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?