Monday, July 23, 2007

It's the Conversations

While I was reading Harry Potter on Saturday, Brad Feld was commenting on comments. Once again, I have to say, he's right on target.

Like Harry, I want to see all of it and learn the real truth (as much as that's possible anyway) - even the parts I don't like. By Sunday, when I'd finished the book and was curious about others' reactions, I went looking around for some. The review I read was, quite frankly, riddled with inaccuracies and spoilers - with some inaccurate spoilers for good measure - and didn't seem to really get the point of the book.

It was the comments, though, that helped me put the review into its proper context and provided me with a window into what everyone else was thinking. Just be prepared to do some wading and some thinking for yourself to weigh the different points of view.

My own comment yesterday to the tall person in our house was that where critics used to hold a great deal of power before, it seems that the commentors wield equal or sometimes even greater power now. It was sort of interesting to see a critic subjected to some of his own medicine. I just hope he didn't choke on it. I'm sure JK Rowling is mostly unhurt by his words.

If we thought blogging leveled the playing field before, commenting on blogs and articles and whatnot takes that notion a step or two or three further. Commenting is the new blogging.

In fact, I frequently find now that I learn as much or more from the comments than from the original post. Although it takes some perserverence and quite often some teeth-gritting (especially when the topic is particularly polarized), it's in the comments where I find the shades-of-gray middle ground I seek and trust so much more than the lambasting, "I'm right and you're wrong" blacks and whites that so often show up under some byline. I realize there's plenty of lambasting in comments too but that's not all that happens in that space.

I have always found the same to be true in business too. I can come up with some pretty decent ideas on my own. The ideas get better when I engage others in conversation and we comment on one another's trains of thought.

As a manager, I always made better decisions when I heard the different comments from various members of my team. I don't mean in a push-me-pull-you kind of way where my opinions would swing wildly, depending on who I'd talked to last. Instead, I always did my level best to carefully consider the different points of view and the points worthy of merit that were raised and responded to in group discussion.

In the online world, this kind of group discussion takes place in the form of comments more than anywhere else. Whatever it is we're commenting on is just the starting point. Brad's idea that we should be able to manage comments the same way we're beginning to manage other sources of information is a good one.

It would be nice to find all of the comments by an individual (to assess how on target the person tends to be overall), across sources and platforms. I'd love to see us be able to somehow tag and organize various groups of comments and perform searches on the resulting data.

I bet if we were to discuss it further, we'd come up with even more ideas about how to use comments better. If you have comments or ideas about comments, send them to me at and let's get a conversation going.

How can I make comments contribute to furthering the discussion and growth of ideas?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Color Me Tired

Other people start a company in a weekend and get a really great headstart on a product. My big accomplishment this weekend was reading the final Harry Potter installment before I went to sleep Saturday night.

The two really don't compare, I realize, but I like to think of it as training. Maybe there will be a Seattle Startup Weekend sometime soon. If so, I think it would be a blast to participate. I'm sure I could offer something worthwhile.

I know I felt a strong pull toward the Boulder effort and kept wishing a) I'd known about it sooner and b) I wasn't heading off for vacation in the middle of the project. Not knowing how it all turned out until I got back was one of the few things I really missed in Yellowstone where there is no internet and hardly any cell phone coverage.

In the meantime, Deathly Hallows was definitely a good read. By sticking with it until I was done with only a few short breaks, I didn't have to wonder how it all turned out, though it did mean not getting a whole lot of sleep that night. That's okay though; it was worth it.

I found Harry and company's last adventure incredibly satisfying even if it was sort of bittersweet, knowing that we've reached an ending with no guarantee of a subsequent beginning.

VoSnap isn't quite ready for use so if you have a thumbs up or thumbs down on Harry or the thought of a Startup Weekend in Seattle, go ahead and send me a message at and let's see if there's some consensus of opinion. Until then, get caught up on your rest. You never know what else might come along that is worth staying up for.

What would make losing or cutting short a night's sleep worthwhile?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Contextualize Me

The resident small person is pretty sure today that I'm crazy. We had a good gentle soaking rain going and since he was bored, I had him entertain me with the tale of Hansel and Gretel. After writing about trails of breadcrumbs recently, I panicked momentarily, thinking perhaps he didn't know the story and therefore might not understand the significance of things like breadcrumbs in current parlance.

It turns out, I didn't have any reason to worry - he was able to tell the story quite well with full detail and a lot of good storytelling technique. Apparently it's in one of his books; I guess we've been better than I'd feared at ensuring his cultural literacy. Whew!

It's in the interests of establishing a fluency in cultural literacy that I let the small person watch and encourage him to listen to old stuff that shaped my own generation and those that came before me. At least I hope it's more that than bad parenting or an occasional guilty indulgence in what we jokingly refer to around our house as "Bad 70's music" - and no fair saying that's redundant!

I believe in the adage that those who are ignorant about history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I also believe that understanding context is key to understanding anything. You know - the inside jokes, kind of had to have been there kind of thing?

I'm sure you run into the same sort of thing at work - where there is historical context that is as critical to avoiding past mistakes as it is to understanding current language, decisions, culture, and so forth. That doesn't mean living in the past or adhering to old practices simply because "we've always done it this way." History needn't lock us into the same old problems. Sometimes what didn't work before will work now because the situation has changed. Understanding the context helps provide the clues as to what will work best in the current situation based on what has gone before.

What we need in organizations are storytellers who can capture the history and keep it fresh for all who need it. If that person isn't you, I hope you know who is!

I'm interested in your thoughts on the relationship between progress and historical context. Send them to me at and let's find the the creative edge between past and future together.

What am I doing to capture and learn from where we've/I've been?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Follow the Leads

In which Kimm draws parallels between reporting, troubleshooting, geo-caching, and intuition... In the newsroom, I had a basic plan for tracking down stories that worked mostly without flaw - I'd poke around enough to come up with a handful of names worth contacting to get more information and I'd talk to them if they did. Sounds simple enough, except a lot of times they didn't have the sort of information I was looking for, so that's when the plan kicked in. I never let anyone off the phone until they answered one other question - "Do you know anyone else who might be able to help?"

It might take a few calls, but this method almost always worked; I'd just keep following the trail until I got what I wanted. Looking for the next clue if I couldn't get at the answer itself helped get me out of a few jams when I was in tech support too. Sometimes it was as simple as following a single thread and other times it was tougher and more like following breadcrumbs - find one breadcrumb then start searching for the next one, hoping the birds haven't eaten it.

This summer, small person and I have discovered geo-caching and I'm finding there are some similarities. We go to the latitude and longitude coordinates identified for the cache and then start following whatever clues and intuitive instincts available until we make our find. Sometimes the GPS coordinates are just the starting point - there are more clues or coordinates to find and follow before we actually find the treasure box and that makes it all the more fun. Or frustrating, depending on our perspective at the time.

Sometimes I stumble upon clues by accident and it occurs to me that this may be the best metaphor I've stumbled on yet for how to understand intuitive insights - especially the really strange ones defy any kind of reasonable explanation, even when "reasonable" is stretched enough to include some mechanism such as uncommon senses beyond the normally agreed-upon five senses. Sometimes where you're led isn't the ending point. Sometimes it's just the next clue in the trail of breadcrumbs we're meant to follow.

If that's true, recognizing whether we're at the destination or just another step closer is probably part of the puzzle to be solved. Good thing I like puzzles!

How do you solve puzzles? Send your methodology to me at and let's talk about what does and doesn't work, when and why, and when & why not.

Where might the thread I'm following be leading?

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Logic of Intuition

There is an inherent complexity when considering the usefulness and appropriateness of applying intuitive thought processes to a situation. One the one hand (quite likely the left), there is the increasing evidence that to "go with your gut" is not only a good thing, it may be one of the best things one can do. On the other hand, for those of us who prefer to think and act with logic on our side, intuition is, by definition, quite outside the realm of reason. That can cause problems when evidence and rational thinking point one direction and intuitive insights point another.

Reconciling both points of view can be a tough fence to sit, and it's a position made even more precarious when we consider legal and ethical matters. For me, however, it's quite as unreasonable to ignore intuition as it is to ignore logic, and I'm becoming increasingly aware of others who feel the same.

Unfortunately, the question of how to appropriately incorporate both kinds of thinking without seeming flaky, wandering off the legal/ethical high road, or becoming completely schizoid is a topic I don't find discussed nearly often enough. When I do find it discussed, I'm rarely satified with how well the arguments explore the more troublesome gray areas when intuition is met with conflicting evidence.

When I used to troubleshoot issues for other people for a living and ran across a difficult issue for which no one else had an answer, the way seemed clear - it was up to me to gnaw at it until I worked out the answer. That approach seems to be needed here. It's definitely a work in progress and I think best when I get input from others, so feel free to contribute your thoughts and ideas.

Given that there are lots of aspects to this matter - a series of questions rather than a single question to be explored - I'm thinking it's best started like this, though please be assured I have a great many more thoughts on the subject that I hope to surface through this process of thinking out loud. Hopefully my mental meanderings will generate some useful food for thought.

And I do hope you'll participate in the process. You can start by sending me the questions you have about how logic and intuition fit (or don't fit) together to as well as any examples of issues that have arisen from ignoring one or the other.

What does logical intuition look like?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.