Tribal Knowledge

I was giving a presentation on Friday about culture and what it means in business. I asked the group to define ‘culture’ in a way they found useful. One person brought up the idea of ‘tribal knowledge’, which led to an interesting and robust discussion about tribes and their role in business organizations – do they exist, what do they achieve, how do they work?  These are good questions to ask yourself about your own organization if you are trying to figure out why a particular effort is working or not.  There are no right answers – only what works for you to understand and define your environment.

Tribal knowledge, according to the group I was working with on Friday, works to indoctrinate new members, keep existing members in line, and provides a barrier to entry for people they want to keep out.  It also can’t be replicated or documented (nor should it be attempted), and it is an important source of ‘facts’ that are the basis of new ways of doing things.  For this group, those were all useful ways to think about it, and the discussion resulted in some ‘ah ha’ moments as they thought about how they have participated in tribal knowledge creation, reinforcement, and longevity.

Where did you go to school?

I was in St. Louis last week giving a presentation, and in chatting with people beforehand, I quickly became acquainted with a common social pattern – being asked where you went to high school.  The group laughed about it when I brought it up, and it is an odd sort of commonality.  I was struck later that day when a colleague who grew up in St. Louis e-mailed me and asked if I’d figured out ‘where I went to school’ yet, and later in the weekend when I happened to share with a friend my recent trip, and she alluded to the same question.

All locales have their own ‘thing’. In Colorado we like to ask people ‘what do you do’ – not meaning what’s your job, but do you snowboard or ski?  Hike or run? Mountain bike or road bike? In Delaware it is common to ask ‘where do you work’ – the answer generally being for a bank or for a chemical company.

We all like to put people into categories, using our mental models to make deeply held assumptions about people based on these small facts about their background. These aren’t necessarily casual ice-breakers, they are helping us put people into boxes that may or may not be accurate.  The next time you hear yourself asking something like that, challenge your own assumptions about what the response means. It might be accurate but…. it might not.

Social Media and Change Management

Change management has grown as a discipline over the last decade or so, but it is now behind in responding to the evolving nature of businesses and organizations. By either refusing to push for the integration of social media into change programs, or worse, by viewing social media as simply a channel for transmitting messages, change management programs are falling out of synch with how organizations are constructed and transformative change is delivered.

I’ve been presenting on the topic for a while now, most recently I’m in St. Louis talking with the local OD network on the topic.  Check out my presentation if you are interested.



A practical guide to interviewing

Many thanks to my colleague Sean McKinna for bringing this to my attention…. whether you are just getting started on the job market, interviewing for the first time in a decade or so, or just need a good laugh, this article does the trick.  Link to it and scroll all the way through to fully appreciate Elisabeth Fosslein’s take on the interviewing process and how to succeed. Especially useful is her guide to clothing – what needs to be covered – beautifully simple and completely accurate. Given what I’ve seen in my years of interviewing people, many could make good use of this guide.

Viral Marketing – Is it Worth It?

We all love the idea of viral marketing. The big splash that gets thousands upon thousands of hits, that creates ‘buzz’, and that people talk about.  But how much of that really converts into sales, or even sustainable brand enhancement?  As with much of marketing, it is ‘hard to say exactly’.

Think about your own experiences with viral marketing. How much of it actually moved you to a purchase? Sure, you might have forwarded the marketing material (usually video) along to someone else, but did you buy something? Is it enough that you just enjoyed it (brand association)?

Combining potentially viral content with more directive targeting of populations is a way to up the ante in terms of conversion. The Journal of Marketing published an article out of Germany last year with some interesting observations on how to measure and how to connect viral marketing with action (see Hinz, Skiera, Barrot, Becker – Seeding Strategies for Viral Marketing) that suggests reconsidering how we think about the data that is available to us when we drop content.  Some of what they suggest feels like a step too far, but so did using Caller ID at one time not so long ago….  Fair warning, the article reads like a compressed dissertation, so recognize that the technicalities they discuss are important, but the conclusions are probably of the most interest.

Connected Viewing – are you?

More than half of the people recently surveyed by Pew report ‘connected viewing’ habits – while they are watching TV, they are connecting in other ways through other screens.  I rarely watch TV without also being on Skype, text, or other mode chatting with friends and family – sometimes about the show, sometimes not. TV has, in fact, taken a second or third chair to other screens in my world, so even when it is on, it isn’t a primary attention grabber.  Interesting implications for advertising, content developers, and writers.


Changing how we learn – Maria Montessori

142 years ago Maria Montessori came into this world.  37 years later she opened her first school in Rome, and started down a path of changing education as we know it. The Montessori approach now appears in many educational formats, and I believe her teachings have influenced how we interact socially with each other, with businesses, and as participants in a global economy. The way we learn as children affects how we interact as adults, so her legacy lives on.

Last month I wrote about the influence of Title IX on the 2012 Olympics – the unprecedented success of women connects with its passing 40 years ago this year.  Even before that landmark legislation, Maria Montessori was breaking gender barriers and building trails for women in medicine, education, and life.   Laura Edwins article on her (below) is a wonderful reminder of all she accomplished at a time when women were largely marginalized in Western society.  A colleague of mine shared it today, and I thought it was worth passing along.  Enjoy.

By Laura Edwins, Contributor / August 31, 2012
In 1907, Italian physician Dr. Maria Montessori opened the first Casa Dei Bambini to work with poor children in the slums of Rome, presenting the world with a living example of her scientific theories of education.
Doctor Maria Montessori may have given her name to one of the world’s most well known education methods, but the woman behind the philosophy is not a well known feminist figure.
In the early twentieth century Montessori, one of Italy’s first female physicians, was a true trailblazer, rejecting many social norms associated with gender roles in her time.
The daughter of parents who placed a high value on education, as a teenager Montessori enrolled in technical schools where she focused on math and science. Montessori planned to become an engineer, but then decided to study medicine.
Montessori applied to the University of Rome, but was strongly discouraged from attending because of her gender. She enrolled anyway, taking classes in natural sciences, botany, zoology, experimental physics, anatomy, and chemistry. She graduated with her degree in 1896.
According to the American Montessori society, she faced gender discrimination left and right. It was deemed inappropriate for her to attend classes with men while in the presence of a naked body (even when that body was dead), so Montessori did her cadaver dissections after class, alone.
After graduating, Montessori found employment at the university hospital, and began her own practice. She also began her soon-to-be famous research studying how mentally disabled children learn, which would be the foundation for her educational methods for all students.
When Montessori was 36, she founded Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, an experimental school where she could test her education methods. Rather than teaching the children herself, Montessori trained the teachers and then oversaw their work and observed the students. Her methods, quickly spread, and soon she was training teachers around the world.
Montessori traveled, speaking extensively on her approach to education, and also on women’s rights, and peace. She believed that peace could be taught in education, putting her at odds with Benito Mussolini in Italy. Montessori left her country in 1932 and was later was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize six times.
Even in her personal life, Montessori was unusual for her time. She had one son, Mario, but did not marry his father. Mario Montessori eventually became her collaborator in her studies.
Montessori’s legacy remains her education methods, but with her remarkable life she also stands as a model of a uniquely talented and bold woman.

Art and Science – Misdirected in Business?

The latest Harvard Business Review once again makes the argument that strategy can be more scientific, and suggests that this is an improvement over the more artistic approach to envisioning a future state for a firm.

The idealization of science over art is rampant in management theory and application. Business leaders eagerly look for measurements, data, and empircal proof that they are heading in the right direction. They seek reassurance in a ‘scientific approach’ that involves numbers, graphs, and lines (preferably moving upward).

Forcing visions of the future into scientific models may feed the managerial soul, but I’m not convinced it leads to the promised land.  As I’ve often told clients, if you can prove it is going to happen, you are either a prophet or it isn’t the future, it is just a hope for the past to repeat itself.  In my opinion, numbers and data are wonderful tools for hedging and guiding, but losing the ‘gut feel’ in favor of the so call science of management is dangerous for growth and innovation.

Scientists have long known about the value of art and embraced it as an important part of the scientific process.  It seems that corporate managers and business academics have gotten so invested in a veneer of science as being derivative and rational, they have lost an appreciation for the importance of art. The greatest scientists in history have known the importance of art in their processes of discovery, innovation, and building enduring concepts.  HBR and others may want to reconsider their commitments and their definition of ‘science’ at some point, to broaden the perspective of what is valuable in the so called science of business.

Getting Started – Reconstruct your Problem

Yesterday I was struggling to get started on a request from a colleague. I just couldn’t figure out a way to get going. Then I realized, the problem I was trying to solve was the wrong problem, at least for me. So I rewrote the request into something I could get after, and in about an hour sent it off to him.  The response back…..  “I hadn’t thought of it that way, thanks”.  I’m not sure I got him what he wanted, but it worked for me and I was able to check it off the list.

Don’t be afraid to construct problem statements in ways that best let you solve them. If you are feeling like you just can’t get going on something, try redefining the question and see if that at least lets you escape the blank page. You still might have to go back to the original question at some point, but at least you can get started, and often that’s more than half the work.