!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Science Education at Second Life

Patricia Anderson (aka Perplexity Peccable at Second Life), a librarian at the University of Michigan Health Sciences Libraries, has produced the machinima and voice narration for the video below, which offers an overview of some of the learning environments that various organizations have created at Second Life. (Storyboarding was done by Anderson's colleague, Sharon Grayden, who works in dental informatics at Michigan's school of dentistry and is Vitesse Vella at Second Life.)

The video has seven segments:

0:10 The Science School — real-time data visualization

0:22 Second Nature — molecular structure

0:37 Genome Island — cellular components

1:00 ARC Research Center — anatomical structures

1:30 International Society for Technology in Education Auditorium — traditional teaching space

2:04 Genome Island — experiential learning environments

2:40 New Media Consortium Research Park — healthcare clinical simulation

You can go here to see the slides Patricia Anderson prepared for a presentation on "Why Work and Teach with Second Life."


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Steven Reiss on Intrinsic Motivation

In two previous posts I've talked about intrinsic motivation — the desire to do something for its own sake, as opposed to doing it in response to some outside incentive, such as payment.

Now I'd like to add a level of detail about the dimensions of intrinsic motivation that are available thanks to research conducted over several decades by Steven Reiss, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

In "Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation: The Theory of 16 Basic Drives," (pdf) published in the Review of General Psychology in 2004, Reiss summarizes his research. He begins by defining motives as "reasons people hold for initiating and performing voluntary behavior." He then explains the thinking and research that led him and co-researchers to conclude that there are sixteen "end purposes of human behavior." These end purposes are the desire:
  • to influence (including leadership)

  • for knowledge

  • to be autonomous

  • for social standing (including desire for attention)

  • for peer companionship (desire to play)

  • to get even (including desire to compete, to win)

  • to obey a traditional moral code

  • to improve society (including altruism, justice)

  • to exercise muscles

  • for sex (including courting)

  • to raise own children

  • to organize (including desire for ritual)

  • to eat

  • for approval

  • to avoid anxiety, fear

  • to collect (relates to the value of frugality)
Reiss has developed and validated a series of assessment instruments called Reiss Profiles, which vary in straightforward ways according to the setting in which they will be used — school, business, hospital, etc. The instruments are used to assess the degree of priority an individual gives to each of the 16 dimensions above. This information can be used to analyze and predict people's behavior.

You can read more about Reiss's theory of motivation here and here. (Don't be misled by the title of the second item.)



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thoughts on Managing Your Manager

I'm always on the lookout for useful ideas on how to exercise upward influence. The most recent list of coherent suggestions I've come upon is at the Dumb Little Man website, a collection of contributed tips for handling all sorts of life challenges and conundrums.

The tips come from the proprietor of the Grad Money Matters site, who goes by the nom de net, ispf. In brief, ispf's tips (only the sixth of which I question) are:

Market yourself to your boss — "Make sure your manager knows at all times what you are working on" and that s/he is up-to-date on what you have accomplished.

Don't be overly sensitive — Instead of reeling from a sense of personal insult when your boss criticizes you, "find what it is that you need to do to rectify the situation."

Make your manager look good — This is an item that shows up on any list of managing-up tips. "Learn the difficult and dark art of making your accomplishments known to the upper brass without snatching away the glory from your boss."

Your manager is not your friend — Avoid embarrassment by staying aware of your manager's responsibility to put the organization's needs ahead of any individual employee's wants.

Don't be a pain in the butt — When you're facing a problem, try first to handle it yourself. If a variance from plan, such as a slipping deadline, is developing, give your boss a timely explanation, and lay out a proposed course of action that you believe will minimize the ramifications.

Actions speak louder than words — ispf is overly confident that "It does not matter if your actual job is significant or critical from the company's perspective — but if you do it well anyway, it will be noticed and will open doors for you." My version of this tip would be: Be sure to combine getting the job done with marketing yourself (Tip #1).

Don't hog your boss's time — When you have something to explain to your boss, make sure you are prepared to speak concisely and clearly. Do an advance mental rehearsal of what you have to say.

Identify your boss's weakness and take advantage of it — ispf offers the example of a boss with a big ego. Without become too slavish, stroke that ego.

Make sure your boss knows your personal career goals — If you believe you are ready for increased responsibility, or you want to move in a new direction, discuss possibilities with your boss.

ispf concludes with the timeless thought that bosses are human too. Treating your boss with respect, and adapting your behavioral style to the boss's preferences (conscious or otherwise), is your best bet for maintaining a productive working relationship — one that helps you achieve your own goals at the same time that you're furthering the boss's and the organization's goals.



Monday, January 28, 2008

Steve Jobs, if this is the best you can do ...

... please spare us your prognostications.

Thanks to Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age, I am now aware of what Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. had to say in an interview reported by John Markoff in a January 15 post on the New York Times BITS blog.

According to Jobs, the Amazon Kindle, a wireless device for accessing and reading digital texts, is doomed because "the fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

Au contraire.

As Dumenco points out, not only are book sales continuing to grow, but, if you define "reading" as "reading whatever texts are of interest to you delivered via whatever media you like to use," there is an enormous amount of reading going on, as electronically enabled ways of communicating ideas, stories, and positions become easier and cheaper to use. Now that texts are increasingly available on-demand, there is every reason to think that the trend toward intensive creation of and, yes, reading of texts will continue to be something to which a large portion of the population devote significant amounts of time.

At the end of his commentary, Dumenco mentions the Institute for the Future of the Book, which takes as its mission
  • tracking the shift of reading from the printed page to the networked screen

  • taking actions to nudge this shift in a positive direction
You can see a list of the institute's projects on their homepage.


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jackie Walker, 1945-2007

One of the co-founders of a local organization that has brought endless comfort to people with cancer and their loved ones, died on January 8, after almost 15 years as a cancer survivor. Jackie Walker was a treasure and is sorely missed. You can read about her work at the Cancer Connection here.



Saturday, January 26, 2008

21st Century Journalism XXVI: The AP's Tom Curley Weighs In

At last November's Knight-Bagehot Dinner, Tom Curley, President and CEO of the Associated Press, offered a bracing view of the healthy possibilities that lie ahead for journalism as a profession and a business if content providers play their cards right.

Playing their cards wrong would involve persisting with traditional ways of delivering and packaging the news. Another wrong move would be continuing to allow portals to use news organizations' content to attract traffic without paying for the content in proportion to its value.

Playing their cards right means responding to news consumers' trend toward deciding for themselves when to check for news and what to read about. As Curley puts it, the "focus must be on becoming the very best at filling people's 24-hour news needs. That's a huge shift from the we-know-best, gatekeeper thinking."

Playing their cards right also means adding "real value whether through perspective, deeper reporting or great writing." And it means consistently adopting "the best way to tell the story whether words, pictures or both and without regard to format."

Three-quarters of the way into his remarks, Curley gets to the proposition that I myself believe is crucial: Quality will rule. As Curley puts it:
With traffic to destination websites flattening and new distribution making all content accessible, we're entering a new era of brutal competition. The best will stand out because they will be sought out.
Those with an appetite for news will vote with their mouse clicks.



Friday, January 25, 2008

Cultivating Negative Capability

In a famous passage in an 1817 letter to his brothers, the 22-year-old John Keats wrote of the importance for creativity of having negative capability, meaning that one is
capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
In Paris in 2001, Robert French, Peter Simpson and Charles Harvey (FSH) took up this thought in a paper, "Negative Capability: The Key to Creative Leadership" and then provided a follow-on account of their thinking in "Leadership and Negative Capability," which included a richly illuminating case example.1

In "Leadership and Negative Capability" FSH introduce their thinking by noting:
Leadership tends to be thought of in terms of positive capabilities, those attributes and abilities that allow the individual to promote decisive action even in the face of uncertainty. In this article, we argue that alongside such positive capabilities there is a need to consider the contribution of negative capability, that is, the capacity to sustain reflective inaction. This is described as ‘negative’ because it involves the ability not to do something, to resist the tendency to disperse [energy] into actions that are defensive rather than relevant for the task.
There may be a "need to wait until the insights [concerning reasonable courses of action] come, resources become available, or relationships develop." In other words, "containing the pressures evoked by uncertainty can help to create a mental and emotional space, in which a new thought may emerge that can itself become the basis for decisive action."

FSH argue that awareness of the roles of both positive and negative capability is essential for drawing reliable lessons from experience. In the case example they present, "Nicholas," the leader of the negotiating team for "Megacom," a global corporation working on setting up a joint venture involving Chinese, Russian, and Korean partners, learned a number of powerful lessons that enabled an eventually successful outcome to what proved to be a prolonged (three-year) negotiation.

For instance, Nicholas came to realize that he simply did not understand "the dynamic between the Russians and the Chinese." He decided that his best bet was "to listen carefully, to wait for the pattern [of an effective negotiation process] to evolve, and so to learn." As Nicholas put it, "The ability to say nothing is very non-western, but very powerful."

FSH build on this thought, by arguing
More than a technique, ... this practice of waiting, of attending to the deeper patterns of relationship and meaning seemed to make an essential contribution to the development of an effective personal and working relationship with both the Chinese and the Russians. A precise understanding of the nature of this development is elusive. With the Chinese, Nicholas merely noticed that in the third year of negotiations they began to tell him information that had previously been withheld.
Another key lesson for Nicholas was coming "to really understand that these guys weren't trying to hoodwink each other." Rather, they were having trouble getting their ideas translated into words whose intended meaning everyone understood. As FSH put it, "Negative capability can be thought of as underlying this capacity to hear the meanings that are often obscured as much as revealed by words, and then to convey them to others."

By adjusting their approach to negotiating — adopting an approach "very different to what we've all been taught to do" — Nicholas' team (which required some revamping in order to make sure it included only individuals with the requisite flexibility) were able to exercise influence. Nicholas explains:
We realized that the project just wasn’t going to succeed if we didn’t help everyone in the room. Without a conscious decision on our part, our role changed from negotiators, an equal party, to become an honest broker — attempting to help reach an agreement between the other parties.
At the end of their article, FSH offer ideas for how to cultivate negative capability. The approaches they suggest include:
  • Individual and group psychotherapy to help individuals understand their habitual ways of dispersing their energies when dealing with ambiguous situations.

  • Experiential learning geared to increasing understanding of group dynamics, including, as relevant, multicultural aspects of interactions among members of a group.

  • Journaling.

  • Talking to friends.

  • Engaging in art, music, and hobbies and other recreational activities.

  • Counting to ten before speaking.
The goal is to develop the ability to be patient, to manage risk, "to continue to think in moments of dangerous or threatening uncertainty."

FSH also emphasize the importance of being willing to use "the low status behaviours of waiting, observing, withdrawing, listening, adapting, patience and passivity. Although these behaviours may seem to have less intrinsic value than intervening or decision-making, for example, they can make a real and valuable contribution to the leadership of the task at hand."

1 "Negative Capability: The Key to Creative Leadership" was presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the International Society
for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations
in Paris. "Leadership and Negative Capability" was published in Vol. 55 (2002) of Human Relations, pp. 1209-1226. Robert French is a Lecturer in Organisation Studies in the School of Organisation Studies of the University of the West of England (UWE). Peter Simpson is Director of Business Development at the UWE School of Organisation Studies. Charles Harvey is Dean and Professor of Business History and Management at Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde.


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

JobTrain's MiMe Cafe

The JobTrain organization, a non-profit based in Menlo Park CA, has been operating since 1965 to "help people launch new careers and put the pieces together when their lives go off track ... [and to] help teenagers land a first job, laid-off workers start over, and older workers return to work with new skills."

One of the many concrete examples of JobTrain's work is MiMe's Cafe in Redwood City. This training restaurant, opened by JobTrain in 1996, got some encouraging publicity from Stanley Roberts of KRON-TV (San Francisco Channel 4) late last year. You can watch Roberts' report in the video below.


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Learning How to Handle Complex Projects

In the February issue of the Harvard Business Review," Kishore Sengupta and Luk N.Van Wassenhove, professors at INSEAD, along with Tarek K. Abdel-Hamid, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, offer an interesting example of circumstances in which on-the-job training falls short of what is needed for successful performance.

The situation in question is management of a complex project. The authors analyzed the manner in which seasoned managers handled a simulated complex project and concluded that simply accumulating years of experience is not sufficient for developing the needed expertise.

The basic reason for this is that complexity makes it very difficult to recognize cause-and-effect relationships, something that is essential for learning on-the-job. (The authors also point the finger at imperfect estimates of team member productivity and misguided efforts to meet initial goals even when those goals have become obsolete.)

To help ensure effective project management, Sengupta, Abdel-Hamid, and Wassenhove recommend combining on-the-job experience with formal training and decision support. Other recommendations are to:
  • Provide ample cognitive feedback — "What managers need is feedback that provides insights into the relationships among important variables in the project environment, particularly as the project evolves."

  • Calibrate forecasting tools to the project — In other words, make sure that decision support tools take the organization's industry, local environment, and staff skills into account.

  • Set goals for behavior, rather than setting targets for performance. — The recommended approach is a two-step process that begins with deciding on the behavior the organization wishes to foster (e.g., minimizing turnover on the project team), and then setting goals that encourage the desired behavior.
The one point on which I believe Sengupta, Abdel-Hamid, and Wassenhove go too far is suggesting that companies feeling a need to stint on training expense direct the available dollars into training senior people and "leave their junior hires to fend for themselves." I believe that generally there will be a positive ROI for well-conceived and well-delivered training offered to employees at all levels.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Literacy Bridge

Last September an organization called Literacy Bridge began operating as a Seattle-based non-profit, taking as its mission
    to empower children and adults with tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning, as an effective means towards advancing education, health, economic development, democracy, and human rights
Literacy Bridge's major program is the Talking Book Project. The idea is to develop affordable digital audio technology that can become the delivery mechanism for:
  • Information — presented in oral rather than written form, so reading ability is not needed.

  • Literacy training — so that people in increasing numbers will gradually be equipped to make use of information in both oral and written form.
The initial Talking Book program will be carried out in Ghana, whose adult literacy rate was reported as 58% in 2004.

You can learn more about Literacy Bridge's work by watching the video below. It's the hour-long talk Executive Director Cliff Schmidt gave on January 8 to Google employees as one in Google's ongoing series of Tech Talks.


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Monday, January 21, 2008

Some Online Educational Resources Provided by Intel

In the course of working on a role play in which I had to provide basic information on fabrication of microchips, I came upon a helpful primer that Intel provides in a section of its website devoted to educational resources.

Some other items of interest at this site — all directed at helping people strengthen their thinking ability — include:

Visual Ranking Tool — "...brings focus to the thinking behind making ordered lists. Students identify and refine criteria as they assign order or ranking to a list. They must explain their reasoning and can compare their work with each other in a visual diagram. This tool supports activities where students need to debate differences, reach consensus, and organize ideas."

Seeing Reason Tool — "... promotes cause-and-effect thinking through visual mapping. Students create visual representations of the factors and relationships in a cause-and-effect investigation. These maps make thinking visible and promote collaboration as students work together to refine their understanding."

Showing Evidence Tool — "... helps students learn how to construct well-reasoned arguments and prove their case with credible evidence. Showing Evidence gives students a visual framework for constructing an argument or hypothesis that is supported by evidence. Using the interactive features of Showing Evidence, students make a claim, identify evidence, evaluate the quality of that evidence, explain how the evidence either supports or weakens their claim, and then make a conclusion based on the evidence. This thinking tool supports activities where students need to debate differences, reach conclusions, and organize ideas."

If you are interested in a basic curriculum covering computers and related topics, you can have a look at Intel's online course called The Journey Inside. The course has six sections:
  • Introduction to Computers — "... provides short history of the computer, introduces the four major components of a computer, and compares computer 'brains' with the human brain."

  • Circuits and Switches — "... teaches students about electricity, electric circuits, and the difference between mechanical and non-mechanical (transistors) switches."

  • Digital Information — "... explores the differences between the decimal and binary number systems and how the information is represented and processed using binary code."

  • Microprocessors — "... investigates how microprocessors process information, demonstrates the size and the complexity of their circuitry, and explains how they are manufactured."

  • The Internet — "... defines the Internet, then goes on to explain the World Wide Web, hypertext, URLs, packets, bandwidth, connection choices, search engines, and the need to critically evaluate the quality of the information found on the Web."

  • Technology and Society — "... discusses the impact technological advances have on people's lives, with examples from the past and current day. Numerous side stories provide insights on ways the digital age is already affecting our lives. The final section talks about the accelerating rate of change and what we might expect to see in the near future."
The attraction of these materials, which are generally pitched to students through grade 12, is that, in fact, they can be quite illuminating for adults wishing to get better at critical thinking and/or to beef up their understanding of how computers work and are used.



Sunday, January 20, 2008

How to Promote Diversity Within Management

An article by Shankar Vedantam in today's Washington Post brings early word of a new study of what sort of diversity training actually helps increase diversity in management.

The authors of the study are Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, and Erin Kelly (KDK), sociology professors at the University of Arizona, Harvard, and the University of Minnesota, respectively. The key conclusion, according to Vedantam:
... mandatory programs — often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits — were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.
The effective diversity programs teach specific skills, "such as establishing mentoring relationships and giving women and minorities a chance to prove their worth in high-profile roles."

Vedantam spoke with Dobbin, who told him that
Women and minorities often fail to get ahead ... because people tend to form social groups with others who are like themselves — and many managers are simply unaware of the talent in their own organizations. Policies that require or explicitly encourage managers to meet with subordinates in different departments can alert managers to talented employees with different social and ethnic backgrounds and help younger employees figure out what they need to do to get ahead.
Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly collaborated on an earlier study, “Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies” (pdf), which was published in 2006 in the American Sociological Review and reported by Time in April of last year. The key finding, according to Time:
... at companies that assigned a person or committee to oversee diversity, ensuring direct accountability for results, the number of minorities and women climbed 10% in the years following the appointment. Mentorships worked too, particularly for black women, increasing their numbers in management 23.5%. Most effective is the combination of all these strategies ...
I would add, based on my own observations, that part of making existing management accountable for increasing diversity among their ranks, is identifying any managers who are dragging their feet, and making clear to such individuals that actively assisting the diversity effort is a condition of continued employment.



Saturday, January 19, 2008

Measuring Innovation

The US Department of Commerce has released a report (pdf) on measuring the impact of innovation on the US economy, an area of statistical work in which there is much room for improvement.

The report is the work of an advisory committee, which developed recommendations "for steps to be taken by the government, the business community, and government and private sector researchers to foster and improve the measurement of innovation in the economy."

The committee's definition of innovation is:
The design, invention, development and/or implementation of new or altered products, services, processes, systems, organizational structures, or business models for the purpose of creating new value for customers and financial returns for the firm.
The recommendations for steps the government should take are to:
  • Create a stronger framework for identifying and measuring innovation in the national economy. For example, improved measurement of services and intangibles is sorely needed, since these are sizeable components of the economy and are significant drivers of growth.

  • Better leverage existing data among the government statistical agencies to allow for the consistent estimation of the contributions of innovation in the GDP (measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis) and productivity accounts (maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and to develop greater understanding of innovation.

  • Increase access to data in order to facilitate more robust innovation research.

  • Convene workshops or forums to discuss innovation drivers, impediments and enablers (an area that was not part of the advisory committee's charter).

  • Continue participation in the international dialogue related to measuring and analyzing innovation and ensure that U.S. efforts are internationally compatible to the extent possible.

  • Consider development of a national innovation index when more work has been done on both data collection and analysis of innovation drivers.

  • Support funding necessary to implement the above recommendations.
The recommendations for the business community are to:
  • Create, expand and assess firm and industry-level measures of innovation and develop best practices for innovation measurement.

  • Participate in research activities and, as appropriate, make innovation information available to researchers.
For researchers, the recommendations are for:
  • Identification and assessment of innovation outcome measures.

  • Identification of gaps in innovation data and how they might be filled.

  • Analysis of relationships between innovation activities and collaboration, innovation performance and firm performance.
This set of recommendations is important because getting a handle on innovation and the processes that promote and impede it is so important for understanding the processes behind economic growth. At the same time, implementing the recommendations will require commitment by an array of people from politicians, to bureaucrats, to businesspeople, to academics. It remains to be seen at what pace the implementation proceeds.


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Friday, January 18, 2008

The Open Source Living Website

The elegantly simple Open Source Living website, which advertises itself as in beta, offers a convenient (though by no means exhaustive) compilation of links to free software, organized into the following categories:

Web++— web browsers, RSS readers, email clients, operating systems

Graphics & Photo — photo editing, vector graphics, 3D modeling

Video — media players, video editing, screencasts, DVD ripping & burning

Audio — audio players, podcasting, recording, MP3 & audio tools

Documents — word processing & office suites, note taking, personal finance

Content Management — blogging, portals, forums, wikis, e-learning

File Transfer — peer to peer, IRC, chat clients, file sharing & hosting

Web Dev — MySQL & PHP, web development references, source code editors, Flash

Entertainment — games, screensavers, stars & planetarium software

Miscellaneous — archiving, security, map tools, graph plotter

More and more organizations are recognizing that open source software can be a bargain — even when looking carefully at total cost of ownership relative to proprietary software — so keeping up-to-date on what is available makes eminent sense.


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Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Case for 2-D Graphics

Graphs with a gratuitous third dimension have always been one of my pet peeves — since they reduce clarity — but I'm not a professional graphic artist, so I'd hesitate to sound off on my own. It turns out, I don't have to. As Brad DeLong would say, I can outsource to Garr Reynolds, an acknowledged expert on the art of presenting well:

Question: Why do you think 2-D graphs are better than 3-D graphs?

Answer: 3D charts and graphs are very popular with consumers, but in almost every case it is preferable to use 2-D graphics to display 2-D data. Charts with 3-D depth and distortion usually make things harder to see, not easier. Some of the precision is lost. There is beauty in the simple display of the data itself, there is no need to decorate with distorted perspectives. If the graphic is just for showing the roughest of general trends, then there is nothing really wrong with a 3-D chart I suppose, but when you are trying to show a true visual representation of the data in the clearest way possible, a simple chart without 3-D adornment is usually better.

Source: "Ten Questions with Garr Reynolds," a post from the blog of Guy Kawasaki, also a presentations expert. (Another interesting Kawasaki interview is the one he conducted with Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.)



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SupraSphere's Archiving Capabilities

Boston-based SupraSphere, Inc. has created a software system that, according to founder David Thomson's Project Outline, has as its goal:
to integrate numerous communication types in a single interface, where data is stored in a secure “Personal Cloud” (PC), accessible anywhere from any device, but centralized and federated around the individual. A single individual might have multiple servers or virtual dedicated servers that hold their profile and data, where everything is automatically backed up and intelligently routed according to usage behavior.
This is clearly an ambitious conception. For the time being, my interest is focused on how the software enables a person to tag all sorts of information — documents, web pages, bookmarks, instant messages, and email (which is "slow, hard to manage, poorly archived, and less secure" than a SupraSphere Personal Cloud) — in a way that creates a contextual, searchable archive.

Since the tagged (indexed) information can be made available to a group or team, SupraSphere provides a "secure, real-time gateway to the knowledge within your organization."


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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Asha Kaul on Upward Influence

In a paper (pdf) published in the Proceedings of the 2003 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention, Asha Kaul, a professor now at the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education in India, reported on interview-based research concerning tactics employees use to exert upward influence in a certain type of organizational setting, namely one characterized by:
  • Transparency of policies, roles, attitude to work, and relationships with superiors and subordinates.

  • Flexibility with respect to such matters as deadlines, goals, policies, and dealing with personal issues.

  • An open door policy, meaning, more specifically, receptivity to subordinates' ideas.

  • Free-flowing communication/informal talk, meaning greater use of informal chats in person and by phone than of formal meetings and email.
Kaul cites as the main finding of her study the conclusion that "there is more flexibility in terms of usage of tactics when the communication process is informal."

For me, what was most interesting was the set of upward influence tactics Kaul found people using at the global company where she conducted her 23 interviews:
  • Reason and logic

  • Upward appeal

  • Imitation of the superior's communication and behavioral patterns.

  • Aggression, i.e., the "need to take a stand, push [one's] way forward, and convince the other by forcing [one's] views and opinions."

    "... an interviewee recounts that the appropriate person to take a decision in moments of crisis is the employee 'on the spot'. ... In this situation, unwillingness of the superior to listen or unfamiliarity with the situation, for instance, can result in time loss and cancellation of deals. Such instances necessitate that the subordinates merely 'tell' the superior of moves being taken for producing desired results 'because our presence is in a do or die situation'."

  • Reasoned aggression, defined as "forceful expressions or statements, pushing forward of ideas relentlessly, unmindful of the convictions of the other party."

    "... this study revealed that there was a clubbing together of reason/logic and aggression. From the findings it emerges that usage of either reason or aggression is not enough. Conjoining the two tactics produces optimum results in persuasion."

  • Nonchalance, a "tactic in which the agent makes an attempt to sway the target by indicating lack of interest or involvement in the subject under discussion. ... This take it or leave it tactic was seen to follow the reasoned aggression tactic."

    As described by one interviewee: "If the boss is not willing to listen or get convinced by reason, aggression or a combination of the two, I move on to a very effective way of convincing him ... Show total lack of interest in the issue ... show disinterest in the team proceedings ... the [superior] then asks me the reason for it and in an informal chat I tell him."
It is the last two tactics — reasoned aggression and nonchalance — that are relatively uncommon in discussions of upward influence, though certainly not unheard of among people with decent influence skills. Kaul's description of their use brings a welcome additional degree of realism to her report on how people at a dynamic organization get others to see things their way and to act accordingly.


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Monday, January 14, 2008

Situational Awareness

In the course of reading about military training practices, I frequently come upon the term, "situational awareness." Though one can infer from the phrase itself, and from context, basically what it means, I've been frustrated at not being able to locate a good definition.

Source: Tailhook Daily Briefing

I finally came upon such a definition at the website of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services:
Situational awareness refers to the degree to which one’s perception of a situation matches reality. In the context of crisis management, where the phrase is most often used, situational awareness includes awareness of fatigue and stress among team members (including oneself), environmental threats to safety, appropriate immediate goals, and the deteriorating status of the crisis (or patient). Failure to maintain situational awareness can result in various problems that compound the crisis. For instance, during a resuscitation, an individual or entire team may focus on a particular task (a difficult central line insertion or a particular medication to administer, for example). Fixation on this problem can result in loss of situational awareness to the point that steps are not taken to address immediately life-threatening problems such as respiratory failure or a pulseless rhythm. In this context, maintaining situational awareness might be seen as equivalent to keeping the “big picture” in mind. Alternatively, in assigning tasks in a crisis, the leader may ignore signals from a team member, which may result in escalating anxiety for the team member, failure to perform the assigned task, or further patient deterioration.
Finding this definition prompted me to try again to locate a military version. The website of the (US) Army Business Transformation Knowledge Center quotes the definition in the September 2004 edition of the Army Field Manual:
Knowledge and understanding of the current situation which promotes timely, relevant and accurate assessment of friendly, competitive and other operations within the battlespace in order to facilitate decision making. An informational perspective and skill that fosters an ability to determine quickly the context and relevance of events that are unfolding.
It's quite interesting to me how each culture — here the medical and the military — thinks very much of its own activities in explaining what maintaining situational awareness means.

Anyone who really wants to go into the subject of situational awareness in-depth can have a look at "Defining and Measuring Shared Situational Awareness" (pdf), a paper by Albert A. Nofi that the Center for Naval Analyses published in 2000. Nofi's definition:
... situational awareness is: the result of a dynamic process of perceiving and comprehending events in one's environment, leading to reasonable projections as to possible ways that environment may change, and permitting predictions as to what the outcomes will be in terms of performing one's mission. In effect, it is the development of a dynamic mental model of one's environment.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Francis Wade on his Network of Friends

Thanks to Global Voices Online, I've come upon a kindred spirit in Jamaica. Francis Wade, a management consultant, wrote a New Year's Eve post on his blog, contrasting his experience with making friends in Jamaica, where he lived his first 18 years, and making friends in the US, where he lived for 20 years.

Wade notes, "Recently, my wife commented that if she doesn't reach out to her American friends, then they are content to have the relationship just wither away." He suggests that "relationships in America are like tin foil, plastic containers, broke appliances and used tires — disposable," and adds, "It's not that they are bad people — hardly. Instead, Americans are content to let 'friends' drift in and drift out, without making any special effort to stay connected."

By contrast
Here in the Caribbean, we see relationships very differently. As I explained to a fellow consultant at one point, when we West Indians meet someone for the first time our assumption is very different — we see it as the first meeting of many. We assume that the person will be in our life forever.

Americans seem to think differently and I remember thinking that way when I lived there — "this is someone I will never see again."

The actions taken are quite different from that point on. We Jamaicans notice that Americans want to know (and tell) everything in the first introduction.

Americans notice that Jamaicans are reticent in the first meeting, and don't seem to make a special effort.

It's just that the background context is very, very different leading to almost opposing actions.

I guess they also lead to a very different idea about relationships.
I felt a kinship with Wade because maintaining relations with people I meet and enjoy has always been important, and I try not to lose touch with people regardless of whether we continue to live near each other or to work together. The "disposable" attitude toward people I've enjoyed knowing has never appealed to me.



Saturday, January 12, 2008

Industry Analysis as a Basis for Strategic Planning

As an update to work on strategy first presented in 1979, Michael Porter has published "The Five Competitive Forces that Shape Strategy" in the January 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The five forces determine the profit structure of an industry because they determine how the economic value the industry creates is apportioned among the groups with a stake in the industry, namely, existing and potential competitors, producers of substitute products and services, customers, and suppliers. The forces in question are:
  • Rivalry among existing competitors

  • Threat of new entrants

  • Threat of substitute products or services

  • Bargaining power of customers

  • Bargaining power of suppliers
In order to understand how these five forces are currently and prospectively affecting your industry, you need to undertake an industry analysis, for which Porter lays out these six typical steps:
  1. Define the relevant industry.

  2. Identify the participants and, if appropriate, segment them into groups.

  3. Assess the underlying drivers of each competitive force to determine which forces are strong and which are weak, and why.

  4. Determine overall industry structure, and test the analysis for consistency.

  5. Analyze recent and likely future changes in each force, both positive and negative.

  6. Identify aspects of industry structure that might be influenced by competitors, by new entrants, or by your company.
All of the Porter article is well worth reading. I'd call particular attention to his warning of common mistakes people make in carrying out an industry analysis:
  • Defining the industry too broadly or too narrowly.

  • Making lists instead of doing real analysis.

  • Paying equal attention to all five of the forces, rather than looking in particular depth at the most important ones.

  • Confusing effect (price sensitivity) with cause (buyer economics).

  • Using static analysis rather than taking industry trends explicitly into account.

  • Confusing cyclical or transient changes with true structural changes.

  • Using the industry analysis framework to declare an industry attractive or unattractive rather than using it to understand the underpinnings of competition and the root causes of profitability. The latter two items are what you need to guide your strategic choices.
Ideally, the outcome of a well-crafted industry analysis is a decision on how to defend against competitive forces, or to find a position in the industry where the competitive forces are relatively weak. There is also generally scope for influencing the key forces in your industry in order to create a more favorable structure for your company, or to increase the overall level of value created in the industry.

When the strengths of the five forces change significantly, you must do a fresh analysis and adjust your strategy in light of what you learn from the analysis.


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Friday, January 11, 2008

Medicare's Role in Promoting Quality Healthcare

In an area as complex as healthcare, measuring and monitoring quality — obviously of great importance — is comparably complex. As a step in the direction of mastering the measurement challenge, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began implementing a program called the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI) in the second half of last year.

In PQRI's first phase, 74 quality measures were defined (e.g., administering aspirin when a heart attack patient arrives for care). In the program's second phase, being conducted this year, the number of measures has been expanded to 119 (pdf).

A physician who participates in the PQRI program qualifies for a bonus if s/he reports on at least three quality measures on 80% of the eligible patients throughout 2008. (In some cases, there will not be three relevant and available measures. In this situation, the physician need only report the one or two measures that are available.)

The bonus is calculated as 1.5% of all the physician’s Medicare billings, not just the ones on which he or she reports. (The calculation does not include charges for x-ray, MRI, durable medical equipment, or physical therapy.)

There are four basic steps a physician practice follows to participate in the PQRI program:
  1. Use the list of measures to identify which conditions the practice routinely treats.

  2. Select those measures that make sense based upon prevalence and volume in the practice.

  3. Review the selected measures in the Coding for Quality Handbook to become familiar with how to apply the measures.

  4. Access the data collection worksheets, which walk the user step-by-step through reporting for each measure.
The educational resources CMS provides are exemplary of what a mature government agency is able to do to facilitate learning in a complex area of knowledge and practice.


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ballot Usability

The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has had a "Design for Democracy" initiative underway since 1998 that aims to use "all the tools of design to increase civic participation by making interactions between the U.S. government and its citizens more understandable, efficient and trustworthy."

In June of last year, the Design for Democracy team delivered a detailed report to the US Election Assistance Commission on how ballots and other polling place materials can be improved. This report, Effective Designs for the Administration of Federal Elections, includes guidelines that can help local jurisdictions "benefit from information and interaction design principles in order to make voting easier and more comprehensible for all citizens."

I looked at Section 3 (pdf), dealing with optical scan ballots, which are the type used in my state of Massachusetts. This section covers:
  • Planning — Guidance on "how to incorporate resources into your ballot development and production process; in what areas those resources may be of assistance; and when those activities should occur." The resources in question include experts in simple language, information design, usability, translation, and cultural considerations.

  • Design — Best practices for both one-language and two-language ballots.

  • Samples — Illustrations of how the best practices would apply to actual ballots.
The project's specific recommendations for ballot usabiity were validated in
54 usability evaluations with voters in seven States using prototype samples in interview settings. In-context voting feedback revealed how users actually thought and behaved while interacting with evaluation materials.
The best practices derived from the team's research include:
  • Emphasize voter needs over administrative and vendor requirements.

  • Use simple language for all content.

  • Use one language per ballot. If this is not feasible, display no more than two languages simultaneously.

  • For readability, use upper- and lowercase sans serif type, left-aligned. Minimize the number of fonts used. Set at a minimum of 12 points all ballot content voters will read.

  • Use color functionally and consistently. Color can draw the reader’s attention and emphasize important information. The use of color cannot be the sole means of conveying information or making distinctions. Another noncolor mode must complement color use, such as contrast, icon, text style, etc.

  • When clarifying instructions and processes, use accurate diagrams to describe voting technology and equipment.

  • Use instructional icons only. Universally recognized icons such as arrows are acceptable and encouraged.
AIGA Chicago president Marcia Lausen led the Design for Democracy team that redesigned election materials for Cook County IL and for the state of Oregon. She has now published Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design (University of Chicago Press, 2007) discussing usability principles that apply to election materials and recounting what can be learned from the Cook County and Oregon examples.



Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Prediction Markets vs. Pundits

As Paul Krugman points out in his blog, at least in the case of the New Hampshire primary, prediction markets trading on the basis of people's bets concerning who would win were no more prescient about the actual outcome than the pollsters and pundits who had Barack Obama coming out on top by several percentage points.

You can see charts for Iowa and New Hampshire contract prices for the major Democratic and Republican candidates here. The extreme volatility for Clinton and Obama in the January 7-9 timeframe is apparent.



Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hiring for Adaptability

Angelo Kinicki, a professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, and Mel Fugate, an assistant professor at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, decided to try to isolate the characteristics of an employee who is especially effective in performing in a dynamic environment, i.e., in the environment of change that prevails at energetic companies striving to stay strong in today's marketplace.

As described in an article in Knowledge@W.P. Carey, Kinicki and Fugate's profile of the key characteristic of adaptability includes five demensions:

Openness to changes at work — i.e., viewing change "as a challenge and an opportunity — not as a threat." Employees who are open to change also tend to "exhibit flexibility when confronted with the challenges inherent in uncertain situations."

Work and career resilience — This is the "power of positive thinking" dimension. In Kinicki's words, we're talking about "someone who, both in their work and their career at large, is able to handle any of the stresses that might come up. They simply have a disposition that gives them strength in the face of adversity."

Work and career proactivity — This means a person will "proactively acquire information about the environment," which equips the person to anticipate organizational change and begin responding quite early.

Career motivation — A person sets high personal goals and takes action to meet them. Such employees "are more motivated at work, persist during periods of boredom or frustration, and sustain effort in the face of challenges."

Work identity — If a person identifies with his/her work and career, the person tends to be motivated to apply energy to career-related endeavors.

Kinicki and Fugate's recommendation is that employers in dynamic companies seek to hire people who are high on the adaptability dimensions listed above, rather than sticking with the traditional approach that uses knowledge skills, and attitudes (KSA) as the primary indicators of likely effectiveness on-the-job.



Monday, January 07, 2008

An Elegant Solution to Managing an Election

Today's New York Times has an excellent op-ed by William Poundstone, author of Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It), due out next month.

The op-ed — highly recommended by yours truly — describes a solution devised by Ronald L. Rivest, a computer scientist at MIT, and Warren D. Smith, a mathematician and voting reform advocate, to the burning issue of keeping elections honest. I'm looking forward to reading Poundstone's book.


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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany 2007

From Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia ("Notes and Meditations on the Gospels"), Jerome Nadal, SJ, 1595. The text of sections of the 1607 edition of Nadal's work, including the section on the Epiphany, has been translated by Frederick A. Homann, SJ, and published by St. Joseph's University Press in Philadelphia.


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Saturday, January 05, 2008

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -"

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

                            – Emily Dickinson



Friday, January 04, 2008

A Poem from William Wordsworth

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
     Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
     A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
     Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
     Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
     In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
     The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
     And all that mighty heart is lying still!

                            – William Wordsworth



Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Poem from Evgeny Baratynsky

Толпе тревожный день приветен, но страшна
Ей ночь безмолвная. Боится в ней она
Раскованной мечты видений своевольных.
Не легкокрылых грез, детей волшебной тьмы,
           Видений дня боимся мы,
           Людских сует, забот юдольных.

           Ощупай возмущенный мрак —
           Исчезнет, с пустотой сольется
           Тебя пугающий призрак,
       И заблужденью чувств твой ужас улыбнется.

       О сын фантазии! ты благодатных фей
Счастливый баловень, и там, в заочном мире,
Веселый семьянин, привычный гость на пире
           Неосязаемых властей!
           Мужайся, не слабей душою
           Перед заботою земною:

           Ей исполинский вид дает твоя мечта;
           Коснися облака нетрепетной рукою —
           Исчезнет; а за ним опять перед тобою
           Обители духов откроются врата.

                     – Evgeny Abramovich Baratynsky

To the crowd the disquieting day is welcome, but alarming
To the crowd is the mute night. The crowd fears in night
The unfettered dream of capricious visions.
Not lightwinged fantasies, children of bewitching darkness,
           Visions of the day we fear,
           Human trifles, earthly cares.

           Touch the turbid gloom —
           It will vanish, with nothingness will merge
           The specter dreadful to you,
       And at the delusion of feelings, your horror will smile.

       O son of Fantasy! you of beneficent sylphs
The happy pet, and there, in the otherworld,
The cheerful family man, the accustomed guest at the feast
           Of intangible powers!
           Take heart, do not weaken in spirit
           Before earthly care:

           To it a magnified shape your dreaming gives;
           Touch the cloud with a steady hand —
           It will vanish; and beyond it once more before you
           The gates of the dwelling of the spirits will open.



Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Poem from Mary Oliver

First Snow

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

                            – Mary Oliver



Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Poem from Sylvia Plath

New Year on Dartmoor

This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you
Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There's no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.

                            – Sylvia Plath


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