Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Cliff Figallo (fig) Mon 18 Nov 02 08:57
In doing a little more research, I found another definition of a k-log as an individual's notations of what they are learning and doing in their job. This approach assumes that each worker documents his/her knowledge as it is generated and then uses this database for reference. In a k-log culture, people would have some access to one anothers' logs. I haven't seen any of these in action.
Nancy White (choco) Mon 18 Nov 02 10:28
I'd like to circle back a bit to the issue of ease of writing and reading. I think this is about more than spelling, but about the way people are prepared to communicate. There are some people who have very difficult experiences reading on a screen and responding. It is a cognitive black hole. This does not mean they aren't fluent readers or writers, but that the screen/monitor environment is difficult for them. Then there are those very sequential learners who quickly become lost in a multi-dimensional conversation environment. What do we do about them? Leave them behind? The assumption that people will use online conversational tools if the culture is supportive is not the full picture. What are the consequences of leaving some behind?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 18 Nov 02 16:32
Or how far should you go to avoid it? (One of the toughest accessibility issues for web developers is figuring out how to address cognitive differences. There's a lot of 'em, and some are classed as 'learning disabilities,' ergo falling under the ADA...)
John Payne (satyr) Mon 18 Nov 02 22:36
Recently introduced collaboration software... Collaborate http://shimkus.com/CLI/ iStorm http://www.mathgamehouse.com/istorm/
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Tue 19 Nov 02 09:49
Hi Nancy - it's always seemed to me that that online communication is only part of a complete communications toolkit - a very important and useful part - but only one part. It's about options and alternatives from which people can pick and choose. There should be so many ways to exchange knowledge that having a druthers for one or another should not be a disadvantage. If you have regular informal conversation opportunities for employees in f2f lounges, after-work hang-outs, online email and discussion and IM areas, phone conversations, written notes and docs, etc - then there is plenty of opportunity for each group member to be up to speed and connected. As they say here on the WELL, your mileage may vary. :)
Cliff Figallo (fig) Tue 19 Nov 02 09:58
Thanks, John for those links. I'll check them out and comment soon. As to how we deal with people who are less able to use online textual media for communication, I don't think that we have an original answer. There must be adaptive opportunities for everyone to contribute and participate in every meaningful activity. So Jon's bringing up the ADA is apt; we need the equivalent of wheelchair ramps for those unable to take part in the kind of conversation we're having here. In a knowledge sharing setting, this translates into F2F meetings that can be reported on or transcribed for the online population and the reverse -- text-to-speech or other audio presentation of the written conversation. It's fairly simple to describe these solutions. The difficulty is in actually implementing them. Online knowledge sharing is a convenience. We now have the ability to converse across distance and without the restrictions of schedule. The tradeoff is that we lose the social bandwidth of physical presence. To be 100% inclusive, we must devise methods for translating one kind of experience into many others -- text to voice, English to Hindi, graphics-rich to low bandwidth. Each organization has to consider who the essential members of its knowledge sharing population may be and what the costs will be of leaving any individual or group behind. We think that, looked at as a whole, our access to these online tools is a net positive. More people who were previously left out of conversations now have the opportunity to participate.
Nancy White (choco) Tue 19 Nov 02 11:23
In international development it has been a double edged sword -- those with: * strong educations that focused on reading, writing, language skills * cultural norms which supported individual opinion sharing, * access to internet connected computers -- ... these folks play a larger role in the conversations. Often they dominate -- not out of bad intent, but out of the situation and cultural context. The conversations are important and productive, but they still leave out many voices. Changing away from the western cultural paradigm to a perhaps slower and different conversational style is challenging. Some say time wasting. So do we slow down those northern/Western early adopters or try and speed up the newer entrants from the South and East? What techniques have global organizations learned to facilitate a truely intercultural discussion? Do we segment at a more local level and build up, looking for people with bridging skills to facilitate? There is a huge opportunity here, but huge challenges. Any stories of succes to share in this area? (yeah, I'll also get off my soapbox. Grin)
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 19 Nov 02 12:11
As far as differing writing skills goes, if knowledge capture is so important, how about having a writer going around and interviewing people and updating the documentation? (Or just acting as the librarian - collecting and arranging what's already out there.) It's kind of ironic that there is less specialization and division of labor when it comes to the written word than in the "old days" (I assume) when there were more secretaries. But if a task is everybody's job and nobody's job in particular, often that means it doesn't get done. Perhaps this is the real reason why documents are scattered all over the place in various network locations. The high-tech fix (new software) may be less effective than just putting someone on the job.
Nancy White (choco) Tue 19 Nov 02 14:18
Hm, may I borrow that idea, Brian? I have a specific example where I can test this out right away!!!
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 19 Nov 02 14:35
Nancy White (choco) Wed 20 Nov 02 06:23
Cliff and Nancy, you mention CoPs in your writing. What role do you see for CoPs in supporting knowledge networking within and between organizations?
Cliff Figallo (fig) Wed 20 Nov 02 07:35
I worked for two years in the highlands of Guatemala. I was field director for a development team providing educational and resource support for villages installing drinking water systems and learning to grow more nutritional crops. The people I worked with spoke some Spanish but were, for the most part, still living and communicating as Mayans. This was 1978-1980, before PCs and the Net, but we did use ham radio. In my role, I had to translate ideas, needs, experience and opinions from agrarian, illiterate Mayan villagers to the vernacular and understanding of (1) my organization, (2) the militaristic Guatemalan government and (3) the politically sensitive funding sources at CIDA (Canadian International Development). More than simply getting projects done, my responsibility was to listen and translate. It's pretty clear and obvious, when you're in that situation, what has to get done to accomplish your task. Our "clients" were unable to get into the organizations with which we worked. We were the intermediaries. I think the reason we were effective is that we were able to identify with both our clients and our sponsors and funders. Perhaps many people in development, especially if they are citizens of the country where they are working, must work through rigid class identification that separates them from the people for whom they must communicate. This class separation is -- more than any other single factor I can think of -- the main barrier to collaboration, and it's made even more severe by the use of technology. So, again, we see that a lot of work must be done in correcting or compensating for cultural prejudices before open conversation can take place. And again, let's not blame the technology for making things worse. Technology is neutral. It provides the potential for improvements, but it's the people and their attitudes that must realize that potential. Communities of practice are, in theory, made up of people who practice the same skills. That commonality reaches across departments and organizations. There have always been communities of practice; only now they can communicate online as well as in person. In our book, we begin with a chapter on the history of knowledge sharing. For the vast stretch of human history, there is evidence that collaborative learning brought great advances in knowledge and technology. Only in the past few centuries have we developed organizational models that de-emphasized internal conversations in favor of hierarchical direction. So the recent "rediscovery" of communities of practice is simply a revival of natural human tendencies to talk about vital skills and interests. Competition is the main stumbling block to CoPs. While they should be the most effective way for a group to share experience and knowledge, some managers and practitioners may see them as security leaks for proprietary knowledge. We didn't spend much time on CoPs in our book because (with all due respect to Etienne Wenger and company) we see them as natural, informal occurences within organizations who have created conversation-friendly cultures.
Nancy White (choco) Wed 20 Nov 02 10:25
>Competition is the main stumbling block to CoPs. Hm, isn't it the main stumbling block for knowledge sharing at all? This must mean it is time for the ROI question! A business person reads your book. Gets the theory. Buy's the concept. What does she then need to do to make the business case to support conversations in her company. What guidance would you give her to gain support for an initiative in her ROI-focused company?
Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 20 Nov 02 11:04
Cliff, your #62 reminded me instantly of an example that I wrote about after the Seattle earthquake a few years ago, when a spontaneous CoP grew into a pathbreaking institution: "Earthquakes are bad news anywhere, of course, but in Seattle they can be especially severe because Cascadian subduction quakes can be so large. The challenge to emergency planners is great. One creative approach to the challenge grew organically, starting one day when a small group of IT professionals from different firms got together to share notes about protecting their computer systems from earthquakes. The group of geeks liked sharing advice in an informal, trusting atmosphere. Over the years their talks expanded into other emergency-response issues, and municipal agencies got involved too. The group took the name CPARM, for Contingency Planning and Recovery Management Group, and the public/private collaboration now has a valuable role in Seattle's larger disaster program, the FEMA-sponsored Project Impact." Just a data point.
Nancy White (choco) Wed 20 Nov 02 12:29
Great story. Thanks, Andrew!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 20 Nov 02 15:21
Cliff and Nancy, I'm wondering what you guys are really passionate about, disregarding books and careers and stuff...?
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Thu 21 Nov 02 09:39
Heehee, Jon. Well this isn't disregarding books and careers and stuff per se, but I am absolutely taken with studying American history - the lessons I find there are so relevant in terms of bringing perspective to current events. Just briefly, for instance, the Virginia Company founded Jamestown in 1630 with a clear "get rich quick" emphasis illustrated by the composition of the first settlers sent there. There were no women, and the men's group was composed of three elements: gentlemen, servants, and artisans who could quickly turn raw materials into high margin products for sale back home. There was no focus on longterm sustainability or community building. Jamestown experienced severe mortality levels, incurred huge debt, and eventually had its charter revoked for "mismanagement". On the other hand, the Massachusetts Bay Company was also founded with a profit motive, but the founders were even more determined to build longterm community using spiritual as well as material goals. Commitment to family, community service, hard work, and values was paramount. Families led to a reproducing population and community service and hard work that came out of shared values led to cohesiveness not found in Jamestown. The Massachusetts Bay Company steadily thrived, despite severe winters and lack of know-how. Doesn't this kind of remind you of some dotcom stories we know?
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Thu 21 Nov 02 09:39
Oops, correction, Jamestown was founded in 1607.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 21 Nov 02 10:16
Dang, we just never learn, do we?
Nancy Rhine (nancy) Thu 21 Nov 02 10:35
Well we do, I think. It's just that we do have this unfortunate human flaw of reinventing the wheel. Retelling stories from history is an historian's contribution to knowledge sharing. Not to get us depressed, but maybe so we can make strides forward, save time, and perhaps even not take ourselves sooo seriously!
Nancy White (choco) Thu 21 Nov 02 13:27
I wonder if there is an evolutionary advantage to wheel reinvention since we seem to do it so well? ;-)
JONAS VORMWEG writes (tnf) Thu 21 Nov 02 16:30
From Jonas Vormweg: Hi Cliff & Nancy! Currently, I'm working on my diploma thesis. The topic is: "The relevance of virtual communities for industrial marketing - an analysis based on examples". So, what do you think? If you got 40 pages to write about that, what would you point out? Thanks a lot, Jonas
Cliff Figallo (fig) Fri 22 Nov 02 09:40
Hi, Jonas. I assume you're using David's account to post -- unless David has changed his name. I'll try to address your question along with Nancy W's about ROI. Ah, the ROI question. Or, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" Well some companies do get rich through active conversational learning, and because of their cultures, it's not a big deal. My current day job is in the outdoor gear industry (three birds with one stone -- this is my real passion, Jon). The leaders in this industry, some of which you've all heard of like The North Face and Patagonia, grew originally out of what we would call communities of practice. Climbers, skiers and backpackers who used gear and clothing intensively in challenging conditions of weather and altitude discovered the weaknesses in designs and decided to begin making and selling improved products. They could then market these innovations to people who would recognize the improvements and purchase them so that, in essence, they would be more comfortable in the cold and wet of the outdoors. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, used to drive around in his old beat up station wagon to prime climbing sites where he would take out a his portable blacksmith setup and fabricate climbing hardware on the spot, customized for the specific climbing conditions based on feedback from the local climbers. Innovation in any industry relies on communicating the needs of the customer into the best products to meet those needs. By focusing on the most expert users of a product, designs can anticipate the extremes of use. Of course some balance must be struck between the cost of the product and the actual needs of the bell curve of the market. I'm too old to make use of the US$450 parka that leads the line produced by Arc'Teryx. This jacket is welded together -- not sewn. It's very lightweight and durable, but the shaved ounces only matter to extreme climbers. Yet, whether it's for fashion or actual use, they sell enough of them to fund their very active R&D, which involves a lot of conversation, much of it via email, with people in the field. So, in terms of ROI, improved and productive online conversation can be considered an extension of R&D as well as customer service and support. The clearer the communication between customer/users and designer/marketers, the better the products will sell.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 22 Nov 02 10:02
Wow, what a boost to the paper-writing. I am going to guess that Jonas mailed his question to firstname.lastname@example.org -- something we like to suggest from time to time in each of these interviews. If you are a reader who comes by a lot and follows many of these author, expert and artist conversations, keep the email address handy for the next one.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 22 Nov 02 10:10
A new inkwell.vue discussion starts today, so we want to thank Cliff, Nancy, and Nancy for a great discussion, and figure out how to do it without conveying the impression that the conversation has to end now. So, first, our profound thanks for devoting your time and energy to the inkwell. It's been great! And, second, please consider this your home away from home; feel free to continue the discussion indefinitely!
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