Breaking the ubiquity of Stream Mode

A blog post by Luis Suarez has served nicely as a catalyst to start crystallizing some thoughts from the last couple of weeks.

Discomfort

I’ve become increasingly aware of tensions I feel when I think about how I manage my personal sense-making. In hindsight the seeds were sown when taking Harold Jarche’s PKM in 40 days course. During that study I realised that although I “talk the talk” around PKM, mostly what I do is the “Seek” part of Seek-Sense-Share, with sharing only at the level of filtering a set of public bookmarks. My approach to sense-making is opportunistic, driven by the needs of the moment, and often quite ephemeral – knowledge is cast away to the depths of memory when not needed for the task in hand.

I’ve noticed a number of things, which I now suspect are related:

  • I become more and more convinced that email is toxic, yet find myself dragged back into using it by the unhealthy habits of those I work with. Although I find the collaboration in Luis’s #no-email Slack group to be a great support, I spent much of last year not participating
  • I’m increasingly aware of tensions whenever I think about long-form writing and thinking – a whole blog post feels like a lot of pressure! 🙂
    As an aside, I wonder if in fact my long-form thinking is being expressed in a different medium – code – although the job title might mislead you, I write quite a bit of code these days  – and “code is poetry” after all!
  • I find myself attracted to Federated Wiki – the combined timelessness of wiki ( = “no pressure”) with it being “my site”. The ability to quickly bang together related thoughts on pages which are never “finished” feels more accessible than the blank page, dated post, tyranny of the blog
  • I like the speed of Fargo (although the default blog style with dates is a bit reminiscent of timelines). Publishing via smallpict.com is baked in, if I plan to use this tool more I want my own server, and not just syndicate it.
  • Regardless of anything I say in this post, I’m still quite attracted by the immediacy of a Twitter timeline, the frequent updates on Facebook, the serendipitous comments that arise when I post the name of the film I am about to watch – I’ve realised that acknowledging that attraction is a key step in starting to build something else into my practice

Analysis

Part of recognising an issue is to be aware of the feelings of discomfort, and part is having the right concepts to categorise what is happening.

I came across Mike Caulfield‘s multifarious online presences when I started looking into Federated Wiki. The ones that have seemed most useful in this context are where he has drawn out the definition of StreamMode, contrasted with StateMode  (bloghighlighted version). In his words,

“You know that you are in StreamMode if you never return to edit the things you are posting on the web”
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Mike recognises that StreamMode may have some advantages, and Bill Seitz makes an interesting contrast link to Tim Kastelle  on Managing Knowledge Flow, not Knowledge Stocks

But….

“We end up hitting Twitter refresh like sad Skinner-boxed lab rats looking for the next pellet instead of collaborating to extend and enhance the scope of human knowledge.”
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Or in the words of Jack Dorsey – “Twitter is live, Twitter is real-time” – both its strength and its weakness.

The Firehose is addictive – it makes us feel “in touch with the pulse” at the same time as it weakens our ability to pause and take stock – it is the refined white sugar of the knowledge world.

What’s Next

Change relies on motivation and a plan.

So you have an addiction – do you really want to fix it?

Why would I want to reduce the hold that StreamMode has over my online interactions?

Put very simply, if I’m going to spend time online, I want it to be useful in some way – personally, professionally.

And the plan? Reinforce positive behaviours, and manage those which are inefficient, unhelpful or not-fun.

Although I complained above about being dragged back into the toxicity of email I have had some success with “Working Out Loud“:

  • Using a product management toolset that within the scope of a single user licence allows me to make my planning work visible across the company, and for colleagues to comment, and create their own ideas for change (sorry for the plug, but I really like the tool)
  • With internal and external technical teams, reinforcing the use of DVCS repositories, and using comments and pull requests as a way of documenting our design discussions
  • Wherever I can, moving more general internal discussions to a combination of Yammer and internal blogs

So a big part of my strategy is to keep using these, and move more and more of my “inside the firewall” conversations to them.

Outside the firewall, in many ways I feel I have been going backwards, not least because outside the firewall is where the stream is so pervasive.

I think the first step is to take back some control, and of all the things I have read, Luis’s approach to gripping Twitter by the throat and bending it to his will is the most appealing.

So I’m planning my own version of the “Great Unfollowing

That will do for a start. There will be more on evolving practices, but another secret to making a change is not to try too many things at once.

And change often needs a public commitment – here it is!

 

Back to basics

A blog redesign, and a metaphor for 2014…

I decided a while ago that my blog theme had become just too complicated – over the years I had added more and more “good ideas” until the page was utterly swamped in widgets.

So I’m trying to get back to basics with a stripped down theme. Perhaps it will stimulate me to write a bit more?

The complete lack of posts in 2013, and almost complete lack in 2012, are a reflection of what was going on in my professional life. During 2012 the organisation I had been with for two years folded, only to rise again in the form of a management buyout. We’ve had a great start, and are thriving now. My personal challenge has been to bootstrap an information infrastructure from almost nothing – we started with a legacy database and the laptops we bought from the administrators, nothing else, not even an internet connection for the first  month.

Thanks to a cloud-first strategy we have made huge leaps forward, and the business is doing well. Basic collaboration tooling has all been delivered using public cloud offerings, and we are in the middle of migrating our core line of business app to a SAAS platform.

“Back to basics” has become a mantra, as we seek to deliver as much as we can with a close eye on costs. it’s also become something of a personal theme – in the face of necessity I have had to get closer to the technology than I had been for years in other management jobs. I have found that writing code is deeply satisfying, I have rediscovered my inner Builder. (In the spirit of “cobbler’s children”, that also means this site will be highly-lacking in fancy code-ness!).

In a more reflective mood this has led me to wonder why we so often associate “seniority” with becoming distant from the tools of the job? In large organisations it makes sense that as the volume of resources you have to manage becomes larger you spend time managing teams of teams of teams. But I’d argue that in the SME world a different sort of technology leader is needed – I think it’s much more like being the Chief Engineer of a ship – you have limited resources, but you still have to make the thing work, and keep working. Sometimes that’s about finding the right partners, and managing them well, but sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and write the thing yourself!

“Back to basics” is also a reminder to myself of the simple processes that keep work flowing and a sense of control – Kanban and GTD in particular.