Updated: 5/02/2003; 10:07:01 PM.
Shawn Callahan's Random Thoughts
Knowledge management and other things

Wednesday, 5 February 2003

Keeping your finger on the pulse

The ability to sense new patterns forming will be a key skill as the pace of change continues to accelerate. Here a couple of good sources to add to your environmental scan. Thanks to David Gurteen's weblog.

Sites to watch for news of what's next. Thanks to [John Robb] for pointing me to this article on [Sites to watch for news of whats next] by Scott Kirsner in the Boston Globe.

The article takes a brief look at several bloggers and their weblogs that seem to have their fingers on the pulse of technology change. the list includes: Dan Bricklin, John Robb, David Weinberger, Ray Kurzweil, Jeremy Allaire, Ray Ozzie and Bob Frankston. Each one of these weblogs worth adding to your blogroll. [Gurteen Knowledge-Log]

9:13:06 PM    comment []

Getting back to the log

I bumped into a colleague today, Tony Palmer, who said he found my weblog last week. He quickly brought to my attention that my log was woefully out of date. This a situation I will remedy starting immediately. Thanks Tony.

7:51:03 PM    comment []

Friday, 18 October 2002

Back again bemoaning the limitations of text

Walk into any workplace that is bubbling with innovation and you will find walls strewn with whiteboards covered with collaborative hieroglyphics. The ability for collaborators to sketch diagrams as a way to create and communicate ideas has considerable advantages over collaborating using a discussion forum approach that relies predominantly on text . The key difference lies in the fact that a diagram is co-created and its meaning is developed through the interchange between the collabotators. The meaning of words, however, are generally predefined and significant effort is required to convey accurately what you mean.

Most of the collaboration software programs provide an online whiteboarding facility but in my experience this is rarely used because most computers are not equipped with the peripherals required to effectively collaborate online. The standard mouse, for example, is a deficient drawing device. To draw on an online whiteboard, collaborators need a tablet that mimics pen and paper. To co-create a diagram online collaborators also need to talk to one another and ideally see each other. Discussion can be facilitated with a teleconference but if you have the bandwidth, online video and voice is the ideal solution.

As I sit here using my voice recognition system I have my headset on, mouse and keyboard in front of me, tablet to one side, printer nearby and scanner behind me. I am surrounded by add-ons. I think the all-important personal computer is overdue for a massive redesign. My work environment shouldn't need to be so complicated.

8:03:21 PM    comment []

Wednesday, 9 October 2002

Recent accident
I injured my right hand on the weekend and spent the last 3 days in hospital. Unfortunately it is difficult to post messages and therefore I will be offline for about 4 weeks.
3:00:10 PM    comment []

Thursday, 3 October 2002

Dynamic equilibrium in a KM program

In 1987 my father and I travelled to the Kimberleys in the north west corner or Australia. We set out to complete the field work for my geography and archaeology honours thesis. My father accompanyied me because my study grant required someone in the party who could fire a rifle. The estuaries of the Kimberleys are renowned for crocodiles.

Leading up to the field work I spent 6 months pouring over models of how macro-tidal islands form in estuaries. I was presented with many compelling accounts that made it clear to me how the four small islands that I was studying suddenly appeared in the Ord River estuary in the 1950s. This understanding was based on a concept of how sand and silt flowed up and down a tidal river called dynamic equilibrium. This concept is based on the idea that an observersation at any point in time may yield a river (or any other natural system) that appears out of balance; in apparent chaos. Taking the observation over time, however, can produce a picture of the river in perfect balance; a dynamic equilibrium.

Implementing a KM program can appear the same way. In the first 6 months you may focus entirely on one initiative, such as communities of practice. A casual observer may by critical pointing out that you are giving no attention to other worthy initiatives such as expertise location or recruiting capable knowledge workers. In the short-term the system may seem out of balance but over time your knowledge program can develop its own dynamic equilibrium. Of course to achieve this equilbrium requires a designer to observe the system at multiple time scales.

8:41:01 PM    comment []

Tuesday, 1 October 2002

The Power of Archetypes in Creating Meaning

My nine year old daughter is an avid reader. She loves the Harry Potter series and reads them repeatedly. This voracious apetite for stories has unfortunately resulted in an anoying "know-it-all" attitude that was driving her parents crazy - the only negative side effect of reading we've noticed. She would whine in utter disdain comments like: "Come on Dad, don't ... you ... know ... who ... made ... the ... philosopher's ... stone?"

One morning at breakfast, after another episode of Potter boasting, I quipped: "you know you're sounding just like Hermione." Her behaviour changed instantly as she quickly compared the characteristics of Hermione from Harry Potter with her own behaviour; she obviously didn't like the result. The Hermione character was rich in detail for her yet it would have been quite difficult for me to explicity and accurately explain these characteristics in a meaningful way without referring to a character in a story.

Stories are a great way to understand complexity and share meaning. In business we tell stories to create reputations (or destroy them), share experiences (retelling someone else's story is the next best thing to being there) and build culture. When working with clients we help them retell their stories and then capture them to be reused as lessons learned material. In place of the individual characters we develop, with the client, archetypes that convey the complex social characteristics that we deal with every day. Instead of Hermione we develop archetypes like Mr Officious Project Manager, Ms Bulldozer or Mr Know-it-all Consultant. Any sound familiar?

7:45:08 PM    comment []

Monday, 30 September 2002

Identifying communities vs identifying people

The value of communities in business is widely recognised and many knowledge management practitioners have developed techniques to identify communities with the view to enhancing them and harnessing their value for an organisation. I personally use the techniques developed by Dave Snowden and the gang at the Cynefin Centre. It is a mixture of storytelling techniques and workshopping.

Whilst on the train today I was thinking that I hadn't heard of the opposite approach whereby we identify people who would benefit from particpating in a community and then link them up. Linking people to relevant and interesting communities should be a key responsibilities of managers but I suspect this will not occur regularly until managers fully value the role of communities in their business. I imagine the process of identifying people who aren't connected that should be - and to where - would be a non-trivial exercise.

8:08:04 PM    comment []

Sunday, 29 September 2002

Storytelling as a KM technique: written vs told

My close friend Peter is writing his first novel. It is historical fiction set in Norway during the dark ages. I have been lucky to be involved in his writing process as an amateur editor and critic. Peter is extremely talented and can craft a compelling story that sweeps the reader from one scene to the next. It has been a joy to be part of his story writing process but it has made me think that writing a compelling story is a difficult and exacting task. If this is the case, how are people in organisations expected to craft stories as part of a knowledge management initiative?

Steve Denning made a similar comment in his book, Springboard, when he made the comment that his springboard stories worked best when told personally.  

Should we avoid writing stories and spend more time using other techniques to convey a narrative (video, drama, art)?

6:09:24 PM    comment []

© Copyright 2003 Shawn Callahan.
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