Friday, March 26, 2004

Techno-fetishist meet Fluffy-bunny

I certainly agree with David that this is a default categorization of approaches to knowledge management and to information technology use in the organization. At the same time that binary categorization is at the root of most problems with effective use of technology.

We need bridges between these two cultures. The question is what can we do to build them? Time and maturity may be an element of the answer.

I started my career as a techno-fetishist. After a decade of building information and reporting systems that all too often created little in the way of change, I went back to school to try to understand why. In the process I developed into a fluffy-bunny who kept up his membership in the ACM.

As a techno-fetishist, I operated with some pretty naïve notions of human behavior (rational economic man) and of organization. That was reflected in the systems I designed. What struck me most as I developed my fluffy-bunny dimension was the proactive ignorance of most organizational theorists about what was and was not possible with technology. Although they had the advantage of thinking in terms of designed solutions to organizational problems, their design toolkits reflected little sense of the state of the possible with technology making their designs equally suspect, albeit in different ways.

The starting point has to be convincing key players on both sides of the divide to decide they need and wish to work together. Then, each has to begin investing in learning about the opportunities and contraints of the other and in teaching their counterparts across the divide about what are the key dimensions of tradeoff and opportunity.

Techno-fetishist or Fluffy-bunny?.

Attended David Gurteen's Knowledge Café last night. The theme for the night was: Techno-fetishist or fluffy bunny which are you?

If that sounds a little weird it may help to know that these are Dave Snowdens archetypes for those who, on the one hand, believe that knowledge management is a purely technical problem and, on the other, believe it's all about the people.

What made tonights event a little different from normal was the number of new people there. I think for the first time over half of the people were attending their first café. David decided to start with 15 minutes of speed networking (Find someone you don't know, then you each have 60 seconds to tell the other person about yourself). I have to say I groaned inwardly (It had been a long day and this sounded like hard work) at the thought. Nevertheless it turned out to be quite good fun although my voice didn't hold up too well.

There followed 40 minutes of good discussion about the role of technology in KM. Some good observations from around the room, I can't remember most of them but a few that struck me:

  • You can have an organisation without technology, but you can't have an organisation without people. People are the key and technology is an enabler.
  • How you see yourself (techie vs. fluffy) is only one aspect of, as it is also important how others see you. Someone made the observation that a number of his team of KM workers were seen around the organisation as techies even though (mostly being from a journalistic background) they were the fluffiest people you could wish to meet.
  • Design is important in building knowledge systems. Consider how good a job companies like Amazon and Ebay have been.
  • Technology is a good way of holding information and allowing it to be sifted and, in due course, preserved when it meets the criteria of being Hallmark Knowledge.
  • You can make people use a new finance system. You can't make people use a KM system. Incentive systems often provoke the wrong behaviour (what happens when the incentive stops). You need to involve people from early stages and get buy in. I would ask the question: What's in it for me?
  • Do people see what they have as knowledge? They won't share what they feel is not valuable. This has to be addressed.

I think there was definitely a fluffy bunny conscensus in the room at the end of the day. So there is hope for us yet!

We all excused ourselves to the pub to finish the evening.

Thanks to Alison Leahy of Universities UK for providing a great venue, coffee and directions to the pub!

[Curiouser and curiouser!]
11:35:24 PM •  • comment  
Knowledge work process analysis and photo selection at Sports Illustrated

Not only is this a fascinating analysis of a magazine process, it's also an excellent case study of a classic knowledge work process. What I found particularly interesting were how issues of scale were factored into the design of the process and the selection of tools.

The secret to SI's photography. The secret to SI's photography: This is perhaps the most fascinating analysis of a magazine process I have run across while doing the rexblog. It is a look at how the photographers and photo editors of Sports Illustrated use digital cameras capture the incredible images they use in each issue of the magazine.


In 2003, Sports Illustrated's photo department processed 1,028,000 digital photographs shot by staffers or freelancers under assignment. In 2004, an Olympic year, they estimate they will process closer to 3 million. Though a small amount of the work done for the magazine is still shot on film, the vast majority of its photography is now digital.

So, there you have the secret: A few million images to choose from taken by the some of the greatest photo-journalists working today.

(via /.) [rexblog: Rex Hammock's Weblog]

11:11:46 PM •  • comment  
Sturgeon's law and RSS

This is another of those wonderful things you discover in a world where everyone is free to post and publish their passions to the web and bloggers are there to report on their explorations and discoveries.

Sure, Sturgeon's Law still rules; but there's so much more wonderful stuff to be found. As the absolute volume of stuff out there goes up, so does the volume of the 10% that is good (and the 1% that is absolute gold). Add in those intelligent agents that make up my subscriptions and you have the option to fill your own time with that 10 or 1%. Life is good.

TV cliches catalogued. Here's a Wiki cataloguing, with cited examples, all the eye-rolling idiot plots from sitcomdom.

Gilligan Cut
The Gilligan Cut is a classic staple of comedy. A character protests vehemently, "What, you expect me to wear a grass skirt, stand up on top of Empire State Building and belt out the chorus of 'New York, New York'? Well, I'm not gonna... I'm just not gonna..." And then you cut, and see the character doing just that. The Gilligan Cut. Comedy ain't pretty.
Link (Thanks, Gnat!) [Boing Boing]
1:42:29 PM •  • comment  
The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes

I've certainly thrown these numbers around myself from time to time (here and here where I get my facts wrong, for example). And I've found them to be valuable heuristics to keep in the back of my mind. It's nice to see that someone has pulled together and organized much of the underlying relevant work. It will be handy to have this available.

The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes. Lately I've been noticing the spread of a meme regarding "Dunbar's Number" of 150 that I believe is misunderstanding of his ideas. (post continues with a discussion of Dunbar's Number, the size of groups, some empirical and anecdotal experience with sizes of groups. [Life With Alacrity]

1:32:04 PM •  • comment