Saturday, March 26, 2011

100 Tools for learning + 1 (

Jane Hart's annual list of the top 100 learning tools is always an interesting way of keeping an eye on trends and discovering new tools.  I went to check the list this morning with a different purpose.  I went to see if my current favorite is on the list.  I couldn't find it on the 2010 list but it has 3 votes on the 2011 list.  It's not clear that it's going to make the top 100 in 2011.

What am I talking about? allows you to subscribe to daily newspaper issues made up of Twitter and Facebook links.

The newspaper arrives in my email box. With TweetDeck and my filterened column for KM-relatead tweets, I can end up with 20 tweets essentially pointing to the same link.  With, I will see only one link to that item.  It helps to filter out duplicates.  If I keep TweetDeck open all day long to keep an eye on things, I lose focus on what I'm trying to achieve.

For me, won't completely replace TweetDeck, but it has an important Twitter management function.

All of this leads me back to a point about the Top 100 Tools for Learning.  Some of the tools listed are really sub-tools in the sense that and TweetDeck exist only because of Twitter.  They're tools develop to address some of the challenges brought about by Twitter.  Also, it would be useful to have lists by category of tools.  Presentation tools have little to do with microblogging tools for example.

 I discovered via Twitter, but you go directly to the website, search for existing papers, on topics of interest, and subscribe, never requiring you to even get a Twitter account.

Subscribe to the top 3 "Knowledge Management" Twitter newspapers and I'm confident you won't miss anything critical being shared on Twitter around Knowledge Management.

Of course, that all works out for me because I use Twitter as a way of connecting with resources more than as a way of connecting with people.  To connect with people around KM, the weekly #KMers tweetchat is probably the most effective approach.

Conclusion:  You don't have to keep checking your tweet feeds to get significant benefits from Twitter. It doesn't have to be a distracting tool.  What you need is a willingness to try it out and figure out how to use it so it works best for you. 

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

To Reflect

Somewhere in downtown Pittsburgh.
I love collecting links to interesting items on the web and I regularly bookmark using Diigo.  While I think that just the act of bookmarking something makes me focus on it a little more than I would if I were just scanning the item and moving on, I'm always feeling slightly guilty about the fact that I don't do much with these bookmarks.  Now that I have a substantive collection, however, I find myself coming to search it more often.  The photo to the right is one I took on a visit to Pittsburgh.  I came upon it today while cleaning up some files and it triggered some cleaning up of my Diigo Library.  Cleaning up, it turns out, is a good way to trigger reflection and in my case this morning, I ended up thinking about my use of tags, the increasingly important role of tagging and folksonomies, and how looking at your own tags and how they related can trigger new connections.  The clean up also forced me to learn a few tricks about searching my own Diigo Library.

Links from my Diigo Library (Tags= reflections, reflective practice, journaling, professional journal, PKM, AAR)
If I combine all the related tags mentioned above in a search of my Diigo Library, the query returns... 160 items.  I suspect many of them are labeled PKM for personal knowledge management. 

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Understanding Information Overload: Email

"When the amount of information available to be filtered is effectively unlimited, as is the case on the Net, then every improvement in the quality of filters will make information overload worse." Situational overload and Ambient Overload (Nicholas Carr, March 11, 2011)

In his post on "Situational Overload and Ambient Overload," Nicholas Carr differentiates between too types of issues:  Situational overload refers to the ability of finding the needle in the haystack (or our ability to search for something specific), while ambient overload refers to our ability to filter the unending rivers of information that are available to us to find things that are of interest to us.

In short, Clay Sharky's often quoted statement that "It's not information overload, it's filter failure" (Clay Sharky, Web 2.0 Expo) doesn't address all the angles of the information overload problem.

I was struck by this statement by Nicholas Carr because it helped me deepen my understanding of the confusion most people seem to experience around the words "information overload."  When people complain of information overload, they'll often use email as an example and mention that they receive hundreds of email every day, immediately followed by a statement to the effect that if they read all their emails, they'd have no time for real work.

I don't receive hundreds of email at work -- and I should be thankful for that -- but as an experiment, I started collecting in a folder all the messages that I receive that I consider to be a waste of my time and I should never have received.  I should mention here that we have an excellent spam filter and all the unnecessary email I am collecting are internal to the organization.  Most of these email messages come from individuals making use of distribution lists. Half of the messages don't apply to me at all, meaning that I am not the intended audience for that message. There are particularly annoying examples of this: 1) the message reminding me to submit my timesheet, which would be nice, except that I'm a contractor and I work on a different timesheet schedule; 2) the message advertizing all the wonderful training opportunities -- for which I don't qualify.

To address the problem, I have a number of options:
1) unsubscribe from these lists
That is not necessarily an option since I didn't subscribe in the first place.  I was automatically added based on my various organizational identities.
2) create an email rule to automatically divert all these messages to a folder and review/delete when I have time
3) create a rule that is specific enough to automatically delete the specific messages without targeting all messages to the offending distribution lists;
4) have a friendly conversation with the sender(s).

Then there's the occasional "donuts in the kitchen" announcement, which might be useful to some, but I don't work in the building where that kitchen is located, so again, that distribution list doesn't work for me.

Then there's the "I wanted to make sure you all receive this" message, when the message referenced has clearly been sent to every single individual in the organization.  Either the sender hasn't seen that the message was sent to everyone or the sender doesn't trust the recipients to read emails addressed to everyone, but they trust the reader to read emails from him/her.

In the work situation, I don't have complete control over what I receive and I have to pick my battles.  This one is probably not significant enough to turn it into a skirmish, but multiplied by thousands of employees receiving a dozen or more unnecessary emails a day, there may be a case of action.

My personal email inbox is another story.  Even without spam, I do get many more emails there and I make extensive use of filters to screen things efficiently and not miss important messages.  In my work inbox, I can't afford not to screen every message, even if only to delete.  In my home inbox, most of what I receive are things I asked for (notifications, subscriptions, etc...) but don't need to read until the weekend or don't have to read at all if I'm pressed for time.  That's the ambient overload aspect of the information problem, the same problem I encounter with RSS feeds I subscribe to and most of my use of Twitter.  That is something I can control.  I can decide how much time to spend screening Twitter feeds and RSS feeds. I can skip a whole week and not have to worry about it.  It's not essential to my existence.  Nothing will happen if I miss a week's worth of Twitter or a week's worth of RSS feeds.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Challenge of Learning in Projects

It is easier to establish AAR processes (or a similar process) in projects or activities that have a short life cycle and are repeatable.

Here is a very simple example:  You've developed a training curriculum that you deliver four times a year.  At the end of each session, you conduct an AAR, the lessons of which you can quickly integrate into the next session and so on, in an ongoing fashion.

There are project circumstances, however, where establishing an AAR process is much more difficult because of the following perceptions firmly held by project team members.

1) the projects are long-term AND there is little learned in phase A that really applies to phase B

2) projects are so unique that there isn't much specific you could learn on one project that will apply to another project

3) project teams are pressured to delivery THEIR project on time and on budget (at times competing with other projects for resources), so why should they waste time on activities meant to help out future projects for which they have no responsibility.

1) and 2) above are hard to believe but I've heard it.  KM professionals should never assume that everyone perceives of the value of knowledge in the same way they do. 3) is where the biggest problem resides.

So, if the project team doesn't have the necessary motivation to engage in KM activities, where is the appropriate entry point?  Somewhere either above the project (management level) or below the project (professional groups, etc...)?

Project X experienced challenges with its risk management approach, an issue which would have come up in a project AAR (if implemented at major milestones rather than at the end of the project).  The project didn't schedule AARs because of 1), 2) and 3) listed above.  What if there was a Risk Management community of practice with the appropriate incentives to support members with the knowledge of the entire community rather than just the knowledge of the individual risk manager assigned to that project?

That does not mean there aren't good opportunities for using AARs in that organization.  Not all activities around the organization are long-term unique projects. 

In short: Don't push AARs where they don't belong. Find the right approach for the specific setting.