TON'S INTERDEPENDENT THOUGHTS
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This blog has moved: please visit blog.zylstra.org to continue reading.
Rick Klau writes about a new service to search RSS-feeds called Feedster. Had a look at it a few days ago. Haven't yet figured it out really, but looks useful. Will check it out later on.
Microblogosphere and Bloglet
On the left hand side I have added a few things in the last days. First I have created a set of links called 'My microblogosphere'. It contains links to technorati, blogdex etc. by which it is easy for you to find out who the blogs are in my conversational cloud. Of course the blogroll does this too, but it gives no clues as to what the interaction, if any, between those blogs and me is. As not all of these services catalogue the same blogs and their linking, I've added a few.
Also a Bloglet service is added. For those of you who don't use news-aggregators, or prefer e-mail it is now possible to subscribe to my blog, and receive new posts via e-mail. Just fill in your e-mail address in the provided form, and you're on the mailinglist.
The 7 habits of highly effective bloggers
Mike Sanders in his blog Keep Trying, translates Covey's book on the 7 habits of highly effective people to blogging. While always somewhat sceptic of lists like "the 7 best ways to" and the "top 10 critical success factors of" and the "just do this and you'll be happy and famous too" sort of message they convey, I think Mike says a lot of good stuff in comparing Covey's seven habits with what he has experienced and sees in the blogosphere. A lot of what he says obviously goes a long way to improving dialogues and knowledge sharing as well.
Here's the line up:
This morning I woke up with the first footage of air raids on Iraqs capital city Baghdad coming to the tv-screen. Even though I want to be careful not to make this blog a political forum, it is dedicated to knowledge management and learning after all, I feel the need to make this post and clarify my position. War, once declared, is no thing to be neutral about.
The last weeks, but also the last two years, I had an increasing uneasy feeling concerning the foreign policy style of the USA. That unease started with one little sentence G.W. Bush said whilst declaring war on terrorism: "You're either with us, or with the terrorists." Any leader that thinks in such black and white terms arouses my unease, especially so if that person is the President of the one remaining world power.
So, yes, I too was devastated by the news of 9/11. Yes, I do think the USA have every right to react and defend themselves against such heinous acts. Yes, I too think Saddam Hussein is a dictator everybody would be glad to be rid of. No, I feel no antipathy whatsoever towards the USA nor its citizens. No, I don't begrudge the USA their tremendous economic and military power. In fact I think it is a good thing that there is a super power in this world, if its deeds and morals match that level of power.
When you are in the possesion of tremendous power, you have to be a wise man in wielding it. For all their human flaws and differences of opinion, post war American Presidents have tried to do just that. And I also think that the current American President thinks he's doing that as well. But the break I have witnessed in American foreign policy in the last years seems to point in the opposite direction. And that is what makes me very worried.
MSNBC explains this shift in foreign policy in eloquent detail.
Dialogue is difficult
Last week I wrote about listening as attaching strings to what someone says to you from what you already know and what you think to know. That last part of the statement brings a large caveat on the scene. What if I listen from assumptions that won't bear up under closer scrutiny and am not aware of it? Denham Grey said "it takes two to listen" rightly, even if I only partly agreed with the rest of his comment: you need the other for that closer scrutiny.
In the last few days two examples of how unsupported assumptions can thwart dialogue crossed my mind.
The first example comes from my own experience as an auditor for the QA-system in our company. When doing more in depth evaluations of projects we find that often time is lost when someone works from unsupported (you may notice that I don't use the words wrong or right, because it's not about that) assumptions. Colleague A asks you to participate on a project and briefly describes where you can contribute. And then you assume what it is that you will do and deliver to the project..........without checking back whether your assumptions are in line with colleague A's mental picture. When such an immediate feedback loop is absent, the next feedback moment will be when you show up with the assumed deliverables. Any changes to be made then means doing things all over again, with larger timespending and dito costs as a result. The delivered work in these cases is usually excellent, but not what was called for.
The second example comes from Mamamusings, the weblog of Elizabeth Lane Lawly, where she explores the differences between how more introvert minded people and more extravert ones approach conversation. (For this posting I treat introverts and extraverts as two different species, which they are not of course) In short introverts speak when they're done thinking, and extraverts speak to order and form their thoughts. The intriguing part for me is when she describes how introverts tend to think that all others including extraverts only speak when done thinking, and the other way around extraverts treat the words of introverts as attempts at forming an thoughts, not as the finished product thereof. Now imagine a dialogue between an introvert and an extravert, and watch it go of the tracks. Again in this example the problem lies in unvoiced assumptions.
The obvious solution to this of course is to voice your assumptions so that they may be evaluated, but that's no easy thing for a mere mortal like me.
Dialogue should in essence be aimed at inquiry and learning, at creating shared meaning (even if only temporarily possible) and integrating multiple perspectives. And also uncovering and examining assumptions as demonstrated by the examples.
The difficulty here is that all other aspects of dialogue are content focussed: they deal with what the dialogue is about. The uncovering of assumptions is more like meta-content: it looks at from what background, from what listeners contextuality, you bring the content to the dialogue. That requires assuming two different roles at the same time in a dialogue, one inside the system and one outside it.
Taking up the meta layer of things can be very tiring at times, and also sometimes distracts from the topic at hand. I sometimes have that with blogging: in the last few days I have been blogging on blogging, but shouldn't I be blogging on knowledge management instead. Ok, I've paid tribute to KM by looking at blogging from a knowledge sharing view point, but is that a true connection, or maybe just a pretense? Metablogging looks like a great passtime of many a blogger.
Might the solution of combining both layers of dialogue lie in subtly altering the way you listen in a dialogue? I've described listening as tieing what you hear to your own contextuality. Maybe listening has to include reviewing the responses you get from that contextuality, feelings, intuitive reactions and associations. Listening not as the one-way allocation of input but as interaction. That would make listening the meta-dialogue, the part outside the system, and speaking or storytelling the content part of a dialogue with the results of listening woven in, the part inside the system.
This is something I'm not done with yet, I'll be on the lookout for pointers to source on this. Feel free to point out a few.
The passion of sharing
In an article on the passions that (should) drive blogging, Jim McGee eloquently answers the classical challenge 'people just don't want to share':
Discussions about knowledge management in organizations always raise the issue of sharing with the argument that people will be reluctant to share out of fear that their efforts will be appropriated by others. This is rooted in a industrial product metaphor of knowledge. See knowledge work as craft, however, and the sharing issue dissolves. Craft workers exist to share the fruits of their creating. A true knowledge craft product embodies something of the soul and personality of its creator. You share it with others not so they can copy it but so that they can find inspiration in using it in their own craft.
Blogs and Knowledge Sharing, III
As Lilia picks up a comment by Denham Grey on blogs from KnowledgeBoard, Sebastian Fiedler adds his responses to those points of comment:
At times I think k-logs are hyped by a few evangelists (converted bloggers). If you look closely at the record, things are not all that rosy
If you want to apply Weblogging and personal Webpublishing as a tool for "organizational change" you might want to choose "groups" or "communities" as your unit of analysis. Like Lilia I tend to focus on the (networked) individual, but then my background is psychology and education... so what else would you expect? ;-) Here are my initial comments on Denham's points of critique:
Search Tool Added
Through Lilia Efimova I found Micah Alpern's microblogosphere search tool (go see Micah's weblog).
As a search tool to search my own blog, and the ones I read, was something I already had on my wishlist of improvements for my blog, I've imeddiately added it on the left hand side, directly below the blogroll.
Great work Micah!
Blogs and Knowledge Sharing, II
In yesterdays posting I left three issues open: relationships around blogs, the road of discovery through the blogosphere, and the blogging dialogue.
I will start with both dialogue and the road of discovery. Not only do the stories in my blog describe my road of discovery through listening, but following the dialogue that often results from these stories is a journey of discovery as well, and appeals to the feeling of wonder I had as a 3 yr old when confronted with the world.
Dialogue in the blogosphere is somewhat hidden from the casual observer, especially if this observer is used to e-mail or forums. Responses to my posts seldom come in the form of comments as added to the original posts. Comments usually deal with short messages (Great post!), or impromptu responses that the commenter does not deem appropiate to blog about himself.
Because that is where I'll find the reactions to my posts: in other blogs. And I have to discover these responses for myself.
A whole range of tools helps me do that, my visitor statistics keep track of which sites refer to me, likewise tools like Technorati, Blogdex and the like. That's how I find where I'm quoted. Also my newsaggregator keeps track of blogs I find of interest, and, as I will explain when talking about relationships in the blogosphere, the blogs I find of interest are often the ones that respond to my blog as well. But this is all invisible on my blog!
Responses to my posts get dealt with in the blogs of others where it is incorporated in their stories about how they gave my story a place in their context. And, vice versa, in my blog these responses are only visible if I weave them into my story/blog in turn myself. In this fashion the red thread in any blog is always the evolutionary thinking path of the author, presented in lineair because chronological order, but as twisted curved and looping around as my brain. Dialogues are always a cross-section of a set of blogs at some point in time, thus nicely representing the limited validity of shared meaning I talked about with Denham.
On the face of it, it takes a lot of effort to sustain a dialogue through blogs. But as that effort has the form of a tour of discovery it is also a source of fun and satisfaction to me. Of course extra tools might come in handy in my blog, such as Trackback, and search functionality, when hunting down the conversation. Another bonus is that hunting down references leads to finding new blogs along the way, especially referrer-logs. The blog-roll I have was largely constructed this way.
Now add to this picture the fact that with many of the people I have blog-dialogues with, the discussion spills over into other media, like e-mail, or in the comment sections of KnowledgeBoard.com, and is also added to by other publications of others that pursue other parts of the same or a related discussion with other parties, and sometimes in face to face meetings as well. The effect is a sort of conversational cloud that resembles closely the way dialogues flow between me and my personal friends: we talk on the phone, meet in private, meet in public (bars, theaters, political rallies whatever), we e-mail, write the occasional letter. And even when we haven't met in months we pick up the conversation where we left it off the last time.
Now this is the sort of dialogue, prolonged in time, over many different media, in a dozen different spots, that contributes largely to the evolution of my thoughts. You talk, let it rest for a while, get prodded by a few others, read something in a paper, hear something on the news, and you talk again. There is no way of reconstructing that on-line, let alone in one medium, and I don't want to either. My blog however gives clues to who and what makes up this cloud of conversation around me, and it's the better at it than other media to date.
Like I said before knowledgesharing is a complex thing, chaotic, pseudo-random, a composite of many different 1-to-1 interactions. The blogosphere reflects that, it's a cloud, not a hierarchy or a necessity of consensus on content, like forums, or congresses. There is no centralized push, you experience only push as far as there are pulls within you to accept it. It's not ideal, but it feels comfortable like an well worn coat.
The last point I want to talk about is relationships in the blogosphere. The most astonishing thing in my experience when I started blogging is that by the strength of my ideas and original postings alone, a new social network came into existence. Normally when you meet people, you do that within a general context (this is a colleague of mine, let me introduce you to my golf buddy, etc.) If such a meeting results in a more lasting contact you start exploring eachothers interests and come to the mutual ones. My blog draws attention from people purely on the basis of ideas, and a conversation results. Later on you start filling in the general details, which you would normally get to first. But now you already know you've found someone worthwile, where outside the blogosphere that proof is in the last bite of the pudding, not the first. After four months of blogging, people I've met through my blog I also have met face to face, and they have become part of my wider, general social network as more and more of their own conversational cloud became visible to me.
Furthermore I refer a lot of people I meet face to face to my blog. The consistancy (hopefully) of my web presence in my blog makes a very 'intimate' c.v. and people get to know my professional interests very quickly. Some of them regard showing them my blog as an act of trust, even though my blog is public for all to come see. My blog has become part of the face to face discussions I have with people, and so has become a part of the conversational cloud that was already there. And that is a new effect to me: that both the conversations I have on-line and off-line now feel like taking place in the same contextual space. It was not like that before blogging.
Blogs and Knowledge Sharing
Already in January I promised Denham Grey to write something about blogs as a medium for knowledge sharing. Denham and I seem to have different views of the capacity of blogs in this regard (Read his comment on KnowledgeBoard regarding blogs). Promises are often easy, sometimes even lightly, made, and it is in extremely busy weeks as I have been having recently when others fill my agenda that it proves enormously difficult to keep them. However the time has come to start fulfilling some promises, in an attempt to regain some of my authenticity as John Moore would have it. (Yes John, my promise to you regarding links on trust will be as well).
Blogs and knowledge sharing it is then. In recent weeks both Denham Grey as well as Lilia Efimova and Sebastien Paquet have put their thoughts on this in words.
In the posting before this one, I have described my thoughts on listening as the road to obtaining new knowledge.
Taking this stance on listening as a starting point knowledge sharing is what? Sharing knowledge is where a storyteller recounts a story that is particularly relevant to the listener at this time, otherwise it would fall on deaf ears, and no sharing would take place, only broadcasting. Knowledge sharing takes place in dialogues, wether in real time or not, where all parties take on the role of both story teller and listener. In practice this is not often a clear cut case: I acquire knowledge by listening to different storytellers, with knowledge sharing moments on parts of the eventually obtained knowledge. Knowledge sharing is sort of information bartering.
From any piece of knowledge I cannot describe who shared it with me: it is the resulting amalgam of all information inputs on a certain subject, of listening to multiple storytellers. Sometimes I can name influential sources, sometimes I cannot. Learning is mostly a voyage of discovery, a journey of listening, where only in the end, not along the way, I might have something to say on what brought me to my goal. It is an evolutionary process, with no clear view of what will be the red thread and what will be dead-end sideroads at the start. What can help me along on my road of discovery is relationships, storytellers who can point to other storytellers. This is the bartering part I referred to in the last paragraph. This is certainly no clear lineair picture, but that's just what it is: pretty chaotic and semi-random.
I myself quite like that chaotic aspect, it brings on the wonder and magical feeling of discovery I had when I was a 3 yr old, and the world to me seemed like an enormous place with no end of exciting treasures, hidden just so I could have the pleasure of finding them. I had lost that feeling by the time I was 8, and regained it in my mid twenties. So maybe I'm not the person to talk to about the demystification of learning through sharing. Let me just say that in knowledge sharing I think these factors matter: storytelling, listening, the right moment for listening (see former posting: contextual ripeness), dialogue, and relationships.
What do blogs do for me in this sense?
It's a place where I can tell stories. Stories that originate from me, are packaged in the context of me. However I do not broadcast these stories, since I don't think my blog a broadcasting medium although a blog could well be. Ross Mayfield has some interesting posts on different settings for blogs from broadcasting to private channel. (Blogging Bubbles, Repealing the Power-Law, and especially Distribution of Choice)
My stories are stories I use to accomodate my listening, I recount, and thereby interpret and give a place to what I listened to in my own mental context. By telling these stories publicly I also put the information I can barter you as a listener for in the window. This is not something I can do in a forum, or on a bulletinboard, because there it is not only me that determines the context of my stories. In my blog I do, you can retrace my steps by scrolling down on this page, and see the amalgam of impressions that went into forming my opinion for yourself. I think that is important, more important than the actual outcome, to be able to see the road that led there, and which sideroads were passed. So that I, or someone else can decide that it is time to retrace my steps and turn into the sideroad. I hate minutes from meetings that only say what was decided. I can see that from your actions. I am much more interested in what made you decide: a blog works at making those processes visible. Wikis only make the (collective) product visible in comparison, even if that product is never quite finished (and thus fulfilling David Weinbergers 1998 prediction about the end of doneness).
(For a telling example of how listening is determined by the listeners context see Gary's blog where he also refers to Ross Mayfield's blogs on powerlaws and blog networks, but then to illustrate his musings on emergent democracy and the role of trust. I use the same references in a different context. In both instances the listener determines the value of the story, while Ross's context that made him publish it is probably totally different.)
Places where this story was picked up, and commented on:
Ming the Morpho Mechanic
This text is not finished yet: I need yet to address relationships through blogging, and what the road of discovery and dialogue look like in the blogosphere. Especially because not all of that takes place on the face of the blog.
Listening as the Road to Acquiring Knowledge
Huub Rutten, who is into linguistics, described "listening" to me when we met last November at KM in Europe as "fastening strings on things you already know and then attach them to parts of what someone is telling you.", while moving his fingers from his own forehead (him being the listener) to mine. Please try and visualize this for a sec, while I try to explain why I think this is a powerful picture.
First of all it places the listener at the center of the action, or indeed the conversational universe, and not the storyteller. It is a picture where the storyteller is not pushing information at me, but where I as the listener deliberately pick up parts of the 'audio-stream' (no disrespect to the story teller meant here) based on how it relates to what I already know or think to know. The storyteller is 'merely' a part of my surroundings that is a source of information (again no disrespect meant). This turns around the classic picture of storytelling, where the public is gathered round the campfire hanging on the storyteller's lips, and which features the storyteller as broadcaster and the listeners as passive bystanders.
Second, it demonstrates the contextuality of listening. My listening to you is based on my intellectual and emotional context at the time of listening. (In the same way the context of the storyteller determines the packaging of the story) If my context, my mind, is ripe, I will recognize a good idea if it comes along, and otherwise I will not grasp it (probably to my own loss, but nevertheless).
Now listening to me is a basic part of every interaction with another individual, even if the interaction is not based on verbal language but e.g. body language. My eyes can listen as well as my ears, which probably turns my definition of listening into the interpretation of my surroundings.
Listening, using the above definition even wider namely also in instances where "surroundings" does not entail any other individual or only mediated as when reading texts, is then my only road to acquiring new knowledge. The storyteller, or the environment in general, gives me information, and my listening turns it into personal knowledge, by the act of placing the information into the pre-existing context of my mind.
Summarizing listening has at its core the concepts of action ( I decide the things I pick out of a story), contextuality (only within my personal context does what I listen to gain value) and knowledge acquisition (the value gained from listening).
Now on to the next post where I intend to use this in demonstrating the role of blogs in knowledge sharing.