Wednesday, August 30, 2006
On personal preferences that shape research
A thought from last weekend discussion on differences in personal feelings and strategies in respect to a group pressure (e.g. how do you feel when a group of your close friends decides to do something you don't really enjoy) - personal preferences like this one seem to find a way into work things that are not related at the first sight.
I usually find emotionally difficult to "have good time with nice people regardless of the activity" and need a strong personal reason ("enjoying the activity while having fun with others") to join in. For me integrating in another culture is not easy - not figuring out how it works, but complying to the underlying rules just because it makes life more socially rewarding. I'm not fast in going for a concensus in a work-related discussions and if I do it's usually based on goal-related argumentation rather than grounded in keeping emotional peace in the group. People say I'm stubborn - I prefer to rephrase it into "I don't have a problem of giving up my position, I only need some good arguments to be convinced" :)
Giving all that it should not be surpising that that lots of my research is focused on individual perspective on things at work, as well as on negotiations and interplays between individuals and bigger social forces (groups, communities, organisations) around that. I realised this at the end of the discussion of differences between me and Robert in respect to handing social pressure, when he remarked that our choices for PhD topics say a lot about preferences for it (his PhD is on designing technology to support groups ;)
I wonder if someone did a study on how people choose and shape their PhD topic - given my personal experiences it's hard to believe that this is done based on purely scientific ground of identifying gaps in existing theories... In this respect reflecting on my own choices for doing PhD (topics, methodology, ethics, etc.) has been a great source for understanding myself. May be it's a main reason to do a PhD after all :)))
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Knowledge workers redefined: responsibility and creating value by acting on knowledge
From Taking Responsibility by David Gurteen in Inside Knowledge (via Luis Suarez at ITtoolbox):
The point here is the line, "the ability to act on knowledge is power". So many of us, even when we have the knowledge, fail to act for a whole range of different reasons: it’s not our job; we lack the confidence; we don’t have the resource; we are tied to old habits or we don’t want to stick our necks out and so forth.
This leads me on to my own definition of a knowledge worker: "Knowledge workers are those people who have taken responsibility for their work lives. They continually strive to understand the world about them and modify their work practices and behaviours to better meet their personal and organisational objectives. No one tells them what to do. They do not take 'no' for an answer. They are self motivated."
The key here is about taking responsibility. To my mind knowledge workers cannot be coerced, bribed, manipulated or rewarded and no amount of money or fancy technology will 'incentivise' them to do a better job. Knowledge workers see the benefits of working differently for themselves. They are not 'wage slaves' – they take responsibility for their work and drive improvement.
David formulates in a very nice way the essense of why I'm studying knowledge workers in my PhD. If knowledge workers "cannot be coerced, bribed, manipulated or rewarded" than how do you manage them? Command-and-control methods wouldn't work, "doing a better job" is not easily specified in a job description - so what then?
For me it has been a long way from my initial questions of supporting informal learning to current focus on blogging practices of knowledge workers, but the underlying quest stays the same - how do you "manage" (support, facilitate, steer a bit ;) knowledge worker activities that couldn't be controlled?
Given all that I'm not sure I'd agree with David's definition of knowledge workers as those who take the responsibility. As David himself says earlier there is a number of reasons why the responsibility can not be taken. Also work (at least for those of us not self-employed ;) is a space for negotiations between a person and an organisation. I may like to think that I'm responsible for my work, but how far I actually can "act on knowledge"? Taking full responsibility for your own work means that the other side gives it to you as well, which is not always the case and which is definitely a matter of power exercises.
As a knowledge worker I fight to my freedom to make decisions and shape my own work, but as far as I'm employed by a company (which, I expect will be the case for many others) there are always degrees of freedom (I have a choice within boundaries; of course, I'm also free to push those boundaries, but they do exist and limit my choices ;) and a "responsibility continuum" where responsibilities for shaping the work are shared between knowledge worker and those who pay him.
So, from my perspective David's definition needs refinement: I'd talk about "being prepared/expected to take the responsibility" or "striving for taking the responsibility" rather than just "taking it".
I also wonder if while focusing on the important aspect of the responsibility David lost "knowledge" part of "knowledge workers". How far does he talk about characteristics that make new generations of "workers" different from whose who were there before, rather then "knowledge workers"? What "knowledge" part of the work has to do with taking the responsibility? The connections are implicitly in there (as far as I know from where David comes), but for a good definition they should be clarified a bit more.
Don't think I'm ready to come with a good definition myself, but just a try. Some times ago I defined knowledge worker as someone who creates value by being subjective. May be I should redefine it as:
knowledge worker is someone who creates value by acting on knowledge
And then, to make the connections clear I'd talk about:
- the nature of knowlegde: invisibility and a personal nature of it (subjectivity, always a degree of implicidness, escaping measurement and all other things are here)
- need for taking personal responsibility for acting on knowledge - since it couldn't be fully specified from outside
- and how organisations depend on knowledge workers taking the responsibility for acting on knowledge to get the value of knowledge turned into action
Makes a good outline for a section on knowledge workers for my dissertation :)
Monday, August 28, 2006
Blogging as learning vs. blogging as knowing
I often catch myself with an uneasy feeling when people talk (write) nicely about my weblog and treat me as an expert as a result of what I write here. Of course, it feels nice and rewarding, but it's uneasy: sometimes while writing another "struggling with PhD" or "raw thinking in progress" post I really wonder why I still have all those smart people subscribing to my feed.
It's difficult issue to talk about: I don't want to get compliments or try to be too modest or something like that. It's not that I think that my ideas are worth nothing or that I have nothing interesting to say - I don't think I'm a novice in the areas I write about, but there is something uneasy in putting my own self-image next to how (I think based on the feedback I get) others perceive me.
Last week, while talking about those things between all other topics with Stephanie and Jill I've got one step further, realising that I actually wrote about it before and that I have conceptual categories to think about it. When I worked with Andrea on a book chapter (will post a version online very soon) co-constructing a story of our relationship we discovered exactly the same asymmetry of perceptions:
At the beginning of the relationship Andrea's comments were carefully shaped, indicating respect of Lilia's position ('a proper researcher', not a 'mere student'), experience in blogging and assumed expertise. For Lilia this degree of 'being treated as an expert' felt strange.
Reflecting on this difference we found it useful to distinguish between writing as knowing and writing as learning.
Our experiences with written (especially academic) texts taught us to perceive them as a representation of authority and expertise of their authors: writing on a topic as an indicator of confident knowledge about it. For Andrea reading Lilia’s blog posts about online research shaped an image of her as an expert on the topic; Lilia had the same (but not explicitly expressed) respect for Andrea's knowledge of ethnography.
However, our own self-images did not correspond to these perceptions: we were still exploring the respective fields using weblogs to documenting those learning experiences. Blogging as learning, very formative, uncertain and in-progress was perceived as blogging as knowing – summative and confident.
For me my weblog is a learning diary - things that appear here are pretty much thinking in progress and me-who-writes-this-weblog is a struggling PhD researcher, who has more questions than answers. It seems that me-whom-people-imagine-while-reading is a bit more of an knowledgeable expert, confident enough to present even unfinished ideas to the world. Of course, I'm a bit of both - in offline world I would adopt different roles (identities?) while discussing specific difficulties of data analysis with my mentor or while presenting finished piece of research at a conference.
It's just uneasy and interesting to look how the way (I think) I present myself in my weblog is different from how (I think) others perceive me while reading it - I haven't experienced much of it offline...
Friday, August 25, 2006
Kate Fox on participant observation and hidden rules of English behaviour
Yesterday, while changing planes in Stockholm I picked up a book written by an anthropologist Kate Fox - Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. The fun has started from the introdution on 'anthropology at home' and then continued with study results written up in scientific and humorous way at the same time.
A quote on participant observation (I guess it will end up somewhere in my dissertation :):
Anthropologists are trained to use a research method known as 'participant observation', which is essentially means participating in the life and culture of the people one is studying, to gain a true insider's perspective on their customs and behaviors, while simultaneously observing them as a detached, objective scientist. Well, that's the theory. In practice it often feels rather like that children's game where you try to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
'Don't blog on Fridays': collisions between blogging and work - HUMlab talk
Today at 10:15 (GMT+1) I'm speaking on blogging and work at HUMlab. There is a streaming video and you should be able to Skype in.
One of my broader interests is to understand what happens when emergent technologies (like blogs or wikis) come to a workplace. What happens to passion and lack of central control enabling those tools when they collide with boundaries, rules and business interests of an organization?
During this seminar I present the results of my study of weblogs at Microsoft and focus on the dilemmas faced by a blogger employed by a big company, changes in working practices and relationships because of blogging, as well as the implications of those. I also interlay it with the examples from my own experiences of blogging research to illustrate that many of those dilemmas and changes apply to academic environments as well.
Related: Author-centred vs. topic-centred blogging, details on studying weblogs at Microsoft and relevant blog posts.
Also: I say it in the talk, but it makes sense to put in writing - "don't blog on Fridays" in the title comes from comments by one anonymous reviewer of the paper to be published, who picked it up in the text and suggested that it would make a good title. I agree (as with many other comments that helped to move the work further).
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
As usual I'm bad in real-time coverage of interesting events, so some after-thought notes from DIRN workshop "Interaction in Digital Environments" organised by doctoral student network (Digital Interaction Research Network – DIRN) at Umeå University in Sweden.
Things to think about:
- emergent social norms in online spaces (heavily triggered by "Reconsidering Emergence" talk by TL Taylor; see also notes by Jill and archived video stream)
- blogging and hierarchies: academic examples
- women in academia: role-models and not saying no
- new turn on online research ethics - dealing with risks of studying vulnerable groups
- narrative analysis
- concepts of identity
- Bloom's taxonomy as a way to position research methodologies
- kid's views on Internet uses and dangers (and not what adults think of them)
- (non)uses of technology: over time vs. situational
Apart from meeting interesting people and new insights the workshop had a funny impact of me: I came back much more confident that what and how I do in my PhD actually makes a lot of sense. Sometimes because of getting direct feedback on things, but mainly due to interacting with PhD students who are at much earlier stage in the processs and realising how much I already sorted out (e.g. how focused are my own "not properly focused" research questions ;). I realise now how much looking mainly at accomplished researchers (those whos work I admire) is the source of that "I will never get there" feeling that was hunting me through the summer and how much talking to struggling peers could help to get reassurance that struglling is just a normal part of the process.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Thinking and berries in Umea
I has not been blogging much last week, but this is only because I has been writing :) And, the best thing of it is where and how I has been writing.
I'm in Umea, Sweden, for DIRN workshop, presentation and work/fun with Stephanie. I'm happy I was able to come a few days earlier.
So far it has been almost perfect work-life balance environment. I worked on my own stuff (more productively than in my own office), discussed tons of things with Stephanie (mainly on weblog research, life and baking), enjoyed culture and nature, and all of that with picking and eating lots of berries.
Some time back Aldo wrote about thinking locations - places where you can get away from the pressures of thr urgent to think your big deep thoughts - I was thinking of it while I enjoyed work and fun here in Umea.
The social component is very important, and perhaps one of the unique aspect of such a Deep Thought-network: thinkers need on the one hand to be able to concentrate, focus, and withdraw from the world. On the other hand, they very much need to be able to talk with kindred spirits, preferably people working on their own creative projects.
More on http://thinkingcommunities.wikispaces.com
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
More on technology adoption: wifi bunny
A few weeks back, at Headshift office I saw them for the first time - funny plastic bunnies. It quickly turned into a discussion about peripheral awareness, ambient knowledge and simple devices to help in doing that. I also learned that Robert has been looking at those bunnies for some time and I couldn't find out a better present for his birthday ;)
So, we've got one in the house. It's actually a wifi bunny that can speak (pre-programmed messages or those that you send to it) and give all kinds of signals with lights on his belly and moving ears. It's cute, funny and a really nice creature to have in a leaving room.
I should be back with more in-depth post on why bunny could be important and useful, but now just a funny fact: next day after unpacking the bunny Robert took it to work. He didn't worked that day and two other colleagues have ordered theirs.
I guess technology adoption is driven by fun :)
Monday, August 14, 2006
Author-centred vs. topic-centred blogging
[This is a piece that I wrote a few months back, lost in a file with strange name in one my my computers and recovered today. It's not as far as I want to take it, but I feel like posting it - to see if it makes any sense outside my own thinking].
While trying to organise my own thinking about blogging and work I came up with a distinction (a continuum?) between author-centred blogging and topic-centred blogging.
Author-centred blog is focused on its author or, to be more specific, on the things that its author finds interesting to write about. The identity of the blog is strongly connected to its author: if it's written by someone else it's another blog. It can not be written by an organisation or even a group of people. The authority comes from "unique personal voice" – being authentic and personal.
Topic-centred blog is another beast: topic-related writing is welcome, while the rest is off-topic. In an extreme case, person(s) behind it do not matter that much: its authority comes from being a place with state-of-the-art domain expertise. It could be easily written by a group of people (it is likely to be even better in this case – a group would have more time to cover the domain and could provide complementary perspectives around it).
I suspect that from a business perspective topic-centred weblogs have more immediately visible value. For readers they provide one-point access for getting domain knowledge and meeting likeminded others. They are likely to have a bigger readership than author-centric weblogs (this is a guess!) and they definitely have a niche readership. Both things make them good as a space for e.g. advertising or community-focused business actions.
Since topic-centred blogs are less dependent on personalities they are also easier from a company perspective in a case when blogging is part of its communication strategy. People could come and go, but the weblog would stay. Writing such weblog by a group distributes the load of "being an expert on X" between several people. If necessary, it's easier to align topic-based blogging with whatever business goals or turn it into a line in a job description ("collect and blog news and opinions on X").
Taken to the extreme topic-centred blogs are likely to turn into blog-based publishing, so they stop to be perceived as weblogs (one of my colleagues was very surprised when I suggested that Engadget was a blog ;). They may also lose something what is so appealing in blogs – personal touch. They may turn into "yet another communication channel" for a company... So, for a topic-centred weblog there are reasons to drift a bit away from the extreme and get at least some of the unedited voice and personality of the author-centred weblogs.
I also suspect that many author-centred blogs tend to drift to a set of topics as well. People are likely to have their own hobby-horses, so over time those may become prevailing in a weblog (think of a bloggers around you and it's likely you can name those 'key' topics easily). Bloggers also live in multiple contexts (family, friends, work, hobbies, etc.), that they do not necessary want to meet in one space, and are likely to have a need to address different audiences. So even then a blogger doesn't set specific topical focus her blogging is likely to focus on some contexts and some audiences and not "everything that happens in my life".
I guess it's in the middle between author-centred and topic-centred blogs, where all the fun and the trouble starts. [Now please keep in mind that my research focus is on connections between work and blogging]. An author-centred blog may drift towards the topics that its author has to deal with at work. If the author is good, the blog is likely to get topic-specific audience that could bring fruits valuable for his work (e.g. new insights, new contacts, new contracts). It's tempting for the author to bring those at his workplace to achieve better work results. Once his company recognised those it could be tempting for it to get a bit more control over the weblog to get even more benefits. This "control" doesn't have to be strict; it could take a form of asking a blogger to announce certain company events on his blog (not much different from asking to send conference announcements through your professional network). It could take a form of recognising blogging as a valuable activity that is "allowed" to take a bit of the work hours or to have a legitimate place in end of the year appraisal. Those things do not take the blog away from its author, but they do shape to a degree what and how is blogged.
From another side, even if recognised, blogging in this way will probably still be heavily author-centred – change the author and the added value of a weblog is lost. Author-centred weblog requires a lot of personal investment and passion and becomes strongly tied to its author. I guess the feeling of ownership is much stronger in this case ("my blog is my own space to do things"), as well as ties between a weblog and own identity online ("my blog is my online identity"). The communities formed around an author-centred blog are likely to depend more on the connections of blog-readers with the blogger personality than the topics she covers (think of blog-centric blog communities in Nancy's typology). In this case, the life of an author-centred weblog is heavily tied to its author, and those connections are personal, fuzzy, emotional – hard to grasp, to explain and to measure.
So, what happens when an author-centred, author-driven and author-dependend weblog on work-related topics becomes recognised, valued and supported by the company that pays the author to work on those topics? The weblog turns into a middlespace for negotiations and interplay of powers - those of a person and of an organisation...
Saturday, August 12, 2006
When others connect your online dots or More on familyskyping
This time I check my referrers at Technorati (via Bloglines subscription) to my familyskyping post it feels creepy.
There is nothing there that is not online, so why feeling creepy?
The details that I usually choose not to make instanly visible are made visible in one post. It also goes across online spaces, linking my story about using Skype in the family to my wedding photos on Flickr.
This is the first time I see the weblog that links to me and it's scary how someone "I have no idea who he is" went to collect all that details to put them in one place. I would feel totally different if it would be someone I recognise as a regular reader of my weblog.
I wonder how Robert would react to it. Not only I blogged about his communication with my mom, but now the whole story is at some strange website accompanied by our wedding photo.
Of course, things are not that scary. Very fast I figure out that the post was actually syndicated from Skype journal that I know well and that the original was written by Phil Wolff and starts from "A friend of mine, metablogger and social media scholar Lilia Efimova" invisible in the Technorati quote. And I talk to Robert - he doesn't mind...
I feel much better now - the context Phil provides makes a lot of sense for a reader not reading my weblog, I'm not surprised that he knew all those details and I actually like how he cropped my photo for the post :)
What is still strange is how much my feeling of creepy or not with my personal online dots connected in one place depends on the context: who connects the dots, why and how...
And a side note. Phil says:
Note the Skype infection spreading through the family vector. Not just within her household (Lilia to Robert, I think) but also across households, to her mother. Someday genealogists will be mining Skype social networks to discover family ties.
Phil's assumption of Robert picking up Skype from me actually made Robert more unhappy than any of the personal things revealed online :) So, I have to say that this is not true (both of us used SKype before getting together) and that in general Robert is pretty much the same early adopter as I am (actually, he has more gadgets than me, I just blog more :), so all ideas of who might be the first in the family are likely to be wrong.
Also - Phil has a really bunch of interesting ideas about framing Skype for the workplace and an on-going quest for Knowledge Management selection criteria for Skype.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
GTD tools: SlimTimer
The second of my recently found GTD tools is SlimTimer (via Alex Halavais).
Purpose: web-based time-tracking and reporting
- add and edit tasks, task tagging
- easy timer to start/stop a task
- all kinds of reports on time spent
- sharing reporting (also per tag) with others
Why I like it
Everyone says that proper time management starts from tracking how you spend your time. The way it worked for me was on paper (I'm so paper based with those things :) - just list with tasks list, start and finish time and a column for main projects/types of tasks I was interested to record. Was useful, but didn't last long since calculating overall time spent on things was quite a but of manual work.
Now I have something easy - one click and it's starts ticking, another one and it stops. Easy to use even when I switch every few minutes. Also good to start before going to a meeting. It took a bit of installation (I use Windows tray option).
Caveats: It works for me since I don't have many offline tasks. Those I have are bigger chunks of time easily attributed to a project and recorded as an appointment in my schedule. I deal with those in several ways: manually add them to have an accurate estimate in the report or just ignore them (since I'm more interested where the time in front of the computer goes and I look at the records in my schedule anyway for official work time reporting).
Tricks - don't have many yet, except of one:
- If you are as stupid as me and can't figure how to start the timing a task - click on the name of the task itself and not on the checkmark on the left (that one completes the task).
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
GTD tools: RememberTheMilk
Recently I discovered a couple of tools that made my "organising myself" work much easier. Thought it could be worth sharing.
The first one is Remember the milk, recommended by Aldo
Purpose: web-based task management
- add and check-out tasks
- organise tasks in groups (called lists)
- share tasks with other users
- set-up and retrieve by: list, priority, due date, tag and lots of other parameters
- set-up notifications (by email, IM, SMS), calendar integration, RSS
Why I like it:
I was never able to get along with a computer-based task management system. What actually worked for me was a list of paper on my desk where I'd add tasks big and small as soon as they come to my mind, put colored dots for those most important, cross as done and rewrite the list as soon as I needed space or too much was crossed. It wasn't the optimal solution: too much work to rewrite the whole thing and no easy way to remember those personal tasks in the list that I actually had to do at home. When going away from my desk for work I'd write a little post-it with "active to-dos" and stick it to the folder with "active paper" that I usually have with me anyway.
Now I have one place with all my tasks (including: "select and put online wedding photos" ;) that I can access when I need, update easily and event print. I don't use any of the notifications, instead I look in the list at the beginning of the day, at the moments when I'm deciding what to do next and before I go shopping.
Caveats - it fits my lifestyle: no paper agenda (because I'll forget it anyway), online access at home and at work, not that much time offline and being happy with not having access to my task list 100% time.
There are a few tricks that make life easier (and pretty annoying without them)
- Keyboard shortcuts: the most important is 'm' for switching on/off editing multiple tasks, learning others helps as well (it says Learn keyboard shortcuts and it actually important since life is miserable with lots of clicking if you are not using them)
- Breaking tasks into separate lists (e.g. 'personal' and 'work' or more detailed) helps to keep a group-level overview, but then you miss higher-level picture. I was missing two lists: all active tasks and all "due today or overdue" tasks. Both could be created by smart lists:
- all active tasks - search for status:incomplete and then save the search results
- all "to do now" tasks - dueBefore:today OR due:today and then save the search results (thanks to Emily from the project team for suggesting in email)
Things that don't make me happy
- occasional glitches (forgivable: free beta product that works most of the times)
- Dutch interface unless I login and it retrieves my priorities for English (I always find it annoying when whatever web-site assumes my language given my IP-address and doesn't have an option to change it easily)