I finally got to watch the TED talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

It got me to thinking about suggestions for work surrounding ‘formalizing’ my answer to the question of how I made sense of my work as an IT professional public servant for the tax department or the answering of the why-we-do-what-we-do question.  Will see whether these thoughts resound with people at work as something that can help encourage even more positive cultural change.

In any case and in tandem with other beliefs, I’m satisfied enough in that the thoughts below help inspire me to do my best at work.  Would be happy to hear about other public servants’ thoughts as well!  So, here it is, what I came up with so far in progressively soft-to-spiritual overtones.

Why do we do what we do in IT in Inland Revenue:

We’re proud world-class performing public servants who help administer the support for the government/collective administrative system which works to support the establish an environment:

(either)

a) the society aspires or dreams to

b) where people are able to meet and progress their physical, mental, spiritual needs to its utmost potential

c) that encourages everyone’s self-realization and love for all things animate or inanimate

So… hopefully, inspiring enough for others, too?

[I’ve posted this into a forum in response to whether I agree or disagree with Coert Visser and his article “The Problem with Problem Analysis” as a requirement of my Problem Solving & Decision Making in R&D course at UPOU]

I agree mostly with Coert Visser’s points for the following key reasons:

  1. What you focus on is what you measure and what you measure is you get. Focusing on the problems is counterproductive.
  2. Countless hours can be spent on analysis of a problem (or anything actually e.g. meetings) without necessarily being productive.
  3. Without conscious monitoring of the alignment of activities to purpose and objectives, it is very easy for people to get side tracked and lost in seas of thoughts of exploration, analysis or arguments and varying perspectives.
  4. I have a personal preference for a focus on constructiveness, clear purpose, objectives and goals to any activity for they provide better context, scope and meaning.  It also  reinforces the flow of efforts  from the subjective to objective as well as a the maximum utilisation of any and all efforts, therefore driving performance, improvement or ultimately, results.
  5. The purpose of the awareness of having a problem is more about spurring action, whether the action is inaction or acceptance but in problem analysis activities it’s more often for solving and improving a situation.  As in therapy or self-improvement, awareness is the first step to healing (1).


A conditional agreement

That said, I also believe in a balance that can be achieved in doing problem analysis while still being constructive and solutions-oriented.  For instance, insight that can be gained in problem analysis can build intellectual property that can be useful and valuable in the long-term.  The same insight can also embed intangible benefits such as enabling deeper, systematic/systems-oriented understanding of the connectedness of things — a skill in synthesis (2) which helps enrich experiences that could contribute to innovative problem solving or intuitively being able to decide quickly and solve problems in the future (3).  Besides, experience is the best teacher and problem analysis can help bring about priceless learning experiences if directed properly.

Suggested thinking – a sanitation / constructiveness check
How can we balance doing problem analysis with the value in problem acknowledgement activities? Specifically, how can we focus on being constructive, productive and solutions-oriented as we analyse problems?

I imagine a method that examines and filters scope/high-level and conceptual level work plans or information on the outcomes and objectives desired.  My initial reflections had me arrive at the principle of performance and risk.  Given the intention to get away from unproductive, irrelevant and useless information, problem analysis just brings about information that may then either be:

  • positively influencing and useful to the purpose of inquiry or in attaining an objective whether requiring minor or major modifications or additional activities,
  • neutral, i.e.  neither positive or negatively affecting one’s purpose, or
  • considerate and preventive of risks to achieving performance and so, positively influencing, useful and relevant information, still.

Using the suggested outlook, below are some questions which could be helpful as a ‘sanitation / constructiveness check’ to the problem analysis work plan.  It could also help to be specific about the amount of time or resources, or risk appetite that would be allocated to exploring the assessment of a problem analysis activity as a sort of nice-to-have activity so long as a sense of the primary plan or objectives have been sorted out in priority.


The ‘sanitation’ / constructiveness checks

  • What kind of information are sought for and for what purpose/s will they be used?
  • What kind of organisational objectives will the information derived be useful for?
  • What kind of measurable impact can the information be helpful in bringing about?
  • What kind of short, medium or long term benefits and organizational value could be achieved from arriving at the information?
  • What kind of opportunities could be lost without the information that can be obtained through problem analysis or if it were not conducted at all?
  • Will the particular piece/s of information produced through problem analysis prevent certain risk/s from reoccurring? Will they help reduce the potential for circumstances to trigger other related problem/s?

The thinking process as well as the answers to these questions could hopefully help to figure out which problem analysis exercises can be useful or when problem acknowledgement suffices.  Happy to listen to other ideas to devising a way to methodically get to the tipping point for problem analysis and problem acknowledgement.

More on being positive and constructive (but first..)
I just also have to react and point out the emotional baggage or undercurrent that the word problem has earned and thus, brings.  Problems in problem analysis as a concept already limits, compartmentalizes or inoculates thinking using a ‘problem’ lens than if we use a neutral or positive lens so to speak.  Perhaps the intensity of the restriction it brought may have even contributed to among the reasons that catapulted the drive to promote problem acknowledgement instead, further labelling problem analysis a little more negatively, veering attention away from it as if possibly throwing the baby out with the bath water so to speak.

Before actually jumping into a conclusion, why do I bother calling this out?  For ‘problem’ or ‘risk’ in Chinese is written in the same way as the characters for the word ‘opportunity’ — being able to take different perspectives, as well as integrating and synthesizing them is key to more productive and creative problem solving (2).  Seeing problems as they are and naming or framing the problem analysis activity as it is does not encourage the sense of creativity that is essential in problem solving.   A simple search on the psychological effects of framing should more clearly enlighten us on how it affects thought processes and responses and or perhaps, how these can be changed.

Thus, I suggest the use of more neutral or positive terms, perhaps specifically agreeing to be mindful of substituting the word situation instead of ‘problem’ and use the term situational analysis instead. Hopefully it should contribute to bringing about a more engaged, objective and constructive pre-disposition to problem solving.

References

(1) Becker-Phelps, Leslie, Ph.D. (2010 July 6). Self-awareness is vital to self-improvement.  Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/making-change/201007/self-awareness-is-vital-self-improvement

(2) Pink, Daniel (2006).  A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Riverhead Trade

(3) Kahneman, Daniel (2011). Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Courageous ex-Muslim in Muslim country starts an extraordinary new website – Jihad Watch.

Excerpt:

After 9/11, I seriously started to doubt my beliefs, but I never had the guts or the courage to face them until I came across my friend, my savior and my mentor Ali Sina just a few months ago. He has changed my outlook of life and he really opened up my eyes to the false and evil cult of Islam, which I had been blindly following for the last 35 years, albeit halfheartedly. It is not that I wasn’t aware of the evil of Islam, because I had been fairly well acquainted with the works of accomplished and judicious writers like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes and Raymond Ibrahim, but they were not Muslims, so somewhere deep down inside, I always ended up giving Mohammed the messenger of Allah the benefit of the doubt. It was only when I suddenly stumbled upon Ali Sina’s website and subsequently his book “Understanding Mohammed” that actually made me wake up to this harsh reality. The truth hurts, as they say, so when I realized for the first time that Islam was actually a hoax, it broke me down completely. It took me a while to come to terms with it; I went through several stages like denial and anger, but finally I have come to the acceptance stage. “

It has been a while now, since the dotcom days in my career, that I’ve been dreaming of having an organized, aggregated way of looking at relevant conversations on the internet organized around topics of debate.  A Fred Wilson recommended service such as Engag.io, however, seems to be in a good position to meet this need on a platform scale whilst primarily intending to provide the utility of “seeing all of your commenting activity in one place,” as their declared first premise.

As most conversations in comment systems tend to also be debates, I sent a comment to Engag.io’s post just thinking aloud, wondering or hoping they could eventually solve the challenge I’ve been thinking about:

IMHO there is no one crowdsource-friendly/non-partisan aggregating mechanism in the internet for people to be supported in arriving with a position or opinion based on a balanced and informed view and discussion of relevant information, facts and opinions with regards to a topic of debate.

Almost there?
Intense debate
tries to do a good job at structuring debates and integrating themselves into content management systems as Disqus also does, while GrokLaw is more effective at the moderation and intelligence in collecting relevant factual information (like Techmeme to an extent) and facilitating discussions based on the same within a topic of interest.  In the meantime, Slashdot is known for its engaged community and effective reputation mechanisms that make for not just informative, but enlightening or even delightfully humorous discussions or debates.  Could it, perhaps, be just a matter of  combining the essential capabilities of these services?

Ripe for change
Search has matured and people increasingly search for information online, the intelligent aggregation or collaborative filtering technology’s there or can be made to work so that it can be, there’s lots of content, well-thought out opinions or conversations available with the reputation mechanisms and processes to moderate it, there’s an abundance of news articles and facts in text or media that can be aggregated, and which can eventually even be double checked for truth through plugins/mechanisms that aim to do so. Additionally, perhaps the debate can also be presented as a mindmap.

In summary, people, process, technologies and information seem to be ripe enough to be able to empower people to be more informed and have constructive, productive debate–whether to strengthen democracies, enlighten and expand knowledge, or encourage deeper understanding of concepts, situations, or things in general.

Hopefully Engag.io or some other service, can help.  For now, I continue to dream and think aloud, or wait until I force myself to finish learning to or actually write code myself and work with others and crowdfund it. (o:

Just sharing a strategic information systems (SIS) plan I’ve prepared for Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha (AMPS) as part of the requirements for completing a strategic information systems course at UPOU last October.  Any non-profit organization with a similar purpose of teaching, promoting ideologies and philosophies, values, wellness-related, or personal life skills may be able to benefit from the study, especially if looking to get some information on the drivers, benefits to an SIS, as well as short and long term actions that can already be done to maximize the use of information technology to support organizational objectives.

Summaries:

Research Focus
The SISP explores how AMPS as a socio-civic non-profit organization can further utilize technology in a strategic way in order to advance its organizational objectives. (AMPS is a global organization present in over 80 countries but the scope of this SISP is targeted within the Manila sector (consisting of Southeast Asian countries)). The organizational area of investigation and exploration was the challenge of supporting Pracar (spiritual teaching) functions of the organization given the following key qualities/models adopted: volunteer-based, no-profit, no loss resourcing model, decentralized setup, and where no formal IT function is yet established.

Research Methods
Research methods such as desk research, interviews, and surveys were mostly conducted remotely in cooperation with organizational representatives. As a member of the organization since childhood and as an IT professional and consultant for over 11 years, prior knowledge and experience has also played a role in the research.

Results or Findings
Due to the limited amount of time, limited resources esp. without an IT function and the unplanned nature of the request, only high level information on the Pracar functions’ strategic objectives have been recommended. Key findings, in any case, are as follows.

While mission and vision statements have been defined for the Pracar function, more specific strategic objectives had yet to be defined. Whilst AMPS conducts quarterly organizational
planning functions such as Review, Defect, Solution (RDS) and Inspection, Review, Solution, Structure &  Solidarity (IRSS) conferences, strategic planning for IS has yet to find its way to being conducted regularly as well.

· AMPS has yet to fully recognize or take action on the need for and extent of possible benefits of the proactive management of technology for strategic purposes.
· There is no IT/IS function secretary and there is no IT-related coordination within the Manila sector IT administrators for the proactive management and sharing of IT resources.
· Various information systems are currently used by local offices for website publishing or ecommerce which indicates a recognition of IT’s utility to the organization, however, its maintenance continues to be a challenge.
· Based on the assessment of customer and external requirements, three Pracar processes have been identified as opportunity areas for IS/IT enhancement or innovation. (1) Yoga classes, online community and social engagement, (2) Training & knowledge management, and (3) IT asset management.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The complex, dynamic and fast pace of change of technologies and customer behaviour will increasingly require AMPS to conduct more rigorous planning, coordination and change management practices if it is to maximise opportunities and manage threats that external environmental changes may present. Some specific action items are recommended:

1. Recognize the need for an IT/IS function and develop an IS/IT secretary and/or committee which will include business-technology consultants or advisors to

a. investigate and explore possibilities to increase effectiveness, efficiency and generate savings beginning with developing an inventory of organizational and IT asset resources.
b. serve as SMEs for the organizational ‘business’ Pracar committee
c. facilitate pilot tests for the implementation of applications supporting the 3 opportunity areas identified within the Pracar function.

2. Agree on the criticality of and commit to conducting regular strategic IS planning. Obtain a strategic plan as the output of the organizational planning functions Review, Defect, Solution (RDS) and Inspection, Review, Solution, Structure & Solidarity (IRSS) conferences from which the IT/IS committee can work off from to support and enhance.

3. Take advantage of and generate quick and easy wins already by maximizing the use of online services for
(a) obtaining funding e.g. web services such as kiva.org, setting up online or electronic payment methods to accept donations from such as Paypal, GCash, or via sharing of bank account number information,
(b) getting volunteers for initiatives onsite or remotely e.g. sparked.com, volunteermatch.org

Appendices:
SISP_Frameworks-2011_by_GSFernando.xls
Appendix_C-ObjectDataModel
Appendix_D-Use CasesMindMap

Egos aside, for the fun of self-analysis and reflection, and as a practical reference for anyone that  would need to work with me, here are my DISC profile results from the online test I took last May 2010.

Apart from the specific note on “Things to avoid to effectively communicate with (me)..” that advised people to “Avoid trying to build friendships and personal relationships,” which I sort of disagree and  interpret to be ‘business first, personal things later’, I mostly agree with the points mentioned. (o:

A summary of strengths specific to my score:
(this is the point where I start to shy away now a bit)

  • A high sincerity-factor in working with individuals, or with small groups, and you also bring a bit of a candid ‘edge’ to comments or input.
  • Able to assimilate complex information and develop conclusions based on the data, not the emotions of special-interests.
  • High degree of follow-through, and completeness of thought and action.
  • Brings a high degree of objectivity to the organization’s systems and projects.
  • Able to provide factual, authoritative, and objective verbal expression on topics to which you have given mind-share and intellectual consideration.
  • Brings a high knowledge-base and process-base from which to expand the ideas of the team
  • Patient in working with others.
  • Provides a very deliberate and systematic approach to the analysis and critical thinking necessary for finding answers and creating solutions.

..As well as Areas for Continual Improvement:
[I *may* tend to..]

  •  Not openly project a lot of enthusiasm.
  • Sometimes become blunt and critical, and forget about appropriate tact.
  • Be rather opinionated and inflexible when asked to make a sudden change in process or procedure, without prior warning or consideration.
  • Become rather stubborn once your mind is made up.
  • Take criticism personally, even though it was directed at a work process.
  • Have a lower sense of urgency to get things done.
  • Become somewhat critical, even sarcastic, when others don’t measure up to your standards.
  • Become indecisive in the face of sudden change.

I’m going ahead to proceed to revive this blog without further ado to post papers submitted as part of  my requirements in my studies at the UPOU.

This article presents a case study of the state of the ICT of the Philippines in relation to the recently released Philippine Digital Strategy 2011-2016.

Summary

  • the PDS needs to illustrate a better level of mastery of:
    a. an understanding of the situation and what we’re dealing with–technology, its nature, stages etc., or
    b. having more diligence in understanding ourselves, our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses or previous performance in various aspects of inquiry.  This includes continuity in research that has found the country to be in a vicious cycle of technological dependence.
    c. developing a stronger vision of what we want and where we’re going–more than just being a hub.
    d. the methods, mechanisms upon which we can establish sustainability in ICT or S&T progress and development in general.

Recommendation

  • Work towards social transformation to uproot the Philippine society out of the vicious cycle of technology dependence. Develop a psycho-spiritual media campaign towards rebuilding strength of tradition, culture and a redefinition/affirmation of Filipino identity.
  • Explore, develop or adopt a new socio-economic model.
  • Promote economic decentralization and self-sufficiency.
  • Explore creating a new or alternative currency for the community that can be earned with labor provided by the more socio-economically challenged or the unemployed.

Table of Contents:
1. The Approach

2. Science & Technology as a Driver of Progress in Society

3. Internal Environment Perspective
3.1. Observations on Philippine ICT Vision: The Philippine Digital Strategy
3.2. Understanding what we’re dealing with: Technology
3.3. Understanding our internal and external environment and challenges
3.4. Understanding ourselves, our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses
3.5. Understanding what we want and where we’re going
3.5.1. We can become more than (be) an “IT-enabled service hub”.
3.6. On understanding how we’re going to get there

4. External Environment Perspective
4.1. Political / Legal View
4.2. Economic View
4.2.1. Economics and Technology Transfer
4.3. Socio-Cultural View

5. Taking it All Constructively

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