Hi Mom, finally I made in into an eBook

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The Book is in German my chapter is in English.

A word in the beginning: this post is not about condemning E-Mail and its usage but on how to increase the efficiency of collaboration by utilizing and leveraging all tools and platforms a modern workplace has including Networking, Collaboration, Conferencing, Instant Messaging. For many use cases E-Mail is the tool of choice and for sure it will remain to be for quite a while.When I started at in my current department I was handed over an ongoing project by a colleague. She went to her mailbox, selected with a few clicks all mails associated to that project and sent me the result as one big E-Mail. I was supposed to read all these historical conversations bottom-up. After trying this for a while I ended up just poking around in this mess using the built in search whenever I needed some information that could be issued in a search query … 

Read on …

Is Gamification Gaming?

Yesterday I wanted to trackback my latest post How to reduce your email load to my company’s intranet. To my surprise my Blog is blocked by my company’s externally hosted web filter. It is categorized as “Gaming” / “Low Risk”. My company for good reasons blocks this category.  But how could this happen? I’m not into GAMING, GAMBLING and LOTTERIES, I never made it to WIN A JACKPOT?

It looks like that my article Gamification vs. Gaming is the cause.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems” — Wikipedia

I submitted a change request. Lets see how flexible they are.

How to reduce your email load

mail234A word in the beginning: this post is not about condemning email and its usage but on how to increase the efficiency of collaboration by utilizing and leveraging all tools and platforms a modern workplace has including Networking, Collaboration, Conferencing, Instant Messaging. For many use cases email is the tool of choice and for sure it will remain to be for quite a while.

When I started at in my current department I was handed over an ongoing project by a colleague. She went to her mailbox, selected with a few clicks all mails associated to that project and sent me the result as one big email. I was supposed to read all these historical conversations bottom-up. After trying this for a while I ended up just poking around in this mess using the built in search whenever I needed some information that could be issued in a search query …

Email is a communication form which is now 40 years old (the term “email” was formed 30 years ago). The only big change to that technology happened when attachments were introduced 20 years ago.

For many of us the email client has become the tool we open first in the morning and check several times a day. Notifications about incoming email come in and interrupt our work. The number of unread emails seems to increase steadily.

We misuse our mailbox for our personal Document Management, Knowledge Management, Project and Task-Management.

Usually no one else has access to the information we collect and if someone would have, she would likely not be able to source the information in it without understanding the structure (if any) in which it was stored.

We assign tasks per email in a fire-and-forget mode. Since we can always expect an answer, which is an implicit rule in emailing, we can forget requests until the recipients reply / react. When something goes wrong (and always something goes wrong) we can pull the email out (we usually even don’t have to) and say: “I informed you in time that something could go wrong” / “I told you to take care 2 weeks ago” / “I asked but you didn’t answer”.

We discuss content and send office documents back and forth receiving multiple copies of multiple versions. Discussions are fragmented over several emails, this works more or less as long as there is a sequential discussion. When the discussion branches and several participants reply to different aspects of a discussion it gets time consuming to put the conversation in a sequential order with clear causalities. There is no easy way to include colleagues who joined the conversation later.

In many emails, if we have a look at the net information which is actually included we find that this is only a minor part compared to what is added by headers and footers and the repetition of the complete history of the email conversation.

What is wrong with email?

“Email is a ruthless delegation machine & your daily to-do list imposed by others. (Luis Suarez, @elsua) Just send an action to someone, cc: her Supervisor and it is extremely difficult for that person to not take that action. Asking someone face to take an action is sometimes not as easy.”

Information is private (closed team collaboration). Knowledge is hidden.The information contained in emails is restricted by default. People who might need this information have no access and even worse: they sometimes don’t even know that it exists. Adding recipients later often leads to the mess described above. Information is not available when colleagues are on vacation, signoff or retire.’

Recipients have to be chosen in advance. As a result: often too few or too many or wrong recipients are chosen. Emails and recipient lists once sent are neither updateable nor adaptable later

Attachments blow up mail size and are costly. Multiple copies where is is unclear which is the valid (latest) version

Inefficient for discussions. Sometimes you have to open a series of emails to follow up a discussion. Often you have to scroll a long way down to the end in order rollup the discussion and hope the discussion hasn’t branched in between.

Where is email useful?

When sending emails you can rely on a “Contract”. Following an unwritten law the recipient is supposed to either take notice of an information, or to take responsibility for an action (in many cases only to return information). In any other case she is supposed to reply to you stating why she does not handle the mail in the way you expect. In the latter case she will choose to reply to all.
Since the delivery (at least within the company) is guaranteed, mails often have also a documentary character. Sending an information or task via email documents the transaction including the content of the mail, the timestamp and the recipient(s) of a mail. At a later point in time the sender can use the copy of the mail in his mailbox as an evidence.

In one-two-one private conversations email is always a good choice. It is one of the strength of email to limit the distribution of an email to a closed circle. If necessary the conversation can even be encrypted.

Calendaring, scheduling meetings and sending/accepting invites is a bonus email systems offer. For this purpose they are highly specialized and can not easily be replaced by other tools without losing comfort and reliability.

Are you ready to give it a try?

  • Do not reply to email with email (@elsua). Every reply provokes another reply. Instead inform the sender using a different channel. Talk to her personally, send a reply via chat or post the answer to her or your board or to a common collaboration space, like a community. Doing this reduces the email traffic and helps our organization to adopt a new way of collaboration step by step. An answer to an email posted publicly (where applicable) can also be useful to colleagues who were not on the initial scope of the email
  • Move all distribution lists that are not confidential to blogs/communities.
  • Between the senders and recipients of information posted, optionally agree upon a common set of tags, that senders attach to each posting  (files, blog entries, bookmarks, …).
    This requires some discipline on both adding and subscribing (to) the rights tags. The advantage is that recipients can choose what pieces of information the want to receive (they subscribe to) and to change these subscription over time as their responsibilities, projects or organizational position changes.
  • Give all project teams a closed group and encourage them to „work out loud“.
  • Discourage emailing documents. They should all go into a shared space.
  • Check the appropriateness / necessity of CCs/BCCs whenever you send an email or us the “reply all” button. Consider that many recipients due to their load just ignore emails (some of the even by automated rule) that does not contain their names in the to: line.
  • Encourage anything that needs a CC to go into a social network blog or discussion board.
  • Encourage people to answer questions that they receive through any channel in a blog post.
  • For confidential information (and that should be done carefully), for scheduling, for personal notes and for accepting email from external contacts, some of which should be stored centrally to a collaboration space and link from there.
  • Consider setting an autoanswer in your mailbox or an extension to your email footer hinting (internal) senders how to communicate with you alternatively in order to optimize the collaboration.
  • Check which replacements are available in your environment by Use Case.
  • Use / stay with specialized tools like Document Management, Knowledge Management, Project and Task-Management.

Any Questions? Just reply to this blog post.

Thoughts which aren’t my own are stolen with pride from:

  • www.elsua.net/about/
  • youtu.be/QIqA_YKeboc
  • community-roundtable.com/2012/07/start_with_email/
  • www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/jobs/29pre.html?_r=1

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.