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Month: February 2010

Haiti: where is social media in disaster response?

Social media in disaster response

Yes, where were we?  Social media was in Iran .  .  .   but not Haiti.  Or did I miss something?

This week, I listened to a very good “post mortem” on our response to the earthquake in Haiti.  A surgeon had mobilized an entire team, got funding for a plane and then discovered the realities on the ground.  First, they were diverted to the Dominican Republic. Then they found conditions in Haiti very different to what they imagined.

These were my three takeaways.

#1  Western professionals are very accustomed to have a system around them that they forget that someone has to organize the lights, the water, the diesel, the cleaning.  In other word, the system in the west has become so taken for granted that it is invisible.

#2 The doctors lamented that no one seemed to take charge and coordinate.  There seemed not even to be a map (though there might have been) to help first responders see where different services were located.  It’s not enough for us to each take the initiative, even if our initiative is breathtaking in its brilliance.  We must have a way of coordinating ourselves.

#3  The doctors didn’t mention social media.  It is likely that cell phone towers were destroyed by the quake. But where was the social media response?  Don’t we have the capacity to move in with temporary towers?  What kind of dashboards are up-and-ready to go?  Do the Red Cross, UN and Medicins sans Frontiers, etc have social media packages ready to roll?

Does anyone know?  Who is working on social media in disaster response?

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Thinking out my 2 steps for building early stage forums

Get specific help fast on the internet

Ask specific questions on Linkedin

A long time ago, I asked a very specific question on Linkedin.  “How do we find a ship at sea?”

Through the weekend, insurance professionals and ship’s captains coached me on how to deal with Lloyds, how to track the vessel’s responders, and even how to detect illegal changes in a ship’s registration number.  It was great.  Real experts stepped up and coached me on important details.

Present the pertinent facts to fellow experts on Stackoverflow

Other examples of great information exchange also take place on the internet.  Stackoverflow is a forum where computer professionals also pose specific questions usually as a short paragraph stating what happened and what they have already tried.   Members give each other advice and rate both the answers and the questions.

Stackoverflow platform and other communties

Stackoverflow is rather a famous forum because it works.  Late last year, they released their code as a white label so that other communities can use it as platform for their specialist forums.

Stackoverflow rarely works as well though for other communities though.  This seems to be the reasons why forums “fail”.

3 reasons for “forum fail”

#1  People come to “chat” rather than to ask questions.   Their goal is to punt for clients or to gain some kind of nebulous networking status.

#2  The situations are not “important”.  The only person who benefits from the answer to the question is the asker (if they even asked a genuine question).

#3  The situations are not “hard”.  The situations are ambiguous and uncertain, to be sure.  But they ae not “hard”.  “Hard” situations involved double or treble loop.  The basic question in a “hard” situation is “Is it me or should it be this hard to do?”  Forums do not do so well on triple loop learning where we are asking how, how hard AND whether it is important.

3 guides for “winning forums”

To turn these problems around, forums might succeed when

#1 There are genuinely “important” problems.  That is, there is something I must do to to help a customer.

When I am in IT and I am trying to get IT running to support an entire organization, that is important.  Figuring out how to please my professor, on the other hand  is not “important”.  It has not importance outside of itself.

#2  The situations are “hard”.   That is, it is hard to tell if we are making a mistake or if the solution is not possible.  In these conditions, a expert coach helps our learning curve enormously.

Stackoveflow asks its members to ask questions that can be answered rather than “discussed”.  Most forums are dominated by questions that are broad and vague, or, they are not specific about what the asked is trying to achieve and what they have tried so far.

#3  A community of expertise already in exists.  A community of people have very similar problems to solve and shared ways of attempting solutions.

Far too often, questions on forums require a thorough audit of context, resources and skills.  That is, they require intervention of a professional to ask what is required here, what resources do we have and what skills do we have.  On Stackoverflow, professionals are speaking to each other, and the learning task is to cope with double loop learning (and render it single loop by providing help, coaching and support).

Thought experiments about forums that work and forums that don’t work

To test this trio of criteria, I’ve thought up a two forums and used the criteria to think about when and how the forums would work

A cooking forum

# 1 Importance

I am cooking for someone else.  I want to them to enjoy their meal.

#2  Hard

I can search endlessly for the “right” recipe with locally available ingredients.  Or, I can take directions from someone who has already located available ingredients and isolated what can be done with them.

#3  Community

There are other people who cook for similar social situations with similar ingredients.  I have lived in communities who don’t put a high premium on cooking well.  Cooking has a limited range of ingredients and skill, and quantity is more important than quality.   In these communities, there is no call for a cooking forum.  Equally, in a large city with many single people, there may be call for a community interested in the best places to get good food.   It is simply not cost effective (or pleasurable) to cook pizza, English breakfast, dim sum, and so on for one person in a tiny apartment.

A forum for professional psychologists

#1 Importance

Do we have a common understanding of our customers?  Clincial and educational psychologists might have a common understanding, but do we in work & organizational psychology?  Do HR managers have a common understanding of their customers?  Hmm . .

#2 Hard

In my experience of small groups of work & organizational psychologists who trust each other, “hard” questions usually hinge on engaging the customer.   In groups who do not trust each other, technical questions are usually a proxy for the question – how do I frame the issues for these customers (who I shall not name either because I don’t trust you or because I am embarrassed by my lack of know how.)

#3 Community

Is there a community of work & organizational psychologists who are commited to this project of understanding their customers.  Or are we, like my cooking community, who only worried about eating more?    Are we competing with each other rather than collaborating on the common project of solving problems that are important and hard?

How to develop a community before we launch a forum

So what do we do when it seems that our forum sucks because we don’t have a community?

# [Hard] Answer our own questions.  Write a blog?  Writing clarifies thinking – it does for me, anyway.  That is what I am doing now.

# [Important] Clarify the social situation of our question, at least for ourselves.  For example, single well-off people in a big city don’t want to cook.  But they do want to eat well.  We can write about what they want to know, which is where reasonably priced food is exquisite. Work & organizational psychologists don’t know much about their customers.  So write about customers and concerns from the customers’ point of view being quite clear which elements of psychology were useful to them (and which were not)?

# [Community] In a previous incarnation, I was able to use institutional means to develop a professional community.  We developed programmes.  We developed alliances.  We arrange mutual continuing education by doing a ‘stretch’ project together each year.  We collaborated to create face-to-face sessions that linked noobes to experts, noobes to noobes, and experts to experts.

When we don’t have institutional resources at our disposal, we can use the internet to put ourselves out there.  Web2.0 facilties like blogs, Slideshare Linkedin, Twitter, Yahoo Upcoming and Dopplr help people find us.  So do contact forms on our websites and blog technologies that allow people to comment directly onto our website pages.  The apex of “2.0”, I think, is aranging meetups and hackdays to bring people together to develop mutual projects.  Well that was our mutual annual CPD project – those were fun days.

I haven’t seen many stories of people who have developed communities from scratch.  It is improbable anyway.  Because we must share an “important” concern and believe it is so “important” that we will help each other to navigate “hard”.  So we are looking at latent communities.

  • Step 1.  Begin with the customer who we don’t serve well, perhaps.  Not the customer who is a cash cow.  But the customer who needs something done and whose lives would be so much better if it were done.
  • Step 2. Then use Web2.0 technologies to allow people who are searching for answers to find you.

And document it!  We need more stories.


Build the roads to bring people to you.  Host the conversation, in other words, but don’t expect the success of Stackoverflow at the outset.

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Ah, yes. A sigh of relief with a modern version of Kipling’s IF

A sigh of relief

Do you sigh and feel relaxed & in tune with the world when you read this modern version of Kipling’s IF?  Words do matter.


Yes, I can keep my head when all about me

Are losing theirs and blaming it on me;

Yes, I can trust myself when all men doubt me,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

Yes, I can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

Yes, I can dream—and not make dreams my master;

Yes, I can think—and not make thoughts my aim,

Yes, I can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same:

Yes, I can bear to hear the truth I’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things I gave my life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

Yes, I can make one heap of all my winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at my beginnings

And never breathe a word about my loss:

Yes, I can force my heart and nerve and sinew

To serve my turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in me

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

Yes, I can talk with crowds and keep my virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

Neither foes nor loving friends can hurt me,

And all men count with me, but none too much:

And I will fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

For I am a Man

And I wish it so.

Such is the Mandate of my Will.-

I found this poem via Stumble here. I am not sure of the copyright.  Do tell me if I should add an acknowledgment, etc., etc.

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Pondering gratitude diaries with a Sufi poem

Pondering gratitude diaries

Possibly, reading the words of Sufi poet, Rumi., will help us understand a “gratitude diary.”   We could interpret “the wonders that exist in me” as something to brag about, or proclaim, in self-congratulation.  We could also interpret “wonders that exist in me” as the good things in the universe that are “in me and my life.”

To be or not to be

Is not my dilemma.

To break away from both worlds is not bravery.

To be unaware of the wonders

That exist in me,


Is real madness!


When we are adolescents, we are obsessed with recognition.  Our unsatisfied need to be taken seriously is often translated as a search for ‘self’.  For people obsessed with ‘self, ‘ME’ would scream off the page.  But adolescents want RECOGNITION.  They want to understand their relationship with the universe.

Possibly, that’s how gratitude diaries work.  We catalog our relationship with the universe.

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Only this time, let the world look at you. I assure you, the world will like what it sees.

Why have managers ignored the poets for so long?

Contemporary English poet David Whyte

David Whyte uses contemporary language to talk about the essential ontological question of management, work, organizations and successful business.

When he takes his ball home, the universe takes its ball home too .  .  .

Far too often, our remedies for this world involve sulking.  Like an aggrieved child in a playground, we pick up our ball and go home.  We don’t address the lack of respect that sent us into a spin.

Persian poet, Khalil Gibran

Poets through the ages tell us that we find meaning and satisfaction through action, not inaction.  Through engagement, not withdrawal.

Yesterday, I posted an excerpt on self-knowledge from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  He says it too.

We don’t find our bliss by staying in.  We find our bliss by setting out on a path.  And on that path we don’t meet our soul.  We meet the soul.

It also matters little which path we follow.  Many lead paths to the soul. What matters is that we travel the path.  What matters is that we set out. What matters is that we adventure a path.

We will recognize the soul on the way because it will recognize us.  And we recognize ourselves, we acquire self-knowledge, when the soul says good day.

Goodbye Mr Chips

Similar lines were said in the iconic movie, Goodbye Mr Chips, by the German teacher to the gawky, awkward Englishman.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Only this time, let the world look at you.  I assure you, the world will like what it sees.

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Which path did you walk today to meet up with the soul?

Self-Knowledge XVII

And a man said, “Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.”

And he answered, saying:

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always know in thought.

You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.

And it is well you should.

The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;

And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.

But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;

And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.

For self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”

Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”

For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.

The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

Khalil Gibran


Work in the next 10 years and emergence


I am tidying up and I glanced through a notebook from 2 years ago. I was utterly fascinated by ‘emergence’, the phenomenon where a flock of birds, for example, emerges from simple behaviour of birds.   With three very simple rules – join the flock, keep up and keep a respectable “stopping distance” – birds individually, and probably without thought, create a flock that looks as if someone did think it up.

Emergence, business & management

We are fascinated with “emergence” in a business context because a naturally-forming flock undermines the idea of the all knowing and ominiscent leader.  The planning, leading, organizing & controlling management theory of Fayol goes ‘for a loop’.

At first, I was puzzled that university departments hadn’t taken up this idea more vigorouosly, and more practically.

Including emergence in the theory of management

Two years on, I’ve found my thinking has drifted.  Yes, it is certainly true that the role of managers is probably exaggerated (with their pay).  But the project of changing management is unnecessary.  Overmanaged firms will self-destruct, possibly at great cost to themselves and others, simply because managers have to be paid for and management that is not necessary simply makes a firm unweildy, inefficient and unprofitable.

The real issue is where our better understanding of organization is emerging in business.  The best example that is written up is the motorcycle industry of China. The best example where an industry is trying to use similar processes is the aerospace industry in UK and the production of the Boeing 787.

Moving along to understanding emergence in business

The challenge now is to understand the variations of self-organizing networks.

I think, perhaps, the basic principle is that emergence, by definition, is not willed.

  • We can prevent it happening.
  • We can illustrate the principle.

But in real life, the probably the best we can do is create conditions for it to happen.  What are those conditions?

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Wow, you got to read this poem. Aloud.

Bookmark this post and come back when you have five minutes and read this poem aloud.  It is a poem for our age.

Then when you are done, get your second wow and go over the Huff Post and see where it is was read and why.   You will be saying wow, really loud.

Say Yes

when two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound the note
if this is your definition of hope
this is for you
the ones who know how powerful we are
who know we can sound the music in the people around us
simply by playing our own strings
for the ones who sing life into broken wings
open their chests and offer their breath
as wind on a still day when nothing seems to be moving
spare those intent on proving god is dead
for you when your fingers are red
from clutching your heart
so it will beat faster
for the time you mastered the art of giving yourself for the sake of someone else
for the ones who have felt what it is to crush the lies
and lift truth so high the steeples bow to the sky
this is for you
this is also for the people who wake early to watch flowers bloom
who notice the moon at noon on a day when the world
has slapped them in the face with its lack of light
for the mothers who feed their children first
and thirst for nothing when they’re full

this is for women
and for the men who taught me only women bleed with the moon
but there are men who cry when women bleed
men who bleed from women’s wounds
and this is for that moon
on the nights she seems hung by a noose
for the people who cut her loose
and for the people still waiting for the rope to burn
about to learn they have scissors in their hands

this is for the man who showed me
the hardest thing about having nothing
is having nothing to give
who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away
so this is for the day we’ll quit or jobs and work for something real
we’ll feel for sunshine in the shadows
look for sunrays in the shade
this is for the people who rattle the cage that slave wage built
and for the ones who didn’t know the filth until tonight
but right now are beginning songs that sound something like
people turning their porch lights on and calling the homeless back home

this is for all the shit we own
and for the day we’ll learn how much we have
when we learn to give that shit away
this is for doubt becoming faith
for falling from grace and climbing back up
for trading our silver platters for something that matters
like the gold that shines from our hands when we hold each other

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree
where the fruit would grow to laugh
for the ones who know the math of war
has always been subtraction
so they live like an action of addition
for you when you give like every star is wishing on you
and for the people still wishing on stars
this is for you too

this is for the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn’t have to
for the time you taught a 14 year old girl she was powerful
this is for the time you taught a 14 year old boy he was beautiful
for the radical anarchist asking a republican to dance
cause what’s the chance of everyone moving from right to left
if the only moves they see are NBC and CBS
this is for the no becoming yes
for scars becoming breath
for saying i love you to people who will never say it to us
for scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine
for the dime you gave away when you didn’t have a penny
for the many beautiful things we do
for every song we’ve ever sung
for refusing to believe in miracles
because miracles are the impossible coming true
and everything is possible

this is for the possibility that guides us
and for the possibilities still waiting to sing
and spread their wings inside us
cause tonight saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that whatever song we’ve been singing we sing even more
the world needs us right now more than it ever has before
pull all your strings
play every chord
if you’re writing letters to the prisoners
start tearing down the bars
if you’re handing our flashlights in the dark
start handing our stars
never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart
play loud
play like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken
and you’re their last chance for sun
play like there’s no time for hoping brighter days will come
play like the apocalypse is only 4…3…2
but you have a drum in your chest that could save us
you have a song like a breath that could raise us
like the sunrise into a dark sky that cries to be blue
play like you know we won’t survive if you don’t
but we will if you do
play like saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that we give every single breath
this is for saying-yes

this is for saying-yes

Poem by activist poet Andrea Gibson


4 tips for finding work that will still be here in 10 years’ time

And after Toyota we have ?

The time has come when management is making one its momentus periodic shifts in thought.  The textbooks might take a little time to catch up.  Most university textbooks don’t do Toyota yet.  And after all, as we all know, Toyota is passed its zenith.  But as ever, the world moves on, and we learn from engine-makers and manufacturers.

This time it is Chinese motorcycles. How do they make them quite so cheap?

Chinese process networks & local modularization

I have been looking for good references to understand the phenonmenon of “local modularization”.   At last, I have found a good paper the motor cycle industry in Chongqing where this practice emerged. It is a pdf document presented at Davos 2006 by Hagel & Brown who are now part of Deloittes.

Working tips for finding work that will still be here in 10 years’ time

As ever, I’ve made a working checklist for my own good.  I imagine it might have been superceded by know, though. 3 years is a long time in today’s management practice.

Think supply chain not assembly line

The key to this thinking is ‘supply chain’ not the assembly line.  Now there are specialized master’s degrees in supply chain & logistics.  It is a serious business.  I have a very amateur take of what we can learn generally about where business is going but this is what I make of it.

#1  Pull vs push

Look for networks where people are asking you to do things.  Avoid networks and people are trying to ‘push’ services and products (spam you in other words).  You are looking for networks that are based on people putting up their hands and calling “I need  .  .”  You can go back to them saying “I can do X at this price.” Then neither you nor them have to say “Please buy . . .” and waste time and money on marketing. I haven’t seen any writing, other than a reference that I’ve listed below, on how networks make the change from push to pull.  Please tell me if you have!

#2  Change the game to give you and your partner permanent competitive advantage

Outsource strategically rather than tactically.  That is, form an alliance that changes the game.  Don’t just buy in finished goods.  A strategic alliance

  • Shares the goal setting with the outsourcing partner.
  • Expands the pie.
  • Deepens capability (and know how)
  • Is a long term relationship.

When you are calling for assistance, begin with the long term relationship.  Have a discussion about your long term goal.  The British aerospace industry have a cracking questionnaire on the questions to ask.  It’s worth a look.

#3  Talk long term but go with whomever delivers

At the same time, be loosely coupled.  Don’t try to specify the entire process or lock people in.  It’s a scary thought at first but every person and every supplier is redundant.  That is the natue of pull systems. Utterly redundant.

This feature may seem sem to contradict the second point and this is how the contradiction is resolved.  A long term relationship comes from discussing the long term goal.  In the past, one person specified the goal and others had to fall in in lockstep.  Now long term goals are jointly agreed but if a partner doesn’t deliver, the network simply closes over, just like the internet, and moves on.  The ‘self-healing’ of networks, ruthless as it is, is the biggest guarantee of quality (and also a worry for people who study exploitation).

#4  Go for good company rather than total dominance

Choose networks where you are one specialist link in a network rather than a dominant player.  You don’t need to dominate the network; you need a good network.  And good networks are full of people at the top of their game where the network, not just the members, gets better every day.

The British aerospace industy even have a programme to switch the whole industry over to strategically thought out relationships which though not quite pull, go in that direction.  I can imagine this point worrying people.  Certainly I would like to see work on how we protect ourselves from people who do try to dominate the network.

Moving from old styles of business to new

Hagel and Brown also gave me this checklist for managing our futures strategically.  It might be sufficient to answer my two unanswered questions.  How do we make the shift and how do we protect ourselves from ‘powerful pirates’?

  1. Where can we see the future?  Where shall we post lookouts?
  2. Where can we do things differently with other people?  Where can we work on innovative solutions?
  3. Where can we push the limits of organizational practice?
  4. Where is the “edge” or “boundary” that meets the outside world and informs the core?
  5. What sustains relationships?
  6. Where are we getting better and getting better faster?
  7. Which industries are unbundling and what is the patten?  In 2006, Hagel & Brown forsaw businesses unbundling into  infrastructure management, product innovation & commercialization, and customer relations.

I need to explore Hagel and Brown’s work more, on their own site and Deloitte’s. These lists are pretty rough but hopefully you’ll find these two lists useful in some way.  Comments?

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13 item reality check from Warren Buffet

I listened to Warren Buffet speaking to MBA students a few nights OK.  Lest I forget them, here are some of the pearls of wisdom that I jotted down.   They work as a healthy reality check.

  1. Make money out of stability (inactivity).  Strip out transactions and movement that just make money for brokers.
  2. Go away for 20 years.  Will the business opportunity still be there?
  3. What will the industry look like in 10 years time?  Who will be making money in ten years time?
  4. What are the barriers to entry?  What is the moat to the castle?
  5. If you had all the money in the world, how would you break the company?
  6. Stay in your circle of competence.  You may have 6 wonderful businesses.  You won’t get rich from your 7th best idea.
  7. Don’t expect more than one really good idea a year.
  8. Do what you love.
  9. Don’t risk what is important for a marginal gain.
  10. Don’t confuse the terms of a deal with the quality of the business itself. (Find out what is for sale before you look at the price.)
  11. Identify what is knowable and what is important.
  12. Use businesses to generate revenue not to generate a quick capital gain.
  13. Support designs for the world which create 8 billion lives that you wouldn’t mind living if your were born into anyone of them
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