Comment on “Stop Blaming the Tools when Collaboration Fails”

Another “down the rabbit hole” post and comment stream from Luis Suarez with a great contribution in the comments from Martin White

There are some interesting papers to follow up in the comments (as an aside, shame how much of academic publishing is still locked behind paywalls)

Martin comments:

I think it is more about a view that academic research is not of value together with an inability or unwillingness to find the research. It’s certainly out there. A search for collaboration in Google Scholar comes up with 4 million references, albeit many are more about scientific collaboration than business collaboration. Because academic research is almost always technology-neutral the outcomes can be translated into current practice.

Luis responds

it’s always been said how far apart from each other both the academic and the business worlds have been all along, to the point where they remain irreconcilable, it’s going to become an on-going challenge unless either one of them, or both!, would concede, give in and decides to get closer. I think it’s very much needed, because I certainly agree with you there are tons of superb research done out there around sociology and it would have a tremendous impact if it were injected, applied, adapted and iterated in a business context.

On the other hand, the academic world also needs to get closer to the business world vs. continuing to live in a bubble (if they ever have). I think it’s down to us, practitioners, to bridge both worlds and get them to understand each other

From personal experience I would suggest some of those barriers to deeper adoption of academic insight in the business world (apart from simple prejudice) are:

  • access to the material (see comment about paywalls above)
  • accessiblity of the material – reading formal academic material effectively and efficiently is an acquired skill
  • the mismatch between the narrowly specialized nature of most academic research and the broader nature of most people’s skills in the commercial world

Of these, in many ways I think the biggest is that last mismatch. I’m not convinced that we have ‘T-shaped‘ professionals any more, or if we have the ‘T’ has several legs, and the cross-bar is of quite varying thicknesses, with some very long tails (mixed metaphor alert!!))

(Aside, I did leave this as a comment, but for some reason my comments are not appearing – perhaps I’ve been moderated!)

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”
(context, src)

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.”
(context, src)

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!

 

Links for 2012-01-31

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2012-01-31:

Can paragogy help technology production?

A sticky idea…

Howard Rheingold has thrown up a new idea – Peeragogy – which has found a sticky resting place in my brain.

In a blog post written as a pre-cursor to his 2011 Regents’ Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley he reflects on his experience to date with collaborative learning, and sets out the stall for his next project – to collaboratively create a guide to collaborative peer-to-peer learning:

I’m calling it “peeragogy.” While “paragogy” is more etymologically correct, “peeragogy” is self-explanatory. In my lecture, I’ll explain the evolution of my own pedagogy and reveal some of what I’ve discovered in the world of online self-organized learning. Then I will invite volunteers to join me in a two week hybrid of face-to-face seminars and online discussion. Can we self-organize our research, discover, summarize, and prioritize what is known through theory and practice, then propose, argue, and share a tentative resource guide for peeragogical groups? In theory, those who use our guide to pursue their own explorations can edit the guide to reflect new learning.

This idea has definitely struck a chord with me – and slightly tongue in cheek I tweeted:

Is it me, or is #peeragogy about doing learning in the way a lot of “real” work is done?

More going on

As is so often the way, I then read further to discover that someone else had not only spotted the connection but grounded it with references. Rheingold acknowledges the work of Joe Corneli and Charles Danoff, who have termed this area of study Paragogy, have co-authored a paper on it, and are writing a book. In their paper Corneli and Danoff make an explicit link between Paragogy and Peer Production.

Relating this to technology production

When I tweeted, what I had in mind were the complex loops of idea exchange implicit in any kind of technical product development (either for external customers or internal company users):

 

Most, if not all, of these conversations imply some sort of mutual learning:

  • what sorts of things might surprise, delight or downright disappoint the customer/user
  • what sort of product and business model might work
  • what are the technical options
  • what does the industry provide
  • how can we adapt the current technology to meet the needs
  • what would we like the industry to develop next
  • and so on…..

If the future of work is learning, or more bluntly work is learning- so what, how can we exploit the developments in paragogical theory and practice to make such work work better?

My questions

it’s turtles all the way down, but a few starter questions that spring to mind are:

  • does treating these processes as learning exercises lead to better performance? (and how might we measure that?)
  • what support do teams need to surface learning goals around their work?
  • what team and organisation culture will best support rapid learning?
  • how beneficial is it to make the learning explicit?

Right now this is mostly a “lightbulb” – I need to do more thinking and have some dialogue to explore further.

if any of this strikes a chord with you, please comment.

Links for 2012-01-26

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2012-01-26:

Links for 2010-02-14

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2010-02-14: