Monthly Archives: November 2008

Government 2.0

Stories earlier this week about President-elect Barack Obama and his Blackberry got me thinking about how our elected leaders and their staffs are (or not) using the potential of  “stuff 2.0” (“stuff” = “web”, “enterprise”, “KM”, etc) in the execution of their duties.

For example:  It used  to make sense for Senators and Congressmen to basically live in Washington, DC and go back to their home districts on occasion; after all, they have to be present in order to vote.  But does that still make sense?

With the technology available for collaboration, and the security of PKI and other technologies to support digital voting, why not flip that around?  Set up your main base in your home state / district and travel to Washington, DC for special occassions.

Balance is BS? It all depends on how you define “balance”

In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi has a section entitled “Balance is BS”.  The “balance” he is referring to is the work/life balance that so many people talk about.  If you hadn’t read the rest of the book, or if you don’t know anything about Keith, you will likely be thinking, “This guy must be some kind of crazy workaholic.”

But once you understand how he looks at balance, you realize that he may be a “workaholic”, but he’s far from crazy.  Consider this quote on the subject from his blog last summer:

But you’ve also probably heard or read me say that balance is BS – that if you’re living a life driven by genuine relationships, where you are constantly being yourself, it’s a lot harder to separate personal and professional into their own tidy boxes. This idea of “balance” we read about in newspapers – usually followed by a statistic about grueling American hours and a thumbs-up to the French 35-hr work week – also seems to be driven by the idea that work is inevitably bad and unpleasant. Happy at … work!?! Incroyable!

Seems to me that Keith has discovered one of the secrets of the Art of Living.

Network effects of KM blogs

I, along with several others, was interviewed last summer by Lilia Efimova concerning my experiences as a Knowledge Management blogger using the blog as a networking tool.  (The interview came about from my blog No Straight Lines, which started out as a KM blog).  You can see a summary of my interview here.

The short of it is that I didn’t start blogging with the purpose of networking with others in KM, but it was a (very) nice side effect.  I’ve met many people through blogging, KM and otherwise, that I never would have had the opportunity to get to know.

Autism

If you watch the news or read the papers/magazines, you have undoubtedly heard about autism.  Unfortunately, much of what you have heard is likely of the “doom-and-gloom” variety, telling you what a “terrible” and “devastating” thing it is to live with autism, how parents and educators have to “deal with” autistic children.

As the parent of a now 17 year old autistic son, first diagnosed when he was just over 2 years old, I can tell you that there are unique challenges to raising an autistic child.  There is no denying that.  But when it comes down to it, if you ask me, these challenges are different only in context, not in scope.  Every child presents challenges of one sort or another to their parents.

We all have a tendency to want our kids to be like us, a reflection of us.   And it is indeed possible to try to “make” your kid more like you through “early intervention.”   Consider the geek born to the jock, or the jock born to the geek.  Your kid likes to be outside playing sports – you make him come inside and read and study.  Your kid is a book-worm – drag him outside and make him learn how to shoot hoops whether he likes it or not.

The other option, of course, is to figure out what it is your child enjoys, what they are passionate about, and indulge that passion.  There is no doubt that for a parent that is not autistic him- or her-self this is a more daunting challenge than the geek-jock dilemma I mentioned.  But it is daunting only in that it is a challenge that fewer people have experience with, that there is not as large a knowledge base to refer to when trying to find your way.

As I’ve written about before, the key thing for a parent of an autistic child to remember is that parenting is parenting.

If you don’t already know someone with autism, you will eventually.   Chances are very good that you have a family member with autism, know someone who has an autistic family member, or that you know someone with autism themselves.  You may even be autistic .   How did you react when you found out?  How do you treat those people?  How do you think you would react if you discovered that your child has autism?

It is all too easy to treat people, especially kids, with autism as “autistic”.   The challenge is to remember to treat autistic people simply as people.  Their autism is just one aspect of who they are.

(For another autism dad’s thoughts on the subject – from the perspective of a conservative philosophy – check out Big White Hat’s post Neuroconservatism?)

C-C-C-C-Complexity

As a Systems Engineer working on a huge system-of-systems, complexity is a part of my daily life.  (I’m not complaining – I love it!).  But not everyone involved always recognizes the situation as complex, as opposed to simply complicated.  Of course, not everyone is in a position where they see the complexity; it all depends on your perspective.  But I think the people who will see the most success in life are those that put themselves in the position to see, understand, and take advantage of the complexity of things.

Anyway, here are the 5 C’s of complexity from Dave Snowden:

  • Constraint is key to understanding complexity, it governs the transition between the three ontologies. Increase constraint and you create an ordered system; do that inappropriately and you create the conditions for catastrophic failure; remove constraint and the system is chaotic. Lightly constrain the system, while allowing it to be modified by the actors within it and you enable evolution and the emergence of meaning. Managing constrains is one of the things you can train managers to do, and measure their capability and effectiveness.
  • Coherence is the measure and concept by which you judge the validity of an action in a complex domain. A lightly constrained system modifies as agents interact with it, but it does constrain. The constant change means that is it difficult to provide absolute proof of an idea or approach (by the time you did the situation would have changed), but it is possible to create tests (including mathematical tests) of the degree of coherence that an idea has.
  • Connectivity is key to a complex system, where agent proximity has a massive impact on agent action. Of course the nature of connections is also key (just connecting things is not enough. If I increase connectivity I can increase variety and thence novelty by the right selection of links. But I can also increase connectivity of like with like if I want to exploit existing knowledge. I may generate a higher or lower degree of coherence, or at least test my ability to do so.
  • Context is vital. I remember a great advert for the Guardian newspaper. In the first scene you see a skinhead running towards a women; the perspective shifts and you see him about to grab a middle aged man with a briefcase; the perspective shifts and you see him drag the man into the doorway before a skip of building material would have fallen on his head and killed him. We need to acknowledge perspective but it doesn’t follow that we can never be objective.
  • Coalescence is an alternative to categories which are all to common in management speak. We like to put things into little boxes so we have them properly organised. Its better to think about things as the centre of a coalescence with fussy boundaries Interestingly we are starting to understand that this is the nature of our own mind. Its a distributed function of our brain, hormones, nervous and tactile systems and in all probability toe environment. Categories lead to stereotyping, coalescence to meaning

Of course, the “C” that is missing is “complexity” itself.  But that is a much larger discussion.

The Art of Living

Just inside the entrance to the Art of Living Building in Downtown St. Louis is the following quote:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreations.  He hardly knows which is which.  He simply pursues his vision of excellence thorugh whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.  To himself, he always seems to be doing both.

This came to mind as I was reading Lilia’s post Mama’s day, PhD work and being grounded, and her earlier post Turning work into life (June 2004) in which she said:

Don’t get me wrong, I like my work and office is a great space for meeting colleagues and serendipity of coffee talks. I’m just thinking about things what would make me more productive. A bit more flexibility, a bit more nature, a bit more fun… I know that there are organisations that make work fun and flexible to their people, but I wonder why they are so rare and what could be done to turn work into life. I guess one of the biggest obstacles is a myth about work/life balance, implying that work is not life, making us thinking that work should be that way – formal and full of discipline – and preventing thinking about other options…

Fortunate is the person who can make life their work and work their life.

My new “wastebook”

I use the 600 page Infinity Journal as my primary day-to-day wastebook, so I don’t have to start a new book very often, maybe once every 12 – 18 months depending on what’s going on.  On the other hand, my digital wastebook(s) never run out of “pages” so I could keep using the same one forever.  I’ve found, though, the just the act of changing is a worthwhile process in and of itself.  Thus, my new digital wastebook.

This new blog actually represents the retirement of my two longstanding personal blogs:  No Straight Lines, dating from June 2003, started out as a blog about Knowledge Management; and 29 Marbles, dating from March 2005, presented a dad’s-eye view of autism.  I’ve found over the years that my many interests overlap, sometimes significantly and sometimes tangentially.  I keep everything together in a single paper notebook, why not keep it all together in a single blog?

When I start a new notebook, I typically fill up the first few pages with copies of what I think is important enough to carry over from the old book.  I expect that this blog will be no different.  So if you see something you’ve seen before, please accept it for what it is.  And please excuse the construction mess as I play around with this great WordPress.  (What’s the point of starting over if you can’t play around with it a bit?!?)

Advocates and allies

I had originally planned for this post to be an in-depth look at what it means for a non-autistic person to be an advocate or ally for autistic people.  There has been a lot written on the subject over the past couple of months and I was going to use this as a way to sort it all out in my mind.  Luckily (especially for you, since this post is now much shorter), a recent discussion on this blog helped me understand it all in a nutshell.

In a comment to a recent post, CS had the following to say about the vaccine-autism debate:

The vaccine argument is causing a lot of harm I believe because it is taking our limited time we have in the news and monopolizing it with trivalities (sp?) that aren’t important for inclusion, education, opportunity, independence and safety which is what most autistic people struggle with their entire lives.

This came toward the end of a long comment discussion concerning Kristina Chew‘s appearances on Newsweek.com and NBC’s The Today Show last week in which she was asked, as the mother of an autistic son, her opinions about vaccines.  (The media interest was due to the recent release of Autism’s False Prophets.)

In my original concept for this post I had considered using Kristina as an example of a good ally for autistic people, using Phil Schwartz’s list of what makes a good ally as a starting point.  CS disagrees with me, and believes that she is “not being a good ally when she does these things.”  He also uses Phil’s essay as the basis of his opinion.

Read the whole comment discussion for the whole picture, but the gist of CS’s complaint was that Kristina was being self-serving, and not being a good ally for autistics, because she engaged in – and reported on – the interest in the vaccine/autism question instead of reporting on the lack of interest that the mainstream media has for hearing from autistic people about what is important to them.

Here is an excerpt of my response to CS from that comment discussion:

The vaccine argument is causing a lot of harm, but not because those who don’t believe in a link are engaged in the argument. It causes harm because it exists. Those who try to squash the belief in a link between vaccines and autism may not be engaged in the type of activities that directly benefit autistics, but if no one puts down the belief in a link by the general – scientifically illiterate – public then many of those direct actions will likely come to naught.

The non-autistic people, especially parents, who believe in the link are not likely to listen to scientists, non-believing celebrities, or autistics when it comes to arguments against a link. Those with the most chance to sway their opinion are the parents – the non-autistic parents – of autistic children and adults.

What do you think?

And if you are autistic, who among the non-autistic do you see as true advocates, as good allies?  Are there any?  Despite what Phil tries to get across in his essay, is it even possible for a non-autistic to be an “autism advocate” or a good ally?

Update:  As a reference, here are some of the things that have influenced me over the past couple of months.  In some cases it is the post itself, in some cases it is the discussion in the comments:

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind.