Wednesday, December 02, 2009

KM at NASA. The Science and Signs of Learning.

Here is the gist of Ed Rogers’s (CKO of NASA) talk at the IISc campus on Nov 30th, 09. Some of these tidbits are not “as is” statements but my interpretations.

Going by Ed’s presentation, it is evident that, for NASA, KM is primarily associated with the vision of creating a learning organization

Ed’s personal achievements and experiences are inspiring. He and his wife put in five years of social service at Lebanon many years back! I think a cornucopia of varied experiences not particularly related to one’s role – especially when it comes to something as universal and open (to interpretation) as knowledge management – is something that I believe would work in one’s favour.

Ed started off with something highly familiar to KMers. He spoke about the challenges he had as a new entrant into NASA and highlighted the fact that he knew he would be looked at askance as an MBA trying to fix problems related to “knowledge” in a domain in which he could not claim to be an expert and that too for a group of elite Space scientists. That, to turn a popular phrase around, would be akin to the pigeon among the cats!

Ed had a lovely presentation with a couple of videos and many visual representations of his approach to knowledge management. He started off with some wise perspectives on KM, which are, perhaps, theoretically obvious but difficult in practice because people (read KMers) may not spend the energy or have the talent to understand and fit themselves into the organizational atmosphere and business surroundings.
  • Understand your organization and fit KM to its unique character
  • Knowledge circulation is more important than knowledge capture
  • The three Cs of KM are consistency, creativity and compliance
  • Identify structural limitations (and work around them)
Ed had some lovely examples of how he convinced people to be a part of NASA’s Pause and Learn sessions wherein he brought up the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. He spoke about how each person goes on to the next task with only his ‘piece’ (one portion of the elephant that may be mistaken to be a tree trunk, rope, snake etc) of the past projects (the whole elephant) and imagined that that piece was the whole story. It would be important to listen to what the others’ ‘pieces’ felt like to arrive at the reality – the whole picture – and make use of that in future projects.

Given that NASA’s focus is on creating a learning organization via KM, it was easy to relate to Ed’s approach – Find out how people learn and facilitate that! Ed stated that we learn through Experience (personal reflection, job rotations) and from others (by reading about what they know in the form of case studies/lessons learned and through interaction in the form of workshops and case-based training). He did talk about creating an overall environment that facilitates conversations and training activities that were more interactive but had no specific slides on how to facilitate general conversations (Think of the Web 2.0 world).

He mentioned how the dictionary has a lot of (interesting) information but we don’t “read” it like a book. We only pick it up when we need to look up a particular word. That, to my mind, is a nice example of the importance of contextual learning. He had some slides on the importance of language, communication and the overall context/environment. There was a small video that went like this.

Setting: German novice managing a naval help-desk. A call comes in and somebody frantically screams “We’re sinking! We’re sinking!!…..” and our poor friend responds “Yes….but what are you zinking about?” Laugh out loud funny when seen from one angle, what?

Another picture that Ed mentioned to be his favourite showed a Conductor with all the notes on his music stand and a nicely arranged stage with all the musical instruments and sound systems but no musicians. Message: The Conductor has all the notes, the platform and the instruments/technology but there can be no music unless the people with the various pieces join hands and perform!

Finally, Ed summarized by reiterating that he (KM at NASA) focused on lessons learned, pause and learn, project management training, case studies (packaging knowledge), knowledge sharing workshops and training and development based on conversations and interaction. He also said he wanted the key takeaways for the audience to be the 1) Need for organizational depth perception 2) Open communication and 3) Rewards/Punishment based on behavior

Note: Found this useful collection of resources from Ed on the NASA website. I ran through this one and liked it a lot - Top 10 KM myths

1 comment:

Moesds said...

Let me share my KM definition derived from the hybrid definition of Knowledge. The paradigm is entirely different (sign-up needed) :