Tuesday, December 30, 2008

seamless teamwork

A couple of weeks ago, I got a copy of Michael Sampson's Seamless Teamwork. A longer review may appear elsewhere but for now, let me say it's pretty nifty and I've already recommended it to some people who are using Sharepoint for team collaboration. If you're new to managing virtual teams but not using Sharepoint then it's still worth a look. I haven't digested chapters 11 & 12 that are available on his web site but extent to which Michael has tied comon project activities and challenges (e.g. brainstorming, vision setting, team building) to Sharepoint functionality is impressive.

Some slightly critical comments:
  • Lots of people loved the framing of the book in the context of the fictional project Delta. I find this device in business books really grating as the author shifts gear between a third-person description (in this case the story of Roger the project manager) and second-person directive statements ("you can do this with the wiki").
  • Sharepoint's social software attributes get quite a few mentions (wikis, blogs, RSS) and yet these are still quite rudimentary compared to other offerings out there. Michael has not persuaded me to love Sharepoint yet.
Looking forward to the next book Michael.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

five common collaboration tool errors

I was presenting on collaboration tools last week and I was reflecting on five common mistakes made in the selection or implementation of these tools that I have seen (or even participated in at one time or another) before launching into descriptions of the tools themselves and some case studies. Here are the five members of the hall of shame:
  1. The No Goal Error. Not having a purpose or objective behind what you are doing. What will people be using this for? Does what you are asking them to do matter to them? (N.B. "collaboration" is not a goal in itself). Warning Sign: "We put in a x because we thought it would be, y'know cool". Nothing Wrong With: There is no upside to this one.
  2. The Magic Bullet Error. Thinking that one tool will do everything for you. There are a range of tools out there and no one application (or platform) does everything equally well. Warning Sign: "We plan to do everything in x, the sales guy/evangelist for x said it will do everything we need". Nothing Wrong With: If something works well in more than one situation then by all means use it.
  3. The New New Thing Error. Deciding to deploy something because it is new rather than based on its merits to meet your purpose (N.B. You do have a purpose don't you?) Warning Sign:"One of our directors read about x in an in-flight magazine, we have to implement x tomorrow". Nothing Wrong With: Experimenting with new tools (with all that the word "experimenting" implies).
  4. The If I Wear Brad Pitt's Suit, I'll Look As Hot As Brad Pitt Error. Just because another organisation gets good results with a certain tool and set up, it does not mean that you will also. My body is not the same shape as Brad Pitt's nor is my face as pleasantly arranged, hence his suit will probably not have the desired effect. Your organisation and your culture are not the same as somewhere else and context is important. Warning Sign: "Organisation Y (in the building next door but a completely different industry) just implemented x and it went great for them, why don't we do it?" Nothing Wrong With: Learning from the experiences of others and listening to intelligent case studies.
  5. The Titanic Error. It's not the parts of the iceberg that you can see that you should be worried about. Successful collaboration is about many intangible things (leadership, trust) and yet people focus on what they can see - i.e. the tool. Warning Sign: "I want an online community, show me how to customise the skin on Ning". Nothing Wrong With: Paying attention to design and usability and making it all look good.
I suspect you will have seen (or written about) versions of these before. I also suspect you will have seen others.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


This is all about raising awareness and funds for a microfinance project in the Philippines. Check out the links please.

The hippies had left the bus dumped in a ditch
when the trust fund money evaporated
like sunstroked bong water.
The engine was long gone, a generator in waiting.
The seats scavenged for a room for living in.
You had cut the tyres into shoes
while we attacked the frame with tinsnips.
You should use every part of the carcass.
We will reincarnate this bus's body
everywhere around us.

My eyes will not leave the destination sign:
So I close them and the sign hangs in space.
I see the bus decomposing
a symphony of human activity.

Follow the rivulets of metal
and the binary pulses of money
and the actions falling like dominoes
in a world record attempt.

Follow the chromosomes
that interlock like acrobats
to create the trick of a life
Balance, harmony - a high wire act.

Follow the tectonic fault-lines
that skid round the globe
without our permission.
Plates spinning in that same circus.

Follow the word network,
the net worth of word nets
that catch us each in ourselves
when the high wire snaps.

Laugh at the words "independent" and "self-made"
carved in the biographies of great men
like a child's profanity on a park bench.

I open my eyes and the sign is gone.
I hope you took it.


My grandfather said
that you make your own luck.
He made his with shotguns
and post offices.
The cops made theirs
with informers and patience.

My grandfather said
that one day your luck
will run out.
His luck ran out and took
the last seat in the getaway car,
leaving him to face the music
counted out in 4-4 by police batons.

N.B. My actual grandfather wasn't a bank robber but he did play a mean game of Scrabble.

high on my own bs

I hadn't been to the Single Origin meet-up for a few weeks so it was brilliant to see Gav, Katie, Tim, Ian & Jeannie there plus to meet Julian, Tony, Scott & Neerav among others.

Is this one of those soshal meeja echo chambers? A bit. But the noises in the chamber are pretty and the people are fun. And the barrier to entry is, well, non-existent (unless you are complete tool, in which case don't come). Plus the Single Origin guys know how to put on a party - with a band and masses of people (at 8am in the morning).

Gav gave me a book. It was big and heavy and called GUTS: All it takes to be successful in business (and life). It looks lovely - perfect for my coffee table. On the cover, the word GUTS (in bright orange letters) is hidden by the silver stuff they put on scratch cards - so you have to scratch away (preferably with your teeth, because that's what mavericks do).

It's written by a guy called Simon Hammond. Who appears to be high on his own BS. He runs SEE - "the world's most inspirational company". At what point does a slogan slip from "aspirational" to "delusional"?

All of which makes me wonder whether Guts isn't really an elaborate prank - a parody of OTT business thought leadership and personal development books that claim to challenge every preconception you have and reveal "the truth" in all it's embarrassed nudity - and then offer up a mildly diverting mix of nice advice and stupid exaggerations instead. This is not helped by the "insights" being called SINS, arrived at through the process of CRACC (stop sniggering at the back).

Still, joke or not, it looks lovely on my coffee table. Thanks Gav, I have the perfect book for you as a New Year's gift...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

podcast - lauren brown on bicycles, melbourne & art

A brief podcast with Lauren Brown - includes a free guide to experiencing a derive in Melbourne on a bicycle.

Download the mp3

00:00 - Melbourne as the first city in Australia to be designed.
02:00 - Library Spice
03:00 - The Laneways Commissions
07:00 - The city is not a blank canvas
07:30 - The derive
08:40 - The derive via bicycle
13:15 - What's going to happen in the next 3 years?

christmas time!!!

I'd love you to buy me a present.

Possibly some Kiva credits (or skip the middle man and loan the money yourself)*. Or may be some teacher training from Worldvision. Or else some cash sent to SANE.

*Props to Johnnie Moore, Step Two & the amazing Lesser Kudu for their fantastic loans.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

generational stereotypes

My parents were both born towards the end of WWII. They hit their 20s in the 60s. So they were hippies right? Flowers in their hair? Free love? Drugzzzz?

Erm, no. My Dad spent most of the 60s on board the Royal Navy ship where he was a stoker. My Mum is a relatively conservative person who traveled a bit in Europe and trained to be a teacher. Neither of them fit the generational stereotypes that history (and lazy cultural commentators) may yet hand them.

There were plenty of hippies in the 60s. But many young people weren't. The future is interesting precisely because it gives us more opportunities to be ourselves (should we so choose). Of course, if that's too scary then we can just get the nice comfortable labels out again.

the day after tomorrow for knowledge management

So we know that today is pretty screwed up. The world was running on US consumer debt and now the tab has to be paid. It's all about cost reduction and efficiency at the moment. Knowledge managers will face a tough couple of years. You can axe most KM operations and not see any impact for, ooh, 3-6 months. Of course 6 months down the track managers will be saying "we used to do this stuff well, why do we suck at it now?" but that's in the future.

The bad news: Some of you will be fired no matter how good your work is. Corporate cullings may be presented as rational exercises in cost control & restructuring but from the inside seem more like frantic acts of self-harm by bulimics at break point. If the chamber in your game of involuntary Russian Roulette does contain a live round then take the money and get out of there.

The good news: KM really began as a movement after the last major recession (and the BPR-related blood-letting) of the early 90s. Organisations will fire too many people, just as they probably hired too many people in the recent past. They will be awash with ignorance. Fertile territory for those whose job it is reduce the dead weight of ignorance.

Hang on.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

new communities

If librarians are unsuited to the role of personal information coach ("You ain't taking a break until I get 20 items tagged folksolonomogalically"), then we might need to expand what "community" means for us.

We've been used to geographical communities - the local library. And geographical communities are neglected at our peril. But they are no longer the only game in town. The public library system was largely a result of the titanic upheaval of communities wrought by the industrial revolution. Urbanisation and increased literacy rates created the communities that the public libraries served. There are now many communities of which people are a part - professional, aspirational, lifestyle-based. And all of these communities need the skills of librarians.

The big question is: Who's going to pay for this? Is it the government? Is it communities themselves? Some mix of the two? Or no one?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

information coaching

As you may know, I'm a librarian by training. Mark Pesce writes about a new(ish) role for librarians:
Some of this won’t come to pass until you move out of the libraries and into the streets. Library scientists have to prove their worth; most people don’t understand that they’re slowly drowning in a sea of their own information.
Check out the comments by Philippe Van Nedervelde BTW. David Pollard has also written extensively about the importance of personal information management (PIM) and like Philippe he shares an enthusiasm in David Allen's Getting Things Done (no, not that one).

The challenge for librarians is to move away from The Collection. The justification for the library was that books (and hence information) were expensive and scarce for the masses. Hence the initial focus of librarians was creating and managing collections. And we saw this is a responsibility that we did on behalf of a community. Whether for the public or the academy or some other group, we managed books and periodicals. We played a role of mediation - gatekeeper or matchmaker.

Two things have happened in the interim. One visible and one less so.

The first thing was that the information landscape got more complicated. First with records and radio then TV, video, DVDs, CDs, mp3s, ebooks, ejournals, webpages galore. Even with the book, higher earning power means that people can buy many of the books they want (if they want them). Many librarians will tell you that much of the good stuff isn't free. And that's true but the care factor is low. Good enough will do for many. This much is obvious.

But the second thing is much less remarked upon. The communities we serve are not what they were 100 years ago. The public librarian faces an urban (or suburban) environment rather than a rural one - with an array of ethnic groups, special constituencies and transients. The academic world has expanded into a billion-dollar business and organisations see employees come, go and return as contractors.

Librarians can survive the fragmentation of the book but their real struggle is to comprehend what their communities are becoming. Mark P talks about librarians as “life coaches” but the image that comes to my mind is the librarian as Ronin. Coaches have always focused on the individual whereas librarians have always focused on their communities.

I'd like to see librarians more engaged with their communities - beyond the library (be it paper or electronic). If the role of the investigative journalist is to "follow the money" then the role of the librarian is to "follow the information". Information is everywhere. It touches everything. If librarians follow the scent of information we end up back out in the community, where we belong.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

reasons to be cheerful

There's a lot to be miserable about at the moment. In the short term, the economy is going down the pan. In the long term, the Earth's ecology may collapse. I have decided to be optimistic - on the grounds that being pessimistic may be right but it's no fun.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

what's a wiki grandad?

I quite like social software. Hence the blog, the podcasts, the use of wikis & google docs, the twittering, the social network stuff (not much Second Life activity as of yet). And I go around telling people about this kind of thing because I like it but I am also quite a sceptical, cynical person.

So I try to strike an uncomfortable balance between enthusiasm and realism (and I don't always succeed). One area that has worried for some time are the claims made on behalf of those younger than me (Gen Ys and younger) by those my age or older. Apparently the next generation is effortlessly using social software to change the world. I think this contains a kernel of truth but it also causes problems:
  • It's something for social media experts to scare potential clients with.
  • It ignores the differences within generations to focus on the differences between them and so perpetuate stereotypes*.
  • It gets social software labelled as "young person's stuff" - rather than stuff that everyone can and does use.
So I was intrigued to find Net Gen Nonsense - which includes links to some interesting data from Australian students. And surprise, surprise, the picture is actually quite complicated. A minority of students are into social software as a creative activity but many are not.

So what does this mean? I think we need to bin the generational arguments around using social software in the enterprise. It's not about the Gen Ys or their younger brothers and sisters. Some of them are really switched on but there are plenty out there that know less about this stuff than you, dear reader.

*Those Gen Xs are just like you Scorpios y'know. Or is it you ISTJs? Or you chicks? Yeah, you're all the same.