If you want to learn how to be a spy, watch Burn Notice. If you want to learn how to be a knowledge manager, watch Burn Notice.
Here's the thing: Burn Notice is the best simulation I've ever seen of effective knowledge management techniques. It's not just the easy collaboration of the expert team (compared to the inept dysfunction of Jack Bauer's CTU office on "24"). It's how much you learn about being a fictional spy.
"Covert intelligence involves a lot of waiting around. You know what it's like being a spy? Like sitting in your dentist's reception area 24 hours a day. You read magazines, sip coffee, and every so often someone tries to kill you."
Yeah, my practice is like that too—mostly the dental office part.
Michael Westen is a CIA operative so good at his job that someone blacklists him—forcing him to freelance in Miami while figuring out who burned his career—a fictional character on USA's Edgar Award-winning series, "Burn Notice."
"Spies go to bars for the same reason people go to libraries: full of information if you know where to ask."
Every episode features Michael's voice-over annotations that turn you into an apprentice while watching everything he does. Tips, tricks and other knowledge nuggets.
"Dealing with a trained operative is like playing chess with a master. Dealing with criminals, on the other hand, is like playing checkers with a three-year-old: they like to change the rules."
It's not about making expertise explicit. It's about connecting text to context and subtext. The other thing that makes it work is actor Jeffrey Donovan's voice, which is as addictive for its cadence as for its confidence. The voice says "Listen to me and I'll get you out of trouble" and you believe it. He tells. He shows. He keeps it in context. He makes it sexy. Learning should be sexy. We should all talk like this at work.
"Getting information out of someone who doesn't want to give it up is all about upsetting the target's emotional balance, impairing their judgment. Fear is good for that; anger is not bad either."
Is your just-in-time learning this good? Is your learning this sexy?
This conscious learning seems to pervade the production's approach too. Besides the spy lessons, you can learn a lot about creating a successful TV show by reading the Writer's Blog.
…We quickly realized that doing a sprawling international show set in the world of spydom was probably not going to work. Saying to a TV studio "It's set in Turkey this week, and in Indonesia the next" is kind of a non-starter.
And so we came up with the idea of grounding a spy, taking him out of the world of espionage and having him use his skills to help "real people." It had been done before in various ways – there was "The Equalizer" and "Magnum, P.I." back in the 1980's, but the time seemed right for an update, and I felt like I had a fresh take on it.
So we went in and pitched the show to Fox TV studios. They liked it, and we took it out to networks. We pitched it three places, and got two "no's" and a "yes." One is all you need, though...