Some initial thoughts on Dan Pink’s “Drive”

I read 39 books in 2009, just “a few” shy of my goal of 50. Thanks to a little nudge from Art Johnson (@artjohnson) and some tips from Julien Smith, I’ve set my 2010 sights just a little bit higher: a book a week, for a total of 52.

I got the list off to a good start this evening when I finished Dan Pink’s latest, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Interestingly, one of the first books I read in 2009 was also one of his, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

In that previous book, as the title suggests, Pink describes the type of workers that will emerge – actually are emerging – to solve the complex business and social problems now facing us. Taking that as a starting point in Drive, Pink provides some guidance on what will be necessary to “manage” these new types of worker by exploring the what motivates these workers to perform. Or, as the title put its, what drives them.

It comes down to three basic things that people want and need for fulfillment and satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Longtime readers of my blogs know that mastery is a concept I’ve long thought and written about. Pink’s chapter on mastery in the context of work pulls together many ideas that I’ve struggled with over the years.

This chapter alone was worth the price of the book. All the rest is an excellent bonus.

Don’t judge a new book by an old cover

Is Google making us stupid, as Nicholas Carr and others have told us? I don’t think so. Instead, it is making us differently intelligent. Carr, et al are simply judging this difference, the new type of intelligence, against the old standards.

In his article The War On Flow, 2009: Why Studies About Multitasking Are Missing The Point, Steven Boyd makes the point much more eloquently:

If you use industrial era yardsticks based on personal productivity to try to figure out what is going on in our heads, here, in the web of flow, you will simply think we are defective. We’ll have to learn how to measure the larger scope — the first and second closure of our networks — and distill from our media-based interactions how we influence and support each other. Get away from counting the calories, and get into how it all tastes.

I found Boyd’s article through Jim McGee’s article Asking more relevant questions about focus and multitasking, in which Jim adds his own take on the question of multitasking:

The question is not about whether multitasking is a better way to do old forms of work; it is about what skills and techniques do we need to develop to deal with the forms of work that are now emerging. … One of the useful things to be done is to spend a more time watching the juggling (to borrow Stowe Boyd’s image) and appreciating it on its own terms instead of criticizing it for what it isn’t.

I have to admit I’m a bit old-school, and still have some work to do on my “juggling”. In some ways, I  miss the old days of a “simple catch”. At the same time, I love the challenge that juggling presents and am working my way up to having ever more balls in the air. 

Who knows, one day I may graduate to flaming torches or even chainsaws.

(For a great intro to juggling and how you can apply it to work and life, check out Michael Gelb’s More Balls Than Hands: Juggling Your Way to Success by Learning to Love Your Mistakes.)

Knowledge in translation

I revisited the following, originally posted in July ’07, after putting Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language back onto my currently-reading list.  It is still relevant, so thought it worth sharing again. With any luck, I’ll have some new insights to share after I’ve read the book again.

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Several years ago I read Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language, an examination of the creative process in the form of poetry translation. Hofstadter established some structural and literal guidelines and had several friends and colleagues translate a 16th Century French poem. (See the wikipedia entry for a bit more detailed synopsis.)

The book was brought back to mind by a post by Jack Vinson and his thoughts on a post by Victoria Ward entitled Traduttore-traditore, in which she discusses the challenges of (you guessed it) translating poetry. Comparing the translation of poetry to knowledge work, Victoria leaves us with this:

And these five tips on translating poetry are as good for knowledge work as any other guidance I’ve come across if, for the word poem, you substitute the words ‘knowledge thing’ – a bit graceless I know, but it serves the purpose for now. The first sentences here come from the original tips. The companion sentences are mine.

1. Stay Close to the Poem. Get thoroughly intimate with the thing.

2. Know the poet. Understand it’s context and origins inside out. Get familiar with everything you can about the thing.

3. Go for Grace. Convey the essence of the thing with pith and elegance.

4. Be Wary. Don’t take other’s people’s ways of looking at the thing as your own. Own your own way of relating to and conveying the thing and ignore the noise.

5. Take a Deep Breath. Sit with it. Go away. Come back and look at it again.

What I think that Victoria is hinting at is that, in many ways, knowledge work is often an act of translation. Not from one language to another (though that undoubtedly happens, too), but within the native tongue of the knowledge worker. The translation, then, is one of culture not language, but instead of having to translate between British English and American English or Mexican Spanish and Spanish Spanish, knowledge workers have to translate between Engineering and Production or Sales and Human Resources.

After an e-mail exchange with Jack on the subject, I went back into Le Ton Beau de Marot and found this related passage that I had marked when I read it the first time. I apologize for the length, but felt it best to include the whole thing.

Distortion-free Idea Transmission: A Chimera

Any good translator’s ideal is to get across to a new group of readers the essence of someone else’s fantasy and vision of the world, and yet, as we have repeatedly seen…, the mediating agent necessarily plays a deep and critical role in doing such a job. A translator does to an original text something like what an impressionist painter does to a landscape: there is an inevitable and cherished personal touch that makes the process totally different from photography. Translators are not like cameras – they are not even like cameras with filters! They distort their input so much that they are completely unique scramblers of the message – which does not mean that their scrambling is any less interesting or less valuable than the original “scene”.

A curious aspect of this analogy between the translation of a piece of text into a new language and the rendering of a scene as a painting is that the original text…plays the role of the scene in nature, rather than that of something created by a human. The original text is thus a piece of “objective reality” that is distorted by the translator/painter. But what, one might then ask, about people who read the text in the original language? Are native-language readers able to get the message as it really is, free from all the bias and distortion inevitably introduced by a scrambling intermediary?

As the letters and words of the original text leap upwards from the page into a native reader’s eyes and brain, they shimmer and shiver and then suddenly splinter into a billion intricately-correlated protoplasmic sparks scattered all over the cerebral cortex and deeper within – unique patterns in the unique mind of the unique reader that each distinct person constitutes. The idea that all native-language readers see “the same thing” falls to bits. It’s true that in the case of native-language readers, there is no intermediary human scrambler, but it’s not true that, because of this lack, there is no idiosyncratic perceptual distortion. How sad it would be if that were the case!

Since this is the theme song of George Steiner’s “After Babel”, I can think of no better way to end this chapter than to quote a few sentences from the end of his first chapter, entitled “Understanding as Translation”:

Thus a human being performs an act of translation, in the full sense of the word, when receiving a speech-message from any other human being. Time, distance, disparities in outlook or assume reference, make this at more or less difficult. Where the difficuulty is great enough, the process passes from reflex to conscious techniqe. Intimacy, on the other hand, be it of hatred or of love, can be defined as confident, quasi-immediate translation….

In short: inside or between languages, human communication equals translation.

In other words (my words): Just because everyone is told the same thing doesn’t mean that everyone hears the same thing.

Or, to be more specific to the world of knowledge management and knowledge work: Just because all of your knowledge workers have the same knowledge doesn’t mean they all “know” the same thing.

Some thoughts – and a mind map – on Army Knolwedge Management

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of my discharge (honorable, in case you’re wondering) from active duty as a US Army officer.  It was while serving in the Army, both on active duty and later in the Army Reserves, that I was first exposed to and practiced knowledge management so it seemed fitting that I mark the date with a reflection on Army Knowledge Management.

In the early days of Army Knowledge Management – or AKM – the focus was very technology focused, as evidenced in AKM Guidance Memoranda #1 (August 2001) and #2 (June 2002).  Then, as now, AKM was primarily the responsibility of the Army’s CIO.

In some ways, this reflected the “state of the art” at the time, where KM was the pitch phrase of all sorts of software vendors hawking the latest and greatest KM tools.  The main early focus was the capturing and conversion of “tacit” knowledge into “explicit” knowledge that could be stored in a vast “knowledge repository” that could be shared across the Army enterprise, and the consolidation of the technology infrastructure to support that repository.  In many ways a necessary evil; the downside was that it reinforced the idea that KM was solely the domain of IT.

Over the years the broader scope of KM has come to be realized, as can be seen in the most recent Army Knowledge Management Principles, published in August 2008. The principles are broken down into three main categories: People/Culture; Process; and Technology. For all you visual thinkers out there, and for myself, I’ve taken the principles, and the supporting Rationale and Implications, and put them into a mind map using Mind Manager.


Back when the paper was published, Jack Vinson posted some thoughts about the principles. Having seen the early tech focus of AKM, I share Jack’s appreciation of the Army’s stated goal for AKM:

Implementing these principles will create a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing in the Army where key information and knowledge is “pushed and pulled” within the global enterprise to meet mission objectives — an Army where good ideas are valued regardless of the source, knowledge sharing is recognized and rewarded and the knowledge base is accessible without technological or structural barriers.

Though it is safe to say that AKM is still very heavily IT centric, KM has steadily infiltrated further and further into the Army culture.  This can be seen in one of the latest offerings from the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, the soon to begin Knowledge Management Qualification Course for KM sections:

The KM section supports the commander and staff in achieving situational awareness and situational understanding to enhance and speed decision making. The section does this by developing a plan that includes the “how-to” in displaying the common operational picture. That plan details the process on how a unit accesses and filters new information internally and externally, and provides a working KM system that can route content while keeping commanders and staff from being overwhelmed.

A long way indeed from knowledge repositories.

UPDATE:  For those of you who don’t have Mind Manager, here are two things to help you get the most out of the whole map:

1) a .gif image of the entire Mind Manager map;


2) a public version of the map at Mind Meister;

If you update the Mind Meister map, I’d appreciate a quick note back so I can go back and check it out.

Chris Brogan on work AND play

I have a feeling that the question of work/life balance is going to be a consistent theme here, I know it is in my life.

In this video, Chris Brogan tells us of the importance of both work AND play.  Even if you love your work, are passionate about it, and are giving it your all; even if when you think of free time you think of doing that work because it is still so much fun; you still need to take a break every now and then to recharge.  That’s play.

Collaborate, cooperate, or coordinate?

Using the Cynefin framework, which I’ve also discussed here, Shawn at the Anecdote blog takes a look at the question of When should we collaborate? It’s always useful to define your terms before starting this kind of discussion, and Shawn obliges with the following:

So what is collaboration then? It’s when a group of people come together, driven by mutual self–interest, to constructively explore new possibilities and create something that they couldn’t do on their own.

Turns out the best time to collaborate is in a complex situation, as opposed to a complicated (cooperation) or simple (coordination) situation, as shown in Shawn’s diagram below.  Of course, the diagram also shows that there is potential overlap between the quadrants, and you really do need to look at each situation individually.