Archive for December, 2006

Something Fun: Knitting Geometry

I’m an incurable knitter.  I’m pretty much hooked on lacework and have a number of books on lacework patterns. I’ll just knit swatches of things just to learn how to make a texture or pattern.  Sometimes I just like to sift through the books and read the symbols on graph paper to interpret not just the image of the pattern, but imagine the sequencing of the stitches, loops, knots.  I had a pattern book out, and a friend of ours noted… that it reminded him of the work he does (he’s a programmer).

I ran across this link from Boing Boing the other day on Crafty Geometry or an article on how mathmeticians are crafting visualizations of their work and theories. My favorite example is that of hyperbolic space.  Though I don’t think I’ll be knitting a business process workflow or a gantt anytime soon.

Resources or Fun Nuggets:

Now that I understand 2.0, What next?

Through this blog I’ve been exploring the following ideas:

  1. Informal learning – learning through social networking and informal on-the-job documentation may directly help individuals learn on the job much more quickly and effectively
  2. Web 2.0 technologies provide easier ways to collaborate electronically with others and thus enable this infomal learning better than ever
  3. As training organizations we could focus on empowering better social/informal learning rather than producing the traditional costly training end products (face to face training, media rich e-learning). – However, the problem with this is you often have to deal with a lot of crusty managers who think that this is normally built into employee’s job responsibilities (even though it isn’t formally/properly addressed)

If I’m obsessing over focus on informal learning, I considered -what about the formal and more permanent forms or products of learning? How do we make sure that we’re doing an adequate job of capturing what needs to be put in formal form? What about Librarians? What possibilities do they see in applying 2.0 technology?  In my searches I found one blogger/librarian, Meridith,  who openly discusses the uses and challenges of applying the technology to practice.  I’d like to find out and listen more to what bloggers in the library world are doing about 2.0, and hopefully I can keep track of this in future posts.

In reading Meridith’s blog posting, and recounting some of the dialogue I’ve been seeing lately about 2.0 hype, I started to think about how tenuous ideas and proposals are when they first come out.  Although Web 2.0 gives us a lot of glitzy promises through it’s beta concepts, 2.0 application in the real-world is still in it’s "toddler years."  (It’s just given up crawling, and has started to learn how to walk clumsily on two legs). People in the workforce are really just beginning ot apply things like wikis and blogs, and their exploration of these things naturally will be clunky on the onset. I think as I’ve heard a lot of skeptical discussion about the staying power of blogs that some people are becoming overly saturated with 2.0 hype.  However, I still believe that if those of us who enjoy using the technology and benefit from it keep on using it to allow us to grow, learn, expand and collaborate better for success, there’s no reason to assume that 2.0 apps like blogs/wikis have to die away. I think Blogs have been around for at least 4-5 years maybe more… and public awareness has just hit mainstream proportions.   Wikipedia is still going strong, and many companies are now adopting use of wiki-software to communicate and collaborate.

I’ve felt that being a tech-evangelist for waves like 2.0 is a tricky position.  My feeling is (being the victim of Sharepoint-evangelization or more Sharepoint mandate) don’t force tools down people’s throats - Instead use this approach:

  1. Understand what the resistance points are to adopting the tools and methodologies
  2. Understand  and get to know the users who will be using the tools
  3. Just focus on finding out how best they work with the actual users
  4. Model and demo good examples
  5. Gather valid/reasonable proof (data) that these tools are achieving your goals
  6. Share with management (during all of the above steps) – build and communicate in a simple language that they can understand and connect with

 I’d like to build out this strategy in more detail, because I’m currently working on a team right now that’s assessing the application of wikis and other new tools to our group.

  

Something Fun/Image Therapy Session#3

Check this out. It’s an interactive animation

http://roxik.com/toy1.html

All done in Flash and most likely executed with a great deal of programming to achieve the physical effects of tossing and manipulating objects. Also, I tried yanking the little puppet-like people by different body parts (head, arm leg, torso) and the puppet acts accordingly. Amazing, huh?

Though far less intricate and detailed, the cutouts remind me of a great short animation I saw recently. Very macabre, but fascinating, nevertheless: The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello.  Cutouts have always drawn me.  It’s as if the shadows actually replace the objects that cast them. Though more importantly with cutouts you can focus on the beauty of the objects as a whole and not be distracted by petty details like shading of colors or maybe a tiny scratch or discoloration.  You can see a snapshot of body in action, perhaps you can read emotion from their stance but you focus on the over-all idea of what the person is doing.

I remember watching a documentary on PBS which featured an artist who did great roomfuls of shadow/cutout art.   I tried to do a google search on her and eventually I did find her (Kara E. Walker’s Song of the South: http://redcat.org/gallery/0506/walker.php), but I also found a wonderful tour of other artists works’.  This tour or wandering through my internet gallery walk powered by search engines, made me a little homesick for New York and Chicago and the art museums.  Though arguably,  art and artists exist almost everywhere.

I know that people often cannot solidly define the value of art, but for me what has drawn me to the works of artists which I admire is their ability to define and interpret views, thoughts, feelings, exsistence.   Me as a beholder of art, my job is to react to what I see.  

More on Kara Walker

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

Wikis: Dealing with Vandals

 DogNetImage found here.

There has been some insightful discussion around the problem of vanadalism of wikis or people making unwanted changes to wiki content out in the blogosphere. Maybe it’s me, but if we’re basing out fear of using wikis on the possibility that a few malicious people will ‘mess things up,’ then are we being too paranoid? Should this paranoia extend to us who use wikis in the business world? I mean if someone is actively sabotaging content on our wikis then maybe there’s a problem with that individual that you could probably address with them directly or through their manager.  And realistically, if someone is spending extra time putting unwanted content on wikis, what does that really say about them other than they have a lot of time on their hands?

Within a highly political body, like a corporation, I could see organizations struggling over ownership and stewardship of content. I definitely could see this among people if the company rewards people for ownership and leadership of ideas or initiatives.  But then let’s remember that the wiki is sort of a ‘knowledge playground.’  It’s not necessarily a warehouse or library of formal information.  Wikis are about people working together to gather information or put it together. It’s a community affair.  We need to encourage people to embrace the new paradigm (sorry, I’ve used this word more than twice now this week) of collaborating to build content. More, we need to let go of our assumptions that a few people who ‘suck’ will spoil it for the rest of us. As Luis Suarez points out in post on  elsua: The KM Blog:

Start provoking that cultural change today! Don’t leave it for when it may be too late. Own the wiki experience as if it were yours!There will be a great chance that you will get out of them just you wanted and I am sure that people will not suck then while interacting with wikis. Up to us now to provoke that cultural change.

From elsua: The Knowledge Management Blog post

Even if vandals or mischievious imps take their toll, wiki software allows you to quickly wipe away their wiki-graffiti. In fact, software such as the Wikipedia-used Mediawiki actually has wonderfully simple features which allow you to quickly rollback content and remove unwanted changes. Sounds like I’m trying to sell pimple creme here.

Resources or other fun nuggets:

 

Break the Dilbert Paradigm – Take Action

I just read this post on Creating Passionate Users, on “Dilbert and the Zone of Mediocrity.” Although the post addresses the idea that if you develop a product that pleases everyone at first then you’re doomed to fail, the words “Dilbert” and “mediocrity” sparked some other recollections in me. Now I’m probably going to piss off some Dilbert fans here in saying this but… I’ve always felt that Dilbert was sort of a black hole for employee angst.  In my past job I would walk past people’s cubes who had the outsides and insides papered with their favorite Dilbert cartoons.  Somehow, it felt as if this coating with funny strips was a sort of shield against the overwhelming feeling that one must acquiesce to the omnipresent corporate demon. It was sort of like covering your room walls with prayer cards or depictions of holy saints (yes, I was raised Catholic) in order to protect yourself from wiley evil forces. 

Yes, Dilbert is witty and often spot on in it’s observations and assessments of cubicle/corporate life, but Dilbert cartoons do nothing to light fires underneath the backsides of people who feel that they can’t affect a change in their environment or even influence others to change (just a little). If I’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that change is possible, and in order for organizations, groups, companies, pods, communities or what not to be nimble enough to survive uncertain times their members must become masters of change. At least their leaders must become masters at leading others through change. Hiding behind a wall of Dilbert cartoons just isn’t going to cut it.

If I make one New Years resolution, other than buying a Wii and going to the gym more often,  it will be this: 

I want to be a vehicle for change and I wish to positively influence and guide others through change

 Strip from http://seas.stanford.edu/diso/images.html

Mystery Object

mysteryitem.jpg

Just for fun. Anyone want to guess what this is?

Include in your guess in the comments: 

  1. A ‘real’ guess
  2. What this reminds you of/how it makes you feel

Taking inventory of what I’ve learned this year

At the end of every year I try to assemble a set of lessons that I’ve learned.  I’m still working on this list (being reflective) so I may have to add or adjust before the end of the year. I try to use such a list to build a personal development plan of things I want to learn about or how to do for the following year.  I’ve divided the inventory of important things I’ve learned in to three categories:

  • About the world around me and the rules of the game
  • About me
  • Cool stuff

About the world around me and the rules of the game

  • You are nothing without your team. The more you learn to work well and play with others, the faster you’ll get things done.  Yes, it’s true that teams have their hiccups, but it’s better to face the probably of conflict up front and figure out how to work out problems
  • Organizations need to take stock in their leaders and make sure they have a diverse population of types of leaders. You need to have visionaries who really embrace change, but you need to have people who act as stabilizers/parents to make sure that we’re on the right path
  • Man is a political animal, so noted Aristotle, so you can never escape politics, so deal with it and learn to live despite it (sort of knew this but I re-visit the idea constantly living in Corporate America)
  • People inherently fear change – they need a little help, empathy and understanding, but you have to set clear expectations and goals for change to make it happen
  • Anyone can be creative or innovative. Everyone has the abilities to be creative or innovative in them

About me

  • Be aware of burn out (see Slow Leadership 3 part series linked below)
  • Love yourself and believe in your ideas
  • Respect others and understand their perspective
  • Never forget the importance of making connections (ideas, people, people-ideas)
  • Chill out
  • I’m an Idler, and that’s not such a bad thing, but I still need to benefit from the gifts of those who are more ‘process-oriented.’

Cool Stuff

  • We are on the verge of really using the power of the net for collaboration and sharing (but openess is a double-edged sword so we should consider the effects)
  • Web 2.0/Learning 2.0  is best fit for folks who have active learning style. There are portions of it (Blogging) that help reflectives like myself. But we need to figure out how to empower all learners with 2.0 power

Resources:

Against Burnout:

A Case for Peer Coaching

Rosenberg

The image above represents map of  a Knowledge Management (KM)  model based on the KM model developed by Marc Rosenberg.  Recently, as part of effort to seek out individuals who have attempted to make some effort at promoting peer coaching, I had a pleasure of being able to talk to someone who was actively working on developing a KM system that tried to encompass several aspects of a Rosenberg-type model including mentoring, expertise-mapping, information repository (documentation, and communities and networks).

What was inspiring about this KM model in action was that this group really embraced the value of providing human connections or a map to expertise to new employees to help get them ramped up as quickly as possible. Sometimes, especially with technical or enterprise systems groups, management can make the erroneous assumption that employees can learn simply from documentation and training materials.  Sometimes it may even be implied that reviewing the procedures only once should be sufficient enough.  Though what they fail to take into account is that you need human interaction and guidance.  Sometimes in order to provide this human guidance, business groups believe that they need instructor led training sessions. However,  I.L. training is costly to develop and execute, not to mention it’s often logistically impossible to meet new-hires needs in a timely fashion.  Providing Peer coaches may help bridge the gap that IL training doesn’t meet in a timely fashion.

But who should play the role of a peer coach?  The answer is: everyone in the group once they’ve gained working experience can be trained as a peer coach.  This means they should have both solid technical skills and excellent understanding of the group’s workings/business process. The organization can immediately train or develop each individual as a coach. In fact, coaching can be a modeled skill that is encouraged by both example and as part of an organizations ‘cultural charter’ or ‘working agreements.’ In my first years at Intel I worked for a group that tried to espouse this in many ways. I saw this in the manager who asked me “what I could do better next time” instead of telling me what I did wrong in planning an event.  I also witnessed this coaching culture in the admin who encouraged a peer to ask questions by firmly stating that there were ‘no stupid’ questions.

There will be some managers who might argue that their people shouldn’t take too much time out of their own work to train others.  However, advocates for peer coaching/training points to the rewards and return on investment for such peer support systems that include:

  • People will start to to find their own answers
  • People will become more resourceful
  • People will  start to integrate a coaching approach into their behavior
  • Training and desktop procedures are supplemented with human guidance
  • Improvement of Morale of overall workforce (people seem to feel better about their work when they are supported and when they know where they they fit within that organization

In another life and job (here at work), I’ve experienced a wonderful training program in the past that teaches factory and tech staff on the job teaching skills.   I’m actually quite in awe of the practicality of this program as well as it’s success.  So it’s just as possible to provide coaching skills no matter what job role or organization you’re in, but you’ve got to believe in it and buy into it’s value. Also, it would require a lot of strong leadership and support (leaders who model the behavior as well as openly espouse the value of true-teamwork).  I’m trying to develop a plan for incorporating peer coaching into a big, big training intervention plan.  I’d like eventually to do a Captivate slide show with audio and be able to podcast it. So here’s my first draft.

 From a human being’s standpoint here’s a proposal/scenario:

  • Jill is newly hired to a enterprise finance group whose processes and documentation on processes/procedure is vast.  She has some experience in use of SAP finance applications, however, this particular group she is hired into has a number of customizations to the tool that she’s not familiar with.
  • Jim has been assigned to Jill as her integration buddy, but he also puts Jill in contact with other individuals in the group who have expertise in other processes.
  • Jim provides Jill with standard coaching on how to use the current training documentation resources and performance support library to find answers on questions she may have on the processes. He also coaches her to ask others questions on items or issues that have no documentation.
  • Jill now has a support network of people whom she can ping about issues she discovers in the business process. Two weeks after being on the job she feels positive about being there because she feels supported by a group of peers, and because she’s been given tools to be self-sufficient in learning about her tasks.
  • Marty, the groups manager feels very strongly about approaching the ramp up of new employees as a team.  He values the idea of the organization acting as a team and also sees the benefits of informal learning. He’s had his entire group attend peer coaching training developed by a training professional named Carrie from a training support group in the company.  The coaching training includes generic coaching skills review. He and his staff have worked with Carrie in Training to make sure that all materials are in a consolidated place for reference or are easily searchable by employees from their group intranet site.
  • Marty’s group participates in User Group forums on a monthly basis. These forums record issues/gaps which need to be addressed by training or in documentation. The group devises a plan for updating the information in the group’s Business Process Wiki.  This wiki is meant as a living supplement to the formalized training on the tools and processes.  The group takes communal responsibility for updating the wiki where they see fit.   When revisions need to be made to the formal training materials, Carrie can use the wiki content as it’s organized per the business process model to supplement the training when necessary. She may have to interview the end users to determine some of the causes/needs for adjusting the training.

So why do we use tools like Sharepoint?

  • Because we paid for them
  • Because they’re ‘safe’
  • Because that’s (the product brand) is what the boss is familiar with
  • Because they’re supported (theoretically)

Funny… each time I check my blog stats I find that most of the traffic on my blog is attracted by the rants I’ve posted on Sharepoint.  This can only mean one of two things: Microsoft does regular searches for disgruntled users on the web and they’ve decided to monitor my blog (wishful thinking, but less likely) or other people have usability issues with Sharepoint as a collaboration tool too (more likely than not).

While I was testing the new Sharepoint out, I had a resurgence of painful memories come back from both my beta-testing days and from my daily usage this past year. These were memories of corrupted files which had to be rebuilt from scratch, of unrecorded changes to documents (which resulted in hours and hours of rework), of server space issues and sharing limitations. And I wasn’t the only person who faced these problems. Others I worked with experienced them as well. There was a point where we actually needed to back up the versions of a critical spreadsheet we were sharing to our own hard-drives because the version control on our Sharepoint site was not working!

So it seems that Sharepoint continues to have a myriad of problems which make it a not so ideal tool for business collaboration.   But then why do companies and IT managers continue to determine that we manage our documents and projects using tools like Sharepoint?  Besides the points I listed at the beginning of this post I can only think that, it’s because IT departments (IT department managers/leaders) know that MS products are supported by MS and that if we have problems with it as part of the service level agreement that comes with purchasing the suite of tools we get support and assistance from MS.  Also,  it doesn’t matter if employees have to spend extra time figuring out how to wrangle with the tools’ un-usability, or that they have to spend hours figuring out how to troubleshoot limitations with the tools – because after all most of them are on salary.  This learning and troubleshooting time ‘should’ be built into their job responsibility.

So Sharepoint isn’t exactly usable, so some of the key features such as document versioning aren’t working properly. If IT departments are going to continue to support use of tools such as Sharepoint, they should also start listening to their employees’ issues with the tool, because these issues directly impact employee productivity and hinder employees’ ability to deliver truly great product results.  As a result of listening to their employees and capturing some of the biggest usability and functional issues, they should leverage their partnership and customer standing with Microsoft to truly work out the problems with the tool/software design.

I came across this article in Collaboration Loop by Irwin Lazar about the waning trends of Corporate Web 2.0 tech usage.  The article noted that most companies (“large global enterprises”) will turn to known collaboration software packages from Microsoft or IBM rather than use the web-platform stuff.  It’s easier for these large entities to accept and continue to use tools from ‘known’ suppliers rather than branch out and test and use the newer and unfamiliar apps. “Go with what you know,” apparently is their mantra.  More, from my observations it seems that most of the folks who choose the products we use don’t assess their usability (listening to the counsel of Human Factors Engineers) or the impact of tool problems to employee productivity.

As I observe from many people within my organization who are the early adopters and enthusiasts of Web 2.0 tech, many of them are frustrated end-users who want to find better ways of collaborating and sharing information.   But I’m also noticing that our leadership needs to continue to grow in their understanding of the impact of 2.0 and how it can help us become more productive. As Mr. Lazar points out:

The trends we’re seeing continue to demonstrate a possible disconnect between the visionaries of the Web 2.0 “Internet as the Platform” world and the enterprise IT manager. 

And if we do continue to use products created by the “Big Guys” they really need to understand how to influence these suppliers to provide us with software, tools that live up to their hype and expectations.  In previous posts I did note that Microsoft is trying to apply some of the Web 2.0 features to it’s software. This is evident in MS’s attempt to include blog/wiki featues in Sharepoint. My question continues to be… are the features the way their built truly fit for enabling end users to collaborate, share and find ‘implicit knowledge’ items as seemlessly and easily as possible? Or is Microsoft just putting the blog and wiki features into the tool so that they can claim that they are following allong with the “Web 2.0″ trends? 

How to convert SWFs into podcastable format

SWFPodcast

I was finally able to meet with limited success.  Success was limited because I wasn’t able to find out how to complete the task for free or with free-ware that didn’t paste that irritating reminder/logo to register/pay for the software.  I’m sure there’s a free version or opensource version of a SWF -> Podcast conversion tool; however, the shareware sites and ad-redirects are obscuring a clear path to these places and I’m just not geeky or savvy enough to find them.

I did discover that SoThink does offer software for about $65 dollars that converts both the SWF and audio into either .avi or MPEG4 (Quicktime movie).

One thing I would recommend before you even start creating those SWF’s is to make sure that your stage is proportional to the viewing output on most MP3/Video players and your text or graphics are easily readable on such a tiny little stage. The Videogrunt site has a pretty good resource on learning about video format.

Resources:


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