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|Realsearch: A Framework for
Knowledge Management and Continuing Education
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|"In every workshop, participants have come to realizations and conceived candidate solutions that surprised themselves. This is applied creativity -- innovation. The Realsearch approach facilitates not only analogical reasoning but also gets participants to the level of principle-centered reasoning." -- Jack Ring, Industry consultant working with Miles Burke Technologies, on participation in 1997 Discovery Workshop Series.|
As human beings we distinguish ourselves from other life by generating and applying knowledge. Our increasing population is building upon an increasing body of past knowledge - which increases the rate of new knowledge generation and speeds the decay of knowledge value - making the general business environment, which is built on knowledge, more unstable.
Knowledge is the driving force of both proactive and reactive change. New knowledge demands to be acted upon; and when one business acts upon new knowledge others have no choice but to follow. Conscious knowledge management will return general stability in the long run. Short term it will provide preemptive advantage to those who master it first.
Insights are the most powerful forms of knowledge, but very difficult to transfer to others. They stem from some internal understanding that is either too complex to convey in language or simply not consciously understood.
Our interest, therefore, is in helping people gain new knowledge at the depth of insight, within an environment dominated by constant change, an environment growing less tolerant of a time-out for learning.
Realsearch is a participative knowledge development and dissemination process which employs real people addressing real problems in real time - typically in mixed workshop groups. It is an issue-focused, principle-based methodology that first defines the nature of a problem before considering solutions. Solutions are then analyzed or designed according to a set of fundamental design principles. Insight is fostered with this cause-and-effect understanding, and communicated within an organization through means of a local metaphor model - which provides a graphic depiction of this cause-and-effect relationship for a known and respected local business practice.
Realsearch evolved from cross-industry workshop organizing and facilitation experiences at both the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (1986-1991) and later at the Agility Forum (1992-1996). Industry workshops typically bring together people with different backgrounds and different agendas - often leading to poor productivity as the group spends its time seeking common ground, or suffers for lack of it. We found that structuring a working group's activities with a fixed analysis process and a clear objective eliminated these problems; driving the activity toward discovery of new knowledge. We have also found it counterproductive to require consensus on the conclusions. For instance, the people who went back from the early Agility Forum workshops to implement what they had learned all went back with very personal ideas, formed from their own conclusions about the new knowledge that was co-developed.
Directing business process reengineering projects is one immediately practical application for Realsearch. Another is the capture and mobilization of corporate core competency knowledge. A third important application is in what we now call continuing education - at all employee levels.
Insight provides a very different leverage over simple procedural learning and training. Formal education traditionally gives us new rules to employ, training traditionally gives us experience in applying those rules, workshops focus us (sometimes) on real and practical problems, and seminars expose us to someone else's thoughts. None have demonstrated the ability to provide insight consistently - so all have a marginal value by comparison.
The management of knowledge is emerging as the central theme in business today. We are beginning to realize that its application is the distinguishing factor among companies - but we don't know how to measure it or display it on the balance sheet. Nor do we know how to capture and package it so that we can spread it freely among employees. Nevertheless we know that it is what core competency is all about, and it is what competition is all about - for it is what the business is based upon.
We also know that knowledge is being generated faster than ever before, applied faster than ever before, and decaying in value faster than ever before. We have become concerned about managing knowledge as a business practice as a result.
Knowledge is a people thing. Though it may be technical knowledge we are talking about, it was a person who generated it, it is a person who has it, and it will be a person who tries to understand it - or decides not to. That's where the difficulty resides: People.
Realsearch is the name for a learning process we have been testing and refining. To date it has been employed in workshop format, generally with participants from mixed backgrounds and companies. The focus has been on business practices and processes, with the intent to learn why and how highly adaptable ones work, and to learn how to design new ones so that they, too, will be highly adaptable.
Our initial objective with the Realsearch process is to expedite the creation of insights about the value and nature of change-proficient business practices among a broadening base of people.
Applications and Results
Five 3-day Realsearch Discovery Workshops were conducted in 1997 at:
Hosts typically provided 5-8 participants, which were augmented with another 10-15 participants from outside the host organization. Many of the outside participants regularly attended multiple workshops, and all but one of the hosts sent participants to other sites.
The 1997 Discovery Workshop series was focused on discovering underlying principles for highly adaptable business practices - so that these fundamental principles could then be used consciously to redesign poor practices or design new practices that required high degrees of adaptability.
Each 3-day workshop analyzed two business practices at the host site that exhibited high degrees of change proficiency (agility). The two analyses were then followed by an application exercise focused on a business practice of special interest to the host and universal interest to all participants. Prior to the analyses, the group reviewed and discussed selected pre-assigned case-study readings relevant to the application exercise. Real people focused on real problems in real time.
Details are discussed in the body of the report, as are the comments of the participants on the Realsearch process.
The Realsearch Discovery Workshop concept will be continued in 1998 with a new emphasis as well as process refinements learned from the first year's efforts.
The 1997 Discovery Workshop Series was successful in achieving its stated objectives of 1) identifying and refining a set of ten design principles for building highly adaptable business practices, 2) developing a means for articulating these principles meaningfully to a broad audience, and 3) developing a means for mobilizing this knowledge throughout an organization. Preliminary documentation for these results can be seen in essays #33 and beyond. In addition to the three objectives, the important process of Realsearch was vetted and refined into an effective working procedure.
Does the Realsearch process produce a facility with new knowledge that has the depth of insight? How long does that take? Comments from repeat participants in the 1997 Discovery Workshops say yes.
My observations are that little is evident after a single workshop, the light goes on during the second workshop, and something approaching insight occurs for some in the third and for many in the fourth exposure. At three days per workshop that's something like 9-12 days invested in high-leverage business-related learning with immediate application. Our sampling experience at this point is too small to make any strong claims, however.
Realsearch is not a recipe driven concept by design: 1) we need ways to differentiate our businesses, not conformity that eliminates competition, 2) the nature of the complexity our businesses deal with requires a complexity-compatible response, 3) though people are generally uncomfortable in the hard work of deep thinking and learning activity, that is what produces insight.
The future will continue to evolve the strategic themes of Realsearch and refine the application process. We want to find effective ways to expand to larger groups and deliver effective Realsearch experiences across the Internet. We are still learning, but common ground revolves around a focus on real and interesting problems, mixed participants, running parallel workshop teams, building local metaphors, utilizing an issue-focus and principle-base, and making people think and create new insight patterns.
All participants and their sponsoring organizations in the 1997 Discovery Workshop Series were part of the evolution of the Realsearch process.
Companies: Agility Forum, Boeing Rocketdyne, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, General Motors, The Hartman Group, Innovation Management, LSI Logic, Lyceum Group, Miles Burke Technologies, Motorola, Pratt & Whitney, Procter & Gamble, Rockwell Avionics & Communications, SAP America.
Participants: Jack Adams, Leon Agnew, Mike Bell, Steve Benson, Lisa Bogusz, John Bricklemeyer, Al Beam, Rick Carrabello, Jim Cook, Mark Correll, Nicole DeBlieck, Bob Dove, Bill Drake, Dave Ervin, Al Hall, Sue Hartmen, Dan Henke, Pete Holmes, Jerry Hudson, Jim Hughes, Stephen Jacques, Mary Jane Kleinosky, Patrick Kraus, Howard Kuhn, Keith Kutner, Kent Longenecker, Joe Leone, Leland Leong, Joe Lichwalla, Bob Meyer, Mike Paytas, Jim Pazehoski, Dan Praschan, Jack Ring, Joe Rutledge, Emil Sarady, Mary Jo Scheldrup, Dave Schmidt, Bill Shanklin, Tom Shaw. Bob Swanson, Gary Toyama, Guy Volponi, Julie Youngblut Smith.
Special acknowledgement for a continuing collaboration on the development of the Realsearch process is due Steve Benson (LSI Logic, and also Paradigm Shift International), Mark Correll (Rockwell Avionics & Communications), Al Hall (General Motors), Sue Hartman (The Hartman Group), and Jack Ring (Miles Burke Technologies, and also Innovation Management).
Table of Contents
(Section from paper presented at March 1998 IEEE Aerospace Conference)
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