Archive for March, 2008

Practice, Communities and Technology

Keith March 29th, 2008

Why do Communities of Practice sometimes fail?

In my experience, one common failure is just throwing technology at a problem.  I have no problem with wikis and other technology – communities probably work best when they have appropriate support technology – but communities are fundamentally about people.

So, before you think about technology, you must first think about the community.  Seems fairly obvious!  There are lots of things you can do to bring a community together that require very little in the way of technology.

However, this is not the whole story.  I was present when Dr Ron Harper, late of RMIT, spoke to a group recently (a community of practice, in fact) on this topic.  Ron made the point that the important thing for a successful CoP is, in fact, the Practice.

When I look back at successful communities I have known, this rings very true.  A successful community must have a reason to exist. 

It should be pointed out here that a CoP is not a work group or a project team.  Work groups and teams certainly have a reason to exist, but they are also motivated in a totally different way.  They exist as an entity within an organisation, with a common management structure, and defined deliverables within that structure.

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What are you doing?

Keith March 28th, 2008

Just been told about a really neat explanation of Twitter.  This is a short animated video by Lee Le Fever at Common Craft, and makes a lot of sense.

I have still not signed up for Twitter, but have been learning a bit about it.  Another description of it that I like is to see it as “group proprioception”.  Proprioception is a sense that we all have.  It is quite different to the five senses that we are more aware of.  In fact, as Oliver Sacks explains in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, there are a number of senses that we are normally unaware of.

To understand this one, close your eyes, hold you arms out in front of you, then bring the tips of your two index fingers together.  How did you do that?  How did you know where your fingers were in relation to each other without being able to see them?  Your brain just “knows” where all the parts of your body are at any point in time – that’s proprioception.

So Twitter is like knowing where all your friends are at any point of time, and what they are doing.

Am I going to sign up?  I’ll have to think about that a bit more yet…

Got blogs?

Keith March 26th, 2008

It just occurred to me that I may not have put a link up here to the list of actKM bloggers before.  This was compiled late last year by Kaye Vivian with input from across actKM members, and loaded at the DARnet wiki.  It is a useful list, with descriptions of each down the page.

The power of social networking

Keith March 21st, 2008

So we have found our new car.  This certainly demonstrates the power of networks.  It also is an example of the use of a “hook” in a story.  Would the exercise have worked in the same way if I had just written: “Wanted – used car”?  A couple of my correspondents mentioned that it was the use of the precise amount of $8,516.58 in the title that attracted attention.  This also perhaps reflects the “stickiness” factor discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point.  (In fact, my use of a number like this was inspired by $16,940, an old Sci-Fi short story by Larry Niven.)

There are still many people that are critical of Internet social networking tools, such as Facebook.  In August last year, Brian Lehrer of NPR in New York put out a podcast called “Facebook is a waste of time”.  He starts off sounding critical of Facebook, and particularly its impact within organisations.  It is interesting that while some organisations have blocked Facebook access to employees, others are using it extensively.  Last I heard, over 14,000 Deloitte staff are members.

In this podcast, he interviews Nick O’Neill of  Nick highlights the benefits of Facebook to organisations for recruiting and adding to brand image, among many other things.

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Found – used car for $8,516.58

Keith March 16th, 2008

Exactly one month after posting my request for a replacement car here and on my LinkedIn and Facebook networks, I picked up my new car. 

And I paid exactly $8,516.58!

It is a really nice, low-mileage 1999 Subaru Impreza (no, not a WRX).  It is in most ways a substantially better car that the Hyundai it is replacing.  It even comes with a number of bonuses, like mag wheels, roof bars and towbar.  Here it is, safely ensconced in the front yard:


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“OUGH” (A fonetic fansy)

Keith March 11th, 2008

The baker man was kneading dough
And whistling softly, sweet and lough.

Yet ever and anon he’d cough
As though his head were coming ough!

“My word!” sad he, “but this is rough;
This flour is simply awful stough!”

He punched and thumped it through and through,
As all good bakers always dough!

“I’d sooner drive,” said he, “a plough
Than be a baker, anyhough!”

Thus spake the baker kneading dough;
But don’t let on I told you sough!

W. T. Goodge (1862-1909)

(Copied from a book of Australian poetry of uncertain vintage.  All spelling as per original.)

Nothing new under the sun

Keith March 10th, 2008

My wife Marilyn and I have got away for the long weekend to Lorne (on the Victorian south-west coast, on the Great Ocean Road).  Found a delightful place to stay – Shepherd’s Rest.  This is a modern two-bedroom apartment, on the top level of a new house in North Lorne.  It is owned by a couple of artists, who have moved down from further north in Victoria, where they ran a farm. 

The place is totally delightful, decorated with a wide range of pieces of art.  It is only two blocks back from the beach, and only a short walk from where my uncle once had a holiday house, where I spent many happy holidays as a child.  It was interesting walking on the beach here again for the first time for many years.  The beach has changed a lot – a large amount of sand has been washed away.

There is a good supply of holiday reading in the bookshelves here.  One book is of a type I have never seen before.  It is a taste of absolutely brash commercialism from the 1890s (precise date not specified).  It is Dougal’s Index Register to Next of Kin, Heirs at Law, and cases of Unclaimed Money Advertisements.  At least, that is the short form of the title.  The title page expands this out to a grand total of 85 words, including several et ceteras (then spelt as “&c.” – the ampersand sign comes from the letters “et” – the Latin for “and”). 

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Context and Connection

Keith March 6th, 2008

Funny how things tend to coincide.  One actKM participant asked in the last day or so for advice on a “… collaboration Enterprise tool that enables you to find internally (to the organisation) the individual (or group) who has the right experience/knowledge to help you out with a specific problem.”

No-one on the forum seems (so far) to have referred to the Lend-Lease “ikonnect” model.  I am not an expert on this (no pun intended!), but from what I understand, it relies on people first, and systems second.  A central group of well-connected people field questions for experts, and use their personal networks to connect the question askers with the relevant experts.  After the question is answered, they document the response.  This way, a data base of both experts and expertise can be built up. 

This even has a public face – with the names of contact people.  This seems to me to be a really strong, practical application of Organisational Networks.

In fact, what we are talking about here is meta-expertise – expertise on experts.

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Social badges

Keith March 4th, 2008

The Human Dynamics lab at MIT has developed some interesting “surveillance badges”.  This has been brought to my attention by Andrew MitchellNew Scientist Technology blog reported this January that these badges “recognise each other using infrared, then record your speech, note your distance from other people, and track your movement.”  With these badges, researchers can “monitor people going about their day – working, meeting, eating, going out and sleeping.  The devices record where the wearers go and how fast, their tone of voice, and subtle details about their body language.”

These badges have been apparently been used for some interesting investigations into free will.  By tracking individual movements and personal interactions, MIT researchers found that “we are more instinctual and a lot more like other creatures than we care to think…  a good 90 per cent of what most people do in any day follows routines.”  Interesting…

In a more recent application, as New Scientist reports, “… one of the researchers, Ben Waber, has blogged about handing out the badges to delegates meeting with their corporate sponsors.”  This application was used to develop and display a social network map, visible to the participants.  “… over the course of the day, more people became connected within the network as they met more people.”

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