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Reflections

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. “

 

III. Collective maps and helping the search & discovery of information

Harnessed collective intelligence creates collective value, built in the form of subject/concept mind maps. These will be generated as a byproduct of the aggregated filtering, annotation and organization of information by users through the maps they made, from which other users shall benefit from—a setup similar to Kaboodle, where users typically search for a given item on Google, save the information on Kaboodle, check if other users actually have performed a similar research to benefit from it, to eventually zero in on the best choice.

Concept/subject maps could be the evolution of an About.com or Wikipedia site with a web 2.0 and mind mapping twist.

Wish #3: Implement backend processes that can:

  1. Combine the same if not similar maps to form a collective map that grows in real time as users simultaneously add notes and branches
    measure similarity of maps the del.icio.us way – from collaborative filtering and/or building a thesaurus database common to everyone so that similar and related terms may be specified or tagged together.
  2. Recommendations. Generate recommended links supported by and aggregated from the bookmarks of the larger social group through measures of popularity and relationship strength in the form of (among others) commonalities between the same
  3. Presentation/Navigation. Collapse only parts of maps most relevant to search terms, collective data allows for specificity in search
  4. Presentation/Navigation. Mouseovers or clicks to final links/leaves will display page as preview DHTML – web2.0 firefox plugin
  5. Presentation. Option to display user notes and annotations according to most popular (voted/rated, viewed, recommended) users or in groups
  6. Tracking relevance of suggested results:
    1. measure amount of time spent per search result by measuring the time between search result links recent and a preceding result; most relevant results could be the longest time among clicked items in comparison to others clicked as well. This approach, however, may not be relevant to users that click on assessed relevant results in separate tabs first before studying all of them and returning to the search results page again to open more links.
    2. adding personal comments to annotations and notes of others, similar to Amazon’s ‘was this helpful to you’ section
  7. Syndication. Support public or social network (1st, 2nd degree, artificial) data standards such as FOAF (see also Q & A support) to filter common concept maps


II. Organization, Personalization, Modification and Output stage

Filtering becomes aggregation and more personal value is built as the users’ collection of related information is fed.

On to the human brain side, our brain processes information in distinct ways: the right or the left-brained way – via organization by context or through efficient classification among others. This distinction supports the reason why both tagging and searching works.

Tagging supports orienteering (.pdf) (organizing by context and generalities), which is a more right brained approach, while searching supports systematic classification and specific search terms to use is a more left-brained approach.

A mind mapping approach to organize information, accommodates both right and left brain approaches, links them, as well as supports and sustains the strengths of each.

With the objective of personal aggregation, a mind mapping approach will be an effective tool since it supports natural mental processes for cognition.

Wish #2:
A client application such as Google Desktop (or a browser plug-in) founded on the mind mapping approach to aid users in organizing information. Besides its existing features,

  • allow users to drag/drop highlighted word/s as branch or leaf to either outline form of classified folders or to a visual mind map using (DHTML?) that will hover over a page and enlarge on one click or expand automatically when information is about to be dragged to a section and filed to it.
  • making a right click and following outline form of existing map structures to file and organize or in selecting desired command/function (e.g. file here, set as new leaf/branch/cloud)
  • auto create map with main cloud blank and to be furnished, using tagged words as categories/branches and succeeding underlined words/phrases in proximity of main tag as leaf
  • search from within bookmarked pages or annotations
  • encourage common branches/tags as others
  • set privacy of maps, trees, branches to private, public, groups or selected people
  • integrate facility for Q&A (Yahoo/Google Answers or Favorville)
    • ask questions: display possibly via a box to ask questions to the community and which are linked to the concept map
    • answer questions: answer questions related randomly displayed at the desktop software from a currently viewed mindmap

related examples: Google Desktop, Mayomi, Cnet News.com, Freemind


I. Annotation and Bookmarking tool

It is at this stage that users will, through their annotations as starting point, automatically contribute or create collective value by becoming filterers and provide ease in information discovery for others.

Butterfly, Clipmarks, Diigo, and Mystickies among others, already understand that the internet is about reading and writing hypertext more than just browsing. While Butterfly and Diigo displays annotations as overlays over a page, Clipmarks’s approach is to allow users to clip and add notes eventually presented much like blog entries.

Suggest the following features that current tools may not already have:

*Annotation

  • a. underline, highlight or encircle text using different colors.
  • b. create/define categories and sub categories or attributes and sub-attributes from identified text or create entirely new ones to file bookmarks and notes to
  • c. set sticky notes to visually stay on top, be seen or hidden (to expand only on mouse over)
  • d. draw lines to connect annotations and insert notes
  • e. insert a marker containing link to another other item e.g. media, link, action/command –such as (create new) as tag,

*Publishing

  • f. option to display/ hide all annotations (overlay)
  • g. OR display bookmarked pages with annotations in blog form, -screenshot (page as image – visual bookmarking blogmarks or hotlinks) left hand, -notes – snippets of highlighted text and inserted personal notes on the right

*Others

  • -interface a Toolbar plug-in if not a DHTML menu that expands out on mouse over could be useful.

Would think that a hybrid solution of annotation and clipping are the best approaches for filtering instead of the use of an intermediary page to enter notable data.

The former approach more easily facilitates the flow of thoughts, the ladder of inference (figure 2), or the cycle of data transformation (figure 1) in two ways.

  • 1) Identifying text that automatically resonates with the reader and supporting the natural flow of thought instead of the interruption of waiting for a new page to enter tags on and requiring more energy to remember what tags to create.
  • 2) More often than not, tags intended to be used are already among the clipped or highlighted text.

While the approaches do solve problems in the acceptance and filtering stage, it does not fully take advantage the capabilities of hypertext until it is reused or used at all through the entire data/information transformation cycle. The rest of the solution suggestion will explore this.

There has been much hullabaloo around web 2.0 and the growth of applications have been apparent in the form of new ones or mash-ups that fulfill user needs (initial WSJ list here, more comprehensive list from Ventureblog here).

Through the many approaches and applications and with some being exactly the same as the rest, here's to unsolicited feedback–a suggested vision and initial specification blueprint that integrates web 2.0 solutions.

The solution focuses on a way to harness collective intelligence for the improvement of search and providing ease in the discovery of information, all while encouraging the maximum utilization of resources from the user to the service provider.

The approach will be based on 2 processes at work in the use of the web as an information source and collaborative tool:

Data/Information Transformation Cycle
Data is information when it becomes useful to a user.

Discovery and creation stage
Data generated or information is discovered

Acceptance and filtering
Data becomes useful to the user. Information that supports one’s own mental maps or biases is organized. Information collected here helps form the basis of conclusions and assumptions that lead to beliefs and actions (see also ladder of inference).

Modification and output/publishing
Information is modified, bringing into it pieces of other information absorbed or integrated consciously or unconsciously and shared.

DataInfoTransformationCycleDiagram

Figure 1 – Data/Information Transformation Cycle

The solution will be sustained by utility levers through the data/information transformation cycle as well as supported by the Ladder of Inference, an interpretation of the way in which we make sense of data, information and experiences.

The Ladder of Inference
Devised by Chris Argyris and presented in Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization," the diagram below illustrates how most individuals will have been accustomed to the formation of inferences or often misguided beliefs from the tacit and selective acceptance of data in lieu of our mental models.

Ladder of Inference

Figure 2a – Ladder of Inference (http://www.actiondesign.com/)

Ladder of Inference

Figure 2b – Ladder of Inference (http://www.systems-thinking.org)

Using both models or diagrams, the following tools comprise that possible solution:

An annotation tool at the discovery and creation stage, a client desktop tool at the acceptance & filtering stage, and finally, backend functions and processes at the modification, personalization and output stage that support the integrative vision and allow it to really manifest.

 

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