Lessons learned

Simon has some comments about the lessons learned process and why it’s so hard for organizations to apply them.  There’s some really good points in here for an intelligence shop.  Of particular relevance…

Information ‘push’ or ‘pull’?

Many of the knowledge management strategies we asked to review, talk about “creating a culture of knowledge sharing”; in other words, they seek to promote publishing and “push” of knowledge around the organization.

This is the wrong place to start.  There is no point in creating a culture of sharing, if you have no culture of re-use. “Pull” is a far more powerful driver for Knowledge Management than Push, and we would always recommend creating a culture of knowledge seeking before creating a culture of knowledge sharing.

Create the demand for knowledge, and the supply will follow.  Create a culture of asking, and the culture of sharing will follow.

Both Simon and I think this may be a bit too much but in the wake of 9/11 and the pursuit of the all important dot connecting led to a cult of ‘information sharing’.  That generally meant opening the fire hose of information and forwarding everything within reach to everyone in the address book in the hopes that the recipients would actually read everything coming across their desk.

Never mind that the effort to push to much information to so many people precludes reading, collating and analyzing the inflow of information.  The important thing is not to be the last guy caught holding the ‘key’ piece of information when the next 9/11 happens.  It looks a little something like this:

Add to that the fact that many of the people who are potential ‘pullers’ (huh, that sounds a bit rude) don’t really know how to use intelligence and therefore don’t really know what to ask for means there’s a lot of work involved in creating even a good mix of push/pull of information.

AND…(yes, it gets worse), we’re so far past 9/11 that everyone is afraid of looking stupid or incompetent and so have to pretend that they do know how to use intelligence, do know what to ask for and are providing people with information that they can actually use rather than throwing the kitchen sink at them.


A Collection approach, where knowledge is collected and codified and made available as documents, is effective where the knowledge is relatively straightforward, and needs to be transferred to a large number of people, for example in a company with a large turnover of staff, or a company wishing to transfer product knowledge to a large sales force.

A connection approach, where knowledge is transferred through communities of practice and social networks, is suitable for complex contextual knowledge shared between communities of experienced practitioners.

Unfortunately, the ‘dead tree’ approach remains alive and well in terms of intelligence products.  Despite some very good (if rare) efforts on the federal level, state and local intelligence shops still think of .pdf documents and PowerPoint presentations as ‘digital’. Alternate ways of disseminating information aren’t even considered, let alone attempted.

I find that I still have to explain what wikis and blogs are.

Let me say that again, because it’s 2012 and I’m afraid you’ll think this was a transmission from 2003.

I still have to explain to people what wikis and blogs are.

When the only way you can communicate is via Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, you’re going to be limited in what you can say* and almost completely cut off from anyone saying anything to you.  Not a great situation to be in when the mantra is free and easy exchange of information.


It’s absolutely crucial to understand the users of the knowledge; how many there are, and the degree of context and knowledge they have already, then knowledge needs, their working styles and habits.

This applies everywhere, doesn’t it? Yet, because we have a push culture and we only exploit one method of communication we’re forced to treat our audience as a monolithic whole.  So, the cop on the street, the analyst and the mayor are all given the same information in the same format.  Since we have to make sure the least informed of them can understand it we need to simplify it to the point that its actual value is highly questionable.

*Add to this the common maxim that all products should be in the 2-4 page range and you really aren’t going to be able to say much.


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