Saturday, November 25, 2006

Finding New Ideas: Rattling Around Convention

Everything is Relative

My uncle designed with Marc Jacobs wearable art that rattles. The ring and bracelet fun to play with but are definitely not for children. They ring with the sound of gems hidden inside gold.

Each piece is hand-made and has eight "houses" (read: compartments). In each house sits one gem: if you've got money to burn, you can house eight perfect quarter-carat diamonds; if not, semi-precious stones do the trick quite well.

With every movement, there's a tinkling sound (or rattle), but no one but the wearer knows what's in there. It's fun to hear them jingle (particularly when someone does the most ordinary tasks throughout the day).

What's So Different Here?

Even my grandfather, who came from the diamond business in Belgium (and was not impressed by much), was rather chuffed by the rattle ring and bracelet.

"The only conceptual high-end jewelry ever," he'd say, "was the tennis bracelet. And that didn't have anything to do with tennis -- so really, it doesn't even count." At 95, my grandfather had more respect for the creator of mood rings because the concept part was real. He respected people with imagination.

Why This is Fun, Even Just to Think About

It might seem too obvious to say, but gems have always been symbols of importance and power. If you consider the reason most people buy high-end jewelry, it's to show off what they've got. You can see this in the oldest paintings -- no courtier, king, or even burgher would be painted without as much bling as possible.

Look at Medieval alter pieces -- artistans lent even Mary and the saints gold and fancy jewelry, just to show they were important. Forget the fact that the characters decked out in diamonds were supposed to inspire humility from the collected masses by example.

But that's another discussion.

So What About this Rattle Business?

The rattle collection turns all this on its head: you might like having a secret more than bragging about what you've got. Knowing something is better than showing it. And for me, a sublte and counter-intuitive idea offers pleasure that is greater and lasts longer than a habit whose value has always taken for granted.

What If Every Conventional Idea Were Rattled, Just a Little?

It's worth considering: what other conventional notions of power and importance could be turned upside down (or as in this case, inside out)? What could sustained curiosity inspire?

If you want to know more, send me a note. The pieces will soon be offered in exclusive catalogues for the tremendously wealthy.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gold in the Rubble: Building an Effective Learning Environment for Business

I've been hearing complaints from many colleagues and clients about the lack of corporate training within their organizations. Sometimes they complain about the quality. Regardless, degree programs are being slashed, new hires are made project managers with no word on what to do, and even receptionists are not taught to answer the phone politely (forget helpfully).

Believe it or not, this could turn out to be very good news.

Stop Training and Start Teaching

I'm working with a colleague on a new ways of training that bypasses particular skill issues and get to the root of these challenges. If you need our services, by all means, get in touch.

However, lest this seem like shameless marketing, I'd like to encourage the competition just as strongly as potential clients. if you also are in the business of helping companies function properly, now is the time to move beyond a focus on particular skills to the roots of how people learn. And to change the experience of working everywhere.

One Solution

A colleague in Australia told me his company has already begun. At some point a few months ago, I suggested an induction program that rewards outside interests for new hires to ensure that they retain and develop resources from outside their jobs. Lasting and valued Networks as well as ideas tend to emerge rather than be organized conciously. Learning is associative, and so the more disparate interests one has, the more data points there are to combine for innovation. Also highly engaged people are more effective in the workplace (as well as happier in life, research shows).

My colleague's company rewards managers for supporting outside interests of those who work for them and make time for the latter to engage and develop their passions.

Make no mistake, this is not an groovy kind of community -- the people are all engineers, bent on proving things, focused on how things work.

Something in the Air?

With business leaders' despair about the range of inadequacy -- from ordinary skills to that of high-level innnovation, both, there is room now to experiment. Perhaps it's the spirit of the Web -- making the new capabilities of the Web work for you financially demandsd informed experimentation. We're in new territory and one that is seen as demanding personal engagement to run effectively.

Perhaps it's just that there is an empty space to fill, and new ideas are rising when before there were too many people crowding the room with the same old solutions.

Whatever it is, there is a lot of room for new ways of thinking. Now is the time to learn about what's possible.

Friday, November 17, 2006

It's All in the Teaching: Latin Like You've Never Seen It

Where Do Professors Come From?

There is an old chestnut in academics that speaks to the ridiculousness of standards that rewards faculty with tenure in the liberal arts: It's hard to agree on what constitutes good research, but everyone recognizes a great teacher. Usually, teaching isn't really taken into account.

Of course there are the exceptions -- both in the way faculty are rewarded and in the fact that some prodigious researchers devote themselves to their classes -- but by and large, the American system is run in a manner that does not benefit the students (whose parents are paying huge amounts of money for the privilage).

Why You Can Learn More in Secondary School: It Matters if You Can Teach

I have a good friend, Dr. Richard Gilder III, who is one of the best teachers in whose classroom I've had the privelage to sit. He teaches Latin, something with a language with which I have very little familiarity, but still I was inspired and learned a lot.

That's really saying something.

Great Teachers are Hard to Find

Richard enlisted me to raise awareness of a new approach to teaching Latin, and I thought I'd mention it here for those who might be interested.

The man's got a fancy name but a simple premise:

Most American students (and probably many elsewhere) are not familiar enough with the workings of their native language to do much other than memorize when they learn another. What if language structure and logic per se were taught as part of the Latin curriculum? In other words, wouldn't it be wonderfully efficient if students could learn Latin and English all at once? And leave prepared to learn other languages as well?

Not News but Worth Repeating: Great Books Can Help Make Great Thinkers

I'm not a fan of Allan Bloom, but with Gilder's strategy, I think teaching Latin could have as much or more of a direct application to better business practice than almost anything else.

No one speaks Latin, but what could be more useful in a global economy than learning to think in two language and laying the groundwork for others?

And there's nothing like introducing unlikely connections and crossing disciplines for >sustainable innovation.

What could be more unlikely?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Response to Yesterday's Post Got Me Thinking . . .

Someone sent me a note about yesterday's post suggesting that although he thinks Rob's work is teriffic, often what's missing in ONA/SNA is value network analysis. Information can also be found here.

Thanks for writing, and if you're interested in me posting your name and site, please give a shout.

I'm not sure if this is entirely true, however. Rob spent quite a bit of time on the evaluating (and putting a value on) outcomes in business terms. My concern is that if networks are put entirely in existing business terms -- as new a concept as it is to improve the way organizations and individuals function -- SNA (now ONA) will end up being a passing fad.

Regardless of business outcome, the individual and how individuals operate is the center of this process. Individuals impulses are as important as their behaviors -- in fact, they drive them.

I find this already in the way Valdis Krebs explains his work, although he's been in the business for over twenty years. Let's hope this style of storytelling becomes a trend.

My sense is that a more human vocabulary could benefit the current language of corporate archetypes. Otherwise, all you've got is more business process and training from mgt. rather than connections over which employees have ownership and personal bonds that last.

Here's hoping that the language of feeling will blend with that of corporate function once the process has more widespread credibility.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Say What You Mean: Demystify Engagement for the Sake of Innovation

For Those New To This Excercise . . .

. . . jargon drives me to rail. I began this weekly blog to explore ways of breaking down silos in terms of learning and training, creativity and innovation, and any other aspect related to the results of curiosity and insight.

There are exceptions when trying to give credibility to what are called the softer skills that no one can really measure but everyone knows are important anyway.


Most of the time, the more economically successful of these silos (eg programs for professionals) claim their exclusivity and advantage through mystifying concepts that fourth grade teachers take for granted. Some of these include reconnecting the intellectual body to the emotional body, emphasizing broad learning rather than narrow training, and putting teachers and trainers of all levels together to garner insight and maximize personal resources

It all might sound a little un-credible to businesses. However, by getting everyone together, we'll be more efficient by sharing what businesses call "learnings," eliminates redundancies, and create efficiencies. How more business-like can an argument be?

The Setting

I attended a Round Table focused on Social Network Analysis (SNA) run by Rob Cross and the McIntyre School at the University of Virginia.

The attendees members of the Round Table were, for the most part, large organizations in financial services, professional services, manufacturing, consumer products, and so on. There was also a scattering of independent consultants and non-profits that genuinely added great perspective to the discussion.

The Hidden Power of Networks: An Excellent Book

I very much appreciated Rob's book -- one of the few business books that IS a book rather than an article stretched by publishers to fit between hard covers and look like other of its kind on bookstore shelves. It's a generous book -- full of detailed, accessible discussions of a process, its purpose, and uses.

In other words, it entirely a process that produces the most mystifying of maps and diagrams and for which people charge a lot of money. How generous is that?

Some Lovely Surprises

Organizations presented their results of using Rob's software and Network Analysis, and they seemed quite honest about what worked and what didn't. No marketing case studies, these. There was a genuine desire both to learn and share knowledge here, sometimes with competitors.

Also, very near the conference's end, Steve Denning gave a wonderful presentation on Storytelling. The slides were surprising and had everyone laughing, and Steve's straightforward personal engagement with the audience was unique for the weekend. By gum, he even stood directly in front of the audience, miles away from the screen, and acted as though the podium didn't exist.

The Only Caveat (And a Big One)

Despite the possible benefits of SNA for acknowledging individuals as such, it's clear that business are still reluctant to admit that their employees feel as much as they think. Social Network Analysis (SNA) becomes Organizational (ONA) to sell into business. Presenters described their processes in terms almost exclusively in terms of behaviors driven by the impulse to succeed and Conflict should always be resolved">agree, whether it derives from the employee or as an edict from management.

Rob talks about "energizers" and those who drain energy from a team or individual and the symptoms that can ferret these out. Yet he didn't say anything about the passion and engagement that causes the transference this kind of energy from person to another.

Likewise, Steve Denning, as directly as he connected to the audience, described the structural aspects of an effective story. Yet he neglected to point out that in order for a story to be effective, the teller needs to feel it's important.

When I approached Steve to ask why he didn't point out perhaps this most important issue in effective transfer of information, he told me he was saying it implicitly through his talk.

This seems to miss the point of this exercise. As any teacher who educates her peers will tell you, modeling has little effect without explicit discussion of what she is teaching.

I've been told that it's unrealistic to try to change the system because it's the way things are. However, with that attitude, SNA would never have been adopted by anyone. Who discussed social networks two years ago?

The Danger: SNA Going from Lasting Learning to the Usual Business Training

If business leaders continue to define credibility as lacking in emotional content -- if networks can't be identified as "social" (eg belonging to the participants) but instead as "organizational" (eg belonging to the business) -- you'll never get the kind of creativity and collaboration in business that you do outside it (say, on the Web).

As for Learning . . .

If credibility for business processes exist in describing behavior rather than in articulating and generating the impulse that best creates it, despite the beginnings of communities of individuals within organizations, we're eliminating the internal combustion (eg emotional responses) that cause both the positive and negative behaviors in companies.

By dissociating the emotional system from professional behavior, you effectively minimize innovation. Even heated conflict can be tremendously productive if the goal is something new.

After all, what is inspiration but the meeting point between intellectual and emotional insight?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How to Implement Web 2.0 In Practice? Write Some Wrongs (and Not Just in Theory)

Continuing from a few posts ago . . .

It's pretty much agreed that businesses will find it a competitive necessity to be fleet of foot strategically to survive the changes in the way the world (and in it, their customers) connect and are connected.

I have been researching case studies on how businesses actually use what people call Web 2.0 (in all the ways they define it). Andrew McAfee says there are so few that he and his crowd "are waiting to hear" from anyone who will offer up an example.

As long as a good idea only exists in theory, it probably won't go anywhere. And that would be a shame.

Not My Idea, But a Good One

After rereading Ross Mayfield, Nancy White, Valdis Krebs, Rob Cross and Ken Thompson, I realized that Andrew McAfee's Enterprise 2.0 will really only be the second step in at least a two-part process for companies that want to be more adaptable, creative, and innovative.

Companies need to establish a 2.0 culture before introducing wikis, tagging, and so on. McAfee's famous case study's follow-up is that the evangelist left who made the wikis work so well. Word has it that the excercise has not been doing so well ever since.

Hating Jargon, 2.0 Must Go

I use the term 2.0 here only as a nod to McAfee. McAfee is a very smart guy and knows his stuff. However, with all due respect to Mr. O'Reilly, jargon is only necessary to lend credibility to this project, and it's gone a bit out of control. It's important to acknowledge that we're really talking about behavior that works offline to build strong culture and community.

On the other hand, if throwing around numbers works to help you sell good ideas into your company, do what must be done by all means necessary.

To Date, Shifts in Culture Often Start with IT

The few case studies that exist on social networks begin in the tech department and spread outward because either 1. Techies are open to new toys and are comfortable with improvements through technological means; and 2. Techies can be a tight community that works together. The rest of the culture needs evangelizing.

But what if you start by changing the culture and then introduce the tools? Wouldn't that have more widespread application, both within and across companies?

Identify Those Who are Interested Anyway . . . In Everything

In one circumstance, I suggested to a friend that perhaps writers would be a place to build a test case. Big businesses often use writers across countries and industries to articulate the insights, discoveries, and brand of the sales force. This is often done in the form of marketing, too much under the Orwellian rubric, Thought Leadership.

Because of what they do, these writers often already have built far-flung networks. They know who is doing what, where, and when, and they often are used to write the script. Often, too, these people are naturally very interested in many topics and in meeting new people (or, in 2.0 language, building out their networks).

Here you've got a possibility of creating community among disparate departments through individuals who all have one thing in common (their job) and perhaps share common tendencies and interests. They also have a lot to gain by learning about each other's work.

Writers and Marketing: Undervalued, but Not News . . . Yet

The reason this hasn't happened yet, I'd wager, is that marketing is considered more a necessary evil than a value in most money-making ventures. I know this from experience but also because a techie friend told me this last week -- both she and her partner in a start-up are stuck in the habit of valuing only that which can be measured in terms of direct revenue.

Here's a way for the creative types to find a stronghold in their businesses -- become a case study. Show your multi-national corporations way to a 2.0 culture of community. The techies can then introduce some helpful tools, but there's a good chance they won't get buy-in without your lead.