Skip to content

What we need are knowledge curators, not managers

The concept of “knowledge curator” has been creeping slowly from the back of my mind to the front over the past couple of years, and received a couple of jolts over the weekend that resulted in one of those elusive “aha moments”.

What we need are curators of knowledge,
not managers of knowledge.

First, I noticed the blurb “curated content from Flickr” when I used the Flickr module on a Squidoo lens.

Second was a quote from Liz Danzico (that I found via Signal vs. Noise blog).

A portfolio of work is a curated experience. … but oftentimes, a portfolio only contains final pieces, as applicants are overly concerned about presenting perfection. Polish doesn’t communicate process though, and therefore I’m left with only part of the story. Messy problems — and how applicants work through them — can show a great deal more in a portfolio than one finished, airtight solution.

I didn’t know it at the time,but this all started back in November 2005 with an article titled Technology makes it easy to ‘remember,’ the trick is learning how to forget, in which I wrote:

My early days in Knowledge Management included a lot of time developing, deploying, and getting people to use “knowledge repositories.” (At least trying to get people to use them.) … I finally realized one day that the problem has become not, “How do we remember all this knowledge that we’ve learned?” but rather, “How do we forget all this knowledge we’ve accumulated that we no longer need so we can focus on what we do need?”

I also noted a quote from the book The Trouble with Tom by Paul Collins related to the need to “eliminate” memories:

Memory is a toxin, and its overretention – the constant replaying of the past – is the hallmark of stress disorders and clinical depression. The elimination of memory is a bodily function, like the elimination of urine. Stop urinating and you have renal failure: stop forgetting and you go mad.

It was this latter quote that was in my mind last summer when, in The importance of forgetting,  I wrote about John Medina’s thoughts on the question of memory and forgetting in Brain Rules:

The last step in declarative processing is forgetting. The reason forgetting plays a vital role in our ability to function is deceptively simple. Forgetting allows us to prioritize events. Those events that are irrelevant to our survival will take up wasteful cognitive space if we assign them the same priority as events critical to our survival.

As I noted then, this is no less true in the organizational context of knowledge/concept work.

Simply capturing everything in document repositories and best practices, without the ability to forget – or supercede – any of it, takes up a lot of “cognitive space” that organizations could be putting to other wise good use.

The trick is figuring out how to forget, and how to figure out what to forget.

Tagged , , , ,

The art (or not) of the apology

Wednesday evening I read Apologizing like a human, not a corporation on the 37signals blog (which, of course, reminded me of the similar chapter in Rework). Good advice, seems like common sense.

On Thursday morning I received two apologies in my e-mail. One was a perfect example of apologizing like a human, the other not so much.

The first was from Boingo, apologizing for a rash of e-mails that erroneously went out to their customers. (A slightly modified version of this is also on their blog.)

Subject: An Apology from Boingo

Let me start this off with a big, fat apology.

We’re deeply sorry (and more than a little embarrassed) about any email you received over the weekend that included a database dump in the beginning and a message that your Unlimited account has been canceled and converted to AsYouGo status.

Please be assured that there’s been no change to your account. If it was Unlimited, it still is. If it was AsYouGo, it still is. If it was closed, it still is. The email was meant for internal testing only; the system basically decided otherwise and erroneously sent the test template to a large pool of our customers.

Please disregard these emails and accept our humblest apologies. If you would like additional details, please check our blog “The Hotspot”, which we will continue to update as we gather more information.

Thanks so much for your understanding during this awkward moment in email marketing history. We would never intentionally inconvenience you in any way and strive every day to deliver the best in customer service.

Honest, sincere. “We screwed up and we’re sorry.”

The other “apology” came from a customer service department in response to an e-mail I sent them about a glass picture frame that arrived snapped in two.

Subject: Recent order (#…) – Ticket# LTK…X

Thank you for your email notifying us that your package has arrived damaged. On behalf of UPS we apologize for the inconvenience this has caused as it most definitely left our warehouse in good condition.

We are initiating a damage claim with UPS. Please hold all merchandise and packing aside as UPS can and most likely will come to inspect it. They generally will contact you within 48 hours to make an appointment for inspection.

If you would take photographs of the damaged item, manufacturers box and the outer shipping box and email them to us, would help to expedite the claims process immensely.

Please note that the entire Claims process can take up to 10 business days for UPS to investigate.

As soon as UPS accepts responsibility for this, we will reship the items or issue a refund to your card as per your desire at that time.

If you are in dire need for the items, please call us to discuss reshipment options.

We apologize for any inconvenience or confusion. Please contact us if you have any specific questions.

Boilerplate, shift the blame, impersonal (the template response doesn’t even reference the “product”, a $5 picture frame.)  ”Hey, it’s not our problem. We’ll tell UPS, but you need to figure it out with them yourself and then get back to us.”

My response was as straightforward and to the point as I could make it.

You’re kidding, right? Does Adorama really expect me to go through all of this for a $5 piece of glass?

I won’t waste your time with the rest of the “conversation”.  (I’m upset enough that I wasted my own time involved in the conversation). What it boils down to was,

“This is company policy. When UPS gets back to us, we will issue you a refund. In the meantime, please order another frame from us so you can receive it more quickly.”

Don’t hold your breath, guys.

Tagged , , , , ,

His decision, not mine (thoughts on an autism cure)

A few years ago, a friend asked me the question: “If someone told you there was a pill you could give your son that would cure his autism overnight, would you give it to him?” Sounds like an easy question, right?

I hadn’t really thought much about it for some time, as it had been nearly ten years since his autism diagnosis, so I answered with a very non-committal, “I don’t know, I guess so.” That evening I gave the question some more serious thought, and was surprised by I learned.

If the child study team that gave us the diagnosis had asked that question right after giving us the diagnosis, when our son was just barely three years old, I would not have hesitated. I would have given him the pill right then and there, no questions asked. (Well, maybe “do you take credit cards?”)

But if you had asked me five or six years later, as my son approached 10, my answer would not have been so quick in coming, or quite so easy to make. At almost 10, he was still autistic, but he was so much more. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be impossible to separate his autism from the rest of him. If we cured the autism, what would be left? Or, I should say, who would be left? Would it be the son I knew and loved, or would it be a “new” child that I would need to get to know all over again? Would I like this new child, this new addition to the family? Would he like who he had become?

Ask me now, when my son is nearly 19 and preparing to graduate high school, and it would be even harder for me to answer. Although in some ways it would be much easier, because what I’ve realized is that at this point in his life it is not my place to make that decision for him. If someone came to me today and asked that question I would very quickly respond, “Don’t ask me, ask him; it’s his decision to make, not mine.

This may be a surprising answer to those of you that don’t have experience with autism. But if you are a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When our kids are young, it is up to us to guide them, direct them, and protect them. As they get older, we help them discover who they are and what they want to be. And then we “let go,” we let them leave the nest.

It is the same for our autistic kids, even if the path is a bit longer or rockier.

Note: Author John Elder Robison also wrote about cure today, from the perspective of an autistic person.

Tagged , , , , ,

Neglect, or good parenting?

The following ties in well with my recent post Parents should be leaders (not managers) and my overall theme for Autism Awareness Month, so I’m reposting it in its entirety.  I first posted this in April of 2008.
- – — — —–

What would you think if your friend/neighbor/sibling told you that they had left their 9 year old son at a department store in mid-town Manhattan, by himself, because “he had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own”? Would you call Child Protective Services, or would you say “good for you”? Would you ever do something like that?

After you’ve had a chance to think about it for a second, check out the essay Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone by Lenore Skenazy (also available on her new blog, Free Range Kids).

Was I worried? Yes, a tinge. But it didn’t strike me as that daring, either. Isn’t New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It’s not like we’re living in downtown Baghdad.

Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.

No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn’t want to lose it. And no, I didn’t trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn’t do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, “Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”

Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.

Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.

It’s that last sentence in the excerpt above that really caught my eye. It is no less true for our autistic kids than it is for our non-autistic kids. There are obviously some differences that need to be allowed for, but only by being given independence – true independence – can kids learn how to be independent, and parents learn how to accept that independence.

As you can imagine, there was a huge negative reaction. But she also received some support from her readers. Check out her follow up, America’s Worst Mom, for the details. Security expert Bruce Schneier also weighs-in on his blog, that is worth a read as well.

Sure there are risks, and there will be mistakes and issues along the way. But isn’t that what life is all about?

—– — — – -

On the subject of leadership, there is a lesson to be learned here for managers/leaders of all kinds.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Dysfunction as high function

During his New Year’s Day seminar, author Dan Pink shared five trends that he is following in 2010. In the science category, the trend he is keeping an eye on is dysfunction is high function. During the discussion he referenced the Atlantic Monthly article The Science of Success, which considers the possible “up-side” of genetic dysfunction:

Yes, this new thinking goes, these bad genes can create dysfunction in unfavorable contexts—but they can also enhance function in favorable contexts.

Re-reading the article last night reminded me of a story I heard many years ago in an episode of Fresh Air focused on Asperger’s Syndrome (paraphrased):

A boy with Asperger’s Syndrome is focused on snakes. He knows about everything there is to know about snakes, and can bring snakes into just about any story or subject. If he can’t make it about snakes, he doesn’t care about it.

For a cumulative school project this boy had to prepare a report about the Battle of Gettysburg. The purpose of the project was to teach research and presentation skills. You guessed it – no snakes, the boy didn’t care and wasn’t doing anything on the project. Until, that is, the teachers and staff came up with the idea, “What if we let him do his report on The Snakes at the Battle of Gettysburg?”

To make a long story short, this got the boy’s attention and he dove right in. To do the project, he had to learn as much or more about the battle and the geography, etc., as any other kid. His project was so good, and so unique, that he was asked to present his project to the entire school. Everyone wanted to hear the presentation about the snakes at the Battle of Gettysburg, and everyone thought it was great.

The kicker here is this: Before this presentation, everyone avoided this boy because all he wanted to talk about was snakes.

I recognize that humans are a social bunch that prefer to socialize with others like themselves, but it is unfortunate – for both the “typical” and “non-typical” populations – that anything that is different is so shunned, before even being given a chance.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Cultivate your kid’s strengths

I found this bit of wisdom in the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Though geared at self improvement, this quote struck a chord with me as a parent:

The trick is not to work obsessively on the skills and talents you lack, but to focus and cultivate your strengths so that your weaknesses matter less.

The story of Tony DeBlois is an example of this in action. His mother recognized that Tony had serious weaknesses/disabilities to overcome, but also realized that his strength in music could make much of that weakness irrelevant.

All of our kids have their own strengths. Much of it may be hidden from us as parents*, or their strength may be something that we don’t quite understand or appreciate as worth cultivating.

But it is by cultivating these strengths, in all of our kids (and ourselves), that we can help them be successful in whatever they ultimately decide to do.

- – — — —–
* Ferrazzi also gives this observation from Machiavelli: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Ignore everybody (but don’t ignore this book)

Like Rework (which I reviewed last week), Ignore Everybody is my kind of book. Written by Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.com, it is made up of 40 short essays that each dive into a very specific idea or question. And pictures, lots of pictures from the cube-grenade gallery at gapingvoid.com.

Based on many years of experience, the advice that MacLeod dispenses is almost brutal in its description of what aspiring artists (used in the loosest, Seth Godin-esque way) have to look forward to, and what they have to do to get there. Just reading the essay titles gives you an idea of what to expect:

  • Put the hours in
  • If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some bit shot, your plan will probably fail
  • Keep your day job
  • Selling out is harder than it looks

If you are looking for an “easy ticket” to success, this isn’t the book that will get you there. (Hint: such a book doesn’t exist.)

None of this is new, of course, to those who are interested in pursuing mastery and are willing to put in the effort it takes to achieve that mastery. Who aren’t focused on a specific outcome but are interested in the journey on which they find themselves. There is plenty in the book to reinforce the importance of that attitude:

  • Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether
  • Sing in your own voice
  • Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time
  • Write from the heart
  • The best way to get approval is not to need it

In some ways, this book simply tells us what most of already know. Maybe we know it subconsciously, just under the radar of what we are willing to acknowledge. Maybe we know that it is true but just can’t bring ourselves to do anything about it. But as MacLeod lays out in the opening essay:

GOOD IDEAS ALTER THE POWER BALANCE IN RELATIONSHIPS. THAT IS WHY GOOD IDEAS ARE ALWAYS INITIALLY RESISTED.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden, which why so few people execute them. So few people can handle it.

Ignore Everybody simply lays it out on the table to where you can’t ignore it, where you have to decide for yourself, “Can I handle it?”

One of my favorites...

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Don’t write them off just yet

Seth Godin doesn’t write about autism, and yet much of what he writes and says comes across as if it were written just for the parents of an autistic child. Today’s article – Accepting limits – from his blog is a perfect example (emphasis is mine):

Isn’t it absurd to focus so much energy on ‘practical’ skills that prep someone for a life of following instructions but relentlessly avoid the difficult work necessary to push someone to reinvent themselves into becoming someone who makes a difference?

And isn’t it even worse to write off a person or an organization merely because of what they are instead of what they might become?

Much of what counts as autism intervention these days focuses on making the child – or the adult - “more normal” or “less autistic”.  Granted there are things that autistic people need to be taught and understand so they can function in the world, there is no denying that. But this doesn’t mean that their uniqueness should be driven out of them in the process.

Don’t write off your child’s future – or worse, your child – just because they are autistic. There is great potential there, if you are willing to do the work necessary to uncover it.

Tagged , , , , , ,

You’re going to love this kid (and this book)

You’re 22 years old, fresh out of school. It’s your first day as a teacher, and you learn that one of your students is a 6 year old autistic boy. You are given a stack of reports and files that tell you, in detail, how “bad” this little boy is and how hard it is going to be to teach him. You want to sneak out the back and run away. And right then the school administrator – grinning, animated, excited – finds you and says: “You’re going to be Jacob’s teacher. That’s fantastic. You’re going to LOVE this kid!

That is the story of Paula Kluth‘s first day, as she recounts it in the preface to her book You’re Going to Love This Kid!.

This is an incredible book. If you are the parent or teacher of a school age autistic child, you should buy, read, absorb this book. If you know someone in those categories, you should buy and read this book, and then give it to that person.

The first chapter alone, a description and discussion of autism unlike any I have seen in books about autism and teaching autistic children, is worth the price of the book.  I’m not an educator myself, but found much that I could use as a parent to help my school system create a more inclusive program.

What struck me the most about the book is that although it focuses on inclusion of autistic children in schools, it is really advocating for the inclusion of ALL students.  Something I hadn’t considered before reading the book, and I would guess that most others haven’t really considered either.

A while back on my blog I asked the question, “Why doesn’t every child have an IEP?”  Some might say that is just not possible, or necessary.  This book explains how to have a program in which every child can have an individual educational experience and, more importantly, why it should be this way.

Not just for our autistic kids. Not just for our “normal” kids. For all kids.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Different is the new normal


What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be different? These are big questions in any discussion about autism and autism awareness.

I like what Kristin has to say on the matter (the emphasis is hers):

“Normal” is such a complicated word.

We each grow up with our own entrenched ideas of what normal is, which means, of course, there is no such thing. Yet the world loves to pretend like there is—if normal doesn’t exist, exactly, then at least there’s a perceived ideal normalcy that we should all strive for, or even pretend to have grasped….

There is no “normal”—at least not in a societal sense—and we need to stop pretending there is. We need to stop talking about it, observing the world through it, and assuming it as we report on and read the news.

Most of all, we actively need to teach our kids to identify the falacies embedded in “normal,” and see through to the other side…. We need to embrace rather than hide what makes us different. We need to prove to the world that what they see as “messed up” can be a very beautiful thing.

What I like even more is that Kristin is not talking about autism here, or any other disability for that matter. These are not questions limited to autism and autism awareness, they are questions for us as a whole.

Different, as Kristin says, is the new normal. Time to get used to it.

Tagged , , , , ,