Managing Knowledge is like Herding Cats – part 2

I’m still at the IBM Knowledge Management Conference. The weather is better. I am doing a live demo, which is always dangerous, so I’ll stop now.

More later.

99-44/100% Good News!

I’ve been trying to get in touch with my doctor for the results of my
MRI for nearly a week; I left voicemail for his assistant, but
my phone never rang. I was getting frustrated, and growing more and
more anxious — the MRI people had said that they’d almost certainly
have the
results back to him on Thursday, and here it was almost a week later.

So today, after it was late enough on the West Coast for the office to
be open and functioning, I called again, and this time, rather than
leave voicemail, I punched through to the receptionist, who’s actually
in a different building than my doctor. But she was willing to listen
and to help; a few minutes later, my phone rang.

It wasn’t the doctor — or even his assistant — in fact, it was the
receptionist again. But she had news for me: my MRI report was on the
doctor’s desk. She couldn’t tell me what it said, of course; only the
doctor could do that. But I was able to emphasize (in tone as well as
words) that I was anxious to hear the results, and she promised to let
him know.

A couple of hours later, just after lunchtime in California, my phone
rang again, and this time, it was my doctor. So I pulled off the road
(there are phone calls that I’m willing to take or make while driving,
but not ones with potentially significant emotional impact), and he told
me that the radiologist did find a small anomaly on the scan. The
radiologist is almost certain that it was just a little bit of secondary
bleeding from the concussion — the location was right — but they
want to do another MRI in a few weeks to verify that it goes away. So
I’ll go back into the tube in mid-August — and this time, I’ll be at
home for the results instead of trying to get them long distance.

Know-It-Alls Rule!

When the doctor called, I was en route to the Casperkill Country Club
(formerly the IBM Country Club when IBM had such things) for the
Knowledge Management conference dinner. We’d been warned that there
would be a group exercise right after dinner, and everyone’s badge had
been marked with a colored dot as part of the planning for the exercise.

But dinner was still a few hours away — before that, we had
refreshments (Saranac Black and Tan beer in bottles is better than Sam
Adams in a keg, in my opinion, even if it is brewed by the same people
who commit Utica Club) and Birds of a Feather sessions. I held a BOF on
Weblogs, which got some interest (though, frankly, most people were more
interested in enjoying the weather and the refreshments).
I am working on getting a
Manila server up and running inside IBM in the near future so that
IBMers can share <strike>secret</strike> business-related information
through Weblogs as well as in other ways; it’ll be an interesting
experiment to see if it’s used. It’s certainly not the answer for
everyone’s need, but I think it’ll be a useful tool to have available.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any connectivity (or, for that matter, a
computer), so I couldn’t show any Weblogs, and talking about them is not
very satisfying. I did give people a pointer to this page, so if you’re
visiting as a result of the BOF, “hi!”

After dinner, we had the team exercise — a game of Team Trivia. We
divided ourselves into tables of seven or eight, with a mix of colored
dots at each table — amazingly, we accomplished this task in under ten
minutes. Then each team had to name itself; most teams picked names
such as “Rainbow Coalition” or
“Surfers”. We modestly named
ourselves the

Team Trivia consists of two rounds, each with twelve questions. The MC
reads the questions, and the team huddles and writes down an answer.
The tables are close enough that teams can hear one another, so
discussions leading to false answers are fair game.

At the end of the first round, we were tied for the lead with two other
teams, each with ten points. The questions covered many areas of
popular culture; for example, we were asked what female artist sold the
most records, tapes, and CDs during the 1980s (we had the right answer
at first, but changed it in later discussions. Oh, well). Another
question asked for the name of the movie in which Groucho Marx was the
leader of a country (that one, we got right).

In the second round, the questions were worth two points each; since
only four points separated the first- and last-place teams, the game was
still wide open. The first three questions were easy for us; the fourth
one threw us for a loop, though: In Snow White and the Seven
, which two dwarfs’ names don’t end in “y”? We got one of
the two right away, but never did get the second one. But then we got
back on track. The last question was a “groaner” — a question where
the answer is a movie title with a word changed to create an awful pun.
The question was: What is the Mel Brooks movie in which a boy ends up
in a glass of beer?

In the end, our team won, and we were each given
a dangerous prize, an gift certificate.
I don’t know if this was a useful team-building exercise, but I enjoyed
it — it was certainly better than sitting in the auditorium on a
beautiful afternoon!

Computers Never Make Mistakes…People Do

I consider myself to be a properly paranoid traveller. I always
double-check to be sure that I have my tickets and confirmation numbers,
and I verify flight times a couple of days before travelling. So I
thought it was time to check the details of my trip home on Friday; I
went to the travel agency site, entered my locator, and discovered that
all that was in my record was the IBM boilerplate — no flights.

This did not make me happy; I decided to call American Airlines and see
what was going on. So I did, and after listening to more music-on-hold
than I wanted to hear, was told that my reservations had been cancelled
because I hadn’t taken my outbound flights. This was news to me, since
I’d been on both planes and had the boarding passes to prove it. The
agent vanished again and got my return trip reinstated, but my confirmed
and paid-for-with-miles upgrade on the long leg was no longer available.
This also did not make me happy; I realized that the agent couldn’t help
me further and asked for the customer service address. I am composing
an irate but polite letter, which will end with a restatement of what
they always tell me at the end of every flight: “…you have a choice
in air travel.” I expect them, at the least, to restore the miles to my
account; I hope they’ll do more than that. Anyone with tips on writing
an effective letter, please feel free to share them!

Managing Knowledge is like Herding Cats

Greetings from lovely, exotic East Fishkill, New York. I am at IBM’s Knowledge Management Conference; unfortunately, many of the exciting things I’ve learned today are IBM proprietary information and so I can’t share them with you.

But some of the talks were not only interesting but talked about things outside the firewall. Our first talk was by Larry Prusak, author of Working Knowledge, who talked about where knowlege lives in a firm (it’s not just in people’s heads). The concept of knowledge has been around for a long time — as usual, the Greeks had a word for it. In fact, they had three; my note-taking wasn’t good enough to capture the original Greek terms, but one word became “epistematics” (universal knowledge); another word
was “technie”, which represents the difference between reading chemistry books and being a chemist, and the third
is “metis”, which is social
knowledge — “how to win friends and influence people”.

Larry closed with “five little heuristics” about knowledge:

  • Connectivity is a much better bet than capture. Show people who knows what.
  • The right unit of analysis is a small network of people (50-300), not an individual, a workgroup, or an enterprise.
  • If you don’t have a “thick picture” of work, you can’t really affect it.
  • People learn through stories and from one another, not from documents.
  • Technology doesn’t change behavior by itself.

The second speaker was Tom Boyle of British Telecom (I guess it’s just “BT” these days), talking about the BT Global Challenge and how the crews of the boats are
using computer conferencing to prepare for the race, and some of the lessons that we might be able to take away from their interactions — one interesting one was that crews with a high ratio of “engagement” postings to
“informational” postings tend to have a culture of involvement, and even informational postings tend to get better answers on such crews.

We also had a spectacular thunderstorm; I was inside and missed most of it, and even missed out on the leaks into the building.

Time for dinner!

Catching up, only to leave again

The team meeting last week was worth the trip (as always); we even got to go out on the boat late Thursday afternoon. Every time I visit, I find that I enjoy boating more — it helps, I’m sure, that I’m not paying for the boat! Or even the refreshments, come to think of it.

Friday morning, I decided I’d leave early so I could get home at a decent hour (6:30pm instead of 10pm or later). And so I bailed out of the meeting before we were quite finished — I’ll find out what I missed one of these days, I’m sure. But I made it to Stewart Airport with just enough time to gulp down lunch before getting on the plane to Chicago (I thought that a pastrami sandwich from the JetSet Deli was likely to be tastier, if not necessarily healthier, than whatever American was serving in coach on a two-hour flight).

On the way to the airport, I stopped at a rest area and picked up a brochure about the reconstruction of the James River Bridge in Richmond, Virginia (where I grew up). This seemed like a strange brochure to be giving out on a rest area on I-84 in Newburgh, NY, about 400 miles away from the construction, but they had a good supply of them, so I guess there’s a reason for it.

The flights home were OK; I got upgraded on the Chicago-San Jose leg, and decided that American gave me more legroom in a coach exit row seat on their reconfigured planes than they did in First Class on an MD-80. But the extra side-to-side space was appreciated anyway, as was the better food.

Landing in San Jose was a bit challenging — I noticed that we seemed to be awfully high as we came over the 280/101/680 interchange…and then we started to go up! A few minutes later, after we’d flown north of the airport, the pilot got on the PA and told us what we’d already figured out — that we’d been told to go around again because there was traffic on the runway. Diane had been watching my flight on and was wondering why the readouts suddenly showed the plane ascending and north of the airport! The second landing attempt went better, and I was home in time for dinner.

The weekend has been pleasant; we went to services yesterday morning (they needed us to make the minyan, and will probably need us again next weekend). Jeffrey’s watched a few movies — Jeffrey watched Invasion of the Neptune Men on MST3K (he says it’s horrible), and then we rented Star Trek: First Contact, which Jeffrey’s already watched twice (even though the movie is rated PG-13, we thought he’d be ready for it; he doesn’t appear to be traumatized yet, so I guess we were right).

I still haven’t heard anything from the doctor about my MRI results; I’ll have to call them this week if they don’t call me first.

Thunder and Lightning

Actually, that’s in the wrong order, isn’t it?

My flights were uneventful, but the drive from the airport to the Poconos was exciting — big thunderstorms, starting as soon as I crossed the border into Pennsylvania. It’s fun driving in the rain with trucks playing tag.

More later, perhaps; 10 of us are sharing a phone line, and on-line editing is somewhat tacky in this environment.

Much to my surprise, the hotel (Silver Birches Resort in Hawley, PA), has changed their phone system since last year, and I can get connected from here just fine.

The weather continues to be noisy and bright, though it is calming down a bit; they’re predicting more of the same for tomorrow afternoon, which may play havoc with our traditional after-work boating session. We’ll see….

Where Techno Comes From

There are two kinds of days. There are days like yesterday when nothing much happens, and there are those days when Everything Happens. Today was one of the second kind.

The morning was its usual summertime day camp semi-frantic self (contrasted with the frantic pace during the school year, or the almost-relaxed pace on summer days when Jeffrey only has to go to Alta Vista), so I left the house a few minutes after 8. My pager had already gone off once, for a call I could return once I got to work, and I needed to stop at the doctor’s to pick up an MRI referral for a follow-up to the CT scans I had done in Montréal after my concussion — the doctor in the ER saw something on the other side of my head from the concussion which may or may not actually exist and which may or may not mean anything, so he recommended I have an MRI within the next couple of months. While pulling into the doctor’s lot, my pager went off again (it’s tied to my office voicemail; most of the time, I think this is a good thing), and it was someone I’d been exchanging messages with for a week. So I called him back and left more voicemail.

I got to the office, returned my first call, actually reached the second person, and as I was finishing that call, noticed that my pocket was vibrating. It was my cellphone; the air-conditioning folks had finally called me back (our attic exhaust fan died on Sunday, announcing its failure to the entire neighborhood with loud noises; I had to turn off the breaker to stop it. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything else critical on the circuit with the fan, though I bet the maid service will be surprised when they have to use different outlets to vacuum on Thursday). The signal isn’t strong enough in my office to actually carry on a conversation, or even for the cellphone to ring, but when Sprint put the “voicemail” flag on, the phone did detect it and notified me. Technology is wonderful when it works.

So I called the A/C folks, who told me that the average life of an attic fan is about 3 years and that the fan has to be replaced, not repaired — they said they could do it or I could do it. It took me several dozen microseconds to decide; they should be here on Friday (they have to come out fairly early in the day so that they can work in the attic without being knocked over by the heat).

Then I called the MRI people, expecting to have to set up the session for July sometime, but to my delight (I guess that’s the word), they had an opening this morning. So off I went.

One of the forms at the MRI place asked if I’d had previous CT scans or X-rays for this problem, and I suddenly remembered that I had the CT scans from the hospital at home, so I dashed to the house and back to grab them; then I had to wait a few minutes (so I was glad I had had something constructive to do with my time) before being ushered into the back for the MRI.

I’d never had (or even seen) an MRI before; I was lucky, since they only had to image my brain, and therefore they didn’t have to put much of me into the machine. It’s a cylinder, with only a few inches of space between your body and the walls — but in my case, everything from my neck down was outside the cylinder, and so I only felt about as constrained as in a typical non-reclining middle seat in coach. But I would have felt much worse if they’d had to put more of me in the cylinder, I’m sure.

The MRI process itself is painless (though they did have to inject me with something to add contrast for two scans). But it is very noisy — the technician described it as sounding like a jackhammer, and she wasn’t far wrong. But I thought it sounded more like a 2400-baud modem, just louder and continuing for several minutes. There were sounds overlaid on the basic tone, and during some of the scans, the tone stopped and started in various rhythms; the first scan reminded me of the last few minutes of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (before they start introducing the instruments). The second scan had an interesting rhythm — five taps, followed by six bursts of tone, over and over and over again. The other scans were less interesting, but they reminded me of the techno music I’ve heard occasionally.

The tech told me they should have the results to my doctor in a couple of days. I got to look at one scan on their display — of course, I had no idea at all what I was looking at, but I certainly liked the display (a 21-inch NEC LCD display — I’d love to have one, but I suspect the price is a bit out of my ballpark).

Then it was home to finish out the workday, with two more calls already awaiting, and piles of e-mail to deal with (so what else is new?).

Tomorrow, I’m off to my department’s planning retreat for the rest of the week. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get any reasonable access to the Internet while I’m there — last year, the hotel had a bizarre, non-data-friendly phone system, and I doubt they’ve changed it, since it’s a vacation hotel, not a business-oriented place.

Happy summer, one and all!