Updated: 6/20/2007; 10:57:03 PM.

Mathemagenic


on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...
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  Wednesday, June 21, 2006


  4 years of blogging random notes

So, it's 4 years already - feels strange, like looking at university photos and realising that it was a million years ago. Somehow, reading my weblog gives me two totally different feeling. One of progress - things change and grow; another one of standing still - core things are the same...

Anyway... It's feels good to be back to blogging again. Last year was so much about unsettledness, changing and search for balance going in the background that writing faded away. I missed blogging - on some days proudly announcing to Robert in the evening that "I wrote a post". But I also disconnected from it in a good sense - feeling liberated away from blogging, rediscovering independence from daily intake of information bits, from constant feeling of being in a conversation, from dependence on feedback to validate what I think and do...

Today, discussing some of my methodological struggles with a visiting professor I've heard once again "if you believe it should be like that just do it like that". I've heard it so many times during my research, but today I looked at it differently - as far as I'm my own source of doubts the process of looking for confirmations from others will last endlessly.

The world is so multifaceted that there always be places of not fitting in, always a space for an improvement. If you write for a feedback there is always a chance of unhappy readers. Now I'm rediscovering in much broader context what I knew when I started blogging:

write where your heart is and the right audience will find you
do what you believe in and you will end up where you want to be

Simple. Sometimes it takes time to realise that the door is been open :)

More on: blog writing life passion PhD 

  Mangrove effect: the value of making things explicit

Jack Vinson in The value of making things explicit

But in other situations, getting things out in the open or down on paper are just as valuable as direct tacit knowledge transfer via conversation.  Jerry Ash of AOK just told this entertaining story about a state senator:

The senator stood and orated for an hour to an empty chamber.  When asked why he bothered, he responded, "I didn't know what I thought about the issue until I heard what I had to say."

Jerry recounted this story in response to my saying that I wouldn't bother writing this blog if I didn't think anyone was reading. 

In this sense, it is the very act of writing (or speaking) that is the knowledge opportunity.  Writing and drawing are geared around organizing my thoughts and getting them out into the world, so that I can "see" what I am thinking.  This can be in the form of text, mind maps, cocktail napkin drawings, or speaking to a crowd of one.  How many ideas do I have bouncing around in my head that never see the light of day because I don't articulate them in some way?

Which reminds me of a quote that I had saved in my "to blog" folder a year ago and recently rediscovered (Magic Words: How Language Augments Human Computation by Andy Clark):

Baby mangroveIf a tree is seen growing on an island, which do you suppose came first? It is natural (and usually correct) to assume that the island provided the fertile soil in which a lucky seed came to rest. Mangrove forests,{5} however, constitute a revealing exception to this general rule. The Mangrove grows from a floating seed which establishes itself in the water, rooting in shallow mud flats. The seedling sends complex vertical roots through the surface of the water, culminating in what looks to all intents and purposes like a small tree posing on stilts. The complex system of aerial roots, however, soon traps floating soil, weed and debris. After a time, the accumulation of trapped matter forms a small island. As more time passes, the island grows larger and larger. A growing mass of such islands can eventually merge, effectively extending the shoreline out to the trees! Throughout this process, and despite our prior intuitions, it is the land which is progressively built by the trees.

Something like the Mangrove effect, I suspect, is operative in some species of human thought. It is natural to suppose that words are always rooted in the fertile soil of pre-existing thoughts. But sometimes, at least, the influence seems to run in the other direction. A simple example is poetry. In constructing a poem, we do not simply use words to express thoughts. Rather, it is often the properties which of the words (their structure and cadence) which determine the thoughts that the poem comes to express. A similar partial reversal can occur during the construction of complex texts and arguments. By writing down our ideas we generate a trace in a format which opens up a range of new possibilities. We can then inspect and re-inspect the same ideas, coming at them from many different angles and in many different frames of mind. We can hold the original ideas steady so that we may judge them, and safely experiment with subtle alterations. We can store them in ways which allow us to compare and combine them with other complexes of ideas in ways which would quickly defeat the un-augmented imagination. In these ways, and as remarked in the previous section, the real properties of physical text transform the space of possible thoughts.

Don't know how it works for you, but in my case I really become to know what I want to say in a paper only once I sit and struggle on writing - even when I have a detailed outline before starting, writing is always discovering something that was hiding in half-baked thoughts before.

For more on that check Research on how artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation, How artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation (2) and comments to the second one.

And, something else (from August 2002 :) - Uncovering the implicit, on how blogging seem to fit well professions that involve turning implicit into explicit. What is funny, is that then I write about the mangrove effect of blogging, not knowing that it would actually turn into a line of theorethical inquiry later on:

For me, blog is something for articulating ideas. They get some shape once they get out of my brain, and it becomes easier to deal with them. Blog is something for catching those difficult to catch things...


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© Copyright 2002-2007 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

 
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