A wider focus for Lessons Learned

Thanks to Nick Milton over at Knoco Stories  and his never ending pursuit of interesting KM material, this time a particular fascinating and revealing document entitled:

A Review of NASA’s Lessons Learned Information System.

Nick does a great job of explaining the key points of the report, reasons and recommendations of the report which I will therefore not repeat here.

My ‘ecological’ perspective on this, is that symptomatic of all the negativity and failures of initiatives in the name of Knowledge Management, that NASA needs to widen its focus.

First it focuses on the information system that supports ‘Lessons Learned’ in NASA. That is fair enough because this report was an attempt to review just that.

Second it assumes that Lessons Learned is an outcome worth pursuing for its own sake.

In the last four years as I have stepped away from a KM focus to a more innovation focus I have discovered that they are both delicately intertwined but too often often dealt with and strategised about separately.

One person of note in KM that has innovation as part of his overall 4×4 definition of KM is Ron Young (which I cannot find an example online to reference, Sorry Ron), but this is how I think things should be approached:

I still begin with the Cognitive Edge approach that the first and most important step is to stimulate the social network that holds all this knowledge about a given subject.

  •  This includes lots of story sharing (telling and listening) which stimulates connections, relationships or at least understandings about perspectives held within the network.
  • In doing so that the network itself can identify who the experts are and what experience they bring.
  •  These stories form the backbone of knowledge held within the network, in memorable form, easy to recall and retell.

Then I bring to bear all my Innovation/problem solving methods from TRIZ, CPS, COLLCOMS in order to:

  •  Explore the present ideal outcome in terms of the benefits this would bring
  • Examine the lessons against these benefits in order to nurture the positive and dampen the negative
  • Explore the problems raised, develop creative ideas and turn these into specific actions [which in Argenta Europ we term an Innovation Booster, and when I work with Oxford Creativity, a TRIZ – Problem solving workshop]

This is crucially different from other lessons learned approaches as it directly looks at transforming current processes thereby embedding the lessons/knowledge immediately into the process.

Finally some interventions are complex and cannot be simply embedded into behaviour or process change. It is here that storytelling re-appears as the best tool for the job:

  • By developing Springboard, Message Map or Duarte sparklines we can facilitate the workshop attendees to converge on a narrative that defines the current position, what needs to be done and the benefits of what might be achieved.
  • These stories help achieve what the Japanese call Nemawashi ie laying the ground for major change. Too many Lessons Learned approaches work on the assumption that a positive change will be enthusiastically accepted by everyone back in the factory/laboratory/workplace. Everyone affected needs to be on board or at least have time to reflect on why the change is beneficial.
  • These stories, being memorable not only store within the organisation what is being done but why it is beneficial and help pattern (lead?) the organisation to greater creative ideas and a culture of looking at benefits (and therefore impacts) not specific measurable outcomes.

So that is how I think Lessons Learned should be approached. I have no doubt there is a place for an information system to capture, share and show progress of ideas but this should be developed by and for the people who want to use it. Please don’t focus on it as your reason and approach to learning.

[NB: notice in the above how Dave Snowden’s advice from the late 1990’s about power of three still directs my writing and presentational style]


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