Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

September 30, 2005

We Only Pay for, and Retain, Information That’s ‘Durable’

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 16:50
hertzbergThis week’s New Yorker has a lead commentary by Hendrik Hertzberg (his picture at right). I’ve raved about his writing for years, and whenever I find his name in the contributors list of my weekly edition, I drop everything to read it. This week he discusses the astonishing reality that the best (and perhaps only) way to get the president of the US to do something to protect America from the threat of nuclear war is to make a movie about it, give it away, and hope he (or someone he talks to) watches it. The movie in question is Last Best Chance, a 45-minute thriller showing how easy it would be for a garden variety terrorist to assemble and detonate a substantial nuclear bomb in any US city. It’s sponsored by Ted Turner, Warren Buffett, Republican Richard Lugar, Democrat Sam Nunn. several non-partisan foundations and the 9/11 Commission. You’ll see it soon on HBO, and a book on the same subject, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe by Graham Allison is now out in paperback.

This all ties into the theme I’ve hit so much lately: No one in the world is in control. The president of the most powerful nation in the history of civilization has shown that even he, and his country, are utterly impotent in the face of a chicken disease (new report says if it morphs again it could kill 150 million), in the face of a bunch of self-righteous wackos with box-cutters, in the face of a motley crew of guerrillas determined to fight to the death against the ungodly West, in the face of a hurricane that fell far short of maximum damage and had been predicted as a short-term certainty in every study of threats to Homeland Security, and, coming soon, runaway glaciers, rising tides, and, very probably, a nuclear attack by someone on someone. I’ll buy Allison’s book, but I’m not sure even a competent US administration could prevent it. It was only a few years ago that a bunch of students flew a very small drone airplane with a dummy payload across the Atlantic completely undetected by the staggeringly expensive and presumably sophisticated defenses of NORAD — just to prove it could be done (and still could today). Maybe next time they do the test they should fly it onto the White House lawn with a payload of copies of Last Best Chance.

While I was reading the magazine (in the airport terminal) I was drinking a Starbucks chai latte. I noticed it had these curious words on the side of a cup (good reading material in airports is hard to find):

The Way I See It #23

chances are you 

        are scared of fictions –

        chances are you

                are only fleetingly happy –

        chances are you

know much less than you think you do –

                chances are you

        feel a little guilty –

chances are you

                want people to lie to you –

perhaps the answer lies on the side of a coffee cup:

                you are lost  

(by writer-comedian David Cross)

What do these two items have in common? Well, I threw out the New Yorker when I’d finished reading it, keeping only Hertzberg’s article, which I tore out to write this post, and will then throw it out as well. I have never considered buying his new book, Politics, containing some of his best columns, because no matter how well it is written, it is very soon all old news. Absorb and discard, the same as we do the magazine, and the newspaper.

And after writing down the ‘poem’ above on the page with Hertzberg’s article, and violating copyright by putting it on my blog, I also threw out the coffee cup. [Clarification: these items went in the ‘paper only’ airport recycling bin]

We do need to invent a more durable form of publication, where the content is frequently reviewed and updated. For now, blogs are the best model we have — when an update occurs, you blog it and link back to your archive where the original post resides. I’ve recently developed a proposal for a weekly hard-copy magazine that contains only news and commentary of ongoing import (i.e. stuff that is ‘durable’ and actionable, with suggested actions appended to each article), with each article separable from the others in each weekly edition, and binders and tabs where the articles can be filed by subject (kind of like blog categories, but in the hard copy world), so that the binders become a hard-copy diary of information and history that matters, as it unfolds, showing the actions we personally took, or should have taken, as a result. I think it’s a brilliant idea, but I’m equally sure no newspaper would underwrite it or pay to have it included with their Sunday edition. They have no interest in durable information. I would be delighted if someone were to ‘steal’ this idea and prove me wrong.

And what does it say about our society that more people probably read poetry on the side of coffee cups than read poetry in books, anthologies and websites?

Whew, what a week. Sleep come free me.

September 29, 2005

Knowledge Sharing & Collaboration 2015

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 22:51
Following is a recap and concatenation of my speeches to the C2: Connect & Collaborate conference and the CRKN annual conference (and welcome to attendees of these conferences):

I began by telling the story about how I came to be Canada’s first CKO, and the value propositions, strategy, and content format that most companies had adopted for Knowledge Management (KM) in the mid-1990’s:

1st Generation KM      

2nd Generation KM
KM Value


Reduce cost,

Improve customer relationships,

Accelerate employee learning,

Improve technology ROI,

Increase employee retention

Find, contact & contract with people more effectively,

Tap the wisdom of crowds (close info gaps, improve quality of decisions and accuracy of predictions, improve business processes, assess causalities),

Facilitate virtual collaboration,
Improve the context & understandability of information
Understand why things are the way they are
Improve K-worker effectiveness

KM Strategy:

Users contribute best practices to large central repositories for re-use to reduce costs

Stories and conversations automatically canvassed from shared personal repositories for learning and discovery

KM Content


Mostly text, organized by subject (taxonomy)

Graphic & multimedia, organized by application (ontology)

KM Model:

Acquire, store, add value, disseminate (Just in Case)

Connect, canvass, synthesize (Just in Time)

The graphic at the top of this post illustrates the old and new KM models.

Why did we largely fail to achieve the first-generation KM value propositions?:

    • We set unreasonably high expectations
    • We over-relied on voluntary user contributions to repositories
    • The content we harvested was largely context-poor 
    • The Tragedy of the Commons (no one took pride of ownership in shared repositories)
    • We allowed technology companies to co-opt the term KM for software, to the point many companies started to think that is all KM was about (“which KM solution software should we buy?”)

As a consequence, in recent years:

  • Many KM business conferences have been canceled for lack of interest
  • Some KM departments have been folded back into IT, HR or marketing
  • Private sector KM budgets, headcounts have been slashed in many companies
  • There has been a drop in new content, user satisfaction, and use in some companies
  • And online, the frequency of mention of KM peaked two years ago

I remain surprised at the number of companies that are just now taking the plunge into KM and seem fated to make the same mistakes — focusing on aggregating contributed content and ‘integrated solutions’, instead of on connection to people and on their knowledge in context in simple, intuitive, stand-alone apps.

In our rush to achieve illusory cost savings and productivity improvements from first-generation KM, we failed to take into account very human ‘information behaviours’ that impede the sharing of knowledge and collaboration. From the original list of a dozen or so such behaviours, my KM colleagues and blog readers have suggested many more, and the list now stands at 23:

  1. Bad news rarely travels upwards in organizations (shoot the messenger, and if you do tell the boss bad news, better have a plan to fix it already in motion)
  2. People share information generously peer-to-peer, but begrudgingly upwards (“more paperwork for the boss”), and sparingly downwards (“need to know”) in organizational hierarchy — it’s all about trust
  3. People find it easier and more satisfying to reinvent the wheel than re-use other people’s ‘stuff’
  4. People only accept and internalize information that fits with their mental models and frames (Lakoff’s rule)
  5. People cannot readily differentiate useful information from useless information, and feel overwhelmed with content volume and complex tools (info overload, and poverty of imagination)
  6. The true cost of acquiring information (time wasted looking for it) and the cost of not knowing (Katrina, 9/11, Poultry Flu etc.) are both greatly underestimated in most organizations
  7. People know more than they can tell (some experience you just have to show) & tell more than they can write down (composing takes a lot of time) (Snowden’s rule)
  8. People grasp graphic information more easily than text, and understand information conveyed through stories better than information presented analytically (we learn by analogy, and images and stories are better analogies to our real-life experiences than analyses are)
  9. Most people want friends and even strangers to succeed, and enemies to fail; this has a bearing on their information-sharing behaviour (office politics bites back)
  10. Managers are generally reluctant to admit they don’t know, or don’t understand, something (leads to oversimplifying, and rash decision-making)
  11. People are averse to sharing information orally, and even more averse to sharing it in written form, if they perceive any risk of it being misused or misinterpreted (the better safe than sorry principle)
  12. People don’t take care of shared information resources (Tragedy of the Commons again)
  13. Internal competition can mitigate against information sharing (if you reward individuals for outperforming peers, they won’t share what they know with peers)
  14. Some modest people underestimate the value of what they know so they donít share
  15. We all learn differently (some by reading, some by listening, some by writing down, some by hands-on), and people wonít internalize information that isnít in a format attuned to how they learn (one size training doesn’t fit all)
  16. Rewards for sharing knowledge don’t work for long
  17. People wonít (or canít) internalize information until they need it or recognize its value (most notably, information in e-newsletters is rarely absorbed because it rarely arrives just at the moment it’s needed)
  18. People donít know what others who they meet know, that they could benefit from knowing (a variant on the old “don’t know what we don’t know” — “we don’t know what we don’t know that they do”)
  19. The people with the most valuable knowledge have the least time to share it
  20. People seek out like minds who entrench their own thinking (leads to groupthink)
  21. Introverts are more comfortable wasting time looking for information rather than just asking (sometimes it’s just more fun spending 5 hours on secondary research, or doing the graphics for your powerpoint deck by trial and error, than getting your assistant to do it for you in 5 minutes)
  22. If important news is withheld or sugar-coated, people will ëfill in the blanksí with an ëanti-storyí worse than the truth
  23. People will find ways to work around imposed tools, processes and other resources that they don’t like or want to use (and then deny it if they’re called to account for it)

We’re just starting to identify some ways to compensate for these dysfunctional information behaviours (numbers in brackets refer to the behaviour numbers above, that these work-arounds address):

  • Flatten the organization, and devolve decision-making authority (1, 2, 13, 21)
  • Develop mechanisms for anonymously communicating bad news (1)
  • Use ëred/yellow/green cardí type mechanisms in meetings to convey disagreement and misunderstanding (1, 10)
  • Provide staff with informal places to meet and exchange information with peers (2)
  • Use templates to make reusing knowledge easy, and other mechanisms to make sharing knowledge exciting and fun (3)
  • Provide more information in graphic, dynamic model, mindmap, single-frame and story formats, and in weblogs and other context-rich ‘containersë (4, 5, 7, 8, 15)
  • Use stories and other formats that convey the facts but accommodate the usersí personal context and let them draw their own conclusions (4,15,20)
  • Develop better filters for information, and better ways of organizing/indexing/archiving it so it for later re-use (5)
  • Keep information tools simple and intuitive (5)
  • Find better ways of abstracting and canvassing for information (5, 17)
  • Expand risk management programs to assess the cost of not knowing (6)
  • Tap the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (10)
  • Study complexity theory to understand how oversimplification can lead to disastrous decisions (10)
  • Personal productivity and communication skills coaching (10, 18, 21)
  • Replace centralized repositories with mechanisms that securely search usersí hard drives (12)
  • Change reward systems to recognize group rather than individual contributions (13)
  • Find processes to draw out wallflowers whose voice is rarely heard in organizations (14)
  • Eliminate reward and performance evaluation processes that encourage people to hoard or fight over credit for information and ideas, or interfere with collaboration (16)
  • Use social network maps to pinpoint key knowledge connectors and info transfer bottlenecks (16, 19)
  • Employ ëknowledge stewardsí to transcribe knowledge of busy SMEs (19)
  • Develop mechanisms to record, index and archive conversations (19)
  • Err on the side of over-communicating rather than under-communicating (22)

The key message here:

The challenges we face today in getting people to share what they know and to collaborate effectively are not caused or cured by technologies, they are cultural impediments. It’s extremely difficult to change people’s behaviours (they usually exist for a reason), so the solutions we find have to accommodate these behaviours, and these cultures, rather than trying to ‘fix’ them.

As we strive to achieve second-generation KM value propositions we will need some very different types of knowledge resources (tools, techniques, processes) than the ones that are predominantly in use today. This table contrasts these resources (with links to more info, screenshots etc.):

1st Generation KM      

2nd Generation KM
Phone + e-mail VoIP + IM + e-mail
Videoconferencing Simple virtual presence
Whiteboarding MindMaps
Table/chart/written report “office” software Visualizations, Ecolanguage
Filing cabinets, MyDocs folders Next-generation Weblogs
PowerPoint decks Single frames
KBases with best practices Recorded stories
Decision support systems Wisdom of crowds capture tools
Surveys, secondary research tools Conversations, observations, primary research & other ëcultural anthropologyí tools
Content management systems Personal content management
e-Learning Personal productivity improvement
Community spaces, e-rooms Next-generation wikis
Directories, social network apps Expertise finders
Knowledge contribution processes and tools (just in case) Knowledge canvassing processes and tools (just in time)
Project management tools Open space

In short:

First-generation KM has vainly sought one-size fits-all integrated enterprise solutions, which are complicated to use and expensive to change, and which focus on content + collection; Second-generation KM must look instead to simple, lightweight, cheap, intuitive, stand-alone apps, which are easy to use, add or change, and which focus on context + connection. In the shift from first to second generation KM, the holy grail changes from cost savings to improvements in knowledge worker effectiveness.

I’d like to thank the C2 organizers and CRKN for the opportunity to speak at these events. I think the theme of improving collaboration in the workplace is a critical one for the future, and C2 is on the right track with this new program. And CRKN has demonstrated how effective a focused, well-coordinated KM program can be (improving access, especially electronic access, of academic and scientific researchers across Canada, to published scholarly content). I look forward to opportunities to work with them again in the future.

September 28, 2005

Blogging from the Connect & Collaborate Conference – Part Two

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 14:33
Some more interesting highlights from the Connect & Collaborate Conference in NYC:
  • The concept of dark blogs — weblogs that reside behind corporate firewalls as part of Intranets. There’s a different set of protocols for these from ‘public’ blogs that we’re just starting to discover.
  • The prediction by several speakers that successful new collaboration applications must be low-cost and lightweight, and just powerful enough to enable direct, unmediated communication and ad hoc community formation. Almost all the vendors exhibiting at this conference are banking on the exact opposite: very sophisticated, expensive, multi-functional, fully-integrated ‘enterprise’ applications. Who’s right?
  • Lots of discussion about several social applications breaking new ground:
    • Myspace: A simple way for non-techies to enter the world of social networking. Ad-laden, not very secure, and just bought, apparently, by the loathsome right-wing News Corp — but hugely popular among the teen-to-20s age group. Fascinating stuff — seems a legitimate place for musicians and others targeting this demo to give stuff away to get known, but also a place of great boasting and ego-salving.
    • Facebook: A social software keyed to your high school or university. Used to make new friends and reacquaint yourself with old friends from junior schools. Serves as the equivalent of a business card for students — “nice to meet you, Facebook me and we’ll keep in touch”.
    • WebHuddle: Open Source webconferencing tool. Cheap, simple, secure. If Robin Good likes it it must be a winner. But we’re still a long way from Simple Virtual Presence.
    • PacketHop: Handheld tool for cops and other emergency and safety workers with collaboration apps, satellite pictures & maps, and proximity detectors that automatically establish “Mesh networks” with other PacketHop handholds nearby.
    • Remote wireless patient sensors that communicate patient info to care providers even from patients’ homes.
  • Some discussion in the hall during breaks about infatuation with sociometrics and specifically ‘social network maps’ — expensive, detailed, complicated, sometimes intrusive visualizations of who is connected with whom in your organization, how and how closely. Men seem to love this stuff, while woman seem to doubt it has enough real value to justify the cost and enthusiasm it is generating.
  • Some discussion on whether existing public social network apps like LinkedIn have been ruined by misuse. “Many users of social network tools are socially autistic”. “The more contacts you add to your network the less the value (social capital) of each contact”. “If everyone is a friend, you have no real friends”. “Good salespeople know better than to put their networks up on LinkedIn”.

Tomorrow’s post will be about my presentation.

September 27, 2005

Blogging from the Connect & Collaborate Conference – Part One

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology,Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 20:31
backpackToday and tomorrow I’m in NYC at a conference called C2: Connect & Collaborate. I’m the closing speaker so I’ll be listening to all the presentations and blogging what I think are the most important and interesting messages about collaboration, social networking and new communication technologies.

First up was fellow blogger Liz Lawley. Awesome speaker — I guess being a university prof helps. Her slides are here. Highlights (check out the links below, some really neat apps):

  • Continuous Partial Attention as a social phenomenon — if you don’t know what this is, just watch what a teenager does online — it’s not multitasking
  • Opportunities for using tools like Del.icio.us inside the corporate firewall — not only to allow users to access their bookmarks from any computer, but to allow people to discover the content, interests and expertise of others in the organization
  • The emergence of Flickr as not just a tool for sharing photos, but as a tool for sharing information and experiences (Ton Zilstra tells me my photos gave him a better context of who I am and where I live, to understand what my blog was about)
  • Opportunities for using Yahoo Search MyWeb 2.0 (it searches just stuff bookmarked by friends or friends-of-friends) to refocus Intranet & Internet searches from content of all employees in the organization (Intranet) and content of the entire world (Internet) to just content of people in their networks inside and outside the organization
  • Opportunities for using Dodgeball (a tool that tells friends where you are, and tells you which friends of friends, and which crushes, are nearby, and invites them to contact you if they are interested in doing so, without identifying their precise location) inside the corporate firewall to tell colleagues and clients where you are and invite colleagues and clients and others you would like to meet to contact you if they are in close physical proximity (a neat spin on ‘presence’ apps)
  • The reinvention, with ever-growing bandwidth and cheap storage capacity, of the Network as Desktop, and specifically the innovations of 37Signals:
    • Basecamp – Project management with a twist or two
    • Backpack – Wiki with a robust sharing and permissioning interface
    • Tada list – To do lists accessible from anywhere on the web
    • Plazes – Discover who is where you are, and where your friends/colleagues/clients are
  • The growing importance of backchanneling (allowing people at meetings to multitask without disrupting, and to quietly clarify and amplify what the speaker at the meeting is talking about)

Lots more tomorrow.

September 26, 2005

Cellular Organization

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 18:40
tipping_pointJon Husband defines wirearchy, a term he coined, as follows:

“A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, and credibility, enabled by connected people and technology”

‘-archy’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘rule, power or authority’, and ‘hier’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘sacred’. When the word hierarchy was first used in the church, it literally meant ‘sacred rule’. We no longer see our hierarchical leaders in politics or business as sacred (though sometimes, when I see the cult of leadership, especially in the US, I wonder), but we have kept the term to describe the power structure.

Two other suffixes, also from the Greek, are used almost interchangeably with ‘-archy’, but neither really refers to power: ‘-cracy’ means ‘government’ and -opoly’ means ‘seller’. So a monopoly is a system with one seller, an oligopoly a system with just a few. And democracy is government of the people while autocracy is government by one person. The fact that we use the three terms that mean ‘power’, ‘government’ and ‘seller’ almost interchangeably shows the perverse degree to which, in our modern corporatist world, the three terms have become virtually synonymous. The government and the sellers (corporations) have all the power. Our ‘learned helplessness’ keeps us from thinking it was ever, or ever could be, any other way.

This essay is about power, and about how we give it, take it, and share it. In ancient Greece, rule was by divine right, while authority was vested, and both held power. Democracy, in its earliest form, gave ‘the people’ authority over dealings with each other, but not power over those in the true hierarchy, the religious and political leaders who called themselves ‘lords’ with no sense of irony. Democracy was rules for the children in the schoolyard, and granted no authority over those who actually ran the school.

Most of the wars fought since then have been either religious wars (wars between true hierarchies) or revolutionary wars (wars aimed at transferring power from the true hierarchies to the merchant class, and later to ‘the people’). The problem with such ‘-archies’ is that as they get bigger they get more fragile they become. Malcolm Gladwell, in an article called The Cellular Church* about preacher and Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren, put it this way:

If I go to church with 500 members, in a magnificent cathedral, why should I volunteer or donate any substantial share of my money? What kind of peer pressure is there in a congregation that large? If the barriers to entry become too low — and the ties among members increasingly tenuous — then the church as it grows bigger becomes weaker. One solution to the problem is simply not to grow, and, historically, churches have sacrificed size for community. But there is another approach: to create a church out of a lot of little church cells. The small group as an instrument of community is initially how Communism spread, and in the post-war years AA and its 12-step progeny perfected the small-group technique. Members sat in a circle. The focus was on interaction — not one person teaching [or preaching] and the others listening — and the remarkable thing about these groups is their power. [Churches and others soon found] the small group was an extraordinary vehicle of commitment. It was personal and flexible. It cost nothing. It was convenient, and every [member] was able to find a small group that precisely matched his or her interests.

Gladwell even quotes philosopher Dick Wesley that calls such cells “intentional communities”.

How big is a cell? As big or small as its self-selected members choose it to be, though the bigger-is-weaker rule would seem to limit it to much smaller size than the 150 people we are (according to social network gurus) able to accommodate in a personal network. The key to the cell, it appears, is the strength of strong links — members are each others’ families, best friends, work colleagues, and everyone in the cell likes (loves?) everyone else in the cell. That makes an astonishing bond, that, if it’s cultivated, can be indomitable, and powerful. What mystifies Gladwell is how Warren and others can manage to harness that power, essentially without hierarchy. It requires a lot of work to reach and steer a million scattered cells of ten people than a single televangelist audience of ten million. But if you can do it, it’s a much more powerful network. The key to reaching these cells seems to be providing them with a flexible template of activities attuned to their values, and letting them self-form and self-manage. The multiple short chapters of Warren’s books serve as a menu of choices for his church’s sells to choose from, apply to their own shared context, and learn from. Most of the learning is from each other.

Surprisingly, Gladwell doesn’t discuss how the cellular organization model fits with the Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen in his Tipping Point. Does it fit at all, or has Warren found a way to change the world that is more, er, democratic?

Next Gladwell tells us what Warren is doing now. He’s reverse tithing 90% of his income from books and donations to third world humanitarian work, especially the scourge of AIDS in Africa. And guess what?

He decided to take the same networks he had built to train pastors and spread the purpose-driven life and put them to work on social problems. [Explaining how poor distribution networks have hampered third world humanitarian aid, he says] “Well, the biggest distribution network in the world is local churches.”

So now he’s taking his cellular organization and vowing to use it to end world poverty and disease. Now that’s power.


* Not currently online, but keep an eye out on gladwell.com

September 25, 2005

Message to My Readers

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology — Dave Pollard @ 21:49
Every once in awhile I feel the need to shake the casual journalistic pretense of this blog and just talk out loud. If reading stream of consciousness blogging is not your thing, you can skip this post — you won’t miss anything important.

Although I’m a great fan of Getting Things Done, lately I’ve fallen seriously behind. I want to apologize to the 200 people whose e-mails (dating back to July) are now backed up in my “to reply” queue, all of whom deserve, and will eventually get, a reply that takes more than a few minutes to compose. The only way I could have shortened that queue would be to cut back blogging, and I don’t want to do that. I’m also more than two weeks behind in responding to readers’ remarks on the comments server. And on top of that, my blogroll and table of contents have not been updated in five months. And the promised debuts of Blog-Hosted Conversations and AHA! The Discovery & Learning Centre are seriously behind schedule. Because my pinched nerve prevents me from keyboarding for extended periods, it will take some time to work through this backlog. Please be patient with me — it will all get done eventually.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been doing more business-related blogging lately. My posts on politics have become less frequent because I’m increasingly dubious that anything important can be achieved through political means. My posts on environmental philosophy have also become less frequent because I think I’ve said just about all there is to say at a theoretical or philosophical level — it’s really time to do something, in three arenas:

  • Natural Enterprise (self-publishing the book and then offering the course, with group study instead of lectures, field visits instead of classroom time, and successful launch of a natural enterprise worth 100% of your grade, through one or more universities),
  • Intentional Community (either starting one, or at least getting out and visiting some, since I don’t think there’s much more to say about the theory), and
  • The Generosity Economy (writing and self-publishing the book, building on real-life success stories, showing the tie-in to Open Source Business and dealing with Complex Adaptive Environments, and showing a viable transition path from where we are now to a fully-functional economy where all the essentials of life are free, where nobody owns the commons, and where everybody’s time is valued equally).

All three of these revolutionary ideas require that (as Daniel Quinn puts it) we ‘walk away’ from the existing dysfunctional and unsustainable economic, political and social constructs of our world, and create an entirely new political, economic, and social structure based on radically different principles. As Bucky Fuller said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

I confess I am still intrigued about the possibilities of drawing together several very modern business concepts:

  • Social Networking,
  • Personal Knowledge Management‘,
  • Personal Productivity Improvement (including Getting Things Done),
  • Wisdom of Crowds,
  • Business Innovation,
  • Effective Conversations,
  • Narrative and Storytelling and
  • True Collaboration.

and I was delighted by the response to my recent post on the Psychology of Information, which described some of the cultural impediments to SN, PKM and PPI. I’ll be writing more on this and drawing these concepts, all of which I have written extensively about over the past two years, into a single integrated approach (tentative name: Working Smarter). If I could find a company that really understood the potential and value of ‘working smarter’ I wouldn’t even be averse to going back to work full time for a few years.

How to Save the World is likely to be predominantly about the sixteen subjects in bold above for the next while, with the odd article on culture and ‘being human’ thrown in for good measure. Hope you’ll stay around.

Computer-generated image from the movie Final Fantasy

September 24, 2005

Bush Bankrupts America, and Still There Is No Plan

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 10:55

Evidence FEMA Was Deliberately Starved: Although having an incompetent Bush lackey in charge of disaster relief at FEMA certainly didn’t help, there is growing evidence that the staggeringly expensive Bush strategy of centralizing the security bureaucracy is crippling, rather than helping, the US cope with emergencies, and could well be the biggest waste of money in the history of civilization. Research by the NYT indicates Admiral Allen, suddenly thrust into a coordinating role in dealing with Katrina relief, blames “entrenched bureaucracies” for hampering relief work, while his assistant acknowledged that money squandered on “chemical, nuclear and biological response” starved FEMA of resources it desperately needed to plan for and handle much more likely crises. So now Bush is throwing over a billion dollars a day at a haphazardly uncoordinated, ad hoc belated Katrina relief effort. And the hundred-mile line-up of cars stalled trying to get out of the way of Rita in Texas shows that this utter unpreparedness for high-probability disasters is endemic. As with Iraq and Katrina, there is no plan.

And the Money That Was Spent on Security Provides Less Than None: The money that could have been spent on preparedness for recurring natural disasters was diverted instead to “terrorist” preparedness. One black hole for this vanished taxpayer billions has been biological response, specifically preventing and responding to terrorist biological attacks. Yet four years after the anthrax mail attack on prominent Washington Democrats, not only is the FBI no closer to solving them than ever, they are being sued for false arrest and recklessly impugning the reputation of US scientists. How come, after spending so much to make the US less safe, all these people still have their jobs?

And the Lessons of Vietnam Still Haven’t Been Learned: Meanwhile in Iraq billions more are being spent trying to trap and intercept “insurgents” who are using guerrilla warfare tactics. In every case the efforts of US troops are merely stirring up more hatred among war-weary Iraqis, since there is almost always “collateral damage” (civilian casualties, including women and children), and since the US attacks are always seen by one group or another as ‘taking sides’, as the violence escalates towards inevitable civil war between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis.

Yet between 40-50% of Americans, and a slim majority of white Americans, still approve of the way Bush is doing his job. What are these people smoking?

Two Excellent Sites for News for Progressives: Thanks to Stephen Downes for recommending NewsTrolls (links to the best of the indymedia) and CommonBits (multimedia, requires BitTorrent).

I’ll Be in New York Tuesday and Wednesday speaking at the C2 Connect & Collaborate Conference and in Halifax Thursday speaking at the CRKN annual conference, so blogging next week may be intermittent.

September 23, 2005

George Monbiot’s Prescription to Stop Global Warming

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 10:22
corporationThree books in the past year have analyzed the behaviour of corporations and concluded that many of them act in a psychopathic manner, exhibiting indifference to the suffering some of their activities produce and a willingness to act dishonestly and sometimes even illegally if they know they can get away with it — all in the name of “increasing shareholder value”.

But now a new article by George Monbiot suggests that perhaps the majority of corporations would act more compassionately and ethically if they could be assured their competitors would do the same. After listing the latest litany of evidence that global warming is for real and accelerating, Monbiot describes his astonishment at a conference where a number of companies called for tough new across-the-board regulations to start to deal with the problem, only to be rebuffed by governments unwilling to institute them.

The reaction is perhaps not surprising. After all, at the behest of multinationals, many governments pushed through so-called ‘free trade’ regulations that forced participating countries worldwide to lower their social welfare and environmental standards to the lowest of any member country, and imposed huge fines on any country that dared try to protect its workers or its environment. Now, some of these same companies are saying it’s not deregulation that’s needed to make ‘free trade’ and a ‘free market’ work, but consistent regulation, so that there is an even playing field. But now governments, having meekly done what the corporatists told them to do, are arguing that such re-regulation would be “an unwarranted intervention in the market”. Now who’s behaving psychopathically?

In a demonstration of good faith and concern for our planet’s future, a bevy of innovative companies, Monbiot reports, have developed new, and expensive, anti-pollution technologies. Big business has acknowledged these solutions and expressed a willingness to adopt them, but insist “none of this is going to happen if the market is left to itself”. As Monbiot puts it “it is regulation that creates the market” for these new technologies. Unfortunately, it appears that most politicians never got past the laissez-faire chapter of Economics 101, and now cloddishly believe that all regulation is inherently evil.

Caught up in the enthusiasm for deregulation, many governments have shed regulatory authorities, manpower and budgets. Re-regulation to a global standard would cost these governments serious money. Their reluctance to do an about-face is therefore quite understandable. Who’s going to pay for the enforcement? Unhappy taxpayers? The companies themselves? Yeah, right.

Monbiot’s next book will include a detailed proposal to get government and industry, working together, to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2030, which he believes is the minimum needed to prevent ecological meltdown. But now he’s worried that the politicians, not the corporations, will be the hardest to convince.

Now, I can hear the advocates of a single world government saying this vindicates their argument. Only one government to convince instead of hundreds, right? The problem with this is the assumption that any government has the capability to institute and enforce regulations as long as there is a reward (higher profits) for the millions of companies around the world for circumventing the regulations.

Let’s suppose that a suite of new regulations were agreed to by a global government (or by all the world’s national governments), that set high social and environmental standards, from restrictions on child labour to high-tech scrubbers on all smokestacks. There is an immediate incentive for companies, especially in areas of the world where enforcement of the law has always been lax (and that’s most of the world) to defy the law, not by flaunting it but by claiming to be in compliance and bribing the odd inspector who comes by to overlook violations. These companies will be at a competitive advantage relative to the law-abiding ones. No government or set of governments, even of the Orwellian variety, will be able to counter this incentive to break the law, or increase the probability of lawbreakers being caught and brought to justice. This will be particularly true in third world countries (some of which already have strong social and environmental laws, but so little enforcement that residents scoff at them) but it will be true in any country where there is a reward for breaking the law. The raft of recent criminal activities by companies like Enron demonstrates that if the incentive is there to do so, executives will break the law, often with catastrophic consequences. And for every Enron you do hear about, there are dozens of companies like mega-polluter Koch Industries, which simply buy their way out of convictions for their criminal activities, and stay below the media radar.

So as much as I would like to believe Monbiot’s prescription for fighting greenhouse gases, I don’t think it has a chance of working, even if we could garner global government and corporate support for it, simply because it cannot be enforced.

That’s not to say I think it is a waste of time to re-establish high social and environmental standards of conduct that are uniform around the globe. But the only way such standards will be enforced is by the people, by all of us. And before that happens, billions of people need to be made aware of the reason for these standards and the urgency of upholding them. Today, most of the people on the planet are dealing with the daily struggle to survive, and only when and if we are able to bring overpopulation, overuse of resources, and endemic poverty and disease under control will most of the world have any time or inclination to police corporate and government (many of the world’s worst polluters and human rights abusers are government organizations) conduct in their communities. And in addition, we need much stronger whistleblower protections (protections which would need to be enforced not by existing authorities, which in many countries are likely to be in cahoots with the wrongdoers, but rather by the citizenry at large). Without such protections, no citizen will be willing to risk their personal safety to report wrongdoings, and that danger rises commensurately with the extent of the wrongdoing.

None of this will be easy, and it may not even be possible. We’re quickly running out of time to bring those most responsible for destroying our planet into line. But the Internet at least gives us the possibility of recruiting six billion whistleblowers to log social and environmental wrongdoing in their own communities, combine them to provide a clear picture of which organizations are the worst offenders, and use that data to boycott those companies and, at least in the most extreme cases, push regulators to bring them to justice. We simply cannot expect governments, laws and corporations to police (and in some cases self-police) social and environmental misconduct. We have to do it ourselves, together, and soon.

Thanks to Jeff Gold of the Green Party for catching this article.

September 22, 2005

The Changing Behaviour of Organizations

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 18:46
Like people, organizations tend to change slowly, and in response to external forces. In people, changes are more evident from generation to generation (the cause of generation ‘gaps’ and a great deal of family stress). New organizations, likewise, are more likely to manifest behaviours responsive to the needs of their customers, employees, and other stakeholders than those that have been around awhile. We call these behaviours, collectively, culture.

What changes in the needs and wants of stakeholders will precipitate changes in organizational culture in the coming generation? Here are some likely bets:

Today’s Behaviour: Tomorrow’s Behaviour:
Selling aggressively, using researsed persuasive techniques Conversing with customers to discover, and then respond to, articulated customer needs
Advertising to ‘create demand’ Viral marketing
Analyzing the market, using surveys and demographic data Observing customer buying behaviours, using ‘cultural anthropology’ techniques
Standardizing processes and products Improvising processes and products
Collecting and searching for best practices Scanning and probing for emerging patterns
Executive decision-making by managers and experts based on experience and advice from consultants Canvassing the crowd to make decisions based on collective wisdom
Marketing trials to test new products using prototypes Co-developing new products with customers and other partners using multiple parallel experiments
Make huge margins on software and content that has almost no variable cost Give away software and content to attract customers to personalized events and containers
Tell customers how good your product is, using various media Show customers how good your product is, by giving demonstrations and samples
Offer sophisticated, multifunction products Offer simple, elegant products that do a few things really well
Collect and archive large amounts of knowledge just in case Canvass for knowledge just in time
Offer low-cost products that break or become obsolete or unfashionable in a few years Offer durable, upgradable products that never go out of fashion, and do more with less
Use size, acquisitions and vast intellectual property to dominate their market Use innovation, agility and buzz to disrupt their market
Price products at what the market will bear Price products at what customers can really afford

These changes will be driven by:

  • a shift in knowledge and power from suppliers to customers and end-consumers
  • the failure of the ‘blockbuster’ model of product offerings (where all the profit comes from one or two smash hit products, often followed by cheap, mediocre ‘sequels’) as consumers catch on
  • the availability through the Internet of almost infinite choice at modest cost
  • an Internet culture that believes that software and content should be free to all
  • the end of cheap oil, labour and other resources
  • new, innovative competitors in many industries that won’t need to be big to have a huge market impact, and which will be astonishingly prolific and agile (imagine a thousand Googles!)
  • the wide-spread realization (thanks to interest rate spikes and a shrinking economy) that living beyond our needs is reckless and unsustainable
  • a growing lack of trust in corporations, thanks to an ongoing litany of scandals

It’s going to be fascinating to watch this evolution. For the Fortune 500 (and for their shareholders) it’s likely to be bloody, a replay of the transformation that has seen huge organizations crumble and small upstarts soar past them over and over since the start of the Industrial Revolution. What’s likely to be different this time, however, is that the new upstarts will not grow into megaliths, but will instead spin off divisions into hundreds of small, autonomous, ever-agile entrepreneurial companies.

The big corporations just don’t get it. They don’t understand why so many are outraged that we’re sitting on intellectual and financial capital that could end disease and poverty on this planet, but we can’t do so because it would be unacceptable to the handful of staggeringly rich families that control this capital. They don’t understand why Google is giving so many of its brilliant and valuable new tools and content away free. They don’t understand why eBay paid billions to buy Skype. They don’t understand why so many ‘respectable’ people don’t equate file-sharing, the modern equivalent of going to the library, as theft. They are still stuck in the same mentality that predicted the telephone would never catch on, or that the world only needed a handful of computers.

The future of business is a world of ends. If our world lasts that long, of course.

September 21, 2005

Differentiating Your Business

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 18:20
I came across an eight-year-old article the other day entitled Discovering New Points of Differentiation, by Ian MacMillan and Rita McGrath (not online, you can buy it from HBS). It provides a rigorous approach to identifying ways to differentiate your company from competitors on more than just product or service. Here’s a synopsis:

The first step is to map the ‘consumption chain’, the various points at which your customers and potential customers ‘touch’ (or could touch) your product or service:

  1. The point of first awareness (e.g. through marketing materials or advertising)
  2. The point of locating your product or service (initial purchase or direct pitch)
  3. The point of making the decision between your and competitors’ offerings
  4. The point of ordering and purchasing your offering
  5. The point of receiving delivery of your offering
  6. The point of inspecting and processing receipt of your offering
  7. The point of installing or implementing use of your offering
  8. The point of paying for your offering
  9. The point of storing your offering between uses
  10. The point of moving your offering from one location to another
  11. The point of using your product or service
  12. The point of receiving support services from you
  13. The point of returning or exchanging your offering
  14. The point of repairing, maintaining and upgrading your offering
  15. The point of disposing of your offering

Many companies today are using what has become known as ‘cultural anthropology’ — observing the purchase, delivery and use of your offering by customers, from the customer’s perspective, to find ways to improve it, and this technique can also be used to explore differentiation opportunities.

The second step of the approach is to ask the who, what, when, where and how questions at each of the 15 touch-points:

  • Who: Who is with the customer at this touch-point, and how do they influence the customer, and who else might be with the customer at each point who could have an impact on the customer experience?
  • What: What is the customer doing at each touch-point and what might they prefer to be doing, what problems might they be encountering (not necessarily due to your offering) and what else could you do to mitigate any problems or enhance their experience?
  • When: At what time of day/month/year/life do customers reach this touch-point in using your offering, and when else might they be used?
  • Where: Where physically are your customers at each touch-point, where might they rather be, and where else might they benefit from using it?
  • How: How does your offering meet the customers’ needs, how could it do so better, and how else might they use your offering at each touch-point?

What you end up with is a 15 x 5 matrix, in which each cell is analyzed for differentiating opportunities. Suppose for example your offering is nursing care and you’re looking at touch-point 11, the point of using your service. You might differentiate by who (i.e. what qualifications, what age, gender etc.) provides the care, or who you take with you who might offer synergistic services. You might differentiate by what you do (e.g. offering additional massage services to bedridden customers, or using a holistic healing process). You might differentiate on when you offer your service (e.g. 24-hour on-call, or only when you receive an emergency signal from the customer’s beeper). You might differentiate by where you offer the service (in the customer’s own home, or in a mobile fully-equipped van). And you might differentiate by how your service meets the needs not only of the patient, but of the patient’s family and other caregivers, perhaps with supplemental training and counseling.

These are just examples off the top of my head. The authors provide more extensive examples. I kind of like the idea of merging the ‘How’ and ‘What’ questions with the Strategy Canvas and the six utility levels (productivity, simplicity, convenience, risk, fun & image, and environmental friendliness) that Kim and Mauborgne suggest in their Blue Ocean Strategy book (sample canvas illustrated above). 

Is differentiating different from innovation? Looking at Christensen’s three types of innovation — sustaining, low-end disruptive and new-market disruptive, I’d suggest that since your focus is on existing and potential customers, this differentiation approach is best suited to sustaining innovation and, in some cases, low-end disruptive innovation (when your cultural anthropology uncovers over-served customers). In that sense MacMillan and McGrath’s approach is more at the incremental, continuous improvement end of the innovation spectrum. As Christensen has pointed out, sometimes an intense focus on customers can actually blind you to the opportunities for more radical innovation with entirely new customer sets and new markets.

Nevertheless, I like the rigour of this approach, and I think it makes a useful addition to any innovator’s toolkit.

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