Scientist at work: Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

On the Origin of Species a Facsimile of the First Edition, Darwin, Charles

Earlier this year, I came across the Darwin 150 Project, an effort to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. They’ve got a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and all the rest of today’s modern social environment.

I found them by way of Kendall Crolius, a long-time friend from my college days. One of the sponsors of the event was Reading Odyssey, which was hosting reading groups for folks who wanted to read and discuss the book. As one of those classic works I was familiar with, but hadn’t actually read, I signed up to force myself to start and finish the thick paperback that had been sitting patiently on my shelves for many years. Well worth the effort.

More than anything else, I got the opportunity to watch science done in its purest form. Darwin starts with the evidence and some head-scratching, Andy Rooney "did you ever notice" questions. He subjects them to a relentless logical assault of working out the simplest explanation that can account for the facts and stand up to all the objections he can dream up. I was especially struck by his willingness, even eagerness, to wade into the messiness of the data. His Occam’s razor is very, very sharp and he wields it with extraordinary precision. Darwin shows exactly how powerful and robust a good theory can be.

Excellent tips for more productive conference calls

Jessica Lipnack provides an excellent set of tips and best practices for making conference calls more productive. For all the time I spend on calls, I frequently find them immensely frustrating. I plan on incorporating these practices in whatever calls I can influence.  I’ve excerpted a few highlights here:

Could you please repeat the question?

As promised, best practices for conference calls. Not surprisingly, I’ve discovered that I’ve done quite a few posts on the topic, for instance, here and here and here.

And…why did I title this post the way I did? Surefire way to know if someone isn’t paying attention on a call: When asked to comment, they have no idea what they’re commenting on, thus, they say, "[see title]."

  1. No agenda, no meeting.
  2. Avoid status reporting
  3. Use screen sharing
  4. Rotate facilitator, note taker, timekeeper, "break" buddies
  5. Keep notes, display them, distribute immediately
  6. Check-in: go around face clock
  7. Get voices in room with "ice breaker" question
  8. Say your name each time you speak
  9. Generate heat: Discuss, disagree, decide
  10. Check-out around clock

The notion of a "face clock" is one of those wonderfully simple and powerful ideas that are so obviously useful once someone else has come up with them:

…6. Check in. Face clock? I better post that right here. One of the graphics that is useful for keeping people aware of one another has each person’s face at a particular hour on the clock. (Thanks, Tom Kunz, for inventing this idea and for allowing us to continue to use this graphic.)

Face clock


Could you please repeat the question?
Jessica Lipnack
Thu, 08 Oct 2009 21:03:17 GMT

You would do well to read the entire post (you should be following Jessica’s blog anyway).

New Friends and New Perspectives from KM World 2009

One of the best parts of participating in KM World 2009 last month was the opportunity to catch up with some long-time friends, turn some long-time e-friends into face-to-face friends and to make some new friends.  One of those new friends was Allan Crawford, who directs an online master’s program in knowledge management at California State University Northridge. He’s put together a brief video post capturing the spirit of the conference:

Perspectives on KM World 2009

At this year s KM World conference I had a chance to talk to several of the participants and ask them the question what stood out for you from this year s conference.

Listen to what  stood out for Carla O Dell, Jim McGee, Patrick Lambe, Stan Garfield and others.

Here are a few of the responses:

Carla O Dell (APQC): Video will make a big difference in how we share knowledge YouTube has changed the world of KM

Jim McGee: The return to the organizational dimension of KM and the shift away from being enamored with technology

Bob Wimpfheimer (Dr Pepper): It has shifted how I think about KM.  Previously it has been storing documents and making them available I ve come to see it s much more important to connect people with people

Jon Husband:  After years of taking about how to reuse knowledge, optimize it and classify it, people are beginning to understand that it s really not very useful if people can t access it, share it and build upon it and that involves learning.  We are going to see blending of the disciplines we now know as learning, KM, personal development, organizational change

Eric Mack (ICA): The talk about social tools and social media the primary value of these social tools is in the connection they provide between other peoples knowledge and the work we do social networking tools allow us to bridge the connection between our experience and knowledge and that of others.

Patrick Lambe (Straits Knowledge): KM is in a long pause.  It has reached the limits of what it can do based on how we currently understand how knowledge is use in organizations.  It is still focused on individual transactions and individual pieces of knowledge .it needs to get to grips more with how organizations work as organisms as thinking organisms.  It is touching that with the collective intelligence and wisdom of crowds stuff but it is nowhere near sophisticated enough to show results and I think that is where it needs to go.

Stan Garfield (Deloitte): KM is definitely not dead it s alive.  But we still have a lot of things to do the things that I think are more important than the technology is the leadership the things we need to do to get people to behave in a certain way to get communities to take off.  These are leadership issues not technical challenges.

The consistent themes appear to be that KM is about connecting people to people KM is social and success is dependant upon behaviors.  Even with the emergence of E2.0 techology is an important enablor for the connections ( YouTube has changed KM ) but is not the center of KM.

If you were at the conference what stood out for you?

Perspectives on KM World 2009
Allan Crawford
Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:46:34 GMT

Insight on the back of a business card

Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, MacLeod, Hugh

Maybe all business authors should be encouraged to start their writing careers doodling on the back of business cards. Wouldn’t we all be better off if more of us invested in distilling our messages as crisply as Hugh MacLeod does here.

MacLeod started drawing on business cards to pass the time hanging out in bars in New York city, graduated to thinking in public on his blog, Gapingvoid, and now has his very own book. All of which is pretty compelling evidence as to which side of the following notion he comes down on:


Ignore Everybody collects a number of MacLeod’s cartoon with his observations on creativity. It’s particularly relevant if you’re called on to exercise more creativity in the chaotic stew that is today’s business world. Here’s a sampling of some of his keys:

  • The idea doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be yours
  • Good ideas have lonely childhoods
  • Allow your work to age with you
  • Put the hours in

Blinding insights? Not particularly. Smartly packaged lasting truths isn’t bad. Certainly more than worth the short and pleasant time it will take you to peruse MacLeod’s gift to us.

Good advice from the trenches of public speaking

Confessions of a Public Speaker, Berkun, Scott

Scott Berkun is an ex-software development manager from Microsoft who is in the midst of a transition from manager/geek to author/public speaker. So far, I’ve interacted with Scott in his writer persona and have yet to hear him deliver wearing his speaker hat. Based on Confessions of a Public Speaker I’d happily grab a seat at the front of the room.

Confessions combines tales from the trenches of public speaking with substantially more practical and useful advice than the average book on this topic. As someone who has also presented in front of audiences from ten to a thousand, i can attest that Scott’s advice is immensely relevant and highly pragmatic. What he is especially good in capturing are the emotional highs and lows of putting yourself in front of masses of strangers to inform (and possibly entertain) them. A couple of his chapter titles give you a sense for what you’ll find:

  • I can’t see you naked
  • How to work a tough room
  • Do not eat the microphone
  • The science of not boring people
  • The little things pros do
  • What to do if your talk sucks
  • What to do when things go wrong

Berkun’s advice is not theoretical. Nor is it dressed up. He opts to share his stories and tips in the bar after the gig. The stories are good. The advice is better.

Learning to love the backchannel

Just before Thanksgiving I was at the KM World 2009 conference in San Jose listening to a keynote presentation by Charlene Li. Like many others, I was tweeting during her presentation and posted the following:


At just about the same time, on the right coast, danah boyd of Microsoft was delivering a keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City that didn’t go as well. Her experience and the subsequent conversation around it represent the latest installment in the evolving relationship between audience and presenter. It also contains comparable lessons for the successful adoption of social media within the enterprise.

If you ever expect to stand and deliver in front of a group, these are issues you need to think about beforehand. That can be as adrenaline inducing as boyd’s keynote or as seemingly innocuous as running a status meeting while the team focuses on their laptops, Blackberrys, and iphones.

I’ve been gathering and organizing links to some of the more useful and informative material I’ve found on this topic. For starters, here are some key pointers specific to boyd’s experience, including her own reflections and assessment:

danah body isn’t the only one dealing with this new relationship between audience and speaker. Here are some other accounts and overviews of other less than successful encounters, both recent and not-so-recent:

Fortunately, we’re also starting to see some good advice emerging on how to cope:

These examples are highly visible. They also take place in settings where you have the additional problems of a degree of anonymity that seems to encourage a level of boorishness more reminiscent of middle school than anything else. At the same time, they are also leading indicators of a default working environment that will be more public and transparent than we are accustomed to or comfortable with. Paying attention here and thinking through what lessons are available and how they translate into other settings is time well spent. Some of the questions on my mind include:

  • Where and when can you influence the tenor of the backchannel? As a presenter? As a conference organizer? As a member of the audience?
  • What can you do before the fact to set useful expectations or standards of interaction?
  • What can you do in the moment?
  • What can you do after the fact?
  • What’s likely to differ in more private venues? What will differ for the better? For worse?
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