Friday, May 22, 2009

Be aware of the fourth time assignment

I read somewhere about Sweden's 1967's shift in left-hand driving to right-hand driving. On the Monday following the shift, there were less traffic accidents, 125 reported traffic accidents, compared with a range of 130 to 198 for previous Mondays. Most had anticipated more traffic accidents. It is likely that the higher attention by drivers contributed to the lower number of accidents.

When my daughter learned how to cycle at the age of 4, I was very careful. When we cycled I cycled real close to her and held her neck near traffic. So she learned to cycle steadily. After roughly 6 months, I slowly started to pay less attention to her and got more confidence in her skills. Then, once when we were very near home she rode her bike behind me (normally in front of me), and a man came from the side and ran into her. It wasn't too bad, but she had some wounds because she fell with her face on the steer of the cycle.

I think knowledge workers may be at their best when they do a similar job for roughly for the third time. The first two times they gain experience. The third time is the best, small mistakes from the first times can be corrected. The fourth time assignment there is a risk that you loose attention and make unnecessary mistakes. Of course there may be individual difference and task differences. And you can argue that for knowledge workers, every assignment is unique, so it's hard to have a really similar job.

I started thinking about this when I thought about learning from mistakes. Somehow I don't believe in learning from mistakes. Most of the times, we know the mistakes but there are other reasons for underperformance like lack of attention.

What do you think? Do you recognise this? Or do real masters never loose their attention?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Joint decision-making about tool use in teams

Nancy White has a blogpost called Technology Stewardship and Unexpected Uses that resonates with what I'm working on. I'm consulting various people in organisations about the choice for online tools and how to introduce them for use by teams, groups or networks. What I noticed is that quite a lot of them would like to choose a tool, get up to speed with it themselves and then train others. However, in this networked world, it is my belief that we can be more participatory than that, with more chances of success.

Together with Sibrenne Wagenaar I wrote a Dutch article called "So you wanna be a virtual team?" - have to admit here that the Dutch are a little bit crazy giving an English title but the rest is really in Dutch- . In the article we try to explicitize our own way of working. We state that, amongst other things, it is good to:
  • Start with an exchange of experiences with tools for collaboration; start with familiarity
  • Choose a starting toolset together with the team
  • Stimulate an experimental culture within the team
  • You can introduce new tools but don't overdo it
  • Monitor individual feelings of ease and unease
It's hard to find the balance though between deciding for a group and trying to facilitate a participatory decision making process because for some tools may be new. It's a bit of an art to know when to lead and when to use knowledge and experiences within the group.

Nancy White has some useful additions on how to introduce technology:
It is about a dynamic evolution of practices and applications of the technology, not about the installation or the simple availability of the tool. So here are some practice hints.
  • Role model your experience and practices with tools, but don’t present them as the only options.
  • Watch for experimentation and amplify new, useful practices. Better yet, encourage community members to talk about and share their practices.
  • When members ask for tool adjustments based on their experimentation, work hard to accommodate rather than block innovation. This may mean going to bat with “higher-ups” to gain permission, or to allow the experimentation to fly “under the radar” until you can make a case for the value of the changes.
  • Encourage the fringies - the people who push the limits of a tool. Make them allies rather than enemies. Their pushing of your buttons may also create the innovation that you need to foster wider adoption.
In short develop shared leadership with regards to all these decisions. Though it may seem you know the best use of a tool, it's worthwhile to foster joint decision-making and let the routines within the team evolve organically within the team.

I'm curently reading Schein's organisational culture and leadership again, hope to draw some lessons from his insights too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Any tool can do, culture matters

I'm writing blogging tips for a book we're writing and one of the tips is to create a rhythm of posting. I had a good blogging rhythm but now I seem to loose it! So I need tips how to keep your rhythm. All the holidays in the Netherlands starting from queen's day on 30 april are definitely fun, but don't help me to keep into any rhythm. But let's try to stick to a weekly rhythm and blogging about a past experience still lingering in my head.

In a teleconference Davee Evans, active participant in wikipedia organised by CPsquare I was very much struck by the complete unimportance of selecting the right tool for online interaction. What's really important is creating a culture of exchange. Since my consultancies started to include online methods for learning and collaboration a lot of the initial questions I get are about help to select the right tool. Or sometimes people have selected a tool and want to know how to tweek it. Though engagement in an intake conversation, all the other questions about introduction, designing the change process, the facilitation of the online interaction surface rapidly. Nevertheless, most of the time I also do some tool advice because I have the feeling that's part of the expertise asked of me. So both clients and myself seem to be drawn to tool selection.

What was the example? Davee talked about a voting process taking place in wikipedia about combatting vandalism. From the teleconference minutes:
The "flagged revisions project" is an attempt to deal with the enduring problem of vandalism. It's a very slow community process held in a very peculiar local style of discussion. Voting, with the pro's and con's about voting, happens in a free text space that is unique.
You can see the polling process in the picture displayed or by clicking on this link. What's interesting is that the tools used are in my opinion not the most appropriate for the job. The poll is done in the form of an online discussion in a wiki. I'd say you need an online survey tool to conduct a poll. And if you want to discuss an issue, you need a discussion thread function. What the wikipedians do, is use the wiki they are so familiar to and write in a threaded fashion in the wiki page that seems to work for them.

A strong example of the fact that when culture of working together online is very strong, the tool doesn't really matter. (it definitely put my idea about the best tools upside down!).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Interactive maps

I got a question from someone about maps. I thought I could list a few mapping services I came across. I have to admit that I don't do a lot with maps myself so far, I tried a google map for Ghana, but failed because the bandwidth did not allow us to map everyone. But for places with good internet connectivity, it can be great to try and map for instance participants. Regularly, I have a lot at the map of visitors to this map with sitemeter, it's great to see the worldwide readership (see picture here).

There are a few interactive- web2.0 mapping services that are easy to use to create a map. Of course with interactive maps the data depend on the number of participants willing to add their information to the maps. It is a great way of starting an international online workshop.
  • A famous one is frappr.
  • You can make your own customized map with wayfaring, for instance a map of your life (if you haven't lived in the same street your whole life that is...). I could do that because people have said that my CV reads like a travel guide :).
  • You can make your own google map (click on my maps) and with mymapsplus, you can embed that map (=show) it in your site or blog if you want.
  • With clustrmaps you can map the visitors of a site, this is similar to the map that sitemeter offers when you have it installed for your blog.
  • Trippermap allows you to show your flickr photos via a map. Of course you need to add locations to your photos on flickr to be able to create such a map.
An example of a map used for activism is the Access Denied map about online censorship. is an attempt to map all Dutch twitterers. War on Gaza mapped incidents. And milieukontakt is using Google earth in combination with a wiki to map environmental issues.