Macrowikinomics Book Review

Posted on November 25, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Cover of the book, "Macrowikinomics"

Macrowikinomics by Anthony Williams and Don Tapscott

I was drawn to this book mostly through having met one of the authors, Don Tapscott. At a conference a few years ago, he spoke about his first book, Wikinomics. The idea of social media (or Web 2.0) was a brand concept for me at the time.

Macrowikinomics is a big book (432 pages) and the writing is thorough in its treatment of both the underlying wiki principles and examples of how these ideas are applied in the real world. It reads as much like an encyclopedia as a novel, meaning, one could read the first few chapters to get an idea of the general principles and then pick whatever specific subject he or she is familiar in order to hear Macrowikinomics applied to that particular topic.

Five Principles

Don Tapscott and co-author Anthony Williams suggest Wikinomics derives from five general principles: openness, collaboration, integrity, interdependence and sharing.

Openness

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that life takes unpredictable turns at most every opportunity. To close one’s self to the unexpected is to limit our options and relegate ourselves to sub-optimal outcomes. Openness represents the need to remain flexible for considering avenues of exploration and previously unavailable solutions.

Collaboration

As the lead for innovation training at a large multi-national corporation, I learned innovation is as much about collaborating creatively when solving problems as anything else. This principle embraces the concept of diversity in experience and viewpoint, accepts these unique views as valuable input and urges us to pursue goals that acknowledge the needs and requirements of more players not less.

Integrity

When open to new ideas and seeking diverse viewpoints through collaboration, it is very easy to lose one’s way. Integrity is essential in remembering what is most important and working toward those ends constantly, especially in the face of adversity.

Interdependence

“No man is an island.” (John Donne, 1572-1631) This trueism has never been more true than it is today. In the grand web of life, we are all connected and all impacted by the actions of others. Tapscott and Williams see optimism in the concept of interdependence and see this as a potential pathway for a more loving and accepting world (my words, not the authors’.)

Sharing

A friend recently introduced me to the concept of network externalities. A fancy sounding phrase with a straight forward meaning. The more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. The classic example is the telephone. When the first one was invented, it had very limited value since there was nobody to call! With the addition of each new phone, however, the value of the entire system expanded. To share our knowledge, ideas and indeed our successes benefit us all.

General Observations

Embedded within these five themes are others that often get more press, so it is worth mentioning them briefly. The internet is a transformative presence in modern life. We are witnessing not only the demand for more transparency in everything from government to corporate governance, but the tools for making this a possibility are becoming more powerful and accessible every day. Imagine, ever more representative government courtesy of your smart phone!

“With great power comes great responsibility” (credit to either Ben Parker, father of Spider-Man, i.e., Stan Lee or maybe more accurately, Socrates.) Participation is the foundation of a collective system, like democracy. With the power of the internet and the interactivity of Web 2.0 and beyond, expect to see greater participation in the future.

Collective action, or the wisdom of the crowd, has been collecting more validation through data in recent years. Studies show in certain circumstances — such as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar — the average guess of a sufficiently large number of people is highly likely to be accurate.

Finally, although not specifically called out as important concepts of Wikinomics, sustainability, distributed effort/perspective/storage, networks, and self-organization appear in different shapes and forms throughout the book.

Applications

Once the principles are laid out for Macrowikinomics, the authors turn their attention to numerous examples of the concepts in action. There are case studies for climate change, energy, health and sick care, solving business problems, transportation, media (digital: news, music, movies) and open source intellectual property.

Should you read this book?

Yes, if you think “big,” enjoy seeing large patterns or have reason to understand the context of large scale social change. This book will make you think.

No, if you become easily distracted, if nuance is lost on you or if you are so busy getting things done that you don’t have time for contemplative thinking.

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11 Rules of Social Media

Posted on December 11, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

One of my brothers lives on the other side of the county, in Vermont. I recently coaxed my brother onto Facebook (FB) so it would be easier for us to keep with each other’s lives. When I signed him up, I also suggested people he might know — mostly family. Within a day, he sent an email with a question about FB etiquette. My response is below and makes a pretty good guide if I say so myself… and I do! By the way, this came to an even 10 rules by coincidence, not because I was looking for a round number.

Your Facebook Goals

After signing up at a social media site, you will soon receive friend requests from old school buddies, former work mates, etc. FB has some tools to enable building your network and people will start finding you. It is a good idea to have a general idea of why you are in FB. That is, what are your goals?

  1. Start small and slowly. Social media has a tendency to snow ball. Slow at first and then it picks up speed. The tendency is to build big at first because it seems nothing is happening… then all of a sudden an avalanche comes rolling down the hill as the exponential growth curve kicks in.
  2. Separate work and pleasure. If you get into using social networking as a tool for work, keep that account separate from the one you use for sharing family photos and stories about your children’s health. I have a LinkedIn account I use purely for work and job search activities. I use FB for personal and fun stuff. A Rule of Thumb… once you put it on the web, it will always be there and anyone can find it. We’ve all heard the stories of drunken and nude photos…
  3. Be suspicious of everyone you add. You’ll also get spammers trying to use your address book to spread their evil. Your only line of defense is to “not add” them to your friends list. Especially with Twitter and to a lesser degree with FB, I get solicitations of a questionable nature. (My “status” is single. Not only does that mean I automatically get ads targeted for dating, I also get spammers who want to sell sex.
  4. It’s okay to ask, “How do I know you.” I didn’t know the request from Tuna was really a highschool buddy named Bill until I asked him how I knew him. If he’s legitimate, he’ll understand and respond back with his identity. If not, generally they don’t respond and you can “ignore” the request.
  5. Personal and professional protocols are different. If I get a “request to add” on LinkedIn I am very likely to accept even if I don’t know the person extremely well — it’s the modern version of exchanging business cards. On FB, it’s different… if I don’t know them I “ignore” them. For example, I would treat a friend request from an ex-wife differently in FB than in LinkedIn.
  6. Learn about the privacy features early. This past week FB enhanced security on their network. So you can decide which parts of your profile are visible. I keep most things protected except to my network. I have some information available to “friends of friends” and nothing available to anyone other than the mandatory profile photo and name.
  7. Put a photo on your profile. I get annoyed when a friend has no photo on their profile. Digital photos are so easy to come by these days and they say a lot about someone. What goes through my mind when I see a profile without a photo is, “Are they lazy or embarrassed about how they look?”
  8. Don’t let things get stale. Nobody likes when your retain an old profile picture, or fail to update your status periodically or share news and photos. This is another reason to start slow. After a while if you are enjoying the activity and want to put more energy into it, expand. Otherwise, resist the urge to sign up for everything that comes your way.
  9. Avoid FB applications like the plague! Apps are things like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and various holiday specials. They want access to your address book and they are very difficult to remove once you add them to your profile.
  10. Start simple and explore. There are many, many features to FB and it can be overwhelming. Start by updating your status periodically and responding to friend’s status updates. Eventually, you’ll post pictures or links, you might start sending person-to-person or wall-to-wall messages, using IM, etc. If you add features slowly, you’ll be a power user in no time and will be amazed at how easy it all is.
  11. Budget your time. Social media can be a time sponge and you can spend hours each day. Set limits and watch the clock. The cool thing about FB is you can drift in when you have time and drift out when things are busy. There is little expectation that you will “always be on.”
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In Box Processing

Posted on May 18, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Initially, this article was to discuss personal worflow mastery. But after last week’s Mastermind session describing the Weekly Review, I changed my mind. Instead, this article will focus on the seemingly impossible task of how I keep my inbox at zero.

“An inbox at zero,” you say, “preposterous!”

Well, it is possible and I’ve been doing it now for about five years. This article  describes how I do it and should help you see why it might be something for you to consider doing this as well.

Because I’ll reference the diagram from Mastering Workflow, I’ve included a copy of that diagram here.

Personal Mastery Workflow

Terms Defined

  • Stuff – (I know, yet another technical term!) I have two in boxes, one is electronic and one is physical with real pieces of paper and sometimes 3-dimensional objects as well. It is important to realize that everything “comes in” to your workflow and you need to have a place for all of this “stuff” to collect.
  • Next Action – this is a critical concept to master, understanding the very next action is about differentiating between a project with several steps that take place over a period of time and a next action which is a discrete activity that can be done at one sitting. For example, buy a car is a project but visit the car dealer to test drive a Honda Fit is a next action.
  • Eliminate – call it trash, delete, recycle, purge or whatever… being aggressive (and honest) in what you eliminate from your personal workflow is an important element toward mastering your inbox. What do you really think is the likelihood you’ll go snowboarding in Tahoe with your old high school buddies… from 30 years ago… okay, maybe it goes on the Someday list.
  • Incubate – are you unsure what to do next? Are you unsure whether you even want to act on that item? Let it incubate. If you allow a place where you can store something – outside of your inbox – where you’ll allow things to sit while your energies are absorbed elsewhere, you will be well on your way toward a zero inbox.
  • Reference – things you will need to refer to – either short term or long term – and do not have an easy way of retrieving from other sources. My rule here is: if I created it I keep it, if someone else created it they keep it (unless I know I’ll need it and don’t trust them to be able to find it.)
  • Project – any set of more than one next action, i.e., most of what we do!
  • Delegate – may include the traditional form of, “give it to a trusted employee” or other more modern variations of shifting responsibility from you to someone else. Often, others have more interest in seeing something done than you do, if this is the case both of you will feel better if they “own” it rather than you!
  • Appointment – again, may include the traditional form of, “having a meeting” in person (face-to-face or f2f) or via teleconference. When this is the case, I recommend keeping your notes and agenda items in the appointment window of the calendar itself, that way you always know where to find your notes when you need them, automatically. Also keep in mind, if something has to be done, even if it is only you who will do it, it will take time to complete. I recommend you schedule an appointment with yourself for completion.
  • Waiting For – some of my biggest worries are when I cannot trust other people to follow-up on a commitment. If someone has made a promise to deliver on a specific date, that commitment can be added to your calendar or to an action list called “Waiting For”. This allows you to free the thought from your head without worrying the task will fall through the cracks.

Inbox at Zero… HOW?

“Wait, didn’t you say you’d help me get and keep my inbox at zero?!”

Consider the nature of your work. Are you in a role where immediate response is required within a certain number of minutes? If you work in a call center, that’s probably the case. In that environment, there is software that automatically adjusts messages to various operators for response. Most of the rest of us, however, have to manage the volume ourselves.

My work allows me to “batch” email. Batching means I allow email to accumulate over a period and then go through it from top to bottom at a single sitting. I even go one step further, I plan time in my day for this batch processing. By dealing with messages first thing in the morning and before I finish for the day, I can usually handle 98% of my work. I’m still responding within one work day or less and I am not constantly facing interruptions to complete the work I’ve committed.

The goal is for my inbox to be zero when I finish the day. I DO NOT handle email as it arrives except in special circumstances. Instead, the inbox is sorted (or triaged) and I work from specific action lists during the rest of the day. In order, my attention rotates through:

  1. Calendar: appointments – these have to be done at a specific time.
  2. Calendar: All Day appointments – these have to be done today, but have no specific time assigned.
  3. Waiting For List – I’m waiting for someone else to respond
  4. To Do List – these tend to be more urgent (since they came in email)
  5. Task List – these tend to be bigger project-related items and things that come into my system from means other than email

[This little list is probably worth another article in and of itself! Stay tuned.]

The Two Minute Rule

Essential to the goal of an empty inbox, is the two minute rule. Simply put, if you can complete something in about two minutes, do it on the spot. If it is going to take longer “put it in your system,” that is delegate or defer it.

By limiting yourself to two minutes you allow yourself to get through even a large inbox quickly. It takes discipline, but it pays in spades! Imagine this scenario, you are cruising through your email and finding a couple of minor bombshells. You are scheduling them into your system and making good headway. Then you find a potential crisis that could cause a three week delay in your project. Immediately, you on it. Three hours later, problem resolved, you get back to your inbox. At the bottom of the list – which is in the middle now because you’ve had another 50 email messages in the past 3 hours – is a message from your boss’ boss (your boss is on vacation) asking you postpone the project until the start of the next quarter. Oops!

Always triage your inbox to zero before starting problem solving.

Maybe It Shouldn’t Be Handled Via eMail?

While email can feel efficient — “I handled 200 email messages today!” — it may not be effective. Consider the type of issue, the relationship you have (or should have) with the other correspondent and the complexity of the issues involved. See this two part article for a detailed description of how The Message Dictates the Media.

One handy rule, if you find a response to a message simply elicits another message, maybe the phone would be a better tool — or, better yet, a visit in person. For me, if I find myself knee deep into my third response to a “simple” question, I generally pick up the phone and deal with the issue by voice rather than in writing. Sometimes, being effective requires using the right tool.

More Information

Click here for a copy of the slides used in a Mastermind Presentation on this topic on 18 MAY 2009.

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The Message dictates the Media

Posted on April 5, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , , , |

marshallmcluhanIn his 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan published the statement that defined his legacy, “The medium is the message.” In today’s connected, Internet world this statement is more true than ever. However, based upon my experience, I think of McLuhan’s statement differently, “The message dictates the medium.”

For seven years I led a project at Hewlett-Packard called VidNet, an internal webcasting and streaming video service – kind of like YouTube before it was available. VidNet ran entirely on HP’s internal network and was designed to maximize knowledge transfer inside of HP’s far-glung corporate environment without burdening the network with a glut of video traffic.

Through VidNet I learned about applying technology to communication. In August 2008 I presented my insights at the International Quality and Productivity Center’s Conference on Distance Learning in Sao Paulo, Brasil. The presentation was titled Matching Media to Message: When and When Not to Use Distance Learning. This article follows the outline of that presentation.

2.5 = 1?

During the final two decades of the 20th century, HP was growing quickly, especially in the inkjet printing world… and, Corvallis was at the center of this world. Thermal Inkjet (also known as TIJ) printing was invented in Corvallis by a quirky group of renegades back in the day before renegades were considered bad. The business grew from nothing in the early 1980s to a multi-billion dollar, global industry and HP was in the lead. At one time the HP-Corvallis site had more than 7000 employees and most of them were working on TIJ related business. There were almost 20,000 TIJ-related employees around the world in far off places like Ireland, Singapore, Puerto Rico, Spain, Israel and San Diego.

The demands of growing a technical workforce to support this business were many and the first step in any TIJ engineer’s job at HP was through the TIJ Knowledge Modules. These were a set of 8 classes teaching the fundamentals related TIJ development and manufacturing. Each module had a set of experts and all were “volunteers” who taught the class in their spare time. In 1997 I became responsible for the TIJ Knowledge Modules and a group of about 30 instructors in Corvallis as well as the global program in the various remote sites. Although we tried educating instructors from remote sites in Corvallis and sending them back to teach locally, most engineers still wanted to come to Corvallis to hear first-hand from the experts who had created the technology. Because we were teaching the 8 modules twice per month (total of 16 classes per month or as many as 450 students), the cost of delivery was a very noticeable expense. In addition, the volunteer instructors had full-time jobs and they were already at full capacity. We had to come up with a more cost effective means of delivery that would leverage the limited amount of time of the experts.

Our answer was to create VidNet with an assignment to convert the TIJ Knowledge Modules into streaming video. Fortunately, we had an existing video studio in Corvallis and were able to bring all of the best instructors together to accomplish the capture easily and quickly. Before starting, we collected all of the commonly asked questions in class – our goal was to cover all of the material presented in the classroom, only have it available on demand from the intranet.

The effort went well. But curiously, when we all was said-and-done, the run time for each module went from the standard classroom time of 2.5 hours to 1 hour in the studio. Although we had used the most seasoned instructors,  the exact same slides and made sure s/he responded to all of the most likely asked questions, we had reduced the run time by 60%… The only difference in the presentation was the studio recordings lacked a live audience and the interaction that typically comes from having people in the room was missing. But still, where’d the 1.5 hours go? After all, we were answering the same questions. Was this an improvement in efficiency or a loss of content?

Technology Abounds

When McLuhan published his book, it appeared at a time when mass marketing options were burgeoning. Network television was taking hold and the American (and global) community was beginning to fall into large patterns driven by broadcast schedules. But McLuhan could have no idea what would happen when the internet, mobile technology, cloud computing and content mash-ups would be available to anyone with a PC and an internet connection.

technologyladder2The diagram at right illustrates a few of the common technologies available today for communication. Obviously, I use the term technology very loosely as most people wouldn’t think of meeting in person with someone else as a technology. But for purposes of considering the options available today for communication, I chosen to do so.

I’ve listed technologies I consider to be high bandwidth on top and then ranked them in descending order based upon a variety of factors, mostly by their speed and the ability and ease for interaction. So, think of voice mail or email as being asynchronous – or happening when the sender and receiver are not together at the same time – and non-interactive. On the other hand, although the HP Halo Conference Room is a remote technology but due to the high quality of the synchronous connection (lots of bandwidth) and the opportunity for interaction that bandwidth affords, it is ranked higher on the ladder. Still, nothing beats the same technology our ancestors used… sitting around the campfire telling stories or interacting face-to-face, one-with-one. By the way, Cisco and others have competing technologies in this new field called immerse experiences or Telepresence and recent stories suggest this technology could save industry billions of dollars per year in reduced travel expense and improved collaboration in the foreseeable future.

Understanding Your Message

To understand what happened with that missing 1.5 hours in the VidNet example, it’s useful to have a more concrete way of thinking about communication. Fortunately, a friend and mentor of mine, John Eggert of The Idea Leadership Company has done a lot of thinking on this topic. I attribute much of what I write in this section to his work. During my presentation I chose to look at three dimensions and four elements of a message.

Three dimensions of a Message

The diagram at left shows a cube with three separate poles or dimensions — Narrow vs. Broad, Simple vs. Complex and Precise vs. Ambiguous. These dimensions help us to categorize a message so we can understand exactly what we are trying to accomplish.

When a message is narrow it is directed to a well defined group of people with specific, identifiable needs or interests. For example, when the fire alarm in your building goes off, all people in that area are alerted immediately to proceed calmly and quickly to the nearest exit. On the other hand, broad messages are directed to a group of people with many different or indistinguishable needs or interests. For example, when I teach project management, the concepts of project definition, scope, schedule, resources and work breakdown structure are widely applicable to a very large number of projects and people in different roles. If I want to teach a group of project managers, I won’t get much more than an empty room when I trip the fire alarm!

Simple concepts, on the other hand, derive from a logical set of steps. For example, when communicating the appropriate torque settings for a manufactured fastener to a trained mechanic, the settings are straight forward and the message is simple. If however, I am instructing executives how to establish a strategic plan for their business unit, there are clear steps but there are many inter-relationships and it is a complex process.

Finally, when dealing with precise information I am working with concepts that are concrete, well established and well known such as calculating the total interest on a mortgage loan. By contrast, when the concepts are much less clear and are subject to multiple interpretations, they are ambiguous. Precise ideas are easy to reject while ambiguous ideas allow lots of flexibility.

It is important to note in all three dimensions, these descriptions are intended to be descriptive, not evaluative. In other words, simple is not better than complex, it is just different. Simple messages may be easier to communicate but circumstances often dictate a more complex approach. Also, it is easy to confuse the two terms of complex and ambiguous, but they are different ideas. Think of it this way, complex describes the number of inter-relationships among the elements of the message while ambiguous defines the presence or absence of clear connections between the elements.

Four Elements

Because different situations call for different approaches, message requirements shift given a variety of factors. By evaluating the elements of a message, you are considering the audience, resistance to your message, the action you desire your listeners to take and the amount of money or time you have for accomplishing your objective. Here are four elements I find useful to consider, you may have more (or less) depending upon your specific circumstances.

  1. Audience – Will this be a large or small group? Will they be in the same place or even the same time zone? Are they technical or non-technical? Are they experienced or beginners? Generalists or specialists? Is this group homogeneous or multi-cultural? What about their organizational affiliations… executive vs. managerial vs. professional, etc; operating vs. staff; employees vs. contractors vs. business partners?
  2. Resistance – What are the consequences of non-compliance? Will it be simply an inconvenience, will the organization lose revenue or might there be regulatory implications? What kind of change management issues will arise? Are you contradicting legacy practices, will there be winners and losers when you are done, will priorities have to change?
  3. Action – What will you expect the recipients to do with the information? Are you trying to create focus, raise awareness or generate action? Do you want that action immediately, on a recurring basis, over a long period of time? Does this information have archive value – in other words, is this news that will grow stale in a day or two or is it research that will be fundamental to the understanding of your business? What specific outcomes do you hope to achieve? How will you know you were successful?
  4. Budget – What will your budget afford? In the fundamentals of project management we know the saying, “scope, schedule or resources – pick any two.” Can your schedule or scope be adjusted to accommodate your available resources? Does the budget come from a fixed source or is it variable – in other words, can you charge per use or are the terms pre-defined?

Human Bandwidth

peghole1

In today’s Internet-enabled world, many people are familiar with the term bandwidth, especially when they don’t have enough of it. Remember the days when 56kbps was fast? (This is the top limit for most dial-up connections and was considered fast in the 1990s.) Then came DSL and cable and we started talking in megabits per second (mbps) rather than kilobits per second (kbps). If you’ve ever tried to return to a dial-up connection after using a 15mbps cable connection, it is painful.

Using the wrong media for your message is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole… it just doesn’t fit. If your message is complex, ambiguous and narrow, but you’ve chosen a low bandwidth medium like an email or even a phone call, often the result is disastrous. Have you heard about the man who was fired with a fax from his boss? Most of us have heard this or a similar horror story. The primary intention behind this article is to avoid this type of disastrous mismatch of message to media.

Putting It All Together

The following are some simple rules that I use when selecting an appropriate medium for my message. Bear in mind, these are guidelines only and often it takes a lot of time to know when you are ready to proceed. Do yourself a favor and take the time to understand. As my friend taught me, sometimes slow is fast. That means, taking a few minutes or even a few days up front may save you months or even years down the road.
  1. Always match the message to the media. In fact, use your understanding of the message to drive your choice of media.
  2. Words are not the only content of face-to-face communication. More communication happens face-to-face than the mere words that are exchanged. If the non-verbal (such as trust or importance) portion of your exchange is important to your message, use a face-to-face option.
  3. Distance Learning technology will save you money or time only IF it fits with your message. If it doesn’t fit, your choices could cost you dearly in both.
  4. When evaluating your message focus on a single person/audience at a time. If your audience is diverse, it may help you to think about them as separate groups. If those groups are still very large, identify or make-up a single person to represent that group and tailor your message to him or her. This will add some complexity to your process but it may be the difference in a well suited medium.
  5. There is no exact formula.

While I have been exploring these concepts for some time, I do not consider this topic a closed issue. Research would be useful in understanding the various components in non-verbal communication to have a more clearly defined set of operating rules. I believe the use of technology – because of its inherent narrow bandwidth – could be instrumental in isolating these components. Such understanding would be valuable in helping organizations choose wisely amongst the explosion of remote and asynchronous options available in distance learning and human interaction.

If you have thoughts on this topic, I encourage you to leave a comment here or send me a message.

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