Sunday, July 31, 2005
The Writer's Studio
This is not a tool to use in place of reading. (Woody Allen: "I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.") I'm trying it out as a way to screen my reading. Otherwise I'm never going to be able to keep up. Information is piling up here faster than I can read it. After lunch, I found Emotional Alchemy on sales for $3 at Pegasus Books. The Axemaker's gift was only $2. How could I resist? A few doors down, at Half Price Books, I found The Cluetrain Manifesto for $2, The One Best Way for $3, and Teaching the Elephant to Dance, One the FIring Line, and Adhocracy for $1 each. Adhocracy is personally signed to David Potruck, CEO of Schwab, from author Bob Waterman.
The scary thing is that the web content I've collected about informal learning -- maybe I should rename it natural learning -- is greater than the book content. So Copernic Summarizer will save me weeks if I can trust it to do triage on white papers and web sites.
Let's look at how well Copernic can handle some known entities. T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was implanted into my skull in 11th grade, and its wonderful flow and metaphors still echo in my brain: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas" or "In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo." Here's 10% of J. Alfred:
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question ?Not bad. I wonder how the Declaration of Independence will do.
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time To wonder, "Do I dare?"
I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep ? tired ? or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
If one, settling a pillow by her head, Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.I get the idea. That gives me enough to go on. I wonder what Copernic will do with a book. Time to go to Bartelby. John Locke, not a guy I read regulary, wrote Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1690 as a series of letters to a friend about his son's education. The year before he was offered the ambassorship to Prussia (William and Mary were personal friends) but had to turn down the job because he didn't feel up to the heavy drinking that was the rule in the court of the Elector of Brandenburg. His philosophies are the root of much modern European thought. Here's 10% of his first letter/chapter:
--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
---Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
I imagine the minds of children as easily turn'd this or that way, as water it self: and though this be the principal part, and our main care should be about the inside, yet the clay-cottage is not to be neglected.So after midnight I returned here and pointed Copernic at two dozen files in my "To Read" and "Reference" files. This took about 20 minutes, part of which was set-up time. I emailed each summary to jaycross @ gmail.com so I could keep track of them. Now I'm going to check how intelligible they are.
How necessary health is to our business and happiness; and how requisite a strong constitution, able to endure hardships and fatigue, is to one that will make any figure in the world, is too obvious to need any proof.
The face when we are born, is no less tender than any other part of the body.
Give me leave therefore to advise you not to fence too carefully against the cold of this our climate.
I will also advise his feet to be wash'd every day in cold water, and to have his shoes so thin, that they might leak and let in water, whenever he comes near it.
Playing in the open air has but this one danger in it, that I know; and that is, that when he is hot with running up and down, he should sit or lie down on the cold or moist earth.
This I grant; and drinking cold drink, when they are hot with labour or exercise, brings more people to the grave, or to the brink of it, by fevers, and other diseases, than anything I know.
These mischiefs are easily enough prevented whilst he is little, being then seldom out of sight.
This is all I think can be done in the case: for, as years increase, liberty must come with them; and in a great many things he must be trusted to his own conduct, since there cannot always be a guard upon him, except what you have put into his own mind by good principles, and establish'd habits, which is the best and surest, and therefore most to be taken care of.
For, from repeated cautions and rules, never so often inculcated, you are not to expect any thing either in this, or any other case, farther than practice has establish'd them into habits.
For some of the articles, 10% is too severe a cut; the results don't say much. But an article on implementing Emotional Intelligence comes across clearly. I intend to read the entire thing.
Likewise, the classic Hamel and Prahalad article in HBR, Strategic Intent, is a keeper, although the key parts for informal learning purposes are (1) not holding back aspirations due to current lack of funds and (2) benchmarking employee performance against others in the industry. Japanese corporations leverage resources by accelerating
the pace of organizational learning and try to attain seemingly
impossible goals. "Companies that have risen to global leadership over the past 20 years invariably began with ambitions that were out of all proportion to their resources and capabilities." These guys are way ahead of their time in writing, "For smart competitors, the goal is not competitive imitation but competitive innovation, the art of containing competitive risks within manageable proportions." They also address my usual bugaboo of looking at the wrong timeframe: "For smart competitors, the goal is not competitive imitation but competitive innovation, the art of containing competitive risks within manageable proportions." A great read, but not in my immediate bullseye; I can defer this one for now.
I read a few more, chucked some in the trash bin and decided others were keepers. Bottom line: I think the summarizer can save me several hours a week, maybe more while I'm in research mode. Also, its dense results may keep my wandering mind occupied. Reading summaries is like sipping brandy rather than quaffing wine.
Trust the force, Luke
Tom McNichol, writing in the December 2004 issue of Wired magazine...
Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job. "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things."
See http://www.transformscotland.org.uk/conferences/homezones2004/HansMonderman.htm for photos.
"All those signs are saying to cars, 'This is your space, and we have organized your behavior so that as long as you behave this way, nothing can happen to you,' " Mr. Monderman said. "That is the wrong story."
In 1989, an earthquake cut off all the power in San Francisco. I wandered around downtown, wishing I had a camera to record the surreal landscape. Every stoplight was out of commission, but drivers were extremely courteous to one another; the normal aggressive stance gave way to a feeling of "We're all in this together."
Let it be.
Hans slide show
My mentoring team
I'm alone in my office,
tapping the keys,
looking at the redwoods in the yard
But the spirits of friends,
captured in the hundreds of volumes
that line the walls
are here to guide me
My invisible mentors
point the way
Need to go for those in red
John Seely Brown
John Taylor Gatto
the Dalai Lama
Charles and Ray Eames
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Unconference Rules: BloggerCon
Doc's insight, WWDC
At a recent conference Doc Searls got so frustrated with the panel-audience format that he thought it would make sense to switch the audience and the panel and let the panel listen while the former audience talked. I had the same thought years ago at Apple's WWDC. We should get Apple people to sit in the audience while developers explained our vision for the platform. Today many years later Microsoft is actually trying that with their Channel 9 website. (Although just tangentially, it's still basically the wisdom-emanating-from-the-top model.)
The problem with most conferences is that the intelligence is sitting in the dark with its hands folded, falling asleep while a bunch of idiots on stage with PowerPoints talking nonsense because they are so scared they need crutches to keep from having a nervous breakdown. This has been going on for twenty years. It's time to try something new.
Len Pryor, in his BloggerCon writeup, called it the "un-conference." Excellent. I agree.
At BloggerCon, there is no audience, there are no speakers.
There is a discussion leader, a person responsible for the flow of the discussion.
To get things started the DL talks for a few minutes, listing some ideas from the pre-conference discussion.
The DL has an editor, in this case me, who set some goals for the session. I tried to keep the goals really loose. When choosing DLs, I went for people who have the ability to lead discussion, over expertise in a subject. Ideally you want both, but I think too much expertise is a problem, because then you might end up in a lecture format (as happened in one or two BC II sessions, old habits die hard).
I generally went with journalists or professors, given that both are good at seeking out points of view, and keeping an interesting discussion going. Even better if you can get a journalist who has experience as a teacher. But if you're going to have a session on medicine, for example, I think you need to have a doctor or medical researcher lead the discussion, to make sure you're on solid scientific ground. But make sure you get someone who naturally yields the floor.
Make sure your DLs are well-versed in the published groundrules. If you see them use the terms "panel" or "audience" in a comment or email, correct them. I do it too. (Say this when you correct them.) Old habits die hard. Don't worry about egos. If they have a problem, get someone else, because in order to do their job they're going to have to cut people off, and correct them.
Arranging the sessions
Begin and end the day with everyone in one room. In the opening session, review the groundrules, sing a song, try to do something fun so that people get the idea this conference is about ideas and making new friends. It's not that serious. This way maybe some of the good stuff will happen in the sessions and not in the hallways. Also, it's super-important to have a discussion, no matter how brief, at the opening session, to create an example for all the DLs to follow. They will follow you. This is the chance to make sure the audience-speaker model doesn't creep back in. Ask the room to set the expectation for the conference. What do you hope to get out of this conference, and see what you can do to help them get it.
After the opening session, fork into two tracks, one deep in an application (at the second BC it was journalism and politics) and one deep in the technology (but still for users). These are the beginnings of two tracks that go through the whole day. People can go back and forth betw tech and apps. In the third slot add a session on a profession, this time we did librarians. If you're going for two days, have more professional sessions, or spread out if your conference is larger. Eventually we could have conferences with thousands of people. I think the format will scale nicely.
At the end of the conference wrap things up. Make sure the DLs are all there. Ask them one by one to say what happened, did they reach a conclusion, how did it go. Have one or two discussions. Thank the people who made it possible. If you remember, sing a song. Say goodbye and have a reception, go out to dinner, and go home and sleep with a smile on your face.
Anyway, ask questions here, I'll try to answer them, and in doing so, expand this document. I want to help people try the BloggerCon format. This is how I make sure I have lots of cool conferences to go to!
Awesome stuff from Rob
When Henry Ford introduced mass production at the beginning of the 20th century, he not only changed how things were made, he changed the culture of the workplace. Taylor codified this approach. In this production culture, head office was the organization’s brain and it decided everything. Products were conceived, designed, produced and then marketed and sold. The enterprise pushed out from the centre. All work was routinized and essentially deskilled. The process became inviolate and no thinking or attacks on the process could be tolerated from its participants. Only a few at the top could make changes.
This model has taken over all aspects of organized life today. At its heart is a need to control the core process. Everything and everyone had to be “managed”. It was successful during a long period of relative stability. We are so imbued with this model that we mainly fail to see it for what it is – a model. Today, we have reached the design limits of this model. More efficiency cannot be squeezed out of it. The business, social and technology environments are now changing so fast that such a model cannot react fast enough. Trying to squeeze more out the old model only adds to the friction and to the stress.
A new model has arrived. It is the reverse of the production model. Just as Dreadnought represented a shift in the relationship in warfare from close intimacy to a distant machine perspective, so the new organizational model shifts organization from a distant and machine relationship to a close and human relationship.
In the old model, value is captured is in the transaction. This is a zero sum game where the frontline linkage to the customer is adversarial. Customer choice and needs are relentlessly squeezed. Witness the Airline or Healthcare interface right now where frontline staff and passengers/patients are both miserable. Ever larger scale has enabled the distributor to limit choice and to increase “efficiency”. Until now, we all had to keep going to the hegemonic supplier. But no longer. New technology is enabling suppliers to disintermediate the hegemonic mega-scale suppliers who have built a cost structure based on their scale. With a dramatic shift in cost and choice, the customer is also experiencing a warm and not adversarial relationship
In this new model, which we can see in the actions of new adopters such as eBay, Amazon or Dell, the flow of energy is reversed and the full participation by not only the staff but the customer is desired. In this new model, the customer not the CEO sets the product agenda. It is the customer who decides what they want and who drives the production process back into, not simply into one organization, but into a network of suppliers organized by the host company. The new model works deliberately to eliminate, or significantly reduce, inventory or it carries inventory in a distributed form in the supporting federated system such as Wal*Mart and its suppliers. With very low or no inventory, they have a compelling cost advantage.
All have remarkably sensitive customer interfaces where, at best, individual customer profiles, preferences and accrued activity and trust are maintained in real time such as by Amazon, eBay and Dell. Or where community profiles are held in aggregate such as at Wal*Mart.
The New Rules
This is not simply a re-engineering of the process but a shift in culture. If an organization wishes to adopt this revolution in deployment and process, it involves working to radically change how everyone “sees” themselves and the organization. It demands a revolution in the very nature of relationships from an oligarchy to a democracy. No small change!
It involves the giving up of the idea that the market and the world can be controlled by head office. Head office in these organizations does not pretend to be able to predict customer behaviour, instead it works to have the best sensory system possible. It uses this acutely sensitive information system to track trends and to react immediately. As a result, the customer experience has been transformed from an outward push to an inward acceptance. Consequently the customer interface has become a good place to be for both the customer and for the staff. It is fun to fly Southwest as well as being inexpensive. Why/ Because the staff have a lot of control. Amazon provides a community of book reviewers that pulls the customer into the primary sales position in the firm. Wal*Mart greats each customer and so on. The customer gets what they want rather than only what the firm will give them.
Why has this shift occurred? In a world where most of have all that we need, in terms of things, this putting the customer into the driver’s seat give them the potential for the experience of control and participation that the old system prohibits. This is the key to understanding the new model. Its value is in the experience of control and participation given to the customer. For the first time, the customer is in control and not the corporation. Once customers have experienced this, they do not go back! Conversely, in the new organization, to give the customer control and participation, head office has had to give the front line control, and participation as well. Once employees have had a taste of this they too do not want to go back.
To pull this off, these organizations have pushed a remarkable amount of decision making power out to the front line. Floor clerks in Wal*Mart can move material around the store and each store has a computer assisted re-order model that enables the store to track orders to the unique preferences of its own community. At Dell your PC and you have a unique identifier enabling you to have the machine serviced throughout its life. At Amazon you have a personal webpage that reflects what you do and what you look at. You are a market of one. At eBay the buyers and sellers deal direct. The best practioners of the new model deliberately support the creation of customer communities. So at eBay the golfers run their part of the enterprise. At Amazon, the unpaid reviewers provide the marketing.
The result of this giving up of conventional control is a radical reduction of costs. The direct costs that are reduced are in inventory and in HR such as employee health, turnover and absenteeism costs. The indirect costs are in speed and effectiveness in making the right decisions and in reacting to changes in the environment. None of these structural advantages are available to the traditional organization. To reduce costs, they have to cut people and cut service delivery or be bought or buy another to increase scale even more. The outcome? A more unhappy workforce, a more cynical customer and more friction and drag. Thus making their service more vulnerable to those who can offer the new alternative.
If you are a competitor of one of these new model firms and you are still using the old model, you will fail. You cannot deliver the costs and you cannot deliver the customer experience. So we see the icons of the old model struggling or even moving into bankruptcy. United Airlines, AMR Air Canada; Kmart, Home Depot; and most small booksellers and Indigo and Chapters. eBay is on track to dominate the second hand car market. Dell can take on any competition and is moving into other sectors beyond PC’s.
In the old model, you could compete by applying a simple concept – more money. By gaining access to more resources, you could use increased scale to push prices and costs down and use your increased hegemony to have power over the consumer and over your staff. This is why the trend in the old model is for more scale. But now scale will not help United Airlines or Home Depot. The new model demands that you kill off your old culture, the culture that made you successful and which you know so well.
Just as all the benefits in the 20th century accrued to those organizations that adopted the Ford model well and early, so in our time, the advantages will accrue to those that understand and apply the new relationship model.
Let’s start by looking at Google from this perspective of it being a Generative Space.
What do I mean by this? How would you define Google?
Many would label it a Search Engine. Is it an engine really? Does it act like a machine or does it act like an ecosystem? How does Google make its choices about how to answer your search? It finds the answers ranked on authority. Google defines authority by a combination of page views and links. This is an evolutionary process where the world votes on value and the pages with the most votes rank first. This is how nature works. Nature is blind to our prayers. Species and systems that do well pull ahead of those that do less well. Species and systems that cannot adapt to changes fall behind. There is no wizard behind a curtain moving any lever. There is only a competition for value.
Why Gmail and why Picasa. They are free. How can Google make money you ask? Google is using these services to create a larger ecosystem. The larger the ecosystem, the more valuable it becomes. All traders know that the key to success is having as much Flow as possible. Google’s leaders are after the network effect. They subscribe to Reed’s law where the greatest value possible exists in a facilitated community that scales in value at the rate of 2n. 2n is the most exponential curve in math.
They will overturn the vast world of marketing and advertising.
he idea that knowledge is an object is an industrial artifact. Knowledge is more than facts; it is about understanding and participation. Google enables you to find the best person and the best conversation. This is what is behind the marketing revolution. This is what is behind the impending revolution in education and health. Conversation is also the force behind the generation of a new community.
Google is the connective tissue that will make important conversations and communities the paramount places of informed power in the world and will put dogma back into the waste bin of history.
Once again we begin to experience the ecstasy of communion with our spiritual brothers and sisters. I use the word communion because community is now too pallid a feeling. I use the word ecstasy because that is the power of the feeling. No wonder Blogging is addictive. What could be more addictive that finding out who you are in communion with people that your trust completely? Your new identity as a human being emerges in the context of this community.
Our Great Return
We are going home again to the place where humans fit.Just as people at the end of the Middle Ages rediscovered the wisdom of the Classic world, so we are re-discovering the experience of tribal life. I don’t mean by this that we will have to take up hunting and live in caves. For we have made a Great Return before and we know how it will play out. Renaissance men did not put on togas. What they did was to remember the wisdom of the classic world that had been forgotten in a millennium dark age and applied this wisdom to the world of their time. So, we too will begin to experience a new way of living and of being and apply this experience to our own time and to our own challenges.
We will be starting an Edu Filter soon with a core group of people that are writing well about what is going on with education generally, pedagogy, tools and issues. Advice from our readers is to start this core group a bit wider to ensure that we contain more diversity.
I am amazed by the consistency of views in this group about the need for more engagement as the core idea.
This convergence of view was reinforced when I spent a couple of hours with Etienne Wenger the other day when he visited PEI. Wenger's core insight is that an education is all about "Becoming a human being" He sees it as a pathway to identity. He acknowledges that we only find identity in the context of a field and a group. When we become expert and we are acknowledged as that by a group of peers, we find ourselves. This is why Oscar winner live longer than those who do not win. Why academics struggle to make it into their field. Why my son worked so hard on his skateboard. Why I blog?
Social Software is so helpful in this regard. Many of the group see some aspects of blogging being key in the new pedagogy.
The other comment of Wenger's that I liked a lot was his insight that to find ourselves, we have to go deep into a subject. School as it works now has many topics and it forces us to stay on the surface. What if we chose only one topic and went deep? What would we not learn as we became truly expert? If all you did was astronomy - would you not learn everything? If you had a choice as to what you were going to learn - would you not be motivated/
PKM tools from Collectivism
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Values at work
John Adams. Research Interests.
|"I am interested in how our mental models (beliefs, attitudes, expectations, values) operate in an autopilot way to guide our behaviors and influence the results we get. In a very related area, I am further interested in understanding what qualities or characteristics must be present in order to successfully change deep habit patterns (such as habits of thinking, and, collectively, shared habits -- culture). My passion for application of this research is in supporting sustainability efforts through an understanding of how mental models affect sustainable and unsustainable practices."|
Marty Seligman. Check authentichappiness.org
The good life consists in using your signature strengths as frequently as possible in work, life, and parenting to obtain authentic happiness and abundant gratication. The meaningful life has one additional feature: using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are.
Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman
The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault.
Learned helplessness is the giving up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn't matter. Explanatory style is the manner in which you habitually explain to yourself why events happen.
Inescapable events produced giving up. Clearly, animals can learn their actions are futile, and when they do, they no longer initiate action....
People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent: The bad events will persist, will always be there to affect their lives. People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area.
Depression is pessimism writ large. Normal depression is extremely common . .it's the common cold of mental illness. (The belief that your actions are futile is the cause of depression.)
From the Brains on Deck colloquiam
|Short-term focus||Long-term focus|
Notes from Training Directors Forum 2004
Richard Leider challenged us to think about "What makes you get up in the morning?" He's spent his time on earth as a "student of the second half of life." Most of us were clearly in the second half; those in the first half were probably in the pool, dancing, getting new tatoos, or doing things that defy description in a professional blog.
Richard has asked many oldsters what they'd do differently if they could relive their experiences. They tell him:
- More time for reflection. Grow whole, not old. Come closer to the magic of the fire. Stare into the flame. Join the village elders in the front row.
- Courage. Take more risks in work and love. "What do you intend to do in your wild and crazy life?"
- Purpose. Everyone wants to make a difference, to leave a dent in the world.
Job: help learners get the results they want
CoP share experience through stories, bonding, reify
Stories: concrete, time-oriented
can be P2P facilitation mechanism
a community story part of shared craft
stories capture practice
narration of experience
Seth Kahan, Berekely, passionate, "jumpstart" storytelling
Stories...make meaning (could be abstract). Or are an account of sensory experience & again meaning.
Well-crafted questions key for eliciting stories.
ROI = systematic anecdotal evidence (from Etienne)
for Elizabeth: values taken to work...
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
One of his proudest personal accomplishments at Stanford was the so-called “tutored videotape instruction” notion, which began as a way to help some Hewlett-Packard engineers take graduate courses in engineering off site, through closed-circuit television. The 27-year-old Stanford Instructional Television Network remains a vibrant source of learning and provides income for the engineering school. As Hewlett-Packard and other companies began to expand to new facilities beyond the range of the transmitter, Gibbons developed a plan to use videotapes of the lectures along with a tutor (who could stop the tape when students had questions).
Gibbons showed that this form of teaching was as valuable as live lectures in some cases even superior, because students quickly learn to reason out answers together and out loud. He has worked on the idea since the 1970s and has used the technique to teach poetry, help Eskimos with drug rehabilitation and teach migrant children. Today, Gibbons’ burning passion is to bring this method of instruction to bear on the problems of juvenile offenders and other so-called “at-risk” youth. Gibbons believes this form of teaching, refined at Stanford, can be used to launch troubled teenagers down more productive paths by teaching them to manage their anger, appreciate diversity and acquire other social skills.
GIBBONS’ BURNING PASSION now is to bring
tutored videotape instruction to troubled teenagers
in juvenile halls
(lost a lot here)
Monday, July 25, 2005
Bottom-up. The individual matters. Cluetrain honesty. The personal butterfly effect. Co-evolution of the species. This may be the Rosetta Stone of learning.
At the top end, it's sustainability. Conscious Evolution. The world ecosystem. But that's the result of individual action.
For the individual, it's the ecosystems that matter. And high time to expand the circle.
Natural learning? Fitness training? Ambient learning? 24/7 learning? Persistent learning?
Learning without a curriculum is like performing without a supervisor. Guidance required. Gardeners, not trainers.
(Get in touch with Denham on this. Also Don Clark.)
Fifth Wave of Computing
In the July issue of Business 2.0, senior writers Michael Copeland and Om Malik argue that computing is entering its fifth wave, an "epic technological transformation" comparable to the introduction of mainframes in the 1960s, minicomputers in the 1970s, personal computers in the 1980s, and networking and the Internet in the 1990s. The three forces feeding this new wave, they say, are cheap, powerful computer hardware, especially mobile phones and handhelds; broadband Internet access from almost anywhere; and "technological openness," meaning the emergence of a "global tinkerer's workshop, where thousands of creative minds are constantly cobbling together code that entrepreneurs and even established businesses can cannibalize, free of charge, for parts to build new software systems."
Now, compare those three forces to the tagline of my Continuous Computing Blog: "Mobile Devices + Wireless Everywhere + Web 2.0 = A Social Revolution." On the first two elements, we're in exact agreement. And what Copeland and Malik call openness, I'm simply calling Web 2.0: a set of standardized, remixable tools for building sophisticated Web-based software services. When I talk about Web 2.0, I have the same examples in mind as those cited by Copeland and Malik (Amazon Web Services, Google's APIs, et cetera).
Bottom line: the Business 2.0 piece is the twin of my Social Machines piece. But it's a fraternal twin, not an identical one. I focus on the personal and social implications of this new state of continuous computing that we're all entering. Copeland and Malik, as befits their venue, focus on the business implications and how companies can get in on the opportunities presented by this new way of deploying computer power. Their piece makes some key points and predictions that I would have loved to include in my own article, if not for the fact that it was already 5,000 words long (about 50 percent longer than our typical features):
- "The fifth wave...will coincide with, and in some ways fuel, a surprising increase in corporate IT spending. And as the new wave sweeps in, it will create fertile conditions for starting new companies--even new industries--and remaking old ones."
- "The ability of a company to easily scale services from a single customer to millions is a defining feature of the fifth wave....The secret to doing that is the 'Amazon-ification' of software. People tend to think of Amazon as an online store, but it can also be viewed simply as a software platform for delivering a service over the Web." [On this point, see my January case study, Amazon: Giving Away the Store.]
- "Some of the richest opportunities churned up by the fifth wave are in the tricky but vital need to better merge the computer and the telephone. There remain significant technical hurdles to seamless interaction between the two technologies." [Amen. But while Copeland and Malik focus on interactive voice response systems, there's another huge disconnect between the capabilities handset manufacturers could build into cell phones and the meager services the carriers have actually seen fit to offer.]
- "Over the long haul, one of the most important implications of the fifth wave is that it could create a more level playing field than the tech industry has seen in many years. The old titans may still do well. But many experts believe that the sheer number of opportunities, the cheapness of basic technological components, and the ever lower barriers to entry for many new niches could ring in a golden era for entrepreneurs and startups."
Right on. Copeland and Malik have written one of those rare tech-business stories that's both optimistic and realistic. They make no attempt to hide their enthusiasm about the future of mobile computing, but they never cross over into hype and hand-waving. Believe me, that's a hard line to walk.
If there's anything missing in the Business 2.0 piece, it's a discussion of what real people can actually do with the new computing and communications power that the tech industry is handing them, and how this power is already beginning to reshape the way we live, work, and learn. But I guess that's where my piece comes in. ;-)2.
How to Ride the Fifth Wave
...Roughly speaking, the history of computing has unrolled in four major waves. The first came in the 1960s, as mainframe computers advanced into the corporate world and became essential business tools. The 1970s saw the wide adoption of the minicomputer. Then came the personal computer in the '80s, followed in the '90s by networking and the Internet, and the spread of distributed computing. Each successive wave of technology brought with it giant leaps in productivity and huge increases in spending. Each transition lifted some companies (think IBM (IBM), Microsoft, Yahoo (YHOO), Google (GOOG)) and swamped those that couldn't adapt (think Wang and Digital Equipment).
Now comes computing's fifth wave. It's different from the sea changes that came before it. For the first time, the shift isn't driven primarily by a single piece of hardware or by how corporations deploy it. Instead, it results from the unprecedented coalescence of three powerful technological forces: cheap and ubiquitous computing devices, from PCs to cell phones to tiny but potent systems that are beginning to show up in everything from bedroom lamps to key chains; low-cost and omnipresent bandwidth; and open standards -- not just Linux source code but the opening of other software as well as corporate databases. The fifth wave puts computing everywhere. It offers access to limitless amounts of information, services, and entertainment. All the time. Everywhere.
Best of all, the fifth wave serves as a framework to understand where most of the juiciest opportunities in business are emerging today. It will coincide with, and in some ways fuel, a surprising increase in corporate IT spending. And as the new wave sweeps in, it will create fertile conditions for starting new companies -- even new industries -- and remaking old ones. It won't always be smooth sailing. "It's not going to be this linear progress that we've seen so far," says Dick Lampman, head of Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) research labs. "It's this perfect storm of technology rolling in, and it presents thousands of new opportunities to develop devices and services." For anyone who has ever dreamed of building a game-changing, money-gushing new enterprise, the message is unmistakable: Surf's up. And if you catch it right, the fifth wave could be a mind-blowing ride.
...A less understood but equally critical development is the spread of technological openness. The open-source movement has created a global tinkerer's workshop, where thousands of creative minds are constantly cobbling together code that entrepreneurs and even established businesses can cannibalize, free of charge, for parts to build new software systems. But fifth-wave pioneers grasp another dimension of technological openness: Many have begun to open up their own databases and software protocols, allowing the tinkerers to create related applications or sell symbiotic products and services. Amazon has taken this approach further than anyone, and Google isn't far behind. (See "The Great Giveaway.") "Open-source changes the rules of the game," says Tim O'Reilly, founder of tech publishing powerhouse O'Reilly Media. "Anyone can add and innovate, bring new pieces to the party."
Together these forces have created the technological infrastructure from which the fifth wave is rising. In essence, we are now surrounded by a kind of ecosystem of connectivity, unseen but everywhere, constantly growing, seemingly by itself. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the current shift compared with past ones is how much it is expanding from the grass roots up. Corporations supply some of the momentum, to be sure. But to an unusual degree, consumers are powering the fifth wave, as armies of mobile users discover new ways to exploit the connectivity that surrounds them -- and businesses pop up to cater to them. Downloadable ringtones constitute an industry worth $2 billion a year. Sales of downloadable screensavers for cell phones have gone from basically nonexistent in 2001 to an expected $275 million this year.
|Among the fifth wave's early leaders are both familiar old faces and aggressive new startups.|
It constantly tweaks its Web interface to securely serve millions of online customers, and was among the first to open up its databases to allow all comers to develop related services.
Using open-source code and piggybacking on existing networks, Ambient's technology pulls data from the Web and displays it on everyday devices.
This startup's software adds open standards like VoiceXML and SIP to existing customer-service phone systems, paving the way for a host of new voice-enabled functions.
Cisco's routers, switches, and storage devices make it possible to have a persistent connection anywhere and anytime. Now it's charging hard into the market for Internet phones.
All its services -- search, e-mail, even blogging tools -- work anywhere there's an Internet connection and a browser. And it's extending its technology into the wireless arena too.
Big Blue has dumped most of its PC hardware business and is pushing both Web services and open-source platforms.
Its CRM software is delivered over the Web and can be accessed with almost any wireless device.
By marrying computing and telephony in a tiny software download, Skype is using constant connectivity to create a next-generation phone system.
This startup combines open-source software and a simple interface to provide HR software over the Web to clients in more than 70 countries.
Tibco helps stitch together a company's e-business infrastructure, linking suppliers, vendors, and customers using Web services.
Its open-standards call center router helps multinationals monitor their offshore customer support.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
A complex, nonlinear, interactive system which has the ability to adapt to a changing environment. Such systems are characterized by the potential for self-organization, existing in a nonequilibrium environment. CAS’s evolve by random mutation, self-organization, the transformation of their internal models of the environment, and natural selection. Examples include living organisms, the nervous system, the immune system, the economy, corporations, societies, and so on. In a CAS, semi-autonomous agents interact according to certain rules of interaction, evolving to maximize some measure like fitness. The agents are diverse in both form and capability and they adapt by changing their rules and, hence, behavior, as they gain experience. Complex, adaptive systems evolve historically, meaning their past or history, i.e., their experience, is added onto them and determines their future trajectory. Their adaptability can either be increased or decreased by the rules shaping their interaction. Moreover, unanticipated, emergent structures can play a determining role in the evolution of such systems, which is why such systems show a great deal of unpredictability. However, it is also the case that a CAS has the potential of a great deal of creativity that was not programmed-into them from the beginning. Considering an organization, e.g., a hospital, as a CAS shifts how change is enacted. For example, change can be understood as a kind of self-organization resulting from enhanced interconnectivity as well as connectivity to the environment, the cultivation of diversity of viewpoint of organizational members, and experimenting with alternative "rules" and structures.
See: Adaptation; Emergence; Genetic Algorithm; Self-organization
Bibliography: Dooley (1997); Gell-mann (1994); Holland (1995); Kauffman (1995)
In the theory of Darwinian Evolution, adaptation is the ongoing process by which an organism becomes "fit" to a changing environment. Adaptation occurs when modifications of an organism prove helpful to the continuation of the species in a changed environment. These modifications result from both random mutations and recombination of genetic material (e.g., by means of sexual reproduction). In general, through the mechanism of natural selection, those modifications that aid in the survival of species survival are maintained. However, insights from the study of complex, adaptive systems are suggesting that natural selection operates on systems which already contain a great deal of order simply as a result of self- organizing processes following the internal dynamics of a system (Kauffman’s "order for free"). A fundamental characteristic of complex, adaptive systems is their capacity to adapt by changing the rules of interaction among their component agents. In that way, adaptation consists of "learning" new rules through accumulating new experiences.
See: Complex, Adaptive Systems; Genetic Algorithm; N/K Model
Bibliography: Holland (1995); Kauffman (1995)
The arising of new, unexpected structures, patterns, or processes in a self-organizing system. These emergents can be understood as existing on a higher level than the lower level components from which the emergents emerged. Emergents seem to have a life of their own with their own rules, laws, and possibilities unlike the lower level components. The term was first used by the nineteenth century philosopher G.H.Lewes and came into greater currency in the scientific and philosophical movement known as Emergent Evolutionism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In an important respect the work connected with the Santa Fe Institute and similar facilities represents a more powerful way of investigating emergent phenomena. In organizations, emergent phenomena are happening ubiquitously yet their significance can be downplayed by control mechanisms grounded in the officially sanctioned corporate hierarchy. One of the keys for leaders from complex systems theory is how to facilitate emergent structures and take advantage of the ones that occur spontaneously.
Bibliography: Cohen and Stewart (1994); Goldstein in Sulis and Combs (1996)
Images, representations, or thought schemes of how we perceive and cognize the world around us. We follow our mental models in getting about in the world, but can become trapped in limiting behaviors by being overly attached to certain mental models. That is why we need occasionally to be jogged out of the ruts of our dominant mental models by investigating new ways of looking at things. Complexity science has the promise of being a powerful tool to get us to look at our work and organizations in a new way, thereby changing our mental models of how to go about our business in the most effective manner.
See: Complex, Adaptive Systems; Internal Model
Bibliography: Senge (1990), Stacey (1996)
One of the defining characteristics of emergent patterns arising from self-organizing processes is their novelty or innovative character. Indeed, that is why such phenomena are termed "emergent" Ñ they introduce new qualities into the system that were not pre-existing in the system. An example are the novel nature of the "dissipative structures" that arise in nonlinear systems at far-from-equilibrium conditions. This novelty is neither expected, predictable, nor deducible from the pre-existing components. Moreover, this novelty is not reducible to the lower level components without loosing its essential characteristics. An issue, therefore, for practitioners working with complex systems, is to determine what system processes (i.e., "anacoluthian") are necessary for the emergence of novelty. That is, novel outcomes demand novel processes that prompt a system to the production of novel structures and practices.
See: Anacoluthian; Bifurcation; Emergence; Far-from-equilibrium; Self-organizationBibliography: Goldstein in Sulis and Combs (1996); Kauffman and Macready (1995); Van de Ven & Garud
The management/ complexity theorist Ralph Stacey’s term for the set of informal relationships or networks among people in an organization which exists in tandem with the official and "legitimate" network or hierarchy. The shadow organization is not focussed on the same stabilizing objective as the official organization, so it is a ripe ground for the instability required for self-organization and the emergence of more adaptable organizational structures and processes. Effective leaders take into consideration both the mainstream and the shadow systems, even capitalizing, according to Stacey on the potential friction between them.
See: Edge of Chaos; Far-from-equilibrium
Bibliography: Stacey (1996)
Two terms coined by the editor of Wired Magazine Kevin Kelly for two antithetical management processes. "Clockware" are rational, standardized, controlled, measured processes; whereas "swarmware" are processes including experimentation, trial and error, risk-taking, autonomy of agents. Clockware processes are seen in linear systems whereas swarmware is what happens in complex systems undergoing self-organization as a result of the nonlinear interaction among components.
See: Cellular Automata; Complex, Adaptive System; Self-organization
Bibliography: Kelly (1994)
take a break
I would argue that some percentage of time wasted during work is actually a part of the work. I call it gel time, when a corner of your brain noodles with a problem while the rest of your brain checks the baseball scores or looks for replacement coffee mugs on eBay. In other words, gel time is what you have to do to make you ready to do what you need to do.
If one accepts much of the analysis above, four implications are apparent for investments in physical and technological infrastructure:
- Wireless everywhere: Provide total coverage of the campus; subsidize uniform MWDs offering convergence of media (phone, PDA, gaming, Internet).
- Multipurpose habitats: Create layered/blended/personalizable places rather than specialized locations (such as computer labs).
- Augmented reality: Experiment with smart objects and intelligent contexts (via GPS and RFID tags and transceivers).
- Mirroring: Experiment with virtual environments that replicate physical settings but also provide �magical� capabilities for immersive experience.
This is not to imply that campuses should immediately undertake massive shifts toward these four themes, but rather to suggest that students of all ages with increasingly neomillennial learning styles will be drawn to colleges and universities that have these capabilities.
Four implications are also apparent for investments in professional development. Faculty will increasingly need capabilities in:
- Co-design: Developing learning experiences students can personalize
- Co-instruction: Utilizing knowledge sharing among students as a major source of content and pedagogy
- Guided learning-by-doing pedagogies: Infusing case-based participatory simulations into presentational/assimilative instruction
- Assessment beyond tests and papers: Evaluating collaborative, nonlinear, associational webs of representations; utilizing peer-developed and peer-rated forms of assessment; using student-initiated assessments to provide formative feedback on faculty effectiveness
Some of these shifts are controversial for many faculty, and all involve �unlearning� almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and the academy. In addition to mastering the intellectual/technical dimensions involved, professional development that requires unlearning necessitates high levels of emotional/social support. As the nature of students alters, instructors must themselves experience mediated immersion and develop neomillennial learning styles to continue effective teaching
Failure La b
The enemy squad learns from a life-like simulation. No War Games here.
Corporations sometimes go through the motions, but they don't really do it.
What would Andrew Carnegie do? (Book meme on let's get real.)
HBR july on OPFOR
OPFOR treats every action as an opportunity for learning—about what to do but also, more important, about how to think. Instead of producing static “knowledge assets” to file away in a management report or repository, OPFOR’s AARs generate raw material that the brigade feeds back into the execution cycle. And while OPFOR’s reviews extract numerous lessons, the group does not consider a lesson to be truly learned until it is successfully applied and validated.
What is PKM, anyway?http://blog.jackvinson.com/archives/2005/05/19/what_is_pkm_anyway.html
As Jim McGee said, he was a guest speaker in my KM class Wednesday night, talking about personal knowledge management (PKM). He primarily gave us a framework on which he builds the idea of a PKM strategy, and he told a bunch of stories to help people get the idea. Jim's framework consists of three components
- Portfolio. The portfolio serves as a record of work done, a backup brain, and as a sales tool (just as an artist's portfolio is an advertising tool).
- Manage Learning. The portfolio also serves as a tool for reflection on how the work went last time and how it could be better. This is also an under-emphasized aspect of PKM.
- Master the Toolkit. Reflect on learning and reflect on how you use the tools of your trade.
Portfolios are critical to the concept of knowledge work as craft work. And though people frequently get lost in conversations about the technology, nearly everyone does some version of this. How many files, emails and pictures are archived on your computer? With the discussion of PKM, one goal is to be smarter about how we manage the portfolio.
Managing learning is an aspect of PKM that frequently gets overlooked. The knowledge worker needs to be aware of how she works and look for opportunities to work more effectively. (I almost said "continually look for opportunities," but I realize that this begins to seem like a knowledge worker could get lost in constant navel-gazing. A couple students pushed on this issue in the discussion.) The point is that the knowledge worker's regular process needs to include reflection. I believe this is the power behind the Carnegie program, Stephen Covey's Seven Habits, David Allen's Getting Things Done and similar processes: they offer a process by which people can think about what is important, act against that knowledge, and review both the action and the direction for the next time (sounds like "plan, do, check, act").
Mastering the toolkit gets too much verbiage. It's far too easy to get lost in playing with new tools, whether that is a circular saw or a wiki. PKM begins to look a lot like personal information management in these cases. At the same time, part of the reflection process can include a review of how I use the tools and whether there are better tools available. I can choose to seek out new tools when there is enough friction with the current tools (tool geek), or I can rely on my larger network of friends and colleagues and contacts to introduce me to tools that they find particularly helpful. In the class discussion we recognized that each knowledge worker will require a different set of tools because we have our own processes for doing things.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving With Grace
by Gordon MacKenzie
The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning
On the web: The Springboard
It's Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business
by Christopher Meyer, Stan Davis
On the web: It's Alive
The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change
by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, David Cooperrider
On the web: Appreciative Inquiry Commons
The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks
by Verna Allee
On the web: Verna Allee Associates
Authentic Happiness : Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
by Martin Seligman
On the web: Authentic Happiness
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
by Steven Johnson
On the web: steveberlinjohnson.com
The Wisdom of Insecurity
by Alan Watts
Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor
Serious Play by Michael Schrage
Visual Language by Robert Horn
Information Architecture by Louis Rosenfeld & Peter Morville
The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper
The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid
Blur by Stan Davis and Chris Meyer
Future Perfect by Stan Davis
The Future of Knowledge by Verna Allee
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Things That Make Us Smart by Don Norman
Personal Meta-learning Toolkit
Who discovered the light bulb?
Now reflect on how your mind came up with an answer. You don't know, do you? "Edison" just appeared. Actually coming up with the answer took place behind the veil of consciousness. Deep inside your head, neurons are shooting electrical charges bacl anf forth in a chemical soup, connecting pieces of stored patterns. All you see is the output.
Your brain is forever churning through patterns, making connections, figuring things out: it's always learning. It works while you sleep. I call this subconscious learning "the boys in the back room." They're always up to something, always out of sight, and sometimes they seem to have a mind of their own.
When I'm seeking a better understanding of an issue, I'll often delegate the task to the boys in the back room. At bedtime, I tell myself that I will awake with an answer. While I sleep, the boys mull things over. Most of the time, I awake with the understanding I was looking for.
Seek and ye shall find.
The City of San Francisco has more cars than parking spaces. When I drive in, I visualize an empty parking space. Invariably, I find a great space when I reach my destination.
This is not some mystical power. Rather, visualizing something heightens your attention. If you believe the space is there, you'll open your mind to finding it. You will see spaces you would have otherwise overlooked.
You can visualize anything you'd like to find, from a lost dog to a co-worker's support.
The late Gordon MacKensie, former "creative enigma" at Hallmark Cards told me that when he headed out in the morning with nothing particular to accomplish, he would tell himself that during the day he would be astonished. He always was.
Humankind must take up generative design processes. Continuing on with short-sighted, quick fixes leads to a terrible future.
How does BIll learn?
Writing is important. This beings with asking the higher self questions that revolve around dilemmas, challenges, and opportunities. Bill turns in early -- 9:30 bedtime -- and arises before dawn. At 4:00 am, he'll have one coup of cofferee and being to write. By hand. 1/2 to 3 pages.
Reading is important. How does he read a book? Covers, intro, preface, bibliography (the less familiar the better), highlight as he reads. 1/2 go no further. He with often calll the author, finding this great of planting knowledge in the head. He highlights; Marylin highlights. He enjoys following in her highlighter raind.
Friday, July 15, 2005
George Siemens (2)
Connectionism deals with foraging for actionable knowledge. You have to do something or it's irrelevant. (This is what I call performance.)
Knowledge foraging involves finding links that lead to a stream of knowledge flowing by. You reach into the stream and pull something out, and it's invariably not just one thing; it's a web of connections that link to other streams. Weave what you've pulled from the stream into your personal learning network; your network is now attached to sensors and changes, as if you'd subscribed to an instant newspaper. (This is parallel to my free-range learners, augmented learners, channels, and communities. You don't need to know something if you know where to find it.)
Given the name of the profession it's no surprise that instructional designers have historically focused on instruction. The times call for a new approach, an ecosystem designer. Today's instructional designers are like diamond miners who by-pass veins of gold because it's not what they're after. Designers have seen fit to leave communications to chance.
How do you learn, George?
- You and I chatting right now.
- Blog posts -- because of the diversity of viewpoints. If you really want to learn, look at blogs on either side of a divisive issue.
- Serendipity is important in finding those open doors.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
- Transfer of responsibility from teacher to learner:
The pace of this sequence is dependent upon the age and background of the student, the level of the task to be done and the attitudes of both teacher and student. The transfer of decision making responsibility from teacher to student is a key part of the teacher's role in fostering independent learning; the transfer needs to be accomplished without either over- or under-controlling the process. This shift is enhanced by a teachers' positive attitude to independent learning, as well as a good knowledge of the needs, interests and abilities of individual students. This transfer of control is crucial; it leads to students discovering how their efforts can affect their learning. Students then experience control of the learning task, and from this control they acquire motivation to continue learning.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Book Point of View
ILis just about everything but school, courses, and genes, and yet it's treated as a second-class citizen. It deserves most recognition. Time to bring it out in the light, recognize its value.
Organizations that do not nurture informal learning are missing a great opportunity. How can they afford to leave it almost entirely to chance? We can learn from companies that have ploughed new ground.
Individuals increasingly control their own learning destinies. Learning is the key to fulfilling work and a happy life. There's lot of talk about learning to learn but little action. I want to share some attitudes, techniques, short-cuts, and tricks of the trade. Free range or self-service learners.
To achieve success, you must take resonsiblity for your own growth and progress. This entails shaping your mind to achieve your goals
Artificial distinctions between training, performance support, knowledge management, OJT, and informal learning are distractions. Performance is the goal.
Schools have brainwashed us into supporting an obsolete model of learning. Telling, content, wisdom, timing: the school model has it all wrong.
Workers are overloaded. Too much information. Too much change. Too little stability. No boss. Anxiety, stress, white water, improv. Need to be able to hop off the treadmill and think ourselves into a better mental space.
We are still escaping the industrial age/military C&C mindset. Small pieces loosely joined. Networks. Connections.
High time to redefine learning, beginning with its outcomes. Learning is adapting to one's ecosystem, improving one's fit. Social ranks #1, both personally and professionally.
Optimism works better. AI. Seligman. Be all that you can be.
All of us are smarter than any of us.
Enterprise Collaboration IntegrationPeople are an organization's most valuable asset but many companies miss a great opportunity to leverage their people's abilities. Individual performance is rewarded with bonuses, promotion, and advancement. However, individuals do not create profits; profit comes from people working together. Few organizations take advantage of readily-available technology to make it simpler, faster, and easier for their people to work with one another.
In the best-selling The World is Flat, Tom Friedman says that with the advent of interoperability, "we were not just able to talk to each other more, we were able to do more things together. This is the key point, argued Joel Cawley, the IBM strategist. 'We were not just communicating with each other more than ever, we were now able to collaborate—to build coalitions, projects, and products together—more than ever.'"
To collaborate is to work with (co-labor), and it's an increasingly important aspect of business. People have always worked with one another face-to-face, but these days collaboration is facilitated by technology. Telephone, VoIP, phone messaging, instant messenging, email, chat, websites, discussion boards, virtual classrooms, video conferences, and wikis connect workers, suppliers, partners, and customers.
Tapping the organization's knowledge, getting the information to make decisions, and mastering complex subjects depend upon rapid, reliable collaboration. Facile, fast connections to others in the organization are the key to successful informal learning. Yet for all the benefits, collaboration in most organizations remains fragmented.
Instant messaging is not connected to email, nor chat to websites, nor wisdom from discussions to a knowledge repository. All of these technologies comply with accepted standards, but they don't often work together because organizations have historically implemented them one at a time. Corporations that are integrating applications at the enterprise level are often hobbled by standalone collaborative technologies that were glued together haphazardly if at all.
Piecemeal approaches exist because organizations do not consider collaboration their core activity. In The Only Sustainable Advantage, John Hagel and John Seely Brown describe a world where firms "dynamically specialize," and become the acknowledged innovators in their specialty. Every activity is somebody's core, and you can bet that they'll be good at it.
Suppose a company made collaboration its core specialization. They would research what it takes to become the undisputed best provider of collaborative technology. To become irresistible to outsourcers, they would offer:
• Integration of all collaboration technologies to make it easy to communicate with the right people in the best way.
• Synchronization of the enterprise in support of business goals, with concurrent demolition of collaborative silos.
• Capture and rating of intellectual capital derived from multiple sources into a single, searchable knowledgebase.
• Support of communities of practice, coaching and mentoring, and knowledge exchange to designated groups or individuals.
• Reputation systems to build trusting relationships and identify hidden experts.
• Reports to pinpoint traffic patterns and support of social network analysis,
• Implementation like salesforce.com: simple to put in place, no software to install, no upgrade hassles, and immediate access.
One organization has spent the better part of the last three years developing just such a collaboration platform. You probably haven't heard of them because their bolt-on collaboration suite was designed as a private-label service. Training providers, eLearning companies, or dispersed organizations flip the switch, and their discussion boards, collaborative mentoring, communities of practice, and other media appear as home-grown applications.
The firm is named Ensemble Collaboration. Ensemble is based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. (With a boost from government, New Brunswick is becoming a hotbed of eLearning companies.) I spent several hours yesterday looking at the product, which goes live next week, and talking with Ensemble's founder, Ben Watson. Ben and I go back to SmartForce days when he was resident futurist and I was a marketing advisor.
DISCLOSURE: I currently serve as Ensemble Collaboration's Chairman.