Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Her Mind's Eye [New Blog]

I will keep posting irregularly on this blog, mostly about work-related / knowledge management related things.  I started a new blog titled "In Her Mind's Eye" that will be focused on the themes of the novel I am finishing up.  My Twitter account will continue to reflect the mix of everything and anything of interest to me.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trends in Pop Psychology books

Bounce (Mathew Syed)
Switch (Chip Heath & Dan Heath)
Think! (Michael LeGault)
Choke (Sian Beilock)
Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)

Is it just me or is there a trend in popular psychology books?  Even the book covers follow a specific style.  So, just as you'd recognize a YA vampire novel by it's cover, you can now pick a popular psychology book by it's one-word title and cover art.

I've reached my tipping point.  I've bounced from one book to the other and obviously I'm no Mozart, Federer, Picasso or Beckman.  I've tried to switch but change is hard.  In the end, I started thinking without thinking and now, I can't stop blinking. Next think you know I'll be choking. I can't get it right.  All this science of success is too much for my brain.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

PLENK10 - On selfishness

Cover of Cover via AmazonI was on a train for six hours this past weekend, with a book (the physical thing) on hand.  It happened to be The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. I can't say that I was doing deep reading because I'm not a regular train traveler and I was slightly distracted by the noise and motion of the train, but sitting in the quiet car, I did manage to read uninterrupted for significant chunks of time. 

While I was testing my ability to read (as opposed to the constant skimming and scanning that I and apparently everyone does on the web), my teenage daughter sitting nearby was doing her usual multitasking: math homework while watching a TV show on Netflix.  My own brain cannot do that and does not want to try to do that.  It feels fragmented enough, thank you very much.   I can understand listening to background music while studying but I cannot understand watching TV while studying.    But then, why should I worry about how she does her homework if her report card is consistently excellent? 

Since I was taking my daughter to visit my Alma Mater, I was also being reminded of the old days when 90% of my time was spent studying -- which in my days meant reading on my own, digesting content on my own, and taking exams on my own.  I might have made every effort possible to avoid classes known to require group work.  Did that make me incapable of working with other people today?  I don't think so. Did that make me selfish?  I don't think so.

I don't necessarily buy into everything Nicholas Carr says in The Shallows, but I understand what he is saying about our brains' plasticity and how the tools we use reshape the neural pathways in our brain.  I experienced it first hand with language.  When I was 17, my family moved to the US (from France) and I soon enrolled in college in the US.  My English was far from perfect at the time and I struggle for a while, but within a couple of years of immersion and constant reading in English (while essentially stopping to read or speak in French), my brain was rewired.  I lost my fluency in French and my primary mode of thought and expression became English.

When you stop using a skill, you lose it.  It worries me that I may be losing my ability to engage in deep reading.  I've already essentially switched to audiobooks for fiction.  That was for convenience, since the only time I have for fiction is my car commute.  Yet I realize that reading a novel while holding the book in my hands is not the same as listening to a well trained audiobook narrator while driving.  Hopefully, I am not listening so deeply that my attention is diverted from my driving.  With a book in hand, I can read as deeply as I want to. 

All this rambling to explain why -- for this week at least -- I will not try to engage in the PLENK discussions, I will focus on the readings and the readings only (well, after this post anyway), returning to my selfish individual learning habits, as a sort of experiment.  I will reward myself with some deep reading and hopefully deep thinking.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mapping my PLE/PLN for PLENK2010

I started out mapping out all the tools and doing a real diagram but that's like trying to understand how my brain works and I don't care that much about the details.  The point of the diagram above is that most of the annoyances I encounter with my PLE/PLN have to do with the bipolar nature of the beast.  There's "WORK", which is quite interesting, but constrained by "this is a government computer" types of issues, and there are PERSONAL/PROFESSIONAL" interests beyond work.  There are work-tools and personal tools.  There are rules and confusing policies.   This is my PLE as I see it, though some of the tools listed on the WORK side of the brain made there way in the diagram only because they SHOULD be part of my PLE (if they were used effectively).

I posted a second diagram with more details of the tools involved in the PLENK Flickr group.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When We Think We Know

Here's the context:  A work-related group I participate in (committee type) is planning to organize a World Cafe.  I'm a participant with a limited role, no decisional power, advisory power at best.  I'm sensing from the conversation that few people in the room have direct, first hand experience with a World Cafe.  I have very limited first hand experience myself, perhaps just enough to know we (as a group) don't know enough.  I've attended one such event and didn't really get much value out of it.  Yet it appears that I've read so much about World Cafes (out of personal interest) that I feel as if I know more than other folks around the table.

It's not clear that I really do but let's focus for a second on HOW I know what I know about World Cafes.
  • I haven't learned much from my limited direct experience with a World Cafe (other than the fact that a first experience with a World Cafe isn't necessarily a very positive one)
  • Until last week I didn't own any book or manual about how to handle World Cafes
  • I've probably collected some resources about World Cafes when I was focusing my attention on learning through conversations
  • I've probably followed a few blogs from people who talk about World Cafes
  • I've been particularly interested in the use of graphic facilitation in the context of World Cafes
  • I had a few conversations about World Cafes with individuals who didn't necessarily have much more experience with World Cafes than I did. 
The result is that through my PLE (yes, I had to find a way to connect this to PLENK2010), I may have developed a sense of "knowing" what a World Cafe is all about, when in fact, it's quite superficial knowledge and until I'm more deeply engaged in participating in and organizing World Cafes, I should be careful not to claim that I know much about them.

Somehow connected to... Where Your Brain Figures out What it Doesn't Know (NPR)... which also reminded me of Teaching Smart People How to Learn (HBR).
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Random Thoughts about PLENK2010 ... so far

Random thoughts... about PLENK 2010 as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)
  • Liked the #Plenk2010 Daily, a summary of posts on Twitter.  I'm not a heavy Twitter user but this course has already prompted me to learn a few Twitter tricks I didn't previously know (I learned to use the delayed posting function). I tweeted from my iPhone (typos included). 
  • Watched the recordings of the Elluminate sessions.  I don't really feel any need to be there live and participate in the sidebar chatter.  It's too confusing to me, requires a split brain to follow the presenters and the side conversation.
  • Tried to add my blog feed to that of others but I'm not sure I provided the correct information.
  • A lot of the traffic is noise, but that's the reality of much of what we face in the workplace.  We all need to learn to deal with noise and to better filter information.  
  • Reconnected with someone I'd not been in touch with for a long time.
  • Talked about PLENK with a colleague at work who doesn't have any special interest in PLEs but understood what I was talking about in terms of using different media to connect and reach out to people across the globe.
  • Posted more on Twitter this week than any previous week since I opened my account more than a year ago (I'm guessing).
  • Learned (from a fellow PLENK participant) that there is a multi-user version of Tiddlywiki called TiddlySpace. I'm a certified Tiddlywiki fan.
  • Learned at least one new word: rhizomatic.
  • Set up a Google Alert for PLENK2010. 
  • And... many of the participants appear to be in the education field -- which makes sense.  I'm coming at the PLE/PLN/PKM discussion from the perspective of lifelong learning and personal professional practice more than as a tool for students.  
 None of this seems to mean a lot right now.  Patience required.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PLE, PLN, PKM --- I get it, it's about the P, it's personal.

I don't really think in terms of personal learning environments and personal learning networks but more in terms of personal knowledge management plan, which I see as more action oriented and focused. To implement my personal knowledge management plan, I use a number of tools and techniques (my Personal Learning Environment) and I draw upon the people within my network (Personal Learning Network).

I'm still trying to figure this out but I don't want to spend too much time on terminology. It's personal in the sense that it is uniquely my creation and my responsibility.  It's what works for me and what works for me is continually changing so I'd rather go with the flow rather than spent too much time defining what it is right now or what it has been in the past.  The problem is with this approach is that it's difficult to have a conversation with other people - especially a conversation with 1000+ people- if we're all using similar terms to mean completely different things.

I'm repeating myself.  I've blogged about this in the past (in February 2009).  I probably said something different at the time. 
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PLENK2010 vs/and writing

Yes, I have found yet another way to distract myself with an interesting activity that will take time away from my ongoing novel project.  Someday I'll get my priorities right. If I had a deadline on the writing/editing tasks, this would not be happening.

I've signed up for PLENK2010, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  I don't think it should be called a course.  It's a semi-organized learning environment where ~1000 folks with a similar interest in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) are going to read about and mostly talk about PLEs.  It's a gigantic dispersed, networked conversation around PLEs and related topics.

Now that I think about it, my writing/editing tasks can be seen as part of my big picture PLE.  To the extent that I still consider myself an amateur writer and the writing/editing I am currently doing is more of a learning experience than an income and deadline-driven activity, then taking part in PLENK2010 is not in conflict with my writing/editing goals.

I may have a tendency to compartmentalize and construct barriers and boundaries when there really shouldn't be any.  Making connections where there were none before is going to be one of my goals.  Isn't that how we learn, by building on what we already know (or think we know)?
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Monday, September 06, 2010

The New Social Learning

I've just finished reading The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social media, by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner.  It's an easy read, full of examples of how organizations have done it. 
  • I can see how social media tools can greatly support ambient awareness and individual learning in the sense that it can help anyone stay current professionally.  It's great for personal knowledge management (if you incorporate reflection time).
  • The new social learning helps you connect to a great variety of people you would not have connected with otherwise, but does it really help you in the daily work routine.  For some positions and organizational functions (if your work involves attending a lot of conferences, if you work in the public affairs office of an organization, the knowledge management office, etc), social media is transforming the nature of work.   I'm not sure this is the case for the majority of jobs.  It has also transformed personal knowledge management and informal professional development for everyone.
  • How do social media tools affect group / team learning?  I will probably have to take a closer look at the book but I didn't see a lot in there about how social media support small teams and group learning. I can see how it supports learning in a very broad and general sense, but I am more interested whether social media can be applied effectively in small group settings and how. The book doesn't seem to pay a lot of attention to the difference between social media tools that support global connections vs. enterprise 2.0 tools that are really more internally oriented (with some connections to external partners). I have a feeling that many organizations are still struggling with just that and are having to define or redefine how enterprise 2.0 is not just getting employees more connected to the outside world but also more connected internally . Some social media tools are much more appropriate than others for group and team learning.  I'm thinking of the potential of wikis in particular.
  • The amount of space dedicated to countering possible detractors is telling, but the critics are not specifically targeting the learning aspect of social media, they're targeting social media in general.  The authors don't claim that learning through social media replaces all learning, but they also don't touch on how this new social learning fits in with other types of learning (such as "learning from experience").
  • In my current place of employment, I have recently attended two sessions on social media, both of which were entirely focused on the use of public social media and offered a very PR-oriented approach (how do we get the word out about our wonderful work).  There is nothing wrong with that but I fear that if our collective understanding of social media doesn't go beyond that, we'll be missing out on the greatest opportunities.
  • You do have to read all the examples offered in the book with a grain of salt.  There was one particular example that made me raise an eyebrow because I knew something about it first hand and... well, the best way to put it would be to say that I have a different interpretation of how successful it was.
Related resources:
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Best and Worst Advice

I joined a writer's group a few months ago.  The group meets for a couple of hours every week.  Yesterday's session focused on "advice" as a theme and more specifically, a discussion around the best and worst writing advice ever given or received.

Somehow, the conversation triggered some connection to my work.

1. Focus, time management and goals
  • Given limited time and resources, don't spread yourself thin, don't procrastinate, be selective about what you do in the "here and now". If you're writing a novel, handle it like a real world project, set a timeline for completion of major milestones.  Don't use the advice to "read broadly" as an excuse for delaying your writing.  Don't use the advice to "research thoroughly" as an excuse for not writing.  At work, don't take on more tasks than you can handle, if your tasks don't have specific deadlines, make up some.

    This advice seems to apply equally well whether I think of writing as a hobby or a profession because the "free time" is a valuable commodity that deserves to be managed carefully. 
2. Take yourself seriously
  • I still feel ambivalent about what it means to take myself seriously as a writer.  Am I a writer if I write as a hobby and never submit anything for publication, or never even try to get other people to read what I writer?  For me, taking myself seriously as a writer has meant a) saving what I write (as opposed to throwing it away soon after writing it); b) getting to completion (meaning going from writing pieces of dialogue and scenes to writing a full manuscript); and c) paying attention to the craft of writing and trying to write something that would be good enough for someone else to read. 
  • At work, taking myself seriously is another ballgame.  It's one thing to take the task at hand seriously and completing the task to the best of your abilities.  It's another thing to take yourself seriously as a professional and pay attention to long term professional goals, how your colleagues and supervisors perceive you.
3. Rules vs. Advice
  • Follow the rule and consider the advice.  Even rules shouldn't be followed blindly.  Rules are designed based on particular contexts.  Until you understand why a rule is what it is (why it exists in the first place), you should probably not apply it blindly.  Advice is meant to make you think. 

    There are "rules" and protocols worth following, just to get things done. If every editor on the planet wants manuscripts submitted double spaced, it's not worth trying to argue that a single spaced manuscript will save trees.  Hopefully you're submitting your manuscript electronically anyway.  Most workplaces are full of such "rules" and requirements for getting things done. That's why the first few months on any job are mostly about learning how to get things done, figuring out what the rules are and getting advice on how to get things done, regardless of what the manual says to do.
Don't spend too much time writing on a blog when you're supposed to be focusing on a novel.  Ooops!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mapping to Support Organizational Learning

In June, I attended the Third International Conference on Knowledge Management for Space Missions in Darmstadt, Germany.  I was there to deliver a presentation titled "Mapping To Support Organizational Learning," and to learn from other KM initiatives, particularly within the European Space Agency (ESA).  My own presentation had a narrow focus, providing some insights into a process we've developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for capturing and reusing lessons or insights within the context of a "local learning loop."  It's not a process that necessarily scales up well to institutional-wide lessons learned but it appears to be quite useful to ensure that teams learn from their experiences and that those experiences are shared with teams that follow.

Darmstadt is an interesting city where about everyone appears to own a bicycle.  It was a lot of fun to hear the French, Italians, Germans, British, etc...  all presenting in English with their respective accents.  I felt totally at home.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Embedding KM

Finally something on KM that rings true and is of immediate relevance to my work.  Nick Milton's blog post on "The failure to Embed KM" is, in my opinion, spot on. 

At a recent conference, I pointed out that embedding KM in work processes was critical to the success of KM initiatives.   People in the audience picked it up as an important insight, yet the conversation didn't go very deep.  I certainly didn't have much more than a general statement to offer. It's an issue we continue to struggle with.

It's one thing to start a KM program and implement a set of "successful" KM activities.  It's another to get to the point where KM is just something people do as part of their work rather than something the KM office does.

I suspect that the way KM initiatives are introduced and managed has a significant impact on the level of difficulty encountered in embedding KM activities in routine work processes.  In essence, the stronger the KM program, the more difficult it is to shift from KM led by a KM office to KM as everyone's responsibility. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Antikythera Mechanisms and Modern Imaging Technologies

The Antikythera Mechanism was an analog comput...Image via Wikipedia

One of the benefits of working on a NASA Center is the easy access to seminars and colloquiums on topics I would never seek out if I were working somewhere else.  I blogged a while back about "why humans can't tickle themselves".  That was the outcome of a seminar at work.  Here is another one.  I attended a scientific seminar yesterday on the Antikythera Mechanism.  I didn't have a clue about what it was but the seminar description mentioned a ship wreck, ancient Greek artifacts, advanced astronomical computations as well as state-of-the-art imaging techniques.  Sounded like a great mystery to me and given that it was Friday afternoon before a long weekend, I wasn't going to be missing that many calls or emails.

By the time I reached the auditorium where the seminar was being given, there were very few seats left.  That was my first clue that the audience knew much more than me about what the Antikythera Mechanism than me. The Friday seminars are usually well attended, but nothing like a full auditorium.  It turned into standing room only, with people sitting on steps and standing in the back.  

This turned into a fascinating talk.  Of course, I'm neither an astronomer, an archeologist, a mechanical engineer or anything remotely capable of understanding the technical details of what the presentation was about, yet the impression I came out with was that 1) some ancient Greeks were real geeks who appeared to have been way ahead of their time; 2) their user's manual is turning out to be quite useful 2000 years later; 3) people can develop advanced technologies when it addresses issues critical to their culture; 4) this has all the elements of a great plot for a novel or a movie.  Think about it, 2000 years from now, someone somewhere finds something that's 2000 years old and they can't figure out what it could have been used for because "humans in 2010 were quite primitive."  Sort of a "Planet of the Apes" adaptation. 

A range of people have been trying to solve the mystery of the Antikythera mechanism since it was discovered in 1902.  However, it is only in recent years that new imaging technologies have made it possible to fully examine the mechanism's interior and to decipher many parts of the "user's manual."

See The Antikythera Mechanism in Lego
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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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