Video: Wikis in Plain English from Lee LeFever

Another excellent and quick tutorial from Lee LeFever.

Video: Wikis in Plain English 

We made this video because wiki web sites are easy to use, but hard to describe. We hope to turn you on to a better way to plan a camping trip, or create the next Wikipedia.

Length: 3 minutes 52 seconds.  

If you’d like to share this video, you can grab the code at or YouTube. A transcript is here and soon we’ll have a subtitled version on DotSub.

Video: Wikis in Plain English


MindManager 7 is now available from MindJet

The folks at MindJet officially have launched their latest upgrade to MindManager Pro, now at version 7. Here’s their press release, although you’ll probably find Chuck Frey’s preview comments more useful. I’m still getting used to the Ribbon interface, but that is also the case for Office 2007. If you’re using this tool, you’ll want to upgrade. If you haven’t started mindmapping, today would be a good day to get started.

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Andrew Hinton on Architectures for Conversation

Courtesy of David Weinberger, here is an excellent presentation on information architecture. It is also a good lesson in effective communication/presentation techniques.

What is information architecture? The slide show.

The always enjoyable Andrew Hinton has an insightful, witty, surprising set of slides ‘n’ text that tries to explain not only what Information Architecture is, but why it’s been so hard to explain. Along the way he has things to say about communities vs. communities of practice, how to attract flies, and why Wikipedia is more like an AK-47 than like an M-16. Great stuff, entertainingly and elegantly communicated. [Tags: ]

Solving puzzles or framing mysteries. Dealing with wicked problems

There’s in interesting essay in the most recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine on the importance of understanding whether you are working on a puzzle or a mystery written by Gregory Treverton, who is the Director of RAND’s Center for Global Risk and Security.

There’s a reason millions of people try to solve crossword puzzles each day. Amid the well-ordered combat between a puzzler’s mind and the blank boxes waiting to be filled, there is satisfaction along with frustration. Even when you can’t find the right answer, you know it exists. Puzzles can be solved; they have answers.

But a mystery offers no such comfort. It poses a question that has no definitive answer because the answer is contingent; it depends on a future interaction of many factors, known and unknown. A mystery cannot be answered; it can only be framed, by identifying the critical factors and applying some sense of how they have interacted in the past and might interact in the future. A mystery is an attempt to define ambiguities.

Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries. Treating them as puzzles is like trying to solve the unsolvable—an impossible challenge. But approaching them as mysteries may make us more comfortable with the uncertainties of our age. [Risks and Riddles.]

Treverton’s essay focuses on the distinction in the context terrorism and law enforcement, but it is worth pondering more broadly. Most of our training and experience in organizations is focused on puzzle-solving skills. MBA programs focus on equipping their graduates with toolkits for solving a host of problems; once those problems have been appropriately identified and bounded. They offer far less guidance on the far more difficult task of framing issues in ways that can be addressed.

Absent good practices in framing issues, the temptation is always to force issues into puzzle structures that can be solved. Treverton offers an important reminder of the risks of forcing mysteries into puzzles.

Another helpful language system to employ here is Horst Rittel’s notion of “wicked problems.” Jeff Conklin, at the CogNexus Institute has some excellent materials to help get started down this path. Take a look at “Wicked Problems and Social Complexity” (PDF file) and “Issues as Elements of Information Systems” (PDF file) which is Rittel’s original paper on the topic. Conklin has also written an excellent book on the topic: Dialogue Mapping : Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems. Finally, there is an open source software tool, Compendium, available to support some of the techniques for framing and working on wicked problems that Conklin advocates.

Better thinking about performance improvement

  Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Gawande, Atul

I’ve always been troubled by the phrase “best practices” thrown around loosely in business settings. In certain engineering and professional settings, the term can have an important legal meaning. Even then, “best practice” is always a moving target. Better, Atul Gawande’s most recent collection of essays nicely crystallizes my reservations and offers useful insight into how to think about performance and performance improvement in knowledge work environments.

Drawing on his experience as a surgeon, Gawande reflects on the connections between learning and practice; both as an individual practitioner and as a field. His essays provide fascinating insights into how the practice of medicine has evolved over time; ranging over such diverse topics as hand-washing, battlefield injuries, and obstetrics. For that alone, Better is well worth reading. But it offers broader lessons as well.

Rooted in science and medicine, one thread that Gawande examines is quality of evidence. The gold standard is that of the double-blind, controlled laboratory experiment. However, action in the world and the demands of day-to-day practice cannot always wait for that standard to be met. There’s a wonderful quote from Samuel Butler that captures this problem; “Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.” Many of Gawande’s stories shed light on the reality that we often must make decisions on the basis of imperfect information and knowledge. We may not be able always to meet a gold standard of evidence, but we still benefit from a methodological commitment to hypothesis, experiment, and measurement.

Gawande’s observations on measurement and performance evolution in obstetrics provides one good example. He starts with the development of the Apgar score; a simple, concrete, measure of a baby’s condition at one minute and five minutes after birth. I am particularly struck by the insight and cleverness represented by recording the score twice in such a short interval. That creates a connection between measurement and action that drives performance improvement; it creates a feedback loop well matched to the human system it is embedded in.

Moving up a level from an individual delivery to a hospital’s performance, the Apgar score also serves to drive performance improvement at a more systemic level. In addition to informed clinical judgments about performance, we now have some numbers we can compare against one another and over time. Because these numbers tie to clinical judgment and performance, they can be used to evaluate changes in practice. Changes that improve the scores stick; those that don’t are abandoned.

This logic sheds some interesting light on a tension between “evidence-based medicine” and performance improvement more broadly conceived. Careful, clinical studies of problematic deliveries showed that Caesarian-sections had no measurable advantage over forceps assisted deliveries. Yet, no obstetrician uses forceps anymore and C-sections are used more and more routinely to the point where some claim they are over-used.

Understanding why has important lessons for anyone interesting in improving the performance of knowledge work in organizations. The difference comes from whether you are looking at performance at the systems level or the individual practitioner level. Learning to use forceps is a complex skill; difficult to observe, difficult to learn and difficult to teach. A C-section, on the other hand, is straightforward as surgical procedures go, highly observable, and teachable to a wider range of competent OB/GYNs. If you are trying to improve the outcomes and reliability of the system as a whole, your payoff from pushing C-sections over forceps is much higher. This is a classic example of improving a system by reducing variability. It is also an important reminder to be clear about where you are trying to improve performance.



Congratulations to Jack Vinson on four years of blogging

Although, I would prefer to think of it as taking credit for encouraging Jack to add his insight and voice to the blogging world., rather than blame 

It’s been four years

Hard to believe that I have been at this for four years now. 

Thanks to all my readers (FeedBurner says there are ~1300 on the feed; 40 readers via FeedBlitz; 2000 visitors a day at the website), and thanks to the hundreds of inspirations I have out there who take me down interesting paths and teach me new things.

All blame lays on the shoulders of Jim McGee, who told me to start writing on my own blog instead of peppering him with comments all the time.

Mindjet Recommends Mind Mapping Blogs and Resources

I’m very flattered to be included on this list. More importantly, there are quite a few other blogs talking about mindmapping that I wasn’t aware of that I will now be checking out.

Mindjet Recommends Mind Mapping Blogs and Resources

Hi Everyone,

We asked the Mindjet Blog reading community to share with us their own mind mapping / MindManager blogs.

The map available for download below is the result of this outreach and shares with our community a nice range of mind mapping blog sites and resources.


Mindjet Recommended Blogs Map

PS- Please note: We’ll be adding the larger “Writing an Article” map from our previous post onto Mindjet Labs as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

Making online forums work

Excellent insights from Cory Doctorow on the skills and techniques needed to ensure reasonably civil and effective discourse in online environments. You would also do well to take a look at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s advice on moderation in online forums.

Which troll-fighting techniques work

Cory Doctorow: In my latest InfoWeek column, I look at what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to fighting trolls:

In the wake of the Kathy Sierra mess, Tim O’Reilly proposed a Blogger’s Code of Conduct as a way of preventing a recurrence of the vile, misogynist attacks that Sierra suffered. The idea was that bloggers could choose to follow the Code and post a little badge to their sites affirming their adherence to it, putting message-board posters on notice of the house rules. Although it sounds like a reasonable idea on the face of it, bloggers were incredibly skeptical of the proposal, if not actively hostile. The objections seemed to boil down to this: “We’re not uncivil, and neither are those message-board posters we regularly see on the boards. It’s the trolls that we have trouble with, and they’re pathological psychos, already ignoring our implicit code of conduct. They’re going to ignore your explicit code of conduct, too.” (There was more, of course — like the fact that a set of articulated rules only invite people to hold you to them when they violate the spirit but not the letter of the law).

O’Reilly built his empire by doing something incredibly smart: Watching what geeks did that worked and writing it down so that other people could do it too. He is a distiller of Internet wisdom, and it’s that approach that is called for here.

If you want to fight trolling, don’t make up a bunch of a priori assumptions about what will or won’t discourage trolls. Instead, seek out the troll whisperer and study their techniques.


A lazy web request about Apache rewrite rules

I’ve finally gotten around to porting my old Radio archives over to WordPress. One unintended consequence is that the urls for the individual daily archive entries change. In Radio the archive entry for today would be; In WordPress the url becomes .

Google searches that point to an old Radio url end up with a 404 not found error. This seems to be a case where Apache’s rewrite rules should help, but I don’t know how to write the right rule off the top of my head. I could do my usual combination of searching for clues and trial and error. Perhaps someone out there could point me in a productive direction in the comments.

Charles Stross on some possible futures

I’ve been a fan of Charlie Stross’s science fiction since I discovered it. Here’s a transcript of a talk he gave recently in Munich trying to tease out the potential implications in some pretty straightforward predictions about near-term technology change. As Larry Niven once observed, “Good science fiction writers predict cars: Great science fiction writers predict traffic jams.” Stross has some very provocative things to say about some possible traffic jams.

It’s a longish talk, well worth your time. Here are two tidbits to give you a sense of what you will find there:

Suppose you could capture a real-time video feed of all of your activity, something that researchers at Microsoft Labs are already actively experimenting with (Mylifebits project). Stross calls this “life-logging” and suggests that

The political hazards of lifelogging are, or should be, semi-obvious. In the short term, we’re going to have to learn to do without a lot of bad laws. If it’s an offense to pick your nose in public, someone, sooner or later, will write a ‘bot to hunt down nose-pickers and refer them to the police. Or people who put the wrong type of rubbish in the recycling bags. Or cross the road without using a pedestrian crossing, when there’s no traffic about. If you dig hard enough, everyone is a criminal. In the UK, today, there are only about four million public CCTV surveillance cameras; I’m asking myself, what is life going to be like when there are, say, four hundred million of them? And everything they see is recorded and retained forever, and can be searched retroactively for wrong-doing. [Charles Stross: Shaping the future]

Or consider the fallout that might occur when we do end up with cars capable of driving themselves?

Once all on-road cars are driverless, the current restrictions on driving age and status of intoxication will cease to make sense. Why require a human driver to take an eight year old to school, when the eight year old can travel by themselves? Why not let drunks go home, if they’re not controlling the vehicle? So the rules over who can direct a car will change. And shortly thereafter, the whole point of owning your own car — that you can drive it yourself, wherever you want — is going to be subtly undermined by the redefinition of car from an expression of independence to a glorified taxi. If I was malicious, I’d suggest that the move to autonomous vehicles will kill the personal automobile market; but instead I’ll assume that people will still want to own their own four-wheeled living room, even though their relationship with it will change fundamentally. [Charles Stross: Shaping the future]

Food for thought.