Here’s the second issue of the KM newsletter I wrote and published for the SSME KM team. This one was for January of 2006. The middle column has a couple of decent descriptions of “Lessons Learned” and “Best Practices.” What it doesn’t address, which is something many of us came to understand later, is that we don’t actually want “Best” Practices; which implies there won’t be any room for improvement, as “best” is a superlative adjective, which means it just doesn’t get any better than best. We, therefore, preferred to talk about “Better” Practices, which also fits rather nicely into the philosophy of continuous improvement. My apologies if this is boring.
Category Archives: Writing/Editing
I believe I wrote this poem in the early nineties. It was, at least obliquely, addressed to a woman I had fallen desperately in love with (this would be the last time in my life I fell that stupidly, at least until we adopted and I became a father.) The love of one’s child—especially the first—is far more powerful and nuanced than any other type of love I’ve ever experienced.
This poem, however, speaks to my desire to see this woman* open up and face some of what I thought were self-destructive fears that were keeping her from enjoying her life. It was complicated, as was she . . . and it just wasn’t to be. I have little doubt the somewhat crazy depth of my desire was just too overwhelming for her. Hey! I was just a kid . . . in my late forties.
There exists in all things
A strength and beauty
Unappreciated by those of us
Who have suffered the constraints of narrow education
Yet . . . it exists
Silently waiting for the moment of discovery
In many of us it is doomed
To remain unannounced
unapprehended and, yet
It is there
And there are those of us
Who by some mad twist of fate
Crush the beauty in ourselves
Divert the strength
And smother the fragile wonder of our lives
Beneath pain and isolation
Which we call self-protection
* I will not use her name in deference to my wife and children. She is a part of my history, but only relevant today to explain the motivation behind this particular bit of communication.
I recently shared an old poem I’d written. A short little ditty that rhymed and everything, though it was – as I said – short. Here’s another I wrote about twenty-five years ago, when I was a mere pup in my late forties. I had fallen desperately in love with a woman who, as it turned out, had a few too many problems. It didn’t last, but it didn’t end ugly either. None of my relationships has ever ended ugly. I’ve been able to fall “out” of love, but I’ve never been able to stop loving someone I once loved.
I think my writing style here was heavily influenced by Kahlil Gibran. I’m not sure I did a very good job but, in the interests of preserving my old writings, I’m willing to risk being embarrassed.
What wonders have I known since first I met you
I have tasted of your lips
Yet it is the thoughts they have expressed
Which ring in my ears
I have suckled at your breasts
Not early as a babe
Yet it is the aroma of your flesh which haunts me in my reverie
And the sound of your sweet sighs which fills my memories
To taste of the flesh is a simple thing
Too easily exalted
Too frequently abused
To taste of the soul is a wondrous thing
Too seldom found
Too seldom used
It is not just your eyes I see
But the depth which lies behind them
It is not merely your lips I crave
But the ideas which they convey
These remain with me during the days
And calm my evenings
That I may lie
With images of you to lull me
Softly as I drift to sleep
Your smile floats before me even now
Your laugh softly fills my mind
And I crave your presence
Even as its memory fills me with joy
I have found in you a person worth cherishing
A woman whose value I deem boundless
And who soul I have already partaken of
I ask for little more
Than to entrust me desires
My hopes and dreams
The time has come for me to simplify . . . to apply some feng shui to my collection of old (ancient?) paperwork, some of which is more than several decades old. Paper is the one thing I seem to be a bit of a hoarder with; that and old clothing, I guess.
I am coming across papers, letters, and notes I’ve written over the years, many of them from my over two decades of service at Rocketdyne, where I was privileged to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program. In that time I worked for (without changing desks) Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, and the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. After I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, I returned as a contractor to work for Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2015, where I worked for a bit over two years.
Recently, I purchased a small, portable Brother scanner and I am slowly scanning old papers I’m finding. Inasmuch as I’m now publishing far more frequently to this blog, I’ve decided to save some of these things so I can throw the paper away and still have a record. It’s been over nine years since I retired and I find I’m forgetting what working in a large organization was like. Reading some of the documents I created helps me to remember what I did, as well as to feel reasonably confident I wasn’t just spinning my wheels.
What follows should be somewhat self-evident. It’s a letter I wrote to my manager in 1994, now over 25 years ago. I think I sound pretty reasonable, and I’m gratified to know I was pushing—pretty hard, I think—for positive change back then. I’m not an IT person; never went to undergrad and, besides, the earliest PCs didn’t come into existence until I was nearing my thirties. However, I did recognize the value such tools brought to managing and operating a business and I have always been a big promoter of technology in the office. At any rate, this is more for me than my readers, but some may find it “amusing.”
PS – I scanned the original “memo” in .jpg format and the accompanying Lotus presentation materials in .pdf, which you’ll have to click on if you’re interested in what Lotus was doing 25 years ago, before its acquisition by IBM.
Sometimes I forget the work I’ve done. I mean . . . it’s over, lessons learned have been internalized and generalized . . . time to move on to something else, right? So I move on. My entire career has consisted of learning, sharing, and moving on. I’ve known people who held onto their knowledge like a life vest, scared silly for anyone to even know precisely what they do or how they do it. In my corporate experience there’s a phrase that perfectly embodies that kind of attitude: “Knowledge is Power.”
I’ve never agree with that concept. In fact, when I was doing Knowledge Management work for Rocketdyne, I used to say “If knowledge is power, then knowledge shared is power squared.” Unfortunately, becoming a sharing and learning organization requires a major cultural change and — especially in aerospace and other conservative industries — change is difficult to effect; certainly not within a short window of time.
At any rate, I was looking at the blog and web sites I am an admin for and realized I had written a couple of blog posts for a local business that was a client of mine for a very short while. I thought I would share it, only because I want to preserve as much of my work as possible. I want this in large part because almost everything I did at Rocketdyne is the intellectual property of the organizations that were the mother ship for Rocketdyne in the over two decades I was there.
I have a few presentations I did that are on SlideShare, but they don’t come close to the amount of content I produced over that time, and that includes a couple of years worth of monthly newsletters that were researched, written, and published almost entirely on my own. I even did the graphics for them. As I said, I don’t own them and, frankly, they were written for my colleagues and much of it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to anyone outside the organization. Nevertheless, it’s a bit sobering to know you did a lot of work you cannot now take credit for . . . at least not easily. What follows is the blog post I wrote for Choice 1 Cleaners.
Your Tortured Garments
Many things in this world are a lot more complex than first meets the eye. Dry cleaning happens to be one of them. Actually, when it comes to today’s garments, any kind of cleaning is far more complex than one might imagine. This isn’t true of all garments, but it is true of garments in general.
Take, for instance, the variability in both materials and the things that stain them. There are basic differences, e.g. fabrics are made out of plant-based (cotton, linen), animal-based (silk, wool, leather), or synthetic (polyester, acrylic, nylon) materials. Stains come in different varieties as well; they’re either plant, animal, or synthetic. Proper cleaning requires an appreciation of the science involved when trying to remove those stains without harming the fabric.
In addition to the variations in material and the things that stain them, consideration needs to be given to the method of construction and the existence of adornments or embellishments, such as pearls, beads, chains, etc. Each of these creates different challenges that need to be addressed before the garments they’re attached to can be safely cleaned. Some require gauze to be hand-stitched over them in case they come loose. Some designer clothing can contain materials that need four to six different treatments to be thoroughly cleaned.
In order to get your garments truly clean – as clean as you expect them to be – we need to test spots as well, many of which you aren’t aware exist. For instance, sweat, alcohol, and perfume stains may not show up for a while. Your skin’s oils may leave stains you don’t notice either. However, when we clean your clothes we will discover them.
Rest assured, no matter how difficult the challenge, our mission is to clean your garments so they look and feel brand new. We can’t do much about the effects of time, but we can do an awfully good job removing the things that get on your clothing and render it stained and dirty. We pride ourselves on being the best and we think you’ll agree we are!
If you create reports, presentations, info graphics, or are in any way involved with presenting data of any sort, I hope you’ve heard of Edward Tufte. Even better if you’ve heard of his work, especially what I believe is his seminal book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.”
As part of my job at Rocketdyne, I was privileged to attend an all-day seminar of his in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2007 or ’08. Upon my return, I wrote down some notes and impressions for my colleague who paid for the day. There’s some really good stuff in here. As a knowledge management professional, I’m a bit chagrined it’s taken me this long to share it. I truly hope someone finds Tufte’s words useful.
Here’s a quick recap of Edward Tufte’s presentation last Thursday. What I did, for the most part, was enter points he made as numbered bullets. Therefore, I’ll do the same here with the addition of some extra comments if I feel they are necessary.
1. Professor Tufte refers to the nature of the work he does as “escaping flatland”. He believes dimensionality is extremely important when using visualization to represent quantitative data.
2. Another aspect of visually presenting data which he emphasizes is data density, i.e. resolution. He repeatedly stressed the need to drive for greater and greater resolution when presenting data.
3. With respect to items such as run charts, histograms, etc., he believes it is far better to label the data directly, avoiding the use of keys, which he feels are distracting.
4. He presented a copy of Euclid’s Elements, which included many “pop-up” graphics used to illustrate his points. The copy of the book he had an assistant bring around (wearing white gloves) for us to view is 432 years old. It was awesome just to see it. He refers to these pop-ups as the “brute force” method of escaping flatland.
5. A key point he stressed is to enforce visual comparisons. The terms he used (should sound familiar) were, “it depends” and “compared to what?”.
6. The visual representation of data should show mechanism, process, or dynamics, i.e. they should present causality as an aide to understanding and clarity.
7. He also stressed the importance of showing more than 1 or 2 variables when preparing a chart.
8. Presentations must be content driven, i.e. they must embody the three elements of quality, relevance, and integrity. Integrity was a big theme of his and one I don’t believe most of us would find fault with.
9. Design can’t rescue failed content, which he referred to as “chart junk”. This is another point which relates to integrity, and one which he continually stressed throughout his presentation.
10. Whether it’s drawing or words, it’s all information. Don’t be afraid to use words to make your point.
11. I’m not entirely certain of what he meant by this point, but what I wrote down was the following: “Better to show info adjacent in space as opposed to stacked in time.”
12. He stressed that you should use small multiples, i.e. strive for high resolution of the data.
13. Another point which he used to continue driving home the importance of integrity was to show the whole data set. At the same time he stressed that one need not show the zero point, i.e. context is what’s important in making a useful, accurate presentation.
14. Detail does not mean clutter. If you can’t present your data in sufficient enough detail without making it difficult to understand, rethink your design; it’s probably faulty.
15. When presenting data always normalize, adjust, and compensate to provide greater clarity and integrity. The example he gave for this involved a situation where it was impossible to know the real changes in costs of consumer items without taking into consideration the rate of inflation over a period of time. Absent this adjustment, the changes appeared to be far greater than they actually were.
16. Perhaps this next point was specific to financial charts, but it seems appropriate for many others. Don’t trust displays which have no explanatory footnotes. Generally speaking, Tufte believes one should annotate everything. His philosophy appears to be to always err on the side of accuracy and completeness (see integrity).
17. He made a point of explaining the human mind’s tendency to remember only the most recent (recency bias) data it perceives. I don’t remember the exact context in which this statement was made, but I think it is related to Ed Maher’s assertion that we tend to focus on the out-of-family (I can’t remember the exact phrase he used) experiences rather than the steady state.
18. He used a word I thought was interesting to describe people who create fancy charts which don’t actually say much – “chartoonist”.
After going into some detail regarding how the Challenger disaster occurred or, more accurately, how it was allowed to happen, he suggested there were three moral lessons to be learned from the experience. He posed these lessons in the form of three questions one must ask oneself when producing information of this nature.
1. Where is the causality?
2. Is all relevant data included?
3. What do I really need to see if I’m going to decide this?
He guaranteed if these three questions were adequately addressed, the chance of getting the decision right were greatly increased.
He then went on to lay out a list of rules for presentations, as follows:
1. Get their attention (he gave an example of what he called the “stumblebum” technique, where a presenter purposely made a mistake – which the audience was more than happy to point out – in order to insure everyone was paying attention (presumably to see if they could catch him again; which they never did.) He made a point of suggesting this probably wasn’t the best technique, unless you’re really good.
2. Never apologize – don’t tell the audience how you didn’t sleep well the night before, etc.
3. PGP – Start with the particular, move to the general, return to the particular.
4. Give everyone at least one piece of paper; something tangible they can leave the room with.
5. Respect your audience’s intelligence.
6. Don’t just read from your charts.
7. Forget K.I.S.S. – Be thorough and accurate, not simple and vague.
8. He stressed the importance of humor, something he was excellent at. He did caution appropriate use (duh?).
9. If you believe what you’re presenting, make sure the audience knows it.
10. Finish early
His final points to improving one’s presentations were directed to the presenter and the presentation, respectively. The first point was to practice or rehearse so the presentation goes smoothly and you are able to get through it without stumbling or going over your allotted time. The second was to have better, stronger content.
Professor Tufte’s presentation was extremely engaging, from my point of view. He knew his stuff and made it interesting, fun, and funny. I confirmed that most of what he discussed is contained in one or more of the three books I took from the seminar, and I’m looking forward to reading again what I think I learned from him. Much of what he had to say was common sense, which I have encountered previously from the years I’ve spent putting together presentations. Nevertheless, I believe he had a great deal to offer which will ultimately improve my ability to present information, whether in a briefing or on a web site. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to him. Thanks for the opportunity.