Tag Archives: innovation

Love (I mean LOVE) my iPad, but . . .

My new BFFIn the over two decades I worked at Rocketdyne I never had anything near “state-of-the-art” technology available to me. This isn’t surprising. After all, most – if not all – large companies have security issues they must deal with, and by the time they’ve fully tested any hardware or software they’re going to roll out to the enterprise and then support, quite a bit of time necessarily has passed. In a world that changes as rapidly as tech, that pretty much ensures nobody will be using the latest thing.

So, thanks to one of those occasional confluences of events we sometimes refer to as serendipity, after leaving Rocketdyne and as I was getting ready to travel to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, MA, I decided to give myself a 63rd birthday present and purchase an iPad. I resolved to take it with me to the conference instead of a laptop, convinced the experience would be worth whatever inconvenience it created. More about that in a moment.

Although I went to the Apple store with the intention of purchasing the 16 gig, wi-fi model, I discovered they didn’t have any. While I was talking to the guy from whom I had purchased our two iMacs, he went to the back of the store to check on availability and discovered someone had canceled their purchase of the 64 gig, 3G model. Well . . . it was my birthday after all and, with very little hesitation, I decided to pull the trigger and spend the extra few hundred dollars. I’m glad I did, especially for the 3G model. I also just got in under the wire for AT&T’s $29.99 per month unlimited plan. Unless they’ve changed (and I’ve not seen it either way) that plan is no longer available for new users.

My plan for the conference was to take my iPad and my Bluetooth keyboard with me. I had already tested and confirmed it worked fine (though I didn’t have a stand for the iPad yet). I was hoping to be able to both live tweet from the sessions, and to blog here as I took some time to reflect. Unfortunately, halfway to the airport I realized I had left the keyboard at home. Now I was constrained to use the built-in, virtual, touchscreen keyboard. The challenges were increasing dramatically. So . . . here’s what I learned so far.

From my perspective, although manageable, the keyboard kind of sucks. It is very sensitive which, for many purposes, is just fine. However, for typing it is what I can only describe as unforgiving. If I don’t hold my hands somewhat rigidly over the keyboard, I am very likely to barely touch a key that isn’t the one I want to touch. For a touch typist this is very annoying. After all, it’s the ability to touch a keyboard that makes it possible to type without looking. Interestingly (and not a little ironically), the graphical representation of the keyboard shows the little nipples on the F and J keys! What’s that all about? They serve no purpose I can discern. Not only can’t you feel them, you can’t touch those keys without invoking them . . . so what’s the point?

The keyboard is also (if I’ve measured and calculated correctly – no guarantee here) approximately 20% smaller than my iMac’s keyboard, measuring from left to right on one set of keys. I’m not even bothering to measure other portions of the several keyboards available, depending on what you’re doing, as the scale is fairly consistent throughout. Let me just say the keyboards need some work, in my opinion. For instance, to get to the hashtag (all important when tweeting from something like a conference and, yes, I know many apps provide the ability to insert hashtags, but you still have to initiate their use) requires two keystrokes just for it to appear, then another to actually use it. This is but one of the combinations I find somewhat cumbersome. I find this unacceptable and I’m hopeful Apple will be able to provide a more useful set of keyboards once they realize how this works. Then again, maybe my experience is not mainstream enough and they just won’t care.

OK, enough of the difficulties. Overall, I had a great experience with my iPad. I used it everywhere; that’s where the 3G capability proved invaluable, even if it is AT&T. (For the record, my wireless experience – which spans well over ten years – is entirely with Verizon, dating back to when it was AirTouch here in California. Although my experience with AT&T is less than a month old, I can read!)

Two examples: On the first day of the conference I was pretty unclear on the best way to get there from my hotel, which was about six miles away in Chelsea. I was able to take the hotel shuttle to the airport, but from there I had to take the Silver Line bus to within walking distance of the Westin Boston Waterfront, my final destination. I got off at the wrong station and was unsure of the best way to get to the hotel. I invoked the maps and charted a pedestrian course to the hotel, holding the iPad flat in front of me and just following the directions it gave me. Worked like a charm.

The TV of my childhood

Small, tall, and Black & White

The second example is more fun and, since the hotel wi-fi wasn’t available, the 3G capability was invaluable. I needed to participate in a telecon and GoToMeeting with two colleagues in Philadelphia and a potential client in Austin.  I went in to M. J. O’Connor’s (an Irish pub in Boston – imagine that!) where the hostesses were kind enough to allow me to sit in a closed area that was reasonably quiet. I called into the telecon and, because I have a Bluetooth earpiece, I was able to lay my BlackBerry down and use it to provide a bit of an angle for the iPad, on which I had logged into the meeting space. As I was sitting there, for a moment I thought back to my childhood of dial telephones, party lines, and tiny black and white television screens in gigantic consoles. I was living the future I once visited in my imagination! I could have done virtually the same with a laptop, but the angle of the iPad made me feel as though I was peering through a kind of wormhole into this amazingly clear and colorful, collaborative space. It was magical.

That’s some of my experience over the last few days. Next up, some of my thoughts about Enterprise 2.0 and the conference, as well as some personal experiences and impressions.


Has Knowledge Management Been Bad For Us?

In the world of Knowledge Management, we frequently talk about at least two different types of knowledge we deal with. The first is explicit, or codified, knowledge (stuff that’s captured and, hopefully, readily accessible in some useful form); the second is tacit, or tribal, in-the-head, “between the ears” knowledge. For most of my nearly 15 years of knowledge management practice in the aerospace business I have noted we spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and money working on the former.

At the same time we have continually asserted the vast majority of useful knowledge was the latter. Here, for instance, is a graphic showing the ratio of explicit to tacit as 19 to 1.

For me, this is huge! In fact, where I come from we tended to use an adaptation of the Pareto principle, i.e. an 80-20 distribution, so this graphic helps make my point a fortiori. Now let me get to my point. Last Wednesday (12 May 2010), Rob Paterson published a wonderful post at the FASTforward blog entitled “Have books been bad for us?”, where he discusses the question of whether or not the web is making us stupid, as well as his belief the opposite is true. He argues that books have actually stunted our ability to innovate and create new knowledge. You really have to read the whole post, but here’s a sample I like:

But with the book comes authority. With the advent of the book, much of knowledge development stopped. Only the in group was allowed to play. What mattered was not observation. Not trial and error. Not experiment. Not sharing. But authority. Most of the accepted authority were texts that had no basis in observation or trial and error. Ptolemy, St Augustine and Galen ruled.

Rob goes on to argue, rather than making us stupid, the web is providing us with the kinds of information and knowledge connections we used to have before the book removed the more communal ways in which most of our collective knowledge was arrived at in the past.

So, here’s where I find an analogy to the work I’ve been doing for some time. Much of of what we call Knowledge Management (at least in my experience) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time and expense on dealing with the 20% (or 5%, depending on who you listen to) of an enterprise’s knowledge that is explicit. We work on organizing share drives, federating search capability, and scanning and rendering searchable (through OCR) much of our paper-based, historical information. I’m sure there are other ways in which explicit, recorded information is analyzed and organized as a function of a knowledge management activity.

But I think we’re missing the point about the real value of knowledge. If, in fact, the largest (by far) percentage of an enterprise’s useful knowledge is locked between the heads of its employees and, if (as we frequently say about tacit knowledge) much of it can’t be accessed until it’s required, why are we not spending more of our limited funds on facilitating the connection and communication, as well as the findability and collaborative capabilities of our employees?

I’m not suggesting there isn’t value to content management, smarter search capabilities, etc. I am saying, however, that I think most organizations are missing the boat by not spending more of their resources on the thing that offers to connect their people; to create organizational neural pathways that promise to be far more beneficial to the overall health of the company in terms of product innovation and design, manufacturing processes, customer relations, project management, etc. (or on and on). I am speaking of Enterprise 2.0, on which I will have a lot more to say in future posts.

The problems we face with acceptance are monumental. People in organizations that have traditionally been hierarchical and within which silos and fiefdoms emerge, turf wars and power struggles go on, and people are both kept in the dark and made afraid for their jobs hasn’t exactly set the stage for the trust required to do any kind of knowledge management effort. Nevertheless, if we’re going to participate in the struggle, we ought to be shooting for the things that are going to prove the most valuable – in both the short and the long run.

I’m a book lover myself. My reverence for books is almost stupid, actually, but I’ve worked hard on overcoming it. Unlike Rob, I no longer wonder. I see the web, and the enterprise and its internal network, as the future of our group intelligence and knowledge. What do you see?


Behind The 8-Ball . . . or Hand me The Hammer & I’ll Fix This.

Now that I’ve had a little while to work with my new iMac, I’m beginning to come down from the techno-induced stupor I’ve been in and am thinking about what this all means to me. I’ve also been thinking about what it should mean for many people who work in corporate America, where I have been laboring for the past two decades and more.

Let me explain what I’m getting at. From the first day I started working at what was then Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division (formerly North American Rockwell), I was stuck using technology that was already a little behind the eight-ball. Back then (1987) there wasn’t much in the way of personal computers, but they were developing rapidly. I went from an IBM 8086 to an 8088 to an AT and, finally to Windows and on and on. As time wore on the level of state-of-the-artiness of the available technology I had available at work, unfortunately, fell further and further behind.

Now, this isn’t about the battle that took place between IT (formerly MIS) and Engineering for many years, and how it affected the development of the first LAN in the company (hint – it wasn’t pretty), but rather about the level of security and, perhaps, paranoia that built up over the years with respect to the use of computing resources.

Part of the problem for my line of work was the very real issue of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which, sometime after we were purchased by the Boeing Company, was painfully and expensively learned after an inadvertent and ignorant violation of the Regs (another story this really isn’t about). This lesson required some education and was fairly easily addressed once understood.

I think I need to throw in a caveat here. I am not an IT person. I have absolutely no formal IT education. I am merely a business person who has worked with (mostly) micro-computers – now called PCs – for close to thirty-five years. I have participated in or led efforts in knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and I was instrumental in bringing in our first web-based social system over 7.5 years ago. I have also been the project manager for that terribly under-used application all this time as well. My point here is I may not use language that’s accurate, but I know the kinds of functionality available and I know all of it is – from a corporate point of view – there to serve the business.

What I’m concerned with is the application of a one-size-fits-all mentality to the provision of information technology to a company’s workforce, as well as the imposition of blanket security regulations that serve to cripple an organization’s ability to keep abreast of developments in that same technology. This becomes increasingly important as more capability moves out into the cloud (this includes micro-cloud environments, i.e. inside the firewall capability that utilizes cloud-like architecture.)

I have tried to argue, to no avail – I’m sure others will recognize this particular kind of frustration – for the identification of power users who could be provided with, for lack of a better term, beta capabilities they would exercise and learn about. These people would provide a cadre of workers who are constantly looking at new ways to improve communication, collaboration, and findability. People who’s job, in part, is to find newer and better ways to get things done. In my eyes, this is a no-brainer, and I have to say with the speed things are changing nowadays, I think this kind of approach is even more important.

I recognize it is difficult to get large organizations to move rapidly. One doesn’t turn a battleship on a dime. Nevertheless, it is conceivable to me (much more so now than a decade ago) a small group of people could help any organization understand – at the very least – how work gets done, how workers are communicating and collaborating with each other across various boundaries, and how knowledge is being shared in a timely and useful fashion. I also think, daring as it may seem to some, that paying attention to – and preparing to learn from – the processes that are changing the way we do these things can position a company competitively to be a player, rather than an also-ran. I quite certain failing to do so leaves you with the situation I grew used to; a company with computing resources and experience years behind state-of-the-art. In marketplaces where this can change dramatically in under a year, I think that’s unconscionable.

Have any of you experienced this situation? Does it resonate at all? Am I totally off-base or do you think this would be a viable approach for large organizations to engage in?


From the Frying Pan, Into the . . . ?

Last week, during the remaining few hours of a two-day Novations class in Project Management, I received a couple of somewhat disconcerting emails. The first one, from the President of the company, was a notification a “Voluntary Separation Program” was being offered to all employees (well, almost all) who would be 60 years of age or older on May 15, 2010. This was announced as the latest step in many that have been taken to prepare the business for the challenges presented by the ending of the Space Shuttle Main Engine program and by the changes announced recently by NASA. I can’t say it was a surprise. The second email was from HR. It contained the (again, not startling, but nevertheless uncomfortable) news that I was (being close the 63 years old) eligible for the program.

Now, I had not – until that point – seriously considered leaving the company. I have been there for a total of over 23 years (cycle time; I worked my first year as a temp and left for two years to join a somewhat ill-fated yet necessary attempt to rejoin a family business) and had every intention of remaining at least another 15. Furthermore, as the lead for a team charged with changing the way we did business, with special responsibility for the use of social media, I was excited about the challenges we faced and the opportunities that presented. Suddenly, I felt very old and somewhat useless. It was not a comfortable feeling at all.

I have since spent a great deal of time thinking about what this means to me and, as a result of this thinking, I have decided to take the offer. In fact, I signed the papers yesterday declaring my intent to do so. While it isn’t the most lucrative of offers they could have made, it will give me about six months in which to plant the seeds of my next career, a career I intend on pursuing with a vengeance. I am also old enough to retire, which will increase the time I have before I need to start dipping into our savings. One last course available to me is filing for social security, something I would rather wait until I am 66 to do so I can receive the full amount.

So . . . what am I going to do with this breathing space. Well, my friend Luis Suarez has hinted at some of it in his post of today, “When This All Gets Cool, It’s All about The People and Your Passion“, and it’s even in my profile on Facebook, where I said “I am most interested in using today’s Internet based social computing technology to further the interests of my company and, not incidentally, humanity as well. I see no reason the two interests can’t converge. Do you?” It looks like I won’t be doing it to help my company, but I’m confident I can find other companies interested in what I do. Possibly, the most exciting thing about this change in career, though, is it will allow me the time to work with schools, community-service organizations, and other types of enterprise that can benefit from my passion about social computing and the promise they hold for doing the right things.

This is the journey I am now embarking on and I’m literally bursting with enthusiasm for it. I believe it will be a large part of the experience I will chronicle in this blog. I will continue my long association with my friends and colleagues in the Enterprise Thinking Network, many of whom will continue (unless there are further, massive layoffs) with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. In fact, I am scheduled to co-present a workshop with Johnnie Pourdehnad, long-time associate of Russell Ackoff’s, and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as the Associate Director of ACASA (Ackoff Collaboratory for the Advancement of Systems Approaches). This will be in April, before I have officially left the company (scheduled separation date is no earlier than May 14), at this year’s In2:InThinking Forum – an event you should consider attending if you are interested in new ways to view the world and the work we all do. I recommend it highly.

At any rate, thanks to a fairly extensive network I have built over the years in order to increase my value to my current organization (Hmm. Guess that didn’t work all that well, but it has had the side benefit of being useful to me professionally), I have already begun seeking out new adventures and new ways in which I can be of service. Maybe I’ll even be able to make a decent living at it! I you have any ideas of what some of those things can be, please don’t be shy. Let me know. I promise I’ll get back to you.


Inclusion: Bad for Diamonds; Oxygen for Innovation

In a response to a tweet from @MartijnLinssen, I noted that inclusions are bad for diamonds, but good for innovation and business in general. I think Martijn posted that particular tweet in response to a question I had posted about the use of the terms “consultant” and “expert”. I think too much time is spent on figuring out ways to exclude people from anything other than the roles we’ve pigeon-holed them in. This seems to be the default mode of Human Resource departments, i.e. find a job title and wrap it around a “belly button”. Once you’ve accomplished that task, you have an employee ready to fit into the pre-ordained mold you’ve created; the cog in your machine, if you will.

This seems to miss the reality that all of us are far more complex than a title can contain expression for. In my over twenty years at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne I have seldom performed tasks that were directly in alignment with the title I held. Part of the reason for this is I was always looking for new and innovative ways of getting things done and, to their credit, my management never (or seldom) discouraged me from doing so. I don’t think I’m all that unique. I happen to believe everybody has hidden skills and talents an organization can – and should – tap in to. We should encourage, no, assist everyone to reach their fullest potential. We should create an environment where everyone can contribute to the growth and sustainability of their organization, whether their contribution is small or large. To do anything else is more than foolish. It’s wasteful and destructive. Our people are, indeed, our most valuable asset – especially in a knowledge-based economy. An asset we can ill afford to ignore.


So many places to “be” – I’m so cornfuzzled!

Copyright 2010 GoogleWith the release of Google’s Buzz yesterday I have added yet another platform/channel to my ever-growing arsenal of social tools with which to engage and, especially, to learn from a long list of wonderful and generous people who willingly offer their intelligence, passion, and wit by freely sharing what they know. I don’t know about others, but even with locations that federate, or aggregate (oh hell, I’m not sure which it is), many of the places I “am”, I still find it difficult to completely see the larger landscape of the social  network I’m entwined with. Dion Hinchcliffe hints at Buzz portending a change in the way the “knowledge” of who we are, what we like, who we know, etc. is treated in his “First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead“, posted yesterday. If I understand him correctly, Google is using algorithms that can draw context from the web, associated specifically with what our (singular and collective) behavior, connections, and interests are evidence of, and serve up relevant and (one would hope) useful information for us.

I hope this turns out to be the case. I’m reserving judgement for now, as it took  me at least six months after signing up for Twitter before I could see any use for it that made sense to me. If Buzz is anything like Twitter (only better) I plan on being a bit more ahead of the curve than before. Only time will tell, but the thought of having some help in making sense of all the chatter (including my own) is pretty exciting to me. We may end up with a half-dozen different “suites” (which will, no doubt, find some overlap in the apps used) for us to choose from and I’m torn over whether or not I would prefer some sort of standardization. Nevertheless, the reality for now – for me – is that I’ve been using Gmail and other Google platforms for many years and am unlikely to pass up a chance to get (and put) most of my info into their hands.


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