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when space matters (for collaboration, innovation & knowledge transfer

this is an updated report following a workshop I ran for the NetIKX community in January 2014.

7 February 2014

Paul J Corney

NetIKX January 2014 my observations post NetIKX a case for ‘Orchestrated Serendipity’ the rise of ‘Freelancers’ the importance of social and technology objects and the role of neutral space highlights from NetIKX responses virtual is becoming the norm my 2013 observations a summary of ‘findings’ from 2013 my workspace memorable moments reflecting where and how a radical case for change interesting conversations real vs. virtual appendices & bibliography why space matters postcards as a stimulus for conversation “…probably the best coffee in the World” about the author NetIKX invitation 3 5 5 6 6 7 8 8 10 11 11 12 12 12 13 13 14 14 14 15 18 19

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NetIKX January 2014
A good crowd from the NetIKX community assembled at the British Dental Association’s offices in Wigmore Street London attracted by the topic ‘why space matters’.
A lively 3 hours began by running the delegates through some of the findings from earlier research and comparing them to NetIKX responses I’d asked them to complete in advance. The NetIKX comments are woven throughout this document for comparison with previous findings. I spent time extolling the importance of creating a neutral space using objects and timelines as part of a repertoire of conversation prompts drawing on recent work in the 3rd sector. Everyone loved the RSA video (re) imagining the future of work - here’s the link: that set up the subsequent syndicate session. After a network break the delegates were then asked to review a case study drawn from the previous survey: In my first knowledge role the office practice I worked for moved to an open workspace environment and I was asked to be the change management leader for our floor. We had a great external consultant come in to assist with the move and the potential challenges it would create. We created guidelines for working in an open plan office right down to telephone etiquette, noise levels, desk sizes etc. In the old environment many conversations were held in offices, Partners were rarely seen or heard, staff kept to their own teams and rarely engaged with other service lines etc. In the new environment while there were challenges to begin with and some adjustments for senior staff in sitting

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out in the open we settled down quickly and for the first time everyone knew each other by name and on sight. There was a lot more collaboration, cross service line interaction, Partners were more accessible and visible and staff felt engaged and part of a bigger team. The design and layout was sensitive to the size of the practice, they created comfortable and appealing coffee areas for teams to have informal meetings and quiet rooms where you are able to have confidential conversations etc if you need to away from your desk. In this new space you saw most of the team every day and not only once a month at a team meeting and the use of colour, plants, wall art and notice boards helped make it a positive working space. I asked the NetIKX delegates to think about:

* the characteristics that made this successful? * any ideas that have worked for you. * The feedback session was interesting. As this was a really positive story here
what obstacles do you think they had to overcome? was a degree of scepticism as to whether this was a real example or merely a proposition that you hire a consultant and everything will be fine. I responded: ‘it is (a real story) and it isn’t (an excuse to hire a consultant)’! The word culture came up a lot, as did communication. What was clear: there is no one size fits all and the way we organise the environment in which we work is very much representative of how we work and our productivity.

* * *

trust perception of it being about cost cutting balancing different needs


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my observations post NetIKX
To succeed in the 21st Century organisations will need to be good at collaboration and co-creation and the research I’ve undertaken suggests some organisations are changing working environments and patterns in order to accommodate this. Are they doing enough to take their staff with them though or do their people merely see this as an attempt to cut cost?
a case for ‘Orchestrated Serendipity’
This has been a mantra of mine for some time. The RSA clip cites the example of people sat in open plan offices emailing colleagues sitting a few desks away. Rather than promoting dialogue open plan has often had the reverse effect. Where I’ve seen organisations working well they have tended to look at workflows, people’s habits, made them an inclusive part of the process of change and communicated effectively. They’ve accepted that serendipity needs a bit of a push and have recognised that ‘ah ha’ moments often come from such serendipitous meetings and arranged space such as a khub (see alongside) to accommodate that. I often speak about how interactions to and from prayers in the Muslim world are often the most productive and why knowledge hubs and information centres are often situated in close proximity to refreshments areas. It seems our personal habits are changing too: this week it was announced that more and more homeowners crave for multipurpose ‘living’ areas that can accommodate, cooking, eating and lazing!
Pictures taken at Asian Development Bank, Manila’s Knowledge Sharing Space. (kHub) The library reorganized its physical space to become a knowledge hub (kHub) to host book launches, meetings and forums of the COPs. In collaboration with the different departments and COPs, an average of four activities are held in the kHub weekly, including “Insight Thursdays,” a weekly forum where staff share insights on topics or issues of interest to ADB. Wireless Internet connection and videoconferencing facilities enable staff at regional offices to participate online in these forums. The introduction of these facilities, including a coffee shop in the library, contributed to the transformation of the library spaces into dynamic learning areas. page 5 of 19

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the rise of ‘Freelancers’
Knowledge workers are changing too, despite what Melissa Meyer said that all Yahoo workers should come to the office or quit! In a thought-provoking article (I use a number of quotes alongside) Sarah Horowitz suggests that today in the US Independent workers make up a third of the workforce. By 2020, just six years from now, 40% of Americans will be working as freelancers, contractors, and temps. So if this phenomenon is growing how are we responding? I recall a presentation I gave in Houston in 1999 where I said that growth in the number of independent (non-salaried) workers was dependent on three factors:

How Freelancers Are Redefining Success To Be About Value, Not Wealth ------Independent workers are establishing a new way to work--and in the process, they’re cultivating a new way of life. Success in 2014 is less about wealth than it is about value--the value of time, community, and well being. -----…Freelancers are shaping the new economy. As flexible schedules and ubiquitous communication become the norm, the work-life balance that we’ve always struggled for is becoming achievable. As community and teamwork become more necessary than ever to thrive, the lonely, closedoff cubicle will make way for meaningful collaboration. And as the demand for healthy food and workspaces increases, industry will increasingly connect corporate profits and social good… ----It might be tough for one freelancer to afford renting an office on her own--but 10 freelancers can pool their resources and create a co-working space together. The same goes for sharing expensive office supplies and high-end professional equipment. Independent workers value community, because collaboration and camaraderie are more than warm and fuzzy feelings--they’re the foundation of success in the emerging independent economy.
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* * *

supportive collaborative technology a rise in physical meeting hubs a change in the way financial services organisations assess the credit of nonsalaried workers with irregular income patters.

All three now exist and so the key challenge is Trust (among peers as well as with direct reporting lines) as the Yahoo example would seem to suggest.

the importance of social and technology
I am a founding trustee (Knowledge Trustee) of a charity that aims to make better use of surplus food. has no formal offices yet is governance process is all very formal and in the cloud. We hold virtual meetings and new volunteers are given access to all the materials and instructions they need to begin sourcing donors and recipients. As a knowledge hub for surplus food we perform a brokerage role helping to facilitate contacts between those who generate surplus food and those charitable organisations that make use of it. All of this is made possible by collaborative technology, the rise of social media, which encourages and facilitates collaboration, a culture that is aligned around a shared vision and the availability of suitable meeting places in which to conduct essential f2f interactions that underpin social exchanges.

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objects and the role of neutral space
One of my 3 takeaways is to use objects as a stimulus for dialogue and innovation. The idea of neutral space is core: if you accept the premise that it is important to create hubs for interaction such as that illustrated at ADB then the same logic applies when looking at how to facilitate those interactions. I saw a salesman use this very informal worksheet last weekend and wrote about it. By using a worksheet (a neutral object) he was able to elicit valuable information that helped make a sale.

picture courtesy of phones4u. A great knowledge capture technique: phones4u worksheet which can be found at

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highlights from NetIKX responses
Q In your experience, can you ever replace real workspace with virtual workspace? How?
virtual is becoming the norm

* * *

It's a reality for me as my team is distributed in Paris, Cambridge UK, Cambridge US and Houston. We meet face to face once a year. In real time, our workspace consists of instant message software and screensharing. The Telepresence software from CISCO is a big hit in the few centres where it is installed in our company. Yes, I do it all of the time. But it's not for everyone, and I do prefer 'real world' meetings. A virtual workspace can complement real workspace and help keep things moving, keeping up momentum between meetings, reviewing and collaborating on drafts etc. Particularly if people are already known to each other or used to working together. It isn't a replacement for coming together however. To make it work you need to be clear about what you are doing and why and not expect the technology to do the heavy lifting - it is a tool and all the other things you need to do in terms of considering behaviours and having agreed processes etc still apply. For many tasks, virtual workspace is just as good- for instance writing and editing, designing, etc. Some feedback can also be provided and discussions can be had using video conferencing. When sensitive subjects are discussed (when emotion must be conveyed) or when design work is being done that is


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not easily shown on a computer screen, real workspace is very helpful and sometimes a necessity. It seems like real workspace also saves time and can contribute to productivity.

* * *

As work teams are spread over different geographic locations we are currently setting up Yammer groups to assist with collaboration I think this can be done in relation to some work processes, i.e. project meetings, project management tasks, saving travel, time etc, but only if the facilities support this. There is much greater use of video-conferencing to cut down on costs of travel and subsistence. I work from home a lot due to caring commitments but I do not think it is particularly helpful for the team. Face to face contact is essential for some of the time. I do enjoy interactions on Linked-In but I have to do all of this from home and often in my own time as it is not allowed at work. Depends on the culture of the organisation. In a risk-averse workplace, people are reluctant to put their name to informal conversations online.


Noeleen and Claire presenting their group’s findings

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my 2013 observations
Work space matters! In my early days cramming for exams I’d seek a quiet spot. I craved solitude to concentrate but contact (body language, expressions as well as sounds) to stimulate creative juices and share experiences.
I’ve recognized as I’ve worked with and in different cultures that there is no ‘silver bullet’. Individuals need different environments and surroundings to be creative and to share. And they need time. Here’s an example: Over dinner some years back I was seated next to two authors who confessed to widely differing methods of stimulating their thought processes: “I always keep a notepad by my desk to record thoughts I’d had while asleep”; “I take a recorder with me when walking the dog as that’s where I get me best inspiration” Today much of what ‘knowledge workers’ do is driven by the need to collaborate: with peers, clients, management, stakeholders and competitors. A lot of that collaboration is now conducted in virtual workspaces using social media tools, in their infancy a decade ago when the first KMUK event was held. So I thought it might be interesting to repeat the exercise my colleagues at Sparknow and I ran with the delegates at KM Europe (the last to be held in the UK) in 2002. We asked 6 questions about their workspace (environment and practices) and how they thought virtual working might impact them in the future. I am indebted to those KMUK 2013 speakers who responded this time.
This exercise is an effective cross cultural way of getting people to think differently about a task or challenge: the change of venue and ‘profession’ proving a catalyst for innovative thought and sharing. So many interesting exchanges take place around water coolers, coffee machines and even going to and from prayers (in the Middle East). Organisations that recognise and exploit these opportunities are pursuing a strategy of what I’d describe as Orchestrated Serendipity. Here’s an example of a room in Khartoum, Sudan, used to run a working session entitled, ‘when you look at things differently, the things you look at change’

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a summary of ‘findings’ from 2013
I’ve highlighted some of the answers (unattributed) that stood out for me and compared them against the tips I’d provided in a recent blog post entitled ‘why space matters...’
‘What to think about when planning physical collaboration spaces:

my workspace 2013


…this open environment is very conducive to knowledge sharing and collaboration particularly as the knowledge team sits amongst the client serving staff and are considered part of the team as a result…

my workspace 2002


* * * * *

Importance of light, food and the demise of the managers’ dining room Serve great coffee and make space memorable Use unexpected spaces for exhibits Analyse flows (of people and knowledge) and be opportunistic Create a knowledge (and information) hub’

Paul and I have recently moved offices and now have adjoining offices with the FIRST connecting door in the Commission About half our work is directed, and half we have freedom. This door, and our communication through it has changed the dynamic and is wonderful. It creates lots of possibilities for collaboration, even with individual offices.

memorable moments 2013

my workspace
Throughout the responses there are differing opinions on what is the optimal set up to encourage collaboration. I recall dreading going into a trading area, then as now totally open plan, feeling like I was entering a bear pit and many people are uncomfortable with conducting conversations in full sight and sound of others. As a ‘virtual knowledge worker’ for 15 years I find I need a combination of both personal space (and quiet) and collaborative space (and personal contact). In helping a client to plan an open space environment (claims area) a few years back we paid much attention to giving people the ability to create their areas with a sense of their own character or that of their team.
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We sometimes use the formal meeting rooms for informal drop in sessions for staff to come and find out about our services...

memorable moments 2002


…’s office. Its fun to get in there, it's a nice place. There is a bouncy chair you can sit on and jump up and down. There is candy. There are sharp comments. People come to get playful and to know things. People bring gifts. Started by giving out candy, and then people started to feel a bit mean just taking, and not giving, so a kind of ritual of `giving to take' started to establish itself so people bring candy now

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memorable moments
This question yielded some vivid descriptions. Perhaps the most striking ‘takeaway’: the workspace environment is critical for stimulating the way people work and think about work. My memorable moment was at a client’s in Jeddah where Victoria Ward and I had gone to run an awareness-raising event with senior management at the start of the programme of work to develop a knowledge management strategy. Faced with the prospect of conducting hands on sessions in an auditorium we scoured their buildings for a suitable open space with comfortable seating. It took a lot of cajoling to persuade their top ‘brass’ to work in a breakout room. Once the political/etiquette hurdles were overcome the session ran smoothly and got the programme off to a flying start. Interestingly this theme reappeared in one of the speaker’s responses.

reflecting where and how 2013


…our open plan layout really doesn't suit me and on office days, I rarely get through the work I hope to do due to constant interruptions and noise. Sometimes, this can be stimulating and the conversations are good but I now do at least 1 day at home to have some quiet space. But I now always feel behind as can't be productive in the office.

reflecting where and how 2002


I use my office for 'getting things done'. When I want to reflect or be more creative I go to another room or even to my house in France for peace and tranquillity + no phone!

reflecting where and how
I loved the ‘I do my creative thinking on a horse’ comment from 2002. It bears out the earlier anecdote about the authors. In my case I used to retreat to my study with a clippings file but today with so much material in digital format our systems have become the messy office and we use search engines to try and make sense of the mess.

a radical case for change 2013


a radical case for change
It’s clear that in the success stories a huge amount of preparation has gone into the relocation. When a client moved across the city, consolidating a number of businesses under one roof in an open environment, the biggest challenge was to build a metaphorical bridge between the old and the new. People were able to visualise themselves as a Tardis like room was created in the old building where all discussions about the new offices were held. And a blogger sited in the new building to provide regular updates and images during construction.

…We created guidelines for working in an open plan office right down to telephone etiquette, noise levels, desk sizes etc. In the old environment many conversations were held in offices, Partners were rarely seen or heard, staff kept to their own teams and rarely engaged with other service lines etc. In the new environment while there were challenges to begin with and some adjustments for senior staff in sitting out in the open we settled down quickly and for the first time everyone knew each other by name and on sight. There was a lot more collaboration, cross service line interaction,..

a radical case for change 2002


Yes, the sales team were all moved to teleworking from home. We had to set up mechanisms to ensure continuing human contact
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The most striking comment though that illustrates the negative impact a change in workspace policy can have: …In Aberdeen, the free lunches were stopped as part of a cost-cutting drive in the early 90’s. The result? Packed lunches. People stayed at their desks. All day. Had anyone offered to the business unit leader that for a mere £3 per day they could significantly raise the level of collaboration, networking, sharing and deliver a resulting increase in motivation and productivity... He would have bitten their hand off!

interesting conversations (where) 2013


The number 8 bus from the main station to the end of the line (which is also the main building entrance) is generally referred to as the "collaborating center", a designation usually bestowed on universities or other partners…

interesting conversations (where) 2002


interesting conversations
No surprises here. It’s where people feel comfortable. Is this why there has been resurgence in interest in creating workspaces that foster collaboration?

Tend to stand on the staircase, or, like here, just stand in the same place in the corridor and wait for people to pass me by. Standing still in a thoroughfare.

real vs. virtual 2013

real vs. virtual
We are a more networked society today than 2002 and people (youngsters in particular) are much more comfortable working cross-border and ethnicity. A friend was describing how his son and peer study group located in 5 countries did their homework concurrently on line using a combination of Skype, Facebook, YouTube and Search Engines, each performing a different (unspoken) role as part of a team. That the tutor could be ‘Skyped in’ periodically is an illustration of how far social media is transforming the way we work outside of the corporate firewall (at least in academia). That generation (‘rent’ as they are known by some) are less constrained by political barriers, ethnicity and religion and ‘you are what you write’. While they are networked virtually often their face-to-face (f2f) interpersonal skills are under developed. A theme throughout the responses that underscores the above example is that some f2f contact is vital to build the trust all communities need to thrive; one of the rationales perhaps behind the early network collaboration systems that used to be known as ‘expert networks’ such as BP Connect?


Replicate rather than replace… Just a few minutes ago, I finished a WebEx session with the UN which had me allocating 30 participants to breakout "rooms" which contained materials and videos. I was able to visit each room momentarily to check in on progress, spot people raising their hands, share back the outputs on a group whiteboard, "smiling", "laughing" and get votes and prioritization from a group representing 20 different countries, before conducting an open discussion with everyone. I would go as far as to say that it was even more productive than the equivalent physical workspace.

real vs. virtual 2002


Virtual space is good for exchanging information, even complicated stuff such as designs but you need you need real contact for developing relationships and for closing deals

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appendices & bibliography
Though a piece of research conducted and funded by knowledge et al ( it felt right to publish this as a Sparknow document in recognition of the original design thinking around postcards and space that have been a consistent part of Sparknow’s Knowledge Management work since its formation in 1997.
why space matters
I was asked by a new business focused website to write a thought piece on this. The Wall St Journal, Marisa Mayer of Yahoo and a conversation with Professor Clive Holtham of Cass Business School were the genesis for ‘why space matters…’ in which I discuss the concept of Orchestrated Serendipity.

Method Since the theme of this year’s event is around collaboration, the use of social media and virtual working Leah and I thought it would be good to recognise the anniversary of KMUK by looking back a decade and decided to resurrect a postcard exercise about workspace run at KM Europe’s last visit to the UK in 2002 and compare and contrast the outcomes.

Here is a the front page and a first page response

postcards as a stimulus for conversation
Slow Knowledge: uses of the postcard in re-forming organisational time, place and meaning: 'In search of time' conference, Palermo, May 2003 Stephanie Colton, Angela Dove, Victoria Ward*, Clive Holtham,

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“…probably the best coffee in the World”
Originally the Information Technology department was located in traditional offices with corridors and individual offices and had very little in the way of communal meeting spaces either formal or informal. It became apparent to the department that this was not conducive to collaborative working or the exchange of knowledge and information. The senior management and expertise was hidden away in their cells and there was no way of bringing together large project teams which was becoming a real necessity. An opportunity arose for the department to move to a new space which they accepted and it was decided that an open office concept would be embraced. The refurbishment was duly completed and the division moved in to what was a completely open plan space. This was partly successful in that it did allow large project teams to work together and collaborate. However, it quickly became clear that there were major problems with the lay out and not just because the senior management, in particular, found it a major culture shock. There was a lack of meeting rooms and private spaces which meant that there was a noise problem and specifically tele-conferencing became almost impossible. It also meant that there was nowhere to go to have smaller enclosed meetings which resulted in one manager having to carry out an appraisal with a colleague in his car in the basement car park! Air conditioning and heating also turned out to be a problem in such a large open space since those on the outside of the space were getting a different climate to those in the middle. All these problems were exacerbated by overcrowding when a separate group of employees were temporarily relocated to this space. However, as a result, ….and the IT operating company lobbied for and were given permission to seek new premises again, albeit that any refurbishment costs would come directly from their own budget.
This is taken from an interview conducted by a member of the Sparknow team with a prominent IT professional in 2002. It is interesting since it still talks to many of the issues raised during the 2013/14 surveys. The idea of using a postcard as an object for stimulating conversations and inspiration should be attributed to Victoria Ward,

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Search commenced in April 2000 and in July, a building in central Den Haag was identified of which they wanted three floors. The whole building then also became of interest to the ….. Group at which point the Group Facilitation management wanted to have some input. … and his relocation team persuaded facilities that their need was immediate and that they had some specific needs that they wanted to incorporate into their refurbishment programme, which was, after all, coming out of their budget. The relocation team worked in close partnership with the group’s external architects to work on a brief for the ideal lay out and design that would encourage collaborative working throughout the operating company despite the not inconsiderable difficulty of being spread on 3 floors. Work commenced in December and was completed in June 2001 and the finished space includes


A large informal lounge space on the middle floor. To ensure that people were attracted to this space, from there respective lower and upper floors, Bram and his team invested in “the best coffee machine in the world” around which there are various comfortable and informal seating arrangements. This was an immediate success and is used constantly for a variety of meetings both informal and more formal, as well as for the occasional big event or celebration. It is an environment that clearly encourages debate, conversation and collaboration amongst the whole operating company by providing an open, informal space as a focal destination point. The remainder of the space on this floor is taken up with different sized• meeting rooms (including tele-conferencing facilities ) which are bookable in advance. The lower and upper floors are given over largely to open plan offices,• albeit with clever glass partitions with integral white boards to maintain a feeling of openness whilst reducing noise and climate control problems.

* *

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There are also designated “hot desking” areas on these floors for visiting workers from which they can access their own computers via portables. Initially, the use of space and investment in “luxuries” was criticized by some outside the operating company, as being wasteful. However experience has shown that the reverse is the case with real and valuable knowledge sharing and collaboration being fostered by the space. It was a considerable investment risk for the operating company but now they have more staff concentrated into a smaller area (square meters) than their original arrangements. One unforeseen drawback was that their coffee is so good that when the other floors were completed and other group companies moved in, people from these other divisions would feel free to use their space and drink their coffee, so a swipe access card system was introduced for the lounge. Again this caused some consternation but Bram pointed out that the cost came out of IT operating budget and that if outsiders wanted to use it they could, but at a unit cost per person. They have now invested in a jukebox for the lounge area to be used at certain times.

references ADB ‘story’: DEGW_WorkingBeyondWalls.pdf PHYSICAL SPACE – THE MOST NEGLECTED RESOURCE IN CONTEMPORARY KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT? Ward & Holtham The state of the office: The politics and geography of working space - ISBN 1 85835 942 2 – The Work

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about the author
I help people and businesses to realise their potential: as an Advisor; business manager; coach; facilitator; and project director.
I have a broad global experience working at all levels across a range of industries: energy, finance, development, government, information, knowledge management, retail and software.

My early background was financial yet eclectic: I spent 25 years in the City as Senior Manager at Saudi International Bank and as a Vice President at Zurich Reinsurance. Since 1998 I’ve run a portfolio of activities: Strategy & Business Advisor to the CEO of a software and consultancy group Sopheon PLC; Information & Knowledge Advisor to the CEO of a leading reinsurance broker BMS Group; and Managing Partner Sparknow LLP. An early pioneer of intranets in the mid 90!s and one of the first ‘knowledge managers’ in the City of London I’ve led many challenging assignments, often cross culture, and frequently cross continent. I was a visiting lecturer on knowledge and information management at London Metropolitan University and have published numerous articles the most recent of which is featured in Making Knowledge Management Work for Your Organization published by Ark Group in 2012. I speak at and chair international events. In 2014 I am chairing KMUK, running masterclasses on knowledge audits and space and contracted to publish. Diplomacy intrigues me. I am a member of the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) and the Institute of Directors. I’ve been the Chairman of Pyecombe Golf Club and the Manager of Hassocks Football Club both of which taught me the need for effective engagement. Since stepping back from the role of Managing Partner in the fall of 2012 I’ve combined business (leading km practice at Sparknow) with ‘pleasure’ (helping to get PlanZheroes charity off the ground and advising and mentoring a local business through the early stages of its development).

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NetIKX invitation

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