Archive for September 2007

September’s big question on the Learning Circuits Blog is Where to Work? I think there are fewer questions that are more personal than what working environment is the “best”, so I don’t think I’ll try to generalize, but I will reflect a little on why I enjoy my work.

As is obvious from the placement of this post, I work for Q2 Learning, which markets software to facilitate online training and online collaboration.  Q2’s official mailbox is in Falls Church, Virginia, but our offices are quite literally on the web. That link above is sort of our reception area. This blog is a part of our Public Relations department. Behind it is a rabbit warren of project spaces and meeting areas and code repositories and document libraries which is where my colleagues and I spend our days.  Physically, most days, I’m at my desk in my home office, but tomorrow, I’ll take my office with me to the car and, through the miracle of wireless broadband through my mobile phone carrier, work from the passenger seat as my husband drives our family to Dayton, Ohio. where he and my son will be competing in the USAF Marathon Saturday.

At Q2, we communicate via IM and discussion post and telephone, all day long, so it doesn’t usually feel lonely.  I do think I’d enjoy having an office to pop into once or twice a week, because the full-bandwidth experience of people in person is almost always richer, and often more efficient.  But I’m cognizant of the very real advantages of the 30 second commute, and as the mother of teens, it’s difficult to measure the value of being able to offer the house where kids can gather on days off school because everyone knows there is an adult here.  When I do travel, it’s really great to be able to reach all the resources I have at the office from where ever I happen to be.

I value the high-trust, highly-collaborative culture of my workplace. I work with some extremely bright, extremely hard-working, and very funny people. Though they are not always acted upon, my recommendations are always considered carefully by the folks empowered to decide, which gives me a sense of high control over my destiny, at least at work!  The partners who own this firm make it a policy to deal as honestly and as transparently as possible with people inside and outside the organization, so even when I disagree with what they are doing, I usually understand what the thinking is which is driving their decisions.  That sort of transparency, and the credibility it builds, has seen this organization through some difficult times.  It also builds a culture of accountability, in which we count on each other to do what we say we’ll do, and don’t have to worry about being let down.

I love being part of a fast-moving, innovative organization. I love being a part of solving new problems each day. I sometimes am uncomfortable and feel things are moving too fast, but mostly, I’d be bored if they weren’t.  And I love being part of a team which brings to market a platform which makes it possible for other organizations to build the same kind of flexible workspace I value so much.

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My friend Bob Watson pointed me to an interesting article this week in Red Orbit by Ashley Heher about the U. S. Intelligence Community’s planned implementation of social networking software to improve cooperation and communication among agents.

Heher notes the key features of the new app, dubbed “A-Space”:

Aside from simply being able to share documents back and forth, experts who are in the same field but work for different agencies could meet each other virtually and swap ideas and information directly. Experts say the current procedures for sharing information is so cumbersome that such communication is now impossible.

“It’s just a better way to build and grow that network so that improved analysis can come out the other end,” said Robert Cardillo, deputy director of analysis for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

It’s so tempting to respond with a resounding DUH!  Maybe if people are actually conversing with each other, instead of shipping memos and planning documents back and forth, important knowledge will be transmitted and even created!

We run into this issue a lot. Many organizations have invested big bucks into document management systems, and IT departments, in particular, tend to view these applications (Sharepoint is a common example) as “the collaboration software we have that everyone needs to use.”  But making documents available does not collaboration create. There has to be a way for people to let each other know what’s in the doc, and why they should care. And the best way to do this is to have them actually talk to each other!  There is a huge difference between receiving an automated notice that somebody has uploaded a new doc to the shared repository, and being part of a conversation in which somebody says “Oh, yeah, we ran into that a while ago, and I wrote up this thing about handling it. Here it is, you might find this helpful!”

The quotes from people who have their doubts about how effective this initiative will be are telling—

Richard L. Russell, a former CIA analyst who teaches at the National Defense University, says the government needs to focus on building better analysis and human intelligence, not fancy tools.

“You may have a great technological infrastructure for managing information, but if you put garbage into it, the output will be garbage,” he said.

Hmmm. It sounds as if he thinks he’s talking about a database!  See, the cool thing about mixing people in with the data is you have someone there to say “yeah, this report came out before we knew about the stuff which is covered in this other report you should check out…”

Experts say the service will only be as effective as those who use it. And with many older workers puzzled by their younger colleagues’ obsessive use of Facebook and its ilk, full-blown use could take time.

Sigh. Well, yes, any community is only as good as the people who participate in it. But seed it with the right folks, and people might not be “baffled” by the chance to talk to others working on the same problems, the way they are by the “friending of strangers” on public networking sites.

Here’s hoping these folks have some really savvy people planning the roll-out. This technology could really help break down the siloing which has been the bane of U.S intelligence…but there needs to be some serious culture change right alongside it, and some senior folks committed to using this tool and requiring it of the folks they work with.

It’s only our national security in the balance…

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