Wednesday, October 31, 2007

perspective shifts on the innovation process

A few weeks ago, Bob Sutton posted on the veracity (or otherwise) of the innovation process in most organisations. I've been pondering this, esp. after some debate with Lauchlan. My take is that organisations do need processes to manage new product development and other forms of innovation. Such processes will probably take the form of a stage gate system. However Bob's point is that most individuals in an organisation will not experience innovation in the nice linear fashion the stage gate model suggests. The uncertainty and politics of the Volvo cartoon will be closer to the day-to-day lives of those involved.

A similar cognitive dissonance can be felt when comparing a gantt chart to actual memories of a project. Project plans seem sterile compared to the rollercoaster rides of most projects. Understanding, managing & preparing for this dissonance is something that goes on in the background in most organisations. This is especially important for newbies - when the process manual or method says one thing but everyone else knows that in this case, you have to do something else.

I've been playing with the Cynefin framework & innovation stories - getting people to map the experiences of protagonists in these stories as journeys across the model as a contrast to linear innovation models. Does anyone have other ideas on dealing with this area?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Social working

Tom Davenport doesn't think that social networking sites are relevant for business:
A popular current myth is that social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are thriving with adults and companies because of their business
applications... ...But for what purpose do they use them? As far as I can tell, it’s almost always social.

TD is correct that no one joins FB for business purposes but he posits a clear delineation between "social" activities and "business" activities. Business activities clearly involve analysing stuff with spreadsheets and word docs and powerpoint slides. Social activities probably involve BBQs and fun. And never the twain shall meet.

Some jobs have no elements of social interaction. Some jobs are largely social interaction with a business purpose. For most people, their jobs fall in the middle. Our lives are messy. I have a phone that people call me on about both social and business things (imagine!). If I spent 8 hours a day talking to people about the evening's plans then that would be grounds for a dismissal. But then if I did that, what would that say about my manager?

Sometimes this messiness can cause problems. I wouldn't want a friend forwarding on marketing spam to me via email, or FB for that matter.

Does this mean that everyone should spend 8 hours a day on MySpace? No, but the claim that these sites cannot have business applications because they are primarily social is overly simplistic.

For some people (e.g. musicians), MySpace et al has had an immediate business impact. For most of us, the impact will be much more subtle. Elements of these tools will spread into enterprise applications. Patterns of technologically-supported behaviour (e.g. status updates as ambient presence) will be carried into corporations.
I confirmed this empirically with a highly scientific survey sample: my two kids. Both are big Facebook and MySpace users. I asked them, “What if you could share answers to homework problems or meet online about class projects through Facebook? Would that make it more or less attractive to you?” “Less,” was the
consensus response

The very fact that Tom's children are not using these tools to start their own billion-dollar businesses or run for public office is a damning indictment of his parenting practices.

And remember, employees are just like children - big, ugly children...

magic quadrant for social software

James D points us towards the Gartner magic quadrant on team collaboration & social software that Socialtext are quite proud of. My sense is that Gartner's coverage of this area has tended to focus on vendors (in contrast with Forrester's focus on user/buyer behaviour & practices). As James notes, the criteria for inclusion seem a little erratic -with established software vendors such as IBM, MS, Vignette, EMC, Open Text & BEA (Oracle is noticeable by its absence) mixed in with Atlassian, Social Text & TWiki. I would also like to get my greasy mitts on a copy of the report. I would put Cogenz & ConnectBEAM in there too (and Gartner have written about these products under the Enterprise 2.0 header).

For me, this highlights the relative immaturity of enterprise social software as a concept - despite individual components having been around for a decade. "Yeah, it's blogs & wikis & RSS, and, er, something about social networks, er...can I go back to my document management implementation now please?"

At the moment, Enterprise 2.0 is still whatever you want it to be, baby - (although it probably involves wikis).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

actkm day 2

The actKm web site seems to have gone down - possibly due to people downloading the conference material. So for now, I'll just have to say that:
  • Patrick Lambe's session on "Getting stakeholder buy-in for KM projects" using archetypes was excellent.
  • Nerida Hart & Co seem to be doing a lot of cool stuff at Land & Water Australia.
  • The session on KM & governance in hugher education was surprisingly engaging.

Plus there was a fantastic turnout for Dave Gurteen's Knowledge Cafe in Sydney last Thursday.

actkm (4) - with a paddle

The acktkm conference dinner featured an award for some Tasmanian dudes who recreated an aboriginal stringy bark canoe. Such canoes have not been around for 170 years. They collected 500 kg of bark to construct the boat and the results were impressive.

Friday, October 26, 2007

actkm (3)

After some very interesting papers from Luke Naismith, Richard Vines & Laurie Lock Lee, Tory Maile talked about Cultural Heritage Information Management Systems (CHIMS). These systems allow indigenous communities to preserve stories, images & recordings - mapped to representations of their environment. The first example he talked about was a system at Uluru. Cultural protocols restrict certain knowledge to men & to women so certain parts of the site are only accessible to those groups. Troy worked on another system in Vanuatu and is now in the wet tropics of Queensland working on a cultural heritage project with the Aboriginal Rainforest Council. As this involves 18 tribal groups (made up of 50+ clans), the protocols will be a bit more complicated.

Troy made the following priceless observation: Indigenous people in Australia had 60,000 years to work out their protocols - most organisations have not been around that long.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

actkm (2) - gurteen by sea

"a vain confidence of divine favour or communication"

Dave Gurteen is probably not one of KM's thought leaders - thank heavens. He is not really concerned with staking out an intellectual pig-pen. Instead with DG, you get a sense of enthusiasm. For connection, conversation (he's a fan of the work of Theodore Zeldin) & social software. DG looks and acts younger than his years because he is an enthusiast. He is one of the few people on the international KM circuit that isn't bitched about in private - because you get the sense that what he does is not really about him.

actkm conference (1) - su-age

ANU University House is cute. Really cute - even if it's 8 am and I've been awake since 5. And Patrick is suggesting - no, advocating - that knowledge managers should be sued when they screw up. Now Patrick* is trying to be controversial. But he's also taking this position because he cares. And he believes. He believes that information management & knowledge management matter. That they have a genuine impact. So that when these activities fail people should be angry. Angry enough to resort to lawyers and court cases and that whole world of pain. And I sympathize with his position - not least because he presents it well - but because these things should matter.

*Patrick is one of the great thinkers still associated with knowledge management. His combination of erudition, rigour, clarity & modesty is shamefully rare.

UPDATE: Patrick's presentation is available.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dave Gurteen in Sydney this Thursday

Dave will be running one of his Knowledge Cafes in Sydney on Thursday. Rock 'n' Roll!

actkm conference

So it is the actkm Conference 2007 tomorrow & Wednesday. I will be running on Wednesday afternoon after lunch. I have 75 mins. When I ran something similar with a bunch of UTS postgrads a couple of weeks ago, it went for 3 hours. I have no idea what will work and what won't - but hey, that's half the fun.

I am quite excited - Dave Gurteen will be there. As will Patrick Lambe, Laurie Lock Lee, Luke Naismith and a bunch of other people.

Moving pictures

Are you a new media douchebag? - Kelly Stewart gets grouchy.

Information R/evolution - Michael Wesch pushes it onto the next step.

Presence vs Intimacy

So I had coffee with Alex on Friday and our conversation came round to Twitter & ambient presence. I thought I'd reflect on this subject a bit more so I plugged the term into Google to find out who I'd stolen it from. And up pops this article from Lee Hopkins who references Alex, who got it from me.

Whilst many others have used the "ambient presence" term before, I had in fact misremembered something else - Leisa Reichelt's post on ambient intimacy. LR's term deliberately mixes the human ‘ickyness’ of ‘intimacy’ with the distributed and non-directional nature of ‘ambiance’. Which makes it uncomfortable for a business environment. We don't want to be intimate with colleagues. In fact, doesn't that lead to disciplinary action (and not the "fun" kind of disciplining either)?

I think I subconscously gave Alex a more formal version of the concept. Pausing to reflect, these presencing technologies may or may not lead to greater intimacy between people. Presence is performative whether we like or not. For example, I know people that set their IM status to "in a meeting" when I know full well they are having a quiet cup of tea. If my status is set to "Matt is whitewater rafting" is that because I am genuinely whitewater rafting or that my life is excruciatingly dull and I want to persuade everyone that it is not?

These tools offer increased situational awareness but the potential of greater intimacy depends on us. For many of us, our work personas are more tightly managed than others we might maintain. And we tend to have a circle of people we are closer to than the others.

How about a status marker that varies depending on who the viewer is? For the general viewer, it says: "Working hard on presentation for CEO, do not disturb". For trusted intimates, the message says: "Terrible hangover after tequila binge with Gav last night - has anyone got panadol?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Network spam

I got my first case of Facebook spam a few weeks ago. A blonde female 20-something from NYC. It could have been worse. I have had several cases of LinkedIn spam. No photos attached so easier to deal with.

I am intrigued by the concept of network spam. Mainly because I have spent a lot of my real-world existence feeling like a gate-crasher. And then failing to care. It is the role of every community to make you feel like an outsider - to begin with.

There is a delicate balance to be maintained by the early acts of connection. A comment on a blog. A brief conversation at a party. We want to make contact but not to appear needy. We want an exchange that feels right for both parties.

Or else I could just press my business card (damp with sweat) into you palm and move on.

I hate competitions

Gav is publicising a competition for the Bargain Queen. Now I like Gav and Mr & Mrs Bargain Queen. But I really don't like competitions.

So here are some comments. Scattered to the wind like dandelion seeds.
  • As noted, blokes really want to get this over and done with. We don't want a 20-hour immersive experience. We want our female partners to be happy. They tend to have low expectations anyway so if we meet those, job done.
  • We want simple advice. No complicated decision trees or simulations.
  • "If she likes this, then she'll love this too" is a fantastic starting point. And possibly ending point.
  • Anything that can amplify the illusion that we made an effort is good. Some form of (non-naff) personalisation is good.
  • We value but do not trust the opinions of other women. We trust but do not value the opinions of other men.
  • We genuinely love these women we are buying presents for. And if we don't, at Christmas we'll lie to ourselves that we do.
  • How do you make this experience fun for blokes? Possibly some kind of competition or a sports connection of some kind...

So for me, the secret agenda behind any "proposal" is not just getting a good present for someone but also "how do I understand this strange person in my life better"*?

*those of you who have pegged my relationship status as "presently single" can move straight to the top of the class.


Been having a bit of an email chat with Lauchlan MacKinnon about idea management systems (IMS). We've chewed the fat somewhat but where we agree is the vital importance of senior managers listening to & implementing the ideas of the ordinary worker. Now there's all kinds of caveats here ("We cannot equip you with Angelina Jolie this quarter") but ultimately all of us want to be listened to. And an IMS can be thought of as a giant hearing aid. "This is what we see happening, this is what could make it better". Now the critical thing is that some form of listening actually occurs. And by listening, that means ideas received, responded to and implemented where appropriate.

The caveat to this (for me) is that people want their own ideas to be heard. They may or may not listen to the ideas of others. The more distant, alien & disruptive those ideas (& their originators) might be, the less we will accept them. So a tricky part of innovation is to get valuable ideas heard by those who might normally reject them...

Image: Businessweek

All you* ever wanted to know about knowledge management

So after the Shadow podcast, Annette was all fired up. She wanted to do another podcast. But I had lost my voice after a week-long bender on Indonesian cigars, nitrous oxide & pernod. So we did it the old fashioned way - by email. Read our conversation here. Annette asks some tough questions. Which I do by best to avoid answering. Go Annette!

*If you're a female irish blogger with an interest in psychoanalysis & organisations. My agent tells me that's a significant readership demographic for me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Where are you?

So I'm 8 or maybe 9 metres up. I've climbed there and my shoulders hurt, my thighs hurt, my arms hurt and I have a nasty blister on my right palm. I failed on the previous attempt and it's my last go. I'm hooked in. Told to stand with my toes over the edge of the platform. Grab the trapeze with my right hand. Wait. Then hold it with both hands. Wait.

Jump. Fall. Feel my body accelerate with gravity. Down. Up. Then when I reach the full extent of the arc, I swing my legs over the trapeze, hang from the back of my knees and arch my spine.

Where is he?

There. His hands on my arms. My hands on his arms. Free of the trapeze now. Hanging suspended. One. Two. Three. And fall. The net rushes up and I yell with joy.

For a novice, the rush is intense. You move far quicker than you expect. You don't know if they will be there or not. The chance of contact seems slim.

Welcome to the theatre of connection. Let me know if you require a safety net. Or a harness.

The tool formally known as wiki

James D talks about wikis and what they are becoming. James links to posts by Ray Sims and the Atlassian dudes. Wikis are essentially about simplicity and openness. So RS's comment that you'll find traces of wikiness (to a greater or lesser extent) on intranets going forward is right, I reckon. And lots of things will get badged wikis. But are they simple? And can I edit them?

Oh I have to master CSS? There's an approval process? Ahem.

Wikis are starting to gain a foothold in organisational information ecologies. And they are changing this environment and being changed by it in the process. And in doing so, they'll interact & transform surrounding tools - intranets, email (which takes a pounding in the Atlassian/Razorfish slides), etc.

Part of me relishes this impurity, this messiness. But it's OK, I have a powerpoint slide with boxes that shows how all these sworn enemies can get along just fine. There are arrows on the slide as well so it must be good.

I want...

...a world of peace and prosperity.
...10 million dollars in unmarked bills and a airplane standing on the runway.
...everything i ever saw in the movies.
...your job/wife/children/house/car. sleep the sleep of the just.
...a balanced and sustainable ecology.
...guns, lots of guns. And fried pork products.
...a hug.
...a scale replica of Einstein's brain. turn back time.

Birthdays can be tricky things.

South of Interesting - vote now

One conference that looked really cool was the Interesting thang put on back in June in London by Russell Davies. Now we have Interesting South in November. Looks well cool. I am going to put in a bid for a 3 minute slot. In an endeavour to make it interactive, here are some the topics I have been toying with. Vote now to decide what I could rant about:

1. How to make a zombie
2. A multi-sensory guide to Indian sweets
3. The leper king
4. Bass and dread
5. Growing up with the end of the world
6. The lesson of the banyan tree

Or else come up with a better topic.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Leah Heiss makes interesting stuff:
  • Patch rings to turn drug-delivery systems that replace needles into fashion statements.
  • Jewellery take can detect & neutralise arsenic in drinking water.
  • Interactive bandages that show the presence of disease.

What I like about LH's work is that takes existing objects and imbues them with new powers. Without being the white, minimal, untouchable Apple-aesthetic that currently dominates technology devices.

Collaboration vs sharing

James Robertson talks about collaboration tools as anti-knowledge sharing. If I understand JR correctly, his point is that collaboration tools are great for specific teams. However each team works in its own context and this leads to the creation of silos which prevents cross-organisational leveraging of this material. He also notes that this cannot be solved simply by the implementation of a search tool.

I agree with him. A big part of the role of KM (or whatever you want to call it) is the development of shared contexts between groups within an organisation because without that shared context you can't transfer anything. One approach is to develop common methods, taxonomies & languages for teams. N.B. This is a non-trivial task and many groups won't follow something imposed on them from outside. Nevertheless, allowing groups to identify commonalities in their work is an important part of that. Another aspect are human connections between teams - are people moved between groups or are those silo walls impenetrable?

Michael Sampson says that this is a governance issue - which I think James agrees with.

As both Michael & James note, most of the material in these collaboration spaces is not actually relevant to other groups - i.e. the fact that it is not shared is not an issue. The issues are:
1. Predicting what does need to shared (tricky).
2. Encouraging people to put in that extra bit of time to make it available (trickier).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What am I doing with my hands?

About a month ago, Alex Manchester from Melcrum said: "We're doing a set of videos on Enterprise 2.0, fancy being a part of this?" And I said yes.

Witness the extent of my folly here. Alex has done a grand job of cutting out some of my stupider comments & facial expressions.

Meanwhile, Ross Dawson carries it off like the old pro he is.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


James D talks about microblogging & Luis talks about a specific application for emergency services. I've noted my personal preferences recently but for me microblogging has got F.A. to do with blogging. My posts tend towards the terse but I generally break the 160 character barrier. For me, a blog post has to have an idea in there. It may not be yours. It may not be any good. But it's there.

I see Twitter & Facebook status info as presencing technologies and as James notes, they have more to do with SMS & IM than blogs & wikis. And these will have important uses for people working remotely from each other (i.e. increasingly all of us).

N.B. As a side bet, literary forms will emerge out of presencing technologies. SMS poetry for example.


Personal creativity in our work & sharing our experiences with our colleagues are like exercise or eating healthily. We know both are good. But they sometimes fall into the "too hard" basket. We'll do them tomorrow, when we aren't so busy. We'll do something original. We'll talk to someone about a success or failure. But tomorrow. Not today.

Memory & links

Memory is sometimes thought of a filing system. However all our memories appear to be connected with each other. Many techniques that aim to improve recall do so by establishing connections between new items to be remembered and those we know well already. I'm a bit unconvinced by most metaphors between the brain and the internet but this one interests me. It implies that our techniques for memory retrieval are a little Googlesque. It's the links that matter, baby. It triggers a fantasy of sentient memes trying to optimize their rankings in our brains so they are made to stick. It's all about the connections.

We tend to forget that remembering is an act of reconstruction. The file does not come out of the system in one piece. We must rebuild events from fragments. Depending on context, we may view fragments is a positive or negative light. These multiple, continuous reconstructions contrast with our image of our lives as a single, autobiographical thread. Instead there's a collage (tapestry seems rather too ordered) of small pieces, loosely joined. A world held together by emotional tags. OurStory is an interesting experiment but I would prefer an "OurStories", something mashed and multiple, consistently inconsistent. Social software as Rashomon. What would you tag?

My mind is a blank

Writing is a relatively new technology. Oral cultures are reliant on the memories of their members. Whilst there might be a division of memorial labour in such societies, everyone must remember somethings. If only one person remembers something then when they are gone, it is forgotten.

I shall not attempt to reproduce his words, now irrecoverable.

Forgetting can be embarrassing. And it can also be soothing. Ever since I read Funes the Memorious, I have been convinced that forgetting has its uses as well its perils. Funes is forced to live in a world without abstraction because he can remember every detail. The possibility of a world without gaps, of a perfect record of information is not comforting for Borges. The Library of Babel is a very disturbing place indeed. A model of information overload.

My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.

We worry a lot about organisational forgetting. Records must be kept (and if they aren't then expensive litigation might ensue). However one way of dealing with information overload is forgetting old stuff (as well as ignoring new stuff). So most organisations have delegated the act of remembering to Record Management & associated systems.

Is this an efficient move? And is it an effective one?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Coming up for air

He saw, with his swimming eyes, red and yellow, the colours of Nicaragua.

I haven't felt much like writing for the last month. For me, writing is intimately connected to mood. I write when I'm happy and I'm happy when I write. A nifty feedback loop that seems to have gotten broken. For a while, I've let it slide. Now I want to do something about that. So I intend to write myself back into shape.

Annette points me towards Gapingvoid's thoughts on the creative life. I like ML's observations. They are not comfortable but they are often right. Some neurons sneer in the recesses of my head: "Focusing on a creative output is all very well but what if you are rubbish at it? What if you are, not to put too finer point on it, deluded?"

The people had absolutely lost faith in revolutions.

And this triggers the dim memory of a book in my head. GK Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill is set in a London we might find mythical but that for its inhabitants is filled with the prosaic and everyday. In a world where the King of England is chosen at random, Auberon Quin (dreamer & borderline nutcase) falls into this role & decides the world needs a bit of a shake-up. So he recreates a superficial simulation of medieval pageantry that no one takes seriously, least of all himself. No one except Adam Wayne - a young man with a penchant for both idealism & action.

At last Wayne said, very slowly:
"You did it all only as a joke?"
"Yes," said Quin.

Who is the more deluded? Wayne - for believing in Quin's world? Or Quin - for failing to believe in his own?

More shadows

Johnnie has posted up the second part of Annette, himself & me discussing shadows. Now you have the only 2 mp3's you need ever listen to again!!!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

ROI encore

Luis continues to write about social computing ROI here and here. I admire his tenacity. Remembering that ROI calculations are an attempt to render assumptions, beliefs & wishes into a quantitative language, then surely the ROI for social computing tools (& I agree with Luis that these are fundamentally social tools) will vary from depending on the assumptions, beliefs & wishes of the organisations concerned.

The point that they can improve social capital is valid one - but only if senior management in an organisation care about it. How robust are most attempts to quantify social capital?

Maybe you can quantify it into "improved customer satisfaction" or "decreased marketing costs" or "higher employee engagement".

I still believe (& I will repeat this until I am blue in the face) that showing the value of social software is problematic precisely because we have a poor collective understanding of what our employees do & how they do it. And provided they keep churning stuff out, we don't really care.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Free Burma!

Don't get high in your own ROI

Luis is writing about ROI here and here. So we cannot ignore ROI or label it "uncool". ROI is a way for certain groups of people (mostly with MBAs) to understand something. These people have a lot of power so it behoves us non-MBAs to learn how they speak. Dennis Howlett has some interesting things to say:
Instead of panning CFOs as looking at the ‘wrong’ stuff and generally pillorying them as retarded, social computing pundits might ask how the flat world of which many profess becomes a reality.

And Dennis right. However the issue is that the links between actual knowledge worker activities and revenue/profitability/etc are often pretty sketchy. Our bean counters cannot count their beans finely enough to make sense of them. Performance is important. But our understanding of it is partial. We must often make educated guesses.

Frankly, I think that the ROI for wikis is pretty clear = Email + Word - A World of Pain = Productivity but I would agree that more research would help here. I would also add that the best research takes place within organisations. Piloting E2.0 tools can give very useful indicators of potential value of comparatively little investment. Any manager about to bet the farm on E2.0 tools without a pilot is a headstrong idiot. One step at a time eh?

However actually constructing an ROI argument is a messy, political activity. That world of pain just popped up again (wow, version 97 of the ROI spreadsheet, boy oh boy) and it's ugly. Very ugly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Presencing Portals

Historically, portals have been all about aggregating content & applications into one easy-to-digest package, more or less personalised to the preferences of the user. Typically this has been about access to data or content rather than access to others.

What has impressed me about Facebook and MySpace (to an extent) is a different version of portal that they offer. MySpace's blogs and Facebook's status sections create a kind of presence portal. I can see where people are, what they are up to, etc. Jasmin highlights some potential privacy pitfalls with this. And they are potentially serious.

I could talk about Privacy 2.0 here but that would be a trifle onanistic. I think we need to get a better handle on our own privacy here. What we tell people. We need to get back in touch with the lost art of keeping a secret. The pleasures & securities of mystique. The more opportunity there is to open ourselves up, the more pleasure there is to be gained from refusing to do so.

From a business perspective, we may be interested in letting others see where we are and what we are doing. Or we may not. Depending on culture & objectives. Depending on who is sticking dollar bills in our garter belts.

Web 2.0 is nothing more or less than a strip-tease (a lucrative industry that I have always been too unnerved by to engage with).

But which side of the lights are you on?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Shadow Podcast (1)

Johnnie Moore. Annette Clancy. Me*. All talking about shadows. Instigated & recorded by Johnnie (nice work Mr J). Much input from Annette. Some rambling from me. I had fun. You may also.

Download it here. Listen to it. Treasure it. You will never need another mp3 file. Well, except for part 2 of the Shadow podcast which is coming soon.

*Contrary to all the available evidence I do not like the sound of my own voice. I find it deeply unappealing.