Wednesday, April 01, 2015

In search of William J. Fuller -- my great-grandfather

I've long known that my great-grandfather was a civil engineer. Family lore is that he started the trade in Toronto, moved to Sault Ste. Marie, and ended up in Port Arthur/Fort William, where he died. I think I've mentioned him before on these pages. I now own his books but I know very little about him.

A few months ago, my father found a copy of his obituary from an old trade magazine, specifically The Canadian Engineer (January 6, 1931). It mentions the importance of a speech he delivered to Engineers Club of Toronto about the Toronto harbor. It apparently was much bally-hooed and apparently was important for the formation of  the Toronto Harbor Commission. The obit states that it was cited in the local papers and was "published in fully by the Canadian Engineer." I had to find a copy.

Unfortunately, early copies of the Canadian Engineer aren't easy to find. More recent runs had been put on microfiche but the old ones were only available in paper and there was only one extant copy. It lives at the Toronto Reference Library. So I waited. Fortunately, our new Toronto office is at 888 Yonge St., the old Music Hall, practically across the street from the library. So, during my break from some meetings today, I made the trek over.

At first, there was some difficulty finding the things. Not surprisingly, the old copies aren't very popular. Then there was some concern about whether or not the books should be considered "rare". After a false start, the staff decided that they were indeed rare (even if the OPAC said they weren't) so I was relegated to the rare books/special collections. Then I got my hands on the bound volumes. I don't know when the address was published so I just got 1907 and 1908... and they were huge. It has incredibly humbling to see just how much engineering effort happened in Canada in these early years. It seems a travesty that there is no digital collection to facilitate access.

After attempting various search strategies, I found... nothing. I think I have to be a bit more informed before trying to track this stuff down again.

Google to the rescue. And crap, there it is. In her history of Leslieville -- a Toronto neighborhood -- she quotes from an article:

The outer sandbar, between Ashbridge’s Bay and Lake Ontario, was known to the first settlers as the Peninsula, but had been used for millennia by aboriginal peoples as a route to what we now call “Toronto Island”. Behind this sandbar, shallow warm water, enriched by nutrients from the Don River, nourised life, creating ideal habitat for frogs, turtles, salamanders, fish, birds and mammals such as muskrat. Deputy Surveyor General J. Collins, in 1788, wrote of Ashbridge’s Bay as a sandbank: …near two miles in length from the entrance to the isthmus between it and a large morass to the eastward. (Quoted in W.J. Fuller, “Toronto Harbour” in The Canadian Engineer, January 19, 1909.)

So, apparently, I'm looking for January 19, 1909. I was a year off.

And apparently the Canadian Engineer isn't completely off moldering in analog. The Internet Archive has some copies (via U of T). For example, volume 11 is 1904 so I'm probably looking for volume 16 or so.

There's volume 17... volumes 5-6... volume 7-8... but not what I'm looking for. 

But here's the whole reference from an old Engineering Index preserved by Google: Toronto Harbor. W.J. Fuller. Reviews some of the engineering problems which have arisen from time to time in regard to the harbor and the improvements undertaken. 8500 w. Can Engr - Jan. 29, 1909. No. 2168.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The army comes through on practical knowledge management guidance

Okay, another document from the ARMY. This time it's a 2012 document called Knowledge Management Operations. In short, it's great. This thing really should be the first stop for KM newbies. There's no HBR management-speak in this document.

Wow. They have the Army Knowledge Management Qualification Course (AKMQ-C) with an additional skill identifier (ASI).

It's a good overview of KM. It identifies different processes: creating knowledge, organizing knowledge, applying knowledge, transferring knowledge. It notes that KM is a combination of people, processes, tools, and organization.

The summary of tools include information systems, collaboration tools, expertise-location tools, data-analysis tools, search-and-discovery tools, and expertise-development tools.

Here's an interesting perspective: "An important KM tool is the _common operational picture_ -- a single display of relevant information within a commander's area of interest tailored to the user's requirements and based on common data and information shared by more than one command. Much of the KM effort is devoted to ensuring the accuracy of the data and information the common operational picture draws on, the processes that produce it, and the information systems that display and disseminate it."

The hand book identifies "KM core competencies":

  • "Knowledge capture converts what individuals know into knowledge that can be codified and shared. Knowledge flow is the ease of movement of knowledge within and among organizations."
  • "Collaboration occurs when personnel, teams, and organisations work together to produce or create something."
  • "Standardization refers to building and implementing a common framework of tools, techniques, practices, and processes."

And here's yet another great definition: "_Information management_ is the science of using procedures and information systems to collect, process, store, display, disseminate, and protect data, information, and knowledge products... While KM is an art -- concerned more about the _why_ of knowledge transfer, information management is a science -- focused on the _how_."

Units cycle through the available force pool to the reset force pool. During reset, the focus is on codified artefacts such as after action reviews (AARs); tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs); standard operating procedures (SOPs); lessons learned; and historical records. While available, the focus shits to virtual right-seat ride/virtual meeting and collaboration; reach back and integration; knowledge capture and content management; and family readiness and social media.

The guide includes a description of the responsibilities of KM officers, non-coms, and specialists.

Chapter 3 concerns the knowledge management process: assess, design, develop, pilot, implement, and back to assess.

The assess stage considers the following:

  • standards analysis -- determining the extent to which the unit follows processes as per commander's guidance, policy letters, and SOPs.
  • time management analysis -- can the unit make the best use of time, particularly _battle rhythm_
  • meeting analysis -- meetings must nest within the battle rhythm and avoid duplication. Meetings should: have a clear purpose, have a meeting agenda, identify required personnel, identify inputs, identify expected outputs. Meeting assessments must consider: did the meeting take place; were notices sent to attendees; did the meeting occur as scheduled; were collaborative tools prepared in advance; did it include the five key elements; were the attendees present; were the tasks achieved; were the inputs available; were the outputs templated and available.
  • report analysis -- how are reports created, organized, and transferred. Who uses them and how?
  • technical systems analysis -- what systems are available?
  • content management analysis -- manage the information contained in any medium

The design stage is where managers determine the optimum strategies. Tools could include tactical web portals, professional forums (unit, leader, functional, warfighter), virtual communities, informal networks (not typically supported), knowledge centers/networks (a web page for document sharing); communities of interest; communities of purpose; and communities of practice.

Develop is about building out the KM solution.

Pilot concerns testing and validation. The key activities are "Collaborative Assistance" (meeting a leader or team that needs help) and "Team-Peer Assistance" (facilitating outside-inside knowledge transfer). they are conducted when a unit is about to do something that another has done, need updates on tactics and procedures, and when there is sufficient time. Team-peer assists require the identification of a particular challenge, identification of approaches or lines of thought that have been effective in the past, promotes the sharing of knowledge, and develops networks.

Implement is the last step and involves becoming a "learning organization". Learning has to occur before, during, and after operations. Key techniques include right-seat-rides, storytelling, and experiential learning.

There are a variety of learning techniques:

  • Virtual right-seat ride. This process could involve call shadowing, screen sharing, etc. Right-seat/left-seat basically refers to the process of learning to drive. You start in the right-seat watching what happens. Eventually, you switch seats with the instructor and they monitor what you do. 
  • Storytelling. 
  • Experiential learning -- decision games, simulations, role playing, stories. The unit leaders become facilitators.

Appendix A contains a sort of content management for dummies guide that is actually fairly procedural and not too bad.

Appendix B is about After Action Reviews (AARs). An AAR should review what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, what was right or wrong with what happened, determine how things should be done differently. These notes can be used in training, they can be collated, and they can be analyzed. AARs can be organized as a chronological order of events; warfighting functions; or key events, themes, or issues.

The Appendix reviews the planning process and then basically serves as an SOP for execution -- the introduction stresses that its an open conversation, it's not a critique, is about identifying weaknesses to improve and strengths to sustain. Review objectives and intent. Provide a summary of events.

Appendix C is a guide to interview techniques. Some sample questions include:

  • Why do you think you were so successful?
  • What's your best piece of advice for the next person?
  • What was the missing area of process What caused the problem to occur?
  • What did you put in place to ensure success?
  • What makes you say that?
  • How did you achieve that?
  • Why?

Appendix D discusses the KM Annex Q format... whatever that is. It seems to be a strucured document that captures the following details:

  • references to maps, etc.
  • time zones
  • situation (area of interest, area of operations, enemy forces, friendly forces, inter-agency/-government/-nongovernment orgs, civil considerations, attachments/detachments, assumptions)
  • mission
  • execution (concept of operations, tasks to subordinate units, coordinating instructions)
  • sustainment
  • command and signal

Appendix E is on Facilitating a Professional Forum. It even discusses "facilitating a knowledge management forum" including daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks. We've even got some performance metrics.

Then comes quite a good glossary. The references are, not surprisingly, mostly to other defense and army publications.

Overall, a very solid document.

More PowerPoint... and some Balanced Score Card

Kaplan. Strategy and PowerPoint : an inquiry into the epistemic culture and machinery of strategy making.

I'm not sure what's in this paper but I sure like the references. We have all the PowerPoint stuff, Glaser and Strauss, Heidegger, the boundary object crew, Bechky, Vincenti, Weick, etc. It should be good.

The abstract might contain enough:

"Results from a genre analysis of PowerPoint use suggest that is should not be characterized simply as effective or ineffective as current PowerPoint controversies do. Instead, I show how the affordances of PowerPoint enabled the difficult task of collaborating to negotiate meaning in an uncertain environment, creating spaces spaces for discussion, making recombinations possible, allowing for adjustments as ideas evolved and providing access to a wide range of actors. These affordances also facilitated cartographic efforts to draw boundaries around the scope of a strategy by certifying certain ideas and allowing document owners to include and exclude certain slides or participants."

The paper gives quite a good review of the importance of objects to practice. The author tells the tale of how standardizing presentations became a signficant undertaking to the extent that decisions were about the deck, and not about the actual business ideas or proposals. Ownership and control of the deck also became a significant issue.


Free, Qu (2011). The use of graphics in promoting management ideas : an analysis of the Balanced Scorecard, 1992-2010. Journal of Accounting and Organizational Change, 7(2): 158-189.

The title is good. I'm a sucker for visual representations. They were key for patronage cycles during the baroque era. So how could things be different with the BSC?

The analysis is... okay. It turns out that graphics and representations are rhetorically important. We do get some interesting details. Articles are about 10 pages long and never longer than 15. Almost 40% of the pages have graphics. In the books, about 30% of the pages have graphics. Case studies are important and they have to include graphics (about 50% of pages)!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pico-productivity: What do Knowledge Workers actually do?

So what do knowledge workers do? A lot. But it seems that we have knowable unknowns and unknowable unknowns. There are, for example, a whole lot of things that all knowledge workers should be good at because it's a background for what they have to accomplish yet isn't a specific part of any task. For example, knowledge workers should have tactics and strategies for things like time management, email management, etc. but these things aren't likely made explicit in a process model. Typing skills, for example, are probably crucial.

In the world of physical culture we have the idea of GPP or General Physical Preparedness -- those skills that aren't specific to a particular sport or undertaking. What is the equivalent in business, particularly as it pertains to knowledge workers? We could call it pico-productivity.

Dehurst, Hancock, Ellsworth (2013). Redesigning knowledge work. HBR.

So we have to be precise and accurate in our skills assessments. Hmmm... that seems a bit weak. The process info is okay but we don't get much real info. Hopefully we get something out of the references.

We've got a McKinsey Global Insitute report with the cool title of _The world at work : jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people_. Lots of cool graphs but the unit of analysis is off. I'm looking for real skills, not educational programs.

And then we have a citation from 2000 by a UK-based consultancy called TFPL. Here's the taxonomy:

  • Strategic & Business Skills: Includes business planning, industry knowledge, strategic thinking, leadership, and organizational skills.
  • Management Skills: Includes business processes, people management, process mapping, team building, and measurement.
  • Intellectual & Learning Skills: Includes problem solving, mentoring, conceptual thinking, being analytical, and the ability to deal with ambiguity.
  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Includes listening, negotiation, marketing, team working, and consulting.
  • Information Management Skills: Includes codification, content management, information processes, taxonomies, and IT applications.
  • IT skills: Includes database management, information architecture, programming, software applications, and workflow.

There's also this 2001 report apparently from the OECD: Competencies for the knowledge economy. But... it's disappointing. Again, the unit of analysis is off.

And this one:

Knowledge workers and knowledge work.

This report gives a pretty good overview of the challenges and opportunities in the knowledge economy and provides lots of great definitions. It's got statistics and numbers and tells us the most common sort of activities for knowledge work:

  1. People management
  2. Data processing and analysis
  3. Admin tasks 

ICT professionals typically fall into the category of "Experts and analysts" where the focus is on data and analysis, people management, admin tasks, leadership and development, and collaboration.

We also get a pretty fancy breakdown of "methods used for sharing and capturing knowledge":

Unfortunately, it seems that "publish written material" is really a minor thing. Perhaps this item was interpreted as "publish written material [specifically for the purpose of knowledge transfer]".

Here it is in Appendix A! Work-related tasks and activities by factor:

Data and analysis

  • compile data
  • analyse information to address work-related problems
  • write reports
  • translate/interpret the meaning of written material
  • statistically analyse data
  • identify patterns in data/information
  • interpret charts or graphs
  • enter data
  • use a technical package on the computer [DETAILS?]

Leadership and development

  • build the external profile of the organization
  • debate topical economic, political, social, business issues
  • evaluate ideas
  • serve on expert committees
  • asses the quality of work of people outside your organisation
  • implement new programmes, systems, or products
  • manage projects
  • predict/forecast future trends
  • use logic to identify strengths/weaknesses of alternation solutions, conclusions or approaches
  • review management procedures
  • present new business ideas/opportunities
  • create new processes or procedures
  • manage financial risks
  • coordinate personnel and financial resources for new projects
  • develop proposals/grants
  • approve invoices
  • formulate policies
  • make strategic decisions
  • develop organisational vision
  • appraise the value of property or objects
  • contribute to the organisation's strategic plan
  • initiate large-scale organisational change
  • identify issues that will affect the long-term future of the organisation
  • make decisions on the basis of environment conditions
  • plan for the fiscal year
  • foresee future business/financial opportunities
  • manage strategy relationships
  • research new business opportunities

Administrative tasks

  • sell products
  • file (physically or electronically)
  • sort post
  • organise travel
  • manage diaries/calendars
  • inventory stock
  • order merchandise
  • organise/send out mass mailings
  • make and confirm reservations
  • collect payment

Perceptual and precision tasks

  • * judge speed of moving objects
  • visually identify objects
  • use depth perception
  • organise/arrange objects according to a pattern, colour or other detail
  • judge which of severl objects is closer or farther away
  • estimate the size of objects
  • judge distances
  • know your location in relation to the environment or know where objects are in relation to you 
  • detect differences among colours
  • notice different sound patterns
  • use navigation skills

People management

  • handle complaints, settle disputes or resolve grievances
  • assign people to tasks
  • resolve personal conflicts
  • collaborate with people inside of your organisation on a project/programme
  • counsel others
  • manage people
  • interview people
  • recruit personnel
  • give formal briefings to others
  • teach others
  • coach or develop others
  • provide consultation/advice to others
  • conduct classes, workshops or demonstrations
  • motivate others
  • mentor people in your organisation
  • assess the quality of work of people in your organisation

Creative tasks

  • create artistic objects/works
  • take ideas and turn them into new products
  • take photographs
  • create technical plans or blueprints
  • engage in graphic design
  • perform artistically
  • use devices that you draw with
  • develop new technology
  • film people and events
  • write chapters, articles, books, etc. for publication

Caring for others

  • provide care for others (e.g., children)
  • dispense medication
  • diagnose and treat diseases, illnesses, injuries or mental dysfunctions
  • expose self to disease and infections
  • administer first aid

Maintenance, moving and repairing

  • lift heavy objects
  • climb ladders, scaffolds or poles
  • load/unload equipment, materials, luggage
  • move equipment/supplies
  • use heavy machinery
  • use tools that perofrm precise operations
  • use hand-powered saws and drills
  • use scientific/laboratory equipment
  • test, monitor or calibrate equipment
  • take equipment apart or assemble it
  • manoeuvre, navigate or drive vehicles or mechanised equipment
  • install, maintain or repair electrical wiring
  • repair or maintain equipment/vehicles
  • control machines
  • install objects/equipment
  • generate/adapt equipment to serve user needs
  • expose self to hazardous conditions
  • expose self to extremely loud noises

Personal, animal and home maintenance

  • excavate
  • weld
  • dig
  • decorate
  • sew, knit or weave
  • manage building/site
  • issue licenses/permits
  • tattoo, brand, tag people/animals
  • help customers try on or fit merchandise
  • plant or maintain trees, shrubs, flowers, etc.
  • feed, water, groom, bathe, exercise animals
  • apply beauty treatments and therapies
  • collect fares/tickets
  • set type

Survey items that were cut

  • communicate to people outside your organisation
  • circulate information to others
  • daraw up personal contacts/network
  • speak a language other than English
  • talk to media
  • liaise with suppliers
  • interact directly with customers/clients
  • greet clients/customers
  • answer telephones for others
  • collaborate with people outside your organisation
  • mentor people outside your organisation
  • compile/admin/grade tests
  • generate/develop new ideas for the organisation
  • follow blueprints or designs to specifications
  • engage in taxonomic classification
  • present research findings
  • enforce directives/rules/policies
  • inspect the condition/quality of objects
  • proofread
  • resolve conflicting findings
  • mix ingredient
  • market products/ideas
  • monitor investments/markets/etc.
  • plan/coordinate events
  • control finances/budgets
  • fundraise

I suppose we could call all of these things pico-productivity.

Training 2015/03/27 #013


Some more review. We basically rolled a bit and reviewed the curriculum. I discovered a few things:

1. Taking notes really does help recall.
2. Notes are good but practice is key. Perhaps I should put together a script for visualization so that I don't screw up sides (e.g., scissor sweep).
3. We clarified the baby wipe pass to d'arce. Basically, squeegee their arm up to their head and then get the hold under their arm for the choke.
4. Keep your escapes clear... particularly for the test. For example, I ended up going for the reverse elbow to guillotine off the head lock. Bad idea.
5. Some of my tactics didn't work on Frank mostly because he is actually really strong. More fluidity required?
6. There is definitely an opportunity to work on more takedowns via virtual training. Hopefully, I won't crunch another person's ankle!

Unfortunately we have a bit of a delay before the next class. Last week was March break; next is Good Friday.

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Expanding the concept of "Information Value"

Oliver, Kim, Ross (2008). Documentary genre and digital recordkeeping : red herring or a way forward?

I'm not sure about most of this paper but I certainly like the appraisal criteria. They could be valuable for assessing "information value".

Criteria for appraising digital information:

  • Content -- comprehensiveness (covers a complete population)
  • Content -- coverage (spatial area)
  • Content -- growth (is it done growing)
  • Content -- relationships (with exisitng documens)
  • Content -- Reliability (accurate and authoritative)
  • Content -- Significance
  • Content -- Time
  • Content -- Uniqueness
  • Content -- Usability
  • Contextual -- Documentation
  • Contextual -- Provenance
  • Contextual -- Significance of source
  • Contextual -- Usage
  • Evidence -- Accountability
  • Evidence -- Artefact (evidence of way the org funcitoned)
  • Evidence -- Authenticity (provides evidence of what it purports to be)
  • Evidence -- Precedence (documentation of decisions)
  • Operational -- Costs (for maintenance)
  • Operational -- Collection (fit with existing policy)
  • Operational -- Mission (fit with mission)
  • Operational -- Replaceability (value of preservation vs. costs)
  • Societal -- Ethics
  • Societal -- Intrinsic value
  • Societal -- Legal considerations
  • Societal -- representativeness
  • technical -- Functional (will behaviour be retained)
  • Technical -- Integrity of records
  • Technical -- Rights issues
  • Technical -- Size of object/volume
  • Technical -- Usability

PowerPoint ills

Yates & Orlikowski (). The PowerPoint presentation and its corollaries : how genres shape communicative action in organizations.

The authors note that genres evolve to meet expectations and new needs. Presentations, for example, weren't required in early companies due to their relatively small size and informal processes. Conference papers, meanwhile, were actually read manuscripts.

The first textbook on the topic was Brinton's _Graphic methods for presenting facts_  ( Brinton recognized the importance of charts. DuPont actually built a chart room some time between 1919 and 1922 which contained 350 charts. Slides and overhead transparencies became a normal part of presentations in the 1980s. Bullets become more common as did builds.

There is the mysterious hybrid deck that consultants leave behind after an engagement: "PowerPoint texts created with this dual purpose typically have too much content to be effective presentation aids (which should support, not overshadow, the speaker, according the genre norms of the business presentation) and too little content and context (and too few references and appendixes) to fulfill expectations for the report genre."

And, of course, there is NASA's condemnation: "During its investigation, the board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of teh problematic methods of technical communication at NASA."

PowerPoint as a tool has consequences: "Indeed, we see consequences for the audience (and sometimes even for the presenter) that include limited comprehension, information overload ("death by PowerPoint"), lack of reflection, idea fragmentation, and reductionism."

"As electronic or paper renditions of PowerPoint texts become the only record of major activities, comprehension is reduced and organizational memory deteriorates."

CHK: Zerubavel. Hidden rhythms : schedules and calendars in social life.

NB -- I think the problem with PowerPoint is that it is really too unstructured. It has too many affordances which leads to a complete lack of structure or genre.

Divining Processes

So if I want to improve knowledge transfer within the organization. What kind of workshop would I do?

  1. Get some participants from a workgroup or department.
  2. They review their calendars.
  3. We brainstorm a list of activities using their calendars/schedules as a basis.
  4. Perhaps use the APQC models as a top-down control to detail the list.
  5. Review the list to determine "suppliers" (i.e., who provides the inputs to their processes). We really want to use a SIPOC process.
  6. Now determine the actual customers. They might be non-intuitive.
  7. Prioritize the processes to determine where there might be value due to either process pain, frequency, or strategic value.
  8. For the most valuable processes, determine inputs and outputs.
  9. Use applicable practice models as a control (e.g., PMBOK, etc.)

This is good. But there are a few other pieces that we have to put around the edges like why we would want to do this, etc. Here's some logic:

  • White collar productivity is important
  • But it's very hard to measure
  • So we have to focus on those things that have some degree of repeatability within the business
  • But we need to know what those things are
  • So we analyze the processes
  • But we also need to know about the inputs and the outputs because they represent the "genres" of communication
  • So we can determine genres and make comments about how to improve those genres for ongoing use
  • But there might be missing genres (i.e., a complete lack of documentation)
  • So we need to introduce those documents and templates
  • But documents aren't everything, right?
  • Absolutely. So we need to also focus on community of practice and socialization ideas.
  • But how do we socialize?
  • So we need to have shared stories, shared culture, face-to-face communication, etc.
  • But shouldn't some of these things be documentary in nature?
  • Sure. So we can actually capture stories, etc. provided that we have decent soft skills and individuals skilled in doing the capture.
  • But those documents still have to live somewhere.
  • So we still need the focus on Information Governance.
  • But we already have all sorts of documents, most of which are PowerPoint presentations.
  • Zoinks! PowerPoint!?!?
  • But are there other ways to socialize? What are some of the best practices in actually situating employees?

Trust and Control in the Hudson's Bay Company

O'Leary, Orlikowski, Yates (2002). Distributed work over the centuries : trust and control in the Hudson's Bay Company, 1670-1826.

This sounds like an exciting title. I've always found the HBC pretty fascinating and the archives are probably wickedly extensive. Of course, Innis's The fur trade in Canada -- a work that still seems very relevant with its proto-actor-network tendencies and aboriginal-centricity -- may have something to do with my excitement.

The authors point out that "virtual" organizations have been around for a long time: Roman Empire, Catholic Church, etc. Two of the challenges are building trust and maintaining control.

Some definitions:

  • Trust -- "the confidence in and willingness to rely on another party (where a _party_ can be an individual, group, organization, institution, or system) under conditions of risk or vulnerability."
  • Organizational controls -- "the means through which organizational members are influenced to align their actions with organizational goals."

Key enablers:

  • Socialization. Promoted an intense deovtion to its business and served as a basis for both trust and control. Key steps included recruiting (labour from harsh environments, local management from specific charity schools that catered curricula), the voyage over (sharing stories, etc.), maintaining a family-like social order, promoting from within. 
  • Communication. the company also established norm for communication, centering around annual letters, daily journals, and account books. The posts also communicated among themselves. The length of the letters fluctuated depending on the amount of trust London had for the local operations. The letters evolved with narrative slowly being replaced by standardized accounts and tables. London's lack of local knowledge led to some resistance from the local factors in providing full details. 
  • Participation. Local knowledge was important and officers developed it via "being there", "canoeing around", and "staying on."

There are lessons here for modern companies. Socialization is important as is "the value of retaining and sharing business communications and other records in an accessible manner. the Company's carefully maintained records provided it with an important source of organizational memory and allowed the Committee and its officers to analyze and act on long-term trends in key business indicators (e.g., cyclical fluctuations in beaver populations). Its attention to detail and use of version control numbers, the eighteenth-century equivalent of unique employee IDs, and the strategic use of carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC), all predate many database features that are now considered critical for knowledge management."

This is all very interesting and it really does speak to the importance of the artifact or genre of communication, in this case the Inward and Outward Letters. We can seem analogs in NASA's reaction to the PowerPoint presentation and the breakdown is some of the cognitive capability there.

Thoughts on genre

I feel like I'm retracing some old steps here. In my questing around Information Governance I've come back to the principles of activity and the importance of knowing what you do. A follow on is really looking at the documents that are generated as part of those processes. Ultimately, those documents provide the basis for knowledge exchange, knowledge preservation, etc. So, back to genres. I've apparently read some of these things in the past but, oh well, it's time to refresh my understanding:


Orlikowski (2005). Material knowing : the scaffolding of human knowledgeability.

"Knowing is also always material"

"Everyday practices and the knowing generated as a result is deeply bound up in the material forms, artifacts, spaces, and infrastructures through which humans act."

All actions are dependent on materials.

"Without the material stuff of our everyday lives, human action would not be possible. That is, practice necessarily entails materiality."

Orlikowski notes that a number of researchers have been struggling with the concept of inter-relationships between the material and social (e.g., mangle, motley, ANT, entangled, etc.). She notes that boundary objects are perhaps the exception where people have operationalized the concept. She then introduces the concept of "scaffolds": they are temporary, they are flexible, and they are portable. They are also diverse, heterogeneous, emergent, offer stability, are dangerous, are generative, and are constitutive of both human activity and outcomes.


Yoshioka and Herman (1999). Genre taxonomy : a knowledge repository of communicative actions.

Orlikowski and Yates provided a definition for genres: "socially recognized types of communicative action habitually enacted by members of a community to realize particular communicative and collaborative purposes." That is, genres of a recognized purpose and shared common characteristics.

So, actions and activities basically require particular types -- or genres -- of documents or other interactions. These documents must have characteristics and a purpose that are recognized by a social group. So my plunking around here on my blog really doesn't represent a genre because its purpose isn't social in nature. Instead, it represents my own personal activity.

Genres must reflect 5W1H (i.e., why/purpose, what/contents, whom/whom/partiipants, when/timing, where/place, how/form).

Genres evolve over time due to changes in business need, audience, or technology (e.g., the introduction of filing technologie or electronic email).

NB -- the genres are important because they represent specific document types that are amenable to classification/taxonomy and retention. We also have an opportunity to elaborate these genres because they might be mandated or exemplared by various governance frameworks. Genres or documents are the inputs and outputs of many SIPOC processes (supplier, inputs, process, outputs, customers). Compare DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control).


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Evernote, OneNote, or Google Keep? The answer is all three

I use all three of the popular Personal Information Management tools. But I never intended to.

The first tool I used was Evernote. It served exactly the function that I wanted. It is basically a prosthetic memory. There are all sorts of documents and records that have some sort of value and that I don't want to forget, but that didn't have a good home. Evernote serves that role. I can save documents locally or clip them from the web. I can assign various tags to facilitate projects and re-finding. The documents are available from both my desktop client and the web.

Of course, the tool isn't perfect. Tagging is great but as we know from the academic PIM research tags aren't completely effective. It's a wetware problem. Users forget what the tags mean because they are generated to meet local constraints. Furthermore, Evernote breaks formatting on messages so that it is difficult to round-trip content into other Office applications. Regardless, Evernote serves the role of a memory-prosthesis quite well.

There are few great features in Evernote. I particularly like the ability to email documents into the repository via an email address. In this way I can essentially BCC myself key communication to keep an archival record.

Evernote is good for many things but sometimes I'm looking for a tool that offers better support for personal workflows. The primary applications that I use on a daily basis include Word, PowerPoint, Excel and -- most importantly -- Outlook. There are a few things tasks that are highly repeatable and require tight integration with Outlook. Consider, for example, client meetings. Each of these meetings requires minutes and some sort of formal follow-up. Outlook basically gives me a simple workflow capability. From each invitation I can generate a OneNote note that captures document details and enables me to generate very basic case notes. I can then use notebooks to essentially capture the status of these notes (completed, in progress, etc.). These notes are formatted perfectly for re-purposing into the other Office applications. Furthermore, I can apply "to do" tags that work with my task management tools in Outlook.

I find OneNote for less helpful for capturing external documents, applying subject tags, etc. Indeed, in some cases I actually end up dumping content back into Evernote if I want to archive it. For example, I might use OneNote to generate client communication (largely because I can reuse content from similar correspondence) and Exchange to send the correspondence (I could do it from OneNote but I need to redact superfluous details) but I BCC my Evernote account so that I can archive the details. NOTE: I might also have to copy that content into other case management tools like CRM systems, etc.

So OneNote and Evernote can live together quite effectively. But what about our third option? What is Google Keep?

With OneNote and Evernote I found that I no longer carried around my notebook with numbered pages. Instead, I carried a tiny notebook for lists, etc. This is the application for which Google Keep excels.  You can create lists and reminders. It integrates nicely with Google Applications and -- for Android users -- Google Now. The reminders are particularly beneficial. On Android, you can set location reminders so, for example, you can attach grocery lists to the location of the store. When you walk through the door, you get a reminder.

For me, it's not an issue of Evernote OR OneNote OR Keep. It's really about finding the appropriate use cases to support Evernote AND OneNote AND Keep.