Return to Menlo Park

Sigh... I've been wrong about Facebook 1.5 times so far. The first time, with the advent of Google+, I predicted that a social network that begins with circles would triumph over one that seeks to make everything you say or do available to all of humanity. I said Google+ would kill Facebook. Yes I did.

While Facebook continues to do everything it can to drive people away, and some reports hold that as the Olds gather the younger folks are moving on - I think it can safely be said that whatever kills Facebook, it will not be the astonishing success of G+ anytime soon.

The second time, a little over a year ago now, was when I left. Never to return. I resented the time sink it had become, and the interactions with strangers that had an intensity and anger they would never exhibit in person. I hope. If I got into frequent angry confrontations at my local pub, at some point I would stop going into that establishment.

I would engage with a friend on a topic, and find myself confronting suddenly the person's drunk uncle (how is druncle not a word?) accusing me of furthering a socialist plot to destroy America. And I spent far too much time engaging these trolls.

Seriously, druncle. This should be a word.

I left, with a flourish, around New Year's 2013. To be honest, I did not miss Facebook. At all. What I missed was a cousin's health challenge, which was announced and discussed only on Facebook. What I missed were grief-laden notes posted to a friend's page who died suddenly last Fall. I realized then I was missing important updates about people close to me - or perhaps more to the point, people who were not close enough for me to learn these updates any other way.

There is a circle (pardon me) of people about whom I care - but with whom I do not interact on a frequent enough basis to be on their notification list. With Facebook, people have apparently found that announcing updates to their lives on their page means a "notification" list is unnecessary.

If tragedy or bliss strikes your life, it is just easier to post a quick note to your Wall, and let the word spread. In leaving Facebook, at least for my network, I had departed the commons.

So I am back. But I have a much smaller friend list so far. And I am, primarily, lurking. I only have the iPad app, and it does not draw my time as it once did (writing this blog is the most I've thought about Facebook in over a year). I do not post updates nor food porn nor do I engage in political conversations as I did before. This is not where I live, it's where I go to learn about my family and some friends. I'll check in once or twice a day, for a few minutes. My profile remains sparse, I don't "like" corporations, and my profile picture is a photo of two of my three children. The other one hasn't noticed yet.

Exception - One conservative brother-in-law manages to get under my skin on occasion, and we poke at each other almost as sport. When a friend of his barged into one conversation with a familiar refrain, though, I just blocked the gentleman. I've learned that much.

I don't miss Facebook, and now I don't have to miss family news. I am planning to hit an age more closely associated with a speed limit this year, and I sense more of these updates will begin to appear across my network.

So Facebook - it was still mostly you. But it was also a lot me. Let's just be acquaintances.

The Expertise Strikes Back

The unmatched vineyards at A. Rafanelli  .jpg

The unmatched vineyards at A. Rafanelli


Tom Nichols writes of the death of expertise in a recent, well-received blog. When he first tweeted a reference to the topic, as he was writing it, I immediately thought he was referring to Cognitive Resource Theory (CRT) - the finding that expertise is essential in high-stress decision environments, but less so in low-stress decision environments, where we may be better served to listen to intelligent voices with little experience in the specific field. If you need novel solutions, those with high experience are not your sources - they will rely on what has worked in the past. But in a high-stress environment, the smart guy in the back of the room with no experience may not be the most welcome voice. Left unstudied by CRT: high-stress situations where novelty is needed. The Apollo 13 scenario applies here, put the experts into a constrained environment to obtain novel solutions to an otherwise familiar problem. The experts must be jostled out of their comfortable assumptions in order to consider novelty. Never underestimate this.

Turns out - life is about more than one theory.

Anyway, Tom wasn't referring to either of those.

So next I thought - Oh, the corollary observation that relying upon experts is often a trap, as detailed in The Longitude Problem explanation, courtesy of Dave Snowden. Yeah, experts are sometimes the problem, particularly when you're facing problems of a complex nature; which describes most human social systems. The experts' cognitive and social biases may prevent an awareness of new ideas, much less a fair testing of them. Expertise's role in complicated matters is central. In complex matters, where novelty often is called for, it should be taken with heapings of salt.

Anyway, Tom wasn't referring to that either. Turns out, even my limited expertise in the area of, er, expertise, was blinding me from hearing him. I had to work through several patterns before I understood the angle on his headline. (How expertise matters less when everyone has a voice and believes their opinion is as informed as an expert's How some mooks believe expertise itself represents a sellout - e.g., if you spent 30 years at the National Security Agency, that amounts to an indictment, not a history of expertise that deserves attention.)

When I worked at a think tank, right out of a brief Air Force career in Intelligence, I had lots of scattered ideas and an agile mind - but no background in national security studies beyond eight years' operational experience of a very limited scope. In 'brainstorming' sessions, I would muse and ponder. For me, true brainstorming. It was fun, but I realized I was failing to read the room.

The problem was: I was sitting in a room with people who had published books on the topic being discussed. They were voicing deeply researched opinions, that I could understand fairly quickly, but from which I could not make a logical next step argument. I lacked awareness of the paths that had been carved, as if I were standing at the edge of the dark woods, 30 paces to the left of the trail, arguing: "Why haven't we looked for a path here, guys?" The conversation was a form of disruption, novelty (hopefully) emerged from conversational conflict. One real problem, by the way, is if you fail to rotate the players at that table - diversity and new members are needed to disrupt harmful patterns. If you attend a regularly scheduled staff meeting, you already know this. But at no time would it make sense to stand there saying things like: "You served in x's administration, and I disagree with those policies, so you are useless" or "My point of view is more valid from yours, because I have no knowledge of Containment Policy, and am therefore pure."

Put another way, while an appeal to authority is a losing debate style, it does not follow that appeal to ignorance is a successful one.

A friend and colleague - (now like a brother to me, in that we are extremely close and almost never communicate) - finally pulled me aside and told me of the library represented around the think tank's table. These were some of the leading minds in national security policy research, and here I was inventing some interpretive dances based on the bits I picked up in conversation. The patience of those men and women is something I am thankful for, many years too late.

Once upbraided by this episode, I did my research and learned where I could add value and be heard. The people who wail at Tom and others online would not do so at a cocktail party - social norms reinforce civility and hierarchy. The question, then, may not be whether expertise no longer matters, but whether we can expect civilizing social norms among a social-media mob. Even when searching for novel answers, understanding first who and what has gone before remains of highest value.

* Regarding the photo, why are there pomegranates in a vineyard...? Shall we just brainstorm, or ask a vintner?

"Complicated" vs. "Complex"

Someone asked for comment, I offered it.  The background:  A gentleman who makes a living "reducing complexity" for IT systems keeps running into some of us on Twitter who study complexity.  You can imagine the entertaining exchanges, which led to his posting these observations on his LinkedIn group. The ask:

There is a group of complexity aficionados that criticize my use of the word "complexity." In general, these are folks who are influenced by the Cynefin framework that considers complexity and complicated to be different attributes of a system. I reject their use of the word "complicated" to describe what I call "complex" for three reasons.

First, complicated describes a state of mind of the observer, not the observed. To me, my car is complicated. To my mechanic, it is not complicated. Yet the car hasn't changed.

Second, complicated has no obvious relationship to simple. In my mind, complexity and simplicity must be closely related in the same way that heat and cold are related. Cold is the absence of heat. Simplicity is the absence of complexity. This relationship is absent in the Cynefin-like understandings.

Third, my use of the words complex and complexity conform to standard usage of the words.

That my position. What do you think?

My answer:

It is difficult to know where to start in responding. There are not only entire graduate courses ( on the topic of complexity, there are actual institutions involved in related research. ( Rather than attempt to capture all of the works from Ashby (1962) to Waldrop (1992) - all of which predate the Cynefin framework - I will try to address the main errors I see in your thesis. (I decided to include a select bibliography in case anyone who comes across this thread is curious enough to follow up.)

First, unless you refer to your physician as a “biology aficionado,” your language regarding scholars strikes me as somewhat odd. In my view, someone who pursues higher education is something other than an aficionado. More importantly, it appears to you that the people who contest your view above emerge from some curious cult of Cynefin practitioners who cling to definitions to support our unique worldview. This is probably the chief error in our conversations - believing that Cynefin somehow provides the intellectual framework for our understanding of complexity. Cynefin is a sense-making framework that leverages natural systems understanding - it stands on the shoulders of giants. (My bibliography below contains only one reference to my friend and mentor David Snowden.)

To your three points:

1) To your mechanic, your car, unless it is 20 years old or so, is actually quite complicated thanks in part to pervasive embedded computing. This is why he uses diagnostic technologies to understand its current state. Complicated systems are the playing field for domain experts, but that does not mean these experts consider their systems as simple.

2) Complicated has a remarkably obvious relationship to simple. Cause and effect are related in these ordered systems - and system behavior is predictable as a result. In your mind, complexity and simplicity are related like heat and cold. Standard usage aside, complexity is not some spice added to a complicated system - that mucks up the gears when it reaches a certain threshold. (I’m reminded that Aquinas famously used the heat and cold analogy to discuss how evil is the absence of god.) But analogies aren’t proofs - generations of systems science are not discarded because of a tidy analogy. There actually are relationships among systems in Cynefin, but not as you cast it above.

3) This is what you’ve repeated in past conversations. It’s how most people think of complex - and you are comforted because you conform to ‘standard usage.’ Pardon me, but I’m reminded the common approach to medical problems 100 years ago involved leeches. In my view, “standard usage” is an insufficient understanding for those who seek to advance a practice.

Overall, it is noble work to emphasize simplicity for IT systems. I was honored to support the National Military Command Center years back, and can recall the massive tangle in trying to understand all the systems that were introduced into that facility over time. Different functional requirements, different budgets, different departments, all installing systems over a few decades with no obvious design authority. But among that mess, no new systems emerged. Nothing became sentient and engaged in semi-autonomous or autonomous behavior. Systems did not exhibit any behavior that exceeded their original design. The facility, a system of systems, was incredibly complicated, but demonstrated none of the characteristics of a complex adaptive system. One can pursue this noble work without introducing terminology that confuses more than it illuminates.


[edit - added bibliography]

I then posted a select bibliography, because this gentleman does not appear to be familiar with the canon of works that go back generations. A subset of authoritative works:

Anderson, Philip, Gérard Cachon, and Paul Zipkin, “Complexity Theory and Organization Science,” Organization Science, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1999, pp 216-232

Asbhy, Ross, An Introduction to Cybernetics, London UK: Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1957

Axelrod, Robert and Michael Cohen, Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier, New York: Free Press, 1999

Dooley, K. (1996), "A Nominal Definition of Complex Adaptive Systems," The Chaos Network, 8(1): 2-3.

Fromm, Jochen. The Emergence of Complexity. Kassel, GE: Kassel University Press, 2004.

Gell-Mann, Murray. The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. New York, NY: Freeman, 1994.

Gleick, James, Chaos: Making a New Science, Penguin Press, 1988

Holland, John H. Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Holland, John H., Emergence: From Chaos to Order, Cambridge, MA, Perseus Books Group, 1998

Johnson, Steven. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, New York: Touchstone, 2002

Juarrero, Alicia, Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002

Kauffman, Stuart, The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993

Kauffman, Stuart, At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self- Organization and Complexity, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995

Lewin, Roger, Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999

Lorenz, Edward, The Essence of Chaos, The Jessie and John Danz Lecture Series: University of Washington Press, 1996

Maxfield, Robert, “Complexity and Organization Management,” Complexity, Global Politics and National Security, David Alberts and Thomas Czerwinski (eds.), Washington, D.C., National Defense University Press, 1996

McKelvey, Bill, “What is Complexity Science? It is Really Order-Creation Science,” Emergence, Vol. 3, 2001, pp 137-157

Nicolis, Gregoire, and Ilya Prigogine, Exploring Complexity: An Introduction, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1989

Prigogine, Ilya, The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature, New York, NY: Free Press, 1997

Snowden, David J., and Mary E. Boone. "A Leader's Framework for Decision Making." Harvard Business Review November 1, 2007: 69-76.

Stacey, Ralph D., Douglas Griffith, and Patricia Shaw. Complexity and Management: Fad or Radical Challenge to Systems Thinking? Complexity and Emergence in Organizations. Ed. Douglas Griffith Ralph D. Stacey, Patricia Shaw. London: Routledge, 2000.

Tsoukas, Haridimos. Complex Knowledge: Studies in Organizational Epistemology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Waldrop, M. Mitchell. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

A Wedding and a Funeral - Reflections on a Portfolio Life

Please forgive me for having not blogged, but life should be allowed to intrude. And intrude it has this season: I officiated a planned wedding that became suddenly very interesting, and then conducted an unplanned funeral that tears at my heart still. These reminders of real life pushed aside the comparatively mundane promise of writing a regularly scheduled blog.

Oh, I am also grading papers and final exams these days. In addition to my rewarding day job, I am privileged to conduct a graduate course. Every ten weeks, I meet and engage with bright minds - not all that young, necessarily - as they work through the foundations of ethical leadership in pursuit of their MBAs. This is one of the aspects of my portfolio I hope to continue for as long as I breathe.

Wait, portfolio?

We all live a portfolio life. Many stirring (and ordinary) orations begin with a recitation of our multiple identities. I am a father, a son, a grandfather, a husband, a consultant, a blogger and I’m already tired of myself here. The “portfolio life” I reference above just means I live some of these identities with intent, attention, and focus. For example: I am also a professor, a wedding (and now funeral) officiant, and an academic. While philosophers and therapists advise us to embrace these many identities, and there is some research hinting that our cognition is improved against tasks with distraction rather than focus; there is also some financial security in diversifying our attention. That college course brings in some income. The officiating does not, yet, but it helps to satisfy a creative outlet that brings a level of emotional stability. The academic pursuits help satisfy a yearning to pursue deeper truths, and yes, helps qualify me - on paper - for that professorship thing.

A brief aside: A professor of mine once asked me if I had ever considered going in to teaching. “Yes,” I replied airily. “I was thinking I would become a college professor when I retire.” “Oh, that’s lovely,” my England-born mentor replied acidly. “Imagine how that sounds to poor saps who pursue it as their lifelong vocation.” And so I am an adjunct professor, no longer imagining I will march onto some grateful campus at age 65. As the Bride and I discuss retirement plans, I now factor in a modest stipend rather than a second career.

Anyway, I focus on aspects of my identity with an eye, yes, towards monetization in my dotage - but also on the attention they deserve now. While I happened into these roles accidentally in most cases; I find the fact that my attention is thus divided benefits my work against each. I am better at individual pursuits because I have the others. My business relationships are richer because I can talk about something other than knowledge management and business transformation - some days I actually manage to sound human. My years spent dabbling in (very) amateur videography for community theater gave me the confidence to compose a memorial video for my departed friend. The costs are significant: It’s been six years since that last distant Caribbean beach trip; I have signed up for two online courses and then not had the time to fully explore them; and constructive boredom has eluded me for over a decade. But this is who I am.

What aspects of your multiple and shifting identities can be monetized, or otherwise deserve your attention? When will you start writing that book? How is your garden doing? Pick up the guitar lately? This “portfolio life” isn’t anything new, but an observation that living an intentional life is made more difficult because of the noise. I recall a gourmet restaurant this year where the host said as we were seated: “Please refrain from using your phone this evening - for conversation, texting, or especially taking photos of your food. Please just enjoy your evening.” He was ready for an argument, but I was grateful for this. Otherwise I would have been taking those photos; and we really need to start living rather than endlessly documenting our lives. For some of us, it takes effort to focus on great food and friends without checking email or otherwise feeding our networks.

We live in an age where our attention quota can be filled to overflowing with other people’s trivia - it takes intention and planning to live fully these multiple identities. To overtly start living a portfolio life. Here’s to hoping you too have a ten-minute answer to the cocktail party question; “What do you do?”


The Guru Problem


Years back, I had the good fortune to talk with David Gilmour, back when he was deeply involved in the Tacit Knowledge System. The software, since absorbed and disappeared by Oracle (hoping my Oracle friends can correct me here), simply allowed you to find expertise. You ask a question, and the system decided who could help you based on a simple Natural Language Processing (NLP) analysis of corporate emails. It discerned between people who answer questions and those who ask in order to find the "gurus." Fun side note: "simple NLP" refers to noun-phrase understanding. As I recall, there are seven levels of NLP analysis, the highest being the understanding of discourse - which I believe remains an elusive goal for now. IBM's Watson is an example of a higher order system for NLP analysis, by comparison, understanding concepts beyond noun-phrase matching but short of discourse.

To find the guru, noun-phrase would be sufficient, and the questions in email communications were easy enough to discern. This is more difficult to do with today's collaborative tools, and the last time I listened to an NLP expert - they were trying to discern conversations within Instant Messaging tools (consider the disjointed nature due to lags and such in a IM or texting stream).

Gilmour's team also patented the magic that made the whole thing palatable to the gurus, who, after all, have little reason to celebrate tools that offer them nothing but an increase in the number of questions they receive daily. Anyone in the system could "dial down" their visibility at any time. The system would know of their expertise, but the questioner may receive no hint of that person; or may receive a response: 'Someone who could help you has been made aware of your request.' This took passive-aggressive potential to new heights. The thinking was, when you had time, you raise the curtain and let them find you by name. When you did not, you lowered the curtain - but still got to see the people wandering about blindly on the other side. The social games that this could feed boggle the mind.

I attended a workshop a few weeks ago, and talked about my experiences with my current employer. Where we use multi-functional collaboration software, follow status updates and blogs from people in our self-selected network of colleagues, etc. One question I received went to the guru problem: "Don't you spend all your day answering questions, if you have desired expertise? By 'working out loud,' aren't you just increasing the probability that more people will find you and bug you with questions?" I immediately thought of the Tacit Knowledge System and my first thought was: "Yeah, I can't lower the curtain, he's got a point." Fortunately, I thought a little before opening my mouth - not something I often nail. The truth is, it doesn't work like that. When I have a question, I don't seek out the expertise and post on their wall or email them - instead, I develop a network, and then telegraph my need. Yes, I'm using metaphors from past centuries, but it fits here.

An example: I was meeting with a client who asked about our internal usage analytics - my firm has a page anyone behind the firewall can see that shows company-wide usage and trends for our collaboration tools. The problem: I hadn't bookmarked it. As the client asked the question, I pulled up my activity stream and posted the question. Within two minutes, literally, a network colleague posted the link for me. Consider this. Rather than pestering the people I know have the info, and without taking time from the client conversation to search, I was able to raise my hand - and someone who was available and reading took the time to provide the answer. Besides the answer: I was able to talk the client about the behavior, the network cultivation, the expected reciprocity, etc., that mattered more than any of the tools or analytics. Good times, if you're an abject geek.

The notion of 'working out loud' is more than exhibitionism. I live within a system of engagement, where I can share what I'm learning and experiencing, answer questions where I can, and generally tend to a broad virtual team where expertise comes to the question. Solving the guru problem, as it happens, takes a 'village.'

How Bottom-Feeders May Be Accelerating Tribalism

Two events in this young week spur me to the keyboard. In the face of social media evangelists who see only the upside of increased global connections - new business models, micro-financing, etc. - we also see the dark side of humanity amplified. This is not a new observation, but when you add the prurient, voyeuristic human tendencies to the mix: we see the market for of information brokers who exist only to aggregate and disseminate the dark behaviors to live on the edges of social boundaries. Not the Reddits of the world, but those who aspire to replace broadcast media...often by scouring Reddit regularly.  These brokers, as I abuse multiple metaphors, bridge the grease traps of the commons with the daily newspaper of the iPad. A massacre in the Washington Navy Yard on Monday stole the lives of twelve, the early list of the dead tell stories of middle age and public service. Yesterday, during the rampage, you could follow #NavyYard and #NavyYardShooting on Twitter to get links to authoritative info, access to real-time rumors, and a front-row seat to journalists getting it wrong in spectacular style; at one point, broadcasting the wrong identity for the murderer. I should point out, this last mistake pales in comparison to a blogger who published a name as well - but there is a difference between an honest mistake (ID card found near the dead murderer*) and dashing off an entirely fake article with a Muslim-sounding name to reinforce a terrorist narrative.

*[I am aware that 'shooter' is the term of art for first-responders and law enforcement. It details both the threat and expected injuries. I feel that regular people should feel free to restore the passion to the terms used in times like these. Journalists may revel in the militarization of language, but life is not a television show.]

In addition, though, you could see the tribal boundaries. Gun advocates immediately mocked gun control advocates, because the killings (ongoing at the time of the snarky exchanges) happened in Washington DC, a locale with strict gun control laws. Gun control advocates were not any less opportunistic, asking "is now the time to talk about guns?" Again, I observed these while the killer was alive and ending souls. Anti-Obama folk argued that this was happening because the President has 'disarmed' the military. Spurred on by one noted conspiracy theorist, several voices declared this a 'false flag' operation (created by the Government to distract from something) - apparently because the murders were occurring on a Monday morning.

If you were glued to Twitter, you would begin to see these jarring messages overwhelm actual information. If you explored the individual Twitter pages for these tangential offerings, you would see an existing theme on each. They use any occasion to repeat their core message. The occasion of a mass murder was no more than encouragement to repeat this message, the tragedy just another data point in their ongoing screeds. If you only listened to broadcast media, you would be spared these voices. (You would still be subject to the inevitable mistakes made when broadcasters are forced to talk with no new information.)

Increasingly, there are information brokers who specialize in amplifying and re-broadcasting the fringe. This piece points out that because of these social aggregators - the flounder of the Internet - the main Google result for those wishing to learn more about the newly-crowned Miss America referred to the racist comments thrown her way. From Ms. Petri:

For decades, in the privacy of their living rooms, people have said ignorant things when something happened on TV. This is not news, even if the second-screen experience means that the living room now includes the equivalent of carving your offhand mutterings unalterably into stone.

People who are offended by the existence of non-white Americans or merely rooting for the "more American" candidate from Kansas were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. So much so that the young woman was confronted with their hatred at her morning 'press conference.' Her accomplishments overshadowed by the call to respond to these aggrieved racists - something she did with nobility and grace.  The fringe overwhelms the story.


Joachim Stroh is an immensely talented visual artist, who recently created the graphic here, demonstrating how communities overlap over time. Because the social Internet is truly a great thing at heart, I was able to interact and share my thoughts with him; that increased tribalism and retrenchment may be one unexpected outcome over time instead - and to his credit, he was trying to convey that as well in the final panel.  His point is that we are more aware of the other tribes. Another correspondent in that conversation offered that we may be able to "bury bold, primal divisions under layers of abstraction" by continuing to emphasize the commonalities rather than the divisions.  Allow the greater good to overcome human nature, is how I read that.

What I've been missing is the role of information brokers. We "know" broadcast media is dead, of course, even though it provides the links for the Twitterati during unfolding events. But the Listicle Media serves up a continuous stream: telling us how we are responding to the unfortunate choices of Ms. Cyrus; or how racists feel about the achievements of non-white people; or how the dark fringes of political tribes are absorbing any occasion to restate their litany; and of course, cat videos.

To what extent are these aggregators shaping how we view the world?  In a world where your friend's recommendations drive your consumption choices - are we ready to adopt the prism of the fringe to help us understand current events?  This leads me to ponder how the Syrian civil war is viewed in Washington DC almost entirely using a political lens, but I've gone on long enough today.

Social Media Centers of Excellence? Really?



My morning Twitter feed led to me to an article released in July of this year, an intriguing if baffling idea from Dion Hinchcliffe here

I put my tea down. Hard.

Here's my issue with the thoughtful piece linked above: it treats 'social media' as just another enterprise skill that needs to be accommodated with the same management approaches: stakeholders, goals & requirements, processes, knowledge base, etc. Set up a Center of Excellence to ensure the organization's social media efforts are coherent, managed, and answerable to business - noble goals, I quibble with the approach.

Nothing new here. Doubt me? Change the topic to Records Management and tell me how the graphic would be any different. Underlying technology infrastructure, core set of experts to ensure the 'knowledge base' information is disseminated, heroes out in the business (notice the business is always external to these types of presentations) who 'get it,' etc. (The burning platform for Records Management is arguably an easier case to make than standing up a center of excellence for Social Media.)

If you accept that social media is just something that companies are now doing haphazardly and need to 'get more strategic' about - then by all means, set aside 5-10 FTE to help your firm 'do social.' If you believe that the integration of social methods and tools is something that can advance your business or agency objectives, however, perhaps changing how you think about existing functions is in order. I shudder to think about organizations who have a Knowledge Management function, deciding to stand up a separate 'social media' Center of Excellence. What then? Regular cadence meetings to "ensure alignment" between these two tribes, each 'supporting the business' according to their specific play-books?

For my part, social methods and tools (please think of this as an inviolate couplet, it is never about the tools alone) should transform how an organization approaches Knowledge Management. At the very least. It should also change how we think about communications, innovation, customer service, citizen outreach, dispersed operations, and the list goes on. To mummify the promise of social methods and tools inside a 20th century management construct that emphasizes existing processes and stakeholders is to ensure the marginalization of this promise - if not its demise.

Frankly, I am surprised at this piece by the esteemed Dachis Group - what did I get wrong? What am I missing?

Moron Facebook

Actually, I mean "More on Facebook," but as I was once accused of using fancy headlines to draw clicks (to this site with no advertising), I thought I would play the part and see if that behavior makes any difference. Tongue is firmly encheeked. Also, this isn't about Facebook at all. Not really. I opined recently that the problem with asking: "Why isn't our enterprise platform as easy to use as Facebook" is that we use these platforms for vastly different purposes. In fact, if we structured work to be social and collaborative - more aligned with our natural approach to interactions - then we would suffer a higher threshold of frustration regarding the technology in order to connect and engage. After all, as easy as Facebook appears to be (acutely aware that I am an ex-pat when it comes to Facebook): it can be aggravating and frustrating. But because we (by this I mean you) are willing to engage, the aggravations are accepted and overcome.

When I wrote that post, I asked that if we had a workplace that required the types of interactions that are central to Facebook - perhaps the adoption for enterprise collaboration software would increase. Change the work approach, and the tool is no longer such a barrier.

I'm beginning to think this was a partial answer. At best. There is another aspect to this, which I explored with a gentleman last week: There is a clear difference between systems of engagement and systems of purpose. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., are all designed to be sticky. They just need you to spend time on the site. They dazzle and tease, but are designed principally to engage you. At work, however we may restructure it - we are trying to get something done.

So enterprise collaboration platforms cannot be just places to become engaged. Yammer does a good job at this, but if you spend all your time on Yammer - chances are you are not getting work done. Unless your job is to increase Yammer adoption. Enterprise collaboration platforms need to be answer the requirements to become systems of purpose. 500+ connections, joining the LION club, or increasing your Klout score: these do not solve any business need. These platforms need to also provide a way to work. Templates, project workspaces, forms, integration with productivity suites, etc. These characterize the enterprise collaboration platform. Add in the ability to work with partners and clients, and you can see that a focus on purposeful interaction rather than interaction for its own sake leads to very different solutions.

Just thought I'd let technology off the hook for once.

I'm not French

French to try being nice As we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport, my ex-pat seatmate turned to me for one last chat. "Do you want to know the secret to getting along in Paris?" Of course. "Everyone speaks English, but don't assume they do. First, ask if they speak English - and ask that question in French. Parlez vouz Anglais?"

That worked. Amazingly well, actually. I stopped strangers on the street and asked directions back to the Latin Quarter (for a global traveler, I'm pretty bad at navigating). Not once did I get sneered at, or turned down. "Yes" was the answer I heard, and everyone took the time to help the American.

Well, once, I heard "No." During the workshop I was there to help facilitate, someone walked in two hours late. As we had already broken into groups, who were engaged in fairly intense conversation, I wanted to help our newcomer catch up. "Excuse me, parlez vous Anglais?" Perhaps because I started the question in English, I heard "Non!" Ok, I walked away. But not far.

"Uh.. why?" "Excuse me?" "Why you ask me about English?" "I was just going to catch you up on what you missed, so you wouldn't feel left out of the conversation." "Oh. Go ahead then."

And so that ended pleasantly. Much more pleasantly than the conversation years earlier with a French citizen during a World Bank party. Someone paired us in conversation, introducing me by telling the gentleman my last name as if it would be of great interest to him.

"This is not a French name!" "Ok, and, hello." "I mean, this is silly. There is no one in France with the name of Bordeaux. It would be as if someone in your country were named, eh, Jimmy Chicago. This does not happen. You are Canadian." "Well, great meeting you, but I'd rather be over on the other side of the room now."

While I have often thought "Jimmy Chicago" would be a great pseudonym, the fact is I'm not Canadian either. But that is a tale for another day.

The Call Button

NYT article on the consequences of nurse staffing. I began to emerge from a truly black sleep, only to feel a wave of agony coming from the front of my face. I felt as if a train were hurtling into my head, over and over. I found myself panting and grunting, unable to even cry out in pain. A soothing voice, next to my ear, told me that she was going to take care of me. The waves subsided, but only because I was falling asleep again. It seemed only second later that same voice was now imploring me to wake up, to come back to her.

I am told this cycle repeated for two hours, although I had no sense of time. In the seconds of what passed for lucidity before passing out each time, I was dimly aware of another human nearby - also in distress.

I was in "recovery" following surgery to repair a deviated septum, and yes: it can be as painful as you have been told. Utterly worth it in the long run, but the most pain I've ever imagined. The voice, alternately soothing and scolding, belonged to the nurse who crouched forward in a chair positioned between two beds. I noticed that her relief stood just behind her. The second nurse tapped the owner of my soothing/scolding voice on the shoulder, and they switched out rapidly - the chair was unoccupied for less than a second. My treatment that afternoon included probes containing cocaine inserted deep into my nostrils; removed only when my blood pressure dropped below a certain threshold. They were re-inserted only when my blood pressure exceeded 260 (the number was carefully documented, and was second only to cocaine as the most alarming bit of data contained in my chart). I suspect my expressions of agony were not the trigger for this pain relief, but the danger presented by a blood pressure well above 200.

Once I was stabilized, I was wheeled out and only then caught a glance at my fellow sufferer. A woman my age, now sitting up in bed and looking like I felt. I gave her a grim thumbs up, but she was able only to follow me with her eyes. All other voluntary movement, I believe, was coming at too high a price.

I remember that afternoon as I read of hospitals where the pain relief is subject to shortages in nurses on the floor. My fellow sufferer and I took the full time attention of a nurse for the better part of an afternoon - so intense that the nurse had no other duties but sustaining two surgery patients and keeping either of us from having a stroke. Had that occurred, I am certain other nurses would have appeared. Without this intense treatment, I cannot imagine how that day would have ended.

I remember this, because the vision of pushing a call button and receiving no relief is a terrifying one. My daughter is a nurse, and she speaks of patients who keep both hands on the call button as if it were their only source of life. She must balance the true needs of her patients, never letting one overwhelm her attention to the detriment of the rest. She must also balance the ever-changing number of nurses available to her, as unseen forces determine who is working which floor for any five-hour block throughout her shift. A medical unit is a collective, whose beds are populated by loud libertarians. And nurses are the commons. The dance of staffing a medical unit is driven by patient needs, balanced by costs and - in the U.S. - profit. The notion that a balance must be struck is understandable when there are competing human needs. Competing corporate needs are somewhat harder to swallow when we are on that call button, desperate for relief.

There are no grand conclusions here, just a shudder. Grateful I had that voice when I needed it (and yes, the cocaine). And pushing away the thought that if my physical problems ever result in the need for a call button again, I can only hope it is connected to a solution. I'm reminded once again: hope is not a method.

After us

What happens to our brains after death? We remain fascinated with our own brains - and perhaps equally fascinated with our demise.

"And we wonder how it will feel." - Karla Bonoff

I recall being somewhat traumatized as a child by reading about people buried alive in prior centuries. True or not ( likely not), the belief became so widespread that some people were buried with a line of string leading to a bell attached to the tombstone. If you heard ringing, get a shovel and some help! Truth be told, this is from my childhood understanding, the entire meme could be apocryphal. However, it was enough for me to decide, before puberty set in - that I would be cremated when the time comes. That is still my wish, for much the same reason. (One lesson: If your kids are reading, it doesn't mean they're ingesting wholesome entertainment.)

Another belief, or at least speculation, involved how long the beheaded head remained aware following its rude separation from the body. The idea that one would be aware of the executioner's blade as one stared into wicker for three seconds or so also remained with me. This fate cannot be mitigated by planning, as with cremation, so I've instead lived a life that cannot be confused with that of the French aristocracy.

We will always ponder the chemically-infused electro-goo that houses "us," and we will always ponder what happens when that goo ceases to pulse.

And so I always click on URLs like the one above. And hug my grandchildren, trying to shake all the damned visuals.



I was halfway to the office from the hotel, strolling the nice streets of Chicago (the mean streets are a few miles out from my hotel), when I did my thumb-ring-check. Rather than look to see if I was wearing my rings, each thumb touches the ring finger. I do this a few times a day. This time, I was too far along in my commute to fix the situation; but there it was. The dreaded naked finger. In my mind's eye, I could see them waiting for me on the bathroom ledge. Great. I hope they're still there when I get back. In an ugly moment, I pictured someone from "housekeeping" slipping the rings quickly into a white pocketed apron.

The rest of my walk was taken by noting the personal cost if the rings disappear. The wedding ring is a white gold with a few inset diamonds. The gold was never polished, it has a honed look. Rough-hewn, one might say. The decision to change from the original was set when I saw a (much nicer one) on a friend's finger. His partner had a matching one, and I refer to them as wedding rings - much to the ire of his partner. "We live in a hate state, it would be illegal for us to be married!" I stopped joking about the rings and marriage after that. My friends have been together for over 30 years, more married than many couples in spirit and intent. Yet their partnership simply doesn't exist in the eyes of Virginia. My ring reminds me of my beloved bride, but it also brings to mind the work to be done for marriage equality. I am more fortunate than my friends: whose 30 years' love is illegal - while both of my marriages were celebrated and subsidized by the law.

My other ring is a Claddagh ring. A yellow gold intersection of a valentine, hands, and a crown. These represent the three points of a 'man,' as told to me: love, loyalty and friendship. Today, the ring usual signals Irish heritage - although a colleague of Thai extraction tells me she wore it as a young girl. "If the heart is pointed out you're single, if it's pointed in you're taken." The original craftsman, the story goes, lived several hundred years ago. Forcibly apprenticed to a goldsmith in England, he earned his freedom and returned to his native home of Claddagh, in Western Ireland. My bride and I stayed in a bed and breakfast along the raging waters that separate Galway from Claddagh, a stone's throw from the Spanish Gate. As we strolled through Galway, she surprised me to leading me into Thomas Jones' jewelers, the sole heir to the Claddagh design - and the only jeweler who can legally engrave "Original" inside the ring. I long owned a Claddagh ring, gifted to me by my sister when I completed my Master's, but it had grown weak over time and I risked breaking it daily. I left Thomas Jones with my new prize, a solid strong "original" Claddagh. This reminds me of my heritage, the charm of Galway, and yes - the heart is always pointed in.

The rings were still there when I returned to my tiny room in the old Hotel Cass. The remote possibility that they had been lost led to my musing, captured here and shared with you. The mementos did their job that morning, by taking the day off.



A Year, Globally

Approximately one year ago this week, I heard of an opportunity to become a 'global resource.' It turns out my employer takes that 'global' word seriously. The past 12 months have added 170,000 miles to my various airline accounts, and taken years off my spinal alignment. While my previous assignment found me in the occasional European capital city, this one favors Asia for the most part: Beijing, Mumbai, Bangalore, Sydney, Hamburg, The Hague five times, and Hong Kong four times. Today, I am shuttling off to Chicago, which feels like a light cab ride compared to the 30-hour days between lie-flats for those Hong Kong shleps. My favorite has to be the Hamburg (1 week) to Sydney Australia (1 week) to home (15 hours) to The Netherlands (2 weeks) trip. Sitting at home during those 15 hours, my Bride asked me if I wanted to jump in a hot tub. "Sure, sounds good!" And I sat there, staring. Then she asked if I could use a sandwich. "Yeah, I could go for that!" Leaning in, she says; "How about a gin and tonic?" "Outstanding suggestion!"

It was 10 am local.

That's when I realized the wisdom of the old saying: Time exists so everything doesn't happen at once. When you collapse time, your body apparently gives up on sequencing or aligning behavior to the time of day. I needed to introduce some time structures, and fast. I can't say I've succeeded. I tend to screw up my calendar in Chicago, one time zone away, more than I do Hong Kong, 12 time zones away. Nevertheless, I realize several things need to change to accommodate the constant movement.

More troubling than the personal misalignment is the lack of productivity. I keep thinking I'll be able to write and think on a plane - but that rarely happens. I did get upgraded once, and managed to grade a semester's worth of papers "overnight." I landed and uploaded the grades, prompting one student to email me: "I am now convinced of your superhuman powers." I could have mentioned that I was at 38,000 feet while she slept, but why ruin a young person's idolatry?

At the one year point, then, it's time to consider that this is my way of life now. I've had the opportunity to chat with friends who have done this for years. I've spent time in deep conversation with folks who were formerly email buddies on a crowded listserv. I managed to finally meet up with a Scot I've admired for years, grabbing a beer in a Dulles airport bar one evening during his layover - and spent a delightful evening with a Welsh friend in Hong Kong who is a member of a multi-million mile club with an airline. These conversations confirmed what I was beginning to realize. In traveling this much, your life becomes very small. I think of my mother, now limited in mobility. Her life has become defined in terms of what she can navigate. While I navigate the globe, my life becomes defined in terms where I can focus amidst the blur.

In truth, living among strangers can be a liberating experience. I can focus where I like. I can allow my creative life to fill in the vacuum formed by the lack of a social life. As with most things, I just need to become intentional about it. So here's to a more intentional year ahead. This is not an ideal existence, I will need to get off the plane at some point. However: For now, I get to see the world. My Flickr feed is a thing of beauty. I am gaining an understanding of global culture and humanity than I could not find any other way. I am most, most fortunate.

Pardon my Dust

20130601-112357.jpg I need to blog more often. I've known this for some time, and wanted to get an apology out to anyone who follows this page. After chastisement duly administered by a certain dear Spanish friend, I am finally taking steps to increase the rate of blog posts on this little cul-de-sac. (Said chastisement occurred five months ago, so you can see how hard this is for me.) Two changes in this regard:

* I will endeavor to share more often, rather than only publish once I have a white paper ready, complete with footnotes. Long-form blogging is not serving me well. Yes, I see people who engage in frequent long-form blogging - I honestly don't know how they do it. Perhaps by writing more often, I'll come to resemble those success stories. (The best approach to writing is to write, after all.)

* I'm experimenting with the Wordpress mobile app. On my iPad, I am more likely to have a dedicated screen focus. When I use the laptop to blog, I find myself time slicing among tasks. The result is a folder full of moldy drafts, some years old by now. With the iPad, I can focus and seize the moment when ideas hit. My travel schedule over the past year resembles the hockey stick graph, and the iPad is more my companion than my trusty MacBook Air these days.

If indeed the conversation is the product, then perhaps more frequent albeit shorter and more malformed thoughts will provide the forum for conversation. My last post in March sparked truly thoughtful and valuable comments, which lay ignored for far too long. That can't happen again. If I spark a conversation, I need to be present.

Self-flagellation aside, thanks for reading.

(Obligatory cat photo used without permission, unsure where I got it. Will delete upon request.)

People, Organization, Technology?

I see my friend Dave Snowden is extending/rethinking/refining his Cynefin framework, which emboldens me to follow through on an idea that won’t leave me.  More completely, an idea that challenges some basic axioms and cliches that have haunted my PowerPoint/Keynote presentations for years. Headed for my personal trash bin:  ‘People, Process, Technology.’  There are 298,000 hits on the Google machine for that phrase (in quotes) - so some will no doubt disagree.

From a theoretical point of view, the Cynefin framework was a giant first clue that this triplet was endangered, and yet I found myself using it years after knowing better.  From a practical perspective, the more we learn about successful open government examples and social business experiments - the evidence became clearer.

The enemy:  Process.  In retrospect, this is obvious, and it is possible I am the last one to realize this.  For complex systems, for innovation efforts, for creativity - process engineering is not only the wrong approach, it is a mistake.  These epiphany is still in its embryonic phase, but it may be that any work that is amenable to a ‘process‘ should be automated as much as possible. For the rest, technology should enable serendipity rather than predictive process.

It may be that simple.  It may be People, Organization, Technology; although we should not be in a rush to replace a failed triplet with another.  In discussions about ‘social business,’ we describe some fairly radical organizational structures.  In fact, my definition for Social Business is as follows:

Social Business refers to an organization whose structures and processes defer to the natural systems of human interaction. This transformation from the 19th century industrial age organizational model is enabled by conversation-centered technologies that allow for low-latency, low-effort flow of information across the workforce - laterally as well as vertically.  It is characterized by flattened decision cycles, real-time situational awareness, creativity, and a capacity for agility realized through adaptive responses to changes in its environment.  

This definition needs to be shorter and may be missing some elements.  Nevertheless, this is where I am right now.  How did I get here?  From a casual conversation that went like this:

“Why can’t our internal collaboration platforms be more like Facebook or LinkedIn?”

Immediately, it struck me.  This isn’t the right question.  The right question is:  “Why do we work in organizations where natural interactions and instincts are discouraged?”  The reason that consumer social media technologies experience a high adoption rate - without the ‘benefit’ of corporate training - is because they align with human aspiration.  We want to share with friends.  We want to strengthen our tribal affiliations.  We want to help where help is needed.  We solve business problems over lunch.  We sketch out innovative ideas on bar napkins.  This is how we live - but not how most of us work.

Others have written about new organizational structures, such as heterarchy, wirearchy, et al.  We cannot fall into the trap of the last decade, where “flat organizations” were supposed to destroy hierarchy.  Sociology is not extinct.  But radical new organizations are possible and are in fact happening.  A dear friend now works for a consulting firm where people come together into ad hoc teams to tackle projects.  The firm itself is just the backplane, providing health care, office space, etc - in exchange for a percentage of revenue.  The consultants/engineers/developers/project managers self-organize around opportunities.  The morale is high, the reputation is strong, and the life balance is exquisite.  This model does not suit junior employees, and would not work for many areas outside professional services - but it represents a triumph of natural systems over machine processes.  It maximizes crew methodologies for client value.

Let’s consider that the unit of analysis is not the process, but the organization.  People, Organization, Technology.  Let’s run this up the flagpole and count the salutes.