Wednesday, September 20, 2006

SNA: Solutions For Other Parts of Your Network

Children's Stories: In the Context Social Networks

Network Analysisis is not just for business. It can be tremendously useful across functions and contexts. Networks outside the office comprise a network that I haven't addressed in a while.

For Busy Parents

You busy parents who haven't had time to find an extra story for kids' bedtime, here's one for you. The illustration was done by Ron Hilley, who also happens to be a chorus member at New York City Opera.

Please feel free to pass it on (as long as there is no money involved). Please also do the same with King Barkthur and It's a Drag to Be a Dragon.

As always, the only rule is that this is read aloud.


This story is particulary dedicated to Tobias, Daniel, Erin, and Oliver (who seem like they might like polar bears), Sarabeth (in her new responsibility as a big sister) and her new sibling (who could always use a good story with all that waiting to be born).

And Now To Our Story . . .

Gus and the Polar Bear Orchestra

It's a little known fact that the most beautiful music in the world is made by polar bears.

You may be too young to remember the famous winter concerts on the North Pole. Everyone was invited.

As soon as it snowed, animals and human beings from every clime would gather on ice caps and glaciers to listen.

But when the ice melted in the spring, the bears found themselves surrounded by garbage from the people's picnics.

The orchestra would find themselves spending the whole spring and half the summer cleaning up.

Soon there was no time to practice for the winter concert. Alexander, the conductor, decided enough was enough.

"We’ll send a letter to a scientist I know saying that polar bears have decided to sleep all winter," said Alexander. People will believe anything.

And so they did. And the people stopped coming. And so did the garbage.

Everyone was very happy. As you probably know, music is as necessary for bears as getting up in the morning.

As you also have probably been told, all bears would play every instrument if they could, but the rule was that each must choose one when he or she turns three.

This was very important for Gus. He was two. And his birthday was coming up fast.

In all of Polar Bear history, all cubs have understood music as instantly as fish know how to swim. But as the son of the great conductor, Gus was something of a mystery. No matter how much he practiced, Gus couldn't play a note.

A week before his birthday, Gus decided to try one more time.

One day when Gus’s mom was cleaning her trumpet, Gus snuck out of the house to the place where the musicians practiced.

It was very dark and very quiet.

Gus's mother had shown him how to blow the trumpet. He liked to get dizzy, and fall down. It was fun, but he couldn't make it play.

Gus loved the cello and getting tangled up in the strings.

And the clarinet because it tickled his nose.

And the piano because you can play with no hands.

The tuba is very big and fun to climb into.

And the triangle makes a very nice hat.

But Gus still couldn't seem to make any music. The quiet was too quiet, and the dark too dark. So Gus began to sing.

And Gus sang louder and louder until everyone in the village came to the rehearsal room.

"Gus," said his grandmother, BearBear Ma, as she untangled her cello strings. "You have a beautiful voice."

And he did. And from that season on, Alexander made sure there was a song for Gus to sing every night.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mainstream Journalism and Open Source: Can They Mix?

Did I Mention . . . ?

I don't think I mentioned in my Eurogel series that Jimmy Wales spoke about the the value of Wikis generally, Wikipedia, and his new project, Wikia. Most of his talk can be found elsewhere, and although there are strong opinions on both sides about whether or not an open source model could extend past his project to all other information sources (and, of course, to Linux), the jury is still out.

So when my colleague and good friend, David Spector,sent this article on journalism and wikis, I thought it a good idea to post a link here.

A Little About David

David is famous for his development work from the earliest days of the web, but he's perhaps less known for his writing for O'Reilly and others. Like me, he writes both for proprietary publications and for those those that are not online.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Word About Swarms and Social Networks

Here's a short word about an innovative social network strategy and software created by Ken Thompson of Swarm Teams.

Ken uses the kind of behavior theory derived from AI:
A. Teams exist in nature.
B. These teams have flourished AS teams since their species evolved.
C. What could the dysfunctional teams within human organizations learn from this?

Communication In Swarms

There's a review and demonstration online, and it's worth reviewing. Here's why:

Rather than offering a "star network" approach (everyone you add to your network has only you in common), Ken has organized a "peer network" approach. Once you do the inputting, your network becomes its own swarm -- everyone can communicate with each other.

But Wait, There's (Always) More

In addition to the ability to leverage networks of everyone in your own swarm, Ken has built in a reputation management tool for all messages sent.

If you respond to a message, you receive a point. However, when you send messages, those who receive them do the rating. If the message is deemed valuable, it gets a point. If it doesn't, the sender loses a point.

What better way to prevent spam in an organization than by making it transparent?

And So?

In other approaches, consultants do a social network analysis through questionnaires. In this case, you can track the swarms in action, and once you've got them communicating, you can track the data, map it, and learn a lot about how the organization really works. It eliminates the challenge of getting people to fill out lengthy forms (honestly) for an initial snapshot.

There's even more to think about with Ken's approach, and still some kinks to work out, so check the review and demo in Robin Good's "What Communications Experts Need to Know."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Jan Gehl, Max Gadney, and More

More Great Experience

With more time to blog, I'd create a post for each of Eurogel's speakers. For example, other speakers of note include Jan Gehl (President, GEHL Architects, who regenerates cities by looking at the way inhabitants want to use them) and Max Gadney (Head of Design and Audience Insight, BBC News Interactive), who provoked listeners to question our assumptions about what news looks like.

And So . . .

Because time is short, I can refer you to Gene Driskell's pictures that effectively capture the intimacy and variety of the conference, and articles by Andrew Ferrier and Eric Reiss do a good job of covering more of the topics.

Go next year -- it's absolutely worth the cost of admission.

Banking on Customer Experience: David McQuillen and Credit Swisse

Like GEL in New York, two of Eurogel's most salient results are new perspectives on old problems and as a result, inspiration and a palpable sense that even the most daunting problems can be solved with a new approach.

No airy fairy promises, either. Mark Hurst offers concrete examples.

Seeing Possibilities

Sometime during his tenure as a banker at Credit Suisse in Switzerland, David McQuillen noticed that both his workplace and the country itself were practically inaccessible to anyone with special needs. This bothered him.

To give his team a new perspective on the organization's physical space, David made his team spend a week in a wheel chair. Each member, including David, was asked to use the wheel chair for every task throughout the day.

Expectations and A Starting Point

David was focused on logistical challenges -- of how hard the copy machine would be to reach or the restroom would be to use. However, he found he could use the copier, make presentations, and reach the cafeteria table without too much trouble. The real problem was that no one would look at him.

David went into the project believing he would change the way bankers built buildings. He came out of it understanding that he would have to change the way think about people.

Implications Far Beyond Special Needs

It's no secret that most high level business people feel perfectly comfortable with graphs and numbers, but they feel much less on solid ground with emotions. This, David found, extended to avoiding consideration of all kinds of experience AS experience.

So David took the executive board through an immersion experience of what customers do every day -- applying for credit cards, using the website, and changing money in the teller line. David said the experience was for these men "like going to the moon" because it had been decades since any of them had been in these situations.

The Biggest Challenge

David put the executives through quite a lot -- wearing a suit that constrained their sight and movement to mimic the experience of a 70-year-old, blindfolding them to give an inkling of what the blind must do, and so on.

However, the most painful experience for every board member was to speak to customers directly. The only requirement was that the executive asked the customer a series of questions, but David had more cancellations for this phase than any other. However, when they finally were forced to do it, they were almost like children in their excitement about what they learned. More than anything else, a direct relationship with customers and their experience had an enormous impact on these decision-makers.

The result? The bank's customer service improved dramatically, and it was made accessible to those with special needs.

A Fairy Tale?

This might sound like an unusual story from a far away land. After all, everyone isn't a banker, Switzerland is only one country, and cultural norms differ elsewhere.

However, here's a question:

In your organization, how many decisions are made about customer experience by those who never interact with customers at all? How many are made from charts, graphs, and information delivered by consultants or marketing departments?

And how much do you think you could learn by doing things differently?

Ted Dewan: The Roadwitch

Another Eurogel presenter called Ted Dewan paved the way for a new perspective on cars.

The Space Between Buildings
Ted began by saying that the Danish are smart about the use of space between buildings. Not true, he added, in England.

Ted lives in Oxford and has been frustrated with the traffic situation for as long as he can remember. He contends that there is a popular delusion that the space between buildings is reserved for cars, and the goal for city design is to get cars from one end to the other as quickly as possible.

Only the space that's left can be occupied by people, and this is not acceptable.

Spontaneous Bursts of Community

Regardless of the sense of being pushed to the edges, or perhaps because of it, people in Oxford have proved to come together as a community with very little provocation. When Ted first moved to his street, he needed help raising an old iron lamp post he had brought with him.

He put a sign outside his house that said "Jubilee Lampost Raising" with a time that everyone should meet. The response was tremendous, even though he had not yet met any of his neighbors. People arrived on time, and the event took on the sort of comraderie and purpose usually reserved for Almish barn raisings.

See Ted Run

Now his street comprised a community, Ted had even more of an incentive to stop cars from keeping people in their houses. In his attempt to prevent kids from being run over on Halloween, he faked an accident. Cars that usually sped down the road stopped slowed down to rubber neck. The action was coined a "roadwitch."

This began a flurry of signs posted throughout the neighborhood that told cars to go elsewhere in amusing ways. Although the city council refused to fix the streets when there had only been a few deaths, it took the police only an hour to arrive and force Ted to take the signs down.

More Roads, More Witches

On his own street, Ted let the children paint the car as a sort of auto scarecrow. Cars again slowed down, and the congestion dissapated. He brought out a sofa into the street, and the children brought other furniture to create a sort of livingroom installation. Ted reported that the neighbors began feeling a sense of ownership as they sat in this space usually reserved for cars. People began coming out of their houses and stayed until the police came to take it all away.

The Trend Spreads

Roadwitching became a kind of street squatting that spread across the world, from France to Arizona. Anything that calms and pushes back traffic is good, these happenings said. When the spaces between buildings becomes ambiguous, they invite people to gather and form communities.

Ultimately, Not Bad Results

Ted has gained credibility with the city, not least, through his noteriety. One Christmas he was asked to create an installation for one of Oxford's main roads, and it became a Cyclemas Tree (made of bicycle parts) that effectively slowed down cars for the season as they stopped to stair.

Perhaps even more compelling, in Ted's street, the children are growing up with a sense that they can create change through political action.

And so the Roadwitches continue.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Han Bennink: The Art of Noise

Talking About Music . . .

To continue from the last post, by far the most thrilling moments of this year's Eurogel were created by Han Bennink in his drumming.

Critics and fans have written about him for years, so you can always research the music history, biography information, and the rest if it interests.

The best part of the performance (other than the performance itself) was the lack of dialogue about music, music theory, influences, and all the rest of the dross that usually goes with musical demonstrations.

For example, someone asked a question about Han's boots. He buys them in Nottingham. End of discussion. A happy thing because it left time for more banging and hitting a broom, the drum kit, and a drumstick stuck in his mouth.

. . . Is Like Dancing about Architecture

It's impossible to reproduce the experience, so I'll say no more than this: write to Susanna von Cannon and ask for tour dates. This is one experience you should not miss.

More on Eurogel in the next post.

Eurogel 2006: A Gem in the Rough at the Black Diamond

The First of Its Kind

I just returned from Copenhagen where I attended Mark Hurst's Eurogel, the first GEL event to be held outside New York. It was a challenging conference precisely because it was the first. Probably its most salient feature was the heart with which it was offered by the organizers and received by the attendees. And as you can see from the pictures, taken by Daniel Hunziger, it also attracted a very young, hip crowd of designers, bloggers, and other business people interested in innovation.

Different from New York's GEL 2006

Rather than focusing on wide-spread trends -- in business innovation, in art, in gaming, in innovations corporate communication, in information mapping, and in online community, this gathering had its feet firmly in the life of Copenhagen. Most speakers were city natives, and the numerous artists and designers expressed more their own personal experiences rather than focusing on the connections with trends in the wider world.

There were notable exceptions -- look for them in the following posts.

A Different Kind of Good Experience

Despite the relatively narrow parameters, every attendee with whom I spoke felt lucky to be there. I felt the same. Although it is certainly a work in progress, Eurogel offered a level of intimacy and community that I haven't experienced at any other event.

Much of this is due to Mark Hurst, Dawn Barber, and the other organizers who went to great lengths to ensure attendees were happy with their experience. They were all generous with introductions among those at the conference, and the genuine effort to connect people gave the event a family feel.

Part of the great experience, too, can be attributed to calibre of the attendees who as a group were certainly more than the sum of its parts. Our cross-disciplinary experience and engagement in learning made the Black Diamond buzz.

Don't miss it next year.

For more on the conference from another source, check out the article by Fatdux. More from me in the next posts.