!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: October 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2007

Some Halloween treats ...

Halloween Comes Early to Lake Tawakoni State Park
(photo here)

Ghost Orchid

UNICEF Hong Kong



Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rambling On

The Wall Street Journal published a self-help column today that I could have used several years ago.

The subject of Joann Lublin's column is talking too much in response to questions posed by a job interviewer. In my case, the unfortunate situation was a phone conversation with a a couple of people at a a potential client who were trying to decide whether I would be a good resource to include in a training project under discussion with a colleague of mine. My colleague informed me later that the interviewers told him I really needed to learn to speak more concisely.

Lublin offers four down-to-earth pieces of advice for avoiding the problem of talking too much:
  • Prepare and rehearse short statments about how your background matches the job. Lublin quotes an executive coach who advises keeping the statements under two minutes, and making sure they are powerful and engaging.

  • Make sure you understand a question. Stop every couple of sentences to check. The latter point is especially important during a telephone interview. (See next item.)

  • Watch the interviewer's body language for hints that your answers are getting boring. (This obviously isn't possible over the phone, but you can ask questions like these, suggested to Lublin by an HR director: "Did I answer your question enough? Do you want more examples?")

  • Ask for feedback following an interview.
Suffice it to say, I became much more conscious of the need to have a dialogue — not a compulsive-sounding monologue — after the failed interview in which I ran on and on to the exasperation of the people at the other end of the line.



Monday, October 29, 2007

Tata Group's Management Training

In researching an earlier post that commented on business practices of India's Tata Group, I spent a good deal of time trying to learn more about their training. At the time, I came up dry, but now a BNET blog entry by Jeff Palfini has arrived in my inbox that provides some information on the subject.

Palfini explains that Tata's management training program, which extends over a full year, has been in place for over fifty years. Apparently, its prestige and attractiveness to MBA graduates declined as the year 2000 approached. This led to updating to its current format, which consists of four segments:
  • 15 weeks in sales and marketing

  • 15 weeks in manufacturing and operations

  • 15 weeks in corporate strategy, finance and human resources

  • 7 weeks in one of the company's rural locations — for exposure to the life of ordinary Indians
You can read the Tata Group's own description of the TAS program (on which Palfini's report apparently draws) here. Tata's goal is for TAS to assist in recruiting "high-achieving young postgraduates from leading business schools each year" and to train them in a way that enables "lifelong mobility, across companies, industries and functions" by imparting "that macro view of business which is critical in preparing young professionals for general management."

After their year of training, Tata's management recruits receive their initial job assignment, which is the first step in an individualized five-year development plan. To help them progress, each participant works with a mentor.

Palfini attributes Tata Group's recently improved standing in the eyes of Indian business graduates in significant measure to the TAS program and what it represents for career building.



Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Training Weblog at Lucent

In May 2005 Michael Angeles of Bell Labs made an instructive presentation to the New Jersey chapter of the American Society for Information Science & Technology. His presentation centers on a case example spelling out how Lucent used a training blog as an integral part of a complex IT project.

The specific training need involved equipping Lucent engineers to effectively handle the second phase of Lucent's rollout of a new SAP enterprise system. The blog was designed to cover several bases:
  • Communication among interested parties

  • Sharing supplementary information, e.g., documents and announcements

  • Developing and refining knowledge

  • Archiving documents and the output of face-to-face training
The blog provided access to documents during training sessions, was used for asking questions during training, enabled administrators to push information — including answers to questions — out to the engineers, and enabled engineers to post comments, and raise issues.

Angeles emphasizes:
When it comes to fostering understanding, weblogs are viable because they’re conversational. The most successful weblogs we’ve seen have used story telling to promote understanding and allow readers to comment on whatever is written. It is this conversational tone that helps promote understanding. It’s not unlike the conversational tone in email discussion groups. ...

Weblogs encourage conversation and create connections between participants. This interaction leads to individual knowledge growth. [note to Slide 9, emphasis added]
For people interested in exploring how internal blogs can help their organizations, Angeles recommends first assessing the organization's "information ecology":
Are people blogging yet?

What are they using for software?

What type of support can you provide?

Can you provide software? If you are considering providing weblogging software, do you want to manage it centrally?

How will you support weblog authors once they get started?
Angeles points out that blogging "relies heavily on awareness of resources as much as it relies on publishing one’s own information."

Looking farther down the road, Angeles notes that an organization which introduces internal blogs needs to think about designing a means for aggregating, archiving and indexing blog output in a way that makes blog entries easy to find.


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cooking Lesson: Navy Bean Soup for 100

In the course of researching Admiral Halsey's career for yesterday's post, I came upon an official recipe for Navy Bean Soup that I can't resist passing along.

Chef Darnell White stirs a pot of navy bean soup
in the galley of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Los Angeles

(Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 21, 1999)

Navy Bean Soup
Yield: 6 ¼ gallons (100 1-cup portions)

             6 lbs dry white beans (3 ½ qt.)
             7 gal. ham stock
             8 ham bones
             1 lb. carrots, shredded (2 ¾ cups)
             2 lbs. onions, finely chopped (4 ½ cups)
             2 tsp. pepper
             ½ lb. hard wheat flour, sifted (2 cups)
             ¾ qt. cold water
  1. Pick over and wash beans. (If beans are old, soak 3-4 hours prior to cooking.)

  2. Add ham stock and ham bones. Heat to boiling point; cover and simmer 2-3 hours or until beans are tender. If necessary, add hot water.

  3. Remove ham bones. (Optional: Add one No. 10 can of tomatoes.)

  4. Add carrots, onions, and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes.

  5. Blend flour and water to a smooth paste. Stir into soup, and cook 10 minutes longer. If desired, add salt and additional pepper to taste.


Friday, October 26, 2007

War Gaming at the Naval War College

William Frederick "Bull" Halsey was the last Fleet (five-star) Admiral in the US Navy.

William Frederick Halsey
This November 30, 1942 Time cover image was painted just before Halsey's promotion from Vice Admiral to full Admiral. In 1945 Halsey was awarded a rare fifth star, making him Fleet Admiral.
(Source Time. The associated article is here.)

As reported by Time, Halsey made a point of coordinating with the Army and Marine Corps during World War II operations in the Pacific:
Admiral Halsey cabled Secretary Knox: In the Southern Pacific neither we of the Navy nor those of the Army and Marine Corps recognize any division between the services. All are united in service to the United States.

With Douglas MacArthur advancing and Bill Halsey victorious, the schisms of the South Pacific seemed to be disappearing. All along there had been excellent cooperation between fighting men whenever they joined on the actual fronts. Now, with equally aggressive commanders leading both Army and Navy in the area, the divisions at the top were narrowing. Admiral Halsey and General MacArthur established and maintained hour-to-hour contact. Devices were being found to erase the arbitrary line which has divided their command.
The Time article goes on to note:
The command situation was improving. But cooperation, depending upon personal relations which might be changed overnight, could never equal actual unity of command. That was still wanting.
I imagine it was this seminal effort to achieve effective joint force warfare that lies behind naming a high-profile simulation project at the Naval War College after Adm. Halsey.

The Halsey Alfa project (there are also Halsey Bravo and Halsey Charlie projects) began in 2004. As explained by Capt. James R. Fitzsimonds (USN ret.), one of the project leaders, Halsey Alfa has three goals (reg req):
to develop a better understanding of modern combat operations, to derive insights and recommendations of near-term operational relevance to Fleet operators, and to educate officers in the complexities of joint force employment at the theater level of warfare.
Halsey Alfa uses war gaming as its main research tool for seeking optimum solutions to various operational problems (scenarios). Participants play out competing courses of action, and analyze the results to generate "significant insights into relevant tactical, operational, and strategic issues for a specific theater-level contingency."

Capt. Fitzsimonds reports that
The fine-grained analysis of the Halsey Alfa approach has uncovered a number of counter-intuitive findings with respect to force-on-force interactions that have called into question many traditional assumptions, and driven a number of innovative operational approaches. The Halsey Alfa effort is also facilitating an understanding of potential enemy approaches to warfare, and how a given Red [enemy] comes to define battlefield victory and recognize his own battlefield defeat. It is true Red teaming in the most classic sense.[1]

Key outputs of the Halsey games include specific actions by Blue that unhinge various Red plans, and thus serve as effective dissuasion or deterrence measures.
Fitzsimonds concludes by suggesting that the most valuable aspect of Halsey Alfa is "educating officers as true joint warfighters, lifting them above their narrow tactical specialties and preparing them to deal with the complexities of high intensity combat in the modern joint theater of operations."

1 "Red Team: a group of subject-matter experts (SME) ... that provides an independent peer review of products and processes, acts as a devil’s advocate, and knowledgeably role-plays the enemy and outside agencies, using an iterative, interactive process during operations planning." Col. Timothy G. Malone and Maj. Reagan E. Schaupp, "The 'Red Team': Forging a Well-Conceived Contingency Plan," Aerospace Power Journal Vol. XVI, No. 2 (Summer 2002), p. 22.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Mistakes were made"

Earlier this year social psychologist Carol Tavris and emeritus psychology professor Elliot Aronson (University of California – Santa Cruz) published a book examining the question of why the passive voice is so popular when people acknowledge mistakes.

In Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Tavris and Aronson argue that trying to avoid responsibility for mistakes is not simply a matter of avoiding punishment.
What's interesting to us in our book is something that we think is far more insidious and far more dangerous and that's lying to ourselves. That's not "I made a mistake and I don't want to admit it," it's "I don't even see that I did make a mistake. I don't see that I made a mistake because I'm gonna justify what I did and, as soon as I make a decision and it may turn out to be the wrong one, I blind myself to information that might suggest I did the wrong thing." (from www.onpointradio.org)
As Tavris and Aronson view the situation, cognitive dissonance — e.g., the notion that there has been a mistake, existing alongside the notion that "I'm not the sort of person who makes such mistakes" — creates tension that a person relieves by rejecting evidence that she was indeed the one responsible for the error.

We've all witnessed people engaged in misguided self-justification. We've probably all engaged in such behavior ourselves — actively assuring ourselves that a belief we're clinging to is correct despite the existence of what an objective observer would recognize as disconfirming evidence.

How to minimize this problem of self-deception? Aronson advocates "vigilance" in looking for disconfirming evidence. Tavris says:
Understanding how dissonance works is critical for us as teachers—and learners—for two reasons: First, it explains why, faced with scientific information that disconfirms their important beliefs, most people will tell you to get lost and take your data with you. ...

Second, understanding dissonance helps us discuss findings in better, more persuasive ways — without making the other person feel stupid for believing something now shown to be false: "How could you possibly believe that!" or "Look, isn't it interesting that your lifelong theory of child development is wrong?" We can try to present science not in a negative, debunking way but in a positive way — to show what is fun, exciting and creative even about disconfirming research. Scientists understand that there is nothing inherently dissonant about disconfirming results; they may not welcome such findings, but they see them (or should!) as important information that moves us a little further along the path of knowledge. (from www.americanscientist.org)
In summing up, Tavris asks, "How can we understand what we did wrong, and not just make a superficial apology, but learn in some deep way from the harm that we caused, so that we don't make the same mistake again? That's the goal. That's the reason we wrote this book."


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Prof. Forni's Civility Initiative

A professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins, P. M. Forni, has made civility a special cause and subject of study.

Prof. Forni is director of the Civility Initiative, an outgrowth of the Civility Project, which he founded in 1997 to assess "the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society."

The Civility Initiative came to my attention recently via an alumni newsletter that led me to a press release touting research Prof. Forni conducted in partnership with the Jacob France Institute of the University of Baltimore. The purpose of the research was to get a handle on what behaviors people nowadays consider especially rude.

A sample of 615 people — employees of two Baltimore companies, Lifebridge Health and E A Engineering Science and Technology, and employees and students of the University of Baltimore — were surveyed. It's hard to know how representative this group is, so the results reported below can only be considered suggestive. Still, since plenty of people, including me, attach considerable importance to civility, any information on what strikes people as particularly offensive is of interest.

The respondents rated 30 behaviors on a scale of 1 (not offensive) to 5 (most offensive). Out of the behaviors evaluated, the following made it into the Top Ten (i.e., these were the behaviors with the highest average rudeness scores):
  1. Discrimination in an employment situation.

  2. Erratic/aggressive driving that endangers others.

  3. Taking credit for someone else's work.

  4. Treating service providers as inferiors.

  5. Jokes or remarks that mock another's race/gender/age/disability/sexual preference or religion.

  6. Children who behave aggressively or who bully others.

  7. Littering (including trash, spitting, pet waste).

  8. Misuse of handicapped privileges.

  9. Smoking in non-smoking places or smoking in front of non-smokers without asking.

  10. Using cell phones or text messaging in mid- conversation or during an appointment or meeting.
For more on Prof. Forni's ideas on civility, you can read his 2002 book, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. The list of rules is in the book's table of contents, which you can access from this Amazon page. You can read the foreword to the book here. Prof. Forni also presents his views in talks and workshops.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rory Stewart's Experience in Iraq

I find it hard to imagine a better example of how someone exercises good judgment in an executive position — the subject of yesterday's post — than the story of how Rory Stewart handled his job as deputy governor of Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces in southern Iraq during an eleven-month period in 2003-2004.

Before I came upon the account Stewart provides of his experiences in Iraq that appears as an interview in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review, I had already been introduced to his remarkable ability to work across cultures by reading The Places in Between, his account of walking through Afghanistan in 2002. This Afghan memoir is replete with episodes that testify to Stewart's emotional intelligence and resiliency.

In the HBR interview, Stewart describes to senior editor Lew McCreary the daunting complexities of trying to promote order in the provinces he was managing for the Coalition Provisional Authority. He comments that
... I felt the trek [in Afghanistan] had given me an instinctive feeling not only for how to greet people or negotiate with them or appeal to their sense of honor but also for what was politically possible.
Once in Iraq, Stewart explains:
I focused most on two things. The first was my sense of what Iraqis wanted and expected. Above all, they wanted security and order, justice and fairness — and many of them were quite willing to resort to whatever means they thought necessary to achieve those ends. But I was worried, too, about the reputation of the United States and Britain, because there were a lot of pople putting the worst possible complexion on our motives. As things began to disintegrate, I felt that we should be judged not just by the number of jobs we created or the number of schools we restored. Our purposes were also political, moral, and symbolic. How would Iraqis perceive our character, our moral character? ...

I really did want to create a situation in which, if we did nothing else, Iraqis at least would say, at the end of this time, that we were honorable. We weren't corrupt; we weren't torturing people. They might judge that we weren't particularly competent, but they'd see we were trying to serve the people, trying to help. I think — and this is not a statement about me, it's really a statement about my colleagues — by and large we achieved that. [emphasis in original]
Stewart offers examples of how he learned from his colleagues, delegated responsibilities to Iraqis, and cultivated the art of the doable.

And he points out that one can overdo catering to supposed cultural differences. For example, he observes:
... in rural areas of southern Iraq ... people care greatly about the idea of quwah. They translate it as "strength," though it doesn't necessarily mean strength in a physical or military way. It's more about personality: the sense, first, that people are courageous; second, that they actually believe in the things they're saying; and third, that they're able to resolve disputes within the community and represent the community to the outside. So it's a society that isn't as alien to us, in the United States and Europe, as we might think.
In related comments, Stewart suggests:
... I ... think that one of the ways in which we hurt ourselves in Iraq was that we failed to realize that our idealism — as much as it could be an impediment — was also a great strength, something that Iraqis could relate to. In many respects, these are quite romantic cultures, and often the people attacking you [in meetings] are thinking idealistically. They're thinking about honor or religion or some great abstraction.
For a fuller account of Stewart's experiences in Iraq, you can read his second 2006 book, The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.

The HBR interview closes with an update on Stewart's current projects in Kabul — urban regeneration, schooling in traditional crafts, and business development. His comments about misguided training provided by non-governmental organizations are particularly striking:
... in my opinion, a whole generation of young Afghans has to some extent been ruined by training courses financed by nongovernmental agencies over the past four years. When I'm interviewing young Afghans now, I might say, "Look, I've got a real problem in the school, and I need somebody to come in and solve it." Often the person I'm interviewing will say, "What we need to do is redefine the job descriptions, focus on teamwork, and write a mission statement!" And I'll say, "Please, I don't want you to do any of those things. I want you to stop the senior ceramist from murdering the junior ceramist! And I want you to make sure we're productively fashioning woodwork."
To learn more about Stewart's activities in Kabul, you can visit the web site of his Turquoise Mountain Foundation.

Women learning woodcarving at the Centre for Traditional Afghan Arts and Architecure, established by Rory Stewart in Kabul


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Exercising Good Judgment

Since the ability to exercise good judgment has always struck me as fundamental to professionalism and good leadership, I was especially interested in reading "Making Judgment Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership" in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Though this article suffers from the all-too-common fault in business writing of claiming more novelty than its authors — Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, business professors at the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, respectively — actually offer, it is well worth study for its straightforward presentation of the process of making good judgment calls.

Instead of going along with the dubious contrast Tichy and Bennis set up between the "traditional view" of leadership judgment and their own "process view," let me just cite their summary of the latter as a way of giving some of the flavor of their analysis. Tichy and Bennis argue that leadership judgment is:
  • a dynamic process that unfolds over time.

  • rational and analytic but also emotional, with considerable human drama.

  • responsive to variables some or all of which can be outside of the leader's domain, and/or which relate to the judgment call only indirectly.

  • guided by the leader, but influenced by many actors and by subsequent judgment calls.

  • top-down-up, i.e., execution influences how judgments are reshaped.

  • an open process in which mistakes are shared and learning is used to make adjustments.

  • encouraged at all levels, with the aim not only of achieving good results from particular decisions, but also of continously developing the capability of exercising good judgment throughout the organization.
In addition to the above outline of the characteristics of the judgment process, Tichy and Bennis provide a valuable description of the three phases of the process — preparation, making the judgment call itself, and execution. Within this discussion, Tichy and Bennis emphasize the importance of redo loops and leadership story lines.

Redo loops. There are three points in the judgment process at which the leader can backtrack to correct for errors or inadequacies in what has been done so far:
  • During the preparation phase, you circle back if you find you are having trouble mobilizing and aligning the organization to address the issue at hand. Most often, the backtracking involves doing a better job of framing the issue in a way that is both accurate and compelling.

  • Between the end of the preparation phase and the start of the decision phase, you may find it helpful to circle back to obtain further input from stakeholders.

  • Within the execution phase, you circle back to modify strategy and tactics whenever you learn something new that indicates a need to adjust.
Leadership story lines are what establish the context for judgment calls. As Tichy and Bennis define it, a story line
describes a company's identity and direction and contains three elements: an idea about how to make the organization successful; an articulation and reinforcement of the organization's values; and a strategy for generating the energy needed to accomplish its goals. When the need for a judgment arises, leaders can match the possible consequences of a decision against the story line to get a clear picture of what to do.
You can find some earlier comments on exercising good judgment in these previous posts.


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Joshua Schachter's del.icio.us

Smithsonian, for my money unsurpassed among general interest magazines in its editing and design, has published a special issue featuring 37 of "America's Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences."

I enjoyed browsing through the entire issue, but my eye was particularly caught by the write-up on Joshua Schachter, the man who created del.icio.us. The article by Adam Rogers describes the genesis of del.icio.us as a personal Web site Schachter programmed in 1998 to make it easier for him to keep track of web pages he wanted to be able to revisit easily.

The key to Schachter's approach to simplifying the retrievablity of web pages is tagging. Del.icio.us also helps with searching by enabling people to share their tags. As Rogers explains:
... you can go to the del.icio.us Web site and type what you're looking for into its search box; it then kicks back all the sites that del.icio.us users have tagged with your search word ...

For his part, Schachter says the key to del.icio.us is that people tag sites out of self-interest, so they do a good job.
The latter point is important, something one realizes after encountering some of the junk tags jokesters apply at sites like the Smithsonian's online photo collection.

PS Brian Hare is another of the Smithsonian's young innovators who is of particular interest to me as a teacher. Hare is a primatologist whose research leads him to believe that "we would not have evolved the kind of intelligence we have — the kind that allows us to use our brains together, to build things, to be mentally flexible — if we hadn't had a shift in temperament. ... We had to lose [fear of strangers and intolerance of those lower in the social hierarchy] to become who we are." As Virginia Morell, the Smithsonian's writer for the Hare article sums it up: "Controlling one's fears, paying attention to others, finding joy in working with others — that's the path to intelligence ..."



Saturday, October 20, 2007

21st Century Journalism XXV: Depth Pays

A recent report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) indicates that local TV stations serve their own best interests by offering viewers high-quality newscasts.

As reported by Drake Bennett in the October 14 edition of the Boston Globe, PEJ's We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Improve Ratings, Too, published this year by Cambridge University Press, presents evidence that viewers of local news broadcasts "consistently reward in-depth reporting with higher ratings than more cursory stories, no matter what the topic."

The report's authors, Tom Rosenstiel (PEJ), Marion Just (a professor of political science at Wellelsey College), Todd Belt (a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo), Atiba Pertilla (a fellow in the history department at New York University), Walter Dean (PEJ), and Dante Chinni (PEJ), explain:
Our analysis of newscast content correlated with ratings success shows — contrary to the conventional wisdom — that local TV news could do better by following the rules of good journalism — putting in the effort to get good stories, finding and balancing sources, seeking out experts, and making stories relevant to the local audience. [Wellesley College press release of September 21, 2007]
Bennett's article includes counter-arguments from several informed observers, such as consultant Jerry Gumbert, who believes that ratings alone do not lend themselves to clear interpretation concerning viewer preferences. In Gumbert's view, ratings must be combined with querying viewers about the specific reasons they make particular program choices.

I cannot say that I find the Gumbert position persuasive. Yes, focus groups and individual interviews can provide insights concerning viewer preferences, but I would be surprised if such research produced recommendations fundamentally at odds with those derived from the PEJ's research findings.



Friday, October 19, 2007

Colgate's Reuben Mark on Leadership

Among the best articles Knowledge@Wharton has published recently is a report on a speech about leadership delivered by Reuben Mark, Colgate-Palmolive's recently retired CEO (after a tenure of 23 years).

Mark's ideas reflect his accumulated experience and his humane view of how to lead a business organization. He emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement and of staying focused on products "in which the company can maintain a strong position." He also advises that effective leaders nurture a caring internal environment.

A summary point that Mark particularly emphasizes: "The job of the major leaders in the organization centers around culure."

The whole Knowledge@Wharton report (about 1600 words) concerning Mark's views on leadership is refreshing to read.


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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Caterpillar Knowledge Network

A few days ago Sarah Boehle of ManageSmarter published an account of Caterpillar, Inc.'s approach to knowledge management. Both the description of the components of the network, and the tips on how to make such a network actually pay off are useful.

The five Knowledge Network components are:
  • Communities of practice whose members carry on threaded discussions of issues of interest in their particular niche of Caterpillar's business.

  • Knowledge entries that Caterpillar employees submit and that are validated prior to posting.

  • Bulletin boards on which employees, outside experts, suppliers, and Caterpillar partners can carry on discussions.

  • A template used to capture lessons learned.

  • A directory of experts whose areas of expertise are described so others within Caterpillar itself, and also in its value chain, can contact individuals with questions.
The tips that Frederick Goh, Strategic Learning Manager at Caterpillar University, highlights are:
  1. Have a qualified, self-nominated community leader overseee each community of practice. The leader ensures that discussions are robust and that best practices are publicized.

  2. Establish a sharing culture, as opposed to a culture in which individuals believe it is in their interest to hoard information. (In Boehle's brief article, there is no detail concerning how Caterpillar maintains the sharing culture that Goh says exists at the company.)

  3. Recognize expertise. At Caterpillar, both the community leaders (see item 1) and the experts in the online directory have special visibility.
Caterpillar sells its Knowledge Network software commercially. A brochure is available here (pdf).



Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Building Innovation Capacity

In the Fall 2007 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, David Wagner provides a summary of work of Joaquin Alegre and Ricardo Chiva that provides insight into how an organization can increase its capacity to innovate.

Alegre, an associate professor of management at the University of Valencia in Spain, and Chiva, an associate professor of management at Jaume I University in Castellón, reviewed the secondary literature to identify characteristics that were plausibly important in strengthening an organization's innovation capacity. They then collected survey data for the European Union's ceramic tile industry that indicated that five of the characteristics were key factors underlying organizational learning capability (OLC), which, they argue, drives capacity to innovate.

These five key factors for organizational learning and innovation capacity are:

Experimentaton — receptivity of the organization to new ideas and suggestions. In a high-learning organization, employees are encouraged to search for innovative solutions to problems. The organization benefits from enhanced creativity — "a flow of ideas and proposals that challenge the established order."

Risk taking — tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty and errors. To be active and effective in innovation, the organization must be prepared to learn not only from successes but also from failures. Typically, this is the factor that presents the organization with the greatest room for improvement.

Interaction with the external environment — "scope of relationships with factors that are beyond the direct control or influence of the organization" — competitors, and the economic, social, monetary, and political/legal systems. To innovate at a high rate, the organization must be able to learn at a pace that enables it to evolve in sync with its environment.

Dialogue — "sustained collective inquiry into the processes, assumptions and certainties that make up everyday experience." Dialogue is the way in which information and skills are most readily spread through the organization. It is also the way in which multiple viewpoints get an airing so they can be considered and evaluated. Among the five key factors, dialogue is the one in which organizations are typically strongest. Unsurprisingly, low-learning organizations have more room for improving internal dialogue than high-learning organizations.

Participative decision making — involvement and influence of employees in the decision-making process. Participative decision-making — the factor on which low-learning organizations rate themselves lowest — tends to boost employee involvement and job satisfaction, i.e., it has important motivational impact.

Alegre and Chiva's recommendation is that an organization looking to increase its capacity to innovate, assess its learning capability by measuring the five factors listed above. The organization then knows what strengths it can build on and where it has weaknesses it needs to address.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Economics Nobel

An accessible explanation of the work of Leonid Hurwicz (University of Minnesota emeritus professor of economics), Eric Maskin (professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton NJ), and Roger Myerson (University of Chicago professor of economics) that earned them the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is here — the blog written by George Mason University economics professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabbarok.


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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Sapokka Water Garden in Kotka


For a map of the water garden, click here.



Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kotka, Finland

Today's stop ...

The official English web site for the city of Kotka is here.



Saturday, October 13, 2007

Athens, Greece

Today's stop ...

The caryatids of the Erechtheum on the Athens acropolis



Friday, October 12, 2007

Sea of Marmara

Today we sail back through the Bosporus, and then across the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea toward Athens.

NASA image



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nessebar, Bulgaria

Today's stop ...

The Church of Christ Pantocrator in Nessebar
(image from this blog)



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Constanta, Romania

Today's stop ...

The Casino in Constanta
(image from My Romania)



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Istanbul, Turkey

Today's stop ...

Istiklal (Freedom) Street
(from H. Murat Altay's home page)



Monday, October 08, 2007

Mitilini, Lesvos

Today's stop ...

A few of the tens of thousands of olive trees on Lesvos
(from www.biosecrets.gr)



Sunday, October 07, 2007

Minoan Civilization

Just one example of the remarkable objects produced at the apex of the Minoan civilization on Crete — c. 1600 BC ...

Minoan Snake Goddess
Christopher Whitcombe, an art professor at Sweet Briar College, provides a wealth of background information here.



Saturday, October 06, 2007

Iraklion, Crete

Today's stop ...

Embroidery from the Collection of Folk Arts of the Historical Museum of Crete(from www.heraklion-city.gr)



Friday, October 05, 2007

Helsinki, Finland

Today's stop ...

One of my favorite places in Helsinki, the Academic Bookstore has been in a building designed by Alvar Aalto since 1969.
(Image from petitpays.exblog.jp)



Thursday, October 04, 2007

Boston, Massachusetts

My trip to Finland, Greece, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria starts today in Boston.

The new building of Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art
(from www.royalacademy.org.uk)



Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mentoring at ESL Federal Credit Union

ManageSmarter.com has posted a write-up of the mentoring program for new-hires at ESL Federal Credit Union in Rochester NY, a program that has an appealing air of practicality.

The write-up takes the form of an interview with Kelli Loveless, a senior training/performance specialist at ESL. Loveless explains that the mentoring program was instigated by the unnerving frequency with which new-hires were bailing out after just a few weeks of exposure to their jobs.

Anonymous exit interviews clarified that the issue wasn't jobs whose responsibilities were not as advertised. Rather, the departing employees were dismayed by the difficulty they experienced in carrying out those responsibilities without adequate assistance while they were still learning how to cope with such realities as ornery customers and sometimes impatient supervisors.

Loveless offers straightforward advice for how other organizations can emulate ESL's mentoring approach to addressing the problem of easing people into their work and preparing them to advance on a career path. In brief, the advice is:
  • Choose mentors who are temperamentally and technically fitted to the role.

  • Reward and recognize the mentors' contribution. This includes reducing other responsibilities so that mentors are not overworked, and providing a visible award. (ESL gives mentors a special business card holder to display on their desks.)

  • Monitor results closely. Discuss any issues promptly, and be similarly prompt in handing out well-earned compliments.
Further details of Loveless' advice are in provided in the ManageSmarter article.


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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Nation's Intangible Wealth

Just about a year ago I devoted a pair of posts to the subject of a firm's intangible assets.

Now Ronald Bailey has written an article for the Wall Street Journal that elucidates the importance of intangible assets at the national level. Bailey opens with a telling comparision:
A Mexican migrant to the U.S. is five times more productive than one who stays home. Why is that?

The answer is not the obvious one: This country has more machinery or tools or natural resources. Instead, according to some remarkable but largely ignored research — by the World Bank, of all places — it is because the average American has access to over $418,000 in intangible wealth, while the stay-at-home Mexican's intangible wealth is just $34,000.
The rest of the article addresses what a country's intangible wealth consists of, how it is measured, and how it affects employees' productivity. Bailey's principal source is a study published by the World Bank in 2005: "Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century."

In brief:

What is a nation's intangible capital? It's such factors as "the trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights and effective government."

How is intangible capital measured? Statistical analysis enabled the authors of the report to quantify the importance of such institutions as education and the rule of law for a country's intangible wealth. For instance,
The rule-of-law index was devised using several hundred individual variables measuring perceptions of governance, drawn from 25 separate data sources constructed by 18 different organizations. The latter include civil society groups (Freedom House), political and business risk-rating agencies (Economist Intelligence Unit) and think tanks (International Budget Project Open Budget Index).
What is the impact of intangible capital?Both in its own right, and through more or less efficient combination with other types of capital (e.g., natural resources and equipment), intangible capital enables workers to be more productive — indeed it enables them to be decently productive in the first place, before you even get to the issue of enhanced productivity due to increases in the stock of capital.


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Monday, October 01, 2007

Promoting Intrinsic Motivation

Edward Vockell, a professor of educational psychology and research at the School of Education at Purdue University-Calumet, has posted his book, Educational Psychology: A Practical Approach online. The whole book is worth browsing for ideas on how to improve one's training activities, but I'd call particular attention to the treatment of intrinsic motivation, the subject of an earlier post. Prof. Vockell cites seven factors which contribute to intrinsic motivation:1

People are best motivated when working toward personally meaningful goals whose attainment requires functioning at an intermediate level of difficulty — doing tasks that are not too easy, but also not too hard. Which means:
  • Set personally meaningful goals.

  • Make attainment of goals probable but not guaranteed.

  • Provide feedback while the work is underway.

  • Relate goals to employees' self esteem.
It helps if there is something in the physical environment that attracts the employee's attention, or there is an optimal level of discrepancy between present knowledge and skills and what these can be after the employee takes on a task. Which means:
  • When teaching, consider making occasional abrupt changes that will be perceived by the senses.

  • Stimulate interest by making the employee wonder about something.
People generally want to control what happens to them. Which means:
  • Make clear the cause-and-effect relationships between what employees are doing and what the business requires in order to be successful.

  • Nurture employees' belief that their work will have a strong impact.

  • Allow employees to choose how they will learn.
Encourage employees to envision the details of the outcomes they want to achieve. Which means:
  • Help employees imagine themselves using newly learned information and skills in situations they are likely to confront on the job.

  • Make the fantasies intrinsic rather than extrinsic.

  • Look for opportunities to make work fun.
Without going overboard, enable work groups to compete on meeting goals and objectives. Keep in mind:
  • Competition is more important for some people than for others.

  • People who lose at competition may suffer more demotivation than the winners gain in motivation.

  • Competition can lead to damaging lack of cooperation.
Most people get satisfaction from helping others achieve their goals. Keep in mind:
  • Cooperation is more important for some people than for others.

  • Cooperation requires and develops interpersonal skills.
Employees feel satisfaction when their accomplishments are recognized and appreciated. Keep in mind:
  • Recognition requires that the process or product or some other result of the employee's activity be visible.

  • Recognition differs from competition in that it does not involve a comparison with the performance of someone else.
A final point to bear in mind is that different people, with their different motivational profiles and past experiences, respond differently to the factors listed above. Therefore trainers and managers need to individualize their approach when designing learning, coaching, and work assignments.

1 Adapted from Thomas W. Malone and Mark R. Lepper, "Intrinsic Motivation and Instructional Effectiveness in Computer-Based Education, " in Aptitude, Learning, and Instruction: Vol. 3. Cognitive and Affective Process Analyses, R. E. Snow and M. J. Farr (eds.) (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum), pp. 255-286.


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