Celebrating successes and learning from successes

Future is interesting …one cannot predict it precisely. Sometime, one cannot even imagine how things will develop, even though the start point is known. As far as I am concern, I can tell that I phase this felling every day, especially, when it come to my work within the area of Knowledge management.

Few years ago, just after I retired from the organization I worked for twenty five years, I got a call from Yekutiel (Couty) Sabah, a friend and a KM colleague. He was one of the early adaptors of KM in Israel, and as such, one of the very first participants in “The Israeli Knowledge Managers’ Forum”. Couty heads the Reasearch and Planning division in an important goverment ministry and leads a country-wide Knowledge management and organizational learning program within all social works units in Israel. He has a very interesting and challenging suggestion for me: “Why won’t you join the KM program within the ‘Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services’ and help us to initiate and implement Knowledge Management?”.

It was indeed an interesting offer: for me, as Knowledge manager with experience and background of KM in a leading Hi-Tech Telecom corporation, to ‘switch’ and ‘jump’ to the world of Social workers, seems somehow, odd. (I can say now, that according to my past experience with hundreds of Israeli Social workers and their managers, in Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Ramat Gan, as well as few Commuinities of Practice at the social works arena – are yet to be told.).

But, my colleague had a unique and fresh argument, not giving me a chance to express hesitation: “You know that we are looking at KM through ‘learning from successes methodology which was dveloped by Professor Jona Rosenfeld and his colleague the late Professor Donald Schon, which is slightly the opposite of the ordinary and often use method of “inquiring and learning from failures” which were adopted by many organizations as means of baseline to start KM initiatives.

I must say that this argument ‘caught’ me. The idea that KM efforts will be focused towards better and effective organizational future by formulating practical success-focused principles seemed to me more enthusiastic. I recall that this was exactly our biggest obstacle in implementing KM; people did not want to ‘deal with the past gain and again’. It is not that we throw the past away, nor we ignore past experience and lesson learned. Yet, starting with the future signposts a bright and challenging future, and engaged managers and employees more than digging only in the past. Yes. After dealing with the future, aim our resources towards the organizations’ vision and plan our activities in accordance, we can now go back and locate what went wrong, what need to be improved.

The idea of ‘learning from successes’ was not new to me, yet I was familiar with it in a different form: I called it ‘Celebrating successes’. After working for twenty five years in a very big organization (in Israeli terms…) it occurs to me that ‘organizations do not celebrate’. No, I am not talking about activities organized by the Labor Union. I was looking at the idea of ‘celebrate’ as a norm, an organizational value, a signpost to stop, look and learn.

Since executives and organizations focus on what is called ‘the bottom line’, meaning on “do”, they does not allocate time, nor they point their mindset on “how we do”. So, ask them to celebrate?! To stop and have a close look on how they act, how they perform, what they have learnt?! Of course not – “It is a waste of time…” Indeed, actually, it must be a combination of the two; learning from successes can only be performed while celebrating from it. The celebration, whatever form it will be, gives all participants the felling that a mission had accomplished, that a target was achieved.Celebration has an ambivalent significance: on one hand, it refers to something which is ‘big’ enough or ‘important’ enough that will justify having a celebration.  On the other hand, if it is not ‘big’ or ‘important’, celebrating is treated as un-moral luxury…and within the ‘tough, cruel, cold organizational world” is considered as something that is not done…”.

So, how to settle the contradiction?!

It all goes back to the values of knowledge and learning in organizations. Those who appreciate and encourage learning, which put learners on the frontline of the organization – are the one that understand the importance of celebrating knowledge.

I recall an example of such celebration that points the route toward adopting learning and knowledge as an organizational routine. It suddenly occurred to me that my boss at the time, a known an reputable executive and telecom engineer, was invited many time to lecture as keynote at many high-tech events in Israel. He used to kindly refuse these invitations, for tight schedule issues, lack of interests and other reasons. Then, I came to him with an idea: why not send one of our engineers instead? Let’s choose someone that approved his skills, one that contribute a successful breakthrough in developing new leading technology and products.And this was exactly what was done: It was multi-dimensional celebration – The organization celebrates by nominating an engineer as a front representative in a country-wide event, the engineer celebrates the appreciation of the organization to his achievements, the team he belong to also celebrate and support him.

It was a true celebration of knowledge, learning from success.

How do you celebrate knowledge? Or successes?

Please, share your story with us all.


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