Monday, January 7, 2013
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I love to learn. I love to recognize the gaps in my knowledge and then methodically fill in the gaps. I love to learn and understand new concepts; to learn new words, or new terms that help me fill in the blanks. I love to understand how things work. I mean the mechanics behind obvious processes. How does one actually run a Starbucks or make a leather belt? I love it all really, and that is a good thing since I must learn new things to survive and thrive in Information Technology.
It is a competitive world, and to compete we must learn new skills. We must become better in 2013 than we were in 2012. I consider it an imperative. We must learn, or the world will pass us by. The problem is that learning, especially learning focused on acquiring specific skills, is daunting and often too hard to accomplish without a detailed plan, support and tools.
I have a tool for this. I use a learning journal. I’ve done so for 20 years. My learning journal is a simple notebook. I buy a new one each year. In my mind’s eye it is like the notebook kept by Indian Jones’ father from the Last Crusade. Full of archaic knowledge and fantastically drawn pictures. In reality, it is a humbling list of things I don’t know. Here are a few entries from last week.
- What does the work NADIR mean? How would I use it in a sentence. How many definitions are there?
- What is the exact definition of the Paleo diet? How is it different from the low-carb diet?
- How does an EDI ASM work? Does it require a return transaction? What business processes do it support?
- Why do I keep losing admin rights on my PC?
- What communication technique is best used to deliver employee feedback?
- Is it possible to write code that allows a user to make limited mass changes to a table in MANMAN?
- Why is it that technical skill development is not part of our yearly development goals?
- I must learn to use Adobe Lightroom’s book feature. Make a sample book.
- I must learn to use a flash diffuser properly.
- What is Tweetbot and how is it different than Tweetdeck?
There are 15 more items on the list. Some are complex while some are simple. The magic of my process comes next. I use my notes to systematically plan and execute what I need to learn. Take the word NADIR for example. I allocated time yesterday to look up the word and then recorded its definitions in my learning journal.
1. Astronomy . the point on the celestial sphere directly beneath a given position or observer and diametrically opposite the zenith.
2. Astrology . the point of a horoscope opposite the midheaven: the cusp of the fourth house.
3. the lowest point; point of greatest adversity or despair.
I took some time to learn the astronomy definition. I had to use a visual tool and mnemonic because I could not visualize the concept. I skipped a deep understanding of the astrology term, to focus on the third definition. And with that I had what I was looking for. A new word and an understanding of its use. How did I not know this?
Of course, being who I am, I needed to learn how the word is used by others, so I used Google’s Ngram Viewer to search the corpus. The results show the word entered use between 1744 and 1759 and then went on to see limited use through today. It picked up use in 1742 because of the publication of The history of Nadir Shah: Formerly called the Thamas Kuli Khan, the Present Emperor of Persia. I added the book to my to read list and moved on. Of course, all of this went into my journal.
I have a regular process that focuses my attention on learning follow-up. It do it each Friday. I allocate an hour to review my journal and identify short and long-term learning goals. The short list goes on an index card for action at my next opportunity, the long-term items become small projects, like my four-month long effort (so far) to learn Spanish. This process works for me. I manage to learn a huge number of new things by design each year.
I recently started experimenting with moving my journal online using a internal wiki called Traction TeamPage. Access is limited to my team. I’m sharing what I don’t know and asking for help acquiring new knowledge. My goal is to look for new ways to learn via online social interaction and collaboration. The concept is simple. Out your own ignorance, ask for help, and publish what you learn. It is a work-in-progress and one of my many team development goals for 2013. I’ll post more on this as the year goes by.
One story – My first foray into self-disclosed ignorance resulted in my team either answering my questions outright, pointing me towards help files they had created in Traction TeamPage, or, they pitched in to help me learn. I learned Tweetbot through a discovery session with an employee who had mastered the software on his own. It was a wonderful experience, as learning should be. The most interesting aspect of my move toward socially interactive learning is that I had never incorporated others into my learning process. I would have leaned Tweetbot on my own without the benefit and insight of an experienced and enthusiastic user. It's like a learning power up. I went on to spend a hour with Tweetbot on my own, and now I can confidently say that I have it mastered. That is what lifelong learning is all about… ignorance, leaning and mastery.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
There. I've said it. I don't get the Pomodoro Technique. Does that mean I am uncool or not part of the "in crowd". I so love being part of the "in crowd". The basic principle of the Pomodoro Technique is based on time management using 25-minutes segments. Wikipedia says..
There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:
- decide on the task to be done
- set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
- work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
- take a short break (3-5 minutes)
- every four "pomodoros" take a longer break (15–30 minutes)
I remember back in the 80s when this fad hit originally the business world. I went to a day-long seminar taught by a famous productivity guru. I remember thinking that the idea seemed too simple to be useful. I was stunned to have somebody suggest it to me as a means for managing my daily mess just the other day. The simplistic nature of the technique did not work for me in the pre-computer days of yore, the technique would die in a hail of gunfire under my current unending load of email, meetings, and project management assignments. My life is to complex for a simple solution, even though I use simple solutions to solve my productivity problems today. I'm still an 4x6 index card man at heart.
I am a firm believer in one aspect of the Pomodoro Technique. I work to eliminate all distractions from my workplace so that I can focus on what I am doing. I allow no email, no open door, no internet, and no IM. I just work and then move on to the next task. If something is distracting me, I turn it off. This is the main reason why I use two computers (well, three actually). My main computer is for work. I do not use it for email, web surfing, or anything distracting. If I open email, I use it for reference only. Computer two is my work laptop. It is communication central. I communicate with others via email, IM and video conferencing when not working on a task. I can shut the lid on the laptop and thereby shut out the world, which allows me to focus on real work. Computer three is my trusty Mac Book Pro. I use it for creative endeavors, private communications, and blogging. I rarely open it at work unless I am working a photography or graphic arts project.
True story - while taking a break at work today to write this post, I was interrupted to take photos of three people for a rebadging project. I really should have closed my door.
As for 25 minutes segments… That's not for me either. I figure out what is urgent/important during my daily planning session. When the first item is complete, I reassess my list of next actions, and then move on to the next task. One task may take 5 minutes, while the next takes two hours. Fitting my workload into 25-minutes chunks is just as impossible now as it was back in the 80s. I will add one thing here though. I use a timer set for every two hours to remind me to get up and take a walk. I try to take three 15-minute walks a day, not counting lunch. It really helps my tired old legs and clears my head for the next round of work.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
- Better innovation (cross pollination of ideas, etc)
- Increased sales (leverage customer relationships, cross selling, etc)
- Improved operations ("best practice" sharing, operational excellence)
- Not invented here
There is a fascinating quote when talking about the Transfer barrier, and the huge but poorly understood place of tacit knowledge in organizations. Fernand Point, quoted from his book Ma Gastronomie:
"What is a béarnaise sauce? An egg yolk, some shallots, some tarragon. But believe me, it takes years of practice for the results to be perfect." (p61)Which is why "best" practices are so hard to transfer. Context matters. Local conditions matter. All of the unwritten and unsaid and unmeasured things in the best practice matter at least as much as the flowcharts and checklists and procedures.
Overcoming the barriers has nothing to do with better software, even if that's what many would have you believe. In fact, Hansen mentions software only in passing, and usually to illustrate a case detailing an unused "repository" where knowledge went to die.
I read and re-read his exploration of unification, T-shaped managers, and nimble networks as tools to enhance collaboration and overcome the barriers. This is practical, actionable advice and you don't need the latest version of an overhyped, underused social collaboration technology to implement them.
Even if you are not a leader, I believe that there are things that you can do NOW to enhance collaboration in your organization:
- Read the book. Give copies to your manager and your colleagues. Recommend it as a learning/development opportunity and maybe your company will pay for a few copies. It can't hurt to ask.
- Work more openly to reduce the search barrier. Publish to as wide an audience as possible, link to information sources, etc. Encourage others to do so.
- Ask someone outside of your formal hierarchy for help. Look outside of your little world for solutions to problems and show that even if it's not invented here it can work. Publicize that solution, show where you found it, and thank those who contributed.
Happy collaborating, everyone. Thanks for your time.