This is the first of two guest blogs by Ana Neves, CEO of Knowman, in which she describes a highly innovative approach to learning and knowledge management.

A few years ago I was flying back home from a conference when I came up with a totally unique conference. In this two-post series, I will tell you about the Social Now conference and how it embodies knowledge management and organisational learning concepts and practices.

Please proceed with care: these posts have been written by someone very passionate about KM and about how people learn together.

I was flying home after spending a couple of days at a conference. I met friends and interesting new people but, overall, I was wondering whether it had been worth the investment. I had sat through too many platitudes and a few easy rounds of buzzword bingo. During one of the last panels, from the corner of my eye, I noticed the person next to me shaking their head every now and then.

Curious, I asked, “Do you not agree with what they’re saying? Do you have a different experience?”.

“No, it’s just that I came here to get a sense of how enterprise social tools can actually be used and I’m getting none of that. I don’t understand. I don’t even know what they look like, even less how they become part of the way we work.”

That response was like a punch to the face. It pinpointed one of the main flaws of traditional conferences while simultaneously confirming the need for a better way of learning from and with other organisations.

In 2012, Social Now was born, and so was Cablinc, the fictitious company that offers context for the conference sessions.

Cablinc is a company with pains very similar to those of most organisations: too many meetings, too many emails, difficulties in accessing information on previous projects, an even bigger struggle to learn from those past projects, little collaboration and knowledge sharing between junior and senior colleagues, no proper records of the rationale behind project decision-making, remote workers who feel disengaged, etc. Sounds familiar?

Here are the 5 unique points of Social Now and how they overcome the main flaws of traditional conferences.

The fictitious company

Yes, Cablinc is not a real company. But it feels real and, focusing on one company, makes it easier to offer practical recommendations which can easily be borrowed by participants to apply at their own organisations. No more platitudes!

Tools in action

Tools are demonstrated live as day-in-the-life narratives of Cablinc’s employees. The focus is smarter work processes rather than on features. Processes which, once more, participants can try at their own organisations even if supported by different tools.

No slides are allowed during these short demos so that everyone gets a good taste for what the different tools have to offer and how it feels to use them.

The hard questions

During the conference, three professionals from real companies wear the hat of Cablinc’s management team. They ask the hard questions that matter – “how do we…”, “what if…” and even “how much is the investment?”. Their questions highlight what to consider when (re)thinking internal collaboration and KM platforms which are meant to be used on a day-to-day basis.

The bluntness and first-hand experience of the panel cuts through the stage gloss and helps participants see things for what they really are.

It’s real

Talking about stage gloss. It’s hard to imagine professionals from real companies going up on stage to share their missteps, to talk about their nice looking intranets which nobody uses, or about the lack of support from top management. Therefore, the old, tired format of “how it was before > what we have done > the rosy reality > lessons learned > next steps” no longer works.

At Social Now, people from real companies tell a day in their life or describe a certain work process, focusing on how the social tool has made it possible or better. Once again, it is about showing practical ideas to improve the way we work.

Peer Assist

This year, for the first time, we’re having a peer assist. This facilitated format will take peers from real companies through the process of offering advice to Cablinc on a new intranet project. The underlying objective is to share lessons detached from notions of success or failure.

The recommendations of the peers will form the “what to do” and “what to avoid” during the project so that the new intranet is widely used and achieves the established objectives.

In the next post, I will cover how KM ideas are weaved into the design of Social Now and the impact they have in participants’ experience and learning.

Ana Neves is the founder and CEO of Knowman, a consulting company focused on knowledge management, social networks and cultural change. She is passionate about people and is always seeking smarter ways for people to learn and interact with each other, building better organisations and a better society. She has worked at the NHS Modernisation Agency, Headshift and Abbey National. She is responsible for portal KMOL. She tweets as @ananeves. More about her on Linkedin.