Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Images and Knowledge Management

Before I explain the seemingly odd looking images in the photo below, I wanted to give my take on KM and innovation. Some would argue otherwise, but effective KM promotes innovation, by supporting diversity, encouraging new ideas and helping to seek out new approaches. This is still a fairly high level view and innovation, like other values could benefit from a helping hand. I thought it was time to blog about the experiences I’ve had of the use of images to inspire innovation and how they could help folk do things differently.

Sue Fernandez is the owner of BOSSCo. It’s a great little business that has accommodated the Manchester Knowledge Café’s this year and provides everything from photocopying facilities and chocolate pizzas to branding and website design.

During one of many visits there, Sue set a number of cards out and asked me to describe how they might relate to an organisation I was involved with. Looking past the caricatural nature of the photos, it got me thinking about how senior management (who I pictured at the front of the train) mainly relaxed and smiley, had recently communicated how we had won new business - how there was nothing to worry about and how the future was bright. Conversely, back office staff (effectively the people looking worried and jumping off at the back) were of the belief that this new business wasn't actually generating any additional revenue, that the figures were not being met and ultimately it was time to jump ship.

The spinning plates reminded me about a colleague’s frustration at the ‘ball chasing’ the company did. How all resources were diverted on new and potentially new customers and before you knew it, everyone’s put into a position of juggling too many responsibilities and spreading themselves thin. The spinning plate image especially illustrates the diversity of feelings. Some may actually view this as an example of a capable team. Apart from the odd plate falling it could be perceived that activities are generally being handled well, with almost all the plates left spinning (albeit with fairly stressed looking staff)

Whatever your perception of these and similar images, they are based on real things people have said about real situations and can be a far more effective method of eliciting conversation than simply going into an organisation and asking people to tell you their problems.

Gary King, owner of deadcatdreaming is another image led individual I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Gary, an artist by trade has helped everyone from managers of Sony to council executives articulate their strategic plans, using one common denominator – pictures. He encourages participants in his workshops to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas as visual metaphors. Gary then creates these on-the-fly, painting large scale graphic records of what was important to the organisation who can take these away as constant and colourful visual reminders. This participatory approach deliberately combines different viewpoints, refining and defining often complex problems in ways that resonate for everyone involved, all the while unlocking the creative potential to see things differently (An example of Gary doing his stuff HERE).

Through his work as a graphic facilitator, Gary has also distilled a powerful set of images that he found constantly reoccurring across communities of practice. Deadcatdreaming have also gone on to package these into a set of evocative cue cards that they use to elicit meanings from many audience and topics.

As Gary said, on their own, these cards mean very little. However, when combined with a provocative question or a series of questions within a structured framework, things can really take off. So graphics facilitation is something that I’d class as a utility and like any utility it should be used appropriately – yet one that should be part of a KM practitioner’s toolkit.

Improving team or organisational performance could be one use, building relationships with customers another. More specifically, within knowledge management I see great merit in this approach as part of a knowledge audit process. For example, requesting stakeholders pick an image that might represent their view of knowledge management, be that good or bad and then of course explaining what made them arrive at this choice.

Still not convinced? The next Manchester Knowledge Café on November the 11th will be co-presented by two facilitators, each with their own take on graphics facilitation. Read more and express your interest HERE

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