Presentation on weblogs in the organization from Michael Angeles of Lucent

Blogging in an organisation.

This sounds like a must-read. No time now – keeping it for later.

Excellent presentation on supporting K-logging within a large organisation. Lucent Technologies’ Information Specialist, Michael Angeles, believes blogging has evolved beyond “cool” and is moving quickly into the corporate world. In this presentation, Angeles will discuss who blogs, how and why. He will also discuss how Lucent is supporting bloggers and at the same time keeping close watch over the resulting growth of information on the Intranet.

Lucent’s Michael Angeles has posted the slides from his presentation to the (US) Usability Professional Association’s “Blogging in Corporate America” event in New York. His talk was called Making intranet weblog data usable.

This is worth a read for anybody interested in:

* how to support quick, easy knowledge sharing
* how to use simple publishing tools to bind together diverse data and knowledge bases
* how to promote expert voices within an organisation or a community
* how to deal with (and enoucrage) a diverse knowledge ecology within an organisation

A truly excellent and well-prepared presentation.

[headshift moments]

[Conversations with Dina]

Definitely worthwhile. Let me add my recommendation to the several other recommendations arriving in my aggregator. Helpful in building the arguments for using weblogs inside the firewall, although it doesn’t really do justify to the importance of RSS/aggregation in the overall knowledge sharing mix.

Willful ignorance

Hylton Jolliffe of Corante pointed me to this great post on one of Corante’s weblogs that I don’t frequent. Very helpful in understanding issues I encounter every day.

‘Tis Folly To Be Wise

I came across an article in my files today that I thought I’d share. It’s by the late Calvin Mooers, an information scientist. He addressed his colleagues on the question of why some information systems got so much more use than others – often with no correlation between the amount of use and how useful the tools actually were.

“It is my considered opinion, from long experience, that our customers will continue to be reluctant to use information systems – however well designed – so long as one feature of our present intellectual and engineering climate prevails. This feature – and its relevance is all to commonplace in many companies, laboratories, and agencies – is that for many people it is more painful and troublesome to have information than for them not to have it.”

When I first read this, I experienced that quick shock of encountering something that you feel as if you’d known all along, without realizing that you knew it. Of course. It’s not a new idea, but we keep having to learn it over and over. Mooers again:

“Thus not having and not using information can often lead to less trouble and pain than having and using it. Let me explain this further. In many work environments, the penalties for not being diligent in the finding and use of information are minor, if they exist at all. In fact, such lack of diligence tens often to be rewarded. The man who does not fuss with information is seen at his bench, plainly at work, getting the job done. Approval goes to projects where things are happening. One must be courageous or imprudent, or both, to point out from the literature that a current laboratory project which has had an extensive history and full backing of the management was futile from the outset.”

Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. I’ve seen these examples made real right in front of my eyes, and more than once. Have I mentioned that Mooers wrote all this in 1959? The problem has not lessened one bit since then. If anything, our vast information resources and the powerful tools we have to dig for it have made things worse. Just try being the person who finds a patent claim that stops a project in its tracks, one that was missed while the work went on for months. Or find out that a close analog of the lead compound was found to be toxic twenty years ago.

We’re supposed to be able to find these sorts of things. But everyone assumes that because it’s possible to do it, that it’s been done. Taken care of: “Didn’t we see that paper before? I thought we’d already evaluated that patent – isn’t that one one that so-and-so found? It can’t be right, anyway. We wouldn’t have gone this far if there were a problem like that out there, clearly.”

My rule, which I learned in graduate school and have had to relearn a few times since, is to never take anything on faith when you join a new project. Go back and read the papers. Root through the primary literature. Look at the data and see if you believe it. If you let other people tell you what you should believe, then you deserve what you get when it comes down around your ears.

[Corante: In the pipeline]

I don’t think we can afford this kind of behavior any longer either as organizations or as individual knowledge workers, although there’s no question we continue to reward it. Two things have changed.

One is that the excuse that it is too difficult or expensive to track down and check relevant information is no longer tenable. The problem has changed. The risk today is that the potentially relevant information is too vast and easily obtained and threatens to overwhelm you. This can be managed with modest investment in learning how to search.

The second thing that has changed is a requirement to understand what kinds of information pose the greatest risks to an initiative. You may be reluctant to go searching for the “ugly fact” but your competitors may not be so hesitant.

What’s tricky is that you still operate in an environment of imperfect information. One of the entries in my personal collection of quotes worth thinking about comes from Samual Butler; “Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.” More information may be available but you still have to make a decision and there’s always a timetable. But you now have to think explicitly about what information to seek out within the limits of the time available. The old excuses are gone.

Trust, security, and organization design

Security doesn’t create trust [SATN]

Humans gain trust by interacting and “getting to know” people. Transparent technologies that make it easy to see what people and companies are up to (in a sense the opposite of firewalls) are what help me trust. I like Reagan’s saying: “trust, but verify”. It implies that trust requires means for openness, not firewalls and secretiveness

More wise words from David Reed.

We spend time in the summers on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. There’s a little vegetable stand that runs on an honor system; you pick out the fresh vegetable you want and leave your money in a little cash box. It works in that environment.

Anonymity and large scale make those kinds of processes hard. But solutions based on protecting yourself against the risks of anonymity and scale aggravate the problem instead of alleviating it. There is risk associated with opening yourself up either metaphorically or technologically. I think a portion of the answer lies in working from the grassroots up. Inside organizations most of the real work gets done by small groups of people who’ve learned how to trust one another. But how much of their work is overhead generated by having to work around well-intentioned but ultimately fear based rules, regulations, and processes?

One reference worth checking out in this regard is Shoshanna Zuboff’s The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, which I’ve mentioned before.

There’s quite a lot going on in this realm right now. Chad Dickerson just ran this interesting column in Infoworld on “the battle for decentralization.” All of the current ferment around Social Software.

There’s an interesting book about organizations published a few years back called Seeing Organizational Patterns : A New Theory and Language of Organizational Design by Bob Keidel. In it he offers the following diagram for understanding the tradeoffs that must be managed in designing organizations. Typically we tend to think only in terms of the tradeoff between control and autonomy. His, richer, model introduces a third point of cooperation and suggests that organization design problems can be treated as looking for a spot somewhere inside the triangle instead of somewhere along one of its edges. The trend has been northward towards more recognition of cooperation and, hopefully, away from stale debates about control or autonomy.

Knowledge work, weblogs, and fair process

I’ve just been rereading an article from the Harvard Business Review called “Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy.” Written by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, two professors at Insead, it helps me understand one of the reasons why I think that weblogs have an important role in making knowledge work in organizations more effective.

Kim and Mauborgne’s fundamental insight is that “employees will commit to a manager’s decision–even one they disagree with–if they believe that the process the manager used to make the decision was fair.” Doesn’t sound especially profound until you think about how often it is ignored on the premise that all the matters is the final outcome.

They define three principles of what constitutes fair process: engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity. Many managers ignore all three. Those who do attend to process tend to get stuck at the first principle of engagement and ignore the other two. They make some effort to involve everyone in the process, but too often short circuit the rest of the process in the rush to get to the “right answer.” Managers feel the pressures of time and assume that as long as the final outcome is fair and logical, they will be forgiven for rushing ahead. More likely, they will be punished in terms of sullen compliance or outright sabotage.

Now apply this in the realm of knowledge work. Kim and Mauborgne quote Friederich Hayek

“Practically every individual…possesses unique information” that can be put to use only with “his active cooperation”

You don’t get voluntary cooperation without paying attention to what they term “procedural justice.”

As I’ve argued before one of the principal benefits of weblogs is the way that they can make knowledge work more visible. In this context, weblogs serve as a tool that makes fair process a natural byproduct of the work itself. They are a place where explanation can be developed and shared as it is worked out in real time. Moreover, if you can get an institutional environment in which everyone can potentially contribute their perspectives by way of their own weblogs and these perspectives can flow through the system by way of RSS, then you also increase the degree of engagement.

The flip side of this is that without a belief in and commitment to the notion of fair process, weblogs by themselves aren’t likely to last very long inside organizations. While they can be a tool to promote those values, I don’t think they can create those values if they are otherwise absent.

Email as a useful hybrid of oral and literate thinking

Back to the Oral Tradition Through Skywriting at the Speed of Thought. This is a light romp through the history of thought and communication, looking at the present evolution of email as representative of an oral tradition that has its origins in communual story-telling and modern incarnations as transitory as sky-writing. But, as the author reminds us, email (and online discussions) can also acquire the permanence of books, giving us the best of both worlds. True, scholars haven’t taken to the new forms the way they might. But they will. By Stevan Harnad, The Future of Web Publishing, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect] [OLDaily]

This is a line of thought that hadn’t occurred to me before. One of the books that’s influenced by thinking was Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Ong discusses how oral and literate cultures think differently because of the way that oral and written speech differ. This piece suggests that one of the interesting dimensions of email is the way in which if combines elements of both.

One reason that may be important is to understand how different levels of management in organizations are biased in favor of different modes of expression and, if you buy Ong’s arguments, different modes of thinking. One hypothesis I’ve played around with is that senior managers and executives are fundamentally oral thinkers, while their technical staffs are literate thinkers. That may be a contributor to the problems in implementing new technologies in organizations.

Change as a team sport

“The only way to have a successful revolution in any field of human activity”.

In a recent post on Interconnected, Matt Webb quotes Kurt Vonnegut:

Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening team with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.

The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise, the revolution, whether in politics or the arts of the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.

I’ll let you read the rest on Matt’s site. Tom subsequently writes on how Malcolm Gladwell rediscovered pretty much the same idea.

[Seb’s Open Research]

I think the connection to Gladwell is a bit forced, although The Tipping Point is still a great piece of work and worth reading in its own right.

I would label these specialists Thinker, Citizen, and Teacher, and there’s little doubt that all are essential to successful change, even when change is short of revolution. One implication is that you’d better understand which you are and line up the missing roles if you want successful change to happen.

Knowledge work and productivity

I’m rereading one of those classic Peter Drucker articles that make everything seem so straightforward and obvious. This one is from the Winter 1999 issue of the California Management Review and is titled “Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge.” (CMR, V.41, #2, Winter 1999, pp79-94) If it is typical Drucker, the rest of the world will start catching up with him in another couple of years. For those of us in the midst of knowledge work related topics, better to start paying attention now.

His essential thesis is that focusing on the productivity of knowledge work will drive economic success in the 21st century in exactly the same fashion that manual work productivity drove 20th century economies.

Some selected observations from Drucker.

  • “Whenever we have looked at any job – no matter how many thousands of years it has been performed – we have found that the traditional tools are wrong for the task.”
  • “What Taylor saw when he actually looked at work violated everything poets and philosophers had said about work from Hesiod and Virgil to Karl Marx. They all celebrated “skill.” Taylor showed that in manual work there is no such thing. There are only simple, repetitive motions. What makes them more productive is knowledge, that is, the way the simple, unskilled motions are put together, organized, and executed. In fact, Taylor wa the first person to apply knowledge to work”
  • “Making knowledge workers more productive requires change in basic attitude, while making the manual workers more productive only required telling the worker how to do the job. Furthermore, making knowledge workers more productive requires changes in attitude not only on the part of the individual knowledge worker, but on the part of the whole organization.”

Drucker identifies six factors that determine knowledge-worker productivity that I paraphrase as follows:

  • Definition of the task
  • Required autonomy of knowledge workers
  • Continuing innovation
  • Continuous learning and continuous teaching
  • Qualilty of outputs as signature requirement. Quantity is irrelevant until a quality standard exists
  • Knowledge worker as asset not cost

Lots of good material to chew on here. I’ll be revisiting this and pushing on it in the next few weeks.

Research universities and the culture of ideas

MIT Technology Review Creating a Culture of Ideas. “Not so many years ago, Bell Labs conducted so much research it could easily house some very high-risk programs, including the so-called blue-sky thinking that led to information theory and the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation. But the world benefited, and sometimes AT&T did too. Now, Bell Labs is a shadow of its former self, subdivided several times through AT&T’s 1984 divestiture and subsequent split into Lucent, NCR, and the parent firm. Moreover, it is not alone [snowdeal.org | conflux]

First of a series of posts over at snowdeal focused on the corporate side of the R&D Equation. In this first piece, Nicholas Negroponte discusses the changing role of corporate R&D labs, the reasons why America is so innovative, and why research universities are likely to take on a more critical role in seeding technology development:

More than ever before, in the new new economy, research and innovation will need to be housed in those places where there are parallel agendas and multiple means of support. Universities, suitably reinvented to be interdisciplinary, can fit this profile because their other product line, besides research, is people. When research and learning are combined, far greater risks can be taken and the generation of ideas can be less efficient. Right now, only a handful of U.S. universities constitute such research universities. More will have to become so. Universities worldwide will have to follow.

Worth wandering over to snowdeal and following up the other links in this series.

Rational and organizational minds

Matt Blaze: “Although a few people have confused my reporting of the vulnerability (in master-keyed locks) with causing the vulnerability itself, I can take comfort in a story that Richard Feynman famously told about his days on the Manhattan project. Some simple vulnerabilities (and user interface problems) made it easy to open most of the safes in use at Los Alamos. He eventually demonstrated the problem to the Army officials in charge. Horrified, they promised to do something about it. The response? A memo ordering the staff to keep Feynman away from their safes.” [Hack the Planet]

It’s anecdotes like these that fuel my continuing interest in knowledge and organizations. I’m especially attracted to run-ins between the rational engineering mind and the bureaucratic mind. I blogged about this lock-story earlier, but this offers some more insight.

I started my professional life firmly in the rational engineer camp. I actually went back to school for my Ph.D. in order to understand why those !@# users weren’t using the brilliant systems I was building. That led me into long study of organizational behavior and design. I could never bring myself to treat organizations as totally political systems. For my own sanity, I have to work from the assumption that most people in most organizations are at least trying to do the right, and rational, thing. Figuring out what that might be is sometimes more tricky than others, but it generally gets you somewhere.

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.