Knowledge Management and Collective Learning in the Age of Google

This week’s readings were fascinating to me.  I’m hoping this area will potentially be a part of my dissertation research.  I’ve been curious about communicating leadership via technology, as well as facilitating (teaching) creativity through technology.  In my role as an educator in several creative disciplines, I’ve wrestled with how leaders can foster communities of practice and open up dialogues in on-the-ground classrooms and online courses.  Specific to the knowledge management discussion, I think there needs to be a balance between archived, best practice, explicit knowledge (Dixon, 2009) and postmodern, socially generated heuristics developed in the cloud (Weinberger, 2011).  I would tend to agree with Jarche’s (2016) recent assertion that, “While people learn from formal instruction, they also learn in the workflow and outside work” (para. 8).

In my classrooms and online classes, I believe it’s still important to “deposit” – as Freire (1968) might describe it-  explicit knowledge into the minds of the learners.  In graphic design, there is a specific tool to use when attempting to accomplish a specific task.  In web development, HTML syntax is extremely important… a missing semicolon can ruin an entire web page, not to mention frustrate students and instructors alike!  In this way, I think that knowledge management serves an important function.  Organizing and disseminating (Dixon, 2009) the proper tools and processes is a requirement that must be satisfied before we can even begin to think about creativity or adaptive challenges (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009).  Once a student or employee has access to a baseline amount of information, then the leader can begin to shape and use sociotechnical systems (Burke, 2014) to optimize social learning (Jarche, 2010).

In terms of confronting those adaptive challenges (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009), I do believe that collective experiential knowledge (Dixon, 2009b) is powerful (and necessary).  In my web development level III course, for example, we work a lot on troubleshooting obscure problems that don’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer.  There’s no way I can teach the solution to every potential technical problem.  In this case, I need to manage the process of identifying aspects of the challenge, thinking critically about paths to resolution, and, most important to the new KM discussion, how to seek out and apply the expertise of the multitudes.

Just yesterday, I got an error on a client’s website: “php.mailer.Mzh.517.UNOFFICIAL FOUND.” The first place we go is online to the “expert exchanges.” Sure enough we landed among the discussion forums and GitHub pages posted by experts, and wove our way through different resources to find the right places to look to fix the error.  Through this network of professionals, and my own decade of experience with the system we were using, we were able to locate the right file, and fix the problem.  This is an example of socially generated knowledge that is then archived in the online format.  I’m curious to think about how this changes as storage and access methods evolve.

To Davenport’s (2015) point, I would imagine that few companies in the digital media space would ever attempt to deploy a traditional KM system in light of the available social knowledge already available online.  I know some organizations do maintain code repositories and other such silos of information that can be readily accessed.  I think a major difference in the new knowledge management world is context.  Most of Davenport’s critiques seem to boil down to a forced flow or a context-agnostic adoption of a system for the sake of having a system.  I appreciate Jarche’s (2010) comment that “Stock [archived information] on the internet is everywhere, and the challenge is to make sense of it through flows and conversation [context]” (para. 23).  Thus, I think the role of the leader is to help maintain a basic level of explicit knowledge through systems and institutional memory, as well as allowing for the creation of knowledge networks and organizational learning.  Not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but doable with the right tools and human resources!

References:
Burke, W. W. (2014). Organization change: Theory and practice (4th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Davenport, T.H. (2015). Whatever happened to knowledge management? The Wall Street Journal: CIO Report.
Dixon, N. (2009a, May 2).  Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part one. Conversation Matters [blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/05/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-one.html
Dixon, N. (2009b, July 30).  Where knowledge management has been and where it is going- part three. Conversation Matters [blog]. Retrieved from http://www.nancydixonblog.com/2009/07/where-knowledge-management-has-been-and-where-it-is-going-part-three.html
Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of the oppressed.  Continuum Publishing Company: New York, NY.
Heifetz, R.A., Grashow, A., Linsky, M., (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Jarche, H. (2010). Closing the learning-knowledge loop. Harold Jarche: Adapting to a world in perpetual beta [blog]. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2016/12/closing-the-learning-knowledge-loop/
Jarche, H. (2016). A framework for social learning in the enterprise. Harold Jarche: Adapting to a world in perpetual beta [blog]. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2010/02/a-framework-for-social-learning-in-the-enterprise/
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Week 2 – Tool Analysis

This week, our task is to experiment with and analyze one of Jane Hart’s “Top Tools for Learning 2016.”  Considering the tool from both a technical perspective, as well as from a leadership and organizational perspective, this post will discuss both the pros and cons of integrating Clarify into one’s digital toolbox.

What is Clarify?

Clarify is a screenshot generation and management tool.  The application is designed to streamline the process of taking screenshots of your computer and compiling them into a format that can be useful for training, client presentations, customer service, or any number of other applications.

The app consists of the screenshot engine, which allows you to simply drag your cursor over a section of your screen to capture the content into an image format.

Once you have the capture, Clarify lets you add formatted text, annotations, highlighting graphics, and links. (This document was created through Clarify).

 

Thanks for downloading Clarify for Mac

I went to clarify-it.com to download the app.  Super simple, attractive site, that was easy to navigate and quick to download.

(Interesting feature sidenote… when I screenshot the browser window, Clarify pulled the <TITLE> tag from the website’s HTML and automatically added it to the document.  This is super handy!)

The application needs to be added to your applications folder, and the installer provides a simple shortcut for doing so by a drag and drop. (left)

The editing application has a very comfortable and easy to use interface, offering a consistent user experience that most computer users are used to.  Right away, you’ll recognize formatting options like bold, italics, paragraph justification, and font formatting.  A few of the icons were unfamiliar to me, but the app offers tooltips when you hover your mouse over an icon (very helpful!)

 

Leadership and Organizational Applications

A tool like Clarify can be extremely helpful in an organizational setting.  The application allows you to create documents that can help you communicate policy and/or procedure.  Implementing new practices in an organization can be very difficult for many reasons.  Providing clear, accurate, and attractive documentation can help leaders and change managers improve adoption rates and reduce employee (or customer) frustrations!  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, a picture (screenshot) may help organizations save time and money in the development of their training, policy, or technical support documentation.

As a real world example:

A few years ago, my team was consulting a retail outlet that sold locally-made products from vendors across the state.  They sold items mostly on consignment, though some were done wholesale.  We recognized that the retail floor staff was bogged down with managing vendors rather than selling product and interfacing with customers.  With 100+ vendors looking for payments, sales numbers, and inventory counts, things were getting out of control.

We devised a web-based vendor portal that would allow individual vendors to log in and see all of their data in (nearly) real time.  The portal  connected to the store’s point-of-sale terminal system and updated the data approximately every 6 hours or so.  It would alert vendors about low inventory, and provided numerous customizable reports such as monthly sales, most popular products, trend maps, and so forth.

I developed an internal training document for all retail staff that included step-by-step instructions for many different functions.  Given the wide range of technical expertise on the staff, the document had to be clear, concise, and VISUAL!  Thus, it contained screenshots of nearly every section of the portal, with annotations, highlights, and special instructions or tips.  Clarify would have been an ideal tool to use!

Similarly, I created a user guide that was distributed to all vendors along with their portal credentials.  In this case, it was very important for us to brand the organization.  May vendors sold products at many other locations around the state.  We wanted to make sure that we were distancing ourselves from the competitors, and did so by creating a positive brand association with this cutting edge tool (that no other retailer offered).  For this initiative, Clarify would not have been sufficient, as it does not have the depth of customization and control that I needed.

Do I really need/want this tool?

I’m always hesitant to download more third-party apps because I’ve found that more often than not, they do not provide a significantly better solution than either built in OS tools or tools I’m already using.  For me personally, apps like Clarify take time to learn, time to build a habit around, and seem unnecessarily disruptive to my process.  I believe this is a biased opinion because of my professional experience and knowledge using titles like Photoshop and other image manipulation/presentation/training tools.

In order to create, for example, a simple tutorial for a client on editing their website, I would do the following.

  • Take screenshots using Mac’s build in capture utility (Cmd+Shift+4 from ANYWHERE within Mac OS).
  • Drag and drop the screenshot from the finder into either a document or directly into an email
    •  If I need to add annotations, graphics, or anything like that, I would use Photoshop or Illustrator (for multiple page docs)
    • If it’s a simple demonstration of what something looks like or which button to press, I would drop it in an email and add formatting, bullets, numbered lists, etc.
  • In general, I would prefer to use screenshots embedded in an email rather than creating entirely separate documents, but I can see the benefit of the latter, especially in illustrating long or complex processes.

I am a firm believer in reducing digital bloat by way of fewer apps, generating fewer unnecessary documents, and taking fewer steps in my processes.  In the example above, I would rather not complicate things for myself or my client by creating another document that we both have to save.  I can accomplish almost anything I can do in Word (for example) in my email client.  Now, that information is stored in the cloud, accessible via multiple email clients, and perhaps more collaborative.  We don’t conflate the issue with software compatibility questions, firewall attachment restrictions, filesize limitations, or untrustworthy formatting.

However, as I mention above, email may not be suitable for creating long or complex documents from your screenshots.  If this is the case, and the client/customer need warrants the creation of a new document, I would want to have a lot of control and flexibility over customizing the document.

Challenges in Using the Software

  • Clarify documents are saved with a *.clarify file extension, making them unusable from any other application.
  • You can export a Clarify file to a doc/x format, but that basically makes a Word doc that you could have just created to start with.  The doc/x export provides 3 out of the box formatting options.  When using those, the document includes some “styling” to headers, colors, and fonts.  (Example 1 below)
  • The PDF export option does the same, but offers 4 formatting options.  (Example 2).  For me, this is moderately useful.  Clarify allows for some customization through the onboard PDF template generator. You can add a logo and specify fonts, colors, page sizes, margins, etc.
  • There is also an HTML output option (Example 4), which could be useful. When exported as HTML, you can select from 7 “themes.”  The resulting HTML document is created, but so are three additional folders that contain dependent files such as Javascripts, UI images, and Cascading Style Sheets.  (As I noted above, I don’t like this type of bloat.)
    • You can apparently build your own custom HTML templates!  This process is terribly complicated. In my opinion, if you can follow these steps, you could probably build your own HTML pages from scratch, again using existing tools.
    • Yes, in a large organization, an IT specialist or instructional designer could setup these templates for less tech-savvy content creators for publishing on an intranet, for example.
    • To make the most use of an HTML output, you’d want to post it to a web server, which you cannot do natively from within the app.  Thus, you have to have a separate FTP client and available web server.
  • Preferences: Clarify offers some customizations for things like user interface and export options.
  • Exporting options are tied to some popular services like Dropbox and WordPress and Evernote
    • Sharing to the above services requires several steps of setup and authorization.
    • Publishing to Evernote seems redundant.
    • Sharing the .clarify file on Dropbox means that your collaborators need the Clarify app as well.
    • WordPress sharing options are limited and seem to be complicated by many technical issues associated with publishing to the web (image uploads, permissions, updating, WordPress cache and image management).

Conclusions

In conclusion, I will not be adopting this tool into my regular workflow.  For some individuals and organizations, Clarify may provide a quick and easy way to share annotated screenshots.  However, I would caution leaders against trying to force the adoption of this system.  As illustrated above, the features of this program are well covered by other existing programs and utilities.  The benefits found in Clarify’s convenient packaging, in my opinion, are not sufficient for the effort that might be required to spread adoption.

Author, Didier Bonnet, in a 2015 article at Harvard Business Review, was quoted as stating that poor communication about the (comparative) benefits of a new tool is key to ensuring adoption in organizations: “Employees need to understand why [the new technology] is an improvement from what they had before” (Knight, 2015). In the case of Clarify, I’m not entirely convinced that the solution is better than what I had before. I would be hard pressed to champion the adoption of this tool in my organization.  It’s also not the type of tool that would necessitate organization-wide adoption.

As a piece of software, it’s a fine application.  Easy to use, fast, and very niche in purpose.  It does what it sets out to do.  That problem Clarify solves, however, may not need to be tackled with yet another app on your hard drive.

 

References:

Knight, R. (2015, March 19). Convincing skeptical employees to adopt new technology.  Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/03/convincing-skeptical-employees-to-adopt-new-technology

Week 1 – Technology and Leadership

This is my first blog post for a course at Creighton University entitled “Technology and Leadership.”  The course is a part of the Interdisciplinary Doctor of Education program, in which I am a student (clearly).  Throughout the semester, I will be posting more thoughts and reflections from the course… to my classmates who are reading along this semester, I look forward to sharing these ideas with you and learning from you as always.


Is the world “flat” or “spiky”?  And what happens when machines become smarter than we are?

In The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Friedman (2007) suggests that the earth (in the social, economic, technological sense) is “flattening” because of improvements to communication and travel technology.  The assertion is that technological advances since 1989 (para 10) have allowed individuals and businesses to dramatically increase productivity, expand markets, and enhance innovation through broader talent networks.  In many ways, Friedman is correct.  Technology has decreased the time it takes to do complicated tasks and increased our abilities to connect with one another.  The internet’s beginnings as a government/university research and collaboration network speaks to the genetics of how we use the network technology.

Taken from the technological determinist perspective (e.g., McLuhan, 1964), Friedman might have us believe that the seemingly ubiquitous nature of technology and the internet is responsible for major shifts in both human consciousness and subsequent economic shifts – on par with the effects written language had on society (e.g., Ong, 1982, Shlain, 1998).  That it pervades our lives in such a way as to change the way we think, what we perceive as real, how we do business, and even how we conceive of human relationships.  If that were truly the case – or when it inevitably becomes the case – I would agree that networked technology will indeed fundamentally alter human communication and consciousness.  We have already seen its effects in countries with advanced communication infrastructures like the US.  In other countries, however, where even literacy hasn’t yet completely transformed society, technology will not thrive in the same ways it has elsewhere.  (I’d be interested to explore the notion of skipping literacy in the shift to technology further…

What Friedman may miss, and what Florida (2005) asserts, is that the technology (no matter how good) is not sufficient for the complete “flattening” of the world. The social construction of technology approach (e.g., Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch, 1987) would suggest that the technology is only as influential as its host environment allows it to be.  That is, technologies (in all forms) emerge and thrive because of economics, culture, and people’s readiness to adopt the innovation.  The printing press, for example, became a pivotal technological innovation in human history because of the climate of late medieval Europe at the time of its invention.  Scientific work was blooming, and intellectual curiosity was creating a demand for information.  Economics and trade were calling for standards of language and measure and was pushing innovation from the financial side.  Exploration and travel meant that more people across Europe, Asia, and Africa were being exposed to written language in the form of mass replications of text via the printing press.  I believe that literacy has indeed fundamentally changed many societies, yet may still be a novelty in some others.  If we plotted it, I think we’d see a trend of technological hotspots across medieval Europe similar to those presented in Florida’s (2005) article.

Does super intelligence eliminate the social constructivist narrative entirely?  In some senses, I think that if the human condition is eliminated from the equation, and AI is given reign over further development and adoption of “technologies” we may see a very different topology.  As Bostrom (2015) discussed in his talk, when machines begin to learn and adapt, the potential exists for them to move beyond even the limitations of the physical (or sociocultural) environments in which they operate.  If self preservation becomes a value of learning machines, it could follow that they would devise ways of guaranteeing technological adoption and subsequent control of societies through a kind of determinism.  If, as Shlain (1998) argues, the invention of writing systems led to the rise of hegemonic masculinity and the subjugation of women, who’s to say that a similarly nefarious plan couldn’t be hatched by the machines to subjugate humanity?  I don’t know if I believe this (or just don’t want to), but I recognize the power of technology as a shaper of and respondent to humanity.  I sincerely hope that we figure out, as Bostrom (2015) suggests, how to manage our continued exploration of technology!

I’ve failed to address how this practically applies to my work… as a teacher, the influence of networked life on students is profound.  Simple examples like language fluency show how the changing communication technology shapes learning. The creation of unrealistic social expectations through MMORPG and other gaming systems impacts how students interact with one another in the classroom. Children who develop cognitively in fixed rules gaming/app environments become college students with a fixed understanding of what’s possible in the world.  I think this last example (anecdotally) creates myriad problems in creative fields such as graphics, web design, and advertising; an area I plan to continue exploring!

Can you tell I love this stuff?!

James

References

Bijker, W. E., Hughes, T.P., and Pinch, T.J.,(eds).  (1987). The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Bostrom, N. (2015, March) What happens when our computers get smarter that we are? [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_bostrom_what_happens_when_our_computers_get_smarter_than_we_are

Florida, R. (2005, October). The world is spiky. Atlantic Monthly. 48-51.

Friedman, T. (2007). The world is flat, 3.0. London: Picador.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw Hill

Ong, W. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word.  New York: Methuen

Shlain, L. (1989). The alphabet versus the goddess: The conflict between word and image.  London: Penguin Books