We just ended our weeklong meeting with the infrastructure, applications and design teams of our developerWorks. We have them once or twice a year bringing all the members of our distributed organization into a single physical location to talk about their projects, brainstorm, and engage each other in coordinating efforts.
This is our own internal community of developers and designers that help maintain and improve the extensive network of sites that is developerWorks, supporting over 5 million members, dozens of acclaimed topics, and many sites for other countries (locales). We call this collective "Scott McAllister's team" refering to the multiple teams and managers that report up to Scott. The event is our own Geek Week.
We have a whole other team of folks who do the great work behind creating our content on the many sites. That team is meeting at the end of February.
For my part, I talked extensively about our planned Community strategy, and the involvement of these teams. The plan is a holistic look at the evolution of communities, predicting what the next stage of evolution is, what that means to us in terms of future opportunities, what we should build, and even the next stages of what we could do.
Needless to say, Web 2.0 played a large part, but rather than in bits and pieces, I mapped out the overall solution that brings Web 2.0 to our whole site. I'd like to tell you the plan, but it's a secret. ;)
I can say that I get a number of people coming up to me and saying they really liked the presentation (gives me warm fuzzies :), some also wanted to know how they could get involved.
What I should say is that I had to consider what projects and experiments we were already considering and how it might relate to this plan. There are many smart people in our organization and many ways to interpret ideas. My strategy (behind the strategy) is to consider the many ideas and see if we can make good use of it in the overall plan. I like to be inclusive wherever possible.
That's actually much harder than it seems. For one, while we have a such a structure, we are not a strongly hierarchical organization (i.e., siloed) and have many cross-teams across the functional teams. This is not an unusual situation for many companies these days. One person may have different roles in several teams, so part of the time I'm trying to consider which role I'm talking to. We are also distributed across at least six different states in the US (not including the international teams), that makes it hard to just get appropriate time with people.
It's events like this week that greatly reinforce the "wholeness" of the team, as well as help spread ideas. It is a great offline community that most of our readers never hear about. It's when people connect that innovations--small or large--happen.
Community and social computing
I'm not sure if you've seen this meme but I've come across it in several books both about online and offline communities:
Interactions in communities -->
Creates Understanding --------->
Develops Trust ----------------->
Allows Exploration & Entreprenuership ->
Sets stage for Innovation
The most recent place I saw this meme again, in a slightly varied form was near the last chapters of The World is Flat (ok, maybe I make references to this too often these days :)
Now these are "grand" notions that often follow in a sequence like this above. You need to have one stage happening before you can really reach the next stage. Thus you don't really jump ahead and ask "How do we innovate?" but need to ask "What are we doing to set up an environment such that innovation can happen?"
It's important to realize that the arrows in the diagram above are not trivial. In other words, when you have one stage, you need to do something to progress it to the next stage. That something could take a whole lot of effort. But in terms of managed innovation, it gives points where you can measure how your population is doing and how you can recognize if you've reach that stage.
There are many books out there describing how to innovate and get others to innovate, and I certainly have not read nearly enough of them. I still wonder if some of them consider going through that meme sequence above.
The somethings are also where the opportunities lie. Many innovation and leadership management trends have come and gone, and still many exist in parallel. I'm no certified expert at it and there are likely some really good sources out there too. (Okay, maybe people like Steven Covey)
Right now, I'm just trying to develop an idea for the early stages of this meme, those focused on the developing the community. Hopefully more smart people will come along to explain what to do next.
There are many examples for successful projects that are being built by a team of people across the globe (e.g., Skype). This is becoming less and less unusual. What is rare however, is an account of what this experience is like and what it takes to successfully carry out such a project.
This is project management to a new degree with people you may have never met before, who may not even be in your organization. Undoubtedly, our industry has advantages because it naturally allows this kind of collaboration using tools, and communication mechnisms that are cheap or even completely free.
What we don't hear about are the specifics:
It's these kind of questions that really bug me and generally where I think a lot of people need a lot of guidance. I do think that software tools are just the first step.
Laptops are the ubiquitous tool of Networked Man. It's also how you identify them in the wild.
I'm a very heavy laptop user. I take it with me almost every day when I leave the house. Hence, I need something that won't drag me down in terms of weight. I've been using one kind of Thinkpad or another for years, honestly, because this is what they provide me at work. It seems to do the job well and isn't too heavy (current one is about 5 lbs).
On the other hand,I really like the idea of convertible notebooks or Tablet PCs where you can flip the screen over
and lay it flat on the keyboard and then write on it. IBM's PC division (before Lenovo) had one for a brief time together with a notepad, but that went away. In fact most Tablet PCs were similar size (12" screens), which was a little too small for me.
The one I see out there now is Gateway's 14" widescreen version. However, they haven't made a good docking station for it, just a port replicator.
I'd like to a tablet PC with a docking station you can just plug into vertically to turn the unit into a sort of
all-in-one monitor-PC. There'd be a keyboard, mouse and cabling connected to the dock of course. But the core idea would be to have a dock that works like an adjustable monitor base (turning it, raising it, etc.)
When you're on the go, you could simply suspend, unlock and lift it off and put it into a locking hard case/shell rather than having to strap into a laptop bag.
Honestly, the five minutes it takes for me to hibernate my computer, undocking, and pack it; then do the reverse when at my location turns out to be about an hour a week I've lost. That's 40-50 hours a year; i.e., a whole week of work.
Whether formalized or ad-hoc, there are several common types of communities based on the goals of that group of people
Some of these types include:
The behavior of the groups, the tools they need, the processes they use, etc. are different. Some groups may start out as one type and change into another. It really helps the group to identify what they want to accomplish.
The failure of most groups to develop or encourage a healthy, growing community stems from not setting up that initial direction.
For example, a project-based community need tools help manage the project and the product they are developing. This can be software, but it can apply to any kind of product really. Having tools to monitor activity, define schedules, and record achievements are all hallmarks of a good project management system. However, not all projects need complex PM
tools; in fact they can be quite intimidating or cause bureaucratic overload, which just leads to frustration.
A community of practice needs means for the members to get together and collect their ideas and experiences. Very often, you see this happening in Wikis and other group editing tools.
A community of interest exists to gather more energy and followers to a topic but may not be focused as much on developing knowledge, just sharing experiences. Thus, regular communications through some form of discussion tool is quite healthy.
This is not to say that any of these require only one specific tool to achieve their goal. Quite the converse. You will find that many communities will use the same type of tool for different purposes and many will need multiple tools to interact.
This is one of the reasons why when developing a community, you cannot base it on a single tool like a forum or a wiki, and similar why a single tool does not signify the extent of the community. So far, I have not seen no one perfect solution for all communities.
If you're a community of many other communities like we are at developerWorks, then you will likely have each of these different subtypes within yourself, and then you really need to expand the tools that allow your community members to interact.
Okay, I try to avoid being the braggart but I have to say that this week our SOA Compass book that I co-authored with four other engineers from IBM is today's #1 in all computer books on the Barnes & Noble's site, amusingly enough even ahead of Lou Gerstner's Who says elephants can't dance?.
This is only for today and only on Barnes & Nobles rather than Bookscan or the NY Times list of course, but it put a smile on my face. After years of writing, this is about as good as it has gotten. This is a good day for developerWorks Books.
Amusingly enough, we are also #24 amongst all fiction and non-fiction books right after Stephen King's latest book Cell and ahead of other books I admire like Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, Larry Bossidy's Execution: The discipline of getting things done and even Dan Brown's paperback version of Angels and Demons.
Okay, it's still not yet the top ten of all books alongside Friedman's The World is Flat, or Steven Levitt's Freakanomics.
Of course, all such success is fleeting.[Read More]
I ran into someone who was taking an honors class in Social Entrepreneurism at the University. Their focus is on rural education and micro-economic enablement through micro-loan systems. If you have not heard about this concept, it was pioneered by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh a number of years ago and has since become a worldwide phenomenon.
As I was describing to them, however, social entrepreneurism (SE) isn't limited to helping the poor. There are other groups of people out there who need help and education just as much. Even dW is a form of SE in terms of helping emerging topics and technologies grow within the realm of software systems.
There are a great many valuable ideas out there initiated by people who know a lot about technology and software. However, not every developer knows what to do to keep a project running, sharing it with others, or getting recognition for their efforts.
We hear of many successful and innovative open source projects created purely on the basis of successful leadership, and even a hefty dose of good luck. However, there are tens of thousands of other projects which fall off the grid because the lead(s) of the team simply don't know what to do to get it to the next level.
Many technical people simply say "Oh well that's a marketing thing to get more people to use it", but that's only one element of it.
Towards that goal, the idea of dW started as one whereby we could help that kind of project that either came out of IBM or one we were involved in to help them grow and become more successful. It has grown in many ways beyond just the needs of IBM and we think that is a good thing for the whole industry.
Our community areas are no different. Our SE role is in the same domain: helping projects, topics and ideas to grow. That means we need to focus on providing tools, knowledge and other forms of assistance to fuel this.
Obviously, with a limited team there's a limit to how much you can do for anyone one group, and it always depends on the leaders of that group. However, by documenting successes, identifying best practices for different situations, we think we can help the situation for others. The learning and education here is not just in terms of solving a particular technical issue but addressing how to actually improve the human side of the equation.
In a discussion with erik_k of help.com it seems apparent that tag-based communities are one of the premier forms of ad-hoc community building.
Rather than a formal process to start a community, people create tags around what they are working on or are interested in and it matches the folksonomy of others with the same tags, and what they collectively post about it.
This form of tag-based community isn't unique to help.com; there are other sites like 43 Things, del.icio.us, jeteye.com, etc. that all allow people to "bubble up" a community based on what they tag.
If people use the same keywords, they automatically become a collective or group of participants around the topic. With sites like Jeteye, you can create multiple types of content elements in each tag. Still others allow member of a shared tag to start a discussion area, etc.
This kind of ad-hoc process allows a population to rapidly organize and create communities around what they are working on. You can build quite a sizeable community this way if you have a general purpose site like help.com or del.icio.us.
The downside is that it can be chaotic and hard to track. Some tags get buried under others; there can be many, many tags that refer to the same thing but are disjoint, simply based on how you word the tag; there may not be a central or high-level navigation system. Finally, it's hard to "value" what one person creates over another.
The alternative is to have a formal community creation process and then build community tools around the created entity. This also has its weak points which primarily center around the fact that the process can become bureaucratic.
This isn't limited to just information, but also to other scenarios such as situational applications, where people get together to quickly prototype or build an application in a group setting. More on that later.
The notion that there are bits of information about us all over the Web has been a nagging feeling for many although theyre not quite sure how to deal with it. A few react to it with pride. Some people consider it as a minor issue with a reaction of needing to be careful but not in panic. Others more wary are who the insurance and financial companies are trying to target with new service offerings.
Kathy, our marketing leader, recently showed me a site that uses a combination of two Web 2.0 technologies, search and user identities, and it brought up not just a surprising collection of info but also a small shock and that old nagging feeling.
If you go to Zoominfo, youll find a whole new way to feed either your ego or paranoia, or even both. You can type in the name of any person or organization and it will search the Net for all the info it can where your name is published, most likely areas that do not require registration.
I came across only a handful of results mapping back to my name at previous jobs (LinuxWorld, RTD System & Networking, etc.), and automatically builds a new online profile about me. I could then register as a member and create a more detailed profile by editing it. In some ways, it builds on what LinkedIn is missing, that is, auto-filling in my information rather than entering it by hand.
Thats probably not as surprising as the other linkages it finds. For example, it does a lateral search of other people who have worked at these organizations to find my peers and coworkers. Youll probably be surprised who you remember and who you dont. It probably doesnt find info which requires you to enter an account and password but I have not explored this fully yet.
The core idea in this model is to build an online profile that can be reused. In Web 2.0 terms, you can then probably use this profile in other applications, sites, etc. in ways the dreamers, innovators, and entrepreneurs will figure out.
I dont know how the tool is implemented but my guess is that it involves one or more of the large search engines to perform the searching. This application focuses on conducting multiple sequential relevant searches and consolidating it under a common presentation, backed by registration and other tools.
This is an example of a federated identity but not in the sense of user-account identities and single-sign-on applications. It is federation around online information centered on your own real world identity, or at least your name.
Good news for social computing: people are finally believing in you.
Forrester Research has published a 24-page report on Social Computing tying innovation to this topic. (This is a paid report)
Even within our own IBM Global Innovation Outlook 2.0, innovation through social computing is one of the top subjects.
The general feeling has gone beyond "there's something important there" to "how can we make use of that"?
Okay, you may have heard that we're also upgrading to Roller for our blog engine. We're in the process of migrating all our existing blogs, blog entries, comments, categories, links, etc. all into Roller. Even with less than a hundred blogs, this is time-consuming.
I can't wait to get at the new features. One of our bloggers, Todd Watson is already using a Blog publishing tool called w.bloggar to create and post to their blog. Others are experimenting with what their blog presents, such as James Snell's tag cloud.
Me, I'm still handcoding HTML. :< (even my smiley's aren't graphical yet)
I guess I have to wait my turn.
And hopefully it's not like that time in Logan's Run to "Renew" (and never be heard from again).
Ive just started reading Tom Davenport's new book Thinking for a Living, a great book on the issues surrounding knowledge workers.
If you havent heard of this term, you may not realize that you are (in the IT industry) very likely a knowledge worker yourself. This kind of work is a difficult to quantify, and even describe, but essentially involves all those jobs where people spend the majority of their time thinking of solutions for a living (doctors, lawyers, managers, programmers, etc.) rather than building many unit pieces of the same thing (e.g., manufacturing, production or labor-intensive work). This may still be an unfair description.
In fact, even the book indicates that the term has been measured in many different ways. In the US, the Labor statistics report is not categorized this way, so analysis by different academics point to there being anywhere from 30 million to over 100 million knowledge workers in the US alone (thats from 10-30% of the population).
The book makes for a fascinating read. For me, it provides valuable context to understand how developers worldwide do or think of their work. For example, Davenport indicates that there are some common attributes for knowledge workers, no matter their job:
It is these last two points where I find good relevance to my own job. Im probably a typical knowledge worker; in fact, my current job can be categorized as heavy knowledge work, but also some production work.
For the production work-side, I am responsible for getting more people blogging, discussing, debating, and interacting on technical topics on our site through our various community areas. Loosely, that translates to getting more instances of blogs, forums, wikis, and other such tools, started and running. I certainly have help from many others to get this going.
On the knowledge work-side, I work on our community strategy and direction, and lead our large community project currently in development in dW. This means I work with our infrastructure and development teams to describe the technical idea and debate solutions. I work with our research team and do research myself on different Web 2.0 and community activities around the Web. I work with our design, user experience and information architecture teams to consider how to present, organize, and direct this information. I work with our content teams to consider how to use or how to get others to use our community system, generate content, and participate in activities. I work with our management to present, consider and strategize what we should be doing in all these areas. Finally, I work with other teams and people outside dW, in IBM and beyond, to discuss many of these areas in relation to Web 2.0 and community. Believe me, that's a lot of phone calls and knowledge exchange.
To summarize: I suck information in and spew (hopefully useful) knowledge out across many different personas (people and groups).
On the last two points that Davenport made in his book: to get commitment from a knowledge worker, it is important give freedom to experiment and work on ideas rather than to always dictate or direct them to work on specific things. Also, just as it is difficult to describe the job, it is also often hard to describe the knowledge output; for that matter, knowledge workers may not even seemto be in their best interest to share their knowledge.
The concern is that if you do not provide the correct supportive environment for your knowledge worker, they are quite likely to move to another organization that does (i.e., jump ship to a potential competitor who does offer the right environment).
This has direct relevance to a number of activities in IBM. For one, we now have Think Fridays. Basically, Fridays of every week should be freed up so that you have some peace of mind to consider, experiment, or talk about new ideas. Each person should apply that to their job as they see fit. I hear that 3M has something similar in that engineers should put aside 15% of their time to this kind of free-thinking.
For me, this tends to free up my regular weekday packed with phone calls with different groups, and sit back and think of the issues and changes to our project, or new ideas that have emerged. Others in our division use this time to experiment with new technology. C.J. and Peter on our team have even extended this to Think Friday-Build Saturday-Test Sunday, which I agree is certainly going beyond the call of duty, and very applaudable.
Now, consider Think Fridays on a different level across all IBMers. In particular, think of what people do in blogs and different community areas: discuss, digest, or produce new ideas. In fact, if youre an avid bloggers, you probably have Think-Mondays, Think-Tuesdays, etc., but in less than a full days time. Thus by blogging, as a knowledge worker, you are very likely and effectively using that free-thinking time.
So my advice to bloggers in IBM (and even beyond): Consider using a portion of your Friday to blog, because by blogging you are in effect implementing the spirit of Think Fridays.
Obviously, not all the ideas that you have are something you would want to discuss on a public blog. In that light, for IBMers we have an global intranet system called BlogCentral, which is a safe environment to discuss ideas with other IBMers. This quickly points to the necessity of having a blog system not just for an external audience but also one for a company-internal audience. Therefore, for knowledge workers within an organization, it is important to have an organization-wide blogging platform.
So for those looking for a business case for why you need a blogging system inside an organization, this is one good example. Blogs allow an expression of Think Fridays (or your organizations equivalent) which many companies think is an important aspect of encouraging, supporting and keeping happy their knowledge workers. I would generalize that to any number of other community tools, not just blogs.
Continuing my thread on knowledge workers, and how to get them to share their knowledge...
Davenport indicates that knowledge workers value their knowledge skills, but often do not share it easily.
The former part indicates that knowledge workers are proud of the ideas and knowledge they produce, and of the fact that they were able to come up with it. They see value in them. Therefore, one idea to increase productivity of knowledge workers is to give visibility or accolade to their ideas.
Unfortunately, the latter part is oh so true: if a knowledge worker does not feel secure in their environment or community, they are unlikely to share it, especially if it means that by sharing that knowledge, they may even be helping someone else take over their job.
Im an optimist in this area, and with the rise of open source and a more open worldwide environment (especially in our industry), we may be able to trust others enough to break down this barrier.
Take a look at this earlier post on a sort of universal meme about communities. This suggests that to get towards innovative ideas, you need to progress your community of people from the earliest stages of first getting them to interact to create a level of understanding and familiarity between the people in the organization. With a level of understanding you then have a platform that allows people to build trust between the community-members, and with that trust, some can explore and experiment on ideas and thereby develop a greater entrepreneurial spirit. Finally, once you get that level of mentality, you can finally succeed in innovation through your community.
Obviously, with Davenports statement, the sharing of knowledge lies in the very first few stages. If you cant get people to trust each other--even in a contained environment--you wont get knowledge sharing in action.
If you have a strongly-connected employee base, you have developed that level of trust or at least a level of understanding amongst the people in your organization. You still need to encourage others to experiment, as in our Think Fridays in IBM. For a small organization it is easier to distribute new ideas, but to achieve knowledge sharing of those ideas in anything beyond a few hundred people, you really need to consider a common tool to collect, rank, sort and share all those ideas.
That kind of tool is exactly what we have in IBM right now in the form of our ThinkPlace tool and system. The IBM Innovation team offers this tool whereby any of the 300,000+ people in IBM could share their ideas; these ideas are then sorted or ranked by popularity (by software and also by hand). Not only does this do great justice to enabling knowledge workers in our organization but it is also leading a lot of our own innovation, not just for new product ideas, but also for company-internal improvement.
In its simplest form, it is a sort of open discussion group with many threads that anyone can start up around their idea. This is more than a 21st century version of the old "Suggestions Box" found in many companies yesteryear which was a closed box only viewed and analyzed and action taken on by management.
Thinkplace is a more open process whereby your peers can look over the ideas and weigh in on its merits, rather than someone in management dealing out commandments. In fact, it is also a way for employees in other divisions to mine this idea database for things that might relate to their work. The managers from the Innovation team, in this respect do exactly as their titles suggest: they manage the flow of this output in useful channels to find the best ideas.
We have ThinkPlace in operation already, but now consider the next step towards integrating community.
As I mentioned in a previous post, you can use your blog to implement free-thinking time (e.g., Think Fridays in IBM), since many bloggers use this tool to share their ideas and knowledge. This certainly provides a useful business case to retaining and supporting knowledge workers.
Now consider how to export some of those ideas from your own blog into a community tool like ThinkPlace. Each blog post which is specifically is an idea should probably be tagged and then "pushed" (through software preferrably, or via manual copy) to the ideas database.
The reason to do this is because blogs are part of the new Web 2.0 mentality of a model of participation. In other words, people who are bloggers are starting to embrace a more open and willing stance on sharing their knowledge.
An experienced blogger is used to the idea of posting to their blog on a regular basis. All we are talking about here is categorizing particular posts and make it easier to export that into a public space like the ThinkPlace tool. This reduces the tool-usage time to transfer knowledge into a tool where that can be considered by a wider audience. In fact, for bloggers thats also a good thing: more exposure to your ideas on your blog, and possibly even showing some real outcome of your ideas.
Thus, the knowledge workers can create their ideas and contribute for a mass audience to consider and analyze; the organization behind that audience can create an idea pool that is self-defining and self-directed to produce new innovations; and both the members and the organization can benefit from discovering and implementing these innovations.
For the knowledge worker, this suggests not only building a regular practice for participating in communities but also offers a reward mechanism in seeing some of their ideas appreciated and maybe even implemented by the overall organization.
So, unless you think you dont really need innovation out of your organization, this suggests a useful business case for different kinds of community tools, for the growth of the organization as well as the happiness of your knowledge workers. And, oh by the way, in doing this, youve just created a knowledge sharing and capturing process.