From Guy St. Clair: Guest Author Anthony Mickey, a 2014 graduate of Columbia University’s M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program, is currently an Associate Lecturer in the Applied Analytics Program in Columbia’s School of Professional Studies. His experience includes consulting in the financial services, advertising, insurance, and entertainment Industries and his current specialty is in data mining – complex modeling – full project life cycle and data analysis.
One subject that interests me – as I work with KM/knowledge services – is how some of what we’re exposed to elsewhere applies very neatly to knowledge services and knowledge strategy development for the organizations where we work. In my field (KM and Data Analytics), I read a great many technical and analytical books, and I’m particularly impressed with those from O’Reilly (aka O’Reilly & Associates).
One of the fascinating aspects of the O’Reilly books is not just the subject matter. I’m also intrigued by how images of animals are used on book covers and then connected with points made in the books themselves. A good example was the connection noted between a specific technology and a specific animal, with the Leafcutter ant used to illustrate complex behavior, a set of rules driven by social interaction that showed up in the “Mastering Bitcoins” book.
This kind of linking up is typical in the O’Reilly books (https://www.oreilly.com/animals.csp) and I became fascinated with another animal I’m acquainted with through my friendship with Guy St. Clair, one of my professors when I was studying at Columbia University.
It is hard to believe that more than eight years have passed since my initial introduction to the M.S in IKNS (Information and Knowledge Strategy) program at Columbia University in the City of New York. I recall the vibrant discussions that we had as prospective students with faculty, and Guy St. Clair specifically made a big impression on me. I learned much in the class he taught (“Managing Information and Knowledge: Applied Knowledge Services”). In addition to having the privilege of being in Guy’s course, after graduation we reconnected and we have continued our conversations about KM and knowledge services.
As we talked together, I learned (like anyone else who gets to know Guy) that he is very fond of elephants, especially the African Elephant. Guy’s interest in these wonderful beasts – the world’s largest land mammal – came about when he lived and worked in Kenya, and he was able to experience being near and learning about these magnificent animals. So between my exposure to O’Reilly’s “animal menagerie” in his books and my conversations with Guy, my interest was sparked in investigating what can we learn from the African Elephant (in fact, the African Elephant appears in three O’Reilly books).
Why the African Elephant? Let’s think outside the box for a bit and see if we can incorporate some positive traits that will help the KM/knowledge services professional become better in that role. Here are some pointers I have picked up from reading about how elephants interact:
- Observation. First off, by taking time to observe animal behavior, we are also practicing the “Power of Pausing or Silence.” In the KM/knowledge services workplace, we knowledge strategists become active listeners. We are careful not to act impulsively, and we make space in our communications to just be quiet and let others think. Tim O’Reilly, the business advisor and entrepreneur behind the books mentioned above, was a featured guest speaker at one of the virtual receptions put together by the Columbia University IKNS Class of 2020. His website and podcast featuring Eric McNulty made this point on the power of observation: you don’t panic in a crisis. You look for patterns to see what is missing and you collaborate to bring cross-functional groups together. You look for solutions. (https://barryoreilly.com/unlearn-podcast).
- Social Networking. When we look at the “10 Incredible Facts about the African Elephant” from one of the companies specializing in elephant safaris (https://bit.ly/3ieHX6g), we learn that the herd is often led by an older matriarch with mothers, sisters, and female cousins sticking together. The herd will act or move in whatever direction is of interest to the group (when or where the herd will stop to drink or sleep, for example). And it’s usually the females, as I’ve said. Males leave the herd at about the age of 14 to search for other mates or simply to live as bachelors. In knowledge-services – the whole purpose of knowledge sharing, in fact – is how that level of social networking combines with teaching and advising to take the younger knowledge workers to good results.
- Leadership. From the High Performance Optimization (HPO) Center, the short video “Learn Excellent Leadership from the Amazing Elephant” (https://bit.ly/3igAqDX) provides direct advice for leaders seeking to do their best: “A successful HPO leader builds relationships of trust by combining honest and coaching leadership with strong role-model behavior, fast decision-making (also regarding non-performers), and result orientation, all of which is based on a long-term vision.”
- In one of his posts in his personal blog – “Sharing Guy’s Journey,” February 14, 2017 (https://bit.ly/2F5MARP) – Guy related an amazing story about a herd of elephants which each spring, led by the matriarch (who someone named “Wonky Tusk”), climbs the steps of a very nice five-star lodge in Zambia and strolls through, calmly navigating across Reception to reach a grove of mango trees.
The Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia had been built over an ancient elephant path, and once the lodge was built, the elephants had no intentions of changing course. They learned to adapt and to coexist with humans, to the delight of hotel guests. Indeed, one of the most amazing incidents – in our context – shows a typically short moment when a new, two-week old baby simply lies down on the floor of Reception and has a nap.
Is anyone of Wonky Tusk’s family unnerved? Not at all. They stand and wait and after a moment or two, the baby gets up and all the family troop on through and out to the mango grove. Did we mention that patience is another trait the knowledge strategist can learn from the animals? In this case from the elephants?
This is but one example of our amazing animal kingdom but I think, if you take the time to observe and bring forth your own “animal firm,” you’ll be able to figure out the best animal behavior to use in your work with KM/knowledge services, both for yourself and for the organization.