At a recent Consortium for Service Innovation team meeting, Adam Strong of Red Hat said something that really resonated with me: “KCS is a whiteboard.” I knew at once what he meant—and it’s a really powerful way of thinking and talking about KCS.
I don’t know about you, but there are few things in life as motivating as a clean whiteboard with a set of colored pens beneath, and maybe a pack of big sticky notes nearby. When I visit a company with lots of whiteboard space, I’m pretty sure we’ll get along well. There’s a sense of possibility about the big, blank expanse of board—a friendly challenge, an invitation to think up something interesting and capture it in a way that it can be communicated with others.
Perhaps the only thing more motivating than a clean whiteboard is one that’s in a room with other people who have ideas they want to share, too, with half-formed thoughts taking shape on the board as you collaborate in search of a shared vision, an vision too big and too diverse for any of you to have found on your own.
The eraser is really important. Whiteboards invite fearlessness, because it’s almost as much fun to erase and start over as it is to write on the board in the first place.
The lack of finesse is really important, too. Whiteboard drawings aren’t polished, keeping the focus on the ideas, not the beauty of their representation. Even the rough draft of this blog post I’m writing in Word now looks way too finished, with good kerning and a smooth left margin. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I were finished. Whiteboards never let you imagine you’re done.
So, I think Adam’s right: KCS is like a whiteboard.
- KCS spurs creativity. The article structure sets the boundaries, but there’s limitless white space inside. If a customer asks you to solve a new problem, a knowledge article inspires you to unleash your creativity to solve it—maybe quickly, and maybe through a long journey of discovery. When you’ve solved the issue, the knowledge you acquired is up on the “knowledgebase whiteboard,” ready to share with others.
- KCS invites collaboration. From informal discussions over a cubicle wall to war rooms convened to resolve critical customer issues, it’s critical that the work of the group is captured in articles as the discussion unfolds: collaboration is creation. I look forward to the day when all KM tools support Google Docs-style real-time collaborative editing.
- KCS makes revisions natural. Knowledge is never done: in KCS, every use of an article is an opportunity to improve it, and make it more comprehensive. Just as we erase a word or shape on the whiteboard, and replace it with something more fitting, KCS encourages us to keep making articles, especially frequently used articles, ever better.
- KCS emphasizes ideas over formatting. KCS articles aren’t like the brand-designed, tightly edited webpages that Marketing produces. But ask a customer if she wants glamour or a quick, accurate answer to her question, and the answer wins every time. The fact that KCS articles are spare and simple means they’re easy to extend and improve.
The only problem with whiteboards is, it’s tough to work with the information after the fact. (I should know: I have a smartphone full of pictures of whiteboards.) So if you see your customer-facing staff having an animated discussion around a whiteboard, encourage them to continue—and remind them that their good work deserves a better future than can be provided by a “Do Not Erase” sign.
BTW, our Plano KCS Foundations workshop in April is nearly sold out—please sign up soon if you’re joining us. And we’re confirmed for the post-conference one day KCS workshop after TSW in Santa Clara—a perfect way to introduce a colleague (or yourself!) to the what, how, and why of KCS.