Best Knowledge Management Tool Ever
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Ed Kless: Ron, our last show we did on 'Top Ten Business Myths', what do you think went well?
Ron Baker: Ed, I think the fact that we got all ten of them in was a great accomplishment.
Ed Kless: It was two shows though. We did number two shows, but ...
Ron Baker: We did, but even there because we could easily do this over two weeks I think, but yes. That went really well I thought.
Ed Kless: Okay. Anything else that you think went well?
Ron Baker: I thought we gave some ... discussed some really good content, and what I really enjoyed about the show is how these all of these myths I think altered our thinking. I mean, we might have at one point in our professional careers believed in some of these myths, but our minds have been changed by empirical evidence, and I think that was a good lesson as well.
Ed Kless: I liked the fact that we were able to bring it down to ... I think we gave some really strong business examples for our audience specifically, rather than just keep it high in the sky, because I think with a lot of the material that we do, we could get stuck on stuff that's just too highfalutin and really not make it practical, and I think we did a good job with those myths giving some specific examples.
Ron Baker: Right, not staying too esoteric. Yes, I agree.
Ed Kless: What do you think did not go so well, Ron?
Ron Baker: Most of these things. I mean, you always think, "Oh. I could have used a better example" or "I could explain this in a more clear way with a better metaphor or a better analogy". This is one of the things that we do after every show, right? We talk about how we could have said that better. I guess it's like an actor reviewing the scene … "I flubbed that line" or "I could have moved this way or turn that way" or something. I think you can always use better stories and you can always explain yourself more clearly.
Ed Kless: Yes. I think one of the things that we could have done better on this particular show was this was the first time that we had had three sponsors which is great. I mean, the show is expanding which is fantastic, but it was really the first time that we had different sponsors leading into different breaks. As a result, I think we forgot to plug our stuff by like saying, "You can get a hold of us at and even forgetting to give the Twitter hashtags for people following along. I think that's one of the things that we need to get better on in the future with managing the multiple sponsorships.
Ron Baker: Right. Right. Good point. Yes, and ...
Ed Kless: Go ahead.
Ron Baker: No. I was just going to say, I mean this process of asking these questions is I think very interesting because this obviously is the topic of today's show.
Ed Kless: You figured that out, Ron.
Ron Baker: I figured that out.
Ed Kless: That's where I'm leading you. The last question that we should really talk about in doing this is what is really an informal after-action review is, "What's the one thing that we're going to do different next time to make an improvement?"
Ron Baker: Right. I guess that would have to be … mention ourselves, our website and how people can get a hold of us and ask us questions, and just try and strive to be clear and always bring down the topic to our audience, and make sure it's relevant to them.
Ed Kless: Right. Yes. Constantly, even on the thing that we thought we did fairly well on which was making the topic relevant, but really bringing it down and making sure to concentrate on that. I agree. Although we did it well, it's something that we can constantly be honing. One of the things that we did do is we use a product called 'Evernote' to share and compare notes, and one of the things we created was a little checklist to make sure that we got the breaks and that will hopefully serve as a reminder to do some show mentions as well.
Ron Baker: Right. Right. All this is about this process of the after-action review. Why don't we get into this, Ed and talk about where this comes from and why we even want to do it? I mean, maybe even back up before the after-action review, what are we trying to do here by having this whole conversation?
Ed Kless: That's right. That's right, and we're trying to live what we preach. Folks, Ron and I really do conduct after-action reviews almost immediately following every show if it's at all physically possible. Why are we doing this? Because we want to get better. We want to improve our condition, but we also want to improve the human condition and we think that what we have to say on 'The Soul of Enterprise' here is valuable to some of you out there, and we just want to make of sure that we have a great product for you guys to consume on a regular basis. At least that is ... Is it for me, Ron, but it is something else?
Ron Baker: No. No. I mean, I want this show to be a worthwhile investment because I know people's time is precious. They could spend it doing many different things, and if they're going to spend this hour with us, then I want to make that return on investment very, very high. I guess, Ed, one of the reasons why we do this and one of the reasons this show is called 'Business and the Knowledge Economy' is because we know how important knowledge is, and knowledge is what we're trying to capture with these after-action reviews. I love the quote or the line that Andrew Carnegie said. He said, "The only irreplaceable capital an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of that capital depends on how effectively people share their competence with those who can use it." That's really what the after-action review is designed to do, to share that knowledge and share that learning and competence.
Ed Kless: Absolutely. Capturing that knowledge because it really is something that’s fleeting, isn't it? I mean, there's for sure a half-life to it. One of the reasons why we like to do our after-action review right after is because otherwise, we'll forget, and if we do it even one day later, it's going to be half as good as if we did it immediately.
Ron Baker: Right. It's like interviewing witnesses at a crime scene or something. You know you want to get to them right away, otherwise memories fade, things change, and you lose some of this learning.
Ed Kless: Exactly. We have said I think previously and one of the reasons why we decided to do a show on after-action review is just because we both feel that the after- action review is the best knowledge management and learning tool that has been designed by mankind, period, full stop.
Ron Baker: Yes. Ever.
Ed Kless: Ever, underline, 72 point font, all boldface, blinky lights around it. Let's talk maybe a little bit about the history of these after-action reviews. It's got a very interesting history mostly from the United States Military. Interesting corporation.
Ron Baker: Yes. Usually, we don't look at military organizations because let's face it, their mission is to kill people and break things, and we don't think of them as knowledge organizations, but in this case certainly, the United States Army I believe was the first of our branches of the military to introduce this in its current format. Now, I do believe, Ed that the militaries always done these debriefing exercises, but I think the idea formalizing it actually came into play in the United States Army, and it was done around the early 1970s. It was ...
Ed Kless: It was really a response to Vietnam, wasn't it?
Ron Baker: It was. It was because the morale in the military was so low that they thought that they could increase the morale and the ethical framework and moral commitments and all of that by requiring these after-action reviews. It took them a few years to figure it out, but what they realized was, "This is an incredible knowledge tool that we can use that not only makes us more efficient, but more effective in our operations", and so they really became quite committed to it. Ed, there's a great book on this. It's called 'Hope is Not a Method'. It's by two guys, Gordon R. Sullivan and Michael Harper. It's almost like the definitive historical look at after-action reviews because I think it was Gordon Sullivan who's like a four-star General or their Colonel in the army, whatever they call them. He's the one that actually implemented after-action reviews and took responsibility for, and he talks about the struggle and how this is a big cultural change. It took him a long time to get this into the culture.
Ed Kless: Decades. Decades I believe. I mean, they've been doing them since the early '70s, but my understanding, it wasn't until late in the 1980s, and maybe really with the first Gulf War, 1991 where these really became so prevalent and ubiquitous, or I should say embraced by the actual commanders and people on the ground.
Ron Baker: Right. If we just step back for a minute and I know it's kind of a bizarre example, but think of the Stradivarius violin. Even with all of our modern technology and our 3D printing and 3D imaging in computers and all that, we cannot to this day replicate a Stradivarius violin. We've tried many times, and this is known as the 'Stradivarius secret'. Just imagine if Stradivarius would have ... or I think his name was Antonio Stradivari. Just think if he would have done after-action reviews, some of this knowledge might have survived and we may be able to replicate. That's really what we're trying to do. We're trying to capture this knowledge because if you think about the aging workforce, we have all these really, really smart people for the first time retiring in waves from organizations, and not only are we going to lose their day to day labor, we're going to lose their knowledge. How do you capture that knowledge so the younger folks can have access to it and be able to do their jobs more effectively? That's really what the after-action review is designed to do in a business context.
Ed Kless: Right, capture that knowledge and not ... There's a crazy term out there. I think the Tofflers came up with it, 'Obsoledge'. Right? Obsolete knowledge.
Ron Baker: Yes.
Ed Kless: I think what they almost mean by that is the stuff that really is not useful anymore ... obsolete. It's Herbert Hoover's hat size no longer really needs to be preserved through the annals of history, but ...
Ron Baker: Right, or we don't have to learn how to use a slide rule anymore.
Ed Kless: Right. Right, but there is this knowledge that exists with these folks that are out there now, and as you say who are getting closer and closer to retirement, age every day ... the baby boomers. That is important knowledge, and look at a specific example of say going to the moon. It's my understanding, we don't know how to go anymore. We would have to reinvent our way to the moon.
Ron Baker: That's right. NASA actually admits that they've lost this knowledge. Now, some of that's good, Ed because obviously, I think the technology that we'd use to get to the moon today, it's going to be much different than what we used in the past, but it is interesting when you think about that you can lose that type of knowledge. Where does it go?
Ed Kless: Yes. It is so very true. I mean, you look no further the next time you get on the plane, take a quick glance left at the cockpit of any plane that you get on, and there's all of these switches and knobs and dials. I'm pretty sure that they just leave them up there for show because they control everything with their laptops now, so …
Ron Baker: Right.
Ed Kless: ... which is I feel a lot better with ... some guy flipping the switch, but yes, those types of instrumentation stuff. I think those are the things that we don't want to lose, those sometimes referred to poorly as 'Where the bodies are buried', but about this important knowledge about things that we're going to need in the future. You were mentioning though on the way out that there's different types of knowledge that I'm aware of this, tacit and explicit. Could you maybe explain those two? Is there another type or is that the two types you were thinking about?
Ron Baker: Those were the two types I was thinking about.
Ed Kless: Okay.
Ron Baker: This is best illustrated, Ed. I just love this story … a teacher tells one of his people to write a letter to his parents, and the student complains, "It's hard for me to write a letter." The teacher says, "Why? You're a year older now." We're talking like second or the third grade. He says, "Why is it so hard, you're a year older?" He says, "Yes, but a year ago, I could say everything I knew." It's obvious that we all know more than we can tell. This was Michael Polanyi who was actually at one point Albert Einstein's research assistant, nearly turned into a philosopher. He drew a distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge. To illustrate this, think about explaining to somebody how to ride a bike or to swim. Yes, you can intellectualize it to a point, but that's very, very tacit knowledge to know how to ride a bike. Whereas, explicit knowledge is something that you can get from reading a book or from watching a video or a PowerPoint presentation or looking at a spreadsheet or something like that. That's explicit knowledge where we can put it somewhere, we can reuse it later, but tacit knowledge is that sticky stuff that's in your head that's really hard to draw out. I do think this is a fascinating distinction.
Ed Kless: It's beyond just the physical too, because as you were going through that, I'm thinking with my son, “Okay. I can explain to him Babe Ruth had 730 home runs, Hank Aaron had 755, Barry Bonds ...” etcetera, and that's the explicit knowledge, right?
Ron Baker: Right.
Ed Kless: Last night, we're at practice and we're just moving from coach pitch to kid pitch. The difficulty that not just my son, but all of them are having with the concept that, "Okay. The ball is not going to always be over the plate like it was in coach pitch," although, in all fairness I did hit a couple of kids, including my own. For the most part, when the coach was pitching to him, they knew that, okay. It was going to be pretty much near the strike zone. Now, they have to incorporate a couple of different things in. First of all, "Is the ball in the strike zone or not?" Right? Here's the hard part. If you're going to hit a baseball, and this is what we were working on with him last night is you have to assume that it is, right? What we keep telling him is assume a swing. We tell him, "Think yes." Right? The whole idea behind the swing is "Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes", and then at the last second, no because you see that it's a ball, because if you wait until you decide if it's a ball or a strike to decide, "Yes, I've got to swing", you're too late.
Ron Baker: Right. The opportunity is gone. True.
Ed Kless: The opportunity is gone. I can't tell you how often that's happened to people in conversations that I've had with people in business. Right? I mean, this gets to something we did talk about in the myths and all of the stuff is that let's just ... the analyzing the data, the endless backward looking at data to be able to make a decision is a lot like, "Is it a strike or is it not?" You got to be thinking, "Yes", right? You'd be thinking "Yes", and then maybe you back out at the last second and say, "No", but I think there's a lesson in there.
Ron Baker: There is. There's a great lesson in there. In fact, they talk about explicit knowledge being low bandwidth, like reading a book by Jack Nicklaus how to golf. Actually, playing golf with Jack Nicklaus would be tacit knowledge which is very high bandwidth, but it also illustrates the point I think what you were saying between tacit knowledge is dynamic, whereas explicit knowledge is static. If I publish a book, that knowledge that's in there might ... it's very static obviously, and at some point, it might become obsolete. It has ... Hence, Alvin Toffler's great, awkward word ...
Ed Kless: Obsoledge, right?
Ron Baker: Yes, obseledge which is very true. I mean, there's a lot of knowledge that's completely obsolete and wouldn't do us any good. That's really what Polanyi was saying that we need to draw this distinction because what's fascinating about this, Ed in the internet age is people say, "Information wants to be free", and that's true. To some extent, you can even get explicit knowledge now off of the internet. I mean, I can go to the mail clinic or 'MD.com' and even as a late person, I can learn certain things about various ailments or diseases or whatever, but I don't have that tacit knowledge that my doctor has.
Ed Kless: What my doctor refers to is 'Doctor Google', right? I walk in there and I'm like, "I got a tumor." He's like, "Ed, you've been going to Dr. Google' again, haven't you?" I'm like, "Yes. It started off with a light fever, and then ..." Okay. That's everything from the common cold to Ebola, all right?
Ron Baker: Right.
Ed Kless: Stop going to Dr. Google.
Ron Baker: You know I love the French saying, Ed, "Je ne sais quoi", I don't know what. Right? You don't know what. In other words, it's very hard to articulate tacit knowledge. It's like you can't describe Marilyn Monroe's face, but if I showed you hundreds of pictures, you'd be able to pick her out almost instantaneously, which if you think about that, that's very, very interesting.
Ed Kless: It's interesting how ...
Ron Baker: That's what we're ... Go ahead.
Ed Kless: It's interesting how we would do that as opposed to a computer too, because we would scan. We wouldn't have to look at every single picture, whereas a computer algorithm, it would have to go through every photo until it found the one, the Marilyn Monroe. Now, it can do it really fast now, right?
Ron Baker: Right.
Ed Kless: This is the whole idea of why is it that a chess program can now beat the top best chess player because yes, we have gotten to the point where the machines happen so quickly. They're still not as creative. They still don't have the ability to create something new.
Ron Baker: Right. Right. Yes. You know, the other interesting thing about tacit knowledge is it's a social process between individuals. It'd be very difficult to do an after-action review by yourself. You could do it, and you could turn some of that tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, but when there's more than one mind working on, that's really when you start sharing that sticky, hard to describe knowledge.
Ed Kless: Right. I absolutely think that you have to conduct an after-action review with another person. Yes. I suppose in theory, you could sit down and answer the questions, and we'll go through some of those questions as we move through the show here and even give you an online resource when we post the show notes that's an agenda for an after-action review meeting. I always encourage people when I'm teaching this topic to do this with someone, even if they're a sole proprietor. They should go through the after-action review process with a spouse, significant other, a brother, a sister, a mother ... it doesn't matter. Have someone just talk this through with you. They say, "What if they didn't participate?" I said, "That's great. It doesn't matter."
Ron Baker: Right. It's even better, because then, they're not attached to anything.
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: The other thing, Ed, in one of our shows, I think 'The Economy in Mind' show, we talked about three types of intellectual capital. We talked about human capital, and that's 80% of the developed world's wealth these days, so this is why we call to show what we do, but why we focus so much on knowledge workers and intellectual capital. There's social capital which is obviously customers and vendors and your relationships and networks and all of that, but there's also structural capital. That's the stuff that stays inside of your firm after the humans go home at night. What's really interesting about the after-action review is it's designed to get that human capital out of our heads and put it somewhere so we can put it in the structural capital and we use it. That's really what the after-action review is designed to do in a business setting.
Ed Kless: In the sense, we see echoes of that ... I mean, something as crazy as the cave paintings and ... What is it? Vichy France where I'm firmly convinced that that was either a SWOT analysis or perhaps it was an after-action review ... "Here's how the hunt went. The buffalo had the horns, but we had the bows and arrows, and this is why this was better for us,” but in a sense that we can get knowledge from eons ago when it's properly converted from that social capital into structural capital.
Ron Baker: Right. With the digital age now, this is so much easier because we can just put an iPhone on the table and either video or record an after-action review. We no longer have to have a reporter, like a stenographer there. This used to be typed up in the army's old days, right? Now, there's so many ways to capture this and store them on blogs, internets ... all sorts of different types of media platforms, and now, they're of course all searchable so these become just much more effective tools to use.
Ed Kless: Right, and I mean, even converting them over to text from that point ... just record them as an MP3 and use a service to convert it to text file that can be ... because one of the cool things about text is that it can be read at four or five times faster than someone who's listening to it.
Ron Baker: Right. Listening, right. Ed, when I first ran across the after-action review, and it was over a decade now when I first learned about this, to me, it was just like one of those 'Ah-huh' moments. I thought back all the experiences in my career when I redid something and I reinvented the [wheel 00:23:23] that is already been done a million times simply because I didn't know. I didn't know the right person in my organization to go talk to. I didn't know where this knowledge was, so I ended up going down a much steeper learning curve because of that, and I thought, "Oh, geez. If we would have had this, it would have made us a heck of a lot more effective." What I'd like to do, Ed is just quickly explain the army, and I think I got this out of that book, 'Hope is Not a Method' which folks, if you're interested in using the after-action review and implementing it in your organization, please get a hold of this book. It really is a fantastic book. Plus, it's got a lot of very interesting historical military examples which I absolutely loved. I mean, it's a very engaging book. One of the ...
Ed Kless: Just one point of clarification, Ron because I think ... is that there is a book called 'Hope is Not a Strategy', and it's a different book.
Ron Baker: Correct. Yes. This is 'Hope is Not a Method'. Again, we'll link to this on the show notes so we make sure we get the right book.
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: I think it's in that book, Ed where they say, "The army never wants to build the same bridge twice." What this means is, like say you had a platoon that was given the task of going out and building up a bridge to move troops and tanks and things like that. Yes, they can take out the army manuals and they can go to the site, and they can start to build the bridge, and the army manual will tell them how to build the specific bridge, but one of the things it's not going to be able to tell them is all the little tricks of the trade, like things like the army manual says to use this joint or this type of weld or whatever, but in reality, this works better, so all those little things that you learn ... all that tacit, sticky knowledge. What happens now is after that platoon builds that bridge, they come back and they do an after-action review. We will walk through the agenda next, but then, Ed, when another platoon on the other side of the planet is given the exact same task to go build that type of bridge, now the first thing they do is search the army's databases for after-action reviews on building that type of bridge. They read those first or maybe they listen to them, but that's going to make that second bridge built much more efficiently, but more importantly more effectively. That's really what they're trying to do. Imagine if you could do that in organizations.
Ed Kless: That's exactly what we've designed our after-action review agenda to do, is that in an organization, whether it's primarily a knowledge organization or not, you've got knowledge workers in it, so even if you're in the service economy or even in the manufacturing economy, you're going to have areas in your company where the after-action review is going to be the best tool for it. Just to take you through, we strongly encourage a couple of things. One that you have a separate facilitator and a scribe, because the facilitator really needs to make sure that the process is followed. This is one of the things where I mentioned earlier that sometimes, it's best for this person to not be, have been associated with whatever the engagement matter or whatever you want to call it was or project was, that it'd be somebody different just because they've really got to keep things staying on task. We also think that having a scribe separate from that is important. Just a quick word on scribes. This does not mean that they are taking dictation like you see in 'Law & Order', people writing everything, every word that's said down. The scribe is really there to capture the insights. When we take you through the agenda, I'll point out where the scribe would be perhaps capturing some of these inputs, and not taking down every word that is said. We mentioned that we really feel that this should be recorded and so easy to do with any kind of smartphone that they'd be MP3 file so that you can have folks go back and listen to them after the fact. Imagine if your organization could go back and listen to after-action reviews that were even created five years ago when this technology already existed. The other thing that I think it's important to mention about even before you begin the after-action review is that you should tell people that they should bring stuff with them, and the stuff that they need to bring are the ideas. They should have thought about the answers to the questions that we're going to talk to about before they get to the meeting. That's one thing that you should really strongly encourage your folks to do. You don't want to get to the meeting and have them going, "Okay. What went well?" "Let me think about that." Now, we really want you to have thought about that ahead of time before you get to the actual meeting itself. Those are just some things that we encourage. There are a couple of other ground rules that really come from the military. The first is they say to go through the ground rules. One of the ground rules is to go through the ground rules, and that's because that in the military, what they're worried about is people for insubordination ... things like that. The big number one ground rule is that these are for learning, not criticism and that you're absolutely not allowed to attack anyone personally, and that no hierarchy exists during the meeting. In other words, there's no such thing as insubordination in questioning the action of the superior during an after-action review. There still is during the actual action, but during the after-action review, you are allowed to in fact strongly encourage. One of the things that the field manuals says is, "Hey. Make sure that you have the junior folks speak first." I think that that's an important lesson to take as well is you should really have the people in your organization who maybe had less interaction with this particular project or matter or whatever you call it. They should talk first because if you allow the people who had the most interaction to dominate the conversation, just like the army, if the Major says this, the Sergeant is going to say, "Yes, pretty much what the Major said."
Ron Baker: Right, and, Ed, they even actually remove their caps or [inaudible 00:29:41] or whatever because there's no rank here either.
Ed Kless: They do. I was told this fascinating story by someone who ... in fact, the person who gave me the field manual for this. He had done tutors of duty in Iraq and he told me this great story of how when they do an after-action, they take off their hats and put it rank down on the table to signify that for temporarily, that they have relinquished their rank which is if any of you have done any time in any branch of the service know that that's a pretty big deal.
Ron Baker: Right. Right. By the way, I just love how on your agenda which folks will post up, Ed of this great agenda, and he wants you to bring at least three things that you think well and three things that you think of could have gone better. Just in my defense, Ed, you sprung the after-action review on me at the start of the show, so I didn't have time to think about these things.
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: I had to do it off-the-cuff, so I thought like, ["Yes. Yes. Yes". 00:30:34]
Ed Kless: I know. I broke my own rule, right?
Ron Baker: Yes. If you think about it ahead of time, I think it helps a lot more.
Ed Kless: Anyway, sometimes I feel that going through those ground rules, even though they're probably more pertinent to military makes sense in a business context as well just to remind my people. Then, the first real question that's then asked is, "What worthy objectives of whatever this was?" ... again, this project engagement matter ... whatever it is that you call it inside your organization. What's interesting about this question is that a lot of folks come back and say, "You know what? It was unclear,” but the objectives were. Here's a big no-no in the army. That's not going to fly. Right? That is perhaps one of the first learnings that any organization that implements after-action review learns is that they quickly need clarity of objective around anything and everything that they do, and if they just get that out of the after-action review, it's a win across the board.
Ron Baker: Yes. Agreed.
Ed Kless: Absolutely a win.
Ron Baker: You know, you mentioned how organizations can do this no matter what type of work or service or manufacturing. I've read some stuff on how Toyota conducts after-action reviews. Now, they don't call it that. There's a Japanese word they use and I can't recall it at the moment, but they spend a lot of time on this, Ed because it's the objectives. If they actually produce a car that exceeded what their objectives were, what their plan, they actually don't sit around and pop champagne bottles and celebrate. They worried why their objectives weren't right in the first place.
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: It's pretty intense actually.
Ed Kless: Yes. Ron, why don't you take us through the next set of questions?
Ron Baker: Then, after “What were the objectives?”, because we make plans and then obviously somebody laughs and reality kicks in, the next is "What actually happened?" What the army refers to is the ground truth. Why was it different? Right? What actually happened out there, and why was it different than what we expected than what our plans were? Then, we analyze that in a little bit more detail by saying, "What went well?", and then "Why did these things go well?", "What could have gone better?", and "Why did these things go wrong?" It's like you're looking at the positive things that diverted from the objectives and also the negative things. Then, "What are we going to do different next time?" Then, Ed, I've seen this in other sources as well. I think from the book, the last question that they use is, yes, "How are we going to do it better next time?", kind of like what we were talking about when we did our after-action review.
Ed Kless: Correct.
Ron Baker: ... Very simple questions. If you really think about it, and the army even has recommended times that they suggested time limits that you spend on these questions, don't they?
Ed Kless: They do. Really, I've seen that no after-action review is really to last more than an hour because that's where people start to lose interest and it starts to become less valuable. It's really a distillation if you will of the knowledge that we're trying to extract from having had this engagement. A couple of things that I wanted to point out on the questions is I think the great contribution here is the why questions. I sat through plenty of what we used to call 'Post-implementation meetings' or whatever you want to call them where we sit ourselves and pat on the back and talk about what went well and what could have gone better, but then there was no action taken on that. I think that the army inserting those 'Why' questions in there is really the great contribution here, as well as then the, "Hey, and what we going to do different next?". I have a little funny thing that when I'm working with organizations on implementing this, the army, they'll let you do two, three, four or five different things differently. One of the things that I like to do about the, "What are we going to do different next time?" is I implement what's called the 'Curly Rule'. Do you remember 'City Slickers', Ron?
Ron Baker: Yes.
Ed Kless: Right? They asked Curly, "Curly, what's the secret of life?" One thing.
Ron Baker: One thing.
Ed Kless: Right. Really, I think that the power behind the after-action review in a knowledge worker environment, especially when you're first implementing them is the 'Curly Rule' ... one thing, not 17 things.
Ron Baker: Right.
Ed Kless: What's the one thing you're going to do different next time, and how are you going to implement that? It's well worth spending some time thinking about those type things, because this is where the power of this comes in. If you just fix those one thing over and over and over again and create a culture of after-action reviews in your organization, then you're going to be much better off.
Ron Baker: You know, Ed, you're talking about recommended times on this, and the army suggests no more than an hour. If they do have a rule, 25, 25, 50 which is 25% reviewing what happened, 25% reviewing why it happened, and then the remaining 50% on what to do about it and how can you learn from it to improve. One of the interesting things that I found that I learned from the book as well, "Hope is Not a Method' is the objective of these after-action reviews is not just to correct things, but rather to correct thinking because the army has learned that flawed assumptions are the largest factor in flawed execution. I think that's just another way of saying one of our favorite mantras that "There is no good way to execute a bad idea."
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: Right?
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: They're really going after thinking here in some of the assumptions behind that rather than just talking about how to build the bridge better. I mean, that's certainly a part of it, and that's going to happen as a natural consequence of asking some of these questions, but then like you say, the why questions dig behind that and get to the thinking behind it. It's like Toyota's five whys, right? If you keep asking why like a little kid does, that really gets to the heart of the issue.
Ed Kless: It does. I think that there's even a commercial out now on brokerage firms. "So why? Why? Why?" The guy is like, "Yes. I do. I pay my broker."
Ron Baker: Ed, I know you've facilitated a lot of these after-action reviews because I think you really love to do it, and I have too, and it is fun especially if you weren’t involved in the project and you're just acting as the facilitator. You really do see the transformation in people's thinking, but I understand you do this in your family.
Ed Kless: Okay. Yes. This is really kind of sadistic and twisted I suppose, but I joke. It's been a fascinating journey. I teach this class on a fairly regular basis about consulting theory in practice, and the last thing I talk about is the after-action review or one of the last things I talk about. The class ends on a Thursday, and when I deliver the class in Dallas, I'm able to get home in time for dinner. This happened ... Oh, gosh. Now, it's got to be five years ago. My son who's now eight, going to be nine in December was three, going to be four. We're sitting around dinner, and I'm still pondering this whole after-action review concept. As we sit down, I turned to my son and I say, "Sean, so what went well today?" My wife, Christine is like, "Oh God."
Ron Baker: Rolled her eyes …
Ed Kless: Yes. Like, "Really?"
Ron Baker: I've seen people roll their eyes in class when you explain those things.
Ed Kless: Yes. Like, "Oh my God. Really?" We kept it simple. We did not go through the whys, but I did ask him, "So, what went well today?", and he came up with something in a three-year old term. I said, "So, what was bad today?" Right? I'll always remember what he say. He said, "Yes. It was a windy day, and when I got out of the car, the car door came and it slammed my hand." Now, he didn’t fortunately did not got his hand caught in the door. It just hit it [grazing 00:38:58] on the way by.
Ron Baker: Right.
Ed Kless: He’s sitting there hurt a lot. I'm like, "Okay." I asked him, "All right, buddy. What are you going to do different tomorrow?" He processed this for a little bit, and he said, "I guess before I get in the car, I could go outside and go to the end of the driveway and see how windy it is, and if it's real windy, I'm going to make sure to move real fast away from the car when I get out of it." I'm like, "Okay. Life skill 17 accomplished. I'm a successful parent", right?
Ron Baker: At three, yes. That's pretty good.
Ed Kless: The kid is now thinking, "How can I not injure myself?" That's good. That's a good skill. Then, it was something interesting happened. We had a big laugh about it. The next night happened, and I was having fun with this, so I asked him the same thing. I forgot what the answers were. That was Friday night. Saturday night rolls around, and by this point, it had lost its luster a little bit, but halfway through dinner, Sean turns to me and says, "So, dad. What went well?" He liked this game. He thought this was fun and turned the tables on me pretty quickly. What's cool about this is this is now the standard dinner conversation at the Kless household. We did it last night because we had the opportunity to have dinner together, and I do a lot of travel so it doesn't always happen with me, but I assure you that it now happens on a regular basis even when I'm not here, and we've introduced Cara to the family now who's five. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this has without question made for a better familial experience, and both my spouse, Christine and I think that we're better parents because of it and that our kids tend ... not always, but tend to be more mature than their counterparts and do look at things in a little bit different light because of this process.
Ron Baker: That's awesome. In a business context, we're also busy and we move quickly from one thing to another, and we just don't take the time to step back and reflect which I think comes from Latin verb, meaning 'Refold', right? ... to look at what we just learned, to look at it in a way because reflection without action of course would be passivity, but action without reflection is thoughtlessness. If you combine action with reflection, then you're going to end up with learning that lasts, and I think that's the big advantage from the after-action review. As usual, Yogi Berra, he said this about ... He said this in the context of Bill Dickey. He said, "Yes, Bill Dickey. He's learning me all his experience" …
Ed Kless: Yes.
Ron Baker: ... which is exactly what the after-action review is designed to do. Just real briefly, this is a cultural change, isn't it, because this isn't just about technology. This is something that you actually have to embed in the culture as the army talked about, and it really is about learning and doing things better. One of the consequences I've seen from these is it drives out fear, because if you're really willing to sit around and talk about these questions, then it's going to drive out fear. You're no longer afraid to make mistakes or to screw up. I love what surgeons say. They say that … They have a great philosophy when you make a mistake as a surgeon, "Forgive and remember," and the after-action review enables you to do both of those.
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