Networking Stagnation: Fatigue or Growing Pains? III
The second question I want to discuss is how to allow for digestion and consolidation between spurts of discovery.
I started my current spurt of discovery in May 2002 when I joined KnowledgeBoard. Half a year later I started my weblog in English, boosting the discovery process, and just a month ago I started a weblog in Dutch and German, looking to boost it once again.
With all the enthousiasm that comes with entering new uncharted territories at first everything is interesting. All special interest groups on KnowledgeBoard are worth contributing to, all interesting blogposts, and boy there are many out there, are worth commenting on or reflecting on in your own blog. You reach addiction levels when you start being afraid to miss something interesting.
But that eagerness takes its toll. There is no real time to filter all that passes before your eyes, as you're already sprinting to the next interesting post as soon as you've linked to the last one. And finally there is the time when all that discovering and exploring, and playing with ideas for fascinating projects, becomes too much.
Then it's time to sit back and reflect. What use is all this to me? What is applicable now, and what is promising for later? How are my opinions and beliefs influenced and changed? These are the type of questions that help digest what you discovered. It means, selecting and setting priorities based on current problems to solve, or current needs to fulfill. It means learning that it is not neglecting your duties, it's honoring them, when you pass up on all the interesting conversations out there for a while, so that you may make more sense of the ones you have participated in. It means picking a few discussions and instead of widening them to encompass the world, narrowing them down as to be able to dig deeper.
A close friend of mine uses a picture of a pyramid for this. In times of rapid personal growth you build a tower on your current base of opinions, skills and beliefs. As that tower reaches increasing heights, you have to stop building upwards for a while and broaden the base some more, to keep the tower stable. After broadening the base you can continue reaching for the skies again. So you're always building on top of a pyramid, with an ever broadening base.
The excitement of discovery is probably not so easy replaced by the more mundane task of broadening the base of your knowledge pyramid. So the question is how to make broadening the base more attractive, lessening the contrast with the rush of discovery.
If that question goes unanswered we probably end up with doing away with the results of a discovery phase. "It was great, but in the end nothing came out of it" and go looking for discovery in another realm with the vain hope that things will be different there. It's a pattern one can find in early adoptors a lot I think, where hopping to the 'new thing' without really structurally adopting or assimilating the 'last new thing' is common.
The disappointment in the quotes in my first post in this little trilogy speaks I think of that contrast between the 'trip' of discovery, and having to deal with the rest of the world predominantly unimpressed by the stunning things you found along the way. It's maybe the grown up version of being a little kid and finding all these beautiful glittering stones in the riverbed. "Look dad, look at these beautiful glittering stones." "Ah that's only fools gold, my son, nothing to get excited about."
But the point was and is that you are excited. When I speak to non-bloggers in fact I want them to understand my excitement more than I want them to understand blogging per se. But as with scores of dads, they seem to miss the importance of being excited.
The answer to that might be to try and mix discovery and consolidation. I can name a few things that became increasingly clear to me in the last 14 months of discovery, and have changed and augmented my belief system:
What does that mean in terms of digestion? Most of the stuff I discussed and found in the last year was not directly about the points I filtered out above. But a lot of the underlying assumptions of those discussions were, and the conversations made them visible to me. And all points are points that one can act on.
So how to pursue the digestion, without losing the edge of discovery? By bringing the co-discoverers in for the process of digestion, and not going it all alone, might be a thought. Me writing about it here for instance, which is by the way the result of a conversation I had with my partner over dinner yesterday. (while enjoying a great dessert by the way: strawberries with gorgonzola cheese melted over them with aceto balsamico, and a beautiful glass of Sauternes)
Also, the Blogtalk conference taught me that I will need to invest some time and money to meet with fellow bloggers on a more regular basis face to face, to continue a few selected topics of discussion. There are several of them within a couple of hours travel, so why not go that way.
Further, I have decided to bring the question of what to do with the results of discovery, how to apply them and feed them into the workflow, under peer-review. In the coming month plans are to meet up with some trusted people of different business backgrounds to discuss these questions during a series of Wednesday-nights. A little group of people in a workshop like setting, in summer evening surroundings.
All this should be aimed to result into more tangible output and results. Theorizing is always great fun, but in the end how it improves the way we deal with life on this world is the only proof in the pudding that should count.
Networking Stagnation: Fatigue or Growing Pains? II
Let's start with the first question in the previous post, how to overcome the 'Magic Numbers' limit. It seems 150 is the average maximum cited, but to me it does not really make sense. Has anyone counted the number of people in their personal networks for themselves? I can come up with a little over 170 names of people I am in regular contact with. So the limit seems about correct at first glance. Thing is, I don't feel my network is full.
Gladwell in his book the Tipping Point also pays tribute to the number of 150, while at the same time maintaining that Connectors are crucial to making things tip. How are connectors supposed to fulfill their roles if they only have around 150 contacts at any given time? Are they especially gifted? I don't buy that.
So my guess is, there must be something in the way these contacts are maintained. How do politicians maintain their network? They don't get on the ballot by knowing only 150 people, do they?
When I look at my social network, there is an extremely small group in the center with whom I have strong emotional ties. Then there is a wider circle of people who I feel close to, but with whom the frequency of contact varies greatly from individual to individual. And then there is the much larger group of people who are within my field of vision but with whom contact revolves around certain specific contexts.
The crucial word here is contexts. The people closest to me are 'with me' in every context and our contact is intimate and personal, the next layer of people I have got to know within a certain context but built rapport and mutual understanding with that spilled over out of that context into others. The larger group I only interact with within a specific context, but those can still constitute strong ties within that context. The picture this might bring to mind is a set of concentric circles, revolving around me, with the Magic Number of 150 as the outer horizon.
That however is not how I experience my social network, and way too flattering as it puts me in the centre of the world. Yes, the closest contacts form a circle but the others don't. The contexts I spoke about are the different circles I move around in, my family, my co-workers, my fraternity friends, my ham-radio friends, my scouting friends, my neighbourhood contacts, my high school contacts, my friends within each of the different other student bodies I belonged to, my blogging ecosystem, my Ryze network, my Ecademy network, my KnowledgeBoard network etc.
The more accurate picture is that of a flower with loads of different petals. Or more abstract, a host of ellipses that happen to overlap in me and the people that I got to know in one of those contexts, but who became part of more than one.
Politicians and other connectors seem to me to have in common that they are in contact with larger numbers of different contexts, than others. And thus break the 150 barrier. If I'd adhere to the 150, my guess would be that 150 is more likely to be a mental limit for any one of the contexts.
As a child, and teenager, I was acutely aware of these different contexts, and the different aspects of me and my interests I had housed there. I could become very confused if two contexts that were separate to me turned out to intersect somewhere outside of me. Much like when your parents dropped in unexpectedly at your studentdorm. I then had to connect whole differents sets of experiences and emotions and handle them at the same time. Now I'm comfortable with different contexts intersecting in other places than me, but I'm still very aware of those different contexts.
And even per context the 150 barrier is not absolute I think. It's again how you handle it. A useful method all through human evolution is expanding your range of interactions by off-loading things to your environment, and so diminishing the amount of information you have to remember or handle at the same time.
I don't have to remember everything that goes on in one of my contexts to be able to participate, I can off-load stuff to other places. I for instance reread e-mail exchanges before writing to someone I hadn't contacted for awhile, to reacquaint myself with the tone and mode of our interchanges, just as I reread diary entries to reconnect to myself in years past.
It's CRM but than personalized and without the often somewhat cynical and manipulative premeditated commercial aims behind it. It's Personal KM. When the best network wins, personal fulfillment of your interests, desires, needs and ambitions is dependant on how you handle your network. It's always the relations to other human beings that determine that outcome, an individual is only an individual as long as there are other people around to be an individual to.
So if 150 is our channel capacity for handling relationships in our head, we'd better make sure that those 150 'slots' aren't always occupied by the same people, but can be 'assigned' to different people in different contexts at different times, by filling our environment with mental clues for those relationships that have no 'slot' available at the time. (Or maybe a bandwith metaphor might be more appropiate as we are talking about person to person communications here.)
Let's go back to the observation about yet another on-line networking community to get invited to. When I joined Ecademy and Ryze there were already a lot of people there. I got invited by people who offered me one of their contexts to add to my own, opening up the possibility of adopting a new context heretofore closed to me.
Meanwhile by the way my blogging context and the group at Ryze have started to overlap so much, they begin to look the same. So I've stopped treating them as separate contexts, responding to a mislaid e-mail with a private Ryze-message. Following up on a phone-call with a quick guestbook entry, and the like.
When a new networking tool comes along it is at the start an empty shell. If I get invited I'll be asked to invite my friends as well. But that basically means that the only thing that happens is duplicating a part of my network that was already housed somewhere else. There are a lot of beautiful houses around, but you can live in only one. Then you're not adding a new context to your network but creating another channel for communication with an exisiting part in your network.
The hassle of building profiles and inviting friends just so you can establish communication to those with whom you're already communicating, will soon proof too much to be counteracted by the curiousity of how the new networking tool might look and feel to 'live in'. I don't consider that to be networking fatigue, it's being tired of doing double the work for the same result, and rightly so.
I would more likely join a new networking environment, if I got invited to it by someone from let's say my ham-radio context, connecting me to one of his other contexts, in stead of getting an invitation from someone who is already in some other networking portal with me. The latter promises nothing more than meeting the usual suspects. The former a real chance of entering into a new realm of contacts.
Networking Stagnation: Fatigue or Growing Pains? I
In the last few days several posts popped up within my blogging ecosystem that more or less address the same thing.
Matt got invited to yet another online networking community but says Ok I have finally reached my limit for joining these things. I had enough trouble trying to persuade friends to join Ryze, let alone Friendster, LinkedIn, EveryonesConnected,.... Robert, agreeing, adds I can only sustain a few relationships. The ones I have I want to pay attention to. Once I start to breach the laws of Magic Numbers, it all falls apart. Dina adds her observation on how demands on her time increase:Blogging, keeping up with the tremendous stuff pouring into my newsreaders hourly, and being active at Ryze and Ecademy, leave me with no time for more online networking. There's the physical world too :) - family, friends, work, hanging out ......... movies, music, partying .....
Paolo Valdemarin writes about his fallen interest in blogging around his one year blogging anniversary, saying I don't feel much like posting in these days. I was about to try writing why... but I don't feel much like posting in these days. Matt comments how he went through a similar transition a few months ago and feels he's been blogging less both in terms of quantity and quality since.
Robert Paterson adds his own interesting analysis to Matt and Paolo in his post, and draws a parallel with how his social life during his university years developed. Seb thinks Roberts reasoning sounds right and adds an interesting question, I think some people have a heavier churn rate for their inside network, while others form a much more stable net. I wonder if that affects their ability to innovate and adapt.
Now first off, I don't believe in Magic Numbers that set limits to my capacity to socialize. I do recognize that my capacity is of course finite, not only in terms of mental and emotional aspects, but also of course due to geographical distances and time restraints. But I do not accept the implicit assumption that I have to accept these limits as given and immutable. So that's one question I have, how to overcome those limitations?
The second part of the problem that the citations above express has nothing to do with network size specifically, but sketches the end of a period in which unrestrained discovery and exploration was the first item on the agenda. And when Seb asks how network churn rate affects innovative ability, he hits on the second question I would like to explore, and connects it to my first question. How do we balance periods of discovery with periods of digesting and consolidating? Reflection on possible answers in the next two posts.
Sometimes new technologies, like cloning, or xenotransplantation in our age, and bloodtransfusion in ages past lead to extreme reactions, both positive and negative. Martijntje Smits, technological philosopher, just now had her PhD paper published under the title "Exorcising monsters: the cultural domestication of new technologies", asking how reactions to new technologies can be described, and what this may mean for dealing with future technologies. This from a cultural anthropology perspective based on Mary Douglas.
While reading an article on it in the Dutch publication "Filosofie Magazine", I started asking how her theory might help understanding the still ongoing debate in KM, with the 'zealots' like me on the one hand, and the sceptics who say 'it's just a fad to justify consultancy fees' on the other, with often little in between in the form of success stories.
Let me first introduce you to what the article said:
Smits monster theory starts with the notion that a monster is a two-sided being, that within itself unites aspects that seem impossible to unite. (e.g. Frankenstein, with human traits and aspects, but also an artefact built from inanimate parts)
Monsters in this way challenge cultural boundaries. (e.g. genetic modification challenges the distinction between man and animal, cloning challenges the boundaries of natural progenation) At the same time because of that challenge it cannot be dealt with in terms of existing norms within those cultural boundaries, it's sort of outside the system, which is likely to frustrate debate and discussion. This also creates the space for both fantasies of doom, as well as of imminent paradise, without being constrained by reality.
Smits then goes on to define four forms of dealing with monsters:
The first, killing a monster, is a dead end street in the sense that it does not help to give a monster a place within society. It is the strict adherence to existing cultural patterns. Norms and morals are 'hard' and inflexible.
When adapting the monster, the existing cultural boundaries are regarded as inmutable too. They are not perceived as human constructs, with the possibility of change, but as given and final. In stead the monster is adapted. (E.g. the discussion on plastics not being biologically degradable, and thus 'forever' around. The monstrous aspect, the everlasting lifespan of plastics, was removed by developing degradable plastics. Technology was adapted to fit within existing cultural boundaries)
With monster assimilation, cultural boundaries are regarded as human constructs subject to change. Monsters then are not a threat but a challenge. Assimilation can entail both a change of the monster, as well as of cultural values.
(E.g. the concept of being 'brain dead'. Transplantation requires that some organs are removed from a body while the heart is still beating. Traditionally death was linked to no heartbeat, implying transplantation being murder. The introduction of the word 'brain dead' was introduced in the 70's as a new cultural category, next to the existing one.)
Embracing a monster means replacing fear with fascination. Anomalies and the unexplicable are accepted and revered. Monsters are accepted precisely because of its monstrous aspects.
KM as a Monster
Now let's look at KM, not a technology in the sense of artefacts, but certainly a change challenging existing belief systems and cultural patterns. A lot of the discussion I've seen on the usefulness of KM is precisely of the type between the embracers and the killers. To me at the heart of KM is the paradigm shift from the industrial command and control style to a human and knowledge focussed perception of organisations. Paradigmshifts imply the, sometimes radical, change of cultural patterns and boundaries. This is where the monstrousity of KM lies: it implies bigger succes and better control of where your organisation is going, by removing a lot of the controls that were already there to do just that.
There are people embracing KM, like me and other bloggers you can find in the blogroll to the left, and there are those who thinks it's all worthless. And frankly, most of these discussions are going nowhere. Both sides use different vocabularies, and as every pragmatist philosopher (like e.g. Richard Rorty) can tell you: having to discuss something in the vocabulary of the very system you're trying to do away with (in the pragmatists case the Platonian dualisms) is an attempt doomed to fail.
So now we have these failed discussions, and next to that we have attempts to adapt and assimilate the monster.
The clearest examples of trying to adapt the monster are I think most of the IT-applications that have KM proudly labelled on the package. What we mostly see here are 'solutions' strictly adhering to the existing command and control patterns. The ones that say "extract knowledge from your costly employees more efficiently". In the eyes of the embracers that is making a travesty of what KM is meant to be. In the eyes of the monster-killers it's something that is tangible and manageable as everything else, and can be blamed when it -not surprisingly- fails to deliver.
That leaves us with assimilation of the monster, meaning both changing the monster, as well as changing cultural boundaries. What have we done to change the monster? Most of us are unlearning the use of the term KM. Instead we start with real problems and then try to show what from a knowledge perspective solutions might look like. Also grand schemes to transform the organisation have been scrapped, in exchange for smaller changes, gradual transformation, to make people see the effects. Smaller changes also probably prove more palatable (or go unnoticed) by monster killing CEO's. In the end both KM as a term will have gone as well as the cultural boundaries it rails against. This then is the escape route to both embracers and monster killers: The latter will happily conclude that their foe 'KM' was never heard of again, being the fad they always said it was, and the former will focus on the cultural changes they've helped establish in organisations.
(On a side line, you might lay the 4 categories of dealing with monsters, next to an adoptioncurve. With the embracers being the early adopters, and the monster killers being the laggards. Also in terms of the Tipping Point, the assimilation of monsters looks like the sometimes trivial change that is needed to fundamentally change the stickiness of a message, making it tip.)2 Comments and 3 Trackbacks | Permalink
Biggest Hotspot in Town, uhm Europe
My Alma Mater, the University of Twente has implemented the largest hotspot for Wireless LAN access in Europe. A total of 650 access points have been installed around campus, covering lecturing halls, all buildings and all outdoor sportsfacilities and recreational areas. Having plenty of (working) access points around is something I have become to dearly appreciate at Blogtalk in Vienna. ;)1 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
In the coming two weeks this Blog will not be updated, as I will be enjoying some much needed vacation.
During that vacation I hope to find new inspiration to write, because ever since my return from Blogtalk I have not really been writing anything worthwile on KM. I saw loads of interesting material coming by, on which I could have responded or reflected, but my mind was elsewhere. The next two weeks will be spend reading, seeing new sights, and letting fresh air in. The first few days we will visit the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which I look forward to very much.
I look forward to meeting you again after July 21st.
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Dan Gillmor blogged from Finland, adding a picture of the lighted nightsky taken with his mobile phone, using his on board camera as intended. However, as always with new technologies becoming available, people start inventing uses the designers did not think of.
In Japan one of those new uses is what bookshop owners label 'digital shoplifting'. The Japanese Magazine Publishers Association wants it stopped. Which it probably won't be. I found this through Smartmobs, where Peter Davidson added this comment:
I think this is the begining of something huge. Content capturing mechanisms are becoming more and more common. The response will be to "shrink wrap" all content and suffer lost sales or keep content open and develop new ways to make paying for content compelling. It's the same problem music and more recently movies are facing. Perhaps the magazine should go with the flow and send out photos to readers and encourage the practice in an effort to build buzz for the print version of the magazine.
The first signs, as per the Japanese Magazine Publishers Assoc., apparantly point to digging in. Not unlike the music industry is doing more vehemently by the month. But criminalising your customers that way will alienate them from you. To survive the response will have to be adapt, adapt and adapt some more. Peter's idea to send out pictures yourself is one way, but just as consumers can come up with unintended and new uses for technology so can you. Not to barricade yourself, but to build stronger weak ties with consumers.
The whole issue reminds me of the story how Blackwell's booksellers in Oxford became dominant in that university town: they were the only shop that let their customers leaf through the books for themselves, letting them browse and read for a bit, in stead of selling books only over the counter. Now the norm, then a major break with tradition. Blackwell did not talk about 'information theft' but cornered the market.2 Comments and 2 Trackbacks | Permalink