Words in the works

A lot has been happening over the past couple of weeks, quite a few things I want to write about and ideas to explore. It’s just been a very busy couple of weeks, and all of my writing (and coding and much of my thinking) has been aimed at my day job. You know, the one that pays the bills.

Here’s a list of drafts I’ve created in the past two weeks or so that I’m working on in bits and pieces and will hopefully start pushing out in the next couple of days. Or maybe over the Christmas slowdown. (“Christmas slowdown”? Yeah, that’ll happen :)

  • Layers of abstraction and the cost of convenience
  • Passion and Warfare in St. Louis – an evening with Steve Vai
  • If everyone gave him $20
  • From Android to iPhone
  • Some notes and thoughts on WordCampUS 2017
  • Accidents of Phenotype
  • The work of art (as opposed to “a work of art”)

And one I haven’t started yet that I’ve had in the back of my mind for years and was brought to the front earlier tonight, that will likely be called What Capital Wants  (see Capitalism is Skynet for a hint what that might be about).

But right now I need to put together some notes on a proposed talk about crowdsourcing innovation for JiveWorld 2017.

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Digital Wiggle Room « Simon Terry

Many of the key practices and approaches that enable the transformation of organisation receive pushback from managers initially because they don’t fit into a traditional management mindset of task efficiency.

Employees will often push back on new digital practices like collaboration, design thinking, agile and experimentation.  If you are busy, the returns of this work are uncertain, the demands of your role are exacting and your organisation values expertise foremost, being asked to test your assumptions and engage with others on your ideas can feel like a waste of your valuable time.

Source: Digital Wiggle Room « Simon Terry

Organizational forgetting

I wrote the following back in November 2005:

My early days in Knowledge Management included a lot of time developing, deploying, and getting people to use “knowledge repositories.” (At least trying to get people to use them.) A worthwhile endeavor in some regards, I’ve always had misgivings about the whole idea, at least how it has been implemented in most cases. The cheapness of mass storage these days, and the way we just keep everything, has nagged at this misgiving over the past couple of years.

I finally realized one day that the problem has become not, “How do we remember all this knowledge that we’ve learned?” but rather, “How do we forget all this knowledge we’ve accumulated that we no longer need so we can focus on what we do need?”

That post also included a reference to memory and forgetting in the human mind, taken from the book The Trouble with Tom by Paul Collins:

Memory is a toxin, and its overretention – the constant replaying of the past – is the hallmark of stress disorders and clinical depression. The elimination of memory is a bodily function, like the elimination of urine. Stop urinating and you have renal failure: stop forgetting and you go mad.

explored this idea a bit further in March 2007, where I added the following to my thinking:

In the context of mastery, especially of something new, it is sometimes hard to know when to forget what you’ve learned. You have to build up a solid foundation of basic knowledge, the things that have to be done. And at some point you start to build up tacit knowledge of what you are trying to master. And this, the tacit knowledge that goes into learning and mastery, is probably the hardest thing to learn how to forget.

Sometimes, though, it is critical to forget what you know so you can continue to improve.

And yet again in June 2009:

I’m at a point now, though, where the project is going through significant changes, almost to the point of being a “new” project. My dilemma: How to “forget” the parts of the old project that are no longer important and start with an “empty mind” to build up the new project without the baggage of the old.

In his book Brain Rules, author John Medina writes, “It’s easy to remember, and easy to forget, but figuring out what to remember and what to forget is not nearly so easy.”

I was reminded of this train of thought today when a colleague shared a link to a TEDx talk by Pablo Martin de Holan titled Managing Organizational Forgetting, based on a paper of the same name published in the MIT Sloan Management Review. If you read my quotes above, I’m sure you understand why this opening paragraph from the paper grabbed my attention (emphasis at the end is mine):

Over the last decade, companies have become increasingly aware of the value of managing their organizational knowledge, and researchers have investigated those processes extensively. Indeed, the ways in which organizations learn and have stocks of knowledge that underlie their capabilities can be a powerful tool in explaining the behavior and competitiveness of companies. Yet something is missing in the current discussions of organizational knowledge: Companies don’t just learn; they also forget.
Pablo Martin de Holan 

There is a lot of great info in the paper (about 12 pages worth), but for now I’ll just mention the two modes of forgetting – Accidental and Intentional. Obviously, you will want to limit the former and maximize the benefit of the latter. At the risk of a giant spoiler (you should still take the time to read the full paper), de Holan summarizes nicely:

Some companies forget the things they need to know, incurring huge costs to replace the lost knowledge. Other organizations can’t forget the things they should, and they remain trapped by the past, relying on uncompetitive technologies, dysfunctional corporate cultures or untenable assumptions about their markets. Successful companies instead are able to move quickly to adapt to rapidly changing environments by being skilled not only at learning, but also at forgetting. Indeed, as companies work to increase their capacity to learn they also need to develop a corresponding ability to forget. Otherwise, they could easily be learning counterproductive knowledge, such as bad habits. The bottom line is that companies need to manage their processes for forgetting as well as for learning, because only then can they deploy their organizational knowledge in the most effective ways for achieving sustained competitive advantage.

I really wish I had come across this paper back in Winter 2004 when it was published. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

And for those of you interested in the TEDx talk, here you go.

After a moment of seeming incredulity a senior…

After a moment of seeming incredulity, a senior analyst spoke up and said, “I don’t really care what that senior leader thinks intel should provide — he’s not an intelligence officer and doesn’t know anything about what constitutes good intel.” The group laughed heartily in collective endorsement.

The analytic tradecraft specialist who had just told the story stood quietly for a moment — disappointed but not surprised. He then responded, “You’re right, he’s not an intelligence officer. However, you’re also wrong in that he does, in fact, know one — perhaps the most important — thing about the intelligence he’s receiving: It’s not helping him.”

The U.S. Intelligence Community wants disruptive change, as long as it’s not disruptive

Five Fingers for my five toes

My new Five Fingers KSO

My new Five Fingers KSOAt the Strange Loop conference last month, I met a couple of guys wearing Vibram Five Fingers shoes. They both highly recommended them, so I figured I’d give them a try.  I went for the KSO model in black and orange (shown at right). I’ve been wearing my KSOs pretty much everywhere for the past week and can honestly say I love them.

Here’s how Vibram introduces Five Fingers:

Remember going barefoot as a child? It’s the way you first discovered and conquered your world—without the constraint of shoes. Or the sense of duty you acquired later on.

Now you can experience that same physical and visceral sensation in Vibram FiveFingers—the only footwear to offer the exhilarating joy of going barefoot with the protection and sure-footed grip of a Vibram® sole.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call going barefoot an “exhilarating joy”, but I do have a tendency to go barefoot whenever I can, and the Five Fingers do give you the feeling of being barefoot. The bonus, of course, is the protection that the shoe provides. When wearing them you still feel all the bumps and rocks (and sticks or whatever), so you should watch where you’re walking, but you’re protected from all the sharp edges. You also don’t have to worry about your feet getting dirty or otherwise covered with gunk.

Some friends who are runners swear by Five Fingers as a great shoe to wear if you prefer to run barefoot. It has been a (way too) long time since I’ve done any running, and I’ve never run barefoot, so I can’t really comment to that. But I can say if you like to run barefoot, I can’t imagine these not being great.

A couple of things to keep in mind with Five Fingers:

  • If you don’t go barefoot much, take your time getting used to it. The instructions that come with the shows recommend starting with just an hour or so a day at first, and building up to longer.
  • Putting on Five Fingers is a bit more involved than slipping on a pair of shoes. You have to make sure that each toe goes in the right pocket, and there is definitely a trick to it. Just read the instructions, they will help.
  • It feels weird at first having your toes in pockets in the shoes.
  • These are very minimal shoes, and though they do provide protection from the physical elements they don’t help at all against the cold. You can get socks to wear with Five Fingers, but even those will only provide a little bit of warmth.

As I mentioned earlier, I really like these shoes. So much so that I’m planning to buy another pair as soon as I can find the style I’m looking for (the KSO Trek) in my size. If you enjoy walking barefoot, or think that the benefits Vibram describes might be something you’re interesting in, I highly recommend these unusual, but great, shoes.


Most managers don’t want creative employees

A couple of summers ago I read Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. The book lives up to its title and one that I heartily recommend. It contains a wealth of ideas and views on management that you don’t often come across.

For example, this on the management of creativity:

Real creativity, the kind that is responsible for breakthrough changes in our society, always violates the rules. That is why it is so unmanageable and that is why, in most organizations, when we say we desire creativity we really mean manageable creativity. We don’t mean raw, dramatic, radical creativity that requires us to change.

As much as managers and organizations say they want to be innovative and groundbreaking, they usually don’t mean they want each of their individual employees to be innovative and groundbreaking. They want the rules to be followed, because that’s how things are supposed to work. They don’t believe that rules are meant to be broken.

The real message, though, is this: break the rules and be successful and we’ll back you all the way, but break the rules and fail and you are on your own.

This is something that Seth Godin talks about quite a bit. Don’t expect any cover from your boss when you try something new, he tells us, because that’s not your boss’s job. If your creativity, your art, is important to you, the best thing you can do is to simply do it. Or, as he says in Linchpin:

The reason you might choose to embrace the artist within you now is that this is the path to (cue the ironic music) security. When it is time for layoffs, the safest job belongs to the artist, the linchpin, the one who can’t be easily outsourced or replaced.

Update: This post is an updated version of something I first wrote in June 2008. I was inspired to update it by a common search term in my referral logs (rules are meant to be broken), my earlier post (Some) Rules are meant to be broken, and the recent series of Hey Leaders, Wake Up! posts at hackingwork.com.

What organizations need isn’t always what they want

From Seth Godin’s recent article Why ask why?

The secret to creativity is curiosity… The student with no curiosity… is no problem at all. Lumps are easily managed.

Same thing is true for most of the people we hire. We’d like them to follow instructions, not ask questions, not question the status quo.

This reminded me of something I jotted down in my notebook from Richard Farson’s book Management of the Absurd:

Real creativity, the kind that is responsible for breakthrough changes in our society, always violates the rules. That is why it is so unmanageable and that is why, in most organizations, when we say we desire creativity we really mean manageable creativity. We don’t mean raw, dramatic, radical creativity that requires us to change.

As much as organizations say they want to be innovative and groundbreaking, they usually don’t mean they want each of their individual employees to be innovative and groundbreaking.

Even though that is often exactly what they need.