Monthly Archives: March 2005

Re: Important information about your new management style

Julie received a recall notice in the mail today for a piece of equipment she uses in her business. Actually, the recall was for a component part (a spring) of said equipment. Anyone who has owned a car or large appliance of some kind (got one on the dishwasher a couple of weeks ago) is familiar with the notices that come out.

Dear Valued Customer,

We have identified a potential problem…. Our records show that you purchased…. To date, the problem has only occurred 5 times out of the 50,000+ that have been sold…. While the risk is low, we are replacing…..

Very straightforward for a purchase of hardware. (We know that it doesn’t happen for software, that’s what patches and updates are for.)

What about management consulting engagements? What happens when the process you’ve helped a customer implement is shown to be “faulty,” and could actually hurt the company instead of help it? What if this happens a year or more after you’ve finished an engagement? Or is this more like an “upgrade,” something that should be treated as a follow up to something you’ve done in the past?

I guess you could have minor version upgrades (KM v1.0 to KM v1.1) or major upgrades (KM v1.0 to KM v2.0).

Just some rambling thoughts….

Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger’s Syndrome

A while back I came across Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence by Luke Jackson, a thirteen year old boy diagnosed with Asperger’s. If you are at all interested in Asperger’s, especially if you are trying to get in the Asperger’s afflicted mind, this is an excellent resource.

There are many insights in the book, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it many times. One early on deals with what makes something an obsession (typically considered bad) instead of a passion (typically considered not bad). Here is what Luke has to say on the matter:

Q: When is an obsession not an obsession?
A: When it is about football.

How unfair is that?! It seems that our society fully accepts the fact that a lot of men and boys ‘eat, sleep and breathe’ football and people seem to think that if someone doesn’t, then they are not fully male. Stupid!

Girls are lucky enough to escape this football mania but I have noticed that teenage girls have to know almost every word of every song in the charts and who sang what and who is the fittest guy going, so I suppose an AS girl (or a non-AS one) that had interests other than that is likely to experience the same difficulties as a non-football crazy boy.

I am sure that if a parent went to a doctor and said that their teenage son wouldn’t shut up about football, they would laugh and tell them that it was perfectly normal. It seems as if we all have to be the same. (my emphasis)

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The unreasonable man

From McGee’s Musings is this personal story of someone else who, on learning more about Asperger’s Syndrome (in this case, from an article in the New York Times [free registration required]), saw a bit of it in himself. He also references an article in Wired magazine from a while back, called The Geek Syndrome, that focuses on the magazine’s target audience: members of the technical professions.

As high-tech has taken the fore-front in business and the world today, geek has become somewhat chic. The techno-nerd’s geekiness is somewhat endearing, and the ability of these “geniuses” to focus so intently on what they are doing inspires a bit of awe on the part of non-nerds. Of course, just as often this focus causes a bit of discomfort and confusion, especially if you don’t know the nerd, because it is so different from what is socially acceptable.

And if you are not a techno-nerd, if you are just a nerd, then you are for the most part simply a social outcast. The Fresh Air story I mentioned in the last post has an excellent example.

A boy with Asperger’s Syndrome is focused on snakes. He knows about everything there is to know about snakes, and can bring snakes into just about any story or subject. If he can’t make it about snakes, he doesn’t care about it. As it turned out, as a cumulative school project this boy had to prepare a report about the Battle of Gettysburg. The purpose of the project was to teach research and presentation skills. You guessed it – no snakes, the boy didn’t care and wasn’t doing anything on the project.

Until, that is, the adults in the bunch came up with the idea, “What if we let him do his report on The Snakes at the Battle of Gettysburg?” To make a long story short, this got the boy’s attention and he dove right in. To do the project, he had to learn as much or more about the battle and the geography, etc., as any other kid. His project was so good, and so unique, that he was asked to present his project to the entire school. Everyone wanted to hear the presentation about the snakes at the Battle of Gettysburg, and everyone thought it was great.

The kicker here is this: Before this presentation, everyone avoided this boy because all he wanted to talk about was snakes.

I recognize that humans are a social bunch, but it is unfortunate – for both the “typical” and “non-typical” populations – that anything that is different is so shunned, before even being given a chance.

A closing quote from George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

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Interview with Dr. Fred Volkmar

On the May 5, 2004 Fresh Air, Terry interviewed Dr. Fred Volkmar from Yale Child Study Center. As the parent of an autistic teenager (age 13) there was a lot I had already heard or figured out for myself, but there was quite a bit of good new info as well.

Terry also spoke with Michael John Carley, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult, not long after his son was diagnosed. I have to admit that when Zeke was first diagnosed and I learned more about the syndrome, one of my first thoughts was, “Boy, I didn’t miss it by much. A lot of these things describe me.” Good stuff. (BTW, Carley is the executive director of GRASP [Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership].

Autism Speaks

There are many good organizations out there devoted to autism, some focusing on a cure, others focusing on resources for individuals with autism and their families. One of the newer ones is Autism Speaks, launched on February 25 to coincide with a piece on a Today Show segment (Windows Media Video file) on NBC that same day.

The organization was founded by Bob Wright (vice chairman of GE and chairman and CEO of NBC Universal) and his wife Suzanne. Here’s a clip from Bob’s welcome message on the site:

The autism community is active, highly motivated, and full of dedicated people involved in a number of effective advocacy organizations. Do we really need a new national fundraising effort?

If my family’s experience is typical, then I think we do. Last March, our then-2 ½-year-old grandson was diagnosed with autism. We responded by immersing ourselves in the literature, consulting with experts, and gathering as much information as we could. What we discovered was discouraging. We had so many questions. And instead of answers, we found a bewildering array of theories and guesses.

The site is filled with good information and resources, including links to all the programs produced by NBC networks (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo) and aired during the week of February 21 under the title, Autism, the hidden epidemic. You can also get a free DVD that has all of the various segments.

Knowledge Management: Theory and Practice

“Pure” and “Applied” Mathematics. “Theoretical” and “Experimental” Physics.

I’m sure there are others examples of the distinction between what can most easily be described as the academic and real-world aspects of a discipline. Yet, as far as I know, the discipline currently known as “Knowledge Management” is still a catch-all that includes essentially all aspects of knowledge in organizations – from personal knowledge management to the social nature of knowledge within groups.

I first realized this several years ago, when I was still somewhat new to the world of KM. I was trying to learn more and checking out the various KM organizations and certification programs.

Some organizations, such as KMPro and AOK, focus on the practical aspects of KM, actually applying a process, technique, or tool to positively influence a business outcome. Certification programs from these types of organizations likewise focus on how to “do” KM in a given setting.

Other organizations, such as KMCI, focus on the theoretical aspects of KM, trying to establish an understanding of how things work and why they work that way. Using KMCI as an example, there is no real “certification” in KM, just an abundance of learning opportunities with which to broaden your personal knowledge and experience.

Though some may disagree with me, I don’t think either aspect is necessarily better than the other. (My personal preference is for the theory side, but that is true for most any subject – that’s just my personality type.) In fact, like the two examples I give above, I think that each is dependent on the other for continued growth and success. Without a theory on which to judge the outcomes of experiments, the experiments have no lasting value. Without experiments, it is difficult to prove (or disprove) a theory.

Because there is only one “branch” of KM, there seems to me to be a lot of “that’s not KM” – “yes it is” going on today (such as this page at KMCI). Perhaps it is time to “formalize” the distinction between the two aspects of KM. A key problem, of course, is finding the right words to get across the meaning but not have potentially pejorative connotations.

Some thoughts on possible descriptors for the two branches:

  • Theoretical – Practical
  • General – Applied
  • Fundamental – Functional

Change and unintended consequences

From a Washington Post article, via Schneier on Security, concerning the prohibition of lighters and matches on commercial airplane:

As airports and government leaders began discussing how to create flame-free airport terminals, the task became more complicated. Would newsstands and other small airport stores located beyond the security checkpoint have to stop selling lighters? Would airports have to ban smoking and close smoking lounges? How would security screeners detect matches in passengers’ pockets or carry-on bags when they don’t contain metal to set off the magnetometers?

Just goes to show the importance of considering not just the first order effects of decisions and change, but the second and third order effects as well. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and we should not forget that (especially in the world of Knowledge Management).

Something old, something new

As much as I use, and enjoy using, information technologies, my primary personal note taking (and storing, for that matter) media is a paper notebook. My current book of choice is the Infinity Journal from Levenger. With 600 pages, I get about a year out of each book. Everything goes into this book, including random thougths throughout the day, notes from meetings, and quotes/passages from books/websites, etc. At times I even print-and-paste things from my computer into the notebook so I have it available whenever I may need it.

Of course, paper does have some limitations. Two key ones are searchability and organization. To solve the searchability problem for key things such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, web sites, etc. that tend to get jotted down in haste, I use a Moleskine pocket-size address book. Though it is called an address book, it is really just a notebook with the letters of the alphabet on tabs every few pages. No “rules” on what should go in, just a simple way to organize. (I’ve chosen to alphabetize names by first name, since that is what I usually think of when I want to call someone.)

As for the organization part, that’s not so easy. I do use a paper calendar to keep basic schedule stuff (see my response to Jack’s post Thinking While Note Taking for more on that), but that doesn’t help with organizing the notes I have. I do number the pages, as well as date them when I jot something down, so that helps a bit.

I have tried several digital methods of note taking/keeping, but I’ve yet to find one that works for me. My first try was with a “digital pad” from Cross (the pen people) many years ago. This was (is?) basically a base-station for a paper pad that captures your writing, which can then be transferred to a computer. Very clunky, maybe ahead of its time. Next was a Palm OS based Handspring handheld. I’ve also tried a couple of different systems that tried to tie a pen-and-paper notepad into the Handspring, but they didn’t work either. The one thing I haven’t yet tried is a Windows Tablet PC. If they work near as well as they are supposed to, they may work out. But then again, I’m a Mac guy so….

Speaking of the Mac, I’ve just started trying out a new tool to organize my notes: DEVONthink from DEVON Technologies. I first heard of this on Steve Johnson’s blog and figured I should give it a try. Still in the early stages of figuring out exactly how best to use it, but it definitely has potential. I think I will keep to pen-and-ink (nothing like the feel of a good fountain pen) for day to day stuff, but this may be what I’ve been looking for to help me find what I need when I need it.

On the value of planning

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In retrospect, my post On the futility of planning captured a “you had to be there” moment. Out of context, the intended sarcasm falls (very) flat. In truth, I am a big (HUGE) believer in planning.
– – — — —–

As an Army officer I learned very quickly the value of planning and, possibly more importantly, the rehearsal of those plans. The aphorism “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” is absolutely true. Proper preparation, though, can make that fact largely irrelevant. The very act of planning, and rehearsing that plan, involves preparation that enables you to effectively react to most any situation that may arise. In other words, proper planning allows you to IMPROVISE.

“What?” you say. “Improvise? That’s fine for comedy and music, but military operations? Business? I don’t think so. The whole purpose of planning is so you know what is going to happen, and when it is going to happen. Not to just wing it.” In an Industrial Age setting, I may have agreed with that. But in the Information Age, I strongly disagree. If you tie yourself too tightly to a plan, and stick to it no matter what, I believe you are doomed to fail.

As an example, consider a football (American) team – or any other team sport, for that matter. It is possible to develop a detailed game plan that dictates every play you will use, and when you will use them in the game. You could make a simple list of plays: On the first play, do this; On the second play, do that. etc. Or you could have a more detailed plan: If it is second and under 5 yards, and we’re in the red zone, we do this. etc. You could even take it a step further and include separate options that take into account the opposition’s activities. Of course, the more contigencies you identify, the bigger the play book you have to carry around and the longer it may take to figure out exactly what to do.

What actually happens is that the team develops a basic game plan ahead of time and rehearses the execution of that plan. By doing this, the focus of the team becomes achieving the goal of winning the game (as opposed to simply executing the plan).

I was inspired to write this post partly by a few key passages in Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Blink (which I’ve written about recently), in which he uses the obvious example of an improv comedy troupe (which in turn cites as one of their references a basketball team) to support the concept of “thin-slicing,” the ability to parse a given situation into the minimum information required to deal with that situation. I have the feeling I’ll be writing quite a bit more that is inspired by the book. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to go out and get it.

Autism

For parents of toddlers around 18 month old, few words are more disturbing than AUTISM. Unfortunately, more and more parents are hearing this word more and more often from their pediatricians. As recently as 30 years ago or less, 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. Today, that number is 1 in 166. (You read it right – one in one hundred sixty six – two full orders of magnitude!)

The obvious question that arises from this drastic increase: “Is this because more kids have autism, or are we just getting better at diagnosing it, or what?” The answer, I think, falls into the “or what” category.

As way of background, I am the parent of an autistic son, Zeke, who is now 13 years old. Obviously, I have more than a passing interest in the current state of things in the world of autism, and there are many things to keep up with:

  • the search for a cure
  • nutritional / medical interventions
  • school
  • life after school

I’ve created this blog to help me sort through things for myself and to share what I find.