Leaving My Comfort Zone

A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress.
— From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

fysbigDuring my vacation with my wife and my 16-year-old daughter Lilli in Ireland this summer, I had to leave my comfort zone and to push my personal boundaries twice.

I try to do this once in a while to extend my comfort zone as you can see in previous entries on paragliding (also with Lilli) and on speaking in front of large audiences. I usually create a video which makes it it easier to recall these impressions later.

This time my fear of „wild“ animals and again my acrophobia were concerned.

The first video shows how the two of us climbed up the Diamond Hill (450 m / PDF-map) in Connemara National Park. The more we proceeded the more steep an complicated our ascent became. About 50 meters below the summit I found myself in a situation where I didn’t feel like going further nor like going back. Sitting on a wet stone in a cloud, I was looking a few hundred meters down. With the mental support of Lilli, I finally reached the summit and found, as she had already assumed, the way down much easier than going back to where we came from.

The second video shows a regular hiking tour where we had to pass a herd of bulls (only separated by a thin electrical fence, which not really should be an obstacle for a raging bull) and later three horses without a fence between us. While the bulls showed no interest at all when we went a small path between their fence and a stone wall, the horses came up quickly to inspect us and I (obviously successfully) tried to calm them down. As I’m not used to deal with cattle or horses nor seeking their company on a regular basis, these were very exciting encounters.

Social Tagging – Are you an Expert?

I do presentations on Social Networking which is – besides Social Collaboration – one of the two major building blocks of Social Business. One important Use Case within in Social Networking is “Finding Experts” which focuses on questions like

  • How you can expose yourself as an expert
  • How can the community raise the relevance of an expert and, of course
  • How to find an expert?

Finding experts often is crucial for our work. Especially if you are new to a specific department or even completely new to a company it is not easy to get hold of people that can support you in doing your work.

Who is an Expert?

Once in a while, especially during a training where real-life experts (like engineers, chemists, …) are in the audience, these social mechanisms are challenged for good reasons.

Questions are usually:

  • Can just anyone claim to be an Expert?
  • Even if he/she isn’t?
  • What if on one hand a ‘self made’ Expert is found, but on the other hand me and the (real) experts in my team of are not? (sometimes have to smile on this one …)

In the social context many terms have a slightly less formal definition as in Enterprise Collaboration / Knowledge Management. A Tag doesn’t necessarily match with the qualifications in your HR record. In the social meaning, being tagged as an Expert does not mean that you are the (only) “Source of Truth” in a specific domain. The presence of a Tag in a profile doesn’t necessarily mean: this is “a Domain I’m officially certified in”.

In fact, the term “Expert” does not appear in the user interface. The respective area is often simply labeled with “Tags”.

If I added the Tag “Rocket Science“  to my profile it actually wouldn’t mean much. I could mean

  • I (think I) am an expert in this topic, or
  • I work in an area where this takes place or
  • I’m just interested in Rockets

Perhaps I changed my work in the meantime and this tag only has a historical meaning.

The relevance of a Tag in a Profile increases as other colleagues of the social community give the same Tag multiple times, for example after someone

  • Helped someone else
  • Answered a question or
  • Shared relevant information.

The relevance indicaties I’m (likely) knowledgeable in this area. When a “critical mass” of Tags in a profile is available the main Tags that characterise me can be easily  separated from the less relevant ones.

Additionally, someone who found my profile searching a Tag search can also see:

  • Who gave me this Tag? Was it a supervisor? Was it a recognized expert? Was it someone whose judgement I trust in?
  • What other users have also this Tag, maybe even with a higher relevance?

Each person (including myself) can assign a Tag to my profile only once. That is why it is so important that uwers not only tag themselves, but also to tag their colleagues. They usually know what there are working on and what they are knowledgeable in.

If someone gives you an advise or support in the system, on the phone or personally, why not as a good practice immediately give her the appropriate Tag?

What to tag?

Besides areas of expertise you should also tag Projects, Responsibilities, Location, Country, Region, Department, … do not consider any kind of tag as too obvious (“Everbody knows that I work in Cape Canaveral”). If someone searches for an expert in “Rocket Science at “NASA” in “Cape Canaveral” they won’t find you if you don’t have all these tags in your profile (i.e. lacking the “Cape Canaveral”-Tag). Add Tags also to the profiles of the colleagues you are working with helping them to gain visibility in the area of their expertise.

Gamification vs. Gaming

Recently I heard someone say: “we’ll add some quizzes and skill games to our web site a user has to solve in order to come in”. That is Gaming but not Gamification.

These terms are often mixed up. Gamification is not about applying gaming elements to the work environment. It is about applying gaming mechanisms to none-gaming environments, to extract the motivational factors that make us play a game and improve our skills in it.

Two examples from the Internet:

  • Have you ever been annoyed by a progress bar in the profile page of your favorite social network that indicated that your profile is (only) 75% complete?
  • Have you already thought of purchasing a Pro Account so you can see who has visited your profile?

The second example – a Gamification approach called “Freemium” (“Free” and “Premium”) — solves a dilemma of the service provider: A social networking service has to be free in order to be distributed as broadly as possible. To earn money the provider has to identify features that are not crucial and that users are willing to pay for.

  • Good Usability of an application can also leverage Gamification

A good usability of an application can motivate users to use it in way it is intended to. I use for example a to-do app (Clear for IOS) that allows me to maintain my to-dos in a very basic way (no due dates, no alarms, no geo location …). It does this perfectly with very nice animations and sounds that make me enjoy to enter to-dos, to shift their order and even more to dump them.

That is Gamification. There are no angry birds around and there is no icon of a treasure chest hidden in the depth of a Web Site. It just addresses the right set of synapses and emotions in you to make you do what you are supposed to do.

As in real games, Gamification is based on the voluntariness of the goal it is applied to. IMO, it is not the tool of choice to reward someone just for doing their work.

A frequent misunderstanding of Gamification is to use it to buy loyalty (with rewards, rebates and badges) – as opposed to foster engagement. Loyalty is volatile, engagement is sustainable.

We recently evaluated a Gamification tool  that decorates users with badges that are visible on their profile. The tool is able to assign these badges based on the frequency of nearly every action a user can take in the system. Thresholds can be defined for different levels of achievements for these badges. Also limits can be configured in order to prevent “one-dimensional optimizations”. For me this looks more like buying loyalty.

On more point to consider in the work environment: no tool solves the challenge to gamify the right goals and thresholds that

  1. Are aligned to a company’s strategy and
  2. Are not too easy or too difficult to achieve (another rule from gaming) for every individual of a company’s heterogenous staff

Can we give knowledge away?

bretagneThere are a lot of articles and posts on the web written by experts about sharing Knowledge. These discussions are mainly pointing out the benefits and risks for individuals and companies and tools that support it. I found one aspect missing I consider as important for everyone who is afraid of or at least reluctant “to give his/her knowledge away”.


When I studied computer science a major part of my curriculum was math. I never questioned that fact at that time. Since then I haven’t used that knowledge often but I own it and at least I can share it with high-school students like my own children and also my friends’ children that are struggling with algebra at school.

One subject I had to learn was “Approximation Theory” and eventually the inevitable exam was coming up. As most of my fellow students I owned a programmable pocket calculator, the standard at that time was the “Sharp PC-1401”.

We were allowed to use our pocket calculators including the programmable ones during the exam. The only condition was that we had to write down not only the final result of each calculation but also all intermediate results.

In “Approximation Theory” you have to calculate the same steps over and over again to come closer and closer (but not exactly) to the result.

Early computers and pocket calculators where predestined for this type of calculation. So I programmed all like 10 different methods we had learned into my “Sharp PC-1401”. Of course I made sure that not only the result but all required intermediate results were displayed for convenient subscription to the paper. The program worked fine.

I discussed this with my fellows and we found that this approach fully complied with the given rules. Someone soldered a cable with which I “shared” my “Knowledge” to other calculators of the same type.

Needless to say, my exam went very well. All my results were correct and I finished ahead of time. Some of my fellows were also successful while others couldn’t use the program because they hadn’t understood how to operate it (i.e. how to make use of my knowledge).

  • As a result I had learned all the methods thoroughly because I had to break them down to a level a calculator at that time could process. I learned them even better than by practicing exercises.
  • My fellow students who also made it utilized my knowledge (I was their hero, at least for while). But did they really learn their lesson? No, not necessarily, but at least they learned to make use of “external” knowledge to succeed in a problem (the exam) they were confronted with.
  • Those that couldn’t use the program received the same bits and bytes of my knowledge as all of us had but unfortunately we unable to make use of it.
  • But most important:Two of them reviewed my code and came up with enhancements they shared back with me. The three of us learned from each other on how to program for faster execution, stronger “user guidance” and higher accuracy. 🙂

In my opinion knowledge is that portion of our brains‘ content that can be transferred trough a cable. It is pure data that you gained by learning it. You selected what source to obtain knowledge from, what knowledge to learn and you filtered it by what you needed or were interested in and transformed it the way it fits best into your brain. Learning Knowledge is sometimes hard work. It is like building muscles by repeatedly lifting weights. You cannot “share” that process nor can you share your ability to combine different pieces of your knowledge in a creative, innovative and maybe unconventional way in order to solve a new problem.

All you can share is the pure data that fits through a cable, in a post, in a speech or on a piece of paper. Then it will start aging and has to be kept up-to-date and to be validated permanently on both sides. „Nothing is as old as the newspaper from yesterday“ is a German saying which holds true for knowledge, too.

Sharing Knowledge can give you recognition and reputation. You can pose with your (knowledge-) muscles. Your personal ability and effort to gain Knowledge and to leverage it to solve problems stays with you. Nobody can take this ability through a cable from you (a least not today) as nobody can capture your soul by taking a photograph of you!

Your value as an expert or even as a human should not depend on exclusively owning a piece of data or on an ability that a programmable calculator or a database has as well.

“Learning Organization”, “Knowledge Management”, … are just interim phrases the are used to illustrate new concepts in an easy way — like the “Horseless Coach”, today known as a “Car”. They will disappear as soon as sharing knowledge and learning from each other has become a self-evident part of our daily work.


Do you know the difference between an introverted and an extroverted IT guy?

==> The extroverted one looks at YOUR shoes while talking to you.

But seriously, this might help to understand each others better:

Do You Know What It Means To Be An Introvert?

Oct. 26, 2013

By Kate Bartolotta info

As someone who works with people all the time, you’d think I’d be an extrovert. I’m friendly. I’m not shy. But when I get close to my “people time” limit, it’s time to shut down, be quiet and hole up with a good book. I love helping people, but there’s a huge reason that I balance that type of work with work where I get to be quiet and dive in to working with words instead of being bombarded with interaction. Read on

How did I come to Social Collaboration?

I held this little personal and authentic speech as intro to a presentation.

When I was a boy back in the 70ies, I loved to watch US TV crime series. Like “Kojak”. Every time a murder occurred and the investigation got stuck, Kojak would say: „We’ve got to ask the computer!“. They would go into a computer room and would type in some clues of the crime like: brown hair, blue eyes, bullet between the eyes.

Magnetic tapes in racks would spin back and forth and after a while, the printer would start to rattle and print five or so names of suspects. Three of them would already have been in jail and one would be dead. Kojak would tear the paper out of the printer — he knew what to do next …

Of course, I was very impressed by the computers. One night I asked my mother, „How did the computer know?“ To my disappointment, she told me that computers didn’t know anything at all; they had to be fed with information first. Her response bothered me. „How stupid can this be? I have to tell it the answers before I can ask for them?“ My interest in computers vanished for a while.

In the 80ies, I bought some home computers including an Apple II and studied computer sciences. On my first assignment, I worked with PDP 11’s and VAXes. Ever since, I have been looking for a computer that would give me answers I did not have to enter in advance.

I know what some of you are saying right now: „That guy was looking for Google!“, or: „He is talking about the IBM Watson!“ But no. I finally found my grail in social networking and collaboration. It gives me answers to questions like „Who is a recognized expert in topic X?“ / „Where can I find information on topic Y that was also helpful for colleagues?

For methods that motivate users to contribute information and qualify it as a group, social collaboration is imperative. Social networking and collaboration offer techniques which have been proven on the internet and are absolutely integral requirements for companies today.

Using these facilitating networks gives the result as more than the individual pieces of information entered by each user.

— After the presentation i said:

If your boss ever gets murdered, Kojak might come over and check your Connections.