Weblogs and passion

I had an opportunity to listen to Mena and Ben Trott talk about Moveable Type last night courtesy of AKMA at Seabury Western. They sparked a good discussion around the role of weblogs in creating and sustaining community (two good live blogged accounts from AKMA and Gabe Bridger by way of Mike Marusin).

At least some of the power and energy behind the weblog phenomenon has to come from passion of the creators of weblog tools. All of the products supporting weblogs are labors of love; all grew out of individual efforts to scratch personal itches–Blogger, Moveable Type, Radio.

This is why weblogs will become important to knowledge management and knowledge sharing in organizations and why the big software players haven’t been a significant factor yet.

Organizations have recognized that knowledge is an essential part of the value that they create. Knowledge management efforts on the other hand have largely been a disappointment because they have tried to force knowledge into a product metaphor; trying to force what is fundamentally a product of craft into an industrial model of reusable parts (see knowledge work as craft work).

Discussions about knowledge management in organizations always raise the issue of sharing with the argument that people will be reluctant to share out of fear that their efforts will be appropriated by others. This is rooted in a industrial product metaphor of knowledge. See knowledge work as craft, however, and the sharing issue dissolves. Craft workers exist to share the fruits of their creating. A true knowledge craft product embodies something of the soul and personality of its creator. You share it with others not so they can copy it but so that they can find inspiration in using it in their own craft.

Weblogs hold so much promise in the organizational realm precisely because they amplify this connection between craft and creator. Your record is there to be seen and to be shared.

This is also why weblogs are so confusing in the organizational realm. You have to move beyond the notion of reusable and reproducible product as the putative goal.

I had a conversation with Alan Kay a while back about Smalltalk and object-oriented programming that I now finally think I understand (conversations with Alan can be that way for those of us who are mere mortals). He was disappointed that the early commercialization efforts around Smalltalk and OO emphasized the idea of reuse. His goal had always been (and still is, take a look at Squeak and SqueakLand) to make it possible for developers to express what they were trying to do faster and more effectively. He was trying to make computers a medium for expressing certain kinds of thinking.

Weblogs accomplish something similar for knowledge workers. They lower the barriers to sharing ideas far enough that it becomes possible for nearly all of us to do so. Bring that inside organizations and you have a powerful tool for being effective as opposed to merely productive. Scary to the established order? Sure. But if value does truly depend on how well and how fast organizations can create and share new knowledge, then the winners will emerge from those who commit to making it work.

Truth and story

Truth & Story. This posting on truth and story made my day. I read it on Serious Play this morning shared it this… [UNBOUND SPIRAL]

An interesting story about story. I’ve been a proponent of storytelling in knowledge management settings and have always envied effective storytellers. This provides some good food for thought.

Making room for good knowledge

It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you know that ain’t so

Will Rogers

There have been a number of items coming through my news aggregator lately that set me to thinking about this old Will Rogers remark (while I’ve seen it attributed to Satchel Paige, Rogers comes back most frequently as the author per Google). For example, apropos of rational responses to the possible threats of chemical and biological attack, there is this.

Bio/chemo/nuke protection without duct-tape. This fascinating one-pager from a former Drill-Sergeant is a reality-check in respect of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, explaining what they do, what they don’t do, and how you can really protect yourself. Without duct-tape.

Bottom line on chemical weapons (it’s the same if they use industrial chemical spills); they are intended to make you panic, to terrorize you, to heard you like sheep to the wolves. If there is an attack, leave the area and go upwind, or to the sides of the wind stream. They have to get the stuff to you, and on you. You’re more likely to be hurt by a drunk driver on any given day than be hurt by one of these attacks. Your odds get better if you leave the area. Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this stuff a knock-out-punch. Don’t let fear of an isolated attack rule your life. The odds are really on your side…

Finally there’s biological warfare. There’s not much to cover here. Basic personal hygiene and sanitation will take you further than a million doctors. Wash your hands often, don’t share drinks, food, sloppy kisses, etc., …. with strangers. Keep your garbage can with a tight lid on it, don’t have standing water (like old buckets, ditches, or kiddie pools) laying around to allow mosquitoes breeding room. This stuff is carried by vectors, that is bugs, rodents, and contaminated material. If biological warfare is so easy as the TV makes it sound, why has Saddam Hussein spent twenty years, millions, and millions of dollars trying to get it right? If you’re clean of person and home you eat well and are active you’re gonna live.

Link Discuss (via Interesting People)[Boing Boing]

    There are, of course, multiple rear guard actions that attempt to appeal to reason. Two of my favorites are badastronomy.com and insultingly stupid movie physics which both rail against the bad knowledge promulgated by Hollywood and the media in the pursuit of entertainment. Now, many will argue that it’s just storytelling, what’s the harm in a bit of dramatic license. If there were more evidence that viewers actually understood how little relationship there was between the real world and what we are told about the real world, I’d be less concerned. But as I listen to executives in those industries make proposals about how information technology should change to support their views of how digital restrictions ought to work, I fear that they, at least, are confusing their fictionalized view of the world with the real thing.

    In the broader world we live in, the descent into unreason is much more frightening. At the mundane level, anyone who travels is confronted with security procedures that bear no relationship to risk or effectiveness. Responses such as “Are you scared stupid?” from Wired News help as does the willingness of folks like Penn Jillette to twit the system. Last week’s duct tape nonsense makes good fodder for comedians, but it hides more troubling problems about the willingness to defer to authority just because.

    I want to believe that reason will triumph. Part of my attraction to blogs is the opportunity to watch people trying to think through problems. The willingness of folks as diverse as Dave Weinberger, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, AKMA, Ed Felten, David Reed, and others to think in public and on the record is immensely encouraging.

    There are many days when I fear that Carlo Cipolla got it right when he wrote “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.” Fundamentally, I’m too optimistic to accept that. Instead, We need to revisit and update our view of what constitutes an appropriate liberal education for the 21st century. Whatever conclusions your own careful reasoning brings you to, I choose to hope that this Wendell Berry sentiment will prevail.

    The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.

    Bubbling blogs and emergent order

    Fleming adds some very useful counterpoint to the evolving debate on blogs and power laws started by Clay Shirky. He picks up on Ross Mayfield’s post on Distribution of Choice that I picked up on yesterday, but takes it in a more interesting direction. He focuses on what can emerge from each of us thinking, writing, and then interacting with one another. The patterns that Shirky sees at the macro level are the end result of all of our activities at the micro level. Some of Fleming’s key observations:

    Blogging allows us to work more openly and refer to each other’s work, while also sharing it with a bigger audience. …

    Connections form. …float up and into the cloud of the web. Specifically they will end up in an assortment of directories and search engines, most notably in Google.

    …the choices of many relatively ordinary folks become more visible than ever before. And they form emergent patterns that become very visible.

    …The point is not at all whether I have unfairly more or less readers than some other weblog. The emerging democracy in blogs is in that we together leverage our choices in a way that normally isn’t possible unless you run a big corporation or you’re run by one. We’re a swarm of thought bubbles. [Ming the Mechanic]

    What we have in blogging are tools and a process that let us participate in the kinds of messy, distributed, emergent process that will characterize work and life for us tomorrow. It’s the concrete instantiation of what Howard Rheingold is talking about in Smart Mobs and Steven Johnson described in Emergence.

    If you only have a nail, every tool looks like a hammer

    Like many bloggers I’ve been following the recent debate around Clay Shirky’s Power laws and blogs article with interest. At the same time, Lilia and Denham Gray have been carrying on a blog-conversation about blogs vs. threaded discussions and wikis.

    Ross Mayfield adds some excellent observations about the multiple possible purposes for blogs from something resembling journalism to tools to support collaboration among tightly integrated teams.

    Blogging software such as “Radio” or “Traction” has that wonderful characteristic of the best kinds of tools that can be warped and twisted to fit so many different needs. Think of Excel being used as a word processor or database manager, for example.

    Couple that flexibility with lowering the barriers to entry so that you expand the universe of potential users by an order of magnitude or so and you get the blogging phenomenon. You don’t have to be any sort of technology expert to pick up a blogging tool and get started. Want to talk about your cats? Feel free. Want to become an instapundit? The name is taken, but there’s room for more if you have something worth saying. Want to improve knowledge sharing among a project team? That’s fine too.

    The tools don’t put much shape on how you interpret them. That means you interpret and explain them from the perspective of your work. If the problem you have looks like a nail, than this must be a hammer I’ve just picked up. It’s the fundamental beauty of general purpose software running on general purpose computers. The limit is your imagination. No wonder the establishment is worried.

    IBM research papers on knowledge management

    Some excellent resources found by Lilia in her research.

    IBM research papers on communities, learning and more.

    Trying to find a paper on-line gives you a lot of other interesting things. So, I came accross public papers of IBM Watson Research Center. These are some I’d like to check out:

    • 02-07 Understanding the Individual, Community and Organizational Benefits of Work-Based Communities
    • 02-01 Understanding the Benefits and Costs of Communities of Practice
    • 01-06 The Dynamics of Social Interaction in a Geography-based Online Community
    • 01-03 Social Construction of Knowledge and Authority in Business Communities and Organizations
    • 00-07 Coming to the Crossroads of Knowledge, Learning, and Technology: Integrating Knowledge Management and Workplace Learning
    • 00-06 New Workplace Learning Technologies: Activities and Exemplars
    • 00-05 Designing Learning: Cognitive Science Principles for the Innovative Organization


    Sharing vs. hoarding knowledge

    Several items over the past few weeks all suggesting that sharing knowledge pays off far better than hoarding does. Handy to have around if you’re fighting arguments that investing in knowledge management has to overcome hoarding.

    Napsterize Your Knowledge: Give To Receive. The primary lesson: “The more that a company shares its knowledge, the more valuable it becomes.” It’s astonishing how many people still don’t believe this. But when I look back at the success my website and OLDaily have brought me – despite my lack of any obvious qualifications in the field – it is self evidently true. When you share your knowledge, you share your ability, and this is what makes you or your company more valuable. People prefer to hire or contract for services based on proven ability nearly every time. Moreoever, the more you share, the more people share in return (many of the items in OLDaily are the result of submissions from readers), which increases your personal or corporate knowledge base. Anyhow, this article discusses some of the benefits of sharing knowledge and then offers some advice on how to do it. (This and the next two items via elearningpost.) By Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, MarketingProfs, January 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect] [OLDaily]

    Cluetrainish MDs.

    Communities of Practice – The real thing!. Here is an excellent example of a medical team building their own Community of Practice using Radio so that they can serve their own Community better. [Robert Paterson’s Radio Weblog]

    This looks like it kicks serious ass. From their “What we’re doing” document:

    It seems very likely that the needed essential innovation in healthcare is sociological, more than technological innovation, more than economic innovation. We have more advanced medical technology than we can currently deliver to patients. We spend abut twice as much per person on healthcare delivery in the US as is spent in Great Britain and there is little to indicate our patients have better health or higher satisfaction as a result. The sociological innovation will be discovering how to cooperate. Some community will discover how they can cooperate among providers and with patients. That is the highly leveraged innovation. That community will change everything for the rest. The sciences of complex adaptive systems and social networks need to come together. To these we need to add the art of community conversations. [Seb’s Open Research ]

    Hoarding is for the weak. Xerox has apparently proven what all knowledge workers intrinsically knew anyway; that knowledge hoarding is detrimental. Via Column Two

    A recent Xerox research report has found that high-performing employees don’t tend to hoard information. According to the news summary: The idea that knowledge is power has been knocked on the head by researchers who claim that high-performing employees are more likely to be ones who proactively share information with their colleagues.

    My own experience agrees 100%. I am personally more powerful in what I do when I collaborate and openly share with others. They provide essential critique, support and grounding for my thoughts. [thought?horizon]

    b-blogs = k-logs

    b-Blogs: The Next Level of Collaboration.

    Clickz; Meet the B-Blog

    Kathleen Goodwin discusses the implications of weblogs as business tools. From a marketing perspective she points out the business benefits such as customer dialog forums, positioning those within your company as niche industry experts, and providing open communication with business partners. The beauty of the weblog is that it is extremely cheap compared to any toher form of collaboration. But, does it have enough features to do the job?


    Useful overview, although Goodwin’s b-blog seems little different from the k-log (knowledge log) concept developed by John Robb over a year ago. Not sure what we gain by introducing yet another ugly neologism. Here’s Goodwin’s key definition:

    B-blogs can offer organizations a platform where information, data, and opinion can be shared and traded among employees, customers, partners, and prospects in a way previously impossible: a two-way, open exchange. Companies can (and should) encourage self-publishing from all corners of the organization. Employees who want to post information should no longer have to go through the corporate site’s marketing gatekeepers to post. Suddenly, the best thinkers in a company will have a digital voice they can manage and control themselves.

    Sounds like a k-log to me. Of course, that’s the usual challenge in a new and rapidly developing area. Everybody’s trying to figure out what’s going on and trying to get their vocabulary to stick.

    Managing for shared awareness

    Enterprise Effectiveness. Combat Power and Enterprise Effectiveness Quote: “Companies such as GE that do have it (distributed information for shared awareness) are… [elearnspace blog]

    Interesting thinking about what lessons are to be learned from the military about sharing information in real-time or near real-time:

    Shared information inside a corporation and with its allies and customers provides greater information richness and reach, and produces shared awareness. Shared awareness in turn enables faster operational tempo and sustainable competitive advantage. This all spells increased competitiveness

    An interesting transition from “need to know” to “shared awareness” Hierarchical organizations spend inordinate time and effort trying to work out precise boundaries on who needs to know what and when. Ostensibly about minimizing demands on people throughout the organization, it’s really about the exercise of power and control.

    If, on the other hand, your focus is on the external mission, i.e. getting the job done for customers, the issue shifts to how best to let everyone have access to and know what is going on that might be relevant. In part this has to be founded on a deeper sense of trust in all the members of the organization. Trust both in their judgment to make good and appropriate use of information and knowledge and, more importantly, in their capacity to manage the torrent of bits on their own. No need to be paternalistic about it.