remember a big list of information, you already have buckets to slot the story elements into it. That’s one reason why storytelling is great. It’s because we already have a framework for it, and we’re not trying to learn everything about what we’re being told. We can just hang onto the specifics of the story and slot these into familiar buckets.

Another reason is everything that we learn works better if we understand it in context. If I hand you a string of facts about a particular piece of software or something like that, it’s hard to hang onto those. But if I explain the story of when you’re going to use certain things, what you’re going to do and why you might use it, then you have context around it. You have some reason to understand how the pieces fit together, what does it mean and things like that.

A lot of times, one of the things that happen when we’re preparing information to teach it to somebody else is we strip out all that context and want it to be right. We want it to be “the right information.” But when we take all the context out and when we take all the people out of the equation, we take all the stories out of the equation, then I’m getting all these facts but I don’t really know what to do with them. I don’t really know when this is important or how important it is or things like that. Stories have that context and sometimes, stories have an emotional context. Not only what should you think about this but how should you feel about it?

That’s really important, too. It turns out; we actually use our emotional context as a big part of how we make decisions. There’s a brain researcher, Antonio Damasio, who has done a lot of work with people who have had damage to the emotional centers of their brain either through strokes, accidents or things like that. These are people who have normal intelligence, but they don’t report feeling happy, sad or angry. They just have a very flat emotional absence. He looked at the question of whether or not that made them better or worse decision makers. We have this myth of rational decision-making and this western ideal around logic and this Mr. Spock thing. If we follow that line of reasoning, when you take the emotions out of it, people should be better decision makers.

In actuality, people who have emotional absence are much worse decision makers. Even, “Should I out on a blue shirt or a red shirt this morning?” is hard. We rely on that emotional tug to help us decide “Is this important? Is it not important? Should I care about this? How should I feel about it? Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? All this kind of stuff.

When we have that completely missing, it’s really hard to decide what to do with it.

So, when my financial advisors are putting three mutual funds in front of me and ask, “Which one do you like?” I’m like, “Well, I don’t like any of them. I don’t know enough to like any of them. I don’t have any feeling about it. At this certain point, I can’t really make a decision because there’s nothing for me to hang on to, or that nudges me in one direction or another. At that point, I’m picking the middle one. It’s the easiest one or something like that.

Storytelling helps us understand the context. Sometimes it has an emotional context to it. Here’s how you should feel about this because that’s going to help you make decisions in the future.

Additionally, it seems like we have a little bit of a brain mechanism for how we parse and retain story memory. One of the nice things about that is, if I’m giving you factual information over here, but I’m also telling you a story about it, we’re doubling up the likelihood that you’re going to remember it. We’re giving you more hooks back into the information and things like that.

That’s my somewhat complex explanation for why stories are good.

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Mapping the Learning Journey 0

Next week, I have the pleasure of discussing the book, Design For How People Learn (Voices That Matter), with author Julie Dirksen. When first deciding on purchasing the book one key theme jumped out at me, The Learner’s Journey. See what Julie has to say about it: Learning Journey

Julie Dirksen: Good morning. The Learner’s Journey is really just this idea that we’re trying to create an experience for the learner as we usually move from being an absolute novice all the way up to mastery. There are stages along that process, and the experience needs to change the further they move along the journey and the path. One of the questions is, is it a journey or is it more of an environment that we’re creating for people or experience that we’re creating for people that best fosters learning? A lot of people are really independent learners these days. That’s one of the things that the internet certainly encourages; being able to go “Oh, I need this thing. I guess I’ll Google it.”

When we’re thinking about learning experiences, are we creating a path for people or a journey for people? Or are we creating an environment that’s going to support them being self-directed in their own learning process.

Joe: So, in your mind, you’re really mapping out a learning journey the same way that I would think of the customer journey in marketing and maybe look at that learner experience a.k.a. customer experience along the way?

Julie: Yes, absolutely. One of the things you think a lot about is when somebody’s first starting out, they’re going to need a pretty directed experience. They’re going to need something where there’s a fair amount of structure. When you don’t know anything about a topic, you don’t know what you don’t know, so you need a lot more guidance.

But then as you move along the path, as you move along the journey, you’re going to have more opinions about what you’re interested in and you’re going to have more ability to decide which resources are useful to you and which resources are not useful to you.

So, one of the things about the learner journey is it’s usually moving along a path of a more controlled structured experience to having more autonomy and control over your environment as you go along.

You find Julie at

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Value Networks Explained 0

I asked Vern Allee this question in a past podcast, “A lot of that work seems to have evolved into Value Networks. Can you explain and give a little background on Value Networks for me?”

Related Podcast and Transcription: Mapping Value in Your Organization

Her Answer below:

Verna:  Many, many years ago, in the early ’90’s, I was working two questions. I was working the knowledge question, and I was also working the business modeling question. The early ’90s were the heyday of process engineering when everybody was modeling the work as a business process, which is really a great approach, and it was a learning curve that we needed to get through. But if you think about process, process is basically the industrial age production line, right?

It’s linear, and it’s mechanistic. Even in the early ’90s people were starting to use computer technologies. Companies that I was working with, like Telecoms, were very large and complex. They had working groups; they had project teams, and work was more chaotic than process.

So I said, “Well, how can we model the work as a dynamic flow system, but still get some rigor behind that?” So I looked at virtually every modeling method that was out there from system dynamics to interrelationship diagraphs and context diagram and even object-oriented data analysis.

At that time I was helping companies through the benchmarking phase of very complex re-engineering process, through the learning phase of that. The challenge we were running into was people were trying to compare business processes with industries that were very unlike their own.

So at a level of knowledge complexity, a flow chart is not a systems tool. It doesn’t help you understand the whole system; it helps you understand one process within that system. So I said how can I find a modeling approach that will allow us to model not just the processes, but their interrelationships and a whole lot more besides so that we can actually compare one system to another?

So I tinkered, and I experimented and I started using what is now Value Network mapping in its early stages to support benchmarking projects, to map the activity. I like to use the term activity now instead of process for a reason.

If you think of the term process and you visualize process in your mind people generally say I see an engineering type schematic, a drawing, a flow chart. If I use the term business activity, the image that pops in their mind is real people interacting. So can we model the real activity of people interacting in a way that also shows us how the processes are working? That’s how I developed the modeling method.

I realized that even though I was helping people do these maps to support benchmarking as a way to talk to another industry, people were getting dramatic breakthroughs.

One of my favorite stories is a very large Telecom trying to redesign all of technology support worldwide. This was a very high level team, and it was in still the early stages, both of my consulting work and this modeling method. These people came in from all over the world, corporate headquarters. It was a very big deal for me to get this opportunity.

So we’re doing this mapping to try to describe the activity in a general way to talk with other companies and all of a sudden the room goes dead quiet. You could hear a pin drop. And I look around at all these guys, and they were all men. This was still back before women were in the technology field so much. And they were all giving each other a look like, “Oh my gosh, do you see what I see?”

I said, “Well, what is it?” One of them finally walked to the map, and he pointed to one area in the network map and he said, “It’s right here.” This whole group of people is literally in the way. If they weren’t there, everything would run smoothly.

Nine months, we never saw this. We’ve used every process tool. We’ve flow charted, we’ve scatter-grammed; we fish bombed. Nine months and we never saw this.

I said, “Well, that sounds pretty serious because I knew at the level we were talking this group’s probably hundreds of people.” And he said, “It’s very serious. It’s us. It’s our own group.” What I didn’t realize is that was actually what they were looking for is that kind of breakthrough because they were facing a very, very serious reorganization. And they did it. They designed themselves right out of the job.

But I thought wow, this has such potential for helping people cut through complexity and deal with the real issues. But it was really early. It was in the early 1990?s, so I continued to work with it and experiment with it.

Then in 1997-98 I was working with Don Tapscott and his group showing them how to do this Value Network modeling, and we were very interested in knowledge flows. Knowledge management was a big topic. My new book “The Knowledge Evolution” in 1997 was one of the big best?sellers in that area.

So I got invited into this project, and I said wait a minute. I think I mapped knowledge plays, and I went back to this modeling and found that it worked not just for the formal transactions of the process interactions, but also to depict the way specific kinds of knowledge, information, and intangible run through the activity.

That’s where it really came together and then I started calling it Value Network analysis because I was able to link those knowledge flows into intangible asset management as the engine for creating value.

But what happened in that period was, it brought together the best that we understood about knowledge and knowledge flows and the importance of human to human knowledge. It brought together the process management and engineering concepts that were so critical for productivity. It brought together the intangible asset management and dynamic pull systems as a way to model all of this.

So I was very excited about it, but it was still too early as far as the market, so I didn’t start publishing about it until the early 2000. But that’s how it came together, and I see it as the trending. I saw the potential for it and now people are really starting to really gravitate towards it as the importance of value creating in networks is really coming to the forefront.

Value Network Map: Can be found at

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Please Join Us in Evolving The Next Seven Tools 0

Comment, Post, or leave a 3-Minute Video on Your Favorite Tool. Why do you like it?

(This is A Google Community: Next 7 Tools)

Community purpose: to explore, create, and perfect the next generation of continuous improvement tools that will lift the quality and effectiveness of organizations beyond 2020.

The first seven tools were published by JUSE over 40 years ago, and the new management tools are already 20 years old. Therefore, we think it is high time for us to take another look to see what new tools there are that can propel our organizations effectiveness and our careers. With your help we can do just that! Next7Tools

We want each person here to have the rare opportunity to share your ideas in a safe environment where respect for people is paramount, and where unique pragmatic ideas drawn from deep wells of tacit knowledge and experience are valued most. Our goal is to share best practices and things that really work with each other in this select community.

I have always encouraged manufacturing organizations that if they could learn the Seven Basic Quality they could go a long way in their improvement efforts. These tools were first emphasized by Kaoru Ishikawa, a professor of engineering at Tokyo University and the father of “quality circles.” The seven tools are:

  1. Cause-and-effect diagram (also called Ishikawa or fishbone chart): Identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem and sorts ideas into useful categories.
  2. Check sheet: A structured, prepared form for collecting and analyzing data; a generic tool that can be adapted for a wide variety of purposes.
  3. Control charts: Graphs used to study how a process changes over time.
  4. Histogram: The most commonly used graph for showing frequency distributions, or how often each different value in a set of data occurs.
  5. Pareto chart: Shows on a bar graph which factors are more significant.
  6. Scatter diagram: Graphs pairs of numerical data, one variable on each axis, to look for a relationship.
  7. Stratification: A technique that separates data gathered from a variety of sources so that patterns can be seen (some lists replace “stratification” with “flowchart” or “run chart”).

Excerpted from Seven Basic Quality Tools by ASQ Quality Press

In 1976, the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) saw the need for tools to promote innovation, communicate information and successfully plan major projects. A team researched and developed the seven new quality control tools, often called the seven management and planning (MP) tools, or simply the seven management tools. Not all the tools were new, but their collection and promotion were. The seven New (MP) tools, listed in an order that moves from abstract analysis to detailed planning, are:

  1. Affinity diagram: organizes a large number of ideas into their natural relationships.
  2. Relations diagram: shows cause-and-effect relationships and helps you analyze the natural links between different aspects of a complex situation.
  3. Tree diagram: breaks down broad categories into finer and finer levels of detail, helping you move your thinking step by step from generalities to specifics.
  4. Matrix diagram: shows the relationship between two, three or four groups of information and can give information about the relationship, such as its strength, the roles played by various individuals, or measurements.
  5. Matrix data analysis: a complex mathematical technique for analyzing matrices, often replaced in this list by the similar prioritization matrix. One of the most rigorous, careful and time-consuming of decision-making tools, a prioritization matrix is an L-shaped matrix that uses pairwise comparisons of a list of options to a set of criteria in order to choose the best option(s).
  6. Arrow diagram: shows the required order of tasks in a project or process, the best schedule for the entire project, and potential scheduling and resource problems and their solutions.
  7. Process decision program chart (PDPC): systematically identifies what might go wrong in a plan under development.

Excerpted from Nancy R. Tague’s Quality Toolbox ; Second Edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2004.

Today’s world has introduced more and more uncertainty. As a result it has forced us to get closer and closer to our customers. This reduces are reaction time and allows us to make better informed decisions. To do this, once again a new set of tools need to be utilized. This methodology has been introduced to us through the concepts of Design Thinking. I think this serves as a great starting point for the Next 7 Tools:

  1. Visualization: using imagery to envision possible future conditions
  2. Journey Mapping: assessing the existing experience through the customer’s eyes
  3. Value Chain Analysis: assessing the current value chain that supports the customer’s journey
  4. Mind Mapping: generating insights from exploration activities and using those to create design criteria
  5. Brainstorming: generating new alternatives to the existing business model
  6. Concept Development: assembling innovative elements into a coherent alternative solution that can be explored and evaluated
  7. Assumption Testing: isolating and testing the key assumptions that will drive success or failure of a concept
  8. Rapid Prototyping: expressing a new concept in a tangible form for exploration, testing, and refinement
  9. Customer Co-Creation: enrolling customers to participate in creating the solution that best meets their needs
  10. Learning Launch: creating an affordable experiment that lets customers experience the new solution over an extended period of time, so you can test key assumptions with market data

Excerpted from Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers (Columbia Business School Publishing).

We appreciate all those members who choose to contribute to rich and meaningful conversations, and especially those who refer great prospective contributors to us as we co-create the Next Seven Tools. Please join us in evolving the Next Seven Tools. Now let’s open a discussion. Please start by introducing yourself and why you like this topic.

Comment, Post, or leave a 3-Minute Video on Your Favorite Tool. Why do you like it?

(This is A Google Community: Next 7 Tools)

The First Step In Being Brief Is Preparation 0

Joe McCormack is an experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author, Joe is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. His new book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, 2014) tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate.

Related Transcript and Podcast: Be Effective, Be Brief

Joe: Can I just sum that up saying that the first step in being brief is preparation?

Joseph: Preparation is huge. I know in talking to people about this topic three consistent tendencies that people have that many people are not aware of. The first is the tendency to over explain. The second tendency is the tendency to under prepare; not taking more time. There’s a famous quote that says “I would have written you a short letter if I had more time,” attributed to Mark Twain, which is a great quote because it takes time to prepare. And then the third thing is missing the point completely; not knowing what the essential point is. But preparation is an absolute key element that people just don’t spend nearly enough time doing.

Joe: I think Winston Churchill has a great quote along that same line where he says, “If you want me to write or speak for twenty minutes,” – I forgot how the quote goes – “I can do it right now. But if you want me to say it in a paragraph, it will take me a fortnight,” or something to that line.

Joseph: Exactly. What happens is it makes sense but people think about a short communication as being easy. Like “Oh I’m just going to talk to my boss for five minutes. I’m going to leave a quick voice mail. This is going to be a short part of the agenda.” And the truth is the shorter you speak the harder it is to do it well. People need to spend more time upfront preparing it. They get lured into the false sense of “Oh because this is short I’ll just wing it,” and it gets people into a lot of trouble.

Joe: A second part of what you go into in the Discipline part is the foundation of a story. You want to tell people in a story form but most stories seem to run on. How do I prevent that?

Joseph: Make the distinction between a short story and a long story. So I think we’re talking about the short story format which is perfectly suited for people’s attention spans. People’s attentions spans a decade ago were twelve seconds and now they’re eight. So we need to put it into a smaller package. Stories are beautiful, people love them but you can’t fall in love with them and tell the long version. You have to be gifted at cutting out the excess detail and giving people a nice concise narrative that hits the mark.

Joe: But how do I keep discussions brief and to the point? Am I manipulating it? Is that what I’m doing? I’m trying to have a conversation, a dialogue?

Joseph: Yes, I think that first of all nobody is nearly as interesting as they think they are. So part of it is –you’re right – you want brevity to be “I’m saying a little. I want to invite a conversation.” So brevity omits monologues. That’s one of the benefits of being brief is it’s not just you talking, you’re having a conversation with somebody else. When you’re in a conversation with somebody once you’ve made a point, stop talking and then have a person ask you a question and respond. And people fail to do that and then they ramble. It should just be brief interludes of a balanced conversation or two people are talking about the same thing, not waiting for their turn to talk.


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The Origin of Customer Think 0

Bob Thompson is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation which includes being editor-in-chief of, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. In a short podcast, edited out of last weeks podcast (either Bob or I talked to long) What It Really Means To Be Customer Centric, we discussed the origin of Customer Think. Bob started this community before we were calling them communities.bob_thompson

Bob’s new book, Hooked On Customers: The Five Habits of Legendary Customer-Centric Companies takes a fresh look at customer-centric business management, exploring what Bob Thompson has identified as the five key organizational habits that enable any company to execute its business strategy more effectively and, ultimately, to outperform its competitors.


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Intro to Leader Standard Work for Knowledge Workers 0

Leader standard work is a concept in Lean Management, popularized by David Mann in his book “Creating a Lean Culture”, that creates standard work for managers. For many in the Agile community, the notion of “standard work” brings a repellent idea of standardization and work standards, and the oppressive boot-jack command culture that comes with that. And yet, the way that Toyota implements standard work, it is much more akin to coding standards or working agreements, where you record the current best agreed upon way of the workers in the system for doing something, than an oppressive regime of McQuality Checks.

David describes the principle nicely in his presentation on Creating a Lean Culture Process Focus and Leader Standard Work. The purpose of Leader Standard Work is to create behavioral change that drives Lean Leaders to visit the place where work is being done. This, along with Visual Management and a Daily Accountability process helps ensure the technical improvements in the Lean Transformation aren’t lost to the culture of firefighting and backsliding into what he calls the “pit of instability and despair” or what I like to call, “business as usual.” So, there are many organizational benefits to Leader Standard Work. And the good news is, it’s also a great way to drive some sanity into your day as a manager.

Leader Standard Work is becoming more commonplace and the standard for the development of a Lean Culture. It is extremely adaptable and found both in trade and professional services. It excels in experienced based professions but it may struggle in what I would call knowledge-based services. The problem is there are more knowledge-based jobs being created every day. The experience based jobs either get automated or outsourced. For more information on that subject, read Dan Pink’s, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

Since Lean is so intrinsically tied to standard work, many believe Lean cannot apply to their “Knowledge Based” occupation. In fact, it is often resisted in these circles. When met with resistance, I have found that typically there is a good reason why. As I review most Leader Standard Work for knowledge workers, I still find them heavily laden with specific instructions and very results based focus. In Sales and Marketing (I am considering Sales and Marketing to be knowledge work) , you will see instructions such as make 25 calls, send out 15 e-mails, 3 blog posts a week, etc. On the other hand, I do see slack time allowed under the disguise of daily or weekly Kaizen. So Leader Standard Work can apply to Sales and Marketing 9Knowledge Workers), or can it?

Leader Standard Work will fizzle out quickly if you simply try to practice Leader Standard Work through Lean Training, coupled with your experience and try to become more proficient through iteration after iteration. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, it may take years, certainly months, to acquire the skills needed. What stops you is that you not only have to learn new skills but these skills and learning are not stagnant. They are in constant turmoil; developing, adapting and evolving while obsoleting the existing structure.

Many companies may fall short as a result of not creating the internal collaboration structure needed for learning. The organization must develop as a whole and this can only be accomplished by developing their personnel by providing the necessary resources and opportunities. We also need to promote individual differences. Instead of teaching the way to do some things, we may need to step back and determine the key points that are required, as Simon Sinek says the “Why” while leaving the how alone (Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action).

What will drive Leader Standard Work is the “Why” more so than the “How”. The “Why” provides the clear strategic intent which will provide the fuel for Leader Standard Work. This analogy is wonderfully described in David Mann’s Book Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, Second Edition where he uses the automotive analogy to describe the four principles of the Lean Management System:

  1. Leader Standard Work – Engine
  2. Daily Accountability Process – Gas Pedal and Steering Wheel
  3. Visual Controls – Transmission
  4. Discipline – Fuel

When developing your Leader Standard work for Lean Sales and Marketing address these three items;

  1. Clarification – Minimum standard is explicit
  2. Commitment – Level of commitment is expected from the individual
  3. Connection – A path for support through conversation is provided.

Can your Leader Standard Work pass the 3 C Test?

Lean Engagement Team (More Info): The ability to share and create knowledge with your customer is the strongest marketing tool possible.