Through Elearningpost.com I read this article in Business 2.0 on a method called TRIZ. This method, developed by the Russian Genrich Altshuller (1926-1998), provides a framework to focus innovation efforts in technological settings.
It seems to have been embraced by engineers because it treats creativity as a discipline to be mastered, not as right-brain hocus-pocus. With my own technological background I can imagine the type of engineer that would love this, a method to treat a generally fuzzy process like creativity as just another algorithm that can be controlled and steered. None of those scary things like brainstorming, open ended dialogues, and psychological approaches needed.
However the self-proclaimed followers and devotees of TRIZ (I use these words because that’s the feeling I get from the commercial websites on this topic), seem to miss the obvious here.
Basically, and apparently laudable so, Altshuller mined the archives of the Russian patent-office and came up with 39 engineering parameters, and 40 innovative principles, working from the premise that basic solutions to fundamental problems were probably already solved in some other branch or field, and that all innovation put together would show distinct patterns. He then made a matrix of the engineering parameters on both axis, with the innovative principles at their crossings as general pointers towards solving a conflict between two engineering parameters. (For a better explanation of its working and the resulting matrix look at the 1995 paper by Glenn Mazur.) So what he did was make a knowledgebase to focus your innovative efforts with. This to me does not make an algorithm out of creativity, it just helps focussing energy. I think you still need the right-brain hocus-pocus to create that energy. TRIZ provides a box to think in for those who shun out of the box thinking as that seems to be so uncontrolled. But within that box creative thinking is still needed. And the knowledge stored in TRIZ all has come about by that same messy process.
Now, Altshuller has made his TRIZ method for structuring technological innovation, and focussed on the results of past creative thinking, and not the process of creative thinking, to help you be creative yourself. What sources would we need to draw upon to make the same sort of tool for innovative services, in stead of pure technology? Is the McKinsey knowledgebase oriented in a way anything like this e.g.? Are there public resources geared in this fashion? Are there already tools out there, I just don’t know about?

Genrich Altshuller (1926-1998)

In the past days I have been away, and had a great time in Liechtenstein. It was only a couple of days, but packed with new impressions, meeting old friends, enjoying music, being re-hypnotised by the immense beauty of alpine nature during a 5hr mountain hike, and enjoying the company of a full symphonic orchestra over beers at night. And somewhere in there I had even time to think about KM, on leadership and cooperation to be more precise, a bit, thoughts and observations I’d like to share here.
On the first night in Vaduz, Liechtensteins capital of 5 thousand people, I watched the Drents Symphonic Orchestra practice the pieces they would perform the next day. One piece would be played by a mix of this orchestra and musicians from another German orchestra. So I watched the two orchestras practice, and also the two conductors.

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What got me thinking was the difference between the two conductors. One conductor was trying very hard to get the orchestra to do the piece technically perfect, and without missing a note. He treated the orchestra as his personal instrument, pointing out errors, and demanding their best efforts. The other took a completely different approach: he described what he would like to achieve, and how he wanted things different by eloquently painting a picture of the desired result, and exaggerating examples. He was direct in pointing out things that could and should be done better, but also very direct in his praise. He was having conversations with the musicians in the orchestra during rehearsal, being asked to make his point clearer, asking musicians their opinion, never forgetting that these were not professionals. Without it ever becoming unclear who was the decisionmaker, he was working together with the musicians towards a well defined goal.

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The effect this had on the musicians was evident. Under the first conductor everybody did their bit and that was it. At the end of the piece they would stare in front of themselves. Under the other conductor people had all kinds of facial expressions during play, and looked and smiled at eachother afterwards, some congratulating others on some part or other of their effort.
The next day at the concert the difference was even more clear. The first orchestra played their music, good, but uninspired. The second orchestra started out on a different key: the conductor walked up, and said to the orchestra “Now let’s make some music together.” “Have fun.” And they did, not hitting al the notes right, but making music. A group of people creating something that was bigger than the sum of their individual scores. The audience picked it up too. They were nodding towards eachother, and moving to the front of their seats.
My partner played as a stand-in on oboe, in this concert, and I had never heard her play in an orchestra before, only at home playing solitary. After they were done playing Puccini’s earliest known composition for orchestra, Preludio Synfonico, she came down from the stage with misty eyes, moved by the beauty they just created together. And it was. Simply beautiful.
Some more pictures: (or go see them all)

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I just received the announcement for the KM in Europe 2003 Conference. It will take place at the Amsterdam RAI on November 10th-12th.
Last year it was in London, and I had a great 3 days on the conference. Interesting speakers and workshops, not so interesting vendor exhibition, and most of all a great opportunity to meet familiar names from on-line discussions.
So what do you say? A K-loggers meet up at the KMEU 2003 in Amsterdam?

In my last post I talked about the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The point of view it offers is certainly intriguing, but at the same time I formulated several reservations. I’ll try and list my questions here.
Law of the Few
Three specific type of people, Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen, are the ones to target for creating your own epidemic. These types of people are proposed to be scarce, yet “everybody knows one” in their own circle. I’m not bothered with the classification, and I do know several people who would fit the profiles, but what about all the other people. The poor saps that aren’t one of those three, what’s left for them? The role of sheep following the lead of their herdsman?
It’s not so much that I believe everybody should have a ‘special’ role, but it’s the sheer absence of a place in it all for ordinary people and the total passivity that that seems to imply that I find odd. It reminds me of the mindless consumer mass marketing wants to target. In the end it is all the John and Jane Does that make your little epidemic a success, isn’t it?
As to finding out who the Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen are that you need to target, could Social Network Analysis help you find them?
The Connectors would be the easiest to spot with SNA I think. They’re the community straddlers, the ones linking different circles. Mavens might be found by asking specific questions when collecting data for your SNA. Questions like “Who in your community would you go to with questions about…….” And the same goes for salesmen, I think, if you ask who you think has authority on certain issues in your community.
But SNA probably would only work within a small and well defined setting, such as a SME, or a neigbourhood community. It’s not the route to spot all connectors that could matter to you within the EU. How to find them then? Mavens probably could be found through forums, mailinglists etc. Salesmen? Connectors? I don’t know.
Stickiness
This is an interesting part. Stickiness in the book is an elusive concept. The cases it describes summon a picture of rigorous testing until you find the right packaging of your message that sticks with your target audience (again, leaving out looking at the message itself).
But that is precisely what you cannot afford to do if you’re the one without extensive means that wants to create big change with little to go on, the one that this book says to provide hope for.
Testing your message until it sticks brings to mind testing panels, going into communities and groups and see what doesn’t work. And then going back again after each adjustment to do it all again until it works.
I am very curious what Lilia Efimova comes up with regarding the stickiness of blogs. (And would she also be able to say something of who blogs? Mavens, connectors and salesmen alike, or in different proportions?)
All in all I think in order to say something more about stickiness, the cases in the book provide too little substance. But I bet in communication sciences and even marketing as well as pihlosophical aspects of language clues can be found as to what might be sticky and what not.
Power of Context
Two aspects are mentioned in the book. One, the effect our living space can have on us and our emotions. Two, the size of our social network we are able to handle. These are both factors Malcolm Gladwell says can be used. Other contextualities, such as broader cultural traits, and individual history are not mentioned. Because they can’t be influenced, at least not by the small changes sought for? Nevertheless they will probably influence acceptance of the idea you want to spread.
The sizes of network we can handle, with the magic number of 150 as a limit, based on our channel capacity is interesting if you compare it with what amongst others Ross Mayfield has been blogging about types of blogs and their audiences. Maybe I did not read the text closely enough but Malcolm Gladwell seems to say this 150 is a definite maximum. I think it is more like not being able to handle more than that in a given situation, but very possible to handle multiple networks of that size, just not at the same time. Otherwise Connectors would be in dire straits wouldn’t they?
The challenge: starting an epidemic
What I really would like to see, and I wrote that yesterday as well, is a predictive application of these epidemical concepts. Can we, a group of let’s say twenty bloggers, think up a message or idea we want to spread, and then purposefully start or own little epidemic? I would love to experiment with that. Maybe Blogtalk in Vienna is a great place to get together and discuss this more vigorously. In the mean time we could start by proposing what message to spread and whom to spread it to. Any takers?

My brother in law works with 1st Broadband, a company that sets up wireless broadband internet infrastructures in rural communities where the big telco’s are unlikely to provide wired infrastructure any time soon. They’ve just kicked off their first project in Penwith in Cornwall, UK. I think these are great initiatives.

First of all they only start a project if a community is explicitly asking for it. So there is a lot of community effort behind these projects, and it is always amazing of what community initiatives can achieve with next to nothing to work with in terms of funding and material. The generation of that kind of energy is a benefit in itself, and something many companies might learn from. Second connecting villages to the internet positions them closer to the outside world. Not geographically of course, but as David Weinberger said in his book, nearness on the net is determined by interest.

This works in two ways. It reduces the villagers distance to outside sources of information, enlargening their scope of what the world is they live in. And also it reduces the distance of us to the village as well, possibly making these villages more attractive for us city dwellers to locate a business or do business.
The former, enlargening scope, based on research, is an important in improving independence and self sustainability of people and communities. The latter might help in turning around the trend of a slowly depopulating countryside because jobs are found elsewhere, leaving less and less people behind, until there are not enough people to sustain primary services like local schools, foodstores etc., which in the end kills the community entirely.
Now three villages in Cornwall have indicated they want to do this too.

making a village even more attractive with full connectivity

And after all, if broadband is available in the countryside, it might even be possible someday to start living ‘outside’ and still enjoy all the connectivity I’m used to here in the city. 😉

After writing this blog at Blogspot for 6 months now, I have found that it increasingly bothers me not to have personal control over content and comments and being dependent on third party services, that sometimes proof unreliable. Not really surprising since these are all free services.
Since I think the experimental phase of my blog is now over, in the sense that blogging has become part of my regular activities, I have decided it is time to take things into my own hand. For that I am now configuring Moveable Type on my home based server, and have bought two domain names.
I could not choose between the two, so I took both. The first is www.zylstra.org, which I took because it is nice to have a domain featuring my own name. (it’s a .org because all others are taken, also my name is spelled with ij in stead of y, but that has proven to be too difficult for non-Dutch.) The other is www.interdependent.biz since I think Interdependent Thoughts is a good name for a blog, and sort has become a brand in that respect. However Interdependentthoughts is probably not so attractive, thus I decided for interdependent.biz. The .biz again because all others had been taken. What do you think about these domain names?
In the coming days I will move everything from this blog to the new server, and then stop using Blogger. I will not take Blogger of line in order not to let all the references rot. Maybe I’ll rewrite the Archive pages to point to the new site, but that is not on my list of priorities now.