We just wanted to wish all of you a good holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2008. I’ll be spending some family time over the next week. With luck that will include still finding some snow in Vermont. How much connectivity we’ll have (or want) remains to be seen.
There are a variety of articles and papers that I continue to draw insight from and find myself recommending to others on a regular basis. I decided it would be a useful exercise to assemble them into one set of pointers, add a little bit of commentary, and make it available.
I limited myself to materials that were easily available on the web, which eliminated some more obscure, academic, materials that you probably wouldn’t want to read anyway. I ended up with a dozen items that fall into two categories. The first group represents useful thinking about individual knowledge workers; the second about design principles relevant at the organizational and strategic level.
Design space for individual knowledge work
- “As We May Think” – Vannevar Bush. Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” in 1959. Bush set the framework for a knowledge worker’s day in 1945.
- “Structured procrastination” – John Perry. A somewhat different, but nonetheless useful take on how to best leverage a multi-tasking, multi-demand world.
- “You and Your Research” – Richard Hamming. Underlying strategies for how to set and follow a strategy for tackling worthwhile and rewarding problems. Although focused on research, the advice is readily applicable to all kinds of knowledge work.
- “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” – Doug Engelbart. Engelbart set an agenda for the use of technology for knowledge work that drove much of the conceptual innovation in software for the last several decades.
- “Personal Dynamic Media” (PDF file) – Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg. Along with Engelbart’s paper, Kay and Goldberg’s imagines much of the personal computing revolution and how we might best make use of technology in doing knowledge work.
Strategic and Organizational Design Principles
- “The nature of the firm” (PDF file) – Coase. Coase ultimately own a Nobel prize in economics for this work, which examines the conditions that differentiate between activities best organized by markets vs. those best organized by organizations.
- Cluetrain manifesto – Searls, Weinberger, Locke, Levine. The first, and still best, thinking about the ways that the internet affects markets and marketing
- “End to end arguments in system design” (PDF file) – Saltzer, Reed, & Clark. These guys were key designers of the underlying protocols that drive the internet. This paper lays out the reasons why centralized command and control is a bad idea in networks; regardless of how appealing it tends to be to the powers-that-be.
- “Rise of the stupid network – Isenberg. From a former phone industry software engineer, this paper provides an interesting examination of the interaction between technology change and organizational/strategic inertia.
- The long tail“– Anderson . The article that led to the book. Both offer insight into the opportunities to design products and services that take advantage of how the net offers alternatives to mass markets.
- “Places to intervene in a system” – Meadows. The changes we need to make to take full advantage of the opportunities that technology presents us depend on thinking and operating at a systems level. This is the best short overview of the leverage points that can be found and used to make this level of change happen.
- “Wicked problems and social complexity” (PDF file) – Conklin. As a counterbalance to Meadows, Conklin enriches the discussion of systems change by laying out the notion of “wicked problems.” These are the kinds problems whose solutions arise from the interaction between competing interest groups and change the definition of the problem as they are implemented.
Marc and I had been traveling in the same blogging circles for the last several years and trading emails from time to time. We finally had the chance to meet face-to-face in San Francisco earlier this year and that built readily on the friendship we had already established. I count myself lucky to have known him; even if for too short a time.
Update: 2:56PM Pacific Time December 9th, 2007:
It is with great sadness that I report that Marc Orchant, Husband to Sue, Father to Rebecca and Jason, and friend to so many, passed away just a short time ago. I was notified by Marc’s brother Craig.
His family and closest friends were at his side and his favorite music was playing. Craig said that Marc’s passing was as peaceful and easy as anyone could have hoped and he left this world surrounded by love from so many people that he couldn’t possibly have failed to know how many people cared for, appreciated and respected him.
Anyone that knew Marc also knew how much he loved music; especially the Grateful Dead. The excerpt below is from one of the songs that helped the family say goodbye to Marc and helped Marc move on to the next world. I talked to Marc almost every single day for the past couple of years. I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I am going to miss him so, so much.
To allow for people that may need to travel and take time of work, services are most likely going to be held this coming Wednesday afternoon at the Temple where the Orchants are members. I will provide more specific details as soon as they have been provided to me. Marc’s family expressed once again their gratitude for the outpouring of love and support that the technology community has shown in this very difficult time. Your warmth, concern and friendship will not be forgotten.
The conversation about technology and organizations has been enriched with a new blog, Difference Engine, by my long-time friend and colleague, Abbie Lundberg. Of course, as Editor in Chief at CIO Magazine, we’ve been benefiting from her perspective and insight for years. Now, we’ll get it a bit less filtered and a bit more personal. I’m looking forward to it. Here’s a quick sample:
As the debate over the CIO role rages on, we wonder which is the most critical skill set: business, technology or, as some argue, the ability to detect bullshit?
The debate about the best background for CIOs isn t new. It s been going on since the mid 90s, when Johnson & Johnson first appointed a CIO from the business, without hands-on IT experience. The argument goes something like this: Technology is becoming an increasingly integral part of business; ergo, CIOs have to be business strategists. So far so good. But then some people continue the argument to say that because business knowledge and ability is so important, technology knowledge isn t. False!
So what do you think? Can you be a truly great CIO without a pretty deep understanding of technology? Does the merging of business and technology make technology knowledge more or less valuable to the individual leading strategic IT?
What’s the relationship between knowledge management practices and innovation? On first thought, you would think that effective knowledge management would contribute to more effective innovation as well. On the other hand, knowledge management has often been justified on the value of not routinely reinventing solutions to problems that an organization has already solved. This potentially puts knowledge management and innovation at odds with one another.
The sticking point lies in the measurement and reward systems put in place to encourage active use of the knowledge management system. Absent careful thought about the various ways in which the contents of a knowledge management system feed into business processes, the risk is a measurement system that actively inhibits rather than promotes innovation.
I got an email on this from my old friend and colleague Chunka Mui. I was going to write it up and post it, but the lazy web comes to my aid once again and Ed Yourdon has done the heavy lifting for me.
My calendar popped up a to-do item this morning, reminding me that the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) donation period begins today, and runs through November 26th. In a nutshell: you spend $400, which purchases two of the open-source, highly innovative machines known as XO . One laptop gets sent to you, and the other is donated to a child somewhere, in a developing country. Not only that, you get a $200 charitable contribution on your income tax (well, at least that s true in the U.S.; don t know about other parts of the world).
I ve now ordered mine, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival (though the website makes it clear that I shouldn t expect overnight delivery a la Amazon). I ll let you know what I think of it once I get my hands on it; in the meantime, check out the OLPC website, and consider making a contribution of your own.
There are certainly lots of opportunities to make the world a better place. This is one of the ones I’ve opted to support. So, as Ed suggests, check out the OLPC website.
The experiment continues. Today is my sixth blogiversary.
When I started this I was teaching information technology and knowledge management topics at the Kellogg School. Today, I’m helping clients deal much the same set of issues. We have powerful technology and new services that promise to make us more effective and productive. Sometimes they actually do.
This space is a place where I try to get my own thinking straight and a way to immerse myself in the ongoing conversation of others trying to get their thinking straight. Some of them think in like-minded ways, others in very different ways, and all are important to the journey.
This particular set of social technologies must be lived in to be understood. I think this is one of the impediments that larger organizations face in managing adoption. They are comfortable with the illusion of carefully crafted plans. They need to become reacquainted with the less well-marked paths of real learning.
What I said in 2005 is still true:
I remain interested in the challenges of making organizations better places for real people to work in and still believe that the effective use of technology makes a difference. I suspect that large organizations are nearing the end of their useful life and that the evolution toward new forms will continue to be painful and noisy. I worry about leaders and executives who choose to ignore facts and who can’t or won’t distinguish between the theory of evolution and the theory of who shot JFK. [McGee’s Musings]
As has become my custom, I want to thank those whose paths I’ve crossed, if only electronically:
Jenny Levine, AKMA, Terry Frazier, Betsy Devine, Buzz Bruggeman, Denham Grey, Marc Orchant, Cameron Reilly, Ernie Svenson, Judith Meskill, Jack Vinson, Ross Mayfield, Lilia Efimova, Jeremy Wagstaff, Matt Mower, Ton Zijlstra, Eric Snowdeal, Rick Klau, Greg Lloyd, Chris Nuzum, Jordan Frank, Halley Suitt, Jon Husband, Dina Mehta, Shannon Clark, Bruce MacEwen, Espen Andersen, Hylton Jolliffe, Stowe Boyd, Francois Gossieaux, Jim Berkowitz, Eric Lunt, Dennis Kennedy, Matt Homann, Jim Ware, Elizabeth Albrycht, Regina Miller, David Gurteen, Rik Reppe, Tom Davenport & Larry Prusak, John Sviokla, Bryan Rieger, Stephanie Rieger, Sheryle Bolton, Lynne Whitehorn-Umphres, Bill Ives, Giovanni Rodriguez, David Maister, Nancy White, Dave Snowden, Andrew McAfee, Euan Semple, Kathleen Gilroy, Stuart Henshall, Paula Thornton, Jay Cross
Spook Country, Gibson, William
I’ve been a fan of Gibson since discovering Neuromancer twenty years ago. A lot of people whose opinions I value have had great things to say about Spook Country and it’s been on the NY Times best seller list for a number of weeks. It even has it’s own Wikipedia entry.
Perhaps I am simply insufficiently sophisticated or old-fashioned in my literary tastes, but I struggled to finish it. I can’t entirely put my finger on why. For one thing, the parallel story lines felt so wildly disconnected from one another, that the implicit promise that they would connect at the end kept interfering with my ability to immerse myself in the flow. For another, I never managed to connect with any of the characters. Finally, in some strange way, I found that the clear skill and craft of Gibson’s writing kept intruding itself on me, instead of drawing me into the story itself.
Fundamentally, Spook Country, for all of its commercial success and glowing reviews isn’t one of Gibson’s best efforts. Interestingly, I found the mixed reviews at Amazon to be more representative of my experience with the book than the “official” reviews elsewhere.
One of these years I am going to make it to PopTech with Buzz. He’s been twisting my arm for as long as I’ve known him to do so. Hasn’t meshed with my schedule yet.
It is like Christmas Eve here in Camden, Me. Just came back from an afternoon session on Mobile Technology, cold beers with great friends, the opening party for Pop!Tech.
This is the best thing I do on an annual basis. The quality of the ideas and people is over the top. Hard to know where to begin.
One of today’s ideas was that cell phones “are the dominant computing platform on every continent.”
Another idea was that Nokia was working on a technology where in cell phones could be web servers. Wild!
I have pages of notes, more to come tomorrow, and now am headed to bed, too late on the left coast!
In the meantime, the folks at PopTech have announced that:
we will be webcasting the entire Pop!Tech conference – for free – at http://www.poptech.org/live between 9am and 6.30pm, October 18-20, 2007. Viewers can even submit questions to our stage live by emailing email@example.com. The 2007 Pop!Tech program is online at http://www.poptech.org/schedule and speakers are at http://www.poptech.org/speakers2007/
Pop!Tech is a nonprofit, with the mission is to accelerate the impact of world-changing people and ideas. We’ve invested *heavily* to give our content away to the world for free, and if have a blog and you felt so moved, we would really appreciate a post to help us spread the word!
Here’s a fantastic new resource from Codswallop: Conversion Central: 101 Tools to Convert Video, Music, Images, PDF and More.