All change!

2014-05-22 18.23.58Thirteen years ago, I packed my bags and left academia. In doing so, I swapped one type of institution (where I had been for almost 18 years: undergraduate, postgrad, teacher) for another: a law firm. At the end of May, I left that firm and institutional life altogether. I am now in the third stage of my career — working as a consultant helping businesses find ways to use their knowledge more productively.

It will take a little while for me to settle to the new role. There will be some changes here too. My intention is to build a set of pages for the business on top of the old ‘Enlightened Tradition’ blog. If WordPress works as described, any old links to the blog will still work as before.

I hope also that the frequency of posting will pick up too. The past few years were very busy for me, and it became harder to sustain the blog. I regret that — I have many draft posts that are now too old to be useful.

The blog is important to me because the new venture will build on the thoughts and ideas I have developed here as well as on the institutional experience I have had.

The key point there is that my thoughts and experiences have been shaped by the hundreds of people in my network — those I have worked closely with, as well as the looser connections that come through comments here and on Twitter and LinkedIn. Over the past few weeks, many of those people have also assisted and guided me through the process of parting from employment and into consultancy. There are too many people to thank individually, but I hope they each know that I am immensely grateful for all of their support. The network is indeed powerful, and beneficent.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 14 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 122 posts. There were 4 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb.

The busiest day of the year was January 20th with 195 views. The most popular post that day was Knowledge sharing: it may not be what you think it is.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,, Google Reader, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for baby boom graph, social norms in the work place, people whispering, birth rate uk, and societal norms in the workplace.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Knowledge sharing: it may not be what you think it is January 2010


Your boom is not my boom February 2009


What do we do with knowledge? January 2010


Social norms and knowledge sharing March 2009


KM in law firms: rising to a challenge November 2010
2 comments and 1 Like on,

A new leaf for Autumn

After a prolonged period of contemplation (combined with some serious work away from here), I have reassessed and slightly re-focused what I want to do here. Increasingly, I am interested in unpacking what lawyering is, and what the ramifications of that unpacking are. Amongst other questions are the following critical ones:

  • Are lawyers really knowledge workers?
  • If they are, what kind of knowledge workers are they?
  • And what are the implications for those of us who support lawyers and law firms?

Obviously, a lot of this cogitation is triggered by the impending commencement of the Legal Services Act in the UK, as well as by the shift in the balance of power between law firms and their clients as a result of the prolonged recession (amongst other pressures). There are longer-term drivers as well, as exemplified by Richard Susskind’s work.

I don’t expect a lot to change here (although I have taken the opportunity to refresh the design a bit) — my reflections will still be coloured by my own personal interests, and they should also be relevant to non-legal readers too as often as possible. Venerable commentators in this field, such as Bruce McEwen, Jordan Furlong, Ron Friedmann or John Flood can rest easy.

It is probably worth reiterating, for the avoidance of any doubt, that the things I write here are purely my own ramblings. None of my past or present employers are responsible for these thoughts, ideas or fancies. Equally, there may well be times when I am deliberately silent or opaque about my work and that of the firm where I am employed. (And sometimes my silence may have no relation to that — no inferences should be drawn from an absence of comment.)

This is not a place where I write about the day job. But, like many others, I use this blog (together with Twitter and the like) as a place where I can learn and develop my understanding of a wide range of things for my own benefit and (ultimately) that of the firm. Many many thanks to all of you who have joined in that process.

First annual review

It appears that I have been writing here for a year. How did that happen? It doesn’t seem that long ago, but the statistics don’t lie.

Talking of statistics, here are a few highlights of the year.

  • Most popular post: Ceci n’est pas un pipe
  • Busiest day: Thursday, November 13, 2008
  • Total posts (apart from this one): 55
  • Total comments: 68

However, the experience of blogging and joining a community that I had no real idea existed is more important than these quantitative measures. I am grateful for all the appreciative comments here and elsewhere about things I have written.

So what does the next year hold? Who knows. I want to include more book reviews like the one I did yesterday, and I need to keep to the topic more often. Keep watching…


I have changed the blog theme, and may be making some other minor changes. The last one I was using did not have an important navigation tool: links to previous and next posts. This one has those links at the bottom of each post. I can’t believe it took me a year to spot the absence.

Settling accounts

It is an old English tradition that Christmas Day, as one of the quarter days, is a day for settling accounts. Over the past eleven months I have unexpectedly and gratifyingly incurred a number of debts.

The most significant is owed to Mary Abraham, who posed a question to a few of us back in November: how do you decide how/what/when to blog?  Finally, here are my thoughts.

The how is easily dealt with. I use whatever comes to hand when I have an idea. I have started blog posts from my Blackberry, using the mobile tool; I have worked directly in the full WordPress dashboard; I have recently started using BlogDesk as an offline editor — very useful when on the train without connectivity; and I have sometimes written the bulk of a blog post in long-hand (for which, read “scrawl”) in my notebook. Essentially, I use whatever works at the time.

What I blog is linked inextricably to why I blog. I have come to rely on this as my place for crystallising thoughts. More than anything else, I am continually learning about things that are at least tangentially related to my work. I find I learn best by reading, cogitating and discussing (which can extend to formal presentations or writing). The blog is therefore my place to do this — primarily for my own benefit. I do something similar at work, but that is only a limited solution. I have found that two significant things characterise people who do KM. They are firstly extremely willing to discuss ideas, even with total strangers. This makes KM conferences especially useful for the mingling time, even if the official content is of marginal utility. The second thing is that they tend to be rare or isolated within their own organisations. This makes it (a) difficult to find local kindred spirits with whom to discuss KM topics, but (b) easy to created mutually rewarding realtionships with KM people in other organisations. As a result, I think sharing my thoughts here results in a greater benefit to me and to the firm I work in because of the way that people in the wider world engage with it.

So the things I blog about are the things that pique my interest and which I think can usefully form the basis of this wider engagement. When I started out, I thought I would be able to use the blog to challenge accepted KM truths and traditions. This hasn’t worked out quite as I expected, but I may yet get there with time.

Finally, when do I blog? Practically speaking, it tends to be in the gaps of the day — on trains, while the children watch TV, and so on. Taking a different perspective on the question, I tend to write when I have been free to ponder for a while. At times when work requires more action than thought, it is harder to get round to blogging. That explains some of the gaps in transmission during the past year.

One of the reasons I eventually took the plunge to start blogging publicly was that I found conversations via comments on other people’s blogs valuable. In particular, Doug Cornelius’s KM Space and Neil Richards’s Knowledge Thoughts provided places where I developed some of the thinking that started me on this track. Having started by commenting, I particularly appreciate those who have commented on or linked to my posts during the year:

Many thanks to you all, and I hope the festive season brings you all you hoped for, with an exciting new year in prospect!

(For completeness, you might be interested in the answers provided to Mary’s question by Jordan FurlongPatrick Lambe and Doug Cornelius.)

Standing on the shoulders of giants

A recent exchange of views on the actKM mailing list inspired me to think about writing about my own Web2.0 experience, and what it means for me. Then the now-famous Wired article was published (no link — it has had enough — but here is a good early critique). I commented on the article’s point of view over at LawyerKM, but I think there is more to add.

My comment at LawyerKM:

Blogging is just writing. Did people stop keeping diaries because Samuel Pepys came along? Did the New York Times render The Journal News obsolete? We don’t all blog for a mass audience (I think the best bloggers actually blog for themselves).

When we write, the medium we choose is often selected because it fits the subject matter or the context particularly well. Sometimes I write in a Moleskine. Sometimes I write in Word. Sometimes a blog is best. People can’t comment on my Moleskine, and people outside the firm cannot see my Word document. If I am lucky they may have something interesting to say about the blog, or it may spur them to write something of their own elsewhere. Either of those reactions is fine by me — they spread knowledge.

To be honest, when I started doing this I did not expect to be part of the spread (and growth) of knowledge. I think this platform, along with many other Web2.0 tools, is first of all a mechanism for developing personal knowledge. Flickr,, Librarything, these are all excellent ways of storing information that we already have or that we create. The fact that they are online is a bonus — their contents are thereby always ready for use. (Up to a point.) When you layer on top of that the capability to tag your information, it becomes even more useful. I can see how many of my books have an Irish connection, for example (or I would if I had finished tagging them all), which would be difficult without the technology. Then, more significantly, these systems are open by design so that all the information I create can be shared with others.

This tagging and sharing gets better and better. One can create networks of like-minded people and easily dip into the pool of information that interests them. But this is just information. It has no context beyond the association of the raw data and some tags which make sense only to the person using them.

It is the next step where things get really interesting. One of the reasons why I started blogging outside the firewall (I have been doing it at work for some time) is that I needed to add more context to some of the material that I found online and stored in I could only do that by writing about it. How should I do that? As mentioned in my original comment, I am fond of my Moleskine notebooks, but it is difficult to link lots of different web pages together using paper and ink. They have their place, but this is not it. In order to make more sense of this ocean of information, one has to start swimming. And so this blog. Its first purpose is to give me a place where I can start to make more sense of things.

And then unexpectedly people start to join in. They pick up on things that one writes, and they leave comments or write on their own blogs. A cycle starts. Before you know where you are, there are new ideas driving new blogposts. I can honestly say that my understanding of a whole range of things has increased directly as a result of these interactions. And these are interactions that I could never have had if I had remained a silent user of Across my chequered career, I have collaborated with people in a variety of different ways — writing articles with colleagues, speaking at conferences with people I had just met, participating in Usenet and on mailing lists — but this experience has been as good as the most fruitful of all of those others.

That is why blogging will not go away. It enhances the human capacity to communicate and it does so in a fair and just way. It gives everyone access to giants on whose shoulders they can stand in order to see further. We all get better by that collaborative effort: the lone genius is mythical.

Interestingly, bearing in mind that the Wired piece promoted Twitter as the new great thing, I have come to this conclusion in part because of my short experience in using that service. That has shown me more of the people I know only virtually: fellow bloggers, commenters, journalists and cultural icons. Twitter gives more context to the blogs, comments, articles and podcasts that these people produce. With that additional context, they have commensurately greater value. 

Altogether awesome.

Coming back to earth, and to the queries raised by the actKM conversation, how does all this translate into the working environment? There are two issues.

  1. (How) can the enterprise leverage the activities of its people using Web2.0?
  2. Can we replicate the success of Web2.0 inside the firewall?

On one view, we should be concerned that people’s use of these external services creates valuable knowledge that is effectively lost to the business because it cannot be searched, stored or managed as a discrete set. My own experience makes me sanguine about this risk. If people use these tools to develop themselves and their knowledge in ways that would not be possible inside the enterprise, then the business can only be richer as a result. If they do not develop, then there is no useful additional knowledge created and the enterprise should only be concerned at the waste of time (which may well be the employee’s own, which cannot be a concern).

The second point is a more challenging one. One of the real points of value in external collaboration is the sheer diversity of potential collaborators. That diversity is most unlikely to be reflected in any but the largest businesses. This is why we need to manage internal collaboration. On that point, I finally got a chance today to review James Robertson’s presentation “Ten tips for succeeding at collaboration” recorded at the Open Publish 2008 conference in Sydney, July 2008.

James presents a really simple, but effective, model for successful collaboration. One of the most powerful elements for me was the distinction between publishing and collaboration, and especially the need to bridge the gap between the two in clearly defined ways. With the benefit of this insight from the other side of the world, I think I will be able to do some of the things I need to do much better than I would otherwise. Thank you James.

    The opening gambit

    This is a bit more sudden than I expected it to be. I have been thinking of blogging outside the firewall for some time, and had hoped to be able to build up a body of posts before putting my head above the parapet. One of the reasons for reticence is that I hadn’t identified a comfortable focus for a blog. There are too blogs that already cover topics that are close to my interests for me to be confident of adding anything significant to the online conversation.

    However, in a post on the KnowledgeThoughtsBlog, Ian Rodwell has touched on a couple of issues that helped a number of things fall into a sharper focus for me. He describes (beautifully) a visit to Lloyd’s of London.

    You may know the building: a Richard Rogers masterpiece which really does look like nothing else in the city and which famously displays its insides on the outside, so to speak. You might think that such a modern exterior cloaks a similarly modern business within: sleek, flashing terminals perhaps, solitary workers murmuring into headsets with blackberries twirled like sixshooters in either hand. Mmm..not quite. And that’s what made the experience so intriguing, enjoyable and peculiarly relevant to this whole knowledge thing of ours. You see, I found it a jarringly exciting combination of the profoundly modern and the, well, the Dickensian if I’m perfectly honest. The Lutine bell guarded by an assistant in his Victorian red jacket and top hat, a cabinet of Nelson memorabilia, a huge log recording ship losses in perfect ink calligraphy (one only last week) and around this museum-like core a series of huge trading floors full of underwriters’ booths where brokers queue to place their risks face to face (or rather eyeball to nose as brokers sit two inches below underwriters to ensure the underwriters’ eye level is above that of the broker…!). You will see people carrying unfeasibly large bundles of paper (indeed, the more astute wheel suitcases of the stuff) and risks are recorded not on a laptop but written, yes written, on a chit of paper. And by the way, don’t think of leaving your jacket and tie at home as you won’t be allowed in. And ensure you call a male underwriter “Sir” and a female underwriter “Madam”. Oh, and braces and black shoes, although not compulsory, do, dear boy, make a difference.

    Ian goes on to link this deep tradition (the Lloyd’s ‘brand’, if you like) with knowledge management through close human interaction. This is something I have been interested in for a while. How much do we know because of who we know and what they tell us? How important are the unofficial channels of communication? Isn’t gossip the life-blood of a healthy and vibrant organisation?

    Yes, but…

    These ideas are intuitively powerful, but are our intuitions borne out by the evidence? Is gossip more harmful than not? Is tradition really a rational approach to business organisation and knowledge management? Is “we have always done it like this” ever a justifiable response? How disruptive should knowledge management and related initiatives be? Should we always aim to fit our activities to existing ways of working? Is the received wisdom right? Is it even tested (or testable)? How did we get into these habits, and can we (should we) shrug them off? How do personal attitudes affect the enterprise? Which should take precedence? What can we learn from other views of the business and its impact?

    These are all interesting (and probably unfathomable) questions. From now on, I want to use this blog to try and shine some light on them, and related topics. It may be a searchlight or a candle, direct illumination or filtered. Let’s see what happens.