Sunday, November 30, 2008

analyse that

The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever. The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work in their own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.

Typealyzer said both this blog and the other are ISTJs. GenderAnalyzer said here there is an 87% chance that we are male but over there, there is a 56% chance that we are female!

Make of that what you will.

canberra - information & knowledge policy

Just a quick note to say that I enjoyed the presentations by Kylie Dunn, Sally-Anne Leigh and (of course) Nerida Hart at Information & Knowledge Policy Development gig.

Monday, November 24, 2008

i had my social media echo chamber designed by mc escher

Some nice person gave me a pass to Online Social Networking & Business Collaboration World 2008. I missed the morning sessions which apparently saw senior execs from Friendster, Bebo, MySpace and Google tell the throng (200 people?) just how important their site is.

I did go to the afternoon session with Andrew Mitchell (Urbis), Chris Knowles (Heinz), Jeremy Mitchell (Telstra) and Wayne Hughes (Virtual Medical Centre). Andrew, Chris & Jeremy were all good - but I've seen their presentations before (may be I should go to less conferences). Wayne's topic was interesting but I was a bit mystified as to why he was in that stream and he had a fair whack of sales material in his presentation.

Captain Coincidence being who he is, Hugh McLeod has been posting this series of cartoons. There'll probably be more soon.

My take is that there is no real role for social media experts. There are people out there who will either sell you existing software or build it for you - and that's fine. There are also people out there who can advise you on marketing, collaboration, information & knowledge management, advertising, etc - and they may use blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, RSS, etc in doing so. Many of them are very good.

Friday, November 21, 2008

the banality of wisdom

Nerida sent out a link to this. I'm still processing it but I kinda feel ambiguous when I saw the trailer. We have a lot of famous people, most of whom are quite old. They mostly say sensible stuff. And sometimes they say it in quite a charming or poignant way.

But it's rarely stuff that you haven't heard before. But that's the thing about wisdom. Most of it is not new (that doesn't make it easy do). So we are left with people who have done wise and unwise things and who may (or may not) be wise in some respects. But whilst I'm sure they can entertain, I'm not sure that they can enlighten. We can enjoy the cinematography and nod sagely but are we any the wiser?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

stupid ideas and dead people

You may remember my obsession with the Cochrane Collection Collaboration. I've been pursuing this on the actKM list with all the ferocity of a man trying avoid a major deadline around a difficult client report. Anyway, we got into a big discussion of measurement and causality and stuff - but the vibe I got from a few people was "this is just too hard, we will never produce anything as rigorous as medical science". They may well be right. Knowledge managers are not doctors.

But if you compare the Cochrane Collection with The Old Operating Theatre in London then some perspective comes into play. I was at the Operating Theatre a few months ago (there's nifty picture of me getting my leg cut off that I've go somewhere) and, although they'd tidied it up a bit, you could imagine what a dirty, dingy, deathly place it must have been. If you got a broken limb then you were probably dead. And if you weren't dead then you were certainly due an amputation.

How has medical science advanced? Simple: stupid ideas and dead people. There have been lots of stupid ideas in the history of medicine. Often not completely wrong but not right either. And these stupid ideas meant lots of dead people. And at various points in history, medics have decided (whether for reasons of humanism or greed or pride or whatever) that working out which ideas are the least stupid will mean less dead people. This is not a linear narrative of progress. This is messy. There were (and are) mistakes, blind alleys, and maddening gaps.

One of the most interesting things for me are the articles in the Cochrane Review that say "there is insufficient evidence to come to clear conclusion on this". That speaks of an ambition to eventually find out what works and to improve health.

In my own discipline, we need that ambition. Lots of catastrophes have a knowledge dimension (or more frequently an ignorance dimension). But to be honest, most of my work is about the alleviation of small problems that make working lives miserable and organisations less effective than they could be.

We need to be more reflective and critical of our own practice. We need to find ways of sharing our failures as well as our successes. And we must not loose the focus on results. Most of all, we need to understand that our first efforts in this will be partial, messy, crude. We don't get to start in a gleaming, hi-tech surgical lab. We are rummaging around in the darkness and grime of garret. Tough - that's where you start.

We may not have as many dead people but I'm sure we can make up for that with stupid ideas.

captain coincidence strikes again (2)

So I liked Fake Steve Job. Then I forgot him. Sorry Steve, the illness showed that you were weak and mortal. I had to dismantle my shrine. Then a couple of days ago, I found Real Dan Lyons. He is a blisteringly funny writer about the tech world. And then mere hours later, he stopped.


Well, yes, absolutely. What else could it be?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

captain coincidence strikes again (1)

So earlier this week I wrote about Ben Goldacre - who has a pet peeve against suspect nutritional advice in general and "superfoods" in particular. Yesterday I received an email from a friend inviting me join a "multi-level marketing"* scheme involving a goji berry energy drink - from a company he told me would be the nutritional equivalent of Microsoft (cue: lots of gags about bloatware & obesity). I like my friend, he is one of the nicest guys in town. He is also pretty damn smart. I wondered if I had lost my mind.

He did assure me that there were over 100 "solid gold" clinical studies on PubMed. I had a look (using the Latin term "Lycium barbarum") - and it brought back 103 papers. From what I could see, most of them dealt with in vitro experiments or tests on lab rats. Now if I was a bunch of cells on a glass dish or, indeed, a rat (steady), this might be handy. The only clinical study on humans (outside China - they seem to be keen on the berries) was carried out by... a major distributor of goji products.

I should say that the goji berry energy drink had less sugar in it that other energy drinks (yay!) - but also had caffeine in it. Which makes me wonder if goji berries are so gosh darn great, why the caffeine?

*This is not a pyramid scheme - as one Brisbane newspaper found out to its cost. However I did look at the compensation scheme for "marketing executives" on their web site and was completely confused. Nine pages of points, ranks, numbers, uplines, downlines and I was no clearer at the end as to how much money I would get. Maybe their compensation system requires you to have had your brain boosted by goji berries before you get it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

collaboration models (2)

Stuart French has been working away on his model for wiki participation. Matt Hodgson has expanded it with Stuart into this beast:

There's a lot of very interesting stuff in Stuart and Matt's musings. The critical insight that social software participation can be a mix of either/or both/and "bottom up" vs "top down" is a useful one. I have a few quibble but the key comments would be:
  • The activity domain seems to be a bit of an after-thought. What are those 5 kinds of behaviour doing compared to the rest.
  • As a way of exploring thinking visually, it's intriguing. But it seems to be getting more complicated rather than less. At some point it has to become a simpler or become one of those complicated diagrams that everyone nods at sagely but doesn't really understand.

collaboration models (1)

James Robertson has developed this three-tiered model for collaboration. I like it. However there are two comments I would make:
  • I'm not sure it's a fully-fledged model yet. It's a checklist of things that impact an organisation's ability to collaborate grouped into 3 areas. More map than model. How do these things interact?
  • James writes: There are many elements of collaboration, and we often encounter the “blind men and the elephant problem”. We’re all talking about collaboration, but we’re actually discussing different parts of the animal. I think there's an additional issue. There are not just different elements to collaboration but there are different kinds of collaboration (that based around project teams vs virtual communities for example) that require different individual skills, models, tools, governance approaches. I don't get a sense of that from this.

Monday, November 17, 2008

bad science and getting better

Ben Goldacre writes for the UK's Guardian newspaper and also puts out the Bad Science blog. His mission is to attack poor uses of science - esp. in the medical field where he was trained. New Age therapist, Big Pharma PR, dodgy neuroscientists, credulous journalists and dishonest labs get mercilessly ripped. BG seems to rather enjoy doing this.

It's via BG that I discovered the Cochrane Collection Collaboration. It's an organisation that systematically reviews the medical literature for evidence that particular treatments work (or don't).

For the past year or so, Patrick's presentations and blog posts have explored the development of health science as discipline in comparison with knowledge management. It's something I've been pondering recently too. In part because I've been reflecting on the divisions between academics and practitioners in the KM world - which encompassed a discussion on actKM (many thanks to the participants). Patrick articulates it well:
"There is no great merit in and of itself that a practitioner "gets into" academia, or an academic engages in practice successfully, or that gifted individuals manage to get invited to both tea parties. The merit is in whether practice gets better. KM is fundamentally a practice - theory is its servant. And the practice needs to show beneficial outcomes affecting real people in real organisations in real economies and societies."
How do we get better?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

blogging is boring - excellent!!!

James D highlights the the death of the blogosphere. In this Wired article, Paul Boutin says that writing a blog will no longer guarantee you attention and Bloggers today are expected to write clever, insightful, witty prose to compete with Huffington and The New York Times. Paul is of course a journalist and also a former blogger.

Paul is of course right - starting a blog now will not get you the attention it would have got you 4 years ago. But as a journalist he assumes that all bloggers want to be journalists. However lots of us don't. The more I blog, the less of a **** I give whether I have readers or not (which explains my 49-part history of custard - to be launched next week).

Twitter and Facebook/LinkedIn status updates just don't give me the space I need. I need more than 140 characters - cuz, like, ohmigod, I'm a 35 year old man with a receding hairline who needs to vent a lot - that's a lot. And I ain't pretty enough for YouTube.

Now some middle-aged Californian has said this isn't cool, can the rest of us just get on with it please*?

*This is the definition of "plateau of productivity" in Gartner's hype cycle that they toyed with but never had the balls to publish.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

making marketing interesting

A couple of jobs are coming to an end in the next few weeks and it's time to gear up into marketing / selling mode again. I don't mind selling - I definitely wouldn't say I was a "gun" salesman - provided the person wants to be sold to. So I'm going to be picking up the phone and talking to people. If you don't want to be talked to then just say that. If you don't want to talk about business then let's grab a coffee and talk about something else.

I have one request for you tho. If there's someone you think I could have an interesting conversation with then let me know. Not (necessarily) in terms of business development or doing some kind of deal. Just in terms of having an interesting conversation.

writing articles - any requests?

I've been writing a fair few articles recently (as you can see). It's partly because I like writing and find it fairly straightforward (altho I haven't heard about the last one I submitted - so it'll probably get rejected and I'll be left feeling a little less smug). I can also justify it as "marketing".

I'm feeling a little stale tho. So over to you. Feel free to suggestion publications (& topics) that I should pitch to and I'll give it a go.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

km theory vs case studies

Final follow-up to this post below. Most case studies are useless. I remember being at a major KM conference and a friend asking me: "What's wrong with me? Why aren't my KM projects as smooth and flawless as these presentations?" It reminds me a bit of the argument about unrealistic portrayals of female bodies making ordinary women depressed. If everyone looks like a Hollywood starlet then I must be ugly and useless.

The thing is most case studies as written up in articles or presented at events leave out the really useful stuff. Where did you screw up and why? What were the unexpected events?

However 'real' case studies (warts n all) are very powerful indeed. I love The Mistake Bank. I think that knowledge managers are slowly, painfully building up this base of experience - but we could do a whole lot better - as Patrick has often stated.

The role of theory here is, for me, not fully decided. Dave, Patrick, Shawn, Gary Klein and others, have all done a brilliant job of bringing in research from complexity theory, cognitive science and narratology to bear on real-world problems. More KM practice needs to be built on research. However theory by itself is not enough. It needs to be constantly tested against brute reality.

What I am arguing for here may be impossible: A transparency around KM practice that requires a strong theoretical base, a willingness to experiment and a drive to learn from the work of others.

the strategic question for knowledge managers

This throw-away post seems to be still generating more heat than a forest fire.

The challenge I (and my colleagues) faced as knowledge managers was getting beyond the "oh, you look after databases" dismissiveness of staff, managers, execs, etc*. It wasn't that we didn't want to focus on strategic issues (well, some were happier hiding away but I think they were in the minority) but that getting the opportunity to tackle them is harder than just walking into the CEO's office and saying: "Hey I'm going to solve your strategic problems for you".

I can remember sitting in meetings where we were talking about workforce change, systemic organisational risk, improved performance for a group of workers and we'd get asked for some minor changes to be made to a web site. Occasionally an issue would erupt that would give us some traction, some leverage with someone we already had a relationship with (possibly because we'd edited their web page for them). And then we'd run as far as we could with it. And then there would be a pause. N.B. Simply showing how our KM activities aligned with the corporate strategy didn't really differentiate us because that's what everyone does. Saying you support the corporate strategy is like saying your in favour of "good stuff" (motherhood, apple pie) rather than "bad stuff" (war, famine).

So you readers out there (all 3 of you). Can you give an example of a game-changing moment that you have had? A moment where you saw an opportunity and went for it?

*A core quality of a successful knowledge manager is sheer bloody-mindedness.

Now if I can get through this without accusing anyone's mother of darning socks in Hull, we may get an interesting discussion.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

gigs - melbourne / sydney / canberra

I'll be doing sessions based on the actKM presentation in Melbourne next week (courtesy of the KM Roundtable) and possibly in Sydney two weeks later (courtesy of NSW KM Forum). There's now the white paper and I'm toying with T-shirts & coffee mugs but I reckon there's a limit to cross-promotion on this baby.

And then there's that gig in Canberra that with a social software bent. Thanks to Alex, Andrew, Paul, Cory, Kelly, Luke, Viv & Dan for answering the dilemmas and sharpening the thinking.

Hmmm - T-shirts, now there's an idea....

Monday, November 03, 2008

smart people + recession = ?

The last couple of articles seem to be focused on "tough times". But anyway, Talent Management in a Down Economy is now available on the other site.

Sunday, November 02, 2008