Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Most Significant Change - Reflections

Shawn posts an excellent piece on the importance of story selection in Most Significant Change. One issue with MSC is that people focus on the stories only whereas MSC is properly understood as a narrative-based management technique - it's what you do with the stories that counts. MSC is used to monitor existing activities as well as evaluate completed ones. The selection process allows those involved to discuss the project using tangible examples rather than abstractions.

The third part of the process that is critical is feeding back the results to those on the ground: the story that was selected and more importantly the reasons why it was selected. Without that, they get no insight into the outcomes that are valued by sponsors & senior management and therefore little benefit from the exercise in terms of guidance or changed practice. This is especially important if MSC is being used for on-going monitoring purposes. Much of the writing I have seen on MSC indicates that it is best done as an iterative activity.

If the stories do not generate conversations throughout the organisation then the MSC activity will probably be counterproductive. It will be a mechanistic exercise in justification rather than a powerful management tool.

Important Annoucement: New Writers for Engineers Without Fears

There has been some debate on the blogosphere about ghost blogging. This reminded me of one key fact: I am very, very important and simply should not have to squander my precious time writing this blog - I mean, don't you know who I am?!?

Whilst I am very important, I am not especially rich so let me please introduce the new blogging staff for Engineers Without Fears:

Given the high mortality rates in sub-saharan Africa, I thought I'd better buy in bulk. Marvel at their cute grins & bright eyes. Eyes that will no doubt grow dull & tearful in the gloom of my undergrown computer labs as they labour 18 hours a day to compose witty & insightful articles on Web 2.0 & Knowledge Management. And all for the price of a cup of coffee. I love capitalism with all my cold, black heart.

Rainforest Economics

They don't call it the rainforest to trick you. There are lots of trees and, yip, plenty of rain in it. Dry season, my arse.

Anyway I'm being chased by 80 kg of enraged cassowary through razor sharp undergrowth in the middle of a torrential downpour. And as my life flashes before my eyes, all I can think about are intangible assets.

I blame it on the locale. The rainforests of Northern Queensland host a hugely diverse range of flora & fauna (some of it angry & mobile). The soil that supports it is however, not especially fertile. The nutrient base doesn't lie in the ground so much as cycle through the system in the form of trees, ferns, fungi, animals etc - it is "in play" rather than "in storage". If you get rid of this biomass (through logging or clearance), you are left with worthless sand that requires large quantities of fertiliser to grow anything on.

Which mirrors the situation with most of our organisations. In the industrial period, our assets were visible. Machinery, inventory, etc. If our assets are becoming increasingly intangible then they start to resemble rainforests more than traditional agricultural farmland. The value in our organisations is constantly "in play" and attempts at clearance can leave you with worthless scrub. I'm not going to push the metaphor to deal with fertiliser but there's plenty of that about as well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Too Much Information

JamesDellow comes back with some comments on Virtual Reality (VR).

For me, there are several problems with VR, not least that it's still no match for Real Reality (RR). It's been hanging around for a long time now, look at the Wired article that James links to or observe the first Gartner Hype Cycle from 1995:

Game graphics have developed tremendously in the last decade. But people want to spend time in games. Most of them do not want to spend more time than they have to at work.

Paul Miller @ Intranet Benchmarking Forum points towards some applications of 3D environments @ Sun. I think that 3D VR has some very specific applications where cost or safety overrule RR experience (e.g. learning how to change the rods in a nuclear reactor, designing a new jumbo jet). For the rest of us it paradoxically provides too much information & not enough.

Too much information because most people like their virtual workspaces simple. Look at the desktop used in the typical call centre. It is spare and clean - you want a limited number of applications that you can move between. You want to point at a file & get it - you don't want to have to move your avatar to the virtual 3D filing cabinet to extract a virtual 3D form that you then drop on the floor.

Too little information because you lack smell, taste & touch - plus the fine-grained visual cues that we pick up on all the time ("blonde hair, black roots, hmmm").

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bodies (I'm not an animal)

Look at your hands as they rest on your keyboard. See the image of your face dimly in the screen. Previous ages offered the crowds strong men, bearded ladies & Siamese twins. Our own bodies reflected back to us at a safe distance in a distorted hall of mirrors. The Amazing Human Body exhibition features whole human bodies & their constituent parts dissected and then reassembled to satisfy our curiosity & wonder. Skin peeled back to reveal nerve endings, blood vessels, bones. The effect is unnerving - revolting, educating, darkly comic. At the end I suffer from flesh fatigue - I want to wash my mind by watching paint dry or some other suitably inorganic process.

N.B. We don't quite know what do with our bodies. We discipline them like machines - optimising nutritional inputs & completing scheduled exercise. We indulge them. Castigate & mortify them. Put them on hold.

I have to admit to being a trifle puzzled about Second Life. I have enough difficulty managing my first one so I can't promise that Ricardo5D Negulesco will get up to much but we'll have to see. Quite why crude 3D renderings of a fantasy world would be appealing to large numbers of people defeats me (except here you can choose the body you want without resorting to expensive plastic surgery). I spent a year living in Coventry (a crude 3D fantasy world of crazed 50s architects) and have no strong desire to inhabit its virtual equivalent. May be you Second Lifers out there can persuade me otherwise.

Human bodies also feature in the World Press Photo exhibition. A one-legged football team in Sierra Leone. A Bangladeshi kiosk attendant revealed like an angel in the desert of Kuwait. A Mexican thief tied to a lamppost. No fewer than three dead babies.

The world reflected here is in turmoil. And some of the bodies are broken beyond repair and no matter how beautiful the photography bathing them they will never move again. Another virtual world on display.

Will you make your body vulnerable and bring it out into this violent world?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jamie's School Libraries?

I never really liked Jamie Oliver. The Naked Chef seemed more about selling us on Jamie's laddish London lifestyle than cooking. I wanted to find out about food not watch a mockney on a scooter. So when he actually started doing something useful I found it very annoying.

I liked Jamie's School Dinners because he didn't just want to throw salads at kids or give them a smack when they reached for a chip butty. It was about reigniting their excitement about food. Getting them to appreciate cooking & eating as something vital, important & fun.

So when Shawn writes about his experience marking essays and the tyranny of Wikipedia & Google, part me wonders if he got there too late. And it also makes me wonder about Annette's Ken Robinson post. Do we need a Jamie Oliver for the school library?

And do we need to adapt our teaching approaches to a world where information is no longer scarce but its quality is highly variable?

And with ever increasing numbers of mature students taking academic courses, do we need to do something about the disconnect between the mountains of paper the academic community churn out every year & the different groups that make up its user base?

I See A Voice

David Armano (via SoC) talks about ditching blogging & getting into conversation architecture. The bit about being your own personal brand lost me a little but his basic point is pretty sound: If you're going to start getting into conversations then have a voice that is unique to you & say something with that voice.

And that voice & those words come easiest when you start talking with others about something you care about deeply (as David states in lovely diagrammatic form). Do not expect the voice to emerge straight away - just as expecting to ride a bike without practice is foolish.

When I started blogging back in 2001, it was as means of keeping friends & family up to date with my travels around Asia. It then morphed into something else. Writing about what I saw (the wonderful, the horrible, the mundane) and how it changed me became a way of making sense of the whole thing. The initial voice was pretty easy to find - or should I say steal - because it was someone else's: the befuddled Englishman abroad that Michael Palin captured so adroitly in his TV series. But the more I wrote, the further I started moving away from that voice. Because ultimately it limited what I had to say & who I was. The mask did not follow how my face grew.

I have been running Engineers Without Fears on and off since November 2004. And for much of that period I struggled to find a voice. Most of my virtual interactions happened on email lists such as ACT-KM. And on those, a voice began to emerge that has spilled out onto this blog in the last month or so. It's not always a pleasant voice. It rejoices in absurdity. It can be cold & cruel as well as warm & funny. It craves conversation & large amounts of data (sweet data). It is my own voice amplified through the distortion unit of presentation & writing. I like it but then I'm biased.

What does your voice sound like?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Omnivores & Outlaws

Various internet quizzes have proved quite scientifically that I am:

  • An INTP
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Most suited to a career in forestry
  • Willow out of Buffy
  • Emile Durkheim
  • The Colour Lilac

With the above strike rate in mind, this survey from the Pew Institute tells me that I am "A Connector".
Connectors combine a sense that information technology is good for social purposes with a clear recognition that online resources are a great way to learn new things.

I am also mostly white & female. And I have a featured-packed mobile phone (in fact I have the cheapest phone with a dial tone that Nokia sells & I refuse to own a PDA).

The quiz is related to a survey on Typologies of ICT users done by the Pew Institute. The survey looks at:

  • Assets - What tech they own.
  • Actions - What people do with their tech.
  • Attitudes - How often they want to throw their tech against a wall & cry.

This then yields 10 groups of IT user. Newsflash: Most Americans are not heavy users of technology. Only 8% of the population are "Omnivores" - i.e. gadget freaks.

What I found insightful about this survey were those heavy-to-moderate tech users who were less than impressed with the experience. 8% of those surveyed were Lackluster Veterans (men in their 40s now cooling in the dull routine of technological marriage after the white-hot romance of the mid-90s) & Connected But Hassleds (please stop SMSing them about dress choices & sending those oh so hilarious emails of cats stuck in trees, they feel overwhelmed & just want some time by themselves). Rather than the Forrester ladder driving us into creator heaven, we have different groups trying to live their lives while they work with tech in the process. Tech as boon, pain in the behind or irrelevance.

Will blogging/podcasting/youtubing be seen as a youthful indiscretion in 20 years by the now middle-aged digital natives? The electronic equivalent of like getting a tattoo maybe - that has to be hidden with virtual skin grafts when making that job application to the investment bank.

I still have a problem with these surveys. Whilst they indicate something about how people use what tech, they don't tell us much about how they interact. And interaction is what these technologies are all about.

Source: Chieftech Enterprises

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kind Hearts And Comment Boxes

As with most things in life, I blame James Dellow. James may have concerns about the robustness of Technorati's ranking system but all I want to do is get to the top.

I have an authority of merely 35 and a ranking of 138,063. This is unacceptable. I must ascend at all costs. Dennis Price only had 8 meddlers to stand in his way to glory (all played by Alec Guinness). I have over 100,000 (I am not sure whether they all look like Alec Guinness or not).

One option is simply to spam people's comment boxes ("Hey, I see you from your blog that you like cheese. Waddya know, I lurve cheese too. Let's be bestest buddies & link to each other!!!") but that looks far to time consuming.

Instead I decided to identify a location with a population of 138,000 where everyone, everyone has a blog. All I have to do is take these jackanapes out of the blogging equation and sweet, sweet victory will be mine.

And I have found such a place. Step forward: The Province of Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Now I was planning on smiting them from the face of the earth like the pestilence they are but after an unfortunate misunderstanding at the Botany View Hotel last Thursday, I am on smiting probation. Instead I will sever contact between Prince Edward (he was already my second least favourite prince before I discovered this atrocity) Island & the rest of civilisation. I am not sure how but these are mere details. If you have any ideas out there, send them on a virtual postcard please - once I ascend to blogging victory you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams (assuming your wildest dreams involve battenburg cake & a second-hand iPod nano).

Cracking Cheese, Gromit

The Sydney Facilitator's Network had a session run by Ralph Kerle from the Creative Leadership Forum where we all got funky with clay. Ralph has a background in theatre & arts-based facilitation.

So we started off in teams with our clay. One of us plonked down a shape & then in silence the others added to it one by one. Gradually our forms took shape into Dali-esque wilting towers & offering bowls that were in no way reminiscent of genitalia, oh no.

Then we were requested to render our current work situation in clay in pairs. One of us would mold the clay & talk whilst the other recorded the stream of consciousness. Then we examined the pieces from different angles before swapping roles.

This latter exercise got quite personal. Now facilitators are quite an open bunch anyway ("so what I'm feeling in the room is...") but I think clay modelling is particularly effective and here's why:

  • Talking about something external to yourself is less confronting than than talking about yourself (“I’m not confused, lost & angry, it’s just THE CLAY MODEL!!!”).
  • Building the model is a process & the end product is mutable. You don’t like something about the model, you change it.
  • It’s just fun OK – did you never have plasticine as a kid?

Ralph asked me if I could see a link between clay modelling & acting. And I think I can: If you plonk ordinary people on stage and say “create a character”, they’ll freeze. If you give them a task then they’ll focus on the task & create the character without consciously thinking about it. You want enlightment? Go play with something.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Identity (Slight Return)

"Identity is the crisis you can't see"

Probably of all the writers on the web, Dave Pollard is one the I find most consistently challenging. There are lots of other writers I like to read but few have pursued their thinking & its written expression with the engaged rigour that Dave has. I frequently find myself at odds with what he has written. I do not always relate to the emotional turbine that powers him across my screen (particularly with regard to gaia & environmental catastrophe). So I find myself considering his post We Are Not Who We Think. It triggers all the thinking about intention & identity (that found expression in this discussion with Miguel and my trying to read this book & failing to understand it) that something (which might be me) has been churning for the past few weeks. I agree with Dave that we are not who we think we are. I suspect that intentionality is a fiction to useful for us to ever discard.

If our actions are indeed "the tantrum of our genes", then where, in the 'product' that is each one of us, is us? If we are, as I would posit, simply our knowledge, our beliefs and our imaginings, figments of reality, and if these three fragile, fleeting figments are determined by our genes, our culture, and our senses, experiences and memories, and if in turn these figments determine what we do, and don't do, during our too-long, too-short 'lives', what control do 'we' have over any of it?

To remix Dave, the paradox of control applies us all as individuals. We are the product of genes, culture, sensation. We are meat puppets. We are masters of the universe. We make decisions. We carry on. There is no core of who we are, no homunculus pulling the strings. We are a jazz improvisation not a symphony under a conductor.

If we want to save the world then we must do so precisely because we are not autonomous. Our genes are not just ours but shared with all life on earth. Our identities do not stop at the edges of our brains or the surface of our skins. They spill out and mingle in a hideous intimacy with the whole of creation. We are the world* and frankly that's a bit scary.

If we want to save the world then we must use all the resources that constitute us. The genetic heritage of millions of years that fuel & form us. The cultures that shape & are shaped by us. The sensations & experiences that are unique to each individual yet can be common enough to withstand the (t)errors of communication.

Now I just have to get off my fat arse & do something.

*N.B. We are not the children.


As a follow up to recent post on globalisation, I want to talk a little about Tom Friedman's Flat World. There is a lot of great reportage in this book - although it's a little breathless. Tom doesn't present a world with many choices in - except winning the economic race or losing it. And whilst he states that he is a technological determinist but not historical one, it's kinda hard to see the difference in practice. The effect is a Marx in negative - with globalised, hypercompetitive capitalism taking the place of a world socialism utopia.

If you take the book as a wake call to its American audience then it's in favour of much good stuff (lifelong learning, improved education opportunities, industrial deregulation). Given the prominence of globalisation in the executive worldview (which is the fancy English word for Weltanschung), it will probably be remembered as the business book of the decade (in the same way that this was for the 80s and this was for the 90s). However the vivid sense of place that Friedman's writing conveys together with the character vignettes set it apart from the prescriptive egoism of much of the "Business" shelves*.

*Friedman, Gladwell, Surowiecki - all journalists. Not consultants. Not retired CEOs. Instead writers who can string words together in a compelling way for regular people to read rather just ambitious middle managers & paranoid executives eager for the next big idea to pilfer.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Singapore Sling Shot

So I've just come back from an enjoyable if not wholly satisfying trip to Singapore. As much as I like the Island of a Thousand Shopping Malls, it often feels like some state-controlled experiment in consumer capitalism. Offices, retail outlets & restaurants acting as temples for the officially sanctioned activities of working, eating & shopping. The brightly-coloured malls are the alter egos of the dowdy concrete monuments to state socialism in Eastern Europe.

An oasis of calm & order in the tropical craziness of South-East Asia, Singapore has been called the Switzerland of the East (N.B. Like Switzerland it has four official languages). Only with laksa & sentosa instead of cheese & the alps. Singapore is an experiment (economically, racially), a vision of the future and - as a city state built on trade - a throwback to the past. If Australia is the edge of the world then I sometimes wonder if Singapore may be its new centre.

Very much on the plus side, I got to meet:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

War On Talent

So we have a War on Drugs & a War on Terror. I love declaring armed conflict on the general (I can't decide between a War on Flowers & a War on Nervousness as my targets next week). There is also the War for Talent. Malcolm Gladwell rips into it here back in 2002. And Bob Sutton has a more recent go here.

Historically wars have often been about access to scarce resources. In the agricultural age, that meant land & the people to maintain it. In our present age, we face conflicts around oil & the other raw materials of production. We also apparently face a war for talent. There isn't much talent about so we must fight each other to possess it. And when we get it, we must keep it safe behind a wall of large bonuses.

The thing is, I don't think talent is that scarce. Has the world suddenly got more stupid? I do not believe this to be so, despite evidence to contrary. Is the workforce contracting? Many baby boomers are just starting to retire - N.B. Retire, not die. Those pension funds will buy a lot of health care - these people will be around for a while. And there's only so many games of golf you can play without wanting to indulge in some a bit more substantial.

If something isn't actually that scarce, then what is the point of fighting a war over it?

Calling for a Talent Ceasefire

  • McKinsey's "up or out" policy means they have a network of advocates now working for potential clients. IBM is starting to get its head around this with "Greater IBM". CIO Update & HCI have some info about corporate alumni programs.
  • Buying talent is expensive. Growing people in your organisation is probably a lot cheaper. Do you know what your people are good at to begin with?
  • Are you getting the best out of your employees? If you know what your employees are good at, do you have them doing that? Or something else just to fill the boxes?
  • Are the systems & processes you have in place working properly? Or have you set your talented, expensive employees up to fail?
  • Are you using the talents of your customers, suppliers & partners? Or is collaborative innovation just something a guy from Bain asked you about on the phone at the end of last year?

Two footsoldiers in the War on Talent photographed yesterday

Monday, May 07, 2007

Surfing the Web Abnormal

So in the comments thread about the Web 2.0 Beliefometer - I was reminded of a simple fact: Using the internet is still an abnormal experience for most inhabitants of the globe. Their lives may be touched by it but they don't see it.

The other thing it prompted me to do is look at global illiteracy rates. These have halved (from 36% to 18%) since 1970 for those aged 15 & above - Yay! This masks huge differences - over 50% of women in West & South Asia are illiterate as opposed to less than 2% in Europe - Boo!

[N.B. Does anyone have any figures on worldwide TV & radio usage?]

We worry (or in some cases rejoice) that our societies are becoming post-literate when many societies are still coming to terms with the whole reading thing.

Those of us who work with computers (social or otherwise) tend to assume our experiences are typical when in fact we are statistical freaks (damn it - that's what I should have called this blog all those months ago!)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Web 2.0 Beliefometer

So I disagree with Luis about the impact of Web 2.0. Seeing as there's been this debate on the web (Tom Davenport, Andrew McAfee, etc) about Web 2.0, I have created a a fool-proof Web 2.0 Beliefometer to test your view of Web 2.0. Originally I was going to plot the positions of various people (Luis, James Dellow, Euan Semple, etc) but then I decided that I would instead let others do it for themselves.

If you know me, I have I positioned myself accurately here? Or am I completely delusional?

Ghost Writer

Luis Suarez writes 5 excellent reasons why ghost-written CEO blogs are a rubbish idea:
1. Trust
2. Authenticity
3. It will no longer be your own Personal Knowledge Management tool
4. Faking relationships
5. Lack of passion & involvement

For some reason, this all reminds me of Larry "The Surrogate" Mittleman, George Bluth Snr's stand-in from Arrested Development.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

2x2 Matrix

Richard Pryor: Thought Leader

Last night I watched a DVD of Richard Pryor in Concert. Pryor is amazing, getting laughs out his heart attack, his arrest by the police, getting beaten as a child. My housemate made the comment that all comics are like Pryor now. Which is true, but 40 years ago, they weren't. Between them, comedians such Pryor, Lenny Bruce & George Carlin changed what was possible to say on stage, what it was possible to discuss in public as a comedian.

"Leadership" is talked about a lot in the management literature. I was listening to the HBR ideacasts whilst wrestling with some HTML coding the other day at work. It seemed like every second item was the 7 secrets of leadership this & the 3 core competencies of leadership that. After about 5 or 6 of these babies, I ODed. I felt my hair going all pointy & the urge to inflict random acts of leadership on strangers became almost unbearable. I tore the headphones from ears & ran from the room screaming.

The reason we talk so much about leadership is it's scary. Underneath all the words, being a leader is a very simple thing:
Going somewhere that no one else can or will go & getting other people to come with you

Note the first part: If you are going somewhere everyone else is going how do you know that people are following you and not someone else? And going there by yourself is no good. And getting other people to do stuff ain't always easy. Hence the focus on incentives, rhetorical techniques such as storytelling, etc. Because if people are like machines then "point & click" leadership is possible.

And this applies completely to "proper" thought leadership. Most of the stuff put out under this rubric is really marketing bumpf with a survey attached ("75% of Ukrainians like cheese, please buy our software/consulting/toilet tissue"). If there isn't some shock on reading then it's not really telling you anything you don't know already. Pryor was arrested for public obscenity. Are you ready to get arrested for what you write or say? Does this mean all your thought leaders need to be sent on a program of cocaine freebasing & spousal abuse? No (but don't dismiss it out of hand).

One point I would make is that often we are given the choice between saying what we think is true & what we think will make others like us. Most of us end up going for the latter option. If you always do that then you will never be a thought leader. N.B. They tend to be them arsey so-and-sos. They may need other people to sell their ideas for them. Pryor was very charming but he had champions inside show business to smooth over the messes he made.

We tend to focus on individuals as leaders - possibly because we are still infatuated with charismatic saviours. My own experience has been that 2-3 people can act as a "thought leadership" team. They need to trust each other tightly & respect each other's abilities but it is possible. One to find the ideas, one to tell the first one when they're full of it & a third to sell the vision to the group as a whole.

What are your experiences of collective or individual leadership?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Posing The Question

I don't give a good **** what you know... I'm gonna torture you anyway

So Lt Columbo's application for the KM team went through fine. There is still some debate about Mr Blonde however. His loyalty & tenacity are admirable but he lacks something in the people skills department. He is certainly a passionate self-starter but we have a strict policy on ear removal here & he didn't follow it. In the end it comes down to results and he failed to identify the rat. Loser. And also Michael Madsen was better looking than me in 1992.

There has been some debate in the US regarding "interrogation techniques". Let me just say that waterboarding should not be used in Lessons Learned workshops unless absolutely necessary (may be I've watched too many seasons of 24).

Questioning is skill that few people master properly. The basic fact of the matter is that people lie - or rather they do not tell the truth. In answering a question, the priorities generally are:
1. What do I think makes me look good.
2. What does the other person want to hear.
3. What might the facts support.

For example, a friend of mine was in a loss review with an account team. When asked to provide a reason for the loss, the account manager began to say "Because the price was too hig-" just my friend (who is responsible for pricing) pointed to a graph that indicated their prices were the lowest in the marketplace. Hmmm - time for a new story. There is an old adage that a bad workman blames his tools. It is more acccurate to say that any workman blames their tools when their manager's boss asks.

When trying to do a lessons learned exercise, indirect questions that focus on events rather than individuals are preferable. Multiple, diverse points of view also provide a reality-check.

This also impacts the validity of survey data. People lie in surveys. Or rather I have lied in surveys. And I am extrapolating this survey sample of one to the entire population. Surveys may provide indicators of what people would like to believe about themselves or what they think you want to hear but caution is required.

I like data that indicates what people actually do rather than what they say they do. And as Gavin indicates virtual environments provide lots of opportunities for data collection. But be careful - people are canny. You don't need words to lie...

N.B. We are still reviewing Dr House's application. We fear that we will get cast in the role of exasperated yet supportive boss - and that's nowhere near as much fun as being the know-it-all jerk.

One In A Million?

John Hagel posts about living in the world of Pareto rather than Gauss. If you have encoutered The Long Tail then you know all about Pareto distributions - hell if you've been to see a blockbuster movie or started a blog then you know all about Pareto distributions.

Now this links to at least two previous posts on this blog. Do the results of Andrew McAfee's research into the impact of IT spending imply that certain forms of IT can turn industries Paretian rather than Gaussian?

The other topic concerns events. Hagel & the authors he cites suggest that apparently "one in a million" events are more common in a Paretian world than a Gaussian one. Benoit Mandelbrot - the dude who should have invented the etchasketch - has done fascinating research on the Paretian nature of financial markets. We may miscalculate the chances of rare events if we do not understand the nature of the system properly. This also implies that as the agents in a system become more interlinked the predictability & probability of behaviours & outcomes will change.

Hectik Social Vhirl Dahlink

So last night was both Step Two's 10th Anniversary. James Robertson was briefly in the country to host this. There's a rumour that he doesn't actually have an Australian passport & therefore can only stay here for 1 month at a time or risk deportation. If you want to put in for that working holiday visa, James, I'm happy to be a reference. The Step Two offices are quite funky & decorated in the colours of their Intranet Roadmap. Stories that every staff member has had said Roadmap tattooed on their torso remain unconfirmed. Remember everyone: See major surgery or unintentional nudity as less about pain & embarrassment and more about brand reinforcement. The food & company were good - thanks people.

Continuing the Web theme, Joe Jaffe was in town for a flying visit & a group of bloggers turned for dinner & podcasting. Joe had a camera that may count as a concealed weapon in some states & endearingly cheap sound recording equipment. I got to chat a bit to Lukas, Michael, Paull, Steven & both Sarah & Mercurius. Now a confession, Gavin "No Show" Heaton told me about this event. I had never heard of Joe (though there was an air of hushed expectation whenever he spoke*) prior to this. He seems to be doing some cool stuff & anyone willing to record a podcast with complete strangers (& involve everyone) deserves full kudos points. At one point, Katie encouraged me to share my annoying passion for value networks. The response reminded me of the effect bringing out my fourth volume of rare Begian stamps has at dinner parties. Bit of polishing on the pitch required. So good drinks & good company. Hey ho.

*Reminding me that charisma is something you ask other people to give to you.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Just finished Mark Earls' book Herd. Mark's background is advertising & marketing and his basic proposition is that we are not primarily individuals but in fact social animals. And any attempt to understand us as customers/employees/etc must take into account our social nature. Mark is an intelligent writer and his book draws on neuroscience, anthropology & Peter Kay to argue for our herd nature. Along the way he critiques WoM marketing, focus groups & Taylorism.

Those of you with an interest in social complexity (and Dave, he even mentions Welsh rugby) will find some new examples to delight them. What I particularly liked was the focus on C2C rather than B2C communication - i.e. the notion that what customers or employees tell each other is more important than the messages from managers & companies. Earls does not fall into the trap of saying that those in power can control these exchanges. Instead he suggests that companies can co-create these with customers and that they can only do this from a position of integrity - i.e. they must believe what they say. Or else no one else will.

Talk of brands pretty much brings me out in hives in much the same way that the phrase "customer relationship management" sends a shiver down my spine (Do you want a relationhip with me or or is it my wallet you're after? Come on, look at my face when I'm talking to you, not down there) but this book is relatively free of BS. Even if advertising people seem obsessed with winning awards. Are they not getting enough love from non-advertising folk? I sense a "Hug a Marketer" campaign coming on - go on, share the love...

Which brings me back to the Social Technographics report. Whilst the demographic data is interesting what it does not do is indicate how these different identities (creator, critic, etc) interact - which implies the serious limitations of survey-based data for understanding the social media ecosystem (real or potential) around your site. You may actually need to join the herd to do that, rather than watch it from afar.

Globalisation - Does It Suck?

I've generally shied away from the big questions here because I'm a shallow & apathetic hedonist. However given the glib gibe about globalisation in a previous post on innovation, I feel honour bound to return to the subject.

Philippe Legrain
was in Sydney a couple of months back to talk about his new book on immigration (I hate immigrants, taking the jobs of honest, hardworking Australians such as myself). It's not immigration I want to talk about but the topic of Legrain's previous book. The immigration talk at the Seymour Centre largely brought out the "knit your own yogurt" crowd, who whilst hating the current federal government, are too impotent to do anything about them. Had they read Open World they may well have booed him off the stage or thrown fair trade goods in his general direction (I guess coffee & chocolate wouldn't be so bad - but do they have fair trade mace spray?)

Why? Because Legrain is an avowed fan of globalisation - esp. international trade & foreign direct investment. He is also a fan of strong government legislation to control the reach of multinational corporations and manage capital flows. He isn't too keen on intellectual property legislation.

I am also a fan of certain forms of globalisation. I like trade. I like being able to live many thousands of miles from where I was born. However I still see a role for national governments - and for all of us as citizens of those states rather than merely consumers of traded products. For me, Legrain hits the critical issue: Not whether globalisation is "good" or "bad" but which aspects of globalisation we as voters, consumers & shareholders should encourage & which we should oppose. Naturally I have a particular view (and strong opinions on immigration & life-long learning) & that colours my view off the world. But what do I do about this? [Answers on a virtual postcard please]

What I find depressing is that globalisation advocates often paint a world without choices whereas the anti-globalisation paint a world without a common future. Neither seems very enticing - what other options are there?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lessons Learned

I sometimes wish that Lt. Columbo was real. Then I could hire him to be part of my KM team. He was great at asking questions (plus he'd make me look like a snappy dresser). The kind of questions that could unpick a murder's alibi like a badly darned sock. "Ma'am, there's just this one thing that's been bothering me. Maybe you could help me out..." And that would be it. The series itself was anti-whodunnit. You knew in advance what was going on. The pleasure came in the remorselessness with which the dogged detective worked out what had really gone on. Which is a great place to start talking about Lessons Learned programs.

So organisations do stuff again & again (see previous post about the importance of recurring events). Sometimes they do it well. And sometimes they do it badly. And they want to get better at it. Shawn's third diagram (Plan -> Act -> Reflect -> Learn -> Plan) captures this desire well. Mostly people plan then act then plan again. The idea of stopping to reflect is viewed as inefficient. Of course, the cost of not reflecting & learning can be high. So there has been a recent discussion on ACT-KM about lessons learned. If you want to find out what was said by Dave Snowden, Patrick Lambe, Toby Cooper, Han van Loon, Alan Dyer, Cory Banks, Gemma Smyth & Allan Crawford then you're going to have to sign up & join. For now, I will make 2 observations:

1. The learning cycle needs to run at different scales. We as individuals need to reflect on our actions & learn from them. Teams need to do this (preferably during a project as well as after). And whole organisations need to do this. The questions can be simple:

i. What went well
ii. What could be improved
iii. What we will do next time


i. What was supposed to happen?
ii. What actually happened?
iii. Why were there differences?
vi. What can we do different right now?

It is vital to note that a lesson is only learned when we do something differently the next time.

2. I remember once being a in meeting where we were discussing collecting key lessons learned around project management best practice.

"So we just need to collect the gems."
"Can you specify what a gem would be?"
"You know, the gems."
"Can you give me an example of a gem?"

This went on for about half an hour. Needless to say, nothing came of this exercise. People know a gem when they see it. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Now we often have to dig for gems. And the importance of questioning in these activities becomes obvious:
"Why was the project a success?"
"We had a great team" -> What successful project doesn't have a great team? How was this team different to normal?
"We followed the project plan" -> Beware of this one. It's possible but rarely true.
"We communicated with the client" -> Ah, we have employees with the gift of speech (our hiring policy must be improving). Now how did you communicate with the client?

The 5 Whys are very useful here. And the good Lt. wouldn't go amiss either.

Overtaken By Events

"If only we could get the right information to the right people in the right palce at the right time"

How many times have you heard someone say that? And it's true. It would be good if we could. However, this is a question that needs to be answered backwards. If you try to answer it forwards you will come unstuck.

The traditional approach to start with the "right information" piece. We collect information. Lots of it. Then we look at who are the "right people" - who are our target audiences to bombard with this stuff? If we are smart, we ask them if we have got the right information. And generally they say "Huh, yeah, I think so. I'm busy with something else right now". And then we set about building the "right place" - a database with a taxonomy & probably mobile access, etc. Generally,we get half way through doing this and then the money runs out. Or we finish it & no one uses it.

We never get as far as the "right time" but this is really crucial question. Remember the answer that the users gave you 6 months ago? That - like so much in life - was all about timing. The critical question to ask is: "How predictable are the information needs of this user group?" And what that really boils down to is: "How predictable are people's jobs?"

If they are very predictable then everything is easy. You can simply push information to users when they need it. However a characteristic of most knowledge workers' jobs (and I include knowledge workers in factories as much as in offices) is that they are highly unpredictable. The order in which tasks occur may vary. Methods provide a useful guide for the intelligent / experienced but not a repeatable process. So you are dependent on them pulling the information they need at the point that they need it. That assumes that they know your system sufficiently well to use it, that they trust what is in there and that your system is usable for them. Those are big assumptions. Esp. if they hardly ever use it because it sits outside their normal working activities.

So here are two hypotheses:
1. Push approaches to information provision can work well when they are linked to predictable events.
2. You need to work on pull approaches for unpredictable events. And pull approaches, by their very nature, must be user-driven.

KM strategies started off as document-centric (& some still are). They have become people-centric (CoPs, PKM). Do they also need to become event-centric?

I feel a 2 x 2 matrix coming on that plots events by frequency vs. impact. You might identify events using narrative techniques (such as future backwards), incident logs, process maps or participant observation. You would then identify events that are handled successfully vs. those that are not. There is much to learn by studying both...

Video Conference with the Dalai Lama

Carol Kinsey posts about video conferencing and its relationship to empathy.

We all appreciate the importance of visuals. Most people reading this blog will have watched TV & been to the cinema. Which makes me wonder a bit about video conferencing.

  • Will we have to sit through 10 minutes of trailers for future meetings before the main feature starts?

  • Will there be popcorn?

  • And more importantly, will this lead to a drop in productivity - because everyone uses pointless conference calls to catch up on their email or is that just me?

So mirror neurons are important. And yet people are still a**holes to each other F2F. Isn't that evolutionarily impossible?

Interestingly F2F is not the most reliable medium in terms of honesty. That position belongs to email. F2F ranks with IM and the phone comes last. Now if your video conference is recorded then it is probably better than F2F but on a par with email based on Dr Hancock's drivers.

Frankly if you have some really, really important news to tell people ("I didn't bring these black binliners for environmental reasons") then actually travelling & meeting with them F2F signals that this is important for you. Any form of virtual communication is second best because it highlights your convenience over theirs.

Enterprise 2.0 - Redux

Just to clear the decks of data before moving onto other topics, Ross wrote about a series of Enterprise 2.0 surveys from Forrester & McKinsey a month ago.

Forrester's two surveys are with CIOs. In the first, CIOs indicate that they would rather buy blogs/wikis/RSS/podcasts/tags/networking as suites from existing major vendors. This is hardly surprising as CIOs would rather buy most things as suites from existing vendors unless a niche vendor can give them something mission-critical that will make them look like hero in front of the CEO. The report mentions concerns over integration with existing infrastructure & lack of professionalism from smaller vendors. I would take this further & suggest that most CIOs do not see Web 2.0 tech as mission critical but rather as something that will quickly become commodified in the future.

The second Forrester survey asks CIOs why they have adopted at least one Web 2.0 tech (blog, wiki, RSS, tags, podcasts, networking) why they did & those that haven't, why they didn't. For the takers, greater efficiency & competitive pressure were given as the top 2 reasons. Now "greater efficiency" is the answer an exec gives when they don't really know why they did something. It's the macho business equivalent of saying "a big boy done it and ran away". Competitive pressure means "another CIO told me he was doing it over drinks at a strip bar one night and it sounded cool". Interestingly the argument made by Web 2.0 devotees - that employers who used Web 2.0 tech in their lives outside work would demand its implementation inside - is only ranked fifth as a reason.

For the passers, the top reasons were no current need for the technology & more critical problems to solve. Translation: "Wuh?" & "Go away".

The McKinsey report involves more executives & has data weighted in all kinds of fancy ways - as all McKinsey surveys do (I bet these guys love their spreadsheets almost as much as me). The McKinsey survey defines Web 2.0 to include the usual blogs/wikis/RSS/networking/podcasts but then it morphs a bit. Tagging is bagged but Mash-ups, P2P networking (which seems to be bitTorrent but also might include virtualisation & grid computing), Web Services & Collective Intelligence are included. This latter includes "common databases for sharing knowledge" - which sounds suspiciously like 1st Gen KM to me. This shopping list is a little outside the standard E2.0 list but I suppose these guys are from McKinsey - it's all computers talking to each other isn't it, hang on is that my Blackberry going off?

Web Services, Collective Intelligence & P2P Networking are by far & away the most popular with more saying they have them (or plan to soon) than don't. The others are much less popular. Unsurprisngly the top 3 are seen as more immediately relevant to existing business issues with Web Services streaking away like a sprinter on steroids & SOAP.

From a regional perspective, China stands out for its interest in collective intelligence & social networks and India wants to spend more money.

Churning through all this data, I am left with the impression that execs know what they like and that's stuff they understand and can see an immediate application for. And there's nothing wrong with that. The E2.0 path will be a rocky one - but hey, you knew that already didn't you?

Stalled Or Stabilised?

James Dellow also talks about the Forrester research together with this news from Technocrati. Only someone who never leaves their computer would think that everyone would be blogging in a year (and I leave my computer several times a day, esp. after that unfortunate incident with the catheter).

What really interests me is the level of churn. How many of those 15 million active blogs are the same as those from 12 months ago. The other point to note is that the definition of active is one post in the preceding 90 days. [Do not put Technocrati down as your next of kin on an emergency contact form. You'll be liquid by the time the cops break down the door.]

This interests me because blogging is not just about posting stuff. It's a process, an activity, a journey [shoot me now]. People go through that experience. Then they might run out of things to say. Or they might have learnt all they need to from this experience and want to move onto something else - say fencing or extreme motor sports. How many people have gone through that process or are going through it now?

Hmmm - I said i wasn't going to blog about blogging...

Social Technographics: Interesting But I Don't Buy The Ladder

In my last post, I rhetorically asked where I would get my statistics in the event of a physiological catastrophe. The answer came to me in an overnight email: Forrester. They were offering review copies of their Social Technographics study to bloggers & they kindly sent me one on request.

This is based on two surveys (1 x adults, 1 x kids) carried out in late 2006 among US consumers. There is much crunching of data but the centrepiece of the report is Charlene's Ladder:

It's a brave position but I have a problem with Charlene's Ladder. It perpetuates a series of myths about how people actually use social media & the act of creativity in general. Creators are at the top of the ladder. Spectators are at the bottom. And those people interacting with stuff & others somewhere in the middle. As Jack Vinson notes people do not neatly fall into these categories. Like Jack, I occupy each of the six roles simultaneously, depending on context. Now the report as much as admits this but then it takes a wrong turn. Those activities higher up the ladder do not indicate higher levels of participation but rather different participation activities. People are doing qualitatively different things with each of those tools rather than quantitatively more of the same thing. In their own ways, the critics & joiners are being just as creative & participative as the creators - they just aren't making stuff under their own name. Whether those who engage mainly in critic & joiner activities go up the ladder is not a foregone conclusion. I await with interest a longitudinal study that will prove that. In our society we tend to valorise creative individuals at the expense of others. Where as the truth is, everyone is creative. Not in an Oscar-winning film way but in all sorts of ways. That's where the power of social computing lies - in finally making visible the collaborative nature of creativity.

That said, I agree with some of the recommendations at the end of the report - esp. the point "Create Multiple Participation Points". If you want to interact with your customers/consumers - and more importantly if you want them to interact with each other - give them plenty of different ways of doing that & see what happens. I think trying to understand the social technographic profile of your audience has some value but is ultimately a waste of time. Why analyse when you can see for yourself by looking at what people do?