Friday, August 31, 2007

What is a knowledge worker?

As an addendum to this post, I would claim that anyone becomes a knowledge worker when they have to think. And people only think when they are prompted by the unexpected. So a knowledge worker is someone who faces the unexpected.

The reason more & more of us can be tagged as knowledge workers is not that work is becoming more virtual (though it is). Nor is it that more of us are "symbolic interactionists" (though we may be). It is because the world is getting more complex. More interconnected. And the unexpected is getting more and more common.

How do we educate people to deal with the unexpected?

ROI & productivity

One question that came up on the Wednesday night of wikis was around ROI. What is the ROI for a wiki?

Olivier Headshift talks about ROI. And I agree with Simon Carswell's comment that the "I" should be low. This statement provoked the justifiable question about the effort involved in wiki development & management. Sven made the excellent point that there is little "extra" effort that goes into wiki activities. People are sending emails and messing about with Word documents anyway. But these activities are largely invisible.

All the Enterprise 2.0 stuff is really about collaboration in organisations. And collaboration is all about improving productivity and nuturing creativity. However most organisations do not measure their worker productivity well (and they have no idea whatsoever about worker creativity). This is especially true for organisations with workers who think for a living. Professional services firms tend to measure productivity as billable hours. However the billable hour model simply means that you've spent an hour doing something. The only incentive to do it better or quicker is the possibility your competition might.

If asking the ROI question prompts you to discuss the productivity & practices of your workers with them then it could be useful. Otherwise I share Olivier's concerns about playing ROI games.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tag State

Jack has pointed me towards this Thomas van der Wal article on the state of tagging. The more I see it, the more I get interested in tagging. From what I can see, tagging has 3 primary uses:

1. Retrieval

The first and the most obvious. Do it, tag it, lose it, find it. This is primarily a personal activity and it doesn't require that you share your tags with anyone else. Tagging is therefore part of Personal Information Management

2. Sensemaking

So what happens when people share their tags with others? If they have some nifty analytic or visualisation software, it allows us to see what the informationscape of a team, a department, an organisation looks like. The world becomes cloudy. Folksonomies can be created that feedback into official taxonomies. Rather than tell people about ourselves in LinkedIn or Facebook profiles, we can expose ourselves through our tag scapes. Whole new vistas of investigation & deception become possible. Do we tag something because we think it's interesting or because we want to other people to think that we think that it's interesting?

3. Sharing & Flexible Workflow

So MentorNet mashes up with Flickr. The movement of images is facilitated by tagging. Metadata isn't just for finding stuff but making it move, picking it up and dropping it somewhere else. If it's findable, it's mashable. The lowest level of mashability is the level at which we can tag. First page, then image, then pixel.

We don't have the supernatural anymore, just metadata...

Enterprise 2.0 Questions & Answers

So when you start talking about Enterprise 2.0 stuff, certain questions keep coming up. Here are some of the ones that I have heard from people in different organisations.
  • Have you heard similar ones?
  • Which other ones have you heard?
  • Do my answers make sense?
  • Do you have better answers?
1. We've had Forums / Lotus Notes around for ages. What's new about these tools?

Some social media technologies have been around for a over a decade. What is new is their pervasiveness on the internet and the way they are now leveraged to make connections. They are significantly simpler than previous enterprise collaboration technologies. However some (e.g. podcasts, social networking software) are genuinely new in the corporate environment.

2. Will these tools by themselves make people collaborate?

Implementing a wiki will not lead to collaboration by itself. However the simplicity of these tools can provide very usable platforms for groups (teams, communities, directorates) to achieve their collaborative goals.

3. Are they just fads?

Some deployments of these tools are faddish. However, many organisations are experimenting with them and seeing benefits. The longevity of some of these tools (e.g. blogs have been around for over 10 years) suggests there is more to them than "cool" value.

4. Do they fit into our IT architecture?

They certainly can. Our IT architecture should not quash experimentation & innovation but it should position it correctly. "Just enough" governance of these tools is a critical part of their implementation.

5. Won't more tools just confuse people?

If we are not clear on its role then any new tool is confusing. If there is a clear role for a new tool then we need to communicate it to potential users and position it next to other tools. This is another governance issue.

6. Are their security risks associated with these tools?

If they are implemented poorly there could be a security risk but then this is true for any communications technology. If users are clear on what they should and should not share then security risks are minimal.

7. How will we manage all this content?

Some social media tools promote content management (e.g. folksonomies & social networking software) through non-traditional means. From a broader perspective, we need to examine the findability for all of its content – not just social media. Robust search and analytics tools are critical for effective management of these resources.

Wiki highlights

Patrick Lambe proposes a "wiki raid". I like that this uses wikis with a team in a room together around a real business task. It cements the idea of the wiki as something simple, useful, quick & collaborative. In effect you are establishing wiki behaviours up front. I may well be stealing this shortly.

James Matheson & Andrew Mitchell were both talking more wikis at the NSW KM Forum last night.

Andrew talked about 3 kinds of info his team's wiki: Eternal Truth (stuff that is correct for a long period), Past Truth (stuff that was once useful but is no longer current) & Collaboration (stuff that multiple people are working on now).

James talked about 3 specific wiki behaviours:
  1. If you have something to write, write it on the wiki.
  2. If you need to send an email, send a link to the wiki page.
  3. Check the recent changes.
So there you have it - go forth & wiki.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wiki reliance

About a month ago, I was talking to a friend involved with wikis & collaboration at a major corporate. The thorny issue of "governance" came up. What do you need to manage with a wiki. Now part of this relates to the previous post around where wikis fit in with the plethora of other collaboration tools that most organisations have. The other issue is one of "reliance". So if a group (a team or a community) is using a wiki for their own purposes, that's OK. If other people come to rely on their content in a major way, does this then need to be managed more tightly. What do you do about "reliance"? Do you end up moving from the left to the right of the "after" diagram here. And if so, how do you make that decision?

Now if your organisation has decided that your wiki is your intranet, not really an issue. The thought that came to my mind was: viewer metrics are key here. If you have a team of 10 people working on something and only 10 people visit those pages, no worries. If 10,000 people visit those pages then that may indicate that this stuff is becoming important. And hey, it might even be worth investing in developing this content more.

What do you think?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Collaborative ecologies

So everyone is playing with enterprise wikis, quietly. James Dellow outs CSC's wiki efforts. In trying to make sense of the ways in which wikis are being used, the following diagrams came to mind.

First, the "before":

And then the "after":

The basic point here is that whilst a few organisations are using wikis as their whole intranet, most people are using them to replace / augment the standard content collaboration tools found in organisations i.e. email & MS Word.

thoughtglue & 10 KM tips

Stephen Collins has 2 blogs. I have only just discovered thoughglue. SC posts Cory Banks' 10 KM tips which I think are pretty cool.

You could almost recast CB's points as KM improv:
  • Start from where you and they are.
  • Go somewhere new & better with them (but note the previous point).
  • Pay attention to them (& what they do).
  • Adopt, adapt & change.
  • Use what's to hand and fits in (i.e. technology).

Or something.

And SC is right about this being the wrong question. And as we're on the improv tip here in major way at the moment (don't worry, the symptoms will pass) - the manager of knowledgeable subordinates has to take what they offer and respond with "yes and" in some way.

More facilitation patterns - improv & complexity

In all the excitement, I had forgotten Andrew Rixon's new(ish) Babel Fish blog. Andrew talks about facilitation patterns, improvisation & also juggling. And also a link to this post by Viv McWaters about facilitation as improv.

When I started posting about brainstorming, I was viewing it through the lens of improv - though I don't think that came across in the early posts.

Reflecting for a moment, improv is all about co-creating a complex situation. A complex system is where the participants constantly connect with and influence each other. That's what makes it impossible to predict what will happen next. The lack of a script or fixed roles increases the opportunities for contact & influence. And the "rules" of improv (which are more like rules if you are not experienced and more like patterns if you are*) aim to further increase the opportunities for contact, feedback loops & mutation. When improv is done well, you are watching an emergent complex social system unfold like a bonsai tree in front of your very eyes. And the knob gags are just a bonus.

*In fact, the development of expertise can be seen as the conversion of rules into patterns.

Dave Snowden casts his pod

First Patrick, then Shawn & now Dave hits us with his KM Australia 2007 gear. What is it with my favorite KM thinkers putting their stuff out there for free!!!

I agree with most of DS's positions (which will not doubt infuriate him). There is one thing that I think he is half wrong about at the 22:40 on the KM Australia keynote mp3.

DS states that creativity does not lead to innovation but rather the reverse - i.e. creativity is the product of an innovative system. And that innovation requires starvation, pressure & diversity.

Here I think he's half right. Trying to get people to be "creative" if everything around them shows that such creativity will not be recognised, rewarded, etc is foolish and heart-breaking. Innovation (as a complex social system) determines and is determined by individual creativity. However, research indicates that starvation & pressure is not always useful for creativity. It may be useful at an organisational level for innovation because a threatening environment can increase an organisation's appetite for risk.

If you want creativity & innovation there is a productive tension between giving people the room (intellectual, emotional) they need to innovate and allowing the organisation to stay off-balance enough to implement those innovations.

BTW I hadn't seen the traffic light /roundabout example before - loved 'em...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A story from Anecdote

Shawn Callahan offers up a slice of Anecdote's history via YouTube. Shawn's conversational style and wry, frank delivery make this a bit of a must-listen if you're at all interested in narrative-based management techniques.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Facilitation - "yes and"

Johnnie Moore has responded to the brainstorming posts with this lovely little number. OK - let's commence with the riffage:

I'm going to begin by saying that those who wear the label "facilitator" find themselves in many different situations. So to talk of the rules in facilitation may be reassuring but it is also useless. For every rule, there is a conceivable circumstance when it should be broken. Instead, there are patterns for facilitation Things that work. Sometimes. For you. What I would suggest here is that Johnnie is offering a set of patterns that work for him.

If you put a gun to my head and asked for a formula, I'd probably talk about the power of invitation. Set everything up as voluntary; avoid insisting people attend, frame it all as an invitation. So if I ever do a warm up game, I always say one way to play is just to sit out and observe (funnily enough, it seems that then more people are willing to join in).

Yes! Much prefer a voluntary approach to things. If people don't want to participate, that's OK. This does imply upfront work and preparation in setting the invitation up. I've not been involved in a full-blown open space but from what I've heard, this is where a lot of the effort goes - in creating the right environment for people. And then letting them get on with it.

Then as you slip off the safety lock, I'd probably splutter about Harrison Owen's motto of "one less thing" if you're facilitating. See how little you need to do to guide the group, organise less, and practice sitting with "awkward silences". We tend to associate creativity with adrenalin and inspiration with stimulation. In one of the most satisfying groups I worked with recently, we had lots of natural pauses for reflection, as well as long breaks. Those pauses are often punctuated by someone with something really interesting to say - usually much better than any facilitatory effort I might make.

This is something I am increasingly drawn to. Shutting up. Seeing how little I can say. I don't do stacks of facilitating but even when talking to people, silence can be powerful. Just sitting with it. The temptation for me is always to rush in - as if by speaking I am staying in control or justifying my existence. And it's not required.

Something interesting happened recently. A friend asked me to mentor him. I was a little surprised by this as he is older and more experienced than me. I said: I don't have anything to tell you. He said: That's not what I want. He actually wanted someone to listen to him. And ask the occasional question. So that's what we've done. It's been fun so far and I think I have probably learned more than he has (but don't tell him that).

The best facilitators have always blown me away with the questions they ask (I have maybe asked 2 or 3 really good questions in my life so far). And I think that often comes from their presence. By being there, the question itself is not forced but naturally emerges. But it may not come out straight away. Several attempts may be required.

In a brainstorming context, if there's time, maybe get people to do writing activity alone. I think introverts tend to get excluded by loud, frantic workstyles and if we give them a more reflective approach, it's more inclusive.

This something that I worry about. As an introvert myself, I often need a bit of space to ponder what I'm doing and why. I like the idea of rhythm here - high-energy group pieces mixed with individual activities. That was something I tried with the KM & Change session - I wanted people to reflect individually before getting into the group fray. I think the concept was sound but the execution was a bit wonky on my part.

My default response in difficult situations is "Can you say more about that?"

Which is always an excellent move. But it requires some poise - my immediate reaction when "threatened" by a challenge is to respond offensively. Rather than accepting it for what it is. I'm getting better at this though. Their is a confidence required to respond with acceptance to a challenge - i.e. the realisation that I am not under threat but rather in a state of play. Relish the moment.

Finally, I suppose I'd invoke Gandhi on being the change you want to see in the world, and being aware and present to what the group is doing, reflecting some of that awareness back to the group; tending to avoid setting myself up as the deliverer of outcomes so the group shares responsibility for what happens.

Not much I can add to that. Pretty spot on. Johnnie has indicated (whether it was a blog post or skype convo, I can't recall) that he sees the role of facilitator as preventing other people from being in charge rather than actively wielding power. And in doing so, everyone else has to take responsibility for what's going on - rather than have someone else to step in as a parent. Sometimes I get impatient or nervous and then the desire to control others kicks in. Which is a bit tedious.

I have a lot of sympathy & enthusiasm for Johnnie's patterns. I suppose ultimately I want activities like brainstorming to be more like the process Johnnie describes - but that no doubt outs me as the closet anarchist that I may secretly be.

N.B. If you're encouraging people to be creative then the role of the facilitator as cheerleader is an important one: "That idea is fantastic. But it could be even crazier..."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tell me a story about creativity

So the comments to the previous brainstorming post have prompted me to reframe this a bit. What I'd really value from the readers of this blog:
  1. Tell me about a group creativity tool you have used (either as a participant or a facilitator) to generate ideas and that you think was successful. Then tell me why you think it worked in that situation. Just has to 2-3 sentences but I'd really appreciate it.
  2. A group situation where you ended up generating lots of ideas (regardless of whether you used a tool or not). Why do you think the group was creative? Now it might simply be that everyone was a gosh darn genius but what else made it work? Again, I'd really appreciate it.
  3. A situation where group creativity didn't happen. And why you think it didn't happen.
Over to you. Feel free to contribute anonymously and to ask your friends also...

Brainstorming (2): Initial comments

Gavin makes the following comments to the previous post:

You know, I am not a great fan of brainstorming ... it can and does waste a great deal of time and the benefits are questionable.
I'd like to draw Gavin out a bit more on the details around this. I suspect he could be referring to badly-done brainstorming - which is probably 95% of the brainstorming that goes on in the world. Brainstorming can waste time if:

  • Participants haven't prepared. A lot of brainstorming is done "cold". People come into a room and they are expected to come up with creative ideas. Brains are a bit like cars or ovens - they take a while to warm up.
  • This warming-up process will take much, much longer if participants don't already know & trust each other. In fact, it probably won't happen. You don't want to say anything stupid in front of strangers. And if someone doesn't say something stupid during an exercise like brainstorming then you're not doing it right.
  • The facilitation is weak. Brainstorming requires a strong yet subtle facilitator. Otherwise people start arguing the merits of the ideas presented - rather than building on them and offering new ones.

Gavin then makes the following comment:

As a workshop technique, it can however, be a very good way of creating consensus amongst a disparate group.

Which I have also observed though I'd like Gavin to add a bit more detail here. The point should be made that brainstorming in its original form is not something that would work well with disparate groups without a lot of preparation. You are interested in wild, divergent thinking and you need people around you that you trust. However a technique like brainstorming can allow a group to develop a common yet multi-faceted view of a problem and then feel a sense of ownership around the outputs.

Anyone out there want to share their experiences with brainstorming?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Brainstorming (1): Background

A post on brainstorming as improv to an email list back in April has led to the kind offer of a slot at the ACT-KM Conference (plus bus fare if I have a bad run with the pokies in October). I am now putting together the session itself.

So I'm doing a little research into brainstorming at the moment. And the first thing I unearthed was this fantastic literature review done in 1998 by Scott Isaksen (god bless google). And here is SI in a podcast for Cranky Middle Managers* last year.

Bob Sutton makes the following point in Business Week:
Here's the problem: Most academic studies of brainstorming are rigorous, but
irrelevant to the challenge of managing creative work.

BS's 8 rules are also good. Bob is also a fan of IDEO - and Tom Kelley from IDEO offers 7 secrets & 6 mistakes in Fast Company from a while back.

Some themes that emerge are:
  • Brainstorming has actual rules that you need to follow.
  • Brainstorming is best used with a mix of individual & group activities - and with other creativity techniques.
  • Brainstorming requires skills & practice - and also a strong, independent facilitator.
  • Fear (of the boss, of the group) kills brainstorming.
  • Creativity happens before and after brainstorming as well as during.

These last two points tie into the wider issue of what makes a creative climate.

*Wayne Turmel correctly identifies that anyone who's taken an improv class fancies themselves as an expert in creativity.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I second that emotion

So EngineersWithoutFears is quite an intellectual enterprise. But EwF has been pondering human emotions recently. As I recently shared with Miguel, I sometimes wonder that if I study humans for long enough, may be they'll let me be one. So this is perhaps another step towards that goal.

For all our powers of empathy and the presence of mirror neurons, the only person that feels my emotions is me. Neurologically, hormally, whatever - they happen inside me in reaction to any number of things. And yet, it seems that I often do not take ownership for these personal chemical events. "Don makes me feel happy", "Jane makes me feel angry". Now unless Jane & Don are standing behind me with big syringes filled with serotonin or something, that isn't strictly true. Don & Jane do what they do - conscious of my feelings or not. For me, the source of these feelings is a bit mysterious and a little unpredictable. And when human beings find things a bit mysterious and a little unpredictable, we tend to seek a reified source outside outselves (cf. the reasons for our existence and the claims for a god as author of same).

One response to this is the importance of mindfulness and the importance of detachment. However even if I was fully aware of this source, my control over my emotions would still be limited. Just because I can comprehend why the loss of a loved one might cause grief does not mean that the pain will be any the less intense when it hits.

Another response is simply acknowledging that our emotional responses to others are our business, not necessarily theirs. This doesn't mean letting people get away with unacceptable behaviours but it does mean us recognising that "he did something bad" and "he did something that made me feel bad" aren't always the same thing. It also means that we shouldn't let others make us take responsibility for their emotions - only for our own actions.

I also wonder if we own our ideas too much and our emotions too little. Which would imply some kind of swap is required here.

I'm only scratching the surface here so I'd appreciate some comments, criticisms & links from others to further my pondering on this. Don't worry, at no stage will I insist on a group hug.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wikis - middleware for humans

This entry barely reaches the level of "soundbite" let alone "article" but it struck me the other day that wikis are basically middleware for humans.

Just as SOA, BPEL, WSDL & SOAP (google 'em) aim to link previously isolated automated applications and allow them to collaborate together, so wikis allow people to link together information (& each other) in a collaborative way.

The fact that enterprise wikis are being used in heterogeneous environments should come as no surprise - as that's where middleware can add the most value.

How Facebook will kidnap your children & demand a $3 trillion ransom*

Ah, mX wanders back into E2.0 territory yet again. And the results aren't pretty.

Surfcontrol make internet filtering software. So when they say that the internet is evil, we should believe them. And their research says that Facebook will cost Australian businesses $5 billion (link to SMH article). Using their rigorous scientific methodology, I can predict that coffee will cost Australian businesses $20 billion. Seriously, if 3.2 million Australian workers (say 4 from each of the 800,000 workplaces in Australia) spend approximately one hour a day drinking coffee with each other (about the same time the Facebook obsessives are on there, degrading themselves) then that means that coffee is four times as damaging to the Australian economy as Facebook.

Ban coffee now!!! As Dr Richard Cullen says, "It's only a matter of time before a security loophole is discovered and exploited." That soy decaff latte could be the last thing you ever drink!!!

Now the report has several anonymous interviewees who have apparently slacked off using Facebook and similar tools. I have no doubt that this goes on. But this kinda misses the point. If your employees will goof off at the drop of a hat, what does this say about the morons that hired them and are supposed to be managing them? N.B. I don't have a problem with workplaces monitoring the internet usage of their employees generally. Just so long as the policy on what is permissible is widely accepted and doesn't stop people from doing their jobs - which may legitimately involve networking with people outside the organisation.

Hat tips: Ross & Stephen C

*Based on extrapolations from the author's imagination.

UPDATE: Damn, Stephen L got in with the coffee gag first. That man is too hot to handle...

And Laurel's anti-MSM rant is pretty good. MSM's main selling point is supposed to be its objectivity and fact-based approach to news gathering - and yet it seems it will print any old rubbish on a slow day.

Well at least Surfcontrol got some cheap publicity, that's the important thing, eh?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Patrick Lambe's double whammy (2): sin

PL's second presentation is on virtues & vices in KM. I have less to say about this because it is in some ways gentler than his IIM broadside. Patrick uses the notion of "sin" & "virtue" to map positive & negative behaviours in the KM space. The concept of sin* presupposes a universal standard of measurement - do we have that yet in KM? We seem to be developing patterns (& anti-patterns). And this rogues/saints gallery strikes me as being a very useful set of (anti-)patterns.

Unlike Patrick, I was not raised in the Catholic tradition but rather an evangelical Protestant one - which due to its lack of a global hierarchy is both more dynamic and more vulnerable to charismatic conmen & demagogues. KM, like many emerging business ideas, is also vulnerable to such figures - as opposed to an established (necrotic?) field like librarianship. Beware anyone that offers you the truth, they are generally trying to sell you something.

*This metaphor trips the jesuit in me. In what contexts might sin not be sinful? The bad behaviours that Patrick identifies emerge because they benefit those that practice them - often those benefits may be short term and limited to that individual (rather than their organisation / clients/ wider KM community). But there are benefits none the less.

Patrick Lambe's double whammy (1): extinction-level events

Patrick Lambe entitles his IIM keynote On Becoming Extinct. If I am listening correctly, PL basically wants to put a rocket up the information management profession because:
  • The information management space is full of different roles from radically different backgrounds (slide 15) and the IM cluster (which includes librarians, records managers & knowledge managers) makes up a small part of this - because the IM cluster professions have failed to understand the opportunities open to them.
  • Graduates in these professions are poorly equipped for their roles out there.
  • IM professionals tell themselves & others that their roles are unimportant but in fact major organisational disasters of recent times (Challenger, Enron) have been failures of information.
  • The IM profession needs entrepeneurs (infopreneurs?), boundary spanners - and its members also need suing (listen to the sound file to find out why).

PL articulates something I have felt for the past decade - since shortly before I got my MSc in Information Studies & Librarianship in fact. I have met infopreneurs over the years but too many in the IM cluster respond to the challenge of the new with "that's not my job, I can't do that".

There is a link here with the previous post on teaching. Teaching (in its myriad forms) is a profession that is being blown inside out by social & technological change. And the future for teachers is a world where most teaching is not done by them. The present for information professionals is a world where most information is not managed by them. What do they do about that?

Well, PL's call to arms is a good place to start.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Knowledge workers (enough with the learning already)

This presentation by Stephen Collins on Knowledge Worker 2.0 is pretty cool. SC is absolutely to correct that knowledge work needs to be seen in a broader context and we need to look beyond processes & tools. Stephen also comments on this post by David Armano on Synthesizers. David is not talking about Moogs or Fairlights - but rather individuals who are good at creating new stuff fro existing stuff or Knowledge Workers as Stephen would call them.

I like David's image but as I've been pondering critical thinking and collective learning, I would have to add two things to David's model:
  • A synthesizer is as good at identifying people and their skills/experience/knowledge as she is data. And she will collaborate with those people as she finds patterns in the data. She will not only tell you the future, she will make it happen with you.
  • A synthesizer will get better at their synthesizing. They will learn iteratively from each attempt to develop the future (because that is the job of the synthesizer - to give you a future). There's a feedback loop in there somewhere.

Pondering this some more, much of the talk around knowledge workers has isolated them as "widgets" (as SC notes). We need to think of our knowledge worker ecologies. And we can find out about these ecologies using social software. Our enterprises are already social, we just need more ways of seeing that...

That'll learn ya (2): Kronberg is lovely at this time of year

Both Kim & Arthur have drawn my attention to the UNESCO Kronberg Declaration on the Future of Knowledge Acquisition and Sharing. Now there are more than enough motherhood & apple pie statements here to cause serious mental indigestion but I want to examine one key statement (with maybe others down the track):

The importance of the role of teachers as instructors will decrease, while their role as facilitators, consultants, guides and coaches for learners, as role models and as validators and interpreters of knowledge sharing, creation and acquisition, will increase

And with impeccable timing, James Farmer loses his rag in relation to an IFTF jolly the future of teaching:

Is suppose it’s inevitable that a room packed with futurists, bureaucrats and people who’ve done well out of social technologies would come up with this kind of definition, and if you’re going to call your seminar “The Future of Learning Agents” then this is the kind of guff that you’re going to expect.

Now let me stress that James is not having a go at Kronberg (although I'd like to know what he thinks about that as well). And let me also say that I am not a teacher (although I have been involved in corporate training) and I haven't been a student for a decade. With those caveats in place, let me move right on to the ill-informed generalisations:
  • There are many different learning environments out there and they are all somewhat different: primary, secondary & tertiary education, vocational education & organisational training. For a learner to take responsibility for their own learning, they have to be able to take responsibility for stuff and getting a 5 year-old to take responsibility for a goldfish is tricky enough, let alone their future. Asking a 40 year-old corporate executive to do so is a different matter (just don't leave him alone with the goldfish).
  • Many tertiary educators (& corporate trainers) would love to be collaborative learning agents, partnering on the great educational adventure with their students. Many of the students (tho not all) don't want this. They want the quickest route to the piece of paper at the end of the course. "Just gimme the course notes and don't make me think too much".
  • There are two big trends in education: The first trend focuses on the standardisation & control that can be seen in development of national curricula on the one hand & competency-based LMS tools on the other. However, the individual does not learn in a "standard" way so this has triggered the second big trend - the focus on user-centred learning. Both of these views have some legitimacy but both by themselves are harmful. We need to build some kind of synthesis between these two approaches. Suggestions?

Ultimately I think that statement from Kronberg might be right. I would add that it's not just the teachers we need to change but their students / stakeholders as well (i.e. the rest of us). If we are all to become life-long learners (which I believe in the current, crazy world, we must), we must also become teachers (of others & also ourselves). Are we ready for that?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Facebook network mapping

Ton Zijlstra points me towards the SNS application I have been waiting for 3 years for. Someone has twigged that not only can you build social network maps from social networking software - but that this can be useful for individuals too.

Jack Vinson has also picked up on this and comes up with some good upgrade suggestions:
  • navigate my network's connections (see their wheels), mostly for fun
  • merge the wheels of a limited number of people, again for entertainment
This isn't a full-blown social network mapping application - in effect it only models an ego-centric network (modelled around me in the example below). Where is might become interesting is to map the members of a particular group or network and those immediately related to them - i.e. those who might be potential members of that group...

Secret wiki business

MIS Australia podcast on Secret Wiki Business. Wikis as a knowledge sharing tool get a name-check. Very pertinent comment: people are using wikis and other simple tools for sharing as they were burnt by big, clumsy KM tools in the late-90s. You can expense a wiki as a cab charge - you don't have to issue an RFP. And it's yours - you own it not some git in IT.

Source: ABB

Meanwhile namechecks wiki patterns (also mentioned in the podcast) and places wikis in the complex domain. I'd agree with some caveats:
  • The uses of wikis can be complex because for many organisations they are still new and poorly understood.
  • The uses of wikis can be complex because they often involve many individuals collaborating P2P in the same space.
  • The uses of wikis can be complex because they work in heterogeneous environments on the internet (with blogs, Flickr, YouTube, etc) or inside the enterprise (with ECM, EDRM, yadda yadda).
  • The uses of wikis is not always complex. Once a small group of people using a wiki have settled down then it may become simple.

That'll learn ya

Luis Suarez has been writing about the fires on Gran Canaria, including heart-breaking pictures of the island before and after the fires. Luis writes about the application of social media
instead of just focusing on the corporate world, we would have KM and social
software focusing on what really matters: the day to day stuff that can affect
your own life (And that of your loved ones) and the environment for many years
to come

As always, Luis has a point. And for me the point is about awareness and action. People do something about an issue when it is real to them, when they are connected to it by images, words, sounds, conversations & relationships.

Which brings me to MentorNet. ABB gave us a demo of this today. Part of a program aimed at offering support for Australian businesswomen, it's a collaborative / personalised learning environment built on Atlassian's Confluence wiki product . The technology is wikis/blogs/tags/RSS (mashed up with Flickr & other stuff). But what's impressive is the simplicity with which it allows participants to collaborate with each other & to share images, words, sounds, conversations & relationships.

MentorNet is an example of a Learning Support Platform. There are surprisingly few of these around. Most Learning Management Systems are in fact Training Management Systems. Nothing wrong with this but they are about dispensing training courses rather than the individual & collective learning of people. That will change. It has to.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bar Camp Sydney (2): Get Yr Geek On

Saturday, August 25, 2007
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

'BarCamp is an international network of unconferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants — focusing on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies and social protocols.'

It's an unconference, an unevent and it should be unbelieveable.

Details here & People here

Source: ABB

Monday, August 13, 2007

Saying (& hearing) "no"

danah boyd loses context for herself on facebook.
I'm a "public figure"... at least in the world of social network sites. People
see my name in the press and they friend request me and it's rude of me to say

I don't know danah but I quite like her writing. However, saying "no" to others and accepting these refusals with grace is a critical part of human social interaction. Not every negotiation or transaction ends in "yes". That is something we have to be prepared for when we engage in these activities. Otherwise we may get offended, hurt, etc.

On the other hand, the risk of offending or hurting someone is not sufficient reason to say "yes" to something we think is a bad idea*. People get over refusal and rejection - often quicker than expected.

I am not famous so only people I know want to "friend" me. I have rejected connection offers with people I don't know on linkedin and I'm sure the same thing will arise on facebook (I'm a loose-linker but not an absolute link-slut).

If our world is getting more interconnected then we will face more opportunities for interaction & exchange. And this almost certainly means more acceptances & rejections. I'm not sure that we all need to develop hides as thick as telesales representatives but:
  • Remember that any offer can be rejected.
  • If you reject someone, say why. "I don't know you well enough" is acceptable.
  • If you are rejected (for a job, in love, over a freakin' facebook invite), get over it.
There is plenty to be written about the need for social networking applications to allow us to manage our multiple identities/faces better but that's way too complicated for my mind today.

*This links to the power of Fuggetaboutit. Someone refused your offer of myspace/linkedin/facebook friendship? Get on with it. Let go. Really.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

More gifts

Just found this article by Erika Pearson courtesy of danah boyd's SNS research list. The title is Digital gifts: Participation and gift exchange in LiveJournal communities so I found its contents of great interest - if a little schematic. Erika could get down deeper into actual examples of gift-giving but it's still useful.

At a basic level, gift exchanges within communities serve to tie people
together into loops of reciprocal obligation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Thinking critically

Why is critical thinking important? To me, it's the flipside of creativity & imagination. All those great new ideas need testing. And all those current ideas and notion need a good poke too. Some of them will be solid, some of them rotten underneath a shiny surface of efficacy. But we won't know which until we poke them.

Lets kick off with some definitions: Richard Paul describes CR as "critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better". Alec Fisher goes into some more detail on the history.

Now this is all good stuff. And frankly sounds like "mindfulness" with added logic. And we at EngineersWithoutFears are big fans of mindfulness. And logic.

However most of the material I have read on CR is very dry. And a tinsy bit meta. Because it's written by thinkers. And it strikes me there's a post here about critical thinking for non-thinkers. Because there's an awful lot of us out there, like.

So apart from following the various critical thinking methods (and they are good, so give them a go), what can you do outside your head to encourage critical thinking?

1. Get out more. And it's here that critical thinking and innovation overlap. Diversity of viewpoints is good for both discovery and verification/falsification (google Vienna Circle / Popper*). I love reading writings by right-wing, utopian technophiles and the day I stop reading this stuff is the day I die (intellectually).

2. Practice. My little brother is a blackbelt in jujitsu. Now this simply makes him a tiny bit more awesome than he is already (and a lot harder to bully) but he's spent a decade getting slammed into dojo mats to get to that level. Practicing his moves, his muscle memory, until he doesn't have to think when someone comes at him tooled-up. And we have to do the same with our critical faculties. Wax on, wax off with those fallacies.

3. Fuggetaboutit. Seriously. Those ideas of yours. They're all rubbish. And you know the scandalous thing? It doesn't matter. Really. Once I realised how unimportant my ideas were, everything became so much easier. Let go. Write them down and then burn them. N.B. Books are meant for burning. They're just rocket fuel. Let go.

Triggered by posts to the onlinefacilitation group.

*Our Karl has had mixed reviews. I remember being an wet-behind-the-ears undergrad in 1995 shortly after his death and one eminent philosopher of science said to the seminar room: "I'm glad the bastard's dead". I like KP's writings but then I never had to have the guy to dinner.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

(Another) Black Swan

What will grow quickly, that you can't make straight
It's the price you gotta pay
Do yourself a favour and pack you bags
Buy a ticket and get on the train

I saw A Scanner Darkly - Richard Linklater's adaption of the novel by Philip K. Dick - at the end of 2006. A beautiful, funny, disturbing film that sticks surprisingly closely to PKD's novel of addiction, paranoia & identity dissolution. The movie is live-action with rotoscoped animation layered on top. The effect is perfectly not quite right. Not a cartoon. Not real life. Some hybrid. The film ends with Thom Yorke's Black Swan playing over the credits. Went around my head for weeks. A lullaby for the distressed & hopeless.

Keith De La Rue posts on Second Life, asks "Do I have to be me, or can I be somebody else?" and name-checks PKD. Under the guise of pulp SF, PKD wrote some of the most intellectually daring novels of the 20th century. After contact with PKD, you cannot look at the world and yourself in the same way again. The protagonist in Scanner is an undercover narc given a new target - himself. His judgement long compromised by drug use and his feelings for a fellow dealer, this assignment doesn't end well.

To answer Keith's question in a roundabout way, you don't have to be you. But then "you" isn't a simple, constant thing. You may choose to emphasize a particular part of yourself. But being someone else entirely is hard work. Very hard work. Are ready to put in all that effort? And if you fail, if people don't believe who you are, you won't get a pat on the back. So it's risky. What could be worth that level of risk and labour?

People get crushed like biscuit crumbs
And laid down in the bitumen
You have tried your best to please everyone
But it just isn't happening

Is my knowledge assured?

Patrick Lambe comes along with an interesting post on Knowledge Assurance. I like Patrick's distinction between retention & assurance. "Retention" made sense as a label when the issue was solely the departure of the baby boomers. But the world won't end with their exit (despite what some of them tell us). Assurance, development, continuity, sustainability - all these terms describe how we need to view the flows of people & their knowledge through our organisations.

Patrick ends with this comment:
Looking after our knowledge is not just about keeping the stuff we have or the stuff from the past. It’s also about seeing ourselves as responsible for
our future.

Which is where it gets tricky. We are bad at predicting the future. On this matter, I have been slowly digesting the arguments of Nassim "Black Swan" Taleb. NT is erudite, arrogant, engaging & infuriating. We like him a lot. Expect more on Black Swans.

If you want to do your work better, go home

So this article in the WSJ based on Yankee Research on the use of consumer technologies inside the firewall is bound to raise some conversation.

If you go to the press release for the report itself, Yankee recommend a "Zen" strategy or "ceding control to end users via a internal customer care cooperative model".

I haven't seen the complete report but this could be seen as the outsourcing of IT support for these technologies to voluntary user groups (a kind of collective self-service) or else the IT department taking the role of an internal goverance / consulting group rather than actually managing the IT themselves. Either of these models would imply IT personnel with both strong technical, political & faciliation skills. How many of those are there about?

Source: Joe McKendrick & James Robertson

Monday, August 06, 2007

Visualising Exchange

Exchange & Social Media presentation

I'll think of some words to go with these pictures soon.

UPDATE: I just realised that I got the previous sentence completely wrong. I'd like to invite you to add the words. Or draw different pictures in response.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Symbolic Exchange & Facebook

James Dellow is back online - yee-haw! And he's talking about Facebook, building on the comments of JP Rangaswami. I'm going to take apart the title of James's post.

Relationship before Conversation before Transaction

Yes. Maybe. Hang on. No. Relationship through Conversation by Transaction. N.B. A transaction does not have to be financial.
  • I can create a relationship with a conversation.
  • I can strengthen a relationship with a conversation and/or a transaction.
  • I can have a conversation about a transaction and/or a relationship.

Or to put it another way, Facebook's move to open up its API has allowed it (& others) to provide a swarm of social objects to its users. In doing so, it has turned itself into a social eBay more than a LinkedIn or even a MySpace. These objects are trivial (& often annoying) - but they allow exchange in play. And that impacts conversation & relationships.

What does this mean for organisations? How much is your intranet like eBay or Facebook? Are your "assets" (be they stuff or people) in play? Or is everything frozen solid? And is that the way you like it?

Objects & Gifts: why "stuff" matters

Victoria Ward talks about objects and the stories that we adhere to them. VW starts off with French policeman rapping and then namechecks Sherry Turkle's Evocative Objects. This reminds me that human beings are tool-makers. We are not unique in the animal kingdom in this regard but we make a wider variety of tools than any other species. Our relationship to objects (esp. those of our own creation & design) is therefore somewhat unique. And as described they not only extend our bodies but also our minds. We have evolved to deal with the concrete, not the abstract. And our ideas & worldviews are rooted in "stuff" - whether we like it or not. I've mentioned clay & lego on this blog as "stuff to think with". VW highlights the importance of allowing people to choose what "stuff' they want to think (& feel) with.

Meanwhile Katie talks about one thing that we do with objects. And that is the curious form of exchange known as "giving away". With an informational object, we can give it away and still keep it. The proliferation of informational objects has a couple of consequences. The first is that because we get to keep it and give it, it costs us less (emotionally as well as financially) to do so. Which means that giving it away means less - so those that we might chose to give informational objects to might mean less to us than those we give solid stuff to (get over it, people). But it also means that we can do it more often. So informational gifts can mediate broader (if shallower) networks of relationship than solid stuff can.

That Open Publish Presentation

So a copy of my presentation is now on Slideshare.

I think it went OK. I was conscious that I was throwing a lot of half-digested ideas at the attendees laced with the occasional case study / reference. Points of interest:

  • Attendees seemed relatively well informed about most of the social media tools discussed. About 60% put themselves in the "interested' category on the Web 2.0 Beliefometer and 40% in "active". No one thought (or was willing to admit in public) that this stuff was "irrelevant". Only one person put herself down as "passionate" - and that was specific to (I'll let you guess who that was).
  • No one had heard of SNA or VNA.

Anyway I enjoyed myself even if those seated in front of me didn't.

Open Publish (3): Second Day Highlights

Damn Alexander Roche to hell and back. He's a dashed good presenter. He had a compelling case study about implementing a learning object repository @ FINSIA based on open standards. He had chocolate fercrissakes! And I had to follow him. But follow him I did (presentation to be uploaded tomorrow).

And then I sat down for Russ Weakley discussing the user experience. Russ is a charming fellow and talked about the application of tagging & virtual folders to the Australian Museum web site. The key takeaway was giving users multiple ways of finding their way through the media/information/narratives on your site. Looking forward to the Australian Museum's use of tagging.

Ash Donaldson talked about information architecture in general and NSW DETR case study in particular.

Cheryl Lead talked about Marketing & Web 2.0 - with Flickrgate rearing its ugly (photoshopped) head and STA travel being highlighted as a good example. Key quote: "Customer service is the new marketing".

The real highlight from Friday was talking to co-organiser Nick Carr (no, not that one) about his record label. That man is on fire.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

"Which part goes where?" - PLM & KM

Back in a previous life, I used to work with a bunch of supply chain consultants as their knowledge gimp. One supply-chain area that began to get a lot of attention in the late-90s was Product Lifecycle Management and one of the key vendors in this area was PTC. PTC began as an CAD vendor and then moved into the collaborative design & development area that is a key part of PLM. What I didn't know, until I met Gareth Oakes on Thursday, is that PTC had bought Arbortext a couple of years ago to allow them to link the PLM piece to product documentation. PLM is particularly important for very complicated items (cars, planes) and the documentation requirements for these babies are enormous.

Now this ties into issues around knowledge retention. The organisations that looked at this issue first & most intensely tended to have a heavy engineering focus (NASA, Northrop Grumman, TVA). Powerplants and fighter planes tend to be expensive and have long lifespans (as long or longer than the career of individual). Given that a proper understanding of how a complicated product operates takes a long time to build (often 10 years minimum), knowing who knows what around a specific component or assembly is vital. And yet often it is not known.

Do PLM (& maintenance products also) products allows you manage the people & knowledge aspects of product operations? If so, how? If not, then could they?

Open Publish (2): First Day Highlights

Lots of talks at Open Publish had "2.0" in the title - including mine. Cairo Walker spoke under the banner of "Enterprise 2.0 in practice". In fact, she talked about information management strategy projects at various Step Two clients (including Caltex, CHOICE, Family Law Courts of Australia & Leighton Contractors). It was all good, practical stuff but the links to Enterprise 2.0 were tenuous - except for the use of wikis @ Caltex.

Cairo's best bit of advice: "Trust no one"

Bobby Graham presented on a Confluence wiki implementation at the National Library of Australia. The wiki is used by about a quarter of the 450 NLA staff for information sharing, project plans. It also exists alongside TRIM and an intranet.

Glenda Brown talked about collaborative indexing and esp. the roles of tools like Basedex. First time I'd heard of this tool.

Patrick Kennedy ended the day with a presentation on Information Architecture - specifically on ethnographic research tools and then applying these some Web 2.0 - type stuff - which tied back to Cairo's Caltex example. As you know, we love ethnographic & participative research here at EngineersWithoutFears so it was all good.

So overall, good use of the day and I'm pretty pleased that I didn't have to discuss XML with anyone.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Open Publish (1): The Keynote Cops

So the first keynote at Open Publish were Paul Jensen from Wolters Kluwer. PJ applied McGahan's four trajectories model to different segments of the publishing industry. His point being that different publishing segments (e.g. academic, legal, newspapers) face different challenges as their customer relationships and asset bases change. From a strategic perspective, his points were valid but I felt the "So What" section of his talk was missing. This could have led to an interesting conversation among publishing company CEOs but there is a big contingent of SGML/XML geeks and web managers at OP. What did this mean for them?

Then there was Andrew Pate from Lulu. AP told us about Lulu - on-demand publishing and its role in the Long Tail. Lulu is an interesting service so hence AP's talk was interesting. Two comments:
  • AP noted there is a growing interest in self-published material by book sellers whereas 5 years ago they wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.
  • From an audience of over100, only 2 of us had bought anything off Lulu.

Year Zero (or the correct use of history)

Great post on Anecdote about the relevance of history to future action.

Various regimes have attempted to abolish history, to start afresh. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge declared "Year Zero" and proceeded to decimate their own population. If you have visited the killing fields or S-21, you will not forget them. The close study of history demonstrates the importance of realism & compromise and the futility of utopian social visions. No wonder many revolutionaries want to abolish it.

Other groups have used historical events to justify present atrocities (Israelis & Palestinians today and the Balkans in the 90s spring to mind - even the Khmer Rouge drew on the legends of Ankor to legitimate the expansionist plans that ultimately drew in the Vietnamese). Here it is an over-reliance on an idealised past (rather than the idealised future of the revolution) that is the problem.

Marx suggested that History should be our God. Marx's History was inevitable - a dialectic process ending in a utopian future. And therefore useless. There is no History - there are only histories. Contingent, multiple, confused.

So what the hell has this got to do with organisations? The majority do not commit acts of genocide or ethnic cleansing. But they do attempt revolutionary change without understanding their current situation. They do try and purify their cultures and restructure themselves. Some have an unhealthy reliance on their history and some have an unhealthy ignorance of it.

Some suggestions:
  • Know your history but know the histories of others as well (and find the stories of others about you too).
  • Base it in the particular rather than the idealistic (the importance of anecdote & narrative).
  • Realise that your future will be as contingent and messy as your past was.

"So tell me about this culture change program again?"

Objectify me

Jyri Engeström has a presentation on social objects. Social objects are "stuff" - photos, music files, blog posts, SMS messages. They are the things we exchange for practical outcomes and in order to maintain our social relationships with others.

Social objects remind me of the "boundary objects" than Denham Grey outlines. Boundary objects are narrower in scope as they allow different groups to communicate with each other where as Jyri's social objects could mediate between those who know each other well.

The point that relationships without social objects are more fragile than those that have them is an astute one. But it's only half the story.

If you take a value networks perspective to this, you realise that relationships involve the exchange of tangibles and intangibles. Social objects (text, bits, sounds) are examples of tangible exchanges but intangibles are also exchanged in the process (trust, understanding, knowledge). Modelling the exchanges of tangible social objects and intangibles together gives you a better od idea of the state of your network. It may even be possible to get participants to identify the intangibles themselves in social exchange applications as part of the the exchange itself ("hey that was really helpful, let's do this again").

Props: Hugh MacLeod

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Would you like a wiki with that?

So I have been exploring the use of social media inside the organisational firewall (or Enterprise 2.0 as some call it) - esp. in Australia.

I had a very interesting coffee with James Matheson. I received various tip-offs from ACT-KM, including a great conversation with Stuart French who is looking at wiki usage for his MSc. Some initial patterns seem to be emerging:
  • Far & away the most used form of social media are wikis.
  • Comparatively little use of RSS.
  • Wikis are being used in heterogeneous environments along with ECM, EDRMS & intranet systems.
  • Most wikis are still at the experimental stage.
  • Most wikis are used for collective information sharing rather than full collaborative content creation.
It's also been an interesting day @ Open Publish. More to come on that tomorrow...