Would you buy your firm?

Your firm might not be for sale. Even if it were, you might not have the money to buy it. Please suspend reality for a moment and think about the following question:

Would you buy your firm?

If yes, what would you be buying? People? A brand? A client list? A portfolio of buildings? A culture? Patents? Methods and tools? 

If no, why not? Dependence on the connections and expertise of a few key individuals? Lack of a distinct competitive advantage? The brand? The culture? More attractive investment options?

I recently read Built To Sell, by John Warrilow. I want you to read it, because it asks uncomfortable questions that yield fruitful discussion. Perhaps the most uncomfortable of them all is about the sale of your business. The idea of selling the firm is emotional for owners (“my baby!”) and employees (“my job!”) alike, so I find that we don’t talk about it. But I think we should, for a couple reasons:

1) Your firm is for sale. There are only three endgames for any company – sell the firm to internal buyers, sell to an external buyer, or wind the company down and sell the assets.

2) Built to sell is built to thrive. One of the central premises of Built To Sell is that the same practices that make your business more valuable to buyers, make your business more profitable and enjoyable to operate, namely, reducing your dependence on a few key owners, putting knowledge about clients and services into repeatable methods, and focusing on doing one thing better than anyone else.

3) Asking the question, “Would you buy your firm?”, will lead to new insights for improving your business. Attempting to put a value on your firm, or even better, thinking about how to make the firm more valuable, will be a new frame of reference for most of the people in your organization. Looking at your business from the dispassionate point of view of an outsider will yield more clarity on the knowledge that needs to be created, captured, and shared to make the firm more valuable.

Many of you will have the opportunity to buy into your firms at some point. What better time than now to start making your future investment more valuable? My hunch says, that promoting knowledge sharing initiatives as value creation will also capture the full attention of your firm’s current  ownership. “Would you buy your firm?” might just be the perfect question for aligning all of the stakeholders in your organization.


Posted: May 9th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Most Popular | Comments Off on Would you buy your firm?

Why you should promote knowledge sharing as innovation first, and efficiency second.

Knowledge sharing often fails in architecture and engineering firms because it is promoted solely as an efficiency initiative. “Profits and job satisfaction will soar if we all follow the standards, stop re-inventing the wheel, and focus on operational excellence,” or so the meme goes.

The problem with the bottom-line focus on knowledge sharing is three-fold:

1) Architects and engineers don’t manufacture repeatable products, so there is only so much juice to squeeze out of the operational inefficiency lemon.

2) Improving the bottom line, while sexy in concept, is often a grind in implementation.

3) Very few architects and engineers pop out of bed in the morning dying to follow standard processes and procedures. Architects and engineers enjoy having inefficiencies in their work.

This is not to say that continuous improvement, operational efficiency, and profitability are not important, they are, but I don’t think that they are compelling enough flags to rally the troops around, at least not alone. 

Bottom-line issues speak to our rational brains, not our emotional brains. Top-line issues such as innovation, research and development, and growth get the blood and adrenaline pumping. Think about it, would you rather steward existing knowledge and make continuous improvements or discover new knowledge, lead the marketplace, and have clients approach you?

Of course, this is a false choice, you should drive the top line through new services and innovation and the bottom line through operational excellence. But if you want to get people to follow you, and more to the point, if you want to create a sustainable, repeatable, growing practice of knowledge sharing, you have to capture the hearts and minds of your staff, and I would suggest starting with their hearts. I believe the heart of an architect or engineer wants to innovate, so promote knowledge sharing as innovation first, and efficiency second.

Posted: May 6th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Most Popular | 3 Comments »

Communities of Practice at Arup

This interview with Faith Wainwright of Arup comes courtesy of Step Two Designs. Step Two Designs is a fantastic resource for folks who are interested in intranets and knowledge management. They write books, have an excellent blog, and produce an annual Intranet Innovation Awards conference that attracts companies from all over the globe.

Arup won the Gold Award for Intranet Innovation in 2010. This 8-minute video gives you some insight into why they won, and also why we consider them to be one of the best knowledge sharing organizations in the AEC industry.

Posted: May 5th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Most Popular | Comments Off on Communities of Practice at Arup

Organizing a Successful Online Community Requires Constant Tending. Want to See an Example?

One of the keys to running any kind of online community — intranet site, LinkedIn Group, blog or wiki — is to connect with your community individually as well as through the collaboration tools.

I regularly ping KA Connect members to ask how things are going, find out what they are working on, and see how the group is working out for them.  Often I’ll get asked a really good question, and instead of answering it, I’ll suggest that they ask the community instead. Sometimes I’ll come across a blog post and encourage the author to share it and start a discussion. Whatever the tactic, I have found that organizing a successful online community requires constant tending.

Here’s a real-life example from earlier this week: 


From: Ruben Suare
Date: Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 1:51 PM
Subject: Article
To: Christopher Parsons


I think that you will find this article interesting. I was interviewed by the architect’s newspaper and quoted in the article. It is interesting because I believe that there is too much focus on turning architects into fabricators, but I don’t think that we will ever be fabricators (for many reasons) nor manufacturers — I do believe that as architects we must understand better how to collaborate and what this means in relationship to knowledge building processes




From: Christopher Parsons
Date: Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 6:31 PM
Subject: Re: Article
To: Ruben Suare


I really liked it, and would really love it if you started a discussion on the KA Connect group around your statement that:

“Everyone is turning into a fabricator when they should be concentrating on what it means to be a collaborator.”

You up for it?



From: Ruben Suare
Date: Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 10:19 PM
Subject: Re: Article
To: Christopher Parsons


What do you think about posting this with a link to the article?

“Where do you think fabrication is going, and what do you think lies ahead?”

I often talk about PUSH and PULL knowledge practice where I think that it is easier to push knowledge out than to pull it, and pulling is where I think that architectural offices with fabrication facilities lie. We architects work with manufacturers and fabricators pulling knowledge and in most cases we get what is convenient for them. I think that manufacturers and fabricators, with our help, should facilitate knowledge transfer by focusing on pushing out the knowledge that is found in their facilities.

Many young architects are turning into fabricators and I often think about how this will impact the architectural industry. I see young offices fabricating for their clients, but as Caliper Studio comments in this article “The idea of small-scale manufacturing of their own designs is appealing, but the distraction from the design work is a concern.”

Everyone is turning into a fabricator when, I believe, the focus should be on what it means to be a collaborator, and to me, collaboration is the key to successfully combine aesthetics, with quality and efficiency at reasonable costs. As stated by John Shields “it’s really all about communication and seamless information management.”



 From: Christopher Parsons
Date: Mon, Dec 14, 2010 at 7:55 AM
Subject: Re: Article
To: Ruben Suare


I love it. I think the topic is spot-in for this group.

On a related note, I’d like to use the transcript of this back and forth as the subject of a blog post. One of the keys to running any kind of online community — intranet site, LinkedIn Group, blog or wiki — is to connect with your community individually as well as through the collaboration tools.

For example, we had dinner in Minneapolis, talked over the phone, and now I am encouraging for you to create a discussion. Those actions are essential “behind the scenes” elements for motivating a community and keeping the conversation flowing.

I perform the behind the scenes work with KA Connect on a regular basis and I’d like to share that tip with the community.

Does that work for you?



 From: Ruben Suare
Date: Mon, Dec 14, 2010 at 8:09 AM
Subject: Re: Article
To: Christopher Parsons





Thanks to Ruben Suare of 3form for agreeing to share this conversation. Ruben will be sharing his insights on knowledge transfer, collaboration, and fabrication with the tribe  at KA Connect 2011 on April 27th and 28th in San Francisco.

Posted: December 16th, 2010 | Filed under: Most Popular | Comments Off on Organizing a Successful Online Community Requires Constant Tending. Want to See an Example?

Thought Leadership 2.0: How Web 2.0 Tools Will Impact the Way You Develop and Market Your Firm’s Expertise

“Thought leadership attracts clients for a simple reason: It significantly increases their ability to determine whether a professional firm possesses truly unique insights on their problems and the expertise to solve them. Whether it comes in the form of a white paper, editorial, speech, seminar, webinar, research report, or other medium, thought leadership provides a tangible sample of a professional firm’s expertise. This is critical to selling intangible services.”
–The Bloom Group, Thoughts on Thought Leadership

"Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories."
–Laurie Anderson

What Hasn’t Changed About Thought Leadership

The fundamentals of thought leadership in our industry have not changed:

  • Architecture and engineering firms will always need to communicate their expertise to clients, consultants, and employees.
  • Despite advances in technology, the most important aspect of thought leadership is having a thought worth sharing. Collecting insights, testing hypotheses, and distilling experiences into expertise which can be clearly communicated to others, will always be the foundation of thought leadership.

What Has Changed About Thought Leadership

We have new communication and collaboration tools:

  • The free, or nearly-free, nature of Web 2.0 tools — authoring tools such as blogs, video-sharing tools such as YouTube, and social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter — have dramatically leveled the playing field. Small and emerging firms now have increased access to clients seeking their expertise.
  • Thought Leadership 2.0 tools are collaborative, which means that your audience will help you to improve or expand upon your ideas through comments and discussions.

What is Thought Leadership 2.0?

We are currently going through a period of change I like to call “Thought Leadership 2.0.”

Here’s how Thought Leadership 1.0 worked:

You had good ideas. You used Thought Leadership 1.0 tools such as writing articles and books, speaking at conferences or industry groups, and teaching seminars and classes to spread your ideas and demonstrate expertise.

Here’s how Thought Leadership 2.0 works:

Have good ideas. In addition to the tools which were available to you in Thought Leadership 1.0, you have the opportunity to leverage new Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter to spread your ideas faster and to a larger audience. Your audience will help make your ideas better.

Examples of Thought Leadership 2.0

Last April, our company produced KA Connect 2010, a knowledge and information management conference for the AEC industry. From 2002 to 2009 I led the information technology departments of two mid-sized architecture firms in San Francisco, and through that process, came to learn that our industry did not have best practices, established frameworks, or shared vocabulary for managing information and sharing knowledge. I invited thirty-six thought leaders from architecture, engineering, construction, software, management consulting, and academia to come together for two days to share their stories. Inspired by the TED conference, I recorded all of the talks and published many of them online for free at www.ka-connect.com.

We had eighty attendees and the feedback on the conference was overwhelmingly positive. Yet on the Saturday after the conference, I found myself asking “what’s next?” I did not want to lose the momentum from the conference and many of the attendees had expressed interest in “continuing the conversation.” That’s when I decided to upgrade my thought leadership efforts from 1.0 to 2.0. I created the KA Connect LinkedIn Group, actively recruited guest posts for the KA Connect blog, and started tweeting the talks and publishing them to iTunes. At the core of KA Connect is an annual conference and tribe of professionals who are passionate about sharing best practices for information management and sharing knowledge. While conferences and tribes are clearly 1.0 tools, we have leveraged 2.0 tools to build a more collaborative campfire and grow the membership of the community.

As I have gone around the country speaking about Thought Leadership 2.0, I have discovered several excellent industry examples. OWP+P (now Cannon Design) took a book and turned it into an interactive website and blog at www.thethirdteacher.com. Gensler is blogging about work, cities, and lifestyle at www.gensleron.com. Winter Street Architects is blogging about their expertise at  winterstreetarchitects.wordpress.com. All three firms are using a combination of 2.0 tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube to expand their respective audiences and engage in conversations with their communities.

How You Can Get Started

I’d advise sitting around some 2.0 campfires to start. Subscribe to a few blogs, join industry LinkedIn Groups (perhaps KA Connect), and follow a few thought leaders on Twitter to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you are comfortable, join the conversation by commenting on blogs or creating discussion threads on LinkedIn. And when the time is right, start your own campfire.

Posted: December 8th, 2010 | Filed under: Most Popular | Comments Off on Thought Leadership 2.0: How Web 2.0 Tools Will Impact the Way You Develop and Market Your Firm’s Expertise

Ed Friedrichs on The Secret to Accessing Expert Knowledge

Ed Friedrichs

Several years ago, I saw a film titled “Six Degrees of Separation,” an early Will Smith effort that got me thinking. If everyone is a maximum of six relationships away from any other person on the planet, why is it so difficult for someone to be able to find the person in the firm who has real expert knowledge on the subject I’m struggling with at this moment? After all, even then our firm was fairly large, full of people who knew lots of good stuff.

The film was based on a then little explored science known as “small world theory.” With a curiosity that is not easily sated, I found a great book on the subject titled Nexus, Small Worlds and the Ground-Breaking Theory of Networks by Mark Buchanan, that offered a lot of interesting theory about rich networks and how they work to shortcut access to people and information, but very little practical advice about how to get your own network up and running. I needed to build a culture in our firm that made expert knowledge readily accessible to anyone at any time. After all, no architect or engineer today can have enough up-to-the-minute best-in-the-world knowledge on every subject a client may ask about. And, “I think this is the answer . . . “ simply isn’t good enough.

In the shower one morning, I had an “aha” moment – if I have a true passion about a subject, something that fascinates me so much that I continue to learn about it without being directed to or financially rewarded for it, I am likely to know who the world-class experts on the subject are. So, all I need to do, is get connected to those experts quickly. Not such an easy task. I needed to build a culture of “two degrees of separation,” one in which I know a great number of people who are passionate about a lot of different subjects on which I’m likely to need just-in-time, latest and greatest knowledge about at a moment’s notice. In other words, if I know that you are an expert on under floor air delivery (a subject I became passionate about to both save energy and improve air quality after being deposed in a sick building syndrome lawsuit), I know who to call to find out who the world class experts are and reach out to them for an answer to my problem.

I began spreading this idea, asking people to share their personal passions – when someone new joined the firm, in all staff meetings, with articles written for our newsletter. When someone worked for a period of time in another office, we made it de rigueur for a group from that office to take the visitor to lunch or dinner, or just a beer after work and share what turned each other on – work related or personal (with all the risks that implies). We made it clear, that this was a reciprocal thing. If I want to access someone else’s knowledge, I better have something I can share in return.

The idea caught on; so successfully in fact that it became our cultural norm that when someone was called out of the blue by another member of the firm (even someone they didn’t know) they would take the time to listen and try to guide the other person to a solution.

Before long, we were constructing our first Intranet knowledge platform. It quickly became obvious that data, diagrams and facts are rarely helpful to the person making the inquiry. After all, their problem is unique and needs interpretation to adapt what is on the Intranet to their individual application. Only a person with expert knowledge can interpolate for the situation at hand. So, in the spirit of “two degrees of separation,” we put a name with a link to the person’s e-mail and phone number on each citation, figuring that someone inspired enough to post a page on a subject can take you through the options, help you solve your specific problem or get you to the expert who can. It was also important as the Intranet matured, that a name connected to a subject was updated with a new passionate expert if the person left the firm.

So, the solution to knowledge management is not technological, it’s cultural. True professionalism today requires building a closely connected network of world class, just-in-time expert knowledge, accessible to everyone in your enterprise. And you don’t need a large firm to accomplish this. You can reach out to peers, contractors, building officials and friends to build your “two degrees of separation” network. As quickly as our world is evolving, no lesser standard of excellence is acceptable to your clients.

Ed Friedrichs graduated from Stanford University in 1965 and received his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He joined Gensler, Architecture Design and Planning Worldwide, in San Francisco in 1969, opening the firm’s Los Angeles office in 1976, was appointed President in 1995, leading its development as one of the most successful and influential design firms in the world.

Ed will be talking about the role of knowledge sharing in high-performance AEC organizations at KA Connect 2011.

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Filed under: Guests, Most Popular | 1 Comment »

Peter Braun’s Take on the Next Knowledge Economy

Thank you to Peter Braun, Vice President of Human Resources at HKS, Inc. for contributing this post.


In the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organizations ability to learn faster than its competition”
– From the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

We are entering into a new definition of wealth. It is not a wealth based primarily on land ownership or, as we are currently used to, on capital, but on knowledge. Just as the land ownership base of wealth gave way to the capital base, we are now entering the age of the knowledge-based economy. It could be argued that Architects are well suited because they are some of the original “knowledge workers” (as Peter Drucker phrased it). Their knowledge and artistic ability was their source of wealth. However, if their mental model of wealth creation remains anchored in the idea of personal knowledge and “expertise” they will miss the fundamental shift taking place. What is emerging today is a knowledge-based economy based on knowledge sharing.

Strategic partnerships that develop a core competency of knowledge sharing are pioneering the wealth of the future. The need to change our mental models of wealth creation will be necessary. There is a fundamental difference between the wealth of both land ownership and capital and that of knowledge. It is a simple difference, but quite profound.

If I own two acres of land and give you one, I lose and you gain. If we both own two acres and give each other one of our acres there is no gain. If I own $ 10,000 and give you $ 5,000, I lose and you gain. If we both own $ 10,000 and give each other $ 5,000 there is no gain. However, if I know something useful and share it with you, you gain, but I don’t lose. If we both know something useful and share it with each other, we BOTH gain. You may argue that there is a value to proprietary information that is lost if given away. However, I would ask if the value of your proprietary information is greater than the added value of each of us sharing such information in such a way as to create greater synergy of thinking and provide competitive advantage.

Research into why Toyota has been so uncommonly successful (despite some recent troubles they still sell more cars than anyone else) found that:

“Toyota’s ability to effectively create and manage network – level (several different firms) knowledge sharing processes at least partially explains the relative productivity advantages enjoyed by Toyota and its suppliers. Most importantly, production knowledge is viewed as the “property of the network”.

– Dyer, Jeffrey H. and Kentaro Nobeoka (2000). “Creating and Managing a High Performance Knowledge-Sharing Network: The Toyota Case.” Strategic Management Journal.

This insight into Toyota’s success is not unique to automobile manufacturing or even manufacturing companies in general because it reflects the changing source of wealth that all firms are a part of. In the emerging knowledge-based economy, the core capability of bridging the collective knowledge of partnerships, and doing so quickly, even at the “expense” of making this knowledge more openly available, will be a significant source of competitive advantage.

– “Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”
Bill Gates

Alvin Toffler has written a couple of great books about this shift in the source of wealth, “PowerShift” published in 1990 and “Revolutionary Wealth” published in 2006. Toffler says knowledge relationships are being transformed with respect to availability. Never before have we been able to instantly access virtually unlimited amounts of any kind of information for virtually zero cost. Unlike the foundations of past wealth revolutions, the knowledge economy defies traditional economics in that knowledge is not scarce; knowledge is infinite and it is the sharing of it (not the “ownership” of it) that will create wealth.

Architecture will need to grapple with and embrace this to move into effective 21st century practice. We have an opportunity to add value based on expertise and to effectively partner and share that knowledge. We have one foot in the scarcity economy and one foot in the knowledge creation economy, but we must move towards the latter. We must move past the economic model that the more we know (our “expertise”) is the basis of our being able to charge money for our services (scarcity model) and we must move into a knowledge sharing (building together) understanding of value creation. We must be able to demonstrate our ability to effectively partner with clients, contractors, consultants, and within our own firms in ways that inspire trust, build effective teams and generate shared knowledge that is the “property of the network”.

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Filed under: Guests, Most Popular | Comments Off on Peter Braun’s Take on the Next Knowledge Economy

Does your firm use video as a knowledge management tool? (Part 1)


I posted the question above on the KA Connect LinkedIn Group before I went on vacation last month. It heated up while I was away.

One of the themes that emerged was “using low-cost tools with minimal editing to quickly record and publish new insights or share staff expertise.”

Here are some excerpts:

Deven Pravin Shaw:

“Also, from my experience keeping them (videos) friendly, natural makes it more effective. Editing for sophistication, sound effects …etc sometimes dilutes the effectiveness because people don’t see it naturally connecting. It’s more like a friendly conversation around the office corner.”

Mahalie Stackpole:

“Video production can range from quick, cheap and easy to an extremely complicated production and associated costs – it depends on what the application is and what production expectations are. Obviously clicking record to capture a webinar or web meeting is no brainer (nearly no cost at all) that is great for record-keeping and possibly even for training without further production work.

I do agree with Deven and Vik that unedited video comes across as more sincere. A lot of polishing and the video can be impersonal and too corporate. For viral marketing purposes I would recommend a flip-phone video over a big commercial production any day. ”

Brian Frels:

“The 1st (type of video) aims to re-introduce various disciplines and market sectors to each other and would be produced in the spirit of Discover Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.” This series would highlight a cross section of employees and their daily tasks, workflow, and interactions with other disciplines. Informal yet informative video clips would shed new light on fellow coworkers and stimulate a sense of teamwork and camaraderie that would ultimately contribute to a higher level of interdisciplinary collaboration. “

I’d recommend reading the entire thread. Got something to share about how your firm is using video? Please post a comment on the LinkedIn thread or below.

(If you aren’t  a member of the KA Connect LinkedIn Group, you can request to join here. Our team will get you added so you can join the conversation.)

Extra Credit

The video that inspired me to start the KA Connect thread on video is below.

Sal Kahn’s GEL 2010 talk is one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen. He’s also got a methodology for producing “quick and dirty” videos that we can all learn from.

Set aside 20 minutes and watch it.


Posted: September 20th, 2010 | Filed under: Most Popular | Tags: | Comments Off on Does your firm use video as a knowledge management tool? (Part 1)

Can you show me you are an expert instead of telling me about your experience?

Alan Mays posted a comment on the KA Connect LinkedIn Group last month that I have not been able to get out of my head:

Prem, I agree that a practical transfer of knowledge is needed within our corporate strategies as well as our profession. Sadly, I feel that it will probably go the same way it did 20 odd years ago. The recession then caused what many in the profession call it "the generation gap". Today, we are still dealing with that gap and adding to it daily as more and more our profession’s experience leaves due to retirement and attrition. Back then, there was a gap of experienced people capable of understanding the requirements of construction as set forth in the AIA B101. The way we learned was like being thrown into the pool and asked to swim with no lessons. We did have seasoned professionals to go to called the Quality Control group which usually consisted of professionals reviewing and teaching individuals best practices of the company and the industry. Sadly, education within many firms is now considered an overhead cost so therefore through this economic timeframe it has all but been stopped. The lack of funding for the internal education and the experienced staff have been removed due to overhead costs and "is not needed". Some firms ditched their QA/QC groups as they also were considered overhead therefore they lost their resource for education.

There are companies that feel the colleges and vendors or even the individual should be responsible for education. They have given up on transferring their knowledge onto the younger staff. One also has to point out that the leadership may also not have the knowledge needed to teach. Many executives within the firm have been long removed from the process of developing the documents. Many executives do not know the tools of their trade. FLW knew how to draw, however, today that is not true. Many execs do not even know how to draw in Autocad much less BIM. It is not necessarily their fault, but what they experienced through their professional career. I know many executives from my experience that have not been a reviewer of the documents at all. Ask yourself, when has the CEO reviewed my set of CDs? It is not part of their role. Do they have someone for that role? Ask yourself, when was the last time a partner lead a learning seminar, wrote a paper, or lead a hands on education project/initiative? Who are the teachers? Also ask yourself whether or not the firm has a R&D budget and/or department/committee? Are they researching new ways of doing business, new processes, new products, etc? These are the tools that are needed for education.

Prem, you show a practical solution and the post screams that you (as others I know) want to learn, but sadly, I fear, that the teachers may be gone. The solution that you present requires that experienced professional. The problem today is that they are the ones that are being removed today. Any educational system within a company requires support from the leadership, and are they willing to invest in that? The thing that is disturbing with what is happening in our industry today is that the owners/clients expect from their architect is knowledge, but sadly firms today throw that away and go with inexperienced (and low cost) contract labor. Sadly, the gap is growing bigger.

I can’t argue with the fact that Alan’s assessment is true for many architecture and engineering firms.

I can tell you, however, that there are firms in our industry who have not only continued to teach in the downturn, but have doubled down on knowledge management investments like teaching in order to prepare for the next up cycle.

Consider the following quote from George Wood Bacon:

Fortunes are not made in boom times. . .that is merely the collection period. Fortunes are made in depressions or lean times when the wise man overhauls his mind, his methods, his resources, and gets in training for the race to come.

Clients and owners want to hire architects and engineers with demonstrable expertise. As in, “I see that your firm has built twenty student centers over the last ten years. That’s good news. But what has your organization learned from all of that experience? I’m pretty sure that the team that works on my project won’t have worked on all twenty of the projects you listed in your proposal. I’d guess that many of the team members might not have ever worked on a student center before. Who are the experts and how are they transferring their knowledge to your organization? Can you show me you are an expert instead of telling me about your experience?”

You probably won’t hear a client or owner say that out loud. But you can bet they are thinking it.

Experience is not enough in a period of hyper-competition. You have to convert your experience to expertise and then leverage it. Teaching is an essential tool for leveraging your expertise, differentiating yourself from your competition, and winning new work with healthy fees.

Here’s the late John Wooden on teaching and winning:

“I began my career as a coach with a losing season in spite of all of my experience, awards, and accumulated knowledge in the subject of basketball. In fact, one of the games we lost was to my alma mater, Martinsville High School, led by my former coach, Glenn Curtis. While I may have known as much about the game as Coach Curtis, the difference was this: He knew how to teach it and I didn’t. It was pretty much as simple as that.

As you might imagine, the leadership graveyard is full of failed teams whose leaders, like me at the outset, were very well informed but could not teach to save their soul. This is true in basketball, business, and most other organizations.

Of course, knowledge is absolutely essential. I put it smack dab in the heart of the Pyramid and called it Skill. But knowledge is not enough. You must be able to effectively transfer what you know to those you manage – not just the nuts-and-bolts material, but your standard, values, ideals, beliefs, as well your way of doing things.”

John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership

Teaching will be one of the four sessions at the KA Connect 2011 conference in San Francisco on April 27th and 28th.

Does your organization invest in teaching? Are you or someone at your firm interested in telling your story? Please contact us at connect@knowledge-architecture.com.

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Filed under: Most Popular | 2 Comments »

Want to become a knowledge-driven firm? Build some “T-players” and get yourself a coach.


                                                                Bad News Bears © mptvimages.com

The following post is in response to a comment left by Randy Deutsch on the KA Connect LinkedIn group. Click here to join the KA Connect LinkedIn group and read (or join in on) the full discussion thread.


I agree and disagree with your latest comment about the role of the writer, librarian, and teacher in a knowledge-driven firm. But before I respond, I’d like to share a story with you. You’ll see that the idea of a “T-consultant” is something we have in common. 


“The T-consultant”

My first job out of college was with a large technology consulting practice which served the Fortune 1000 as well as several dot-com clients. We had lots of technical experts on the team — business analysts, database designers, user interface designers, web and software developers, quality assurance experts and functional testers. Of course we also had partners, project managers, and the expected administrative staff.

The western region of our company was about 100 people when I joined. The guy that ran it was named Chris Lord. Chris was excellent at taking the new consultants under his wing and teaching them about the business. One thing that Chris was particularly passionate about was the question of "What makes a good consultant?" His big idea was that the most powerful consulting practices were full of "T-consultants."

Chris explained to me that the advantage that our firm had over many of our larger competitors – Accenture, IBM, and the like – was that our consultants not only had technical depth in at least one area (the "|" in the T) but were also horizontally savvy  (the "–" in the T.)  One of the ways that Chris ensured that we had breadth as well as depth was to make sure that all of our consultants got experience in as much of the full lifecycle of bringing technical projects to life as possible.

Chris felt that the horizontal integration of our teams differentiated us from the rest of the market. Most firms simply reinforced their expert culture and ended up with silos of expertise. Or they were staffed with generalists who had no depth. The truly exceptional consultant could go deep in at least one technical area but also speak intelligently to the whole process.

Chris was the architect of the team and the culture. Another way to describe Chris was as our coach.

Play to their strengths

Your March post on “T-Shaped BIM” was spot on with Chris’s philosophy. Here’s my takeaway:

Each player in an IPD project should bring their vertical expertise (architecture, structural engineering, fabrication, etc.) to the table in a concerted effort to become horizontally integrated through IPD.  The truly successful IPD teams will bring empathy for their fellow collaborators to the project because they have made the effort to experience and understand each other’s roles and expertise. In short,  successful IPD teams will be made up of “T-players.”

I think the same thing is true when it comes to sharing knowledge.

You wrote in your comment that:

"… to play collaboratively we need to wear multiple hats, see from more than one perspective. Our titles and roles become in the process smeared. There’s no time at the table to be "just" a librarian, writer or teacher. You have to nurture the development of all three."

I agree (to some extent) that all of us should have the responsibility to embody the writer, the librarian, and the teacher. Creating, capturing, and sharing knowledge are basic skills that we should all develop and employ in our daily work.  Understanding all three activities is the horizontal integration, the "–" in the T.

However, I also believe in the Marcus Buckingham approach which suggests that one should prioritize playing to people’s strengths over shoring up their weaknesses.

You are going to have folks with communication skills in your organization who will create amazing content.  Those “writers” might not have the “librarian’s” temperament or organizational skills. So focus on getting them writing.

Conversely, there are people in your organization whose organizational talents make them great librarians,  yet they are not strong communicators, written or orally. Put them in charge of organizing content on your intranet or website and/or hounding your writers for more content. Librarians naturally gravitate towards bringing order from chaos, so empower them to do so.

In a "T-organization" we recognize that knowledge management is a team game. The larger the organization, the more opportunities exist to leverage the diverse strengths of the team.

The trick is orchestrating the performance…

Coaches – The missing team member

The good news is that architecture and engineering firms often have their “role-players” in place.  Writers, librarians, and perhaps teachers busily execute their various roles and produce “stuff” on a regular basis. Yet all too often we see that individuals and teams within firms are working in isolation from each other as they struggle with organizing information and sharing knowledge.

In other words, we usually find that there is “knowledge work” going on inside of architecture and engineering firms. Very rarely do we find “knowledge management” or  especially “knowledge leadership.”

The following excerpt from your comment made me realize that I was missing a key role from my triumvirate:

"As much as I love the triumvirate of Writers creating Librarians capturing and Teachers sharing, why is it the most valuable team members are inevitably those who embody all three characteristics in one person?"

I think that the person you are describing is the coach. And most firms don’t have a coach to orchestrate their efforts to organize information and share knowledge. Here’s why they should:

Coaches set the vision for the team, develop a plan, establish roles, and motivate the team to perform.

Coaches channel the “knowledge work” of the writers, librarians, and teachers to makes sure that their efforts align with the organization’s vision and objectives.

Coaches “embody all three characteristics in one person” and can leverage the collective strength of the organization by tapping on the individual skills of the role-players. And the best coaches realize that their best players are “T-players.”

A couple questions

Here are a couple questions back to you. (Not just Randy, the “collective you.”)

Why is leadership missing from most architecture and engineering firms efforts to organize information and share knowledge?

Do you agree that coaches could help?

Are you actively building a team of “T-players?”

Posted: May 2nd, 2010 | Filed under: General, Most Popular | Tags: | 6 Comments »