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!

 

Living without email – quick update

For quite some time Luis Suarez has been championing a Life Without Email, not just on his blog, but (amongst other places) in the Google+ community of the same name.

Last month, he announced a new community in Slack around the same topic. Why two communities? As he brings out in that G+ post, while the G+ community is very much a Community of Interest, the Slack team is for those people who are both interested and driving initiatives (large or small) to reduce the inefficiencies we all suffer through an over-use of email – a Community of Practice.

The nature of a practice-based community that’s working well is that people share real experiences, and I’m reticent to copy even my own stuff verbatim. If you are interested, Luis opens the group to all – although as he says with a true sense of irony, he needs an email address to let people in! See the G+ post for more information.

One minor experiment of my own that I’m happy to share, as a quick test of how well it’s going, has been to leave Outlook closed this week. I’ve been aiming to only use webmail and web calendar – and so far it’s working OK – I’ve also noticed that my browser tabs for SharePoint, Yammer and the other services I use during my working day have been open far more often than the mail tabs.

A long way from the sort of metrics that would be needed at an organisation level, but nevertheless a good quick test…

Email makes you stupid – so what can we do about it?

Luis Suarez (@elsua), curator of the Life without eMail G+ community, has posted a Vodcast co-presented with Claire Burge (@claireburge)

Here’s the full video:

30)

Here are my notes on the highlights of what Luis and Claire think is wrong with email:

Email creates a dumber workforce” (3:02), because (4:02) the structure of email forces an obsession with emptying the inbox without action.

Email is a selfish tool (4:59) – centred around individual, not team or company goals (because you cannot see the impact of your email on the other person’s workload).

Email doesn’t help people focus on work (7:20) – it misdirects focus and attention. Stuff just flows in, recipient is expected to filter and sort (7:45). People don’t have time, so fall back to just emptying the inbox and treating their email as a task list. This leads to inefficiency through constant task-switching (8:10).

The inefficiencies are not about the technology, but about the human behaviours it engenders (8:58).

[more and more] people justify their workload by how many emails they process (9:22) – so if we take away the email you they have nothing to do. The implication (10:27) is that all the company knowledge, contacts, content and tasks are locked in email

Email gets used as a tool for covertly managing staff (10:45) – yes some interactions need to be confidential, but most aren’t.

Knowledge is power (11:25) – share as little as possible. Which means (12:09) that when someone leaves the company, much of the knowledge they created is lost.

In an increasingly-complex world, email is no longer an effective productivity tool (12:48) – nowadays the environment is complex – multi-project, multi-team, multi-geo – this means companies need open collaboration (13:36) which email cannot provide. Email has been around so long (13:50) that people are scared to try other things. Email doesn’t engender the behaviours we need to be effective in the modern business world (15:08).

Some behaviours need to be unlearned, some need to be taken from email to a new environment (15:27):

Deep parallel between closed inbox mindset and static fixed job descriptions. What results is a series of blockages to the flow of work. (27:30)

Collaborative environment exposes the blocks, (27:56) but this leads to enquiry into the root causes of blockages, making it about the flow of work rather than about the person (28:24)

But, if you keep evolving the process to make the work better, then the job descriptions have to keep evolving too (29:08)

Social Bookmarking

Going back to basics, but on the principle of narrating my work, here’s a short post I published today inside the firewall…

What is it?

Most people will be familiar with the idea of “bookmarks” (aka “favourites”) in a web browser – the menu option on IE, Chrome, Safari, Firefox etc. to save the site links that I use most often, or find most interesting.

Social Bookmarking tools take this idea and extend it in ways that are not only useful to me as an individual, but which also make it simple to share links with other people.

At their simplest they are a web application to which you can add links (and they mostly provide little browser plugins that mean you can do it inside your browser). Two of the best known examples are Diigo and Delicious, and each of these also allow options such as tagging, marking links as private etc.

Beyond that, different services off different features, for example Diigo provides extended capabilities to annotate and highlight web pages

Why would I want to use it?

At a personal level, keeping links in a social bookmark service means that I can:

  • access my bookmarks wherever I am,
  • access my bookmarks on whatever device I am using to browse the web
  • use tagging to organise my bookmarks

Beyond the personal use, these tools have even more value when I work as part of a group or team:

  • choosing to follow other people’s bookmarks, as a way of using their knowledge as an intelligent filter of the “firehose” of information on the web
  • choosing to use specific tags for sharing information within a team
  • on some platforms, forming groups (private or open) into which I can post bookmarks and comments

Social Bookmarking in a learning context

One model for thinking about how individuals can best manage and create knowledge in a networked environment is Harold Jarche‘s “Seek Sense Share” framework.

Social Bookmarking is a key part of Seeking – “finding things out and keeping up to date”. The social aspect supports the practice of finding colleagues or commentators whose judgement I trust, and who I can use as “information filters”.

Other Resources

Diigo About Page

Delicous.com FAQ page

Social Bookmarking on Wikipedia

My public links on Diigo

An experiment in working aloud

As part of the site revamp, I wanted a place where I could put “narrating my work” type posts that were outside of the main site flow – the nature of these are that they are often quick and partial, and I find having them in the main flow inhibits my writing.

The obvious place to start, was with a Custom Post Type, but unfortunately most of the things I use to write to this site (Word and the WordPress iOS app) don’t support CPTs.

A bit of digging, and I think I may have a workflow – certainly something I’m willing to try for a while:

  • writing in FargoDave Winer‘s nifty in-browser outliner
  • import of posts via RSS using FeedWordpress, posting as a custom post type (I love that you can choose a different CPT per feed if you wish)
  • a simplified theme design for the Working Aloud area of the site

Now I just need to use it….

 

Email – what’s right with it?

No tool is all good or all bad, so following on from “Email – what’s wrong with it?“, here are some of the reasons why it is useful:

  • Email is almost ubiquitous
  • … has been around a long time, so almost everyone (in a work world) knows how to use it (or thinks
    they do)
  • … allows asynchronous communication, especially with offline workers (actually so do other technologies)
  • … is well-suited to notification-type communications

I’ve run out of ideas – please feel free to add comments…

Email – what’s wrong with it?

Many have written on the issues that email causes, here are some highlights:

  • Email soaks up time – e.g. McKinsey in 2012 reckoned 30% of average office worker’s week was spent reading and answering email
  • … makes people feel they are being productive (when they are not)
  • … locks up information in silos – a lot of company knowledge creation is carried out in email threads visible only to those involved, and almost impossible for anyone else to discover, leading to duplication of work,
  • … is exclusive, with conversations only open to those who the sender sought to include
    • which can lead to lower quality work, because the conversation does not necessarily include the right people
    • and which completely prevents
  • … is intrusive – when you send me an email you force my attention to your issue, interrupting my thoughts
  • … is a terrible way to share lists of actions (especially if they are buried in an email chain
  • … spawns and propagates some of the worst forms of office politics with the use of cc and bcc

Lastly, no list of the things wrong with email would be a complete without a reference to Luis Suarez and his six+ year experiment on living and working without email. A good place to start is his summary post “Life without email – year 6, weeks 21 to 24