Congratulations to Euan Semple on the publication of his first book “Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do”

Euan Semple’s first book(of many I hope) has just hit the net in e-book format. It’s already on my iPad awaiting my next flight. I’ve known Euan long enough to know that it will be excellent even before I read it so I am recommending it now. I’ll follow up with a review later.

– The Obvious? – The eBook edition of my book is published!: “The eBook edition of my book is published!



Thanks to the guys at Wiley the eBook edition of my book “Organizations don’t tweet, people do” is available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. You can also get it from

From the blurb:

Practical advice for managers on how the Web and social media can help them to do their jobs better.

Today’s managers are faced with an increasing use of the Web and social platforms by their staff, their customers, and their competitors, but most aren’t sure quite what to do about it or how it all relates to them.

Corporations Don’t Tweet People Do provides managers in all sorts of organizations, from governments to multinationals, with practical advice, insight and inspiration on how the Web and social tools can help them to do their jobs better. From strategy to corporate communication, team building to customer relations, this uniquely people-centric guide to social media in the workplace offers managers, at all levels, valuable insights into the networked world as it applies to their challenges as managers, and it outlines practical things they can do to make social media integral to the tone and tenor of their departments or organizational cultures.

A long-overdue guide to social media that talks directly to people in the real world in which they work

Grounded in the author’s unparalleled experience consulting on social media, it features eye-opening accounts from some of the world’s most successful and powerful organizations Gives managers at all levels and in every type of organization the context and the confidence to make better decisions about the social web and its impact on them”

(Via .)

Richard Feynman On The Folly Of Crafting Precise Definitions

I’ve often struggled with the notion of definitions when working in organizations. On the one hand, too many of us hide our ignorance and uncertainty behind a wall of jargon and terminology. Terms fall in and out of favor and their relationship to the underlying real world is often less important than their value from a marketing perspective.

On the other hand, new terms and language can help us point to and see new ideas and new opportunities for action. Here’s a recent post from Bob Sutton that sheds light on these challenges and is worth thinking about.

One of my best friends in graduate school was a former physics major named Larry Ford. When behavioral scientists started pushing for precise definitions of concepts like effectiveness and leadership, he would sometimes confuse them (even though Larry is a very precise thinker) by arguing “there is a negative relationship between precision and accuracy.” I just ran into a quote from the amazing Nobel winner Richard Feynman that makes a similar point in a lovely way:

We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers one saying to the other: “you don’t know what you are talking about!”. The second one says: “what do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you? What do you mean by know?

Feynman’s quote reminded me of the opening pages of the 1958 classic “Organizations” by James March (quite possibly the most prestigious living organizational theorist, and certainly, one of the most charming academics on the planet) and Herbert Simon (another Nobel winner). They open the book with a great quote that sometimes drives doctoral students and other scholars just crazy. They kick-off by saying:

“This is a book about a theory of formal organizations. It is easier, and probably more useful, to give examples of formal organizations than to define them.”

After listing a bunch of examples of organizations including the Red Cross and New York State Highway Department, they note in words that would have pleased Feynman:

“But for the present purposes we need not trouble ourselves with the precise boundaries to be drawn around an organization or the exact distinction between an “organization” and a “non-organization.” We are dealing with empirical phenomena, and the world has an uncomfortable way of not permitting itself to be fitted into clean classifications.”

I must report, however, that for the second edition of the book, published over 20 years later, the authors elected to insert a short definition in the introduction:

“Organizations are systems of coordinated action among individuals and groups whose preferences, information, interests, or knowledge differ.”

When I read this, I find myself doing what Feynman complained about. I think of things they left out: What about norms? What about emotions? I think of situations where it might not apply: Doesn’t a business owned and operated by one person count as an organization? I think of the possible overemphasis on differences: What about all the times and ways that people and groups in organizations have similar preferences, information, interests, and knowledge? Isn’t that part of what an organization is as well? I could go on and on.

I actually think it is a pretty good definition, but my bias is still that I like original approach, as they did such a nice job of arguing, essentially, that if they tried to get more precise, they would sacrifice accuracy. Nonetheless, I confess that I still love trying to define things and believe that trying to do so can help clarifying your thinking. You could argue that while the outcome, in the end, will always be flawed and imprecise, the process is usually helpful and there are many times when it is useful pretend that you have a precise and accurate definition even if you don’t (such as when you are developing metrics). “

Richard Feynman On The Folly Of Crafting Precise Definitions – Bob Sutton:

Ten years at McGee’s Musings

Today marks the tenth year that I’ve been writing here. Like all things organic the pace ebbs and flows. Topics evolve and morph. Technologies appear and disappear. Over all this time, the reward that turns out to matter most is the opportunity to make and build relationships.

This week brought an excellent example. I was in New York at the contactcon conference to talk about the work that David Friedman and I have been doing on Collaborating Minds. Besides all the fascinating new people we met at the conference, I was also able to finally meet several colleagues in person that I’ve come to know digitally because I’ve been present here. Both George Por and Flemming Funch were at the conference as well and we were able to expand on our friendship instead of starting them.

A special treat was being able to meet Dave Winer face to face and to thank him for all he has contributed to my work. I started blogging using tools and ideas he created. For that matter I started using his tools for writing and thinking (ThinkTank and Ready) in the very earliest days of personal computing.

Once again my thanks to all of you that I’ve been able to meet and get to know from this outpost on the Web.

Understanding the world around you – more insights from Richard Feynman

Another gem from Richard Feynman. In this clip he uses the game of chess to illustrate how scientists go from making observations about the world to better and better theories that account for the observations. There’s a lot of depth in this simple analogy and it’s well worth dedicating some of your own brain cycles to following Feynman’s reasoning.

Your morning dose of Feynman Boing Boing: “Your morning dose of Feynman By Maggie Koerth-Baker at 7:05 am Wednesday, Oct 12

Richard Feynman, God of Perfect Analogies, explains why it’s not a failure or a scandal when scientists adapt and change their understanding of the world. This is a really important point, applicable in a lot of public debates over science, especially those focused on evolution and climate change. Science isn’t about writing things on tablets of stone. It’s about taking a theory and constantly digging deeper into it adding layers of nuance, finding stuff that doesn’t make sense, and using both to build a more complete picture. Even if the big idea is right, the details will change. That’s how science is supposed to work.

Via W. Younes

Enormously moving speech on the way the Internet transforms lives Boing Boing

This has been lurking in my “to read/view” pile for months. The title from the original Boing Boing post sums it up quite nicely. It shows what is possible. Our challenge is to make it more common. The best 15 minutes I’ve spent in a long time.

Enormously moving speech on the way the Internet transforms lives Boing Boing: “Enormously moving speech on the way the Internet transforms lives By Cory Doctorow at 9:47 am Tuesday, Jun 7

Watch live streaming video from pdf2011 at

I’m at the Personal Democracy Forum at NYU today, and the morning plenary has been a series of fascinating short talks. But one talk, by Jim Gilliam’s “The Internet is My Religion,” brought the house down. Jim worked in many early and influential Internet firms, went on to produce Robert Greenwald’s extraordinary films, and do many other notable things. Among them was surviving two bouts of cancer and a double-lung transplant. The story of how he went from a Jerry Falwell born-again to an Internet advocate and film producer ended with a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house. Watch this, please, I’d consider it a favor.

Jim Gilliam- The Future of Sharing

Russell Ackoff on Systems Thinking vs. Continuous Improvement

Russell Ackoff was one of the seminal thinkers in systems models of organization. Here is a short talk of his from 1994 that provides an excellent introduction to the topic.

Learning to see and understand the systems behavior of organizations is an excellent antidote to much of the mythology around organizations that functions in lieu of more powerful models.

Review: “The New Edge in Knowledge”

The New Edge in Knowledge: How knowledge management is changing the way we do business, O’Dell, Carla and Cindy Hubert

Carla O’Dell and her co-author, Cindy Hubert, have been tilling the fields of knowledge management since the earliest days of the notion. In their latest effort, The New Edge in Knowledge, they take stock of where the field has been, where it is today, and how it is evolving. With their work at the APQC (American Productivity and Quality Center), they’ve always split their time between the trenches and the big picture. Spread that over 15-20 years and the result is lots of pragmatic guidance buttressed by an equal measure of real examples.

O’Dell has always supported the notion that knowledge management is primarily an organizational challenge, that is aided by the effective use of technology but not dependent on it. That position remains strong here. Fortunately, the rest of the world appears to be catching up to this perspective. In many respects, this book is deceptively simple. It tends to gloss over the organizational resistance that many KM efforts will encounter as they are deployed. Granted, that isn’t a specific goal of the book. Nevertheless, KM can present unusual problems of resistance to change because the target audience (knowledge workers in all shapes and sizes) constitutes such a critical resource for the organization. Moreover, they have greater degrees of freedom in whether and how they choose to cooperate, support, or sabotage KM efforts.

Overall, this is an excellent introduction to the state of KM in today’s organizations and a usefully pragmatic playbook for someone wanting to put an effective KM program into practice within their organization. Many of the topics benefit from deeper dives to understand them, but this is the place to start for a coherent view that effectively integrates the big picture with a pragmatic approach to getting started and making progress.

Euan Semple on nurturing a knowledge ecology

This gem from Euan Semple made the rounds earlier this summer. I was too busy then to do more than note it.

Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology

TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011 AT 7:08AM

A tweet yesterday prompted me to remember sage advice from Dave Snowden which I took to heart in my work with social tools at the BBC. “You can’t manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology”. I thought it might be useful to others to list the ten most important things I learned about doing this.

1, Have a variety of tools rather than a single system. Not everyone sees the world the same way or has the same needs so mixing up different tools with different strengths allows people to find one that works for them. Avoid single platforms like the plague.

2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed. The more fixed you are in your aspirations for your ecology the less likely you are to achieve them. Be prepared to go where people’s use of the tools takes you and enjoy the ride.

3. Follow the energy. Watch where the energy in the system is and try to copy the factors that generated it. Get others interested in why energy emerges and they will want some of it themselves.

4. Be strategically tactical. You can have an overall strategy of behaving in certain ways depending on how your ecology develops. It is possible to sell this as a strategy to those who need strategies.

5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground. Keep doing things, keep talking about what you are doing and why, and have a rough idea of where the high ground is.

6. Build networks of people who care. Don’t try to manage your ecology by committee but cultivate communication and trust between those who care that it works and have the commitment to do something about it – whoever they are and whatever their role.

7. Be obsessively interested. Notice everything that happens and consider why. Tell great stories about what you are observing.

8. Use the tools to manage the tools. Blog about what is going on with your corporate blogging, ask questions in your forum about security, tweet when something is changing in your ecology and ask people why it is interesting.

9. Laugh when things go wrong. If you are pushing limits and exploring new territory things will occasionally blow up in your face. Having a sense of humour and enjoyment of the absurd will help you stay sane.

10. Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

(– The Obvious? – Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology)

The paradox of organic approaches to change is that while they appear to be simple and mundane, they also appear to be the only thing that works with any regularity in complex situations. For all the rhetoric of bold plans and audacious goals, the reality is that most change occurs inch-by-inch.