Tag Archives: Learning

Teach, Learn, Share

The following is from a post I published in LinkedIn, in response to an emailed request from Dan Roth, Executive Editor. They implied I’m an “influencer”. How could I resist?


Giving advice to young people beginning their professional careers is not something I’m generally asked to do. How does someone whose background and experience is as unconventional as mine even relate to others who have already gone a different route? You just finished earning a Bachelor’s Degree. I never attended undergraduate school. What can I say to you that will make any sense? Nevertheless, LinkedIn has suggested I give it a shot and even ensure my thoughts stand out by tagging them with #IfIWere22, so here goes.

Twenty-two! Whew. That was 45 years ago. I have a hard time even being certain what I remember from back then actually happened. By that age I had already been in the US Navy (medically discharged after a short stint), owned a small business, lived on the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco during the waning days of the Summer of Love, and the North Campus district above the University of California at Berkeley after that.

By all measures of the time, I was a failure. I had nothing to show for those years save a hell of a lot of street smarts. How does one put that on a résumé? I did manage to get a job at a jewelry manufactory, where I learned to melt . . . er . . . solder gold and silver, making some very high quality jewelry, but it surely wasn’t a career I was interested in pursuing. In the next few years I had lots of jobs, but no career to speak of.

Law School Graduation

Don’t take life too seriously.

At 26, despite having no undergraduate education and never having taken the SAT, I was able to attend an accredited Law School, largely because I scored very high on the LSAT and after my first year easily passed the First Year Law Student’s Exam. It was not required of those who had their Baccalaureates. I received my Juris Doctorate in 1976.

I was lucky. I had some resources at my disposal and I had always been an avid reader and a self-learner – an autodidact. After graduating Law School I realized I didn’t much care for the legal profession and, coupled with my father having a major heart attack, I felt I had no choice but to join my family’s wholesale food distribution business. For the next 12 years I worked with my family and in several different jobs and businesses. You can see my profile for yourself. This is LinkedIn, after all. :)

Now . . . the question remains, what did I learn and what can I pass on to you as you begin your career? One thing, probably, is you don’t want to do what I did. However, there are at least two very important things I think brought me to where I am today (btw – check out my last job before retirement. It was a doozy), which isn’t wildly successful, but has given me a considerable amount of satisfaction.

First, don’t ever stop learning. Read, experience, experiment, test, and share. Learn so you can share what you know with others. It is the best way, IMO, to move forward. Too many people try and create a persona for themselves they hope will be perceived as irreplaceable. Don’t be one of them. Your value is in sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. You will be much happier because you won’t be constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering who’s sneaking up to replace you. You’ll be too busy concentrating on the steps above you.

Second. Perseverance. In the words of Coach Jimmy Valvano, “Don’t Give Up . . . Don’t Ever Give Up.” No matter how bad things are, they will improve if you just don’t give up. This doesn’t mean you won’t experience failures and setbacks. They’re inevitable. What it means is, despite your losses, despite those failures and setbacks, you need to pull yourself up and get on with your business. And when these things happen, refer to the previous paragraph; learn. Turn that sow’s ear into your very own silk purse; defeat into victory. You can do it.

I hope some of what I’ve written here will be of use to you. If you are in the intended audience for these “If I were 22″ posts, you’ve got your entire career ahead of you. Keep your eyes and ears open. You don’t need to plan every step; serendipity is a wonderful thing. As you can see from the picture of my Law School graduation in 1976, above, I also think it’s important to not take oneself too seriously. Enjoy your lives and make others happy. Good luck out there.


The University of Twitterville

I joined Twitter on March 2, 2008; 1678 days ago. I know this because I asked the Internet when I joined. I kind of remembered, but wanted to be sure. I just typed into Google “When did I join Twitter?”. Actually, I didn’t have to finish my sentence. Google finished it for me. I was presented with the following link, http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com/. I put in my user name and in less than a second I had my answer. A short while later I remembered HootSuite knows when I joined and shares that info quite easily as well. Oh well. It’s good to have choices, eh?

University of Twitterville

The University of Twitterville

At the time I joined I was working for a rather large aerospace company (Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies), where I had been a member of the Space Shuttle Main Engine team for nearly twenty years. My job at the time, which had changed considerably over the years, was to seek out new technologies for communication and collaboration and determine if we could use them internally to our advantage. I don’t recall when I tweeted for the first time and I just tried a whole bunch of applications which purport to reveal that initial tweet, but none of them can handle the number  I’ve made (18,036 at the moment). My recollection, however, is that it took me nearly six months until I was able to figure out a use case that made sense.

I was never interested in following celebrities and I wasn’t interested in small talk. I was looking for how Twitter could be used for a business to help its people get their work done efficiently and effectively. I think one of the first actual uses I encountered that impressed me was my discovery the team preparing one of the Shuttle Orbiters for its next launch were using it to share status updates in real-time. I had been part of teams that had “stand up” meetings every morning to update each other on the previous day’s activities. These were hugely wasteful exercises made necessary by the limited communication capability at the time. There were many days when only 20% or less of the team needed to be at the meeting, but there was no way to know that until it was over.

With Twitter, I imagined the NASA team being able to follow each other and share their status immediately. The value to this could be, in my estimation, enormous. For instance, if a team member was offsite picking up an item that another member of the team needed to continue working on a particular task, the knowledge that it would be available in four hours could allow them to start a task, knowing that the upstream portion of it was now complete or that a needed component for finishing that task was on its way. There are all kinds of scenarios where not having to wait until the following day saves time. There’s also something to be said merely for the value of one-to-many communication capabilities, which is one of the many value propositions of Twitter.

Unfortunately, I could never get anyone at Rocketdyne to experiment with Twitter as a communications tool, so I had to look for another use case; one that benefitted me but might have broader implications as well. So here’s what I, personally, got out of Twitter and why I think it is so valuable. One of the first people I started following was Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly). He had written what I found to be the seminal paper on the transition in the Internet from a one-way, broadcast medium to a multi-path, participatory medium. It was entitled “What is Web 2.0“, and reading it had been one of the more enlightening reads of my career. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly.

It wasn’t long before I was following quite a few thought leaders. What made all this so incredibly valuable was not merely being able to read their pithy tweets, but also being able to read the papers, columns, and blog posts they provided links to. Thanks to link shortening services like tiny.url and bit.ly, a very long URL could be shortened to less than 25 characters, allowing the author of a tweet to not only share the link, but also to provide a little information on what the subject is. This made it easy to determine if something was going to be of interest to me.

Although I hold a professional degree (Juris Doctorate) and a Masters degree (in Knowledge Management), I am largely an autodidact; a self-learner. I never went to undergraduate school and got into Law School on the strength of my LSAT scores, which I am reasonably certain were high based on my being self-taught and, therefore, fairly well rounded and well educated. I barely made it out of high school, taking an extra semester to finish enough credits to be able to graduate. I’m a lousy student, but a powerful, self-actualized learner.

In my opinion, perhaps in large part because I’m already someone who learns on his own, I found the things I learned – the education I got, if you will – from Twitter was every bit as valuable and useful as what it took for me to get either of those advanced degrees. In some ways I’m pretty certain it was actually better. It was certainly more pleasurable because it was done entirely on my schedule and nothing I studied was superfluous. I can’t say that of any other educational experience I have had in my entire life.

My experience with Twitter, therefore, is analogous to having gone to University; one of my choosing, taught by people I admire and respect, and studied on a schedule completely of my choosing. Tests came in the form of real-life applications both on-the-job at Rocketdyne and in various interactions I had with professional and other organizations and people. I am very grateful to be a proud graduate of the University of Twitterville.

Has Twitter affected you in any appreciable, useful way and, if so, what was it?


More Softiness!

Yesterday I posted my thoughts about empathy and kind of wondered aloud why I find it easy to get so deeply immersed in a fictional drama that I can be moved to tears; sometimes to really distressful levels of sadness and grief. At the end of that post I wrote:

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


Knowledge Management Ain’t Actually Going Anywhere

I completely forgot I had posted this over a year and a half ago. I never actually posted it here, but did post about it and provided a link to it at Content Management Connection. Despite the passage of time since I did post it, I don’t really think much has changed, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

PS – Click here to see an up-to-date graph and some regional data as well from Google Trends.


Google Trends Graph

Knowledge Management vs. Social Media Searches via Google

As a result of two tweets I just read; one from @SameerPatel and the other from @ralphmercer, I wanted to get a thought down before it recedes forever into the darkest corners of my brain, where I know I will feel the remnants of its presence, but will also never be able to fully recall it.

Based on something Sameer said I went to Google Trends and searched on the terms “Knowledge Management” and “Social Media”. In the past almost two years, with the exception of a large drop at the end of 2009, and a slight dip at what looks like the end of June in 2010, Social Media searches have been steadily increasing. During that same time period, searches for Knowledge Management – which are now less than a fifth of the searches for Social Media have remained arguably steady, with perhaps a bit of a continuous waning.

I suppose some would suggest this portends the eventual death of KM, but I really don’t think that true . . . or even possible. KM has always been based on the belief that we humans are unique in our ability to pass knowledge on to others, as well as to collectively create new knowledge and retain it for future use.

As I had suggested to Ralph, and what he was kind enough to point out in his tweet, is the reality that it’s “very expensive to reacquire knowledge”. This isn’t something anybody wants to do, anymore than they want to produce re-work or scrap. Yet people seem to be mulling over the viability of KM for the future.

I think the reality is two-fold. First, the need for sharing and re-using knowledge or information continues as strong as it’s ever been. What it’s called is of little consequence and, if KM has gotten a bad rep, then let’s move on and call it something else.

Second, I believe a lot of what we mean when we refer to social media is actually the next iteration of KM, insofar as it enhances collaboration, sharing, finding out what others are doing, etc., as well as captures and makes available collective knowledge and wisdom.

So, what do you think? Has KM run its course, or is it just taking on a new “identity” in the form of social media and (something I don’t think I mentioned above) Enterprise 2.0?


Lightening Storm, Mono Lake, 1984

I was just messing around in flickr; actually, looking for a particular picture to use in the previous post about healthcare waste, and I got distracted learning a little bit more about how I can use flickr.

So I discover galleries and happen to look at a couple for grins and giggles. I then explored the various ways in which I might share or otherwise use a photo I like and discover I can post to my blog directly from here – flickr, that is.

So I’m testing it out. If it looks good, you’re seeing it. If not, I’m going to remove it. I like the idea of posting directly from within a site I’m rooting around in. It makes blogging so much easier. It might also make a great way to embed a picture I might not otherwise have a right to use into some thoughts of my own. Who knows?


Craft Work is Knowledge Work

 

Steady Hands Make for Good Soldering

Soldering Jewelry

 

I’ve been following the action at #TUG2010 (Traction Users Group), reading and retweeting lots of good stuff from @rotkapchen, @vmaryabraham, @jackvinson, and @lehawes. Jack Vinson tweeted “Craft work can become knowledge work. Making it visible. narrating it. He added the hashtag for observable work, #owork, as well – indicating that was the concept he was associating it with.

My initial reaction to what Jack wrote, however, was to the implication that craft work isn’t normally knowledge work, which I don’t think is an accurate statement. Let me also say I’m not sure if Jack actually authored those words or if he was merely reporting them from the presenter at the user’s group preso he was attending and tweeting from. So I’m not taking issue with Jack. Actually, I’m not even interested in who said it; I just want to address the concept of craft work as knowledge work.

I believe all work is knowledge work. Sure, there are different levels at which the knowledge exists or asserts itself, but there’s always some component that involves knowledge; at least if it’s done by a human being. So it is with craft work, assuming I’m using the term in the same sense as Jack or whoever is using it, that is work manifested in tangible items, such as wallets or hydroelectric dams. I think of it as things like welding, carving, painting, growing, etc.

All of these things require a fair amount of tacit (in the head, as we sometimes refer to it) knowledge. As far as the concept of making this kind of knowledge visible goes, I think a lot of it gets transferred that way . . . usually in a mentor or apprenticeship kind of relationship. Making some of it more “visible” can make it more accessible, but there are necessarily limitations.

An instance of this from my life comes from many years ago when I was a jewelry bench worker. The place I was at made very high-end gold and silver shadow-box cuff links and they require some interesting soldering. I melted an awful lot of precious metal before I learned to recognize the colors, smells, and sounds that hinted I was almost at the right temperature and had to back the flame off. I believe what I gained from that experience was knowledge; hence, I was engaged in knowledge work, albeit at a lower level than, say, when I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine team.

Maybe the exigencies of saying something in less than 140 characters played a role in it coming out the way it did, but I felt the need to at least record my thoughts. I believe what Jack (or whoever actually made the statement) meant was that making craft work visible increases its accessibility and, therefore, its likelihood of being more easily transferred or learned. It doesn’t thereby become knowledge work, however. It already is and always has been knowledge work. Anybody disagree? Did I misunderstand Jack or the message he was conveying from the presenter?


New Book (Posthumously Published) by Russ Ackoff

Russ was such a good storyteller, this book has got to be a great read.`

Amplify’d from www.triarchypress.com

a triarchy press publication

Cover of 'Memories' by Russell L. Ackoff

Memories
by Russell L. Ackoff

Foreword by Peter Senge
Publication Date: 21 October 2010
No of pages: 120

Book type: Paperback
Print ISBN: 978-0-9565379-7-3
List Price: £16 (approx. $20)

Russ was an incisive, lifelong critic of the modern organizational form. He saw its limitations and argued for radical redesign. He was an advocate for major re-visioning and processes of change that started with helping people see what they truly valued and where they truly wanted to get – and then working backwards to see what it would take to get there.

Peter Senge, from his Foreword to Memories

Russel L. AckoffWhen he died late in 2009, Russ Ackoff left two unpublished manuscripts. Memories is the first of these – a collection of stories drawn from his life experience, selected by Russ because they stood out in his memory as instances where he learned something. As he says in his Preface, “Life is a series of relationships formed and dissolved”. For Russ, the important principles and qualities around which his work was centred – clear-sightedness, looking at the bigger picture, working backwards towards solutions, radicalism – crossed over into most, if not all, other aspects of his extraordinary life. The stories in Memories focus on the human side of life and, in so doing, they demonstrate how many of the skills and attributes that are fundamental to professional success are found in personal experience.

In this book, Russ draws from his experiences of serving in the US army during World War II; of bringing up a young family; of encountering different cultures whilst working abroad. From analyzing birth rates in India, to a fireside chat with the Queen of Iran, to introducing theme parks to the US, the stories collected in Memories lay bare the workings of a number of well-known businesses and other organizations – and the people who run them. They describe common attitudes, behaviours and assumptions, which, if left unchallenged, can destabilize or even destroy an organization.

The book shows how thinking systemically leads to real organizational improvements in a variety of academic and workplace settings and – just as important – how failure to do so can be both personally embarrassing and damaging to the organization. Each story is used to illustrate a belief, principle or conclusion central to Russ’s theories of Systems Thinking and Design Thinking. And each of them is told with his customary generosity, wit and wisdom.

Memories is available in paperback or in a hardcover Collector’s Edition.

Read more at www.triarchypress.com

 


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