Tag Archives: mistakes

Older People Aren’t as Dumb as you Think, Kid

Whenever most people talk about technology and people my age, it amazes me how many assume we can’t set the time on a VCR (remember those?) or that our view of IM is that it’s a tool primarily useful for young teenagers to plot their escape from under their parents’ watchful eyes. Perhaps, as a generalization this is somewhat true, but it’s not really a correct depiction of how we more “mature” folks use and view technology. The reality is far more complex.

As someone who struggled for well over two decades to bring the latest technology into a large, ponderous, and eminently cautious aerospace company, I have encountered all types of people, from foot draggers (lots of them) to early (and enthusiastic) adopters. Obviously, my favorite is the latter but the challenge really presents itself in the former. One thing I found is that things aren’t always as they seem either.

For instance, I was working with a person who was the Director of a newly formed organization. He was nearing the end of his career, which had been very successful. He was a wonderful person; friendly, helpful, and full of joy and excitement for his job and the work of others. He was very supportive of using newer technology yet, despite continuous efforts to engage him in instant message conversations (our offices were quite a ways apart), he never responded to me. Frustrating!

One day I happened to be in his office to talk with him for a while. As I was sitting there he was composing an email. It was then I realized why he wouldn’t answer my IM communication attempts. He used what an old friend of mine used the call the “search and destroy” method of typing; what most call “hunt and peck”. Carrying on an IM conversation for him would be like talking with a very bad stutter and it just didn’t leave him with a warm fuzzy, so he did the best thing for him. He opted out.

So be careful how you categorize or pigeonhole people. This very successful individual had spent a long career doing just fine without IM. As much as I believe it was a superior tool for communication and that it served to enhance our ability to share (I sometimes now think of it as a stunted form of micro-blogging) information and knowledge, virtually all of his career had proceeded rather nicely without it. I knew I had to accept this and make adjustments.

He retired within a year and I, for one, was very sorry to see him go. Keep in mind there are many more wonderful people in your organizations like him – to one degree or another. Don’t shortchange them or your company by selling them short just because they don’t see the use of technology exactly like you do.


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?


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.


A Few Wordz on Spelng, Grammar, and Punctuation.

In the course of an interesting conversation precipitated by a Tweet from one of the folks I follow on Twitter (is that from the Department of Redundancy Department?), I was asked to share a blog I posted on a site within the firewall where I work. Since the subject of that blog has absolutely nothing to do specifically with the business I’m in, I have no problem doing that. Please understand, though, I was writing in response to an issue I had heard raised numerous times at work and I was specifically trying to address that issue.

Nevertheless, the issue probably exists to some extent outside our particular firewall. In fact, since the blog post that precipitated the conversation I’m referring to was making a point far more generally applicable than the subject of my blog, I feel compelled to point it out as well. It’s from ProNagger.comConverting Procrastination Into Action, and the specific post is located here. What follows now is my post from work, the title of which is identical to that of this post:

I have heard that some people are a bit reluctant to use AskMe because they know whatever they write will “live on” for a long period of time and they don’t want to take a chance of looking foolish for years to come. I can understand that, especially when it comes to taking a position with respect to a technical issue that may not have a crystal clear answer. I can also understand the reluctance when it comes to spelling, grammar, etc.

So let me point something out that I’ve learned over the last couple of years. First of all, while spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all very important (and few people are quite the stickler I am for their correctness), when it comes to communicating and sharing ideas, I think they’re a bit overrated. This has been driven home to me especially when using Windows Messenger, which I do quite a bit. I have finally reached the point where I don’t bother using capital letters and I only use punctuation when absolutely necessary to be clear.

I also use Twitter, which only allows for the use of 140 characters in any act of publishing. So, sometimes I take a lot of liberties with spelling in order to pack as much meaning into a short communication. So, the point I’m making here is . . . I hope you won’t let the possibility you will post questions, answers, etc. on AskMe with mistakes in them stop you from contributing. It really isn’t that big a deal – especially when balanced against the substantial need to increase our ability to share our knowledge and learn from each other.

This post generated quite a few comments, most expressing relief to have this pointed out to them. One of them, from a colleague I know well who blogs a fair amount internally, merely pointed out his discovery that the original author of the post can edit it, but those who comment could not. I felt compelled to respond and here is what I said:

I have learned the same thing. However, I specifically refrained from correcting this blog because of the message I wanted to convey. I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that spelling, grammar, and punctuation are extremely important in demonstrating the veracity of a document intended to convey important factual information and, perhaps, some other types of communication that require excellent form. I think we all agree as well there are certain forms of communication that needn’t be quite as “clean” as others; IM and blogs come immediately to mind. I have read a lot of blogs by a lot of very well-read and highly respected people. I notice errors popping up all the time. I think most people forgive those errors, not because they don’t matter at all, but because they don’t really detract from the message and the rapid dissemination of ideas is seen as more valuable than careful editing. Besides, blogs generally don’t go through edit cycles and, if you read the newspaper you know editing is no guarantee of good writing either.

I have a confession to make. Though I changed nothing in the blog as it appears at work, I did make a couple of changes here where I discovered errors in my original post. Please forgive me. As I’ve confessed elsewhere, I have a tendency to be a member of the Grammar and Spelling Police . . . I have to follow my bliss!

Rick

I have learned the same thing. However, I specifically refrained from correcting this blog because of the message I wanted to convey. I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that spelling, grammar, and punctuation are extremely important in demonstrating the veracity of a document intended to convey important factual information and, perhaps, some other types of communication that require excellent form. I think we all agree as well there are certain forms of communication that needn’t be quite as “clean” as others; IM and blogs come immediately to mind. I have read a lot of blogs by a lot of very well-read and highly respected people. I notice errors popping up all the time. I think most people forgive those errors, not because they don’t matter at all, but because they don’t really detract from the message and the rapid dissemination of ideas is seen as more valuable than careful editing. Besides, blogs generally don’t go through edit cycles and, if you read the newspaper you know editing is no guarantee of good writing either.


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