Monday, September 23, 2002

COMMENT: I felt the earth move

Last week I made my first purchase from Amazon, using up my £3 discount for a first order, and bought The Tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell. I just knew that as I opened it I would be unable to put it down and continued reading it until after midnight, Sunday. I fully agree with it's 5 star rating. A very thought provoking book with ideas and descriptions which resonate so well with events and people around me. I couldn't help hoping that Peter Reid, the Sunderland Manager, had reached his tipping point after that dreadful performance in the Derby against Newcastle on Sky yesterday - I am so glad I am living away as I know how much stick my fellow 'mackems' will have to put up with until next April when we meet them again on home soil.

A Sunderland fan died and went to heaven. On his arrival at the pearly
gates he was met by St. Peter who explained that although they loved everyone
they drew the line at mackems fans and he wasn't allowed to come in. "That's not fair!"
said the Sunderland fan and continued to complain about his rejection.
"Can't you make an exception" he went on. "Ok" said St. Peter
"If you can prove to me you've done one act of bravery in your life I will let You in."
"But I have" said the Sunderland fan. "When Sunderland played Newcastle at the St James Park I
went on my own and I wore my Sunderland shirt my Sunderland hat my Sunderland scarf and I stood in the
middle of the Mags fans and I sang "Come on Sunderland" and
"Magpies are Crap" as loud as I could." St. Peter replied" that was very courageous,
and when did you do this brave deed". The Sunderland fan looked at his watch and said
"Oh about a minute ago!"

Anyway, I got to bed at 12:30 and woke at about 12:55 to hear what sounded like a Roman army storming through the downstairs of the house. I just lay there with the house shaking and a roar of noise and my wife wasn't roused until the cat came racing through terrified at whatever she had experienced. Being educated as a Geologist my top three options for what had just occurred were:
1. A huge lorry had backed into the house and demolished the wall
2. A Harrier Jump jet from nearby RAF bases had decided to practice hovering over the house
3. An abortive attempt by aliens to abduct me as the experiernce was identical to those on the X-files and a full moon lit up the windows.
It wasn't until 7am this morning that the notion of an earthquake entered my head, and I was immensely relieved to hear the many e-mails, texts and phonecalls which had similarly misunderstood this short but scarey experience.

I guess this experience will now be locked in with the rest of my knowledge for future recall.

Friday, September 20, 2002

COMMENT : IBM KM for Government Forum

Well the IBM conference went really well. Dave Snowden couldn't be found so I was asked to go on first and boy was I nervous, more than 50 people in the Great Hall of the very posh London Insurance Hall, and I was miked up and shown the video camera up on the balcony. I started fine and then in walked Dave Snowden and perfectly to cue, knowing his dislike of powerpoint, I crashed out of powerpoint and amateurishly tried to get the slideshow back up and running. I recovered OK and judging from the comments afterwards think that my retelling of the 'Badger Man' story from Ernest Neal's excellent book 'The Badger Man' was the story of the day.

I was also particularly proud that during our workshop on Communities that my suggestion of the 'Thursday night pub collective' was sited as a good example of a shadow organisation community. When asked how we regulate membership and prevent unwanted members from attending our regular meetings I replied "at 17:30 we simply change the venue".

I have since found out that Ernest died on Aril 19th 1998 but hopefully his stories live on to inspire enthusiasts of both Natural History and now Knowledge Management.

Again participating in events like these throws up the strangest encounters and I was approached by the sound engineer for the day who proceeded to tell me several very entertaining and 'lesson learning' stories of which I can only retell one of the five for fear of breaking Blog libel and obsenity regulations.

As he attached the microphone he said "make sure you switch it off when you are not presenting. At a recent conference this senior official walked out of the hall and without realising he was broadcasting to the entire audience proceeded to berate this poor junior official with an onslaught which would make Basil Fawlty look like Mother Theresa. On his return he was booed and was embarassingly told of his show stopping speech. In good storytelling fashion he reportedly then ran out and has not been seen since." Made me remember to switch the mike off immediately I had finished anyway.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

I've been studying storytelling for so long now that last night I dreamt I had written 'Lord of the Rings'.

My wife replied "Don't I know it, that's not the first time you've been Tolkien in your sleep".

SOURCE : Guardian Sat 14th Sept 2002

Thursday, September 12, 2002


Just been e-mailed this really useful URL for a site called DMOZ which says that it is is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors. Part of something called The Open Directory Project, it looks really useful when you are searching for material in a specific subject area. I must add this to my list of links.


Melinda Appleby, one of English Nature's Council Members was invited to a Chartered Surveyor Conference to give a personal view of 'Farming in the Future'. During her presentation she touched on the importance of hedgerows and recounted the following story:

A Farmer owned two small fields, one 12 hectares (acres) the other 8 hectares (acres). These were divided by a particularly nice length of hedgerow with many different species of tree and shrub and a very deep bank.

The farmer had decided that he should combine the two small fields into a more substantial 20 hectare (acre) one - the 8 acre field being a particulalry small size for his machinery. He therefore proposed to tear out the hedging and plough up the field border.

Melinda was particularly impressed by the hedge and noted that it had a particularly well developed ditch, was species rich and looked to have been there for some considerable length of time. She asked the farmer if it was a parish boundary and he did not know so they returned to the farm office to check the maps.

She therefore looked at the maps of the area and this hedge was in fact a Parish Boundary which implied it had been their for hundreds of years.

The Farmer was so impressed that Melinda knew this, that he agreed to keep the hedge.

It seems that the Environmental and Ecological arguments fare poorly in comparison with highlighting Local History, which seems to touch hearts more than anything else.

And this was the happy ending until I contacted Melinda for permission to use her story, this she willingly gave, but added the following postscript to the tale:

Several years later however, the farmer rang Melinda up and said that it was now becoming impossible to keep the two fields separate - there was a big problem of rabbit damage to crops and the hedge and ditch provided shelter for the rabbits, plus the small field size was becoming impossible to manage with modern machinery so regrettably he was going to amalgamate the two fields.

I guess this is where economics becomes the overiding factor

KNOWLEDGE: Lessons Learned

Knowledge Management is all about learning lessons and it is reckoned that you cannot beat experiencing the error of your ways to increase your knowledge and prevent you from making the same mistake again.

Well one of the girls in our office just learned to be very careful when shopping on the internet.

Feeling a bit tired and low she ordered her food parcel from her favourite on-line supermarket. When it arrived she paid little attention and simply signed for it as usual. On opening the parcel she found seven large economy packs of bananas holding more than 56 single fruits not the seven single bananas she thought she had ordered.

So we are all helping her eat them and look forward to the banana bread, cake and other culinary delights she has promised for later in the week.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

COMMENT: Wet Botanical Gardens and Books

Yesterday as part of a Team building day out with my new colleagues we visited the Cambridge Botanical Garden. Apart from the fact it poured down with rain all day and we all got soaked through, it was a fantastic day out and I would recommend a visit to anyone who finds themselves in Cambridge with an afternoon to spare.

We were shown round by three very knowledgeable guides all working as volunteers, and I was particularly impressed at the use of stories to increase our interest in each of the plants, displays and the history of the gardens.

As a strange coincidence I am currently reading the excellent book by Peter Marren : Britain's Wild Flowers which tells the story of how these Botanical Gardens played a crucial role in the education of Botanists and in helping to preserve some of our rarest flowers.

In another even stranger coincidence the Guardian this week featured a review of Peters new book: Nature Conservation: A review of the Conservation of Wildlife in Britain, 1950-2001 which contains the 'flow country' story which I always begin my presentation with. I must get hold of a copy and read what really happened.

Back to our Team Building event, we were supposed to go punting but the torrential rain put paid to that idea so we stayed in the pub and told stories to each other.

Today everyone is greeting each other with a smile saying "have you dried out yet", "does the wet phone/camera still work" and the general feeling is that sharing such a downpour has brought us together more than if we had had a sunny day, we are united in our suffering'.

The only downside was that we managed to leave one of our community in Cambridge, no-one spotted she was missing so she had to make her own way home. The obligatory "hands up if you are not back on the coach yet" doesn't seem so funny in hindsight.

RESOURCE: Narrative Psychology

While browsing various storytelling articles and web sites I came across this amazingly vast resource on everything you wanted to know about narrative: its the Narrative Pschycology Internet and Resource Guide. I have added it to my links on the left for future browsing.That should keep me busy reading for a few more weeks

Friday, September 06, 2002

COMMENT: My first movie

I have just had a rather scarey phone call from Geoff Carss (Principal, Knowledge Management, Public Sector, IBM ) to agree the content of my presentation on 18th Sept for the 'Knowledge Management for Government Forum' which they have very kindly asked me to speak at. It was bad enough knowing that the master, Dave Snowden would be there with 60 invited senior government managers but when I asked when he wanted my powerpoint slides for publication, he said that with my permission they would like to capture the event digitally, both video and the powerpoint slides to combine in a CD-Rom. To say that I feel a little scared about saying the wrong thing is an understatement. I can easily see this being used at my trial to prove that I lie, misrepresent facts, slander, talk behind peoples backs, am two faced etc. I am not looking forward to seeing what nervous ticks, flailing of arms and all the 'erms' and strange quirks of Sunderland dialect I will be seen to use.

It will however be interesting to look at the technology, capabilities and ease of producing such a product for this is one of current dilemmas of how to store and make available the videos of story telling sessions I already have. Geoff has also promised to show me their current prototype solutions for handling a database of stories/narrative.


Earlier this week I began my 18 month project researching Knowledge transfer, Communities and the use of stories and storytelling in and around English Nature and indeed the nature of England. I have struggled with the best method to communicate my findings to the rest of the organisation and other interested parties and have decided to try using a web log or ‘blog’ as they are affectionately known on the Internet.

Indeed because my blog is about knowledge and its management such blogs are even more affectionately called klogs.

So a ‘blog’ or ‘klog’ is simply a log of thoughts and stories including useful links to the Internet, directly published to an outside community and I guess the usefulness of such a method of communication will be another important element of my research.

Wherever possible I will attempt to label each entry as to whether it is about a BOOK, STORY, COMMUNITY, KNOWLEDGE or just COMMENT.

You don’t have to read it. I am an amateur when it comes to writing so my style and pathetic attempts at humour may grate a little. I learned from summaries of previous storytelling sessions that just telling your story can be a therapy so even if no one reads it I am already feeling better for having written to it.

Feel free to drop in periodically, browse, graze, criticise etc. I would be particularly greatful for any contributions (stories, useful websites, nuggets of knowledge but not money) which I will be happy to give full recognition for or publish anonymously.


One of the first rules of working in knowledge management is that you must have a workable definition of what knowledge is. I have seen many definitions and recently read a book on artificial intelligence called ‘The Society of Mind’ by Marvin Minsky which greatly helped me understand the concept of knowledge.

Knowledge for me is the things that are known which are stored in people’s heads, not written down or stored on computer that is when it becomes information and is subject to information management.

I like to think of knowledge as being stored in chunks or frames concerned with a specific subject or topic

Minsky suggests that when you hear a story certain words or phrases resonate with your past experience and the relevant frames are excited and brought into focus. This is the point in a conversation where people chip in with their experiences or thoughts. In a presentation this is where you start to think that’s a good idea or I remember something similar myself.

As the story unfolds against your own backdrop of frames, any new knowledge or ideas it may provoke are attached to all the currently excited frames. As these frames are then stored back in your memory they take the new story with them.

Excite any of these frames later in conversation and the story comes to mind.

Now consider how difficult the proposal to ‘manage knowledge’ is when you think of the very different experience and therefore frames which exist in our staff.

An example of the difficulties we face occurred earlier this year when my brother-in-law phoned to say that he had seen a dead badger by the side of the road near his house in the North East of England. He asked if he should inform anyone and I suggested he phone our Northumbria team just in case someone was monitoring road-kill animals.

My daughter on hearing this asked “so what does a badger look like” and I said “ you know, it’s black and white, quite large, a bit like a bear”, “Oh yes” she said “ I know the one”. It was a couple of days later when she sheepishly admitted that she had actually pictured a panda lying in the roadside. My transfer of knowledge had failed to resonate with a frame of hers concerning badgers but brought up the much more exciting/disturbing prospect of driving into a panda on your way home.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

STORY: Typical Students

I have had a lot of interesting experiences when telling tales relating to real ale and pub settings. The resonance you get suggests you should always mention real ale in a difficult project proposal. Here is a traditional tale with a modern CAMRA moral ending from the archives. I was going to ask CAMRA for sponsorship or at least free membership but I joined last month anyway so that I could get free admission to the massive Peterborough Beer Festival held every year in late August. After this I will put some proper KM work on my blog or I will be dismissed as a philosophical story collector.

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full?

They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was. The students laughed.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. "Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognise that this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your
health, your children - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff,
you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

But then...
A student then took the jar which the other students and the professor agreed was full, and proceeded to pour in a glass of real ale. Of course the real ale filled the remaining spaces within the jar making the jar truly full.

The moral of this tale is:-
No matter how full your life is, there is always room for REAL ALE

SOURCE: Unknown

STORY: The Nature of things

Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung.

The other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it's nature is to sting?"

"Because," the monk replied, "to save it is my nature."

Source: zen stories to tell your neighbours

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

STORY: The Mothman from Nishny

Senior staff from English Nature were recently meeting a group of 8 Russian visitors from Nishny Novgorod near Moscow.

I asked a colleague who was to be attending the evening meal to keep a look out for good stories and sure enough he didn't let me down.

The Russions were visiting the UK to find out how they could better integrate environmental considerations into their domestic planning regime and wanted to learn from UK and EU practice.

They were all staying in a Bed & Breakfast in Fotheringay (a very small village not far from Peterborough) .

After dinner one night (around 23.30), one of the Group, who had a keen interest in moths and was dressed in army fatigues, i.e camouflage jacket and trousers, took out a light trap into a neighbouring field to see if he could capture anything interesting.

Unfortunately, one of the local residents saw him acting suspiciously and called the police as there had been a number of recent break-ins in the village.

The Police quickly surrounded the area and captured the suspicious camouflaged Russian spy with strange mechanical device (several moth traps have previously been responsible for UFO sitings but that, as they say, is another story).

They then had to wait while their Russian interpreter arrived at the scene to "ask a few routine questions". Luckily he was released without charge!

I am still waiting to see if this makes the Fotheringay newpaper or if the Russian caught any English moths.

Source: English Nature Colleague

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?