Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Huts and Silos

There is a scene in 'The Imitation Game' movie where the brilliant Alan Turing, played by Dominic Cumberbatch, is assembling his famous 'bombe'. This is not an Italian ice cream, but a huge, sophisticated mechanical calculator that helped accelerate the deciphering of German Enigma codes. Whilst most of the film is acknowledged as a faithful representation of the amazing work that went on at Bletchley Park during the war, there were two small factual inaccuracies.

Firstly, the first Bombe was initially built by Polish codebreakers in 1938. Turing's and Gordon Welchman's genius transformed it into a more accurate, electro-mechanical device that could simultaneously process 36 Enigma codes and at phenomenal speed.  Over 200 Bombes were built (not one survived the end of the war), giving industrial capability in codebreaking. The second was that whilst Turing designed them, he didn't actually build the Bombe himself.  Harold Keen was the amazing engineer who physically constructed the machines.

How do I know this? Last weekend we visited Bletchley Park and it was a revelation. The geniuses and support staff (there were 10,000 of them) that worked there are credited with shortening the Second World War by at least 2 years and saving millions of lives.

The teams at Bletchley Park worked in strictly demarcated teams for security, such that almost none of them had the full picture of what the whole was doing. The 'Listeners' who spent literally years in headphones patiently writing down reams of meaningless German Morse code, had no idea what the team next door did. They never asked. In fact they were separated physically, in numbered huts.

Despite this, the whole functioned as an efficient and effective operation. This was largely down to Commander Alastair Dennison, whose own genius was unparalleled leadership and organisational skills. Working with, sometimes petulant, highly able experts who were not used to collaborating, he got the most out of each team.

Many large organisations suffer from isolated knowledge, constrained by department or other 'silos' (aka huts). For ideas about how effective organisation and leadership can improve performance and how to get your experts to give their best, I highly recommend a visit to Bletchley Park. We went for a morning and spent the entire day.

Photo credit: Rebuilt Bombe, Wikipedia

Friday, 3 June 2016

KIN 15 year anniversary research project: 'The Evolution of Knowledge Management'

The Knowledge and Innovation Network was initiated by IKON at Warwick Business School 15 years ago.

Since then the world has changed immeasurably, with societal and technological changes blurring the boundaries between our work and personal lives. Networks, in all their forms, are everywhere. To celebrate KIN's anniversary and reflect on these changes, three long-standing KIN member organisations PwC, Severn Trent Water and The British Council have been invited to participate in a qualitative research project.

Yaqi Yang, a student on the WBS MSc Information Systems Management course will be conducting the research, supervised by Davide Nicolini, as part of her Masters dissertation. 

Yaqi will look at the changes to knowledge management that have taken place in these organisations since 2001 through interviews with a wide variety of staff and others that have shaped organisational learning. She will look at what knowledge management initiatives and techniques have had the most impact. In the best tradition of KIN practice, learning what hasn't worked, and why, may yield some of the most valuable insights.

This will not just be retrospective on how things have (or haven't) changed in the last decade and a half. We intend using this knowledge to anticipate how things may yet evolve. A further 15 year projection would be foolhardy in this rapidly evolving world, but at KIN we have the ability to learn and actually shape the future.

The research results and analysis will be presented and a discussion hosted on where we may be headed, at the KIN Membership at the Autumn Workshop / 'Unconference', taking place on 12th / 13th September.

Further details on the research study can be provided by dawn.coton@wbs.ac.uk