Deep thinking on strategy and talent on the football fields of Texas Tech

[Cross posted at Future Tense]

Dave Winer may work best with a river of news approach to RSS feeds, but I seem to fall more into the “compost heap of knowledge” school. I finally got around to an item from Tom Peters’ blog from earlier this month, which pointed at a Sunday New York Times article that never reached the top of my stack that particular weekend. Peters declares that it “may be the best article on business strategy I’ve ever read.” Granted that Peters does have a predisposition for hyperbole, I think he’s on to something this time and I would second his advice to “read every damn word in the article.” You should also make the effort to read Tom’s take on the article as well, which begins:
You must read …

The New York Times Magazine, December 4, “Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep.” By Michael Lewis (author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, etc.).

You simply don’t beat NEBRASKA 70-10. And a lightly regarded QB doesn’t pass for 643 yards against Kansas State

Making new old friends by blogging

I just want to reinforce this point. It may be the single strongest reason why I continue to blog. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t need some more new old friends?

Picking up the Conversation Where We Left Off

Shel Israel has a post today about one of the most gratifying and unintended consequences of blogging: running into the friends you’ve never met before:

It is the strangest thing, and if you blog for a while, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You build these trusting friendships, with people you have never met face to face. Then you actually meet. In recent months, I’ve met face-to-face with Shel Holtz, Neville, Evelyn Rodriquez, Tom Raferty, Hugh MacLeod, Loic Le Meur and quite a few others. I considered each of these guys to be old friends before I ever laid eyes on them.

It is the strangest thing. I really like it.

When this happens to me, it feels like I’m re-connecting with an old friend, and we pick up our conversation where we left off.

[Escapable Logic]

Paul Saffo on rules for forecasting

[Cross posted at Future Tense]

“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”
Paul Saffo

Last month I had an opportunity to listen to Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future speak at the CIO Magazine CIO|06 The Year Ahead conference in Phoenix. I was there as part of CIO’s Enterprise Value Award Process Review Board and as a facilitator for several of the breakout sessions. Paul was the MC for the 3-day event and his opening talk offered his rules for forecasting. They’re worth having handy if you find yourself in a position to have to make some bets on what might happen next.

Before sharing his rules, Saffo made the point that he thinks of himself as a forecaster not a futurist. In his categories, a futurist is an advocate for a particular future, while a forecaster is an observer trying to understand and bound the uncertainties generated by events and trying to frame the choices that might influence the outcomes. Saffo used the following image (actually his image was much nicer – this is from my notes, but you get the idea).

Saffo on forecastingRule 1. Know when not to make a forecast. Saffo made pointed reference here to Apple’s famous Knowledge Navigator concept video in contrast with Doug Engelbart’s Demo Video from 1967. I think what Saffo was driving at was the distinction between setting out a vision that will drive inventors and innovators on the one hand and recognizing that a salient event has occurred that opens up uncertainties that you ought to factor in to your planning.

Rule 2. Overnight successes come out of twenty years of failure. If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to be surprised a lot. This is where Saffo began to offer his take on the role of S-curve k inds of phenomena and how to account for them in your planning processes. Two points that I took away here. One is that there early stages of these curves is when you typically have the most leverage, if you can find a curve that will make it to the knee. Nothing terribly new there. The second, which I hadn’t thought about as much, was the difference in planning errors depending on where you were in the curve. I’m used to thinking only in terms of the tendency to overestimate how fast things will happen in the early stages of development. I’ve been less tuned in to the equally likely tendency to underestimate speed and demand changes past the tipping point. BTW, one of Saffo’s specific observations relative to this rule was that he’s paying more attention to Robotics as potentially the next big thing.

S-curve errorsRule 3. Look back twice as far as forward. Another quick bit of capsule advice about how to think smarter when you are dealing with exponential/logistics curve phenomena. This is a rule of thumb that captures the essential error in our tendency to think in linear terms about power laws. The change you’ve lived through in the last 10 years is a predictor of what you are likely to experience in the next 5. Douglas Adams captured this most memorably in his 1999 essay “How to stop worrying and love the internet.”

Alan Kay has talked about this in the context of why we’ve had more success at dealing with smallpox than with AIDS. If you are dealing with something that is operating on exponential terms, then the rate of growth matters as much or more than the slope at any instant in time. Given our tendency to project on a linear basis our tendency to over or under predict actually depends greatly on when/where you make that projection. With smallpox, the growth rate/infection rate is so fast that by the time you make any projection you are likely to be over predicting. With a slow growing epidemic such as AIDS, early stage linear projections will under predict. The corollary, of course, is that the surprise factor in slow-growing exponential phenomena is much higher.

Rule 4. Hunt for prodromes. Learned a new word. For you non-medical types, a prodrome or prodroma is an early symptom or leading indicator. This is William Gibson’s observation that the “future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”

Rule 5. Be indifferent. Don’t confuse your desire for a particular outcome with its likelihood.

Rule 6. Tell a story or, better, draw a map. Trying to package your insights into a story (or scenario if you need to justify your consulting rates) helps reveal gaps, risks, and opportunities present in the events you are trying to understand. It can also help you get a better grasp on the potential wild cards. Saffo was more keen on the value of trying to find a way to capture your insights into something more graphical/visual. The value there is that those representations can help you highlight important relationships more easily and they raise the possibility of revealing ‘whitespace’ where you might find important opportunities to exploit or risks to minimize.

Rule 7. Prove yourself wrong. The essential wisdom of the scientific method. Understand and resist the natural human tendencies to believe. Be careful not to rely on a single element of strong information. Look for lots of pieces of weak information that collectively reinforce your insights. Your search for strong information should be for that one piece of evidence that proves you wrong. Look for the one thing that will make you look stupid if someone else brings it up after you’ve gone public.

It was a well spent morning listening to Paul, as was the opportunity to interact during the breaks.

Technorati Tags : , , ,

More new tools for knowledge work from MindJet

I’m beginning to suspect that the folks at MindJet have a secret plan for world domination. MindManager is rapidly evolving into a platform for doing the hard part of knowledge work and this is one more example.

I’ve lately found that I am spending more and more of my ‘think time’ working inside of MindManager. I’ve always been a fan of mindmaps in general and of good outlining software. As I continue to invest time in becoming more comfortable and adept at using MindManager the payoff in terms of quality thought feels as though it is going up even faster. I suspect that adding OPML to the mix will just accelerate that process. Nice piece of work.

Mindjet Labs unveils OPML Editor.The Mindjet Labs has just released a new Mindjet MindManager Pro 6 OPML Editor. The Editor enables users to open, edit, and save Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) files in MindManager Pro 6. The editor also reads and writes the Simple Sharing Extensions to OPML introduced by Microsoft under a Creative Commons License.

Originally conceived by Dave Winer, founder of Userland Software, OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) is, according to WikiPedia, “an XML format for outlines. Originally developed

An old look at a new idea – the value of personal knowledge management

(cross-posted at Future Tense)

One of the blogs I’ve been reading on a provisional basis recently is “Inside Higher Ed.” It provides an interesting contrast to the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Wired Campus blog. Both offer valuable perspective on the life of knowledge work and knowledge workers that goes well beyond their specific focus on the world of higher education.

In a column from November, Scott McLemee reflects on a 1959 essay by the sociologist C. Wright Mills “On Intellectual Craftsmanship.” You can get your hands on a copy by buying a copy of Mills’s The Sociological Imagination. At the core of Mills’s recommendations is the notion of maintaining a file or journal, which ought to sound quite familiar. His description is worth sharing at length:

In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies underway and studies planned. In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it to directly to various work in progress. By serving as a check on repetitious work, your file also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encourages you to capture ‘fringe-thoughts’: various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experiences.

You will have often noticed how carefully accomplished thinkers treat their own minds, how closely they observe their development and organize their experience. The reason they treasure their smallest experience is that, in the course of a lifetime, modern man has so very little personal experience and yet experience is so important as a source of original intellectual work. To be able to trust yet be skeptical of your own experience, I have come to believe, is one mark of the mature workman. This ambiguous confidence is indispensable to originality in any intellectual pursuit, and the file is one way by which you can develop and justify such confidence.

The primary value of today’s tools and technologies for blogging, wikis, and the like is that they eliminate technical and usability barriers to maintaining and investing in the kind of long-lived knowledge asset that Mills is describing. Secondarily, these tools make it easier and more productive to engage in the kind of active reflection and learning Mills talks about.

What the tools don’t do is provide the discipline and support structures to help you keep at the long-term investment in becoming a better knowledge worker. Or provide a nice, neat ROI argument that you can bring to your CIO or CEO.