A(nother) description of knowledge work

I am just about finished reading Garry Kasparov‘s 2007 book, How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves – from the Board to the Boardroom, and have been holding off on posting anything about the book until I do get to the end. But the following passage, starting on page 183, caught my eye as an interesting way to look at and possibly define knowledge work:

Knowing a solution is at hand is a huge advantage; it’s like not having a “none of the above” option. Anyone with reasonable competence and adequate resources can solve a puzzle when it is presented as something to be solved. We can skip the subtle evaluations and move directly to plugging in possible solutions until we hit upon a promising one. Uncertainty is far more challenging. Instead of immediately looking for solutions to the crisis, we have to maintain a constant state of asking, “Is there a crisis* forming?”

Solving a puzzle that you know has a solution may require knowledge, but it is knowledge that already exists. Figuring out if there is a solution to a problem, or even if there is a problem at all, requires the manipulation of existing knowledge, the gathering of new knowledge / information, and the creation of something new.

See my earlier post, A conversation on the nature of knowledge work, and the links in that post for more discussion on those ideas.

* In this context, Kasparov explains, “crisis” is not a disaster, as the word is commonly used, but rather a “turning point, a critical moment when the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain.”

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The paths of knowledge creation

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ThiagiIn his foreword to Marc Prensky‘s book Digital Game-Based Learning, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan recounts the following (emphasis is mine):

Early in my life, my mentor explained to me the three paths that lead to the creation of knowledge. The analytical path, where philosophers reflect, meditate, and make sense of objects and events; the empirical path, where scientists manipulate variables and conduct controlled experiments to validate reliable principles; and the pragmatic path where practitioners struggle with real-world challenges and come up with strategies for effective and efficient performance.

I think we’ve all been down each of these paths at various times in our lives and careers, the challenge is to understand how these paths intertwine to get us where we are trying to go.

Some thoughts on curriculum

Harold Jarche has an interesting set of posts discussing the role of curriculum in public school education, and the impact it can/does have on our children. In a post today, Harold explains his issues with public school curriculum:

My issue is first that the public school curriculum, as it is implemented, is based on subjects and not processes (e.g. critical thinking; research methods; logic; etc). Secondly, I know from experience that the NB Department of Education does not have a process by which its subject-based curriculum is developed. Basically, a number of “experts” are put in a room for a week and when it’s over they have developed a curriculum. It is a rather black art. There are no first principles on which a subject’s curriculum is based so one cannot go back and determine if the subject is still relevant, if it ever was.

Curriculum, as currently practised, constrains learners, as there is no room for exploration because the teachers must cover what’s on the curriculum. This is the flaw in being subject-based. If education were process-based, then teachers could facilitate learning using a variety of subject areas. Why should I learn about history when I am more interested in art? Can’t I learn critical thinking in either discipline? Such an approach would mean giving up control, and that of course is the real issue.

The emphasis there at the end is mine. This is a recurring theme from the industrial age, which is all about control, that we need to overcome so we can move into the information age.

Blogging from OneNote ’07

My notebooks are littered with scribbles and notes of ideas for blog posts. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have never made it off of paper. If only there were an easy way to post from my quickly written out ideas….

One of the things that caught my eye when going through the things OneNote 2007 can do was the Blog This option when you right-click a page. This page is meant to be a test of that functionality.

Because of the way OneNote handles text and images – basically, put it wherever you want it on the page, I’m curious how it will handle the different placement of elements when it converts to HTML. This paragraph that I’m currently writing is a separate element from the text above, placed below and a bit offset from the rest of the text. I captured the graphic using the windows+S key combination and dropped it in on the right side of the page.

Update from within Word 2007:

Once I clicked on Blog This, OneNote sent the page into Word ’07. I kind of expected this based on my previous experience with Word ’07 and blogging, but I was hoping that OneNote would simply use the account settings from Word. As you can see (well, I can see it since I know what the original looked like), Word has taken the free-flowing format of a OneNote page and converted it into a more structured document. The only change I made to the page (except for adding this description) was to adjust the text wrapping properties and location of the image.

From here the process is somewhat familiar, but I’m still going to have to do some tweaking once I get it up into WordPress. For example, you can Insert Category from within Word, but you can only select one category – Ctrl-click doesn’t work.

Update from within WordPress:

Once I got into WordPress, everything in the post looked fine. I added the categories I wanted this post filed under and it was ready to post.

A quick recap of the process:

  1. Put together a rough (or not so rough) draft in OneNote.
  2. When ready, right-click on the Blog This option
  3. In Word 2007, adjust the flow of the text and images as needed, then Publish as Draft.
  4. In WordPress, open the draft, modify the post properties (Categories, tags, timestamp, etc). Then Publish.

Which is what I’m going to do now.

Blog maintenance (mostly) complete

Back in January I started the process of remodeling 29 Marbles, and today I announce the completion of that remodeling (to the extent that any blog is ever really complete). A couple of things you will likely notice:

  • 29 Marbles has moved from its home on Blogger its own address at http://autism.gbrettmiller.com, and I’ve switched from Blogger to WordPress. I did this for several reasons, but mostly I was taking my own advice to “own my data”.
  • The feed for 29 Marbles is still http://feeds.feedburner.com/29Marbles, so you should not lose your subscription. (I think you may have received a feed “refresh” of the last few posts, but that should be OK.)
  • The left hand column is for information related directly to 29 Marbles, such as the search function, feed subscription, and category lists.
  • The right hand column includes feeds from and links to other autism related resources. Although I definitely have my own opinion about certain things, I also think it is important to see others’ views. That’s why I’ve included feeds to the Autism Hub and Age of Autism, along with links to blogs by parents and autistics from I expect that this side will continue to grow.

I hope you’ll continue to read 29 Marbles and offer the great comments and discussions that arise from the very important topic of autism, what it means, and where we’re going. See you on April 2.

Something new, something old – Microsoft OneNote 2007

Three years ago I wrote the following about my thoughts on and approaches to note taking and personal info management:

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.

For the most part, this is still my process. I do use some digital tools, such as MindManager, The Brain, and the ever-present Microsoft Outlook, but these do not give me a single, consolidated approach. When a friend told me I should try out Microsoft OneNote 2007 – I think his exact words were, “Dude, I don’t know how I lived without it!” – I downloaded the trial to give it a try. (Interestingly OneNote was not part of the Office 2007 Professional package, it is only part of the Home and Student package.)

So far, I like it. Or at least the concept. I’ve not put too much into it yet, but I see the possibilities. Note taking, cross-linking to Outlook calendar and tasks, integration with the rest of Office (obviously). Multiple notebooks, sections within the notebooks, linking between pages in the notebooks, drawing tools. The ability to put notes anywhere on the page, pictures, etc and then move them around. Pretty much all the things I do with paper now, or wish I could do. (Makes we wish I had a TabletPC!)

I’ll give it another week or two before I decide if it is worth $100. I’d love to hear of any success (or horror) stories about how OneNote has (or hasn’t) worked for you.

Why we work better under pressure, and why we should encourage it (in moderation, of course)

Part of the reason for my time away from this blog has been my role in planning a trampoline and tumbling meet here in St. Louis. With just a couple of weeks to go until competition begins, things are really starting to cook. And, like with many projects, there is quite a bit of what could be (politely) called last-minute running around.

We all know the experience of doing (what we think is) our best work as a deadline approaches . Or the frustration of managing a team that works this way. And maybe it is something that we should – if not encourage – at least indulge, in moderation. For what is pressure if not competition. Granted, it is competition against the clock, but competition nonetheless.

And we all know that competition, in proper doses, is a very good thing.