Archive for June 2007

Jun/07

21

Stealth Knowledge Management

The blogs are alive with Knowledge Management talk this week. Apparently, June is KM conference time.

As a professional who has spent most of my career developing technical tools to facilitate communities of practice and training, I think I can reasonably refer to my work as facilitating the management of knowledge. Mostly, I’ve been all about figuring out ways to disseminate knowledge effectively within an organization of people who are charged with collaborating to develop some sort of product which will have value to others.

I’m a curious person, and I love that I have at my fingertips these days the ability to learn about any little thing which tickles my fancy.  I’m the product of a liberal arts education, one who believes that casting a wide net not only makes a person more interesting, but also sharpens their thinking and makes them more valuable to themselves and others.

But, in general, it’s pretty easy to judge whether something I’m learning about is likely to be of greater or lesser value to my employer and my clients.  As a matter of personal integrity, I try to focus the learning I do during work hours on subjects which will make me a more valuable employee.

The question is, at what point do the things I learn become valuable to the people who are paying me to learn?

I would argue that my learning is of no use to my employer until I either apply it to my work or share it with others.

The corporate culture around knowledge sharing is what determines whether people share at all, and also, if they do share, whether that sharing is in a form which is useful to others.

At Q2, we’re a pretty high-trust, transparent, high-information environment. We really try to keep each other apprised of what’s going on, because we’re often pulled into projects which have been started by others.  So everything, including emails exchanged by people who don’t have access to the discussion space, that has to do with a given project is generally posted to the discussion items set aside for that project. Because this makes it much easier for new folks pulled in to come quickly up to speed, we generally encourage our clients to join us in the project-planning space, and tend to have the vast majority of communications in the joint space, with only the bare minimum in “our team only” private space.

What this means is that when any of us come across some tidbit of information which might inform a project, we know we’ll engender positive regard for sharing, and more importantly, we know exactly where to share it so that it gets maximum exposure among the folks who would find it valuable.

Yes, we have wikis, and resource libraries full of relevant documents we can turn to for reference. I’d hate to have to get by without these helpful resources. And of course, we have face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations, too.  But it’s the discussion space I turn to first, to get the context of the project, so I can make sense of the documents.  It’s there I get a sense of who is in which role, and how they have been acting in that role over time.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve remembered that somebody shared something important with a particularly colorful turn of phrase—and how being able to search on the remembered phrase took me right to the information I was seeking. Sometimes, I find that the information isn’t quite what I need, but at least now I know who said it, and I can follow up with them.

Several bloggers have remarked recently on how blogging has supercharged their learning—how reflecting on what their colleagues are saying and constructing well-thought-out written responses clarifies the issues for them.

Discussion space facilitates exactly this same process, but opens it to those who are not comfortable standing on the platform which writing a blog implies.

Cultivating a culture in which people discuss issues in shared online space, in a format which captures it in searchable form, is stealth Knowledge Management.  Instead of depending upon people to dutifully catalogue information, discussion space encourages sharing in the form of spontaneous social constructivism…people riffing off each other’s ideas to move towards an innovative solution to the challenge before them.  Given the choice between talking to somebody about something they know about and I need to learn, and searching through a database when I’m not even sure just which terms to search on, I’ll take the personal contact every time.

How might the people in your organization respond to this kind of opportunity? 

The blogs are alive with Knowledge Management talk this week. Apparently, June is KM conference time.

As a professional who has spent most of my career developing technical tools to facilitate communities of practice and training, I think I can reasonably refer to my work as facilitating the management of knowledge. Mostly, I’ve been all about figuring out ways to disseminate knowledge effectively within an organization of people who are charged with collaborating to develop some sort of product which will have value to others.

I’m a curious person, and I love that I have at my fingertips these days the ability to learn about any little thing which tickles my fancy.  I’m the product of a liberal arts education, one who believes that casting a wide net not only makes a person more interesting, but also sharpens their thinking and makes them more valuable to themselves and others.

But, in general, it’s pretty easy to judge whether something I’m learning about is likely to be of greater or lesser value to my employer and my clients.  As a matter of personal integrity, I try to focus the learning I do during work hours on subjects which will make me a more valuable employee.

The question is, at what point do the things I learn become valuable to the people who are paying me to learn?

I would argue that my learning is of no use to my employer until I either apply it to my work or share it with others.

The corporate culture around knowledge sharing is what determines whether people share at all, and also, if they do share, whether that sharing is in a form which is useful to others.

At Q2, we’re a pretty high-trust, transparent, high-information environment. We really try to keep each other apprised of what’s going on, because we’re often pulled into projects which have been started by others.  So everything, including emails exchanged by people who don’t have access to the discussion space, that has to do with a given project is generally posted to the discussion items set aside for that project. Because this makes it much easier for new folks pulled in to come quickly up to speed, we generally encourage our clients to join us in the project-planning space, and tend to have the vast majority of communications in the joint space, with only the bare minimum in “our team only” private space.

What this means is that when any of us come across some tidbit of information which might inform a project, we know we’ll engender positive regard for sharing, and more importantly, we know exactly where to share it so that it gets maximum exposure among the folks who would find it valuable.

Yes, we have wikis, and resource libraries full of relevant documents we can turn to for reference. I’d hate to have to get by without these helpful resources. And of course, we have face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations, too.  But it’s the discussion space I turn to first, to get the context of the project, so I can make sense of the documents.  It’s there I get a sense of who is in which role, and how they have been acting in that role over time.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve remembered that somebody shared something important with a particularly colorful turn of phrase—and how being able to search on the remembered phrase took me right to the information I was seeking. Sometimes, I find that the information isn’t quite what I need, but at least now I know who said it, and I can follow up with them.

Several bloggers have remarked recently on how blogging has supercharged their learning—how reflecting on what their colleagues are saying and constructing well-thought-out written responses clarifies the issues for them.

Discussion space facilitates exactly this same process, but opens it to those who are not comfortable standing on the platform which writing a blog implies.

Cultivating a culture in which people discuss issues in shared online space, in a format which captures it in searchable form, is stealth Knowledge Management.  Instead of depending upon people to dutifully catalogue information, discussion space encourages sharing in the form of spontaneous social constructivism…people riffing off each other’s ideas to move towards an innovative solution to the challenge before them.  Given the choice between talking to somebody about something they know about and I need to learn, and searching through a database when I’m not even sure just which terms to search on, I’ll take the personal contact every time.

How might the people in your organization respond to this kind of opportunity?

No tags

Jun/07

14

Do we have to roll our own?

beach-officeJosh Catone does a very nice round-up of freely-available collaboration software this week in Rolling Your Own Online Office.  Though our xPERT eCampus is a pretty comprehensive online collaboration tool, we at Q2 do use a few of the tools he mentions – email, obviously, but also Google Docs and instant messaging, and some other stuff too.What really caught my eye about Josh’s post, though, was the picture he used to illustrate it, which I’ve used here, as well.

This guy has been around for a *long* time, as is evidenced by the tiny screen and great thickness of his laptop – looks like my first laptop, circa 1994 or so.  He’s been around long enough that most of us have seen him before, and long enough that we all probably need to admit to the erm, stretching of the truth this image puts forward.

First of all, today’s screens are much better, but squinting at a screen in the blinding light reflecting from sand and water at the beach is still a fast track to migraine-ville.

Secondly, what kind of a dufus leaves his shoes and socks and jacket on while he hauls a beach chair into place?

But on a more important level, there’s a real conflict between trying to appreciate the natural wonder that is a beach and doing serious business analysis. Heck, I’m not even sure it’s possible to type good poetry at the beach, though it might be possible to write it if one were a poet and had a pen and a pad of paper handy  Ubiquitous computing may make it possible to appear that one is working just about anywhere, but all too often, appearance is all that is achieved.  I’m all over working near a beach, and I do love the technology which makes doing so possible, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that for me to be effective, I need to do my computing work where the call of the wild is muted, and treat myself to fully enjoying the environs during my breaks.

I think there’s a similar disingenuousness around the joys of rolling one’s own office.  For those of us who thrive on checking out the latest shiny new tool, these are heady days. It is wonderful to be able to play with a new tool, find that it does just what we need it to, and have the freedom to incorporate it into our work style.   If we’re honest, though, I think most of us might admit that a lot of that time spent futzing around with new stuff to do that evaluation is not very productive.  And to the extent that we are playing with collaborative tools, the utility of a new tool is primarily a function of the extent to which our collaborators also adopt it.  If we’re working together, and I’m trying to manage the project in Basecamp and you are accustomed to using Project, we’re going to have a problem until one of us accommodates the other’s choice of tool.

Generally, when people need to work together, they meet at somebody’s office, where they can count on finding the basic tools they will need – telephone, copier, computers, white board, markers, conference table, chairs. While there might be a call to check that there is, say an LCD projector available, nobody has to spend any time at all on these basic things, they are just assumed to be the fundamental toolset.

Similarly when we work together online, it’s more effective to have at the ready a suite of tools in the online office than it is to negotiate over which tools we’ll all be using.  We think our xPERT eCampus makes for a pretty cushy online office,  though it’ll be better when we work out the coffee thing! 

Josh Catone does a very nice round-up of freely-available collaboration software this week in Rolling Your Own Online Office.  Though our xPERT eCampus is a pretty comprehensive online collaboration tool, we at Q2 do use a few of the tools he mentions – email, obviously, but also Google Docs and instant messaging, and some other stuff too.What really caught my eye about Josh’s post, though, was the picture he used to illustrate it, which I’ve used here, as well.

This guy has been around for a *long* time, as is evidenced by the tiny screen and great thickness of his laptop – looks like my first laptop, circa 1994 or so.  He’s been around long enough that most of us have seen him before, and long enough that we all probably need to admit to the erm, stretching of the truth this image puts forward.

First of all, today’s screens are much better, but squinting at a screen in the blinding light reflecting from sand and water at the beach is still a fast track to migraine-ville.

Secondly, what kind of a dufus leaves his shoes and socks and jacket on while he hauls a beach chair into place?

But on a more important level, there’s a real conflict between trying to appreciate the natural wonder that is a beach and doing serious business analysis. Heck, I’m not even sure it’s possible to type good poetry at the beach, though it might be possible to write it if one were a poet and had a pen and a pad of paper handy  Ubiquitous computing may make it possible to appear that one is working just about anywhere, but all too often, appearance is all that is achieved.  I’m all over working near a beach, and I do love the technology which makes doing so possible, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that for me to be effective, I need to do my computing work where the call of the wild is muted, and treat myself to fully enjoying the environs during my breaks.

I think there’s a similar disingenuousness around the joys of rolling one’s own office.  For those of us who thrive on checking out the latest shiny new tool, these are heady days. It is wonderful to be able to play with a new tool, find that it does just what we need it to, and have the freedom to incorporate it into our work style.   If we’re honest, though, I think most of us might admit that a lot of that time spent futzing around with new stuff to do that evaluation is not very productive.  And to the extent that we are playing with collaborative tools, the utility of a new tool is primarily a function of the extent to which our collaborators also adopt it.  If we’re working together, and I’m trying to manage the project in Basecamp and you are accustomed to using Project, we’re going to have a problem until one of us accommodates the other’s choice of tool.

Generally, when people need to work together, they meet at somebody’s office, where they can count on finding the basic tools they will need – telephone, copier, computers, white board, markers, conference table, chairs. While there might be a call to check that there is, say an LCD projector available, nobody has to spend any time at all on these basic things, they are just assumed to be the fundamental toolset.

Similarly when we work together online, it’s more effective to have at the ready a suite of tools in the online office than it is to negotiate over which tools we’ll all be using.  We think our xPERT eCampus makes for a pretty cushy online office,  though it’ll be better when we work out the coffee thing!

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There’s an interesting post on Terra Nova this week by Robert Bloomfield, entitled Will we ever see this on a Resume?

Bloomfield posits a mythical “World of Bizquest” – a virtual world in which an individual interested in commercial banking could rise through various levels, learning skills which are sufficiently transferable to the real world that they’d be worth listing on a resume in the Education section:

Education

  • Cornell University, 2010, Bachelor of Science, Computer Science
  • University of Michigan, 2012, Masters of Engineering, Software Architecture
  • World of Bizquest, 35th level commercial banker, with certificates of achievement in credit analysis (Gold), interest rate risk management (Gold), financial instruments (Silver), and fixed income investing (Platinum).

Now, of course, not every learning experience needs to result in a credential. There is joy to be had in learning just for the sake of exploring the new. But given that much of the demand for learning is indeed driven by such prosaic concerns as needing to earn a living, it’s worthwhile to consider what kind of training does indeed produce the kind of credential which facilitates the learner’s professional progress.

It seems to me unlikely that a commercial banking simulation which is sufficiently close to Real World commercial banking to be of interest to people hiring commercial bankers could be constructed without significant investment of time from subject matter experts–actual veteran commercial bankers.  It’s difficult enough to obtain the time of such highly skilled individuals in order to resource training programs sponsored by their employers. The likelihood that such folks would be volunteering their time to create a banking environment in a virtual world like Second Life, let alone serving in a mentorship role for new players who come in off the street, is remote.  Banks, like many fairly conservative organizations, buy some of their training off the shelf, but keep certain strategic aspects of it proprietary, so it’s hard to imagine banks paying their expert bankers to staff a publicly accessible simulation.

It’s possible that academics such as Dr. Bloomfield might find sponsorship to bring such a thing to life under the aegis of their employers, though.  A Cornell accounting prof who previously worked for KPMG, he’s qualified to offer some pretty good advice about how an accounting firm sim might work.

Unfortunately, there’s still the rub that in a virtual world, much of the learning is from the people there. No matter how elaborately various scenarios are fleshed out,  unless the people one interacts with know the real world of the industry and can model typical responses of industry co-workers, what new folks will learn when they work through a scenario will be how to play the sim, rather than how to do the job.

To be credential-worthy, to have value to someone considering my job candidacy, my learning experiences must be at the hands of people known for their competence in the domain, and be sufficiently close to the tasks faced in the job I’m applying for to be readily transferable to that job.

How credential-worthy are your training initiatives? Do managers hiring new staff seek out people who have been through your training?  Do people line up to take advantage of your training offerings? 

There’s an interesting post on Terra Nova this week by Robert Bloomfield, entitled Will we ever see this on a Resume?

Bloomfield posits a mythical “World of Bizquest” – a virtual world in which an individual interested in commercial banking could rise through various levels, learning skills which are sufficiently transferable to the real world that they’d be worth listing on a resume in the Education section:

Education

  • Cornell University, 2010, Bachelor of Science, Computer Science
  • University of Michigan, 2012, Masters of Engineering, Software Architecture
  • World of Bizquest, 35th level commercial banker, with certificates of achievement in credit analysis (Gold), interest rate risk management (Gold), financial instruments (Silver), and fixed income investing (Platinum).

Now, of course, not every learning experience needs to result in a credential. There is joy to be had in learning just for the sake of exploring the new. But given that much of the demand for learning is indeed driven by such prosaic concerns as needing to earn a living, it’s worthwhile to consider what kind of training does indeed produce the kind of credential which facilitates the learner’s professional progress.

It seems to me unlikely that a commercial banking simulation which is sufficiently close to Real World commercial banking to be of interest to people hiring commercial bankers could be constructed without significant investment of time from subject matter experts–actual veteran commercial bankers.  It’s difficult enough to obtain the time of such highly skilled individuals in order to resource training programs sponsored by their employers. The likelihood that such folks would be volunteering their time to create a banking environment in a virtual world like Second Life, let alone serving in a mentorship role for new players who come in off the street, is remote.  Banks, like many fairly conservative organizations, buy some of their training off the shelf, but keep certain strategic aspects of it proprietary, so it’s hard to imagine banks paying their expert bankers to staff a publicly accessible simulation.

It’s possible that academics such as Dr. Bloomfield might find sponsorship to bring such a thing to life under the aegis of their employers, though.  A Cornell accounting prof who previously worked for KPMG, he’s qualified to offer some pretty good advice about how an accounting firm sim might work.

Unfortunately, there’s still the rub that in a virtual world, much of the learning is from the people there. No matter how elaborately various scenarios are fleshed out,  unless the people one interacts with know the real world of the industry and can model typical responses of industry co-workers, what new folks will learn when they work through a scenario will be how to play the sim, rather than how to do the job.

To be credential-worthy, to have value to someone considering my job candidacy, my learning experiences must be at the hands of people known for their competence in the domain, and be sufficiently close to the tasks faced in the job I’m applying for to be readily transferable to that job.

How credential-worthy are your training initiatives? Do managers hiring new staff seek out people who have been through your training?  Do people line up to take advantage of your training offerings?

No tags

Jun/07

1

Learn Wiki via YouTube

I’m becoming a big fan of the commoncraft show, where Lee and Sachi LeFever posts their brilliant introductions to Web 2.0 elements.

His low-tech representations of the workings of RSS and most recently,  Wikis, using a white board, marker, and cut-outs of screen elements, somehow seem so much friendlier than the screencam approaches we’ve all become accustomed to.

I think the jury is still out on whether Wikis will ultimately become the tool of choice for shared documents.  They are great when you foresee the need to create links back and forth among a number of pages, but I’ll confess, when I wanted to coordinate with my family on Thanksgiving dinner, I chose Google Docs, on the theory that everyone I was working with already knows how to use a word processor, and the holidays are a lousy time to invite people to learn a new interface.

If Wiki does eventually gain the wide acceptance (and by acceptance, I mean interest in creating as well as consuming content) among the ungeeky that search engines, mp3 and Youtube enjoy, it’ll be in large part because of the really friendly introduction LeFever and his team has created.

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