A conference about collaboration and knowledge management which actually lives to the inherent principles of working and learning together. Yes, it does exist. In this second of two blog posts, Ana Neves, founder and CEO of Knowman describes how KM and learning concepts shape Social Now’s design and unique concept.

In my previous post, I described the concept of Social Now, an international conference which looks at enterprise social tools as enablers of smarter work processes. Its distinctive design elements are Cablinc, a fictitious company that anchors most talks; the day-in-the-life narratives; tools which are demonstrated in action; an experienced panel who asks the hard questions; and the peer assist.

Shall I tell you how KM and learning concepts inspired me to come up with these?

Storytelling is frequently praised as a powerful instrument due to its many benefits in organisational contexts. Stories are inherently non-adversarial, unveil and transfer knowledge and behaviours, create shared meaning and understanding, inspire action, and offer shared language and context for learning and understanding. Besides, stories stick in your mind much better than bullet points and (supposedly) clever arguments. (More on the benefits of storytelling and sources here)

Thinking of this, I created a fictitious company called Cablinc. I created a set of characters, Cablinc’s team, and a plot. Through her blog, Anne McLear, one of the characters, shares the ups and downs of life at Cablinc, thus revealing the business challenges.

During the conference, the talks offer practical guidance for Cablinc to address those challenges or tell day-in-the-life narratives of work at Cablinc. These narratives, supported by different enterprise social tools, are a way of seeing tools in action, focusing on work processes and smarter ways of working rather than on features.
Recommendations grounded on a specific company – Cablinc – are more tangible, more concrete. And, yes, some of the recommendations may not be copied and pasted into participants’ own organisations but there is plenty of networking time to discuss ways in which to adapt those recommendations.

The characters’ names are memorable and relate to their role: John McChief (CEO), Louise McGeek (CIO), James McMann (Head of HR), Kate McCash (CFO). You get the gist!

Together with the plot, the characters create a shared language and a common ground for debate. Participants embrace the plot and embody the characters as a comfortable way of asking questions. Cablinc becomes a safe harbour for participants to discuss their pains and struggles without exposing their own organisations.

And, as with all stories, Cablinc evolves every time its story is told. I will never forget the moment a participant introduced a new character – McFired – to further discuss the critical topic of knowledge retention.

That leads me to another way in which knowledge management is weaved into Social Now: many of Cablinc’s challenges have to do with knowledge and information. People at Cablinc complain about too many emails, the fact that it is hard to locate lessons learned from previous projects, the time it takes to onboard new colleagues, how hard it is to learn from more experienced colleagues, etc.

Talks at Social Now will recreate the narrative, telling a day at work with new work processes that overcome or reduce these knowledge-related issues.

This year, for the first time, we will conduct a peer assist on stage. A peer assist is essentially a facilitated meeting where outside peers help with a particular challenge. This well known KM tool will be used to help Cablinc as it prepares to kick off their new intranet project. Peers from real organisations will offer experienced-based recommendations on what needs to be put in place to guarantee that the new intranet is a success.

Finally, I share a few other elements which have been designed to promote maximum learning at the conference:

  • a smallish number of participants (approximately 100) and a round-table sitting arrangement that create a cosy and comfortable environment for frank debate;
  • a relaxed atmosphere, with plenty of laughs and impromptu moments;
  • purposeful breaks with gorgeous Portuguese food.

Cablinc has a story that triggers other stories, better versions of the original one. Social Now offers a stage to those new stories; to inspire participants into creating improved work stories at their own organisations. And I guarantee you: no participant leaves Social Now without a great story to tell!

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.