Sometimes it is too easy to think (and write) of knowledge-related activities in the abstract. I am guilty of this myself, and I have many books which address the topic in that way — even when they provide examples it is difficult to think of them in concrete real-world terms. Geoff Parcell and Chris Collison’s new book, No More Consultants, provides a welcome dose of reality.
This new book follows their earlier work, Learning to Fly, but has a much narrower focus. As a result, I think it is probably even more useful. The premise of No More Consultants is simple. In part it is provided by the book’s subtitle “we know more than we think,” but that is just the background. What Parcell and Collinson have done in the new book is to provide a workable framework for organisations to ascertain when and why they can rely on the expertise and experience of their own people, rather than calling in consultants. (Consultants can relax — the final chapter explains that better organisational understanding can lead to more fruitful engagements.)
The basic tool that Parcell and Collison introduce, explain, and show in use is what they call the ‘River Diagram’. This is a way of visualising the levels of performance in an organisation with regard to defined competences. A large gap between the level competence in different parts of the organisation provides opportunities for knowledge sharing.
In order to get to the river diagram, the organisation needs to identify an area for change and define detailed levels of performance. The next stage is for different parts of the organisation to assess their own level of performance. The sum of all this work is expressed in the river diagram, and each organisational unit can then decide where to focus their efforts to change by calling on the experience of other parts of the organisation (or even externally).
Within this basic framework, Parcell and Collison are able to spend some time fleshing out a number of key techniques, including facilitation, envisioning future developments, and peer assists. They provide a range of examples of the tools and techniques in use, ranging from development of HIV/AIDS programmes in Africa and India to knowledge sharing between Great Ormond St children’s hospital and the Ferrari F1 team. Along the way, they are also able to provide insights into ways of dealing with a number of recurring challenges to change, such as the ‘not invented here’ syndrome.
Despite the fact that the book is an invaluable guide to practical knowledge sharing, it is carefully not positioned as such. Because of this, it is more likely to find a receptive audience beyond the normal KM community. This attractiveness is enhanced by the clarity and concreteness with which its central ideas are expressed.
Finally, this book does not just exist between two hard covers. Just as they did with Learning to Fly, Parcell and Collison have created an online presence for the book. Whereas Learning to Fly was complemented by a mailing list, No More Consultants is supported by a more nuanced Ning community. This allows resources related to the book to be shared and discussed, and makes it possible for people using the book to share their experiences in one place. It will be interesting to watch how people use the space to develop the book beyond Parcell and Collison’s core text.