Got Wii? How about accessories?

Though not as rare in the wild as Sony’s PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii is still a good catch. After waiting in line to get my own Wii on the launch date (actually I waited in line to get one as a Christmas gift for the boys), I’m anxious to hook it up and start playing. Since this is a gift for the boys, though, I find myself in Jason’s situation (just replace Jason with me in the FoxTrot strip shown here and you get the idea!)

Foxtrot - 20 Nov 06

Fortunately, though, we have had a chance to try out the Wii at the local mall, both at the EB Games there and a Nintendo kiosk with several Wii (what is the plural of Wii, anyway) set up. We tried our hand at Excite Truck and Wii Sports, both of which give a chance to appreciate the great motion sensitive controllers (my favorite was the golf game in Wii Sports).

If you are a parent who has picked up a Wii for you kids (or even if you picked it up for yourself), you should check out this set of “must have Wii accessories” from C/Net. If you have any other suggestions for must-have accessories or games, please let me know. I want to make sure I’m all set when I – er, I mean we – finally open it up and hook it up.


It’s all in how you look at it

As our first winter storm approaches, I’m reminded of something I heard many (many) years ago:

There is no such thing as bad weather; only inappropriate clothing.

Though I don’t remember exactly when or where I first heard that, I do know it was from my younger days when I was doing more climbing, backpacking, and camping. Though at first glance it seems to be just another silly saying, in the context of outdoor activities it is all too true and is a key part of the mastery of any of these activities. One of the things that mastery of anything requires is the ability to properly prepare so that you can perform at your best.

Which brings up another short aphorism addressing the importance of preparedness:

If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan it properly.

Have you found yourself in any fair “fights” lately?

The crowd may be wise, but can it write a book?

Tonight’s All Things Considered on NPR featured the story Using the Wiki Method to Write a Book about the We Are Smarter than Me project.

The project was inspired, in part, by the open-source software movement and by the success of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, which is largely written and edited by its users. The promoters of We Are Smarter Than Me are hoping that they, too, can harness the online community and produce a book about how to do that in business.

The creators have outlined proposed chapter headings and written the first one or two pages of each, including case studies that can be used as jumping-off points. One chapter, for example, focuses on how to manage a company when functions such as creating and marketing the product are handled by the community. How should the firm organize itself? What would the management structure look like?

I signed up, if only to be able to track the progress. It’s hard to say if I’ll have anything I feel is worth contributing. (Of course, that limitation may not stop some from contributing anyway.) At the time I registered, there were 1805 registered ‘authors’, including 79 others today. I expect that the NPR story will help build membership a bit.

A quick scan of the discussion forums (fora?) showed a lively discussion, a lot of folks just trying to figure out how to use this not-so-new capability of a wiki in a new way. More importantly, there was some discussion and concern that the project doesn’t turn into a situation where the new tool (the wiki) is used to implement an old process (writing a book), instead of the new tool helping to change the way a book can be written.

It will be interesting to see if the Wisdom of Crowds comes out.

Free-solo rock climbers and the way of the samurai

Flickr - Mal Fraser free-soloing Tryfan FachHot on the heels of my post about rock climbing and mountaineering, I saw jonno‘s post about the “sport of lunatics” and his link to the article Free-Solo Climber Prefers the Unencumbered Ascent in Sunday’s NY Times. The article discusses the sport of free-soloing (climbing without ropes or other safety gear) in general, and the climber Michael Reardon in specific.

While jonno sees free soloing as “the work of a madman,” in many ways free-soloing is the ultimate test of a person’s rock climbing mastery.

In rock climbing … the free soloing that Reardon has mastered is considered by some to be the purest and highest form of climbing.


“There is absolutely no cheating,” Gaines said. “It’s a real bold and naked form of climbing with no safety net and nothing to fall back on. You have to be 100 percent committed.”

You also cannot be afraid. “If any fear creeps in, your body tightens up and you lose technique,” Gaines said. “Then it’s all over.”

This attitude of full commitment and holding fear, or any other considerations, at bay brought to mind the way of the samurai, as described by George Leonard:

Long and arduous training contributed to the samurai’s presence and clarity in combat, but there was also another key factor: The samurai had to be totally free of considerations. If, for example, he was to think, “Why didn’t I have my sword sharpened?” or “I should have settled my debt with Takeda-san,” the break in ki would be fatal. The ultimate consideration is one’s own death. For the thought “I might die” to creep into his consciousness would mean sure death. That’s why the samurai was trained from earliest childhood to go into battle with no thought of either life or death. Being ready to die, he was more likely to live.


KM is dead; long live KM

KM is dead. Long live KM!

That was my first thought on reading Dave Snowden‘s response to the oft asked question: Is KM dead?

My view for about two years now is that it is on its last leg as a strategic movement (otherwise known as a fad) in management. We also have that infallible predictor that a fad cycle is coming to an end: government adopts it as industrial best practice.

Now don’t get me wrong, the objectives of KM theory and practice persist and will continue to be of great importance. They are clear, simple and important and can be summarised as follows:

1. To support effective decision making
2. To create the conditions for innovation

Too often KM comes across as a destination, when in fact it is – should be – a process. When I was working in the realm of KM, many years ago, the biggest challenge I had was convincing people that KM should not be considered as an end in and of itself, but rather as a means to an end. To use an analogy from a recent post, many people expected KM to teach them a dance when they should be using it to learn how to dance.

Most organizations are made up of very capable individuals, masters of their own domains. What most organizations are unable to do, however, is harness all that individual mastery so that the organization performs at its peak capability. Over time, and as I’ve been studying the process of mastery in individuals, I’ve come to realize that the end that KM is – or should be – working towards is that of ‘organizational mastery.’

What I haven’t quite gotten my hands around yet is what exactly it means for an organization to attain mastery. Dave’s insightful post, though, gives me a bit more work with as I try to figure that out. What encourages me most is that many of the ‘good’ parts of KM have found their way into the daily life of organizations, and that the ‘bad’ parts are fading away (or, at the least, losing their importance in the minds of many organizations).

If you’re at all interested in the current state of KM – or at least one wise man’s thoughts on it – I encourage you to check it out as well.

KM is dead; long live KM!

Mastery (and not) in the mountains

Mount Everest

Though I’ve not indulged it much lately, I have a passion for rock climbing and, to a lesser extent, mountaineering. If ever there were an activity that requires mastery, especially at the elite level, those two would be at the top of the list. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many good climbers, and unfortunate enough to come across some ‘bad’ climbers – bad in the sense that all they cared about was the summit, and not the path to getting there.

Among many other good stories the September 2006 issue of Outside magazine has two stories about climbing and mountaineering, covering both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ approaches to the sports. The cover story looks at the most fatal climbing season in a decade on Mount Everest, full of tales of people going for the quick fix of a summit without mastering the skills required (and the guides and companies that encourage and exploit that desire). Another story tells the final tale of two master mountaineers – Sue Nott and Karen McNeill – while climbing Alaska’s Mount Foraker.

Though there is much more to the cover story, this bit stood out to me:

The real problem, guides and expedition leaders say, is climbers who underestimate the challenge and unscrupulous outfitters who take them on. All the guides I spoke to said they’d screened and turned down inexperienced clients, only to see them show up on another company’s permit. Match weak climbers with the tougher side of the mountain, guides say, and you’ve got a recipe for big trouble. Independents have every right to try for the summit, they add, but they need to be realistic. If they’re climbing solo and need a rescue, they can’t count on assistance from mountaineering strangers, most of whom aren’t skilled or strong enough to help even if they want to.

The story also provides some details on a lawsuit that one man is bringing against an outfitting company on Everest blaming them for the death of his son, who died in a sudden storm on the descent following a successful summit.

As for Nott and McNeill, by all accounts they were true masters of the mountains:

Mount ForakerNOTT AND MCNEILL spent the past 15 years working through a rigorous mountaineering apprenticeship. Sponsored by gear maker Mountain Hardwear, they climbed extraordinarily tough, technical routes that only other alpinists would know. McNeill, a Kiwi who’d relocated to Canmore, Alberta, made the first ascent of Dos Cuernos, on the Patagonian Ice Cap, in 2004, put up three new hard lines in Greenland, and climbed extensively in Canada and Alaska. She chose to do most of her expeditions with other women. Nott grew up in Vail, Colorado, and was a serious backcountry skier before a friend introduced her to ice climbing in 1990. She completed the first ascent of Glass Onion, a difficult ice-and-rock route in southeast Alaska, made four attempts on Patagonia’s Fitz Roy, and climbed extensively in the French Alps….

No one I spoke with described the two women as reckless or fearless or puffed up with their own egos. They were driven and competitive but realistic. They went into a climb with a plan and knew when to call it off. They’d turned around on 19,127-foot Taulliraju, in Peru, because they were dehydrated; high winds, deep snow, and ice-plastered rocks had forced them to abort their attempt on Shivling’s east ridge. They retreated and, a week later, summited via the west ridge.

Both of them understood that for alpinists, death is just a mistake away. “Mountains make me dig deep, pull into myself, and overcome,” Nott told me in 2003. “Alpine climbing is extremely hard mentally. You can’t have meltdowns, because you can’t, to survive. You get used to being careful and making deals with the devil: Just get me past this serac, just get me through this bergschrund, just get me through this storm . . .

Unlike many of the people described in the cover story about Everest, Nott and McNeill knew exactly what they were getting into, and understood the risks. But that was part of their master’s path. Those unfamiliar with climbing and mountaineering, and those unfamiliar with the master’s journey, may conclude that it doesn’t really matter whether you have mastery or not – you can still die on the mountain. There is a distinction to be made though, as seen in one friend’s assessment of the situation:

But don’t call it a tragedy. Yes, it’s tragic for those of us left behind, but Sue and Karen were living big. Huge! They were celebrating life. We should do the same.

On reinvention and doping in sports

Elite athletes, by definition, have followed the master’s path to achieve their elite level. And we all know that the better you get at something – anything – the harder it is to continue to make gains. The plateau gets wider and wider, and the improvements at the end of the plateau get smaller and smaller.
I’ve been giving the question of doping in sports a bit more thought since my post on the subject this past Monday. Actually, it was something that I wrote on Wednesday that kind of pulled it together for me:

It is all too easy for anyone at an elite level of achievement to believe, and act as if, there is nothing they need to learn from anyone else. Sometimes, though, to break through the inevitable wall and leave the plateau, you need to reinvent yourself, even if that means admitting to others that you need the help.

Unfortunately for these elite athletes, who are used to being on top of their field, reinventing yourself often results in a reduction in your performance. A runner, for instance, trying a new stride will quite likely run slower than usual for a while. Maybe for a whole season.

To many elite level performers, who are used to always winning, always breaking records, this slip – no matter how temporary – is simply unacceptable. At the same time, they are unwilling to accept the ‘permanent plateau’ that inevitably results if they change nothing. It is at this point that the irresistible lure, the siren song, of performance enhancing drugs takes hold.

The problem, of course, is that aspiring young athletes who have not yet found the path to mastery see performance enhancing drugs as a short cut to the end of that path. They don’t understand that for the elite athlete this is but a slip from the path, but for themselves it is a detour from which may never find their way back.

Jim McGee on Reinvention

Following on my closing thoughts on re-invention yesterday, I’d like to point you to some thoughts on the subject from Jim McGee earlier this year. Back in February, Jim wrote Get Better at Reinventing the Wheel, which carried the subtitle To succeed with knowledge management, organizations should focus on getting better at reinventing the wheel instead of avoiding it.

Jim contrasts two approaches to reinvention – the lazy way and the intelligent way – as hinted at in this introductory paragraph.

Taking the notion of reinvention superficially, the result is more likely to be a plagiarism support system that atrophies and fades away. Succeeding with knowledge management depends on thinking deeply about reinvention and how it contributes to meeting the demand for more organizational innovation. Done right, reinvention should be a key driver of innovation and doing reinvention right requires a different approach to knowledge management.

Contrary to the common mantra for many knowledge management initiatives (“we don’t want to reinvent the wheel”), Jim believes – as do I – that “instead of something to be avoided, reinvention becomes a skill to be developed and a process to master” to help foster true innovation.

Jim also posted an update of his thoughts on reinvention to his blog McGee’s Musings over the summer that provides a little more insight into why he wrote the piece in the first place.

Finding inspiration in the mastery of others

While mastery in one area isn’t necessarily transferable to another, experts in different fields can quite effectively share their expertise to help each improve. The story A Hospital Races to Learn Lessons of Ferrari Pit Stop (subscription required) in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal tells the story of how surgeons at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children adapted pit crew procedures to reduce complications during the ‘hand-off’ phase of surgery and how other hospitals are looking at similar ways to improve operations (and thereby reduce complications).

While most people focus on the big mistakes that obviously lead to bad outcome, those are the easy mistakes to see and fix. What the hospital had realized was that the small mistakes often went unnoticed and unrectified, leading to a strong correlation with bad outcomes. What they didn’t know how to do was fix the problem.

Until, that is, two doctors watching a Formula One event saw a similarity in what happened in the pits and what happened during a patient handoff. They realized that someone had already solved the problem they had discovered for themselves, and that they could adapt that solution for their own purposes. Fortunately, the doctors and their colleagues don’t believe in the “not invented here” syndrome, and greatly improved the care they provide their patients.

That last point is a key one in thinking about mastery, especially when you reach a certain level of achievement. It is all too easy for anyone at an elite level of achievement to believe, and act as if, is nothing they need to learn from anyone else. Sometimes, though, to break through the inevitable wall and leave the plateau, you need to reinvent yourself, even if that means admitting to others that you need the help.