consulting

Yo blogs, wikis and Powerpoint: a light-yet-mighty knowledge object is coming to town


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As you use Pandexio, you will notice that all sorts of thoughts pop into your head while you read and encounter nuggets of useful information.  Those nuggets get the gears spinning, triggering ideas, conclusions, points you seek to make, questions you have.  Our goal with our “snip” object was to make it as easy as possible to capture your thoughts at the time they occur, and within the context that triggered them.

Sometimes those thoughts will happen a level higher than the context of one nugget you found in a document.  Instead, they will represent your multi-nugget synthesis of some form.  Perhaps your brain “synthesizes” them into a point you seek to prove, or draws a conclusion from them, or simply lumps them all into a category of some sort.  You need an easy way to capture this, hence the Pandexio Point.

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Soon you’ll be able to drag snips into the point column, order them however you like, and the make a point, which can be anything:

  • A bullet, paragraph, or just a single word
  • An outline for a test or paper
  • A point you’re gonna ram down the throat of the guy in the next cubicle over, who is influential but usually wrong, whom you seek to expose and stifle during the next meeting with hard-cold facts and sources you summon in a mouse-click

Sorry, got carried away with that last one, but the point is that whatever the heck the snip-group means to your brain, you can capture it.   Or, if you started this whole process with a theory or point in mind, or grouping, then create your point first and drag snips under it.

And then, should you seek to share your creation with others, you can publish your point and share it.  Here’s a first-cut from visual design on what the published point object might look like:

 

The above is a 3-layer, 3-dimensional information object.  Those who view your points can drill-down to the snips that support your point, and from each snip they can further drill-down to the underlying source content that produced the snip:

          Point level --> snip level --> source level

We think this is a tighter, more impactful way to communicate stuff you know to your fellow humans.

You can share points as stand-alone objects, or embed them into blogs, wiki entries, slide presentations, reports – basically anywhere that you can paste a hyperlink.

That’s the Pandexio point… engineered for those who love cliff notes and dread foonotes.

Footnotes banned at Berkeley, Dow skyrockets, 14th century monk found shot.

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Humor me for a moment.  Let’s assume people take the time to actually check footnotes as they read.  Would that really help much?

The whole point of the footnote is to prevent the reader from getting BS’d by the author, yet here’s how they work:

  • The author has the sources (allegedly), the reader does not
  • The author knows where they got the sources, the reader has no idea
  • The reader has to go on an egg hunt, trying to find sources that could be anywhere in the virtual or physical world, to which they may or may not have access

I couldn’t design this more backwards if I tried.  This is what you design when your goal is to BS the reader while giving the illusion you are not.

This is a problem.  We are now a knowledge economy, and footnotes are entrenched in how we assess the quality of written communication.  They represent one of our primary quality control mechanisms and that is not something to be taken lightly.  

Quality management is likely to be just as pivotal to our success in a knowledge economy as it was when we were an industrial economy.  It arguably propelled the United States from lowly British colony to world economic power.  Any credible historian would vouch that our quality control systems, methods and guidelines were crucial to America’s success –TQM, statistical process control, Six Sigma.

Here in our bleeding-edge knowledge economy we feature a bunch of footnote style guides: Chicago Manual, APA, MLM, AMA, NLM, ACA, IEEE, BlueBook, Maroonbook. Heaven forbid someone misplace a period or underline something that should be in italics.

We appear to be hopelessly shackled into using a quality control mechanism that was probably developed by a pre-printing-press monk somewhere in medieval Europe.  If an archeologist looked hard enough they might find a footnote on a cave wall or papaya leaf. 

How long are we going to continue with this nonsense for the sake of academic tradition?   We have generations of students in grad school, undergrad and high school who are being required to learn and use a quality control mechanism that belongs to another time and age.   They have even less time and patience then we do, a ton more information to process and their load is only going up.

What do you think?

Agree or disagree?

Are we capable of breaking this paradigm?

 

Knowledge management fails because it puts the company cart before the employee horse

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Let me get this straight:  Companies implement knowledge management systems such as document repositories, blogs and wikis, so they can capture and manage employee knowledge, right?

I get the goal, believe it is crucial to succeed in our knowledge economy, but are employees capturing and managing their own knowledge?  Seems to me that we need to have that in place first.

The knowledge of most people, myself included, is scattered across paper piles, computer files and brain cells.  It’s on desk surfaces, in file cabinets, on sticky notes and yellow pads.  It’s buried deep within multi-level file folders on multiple systems – some local, some cloud, increasingly on numerous devices.  It is in bookmarks, email attachments, Evernote and a growing host of other apps.   The reality is that our facts, findings, ideas, IP, questions and conclusions are scattered and disconnected. 

And now the company wants us to create something for the corporate repository, blog or wiki.  Presumably not the scattered mess described above, but some bottom-line synthesis of what we know on key topics that is accessible and useable.

I don’t have that for myself, do you?  This is a prefatory problem that needs to be addressed.  This isn’t just a matter of contributing what we already have.  I could contribute my entire hard drive and it would be of no value, I can barely find stuff there.  This is a synthesis request/need.

I use a formula to explain knowledge management failure, call it Burge’s law:

     Personal benefit

     ----------------------   =  Participation rate

     Communal effort

Repositories, blogs, wikis all have miserably low participation rates because companies fail to appreciate the dynamics of this equation.  Synthesizing knowledge into a bottom-line format that others will find useful is really hard, if it was easy we’d do it for ourselves more often. 

Plugging starbucks cards or gamification techniques into numerator above is not going to move the needle.  It’s certainly not going to generate the rich knowledge from smart people we seek.

Corporations are not going to effectively capture and manage employee knowledge until employees can effectively capture and manage their own knowledge. 

What do you think?

Should we be storing knowledge in our head? Or, would that be stupid.

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I don’t think our brains don’t hold knowledge very well.  They are clearly amazing at reading and understanding information, doing all sorts of things that put our most powerful computers to shame.  But reliably storing it so we can re-access later?  Mine feels on-par with a spaghetti strainer.  

We have all personally proven this fact from years of cramming for college exams.  The brain operates on a use-it-or-lose-it basis: either apply knowledge immediately or repeatedly drill it into your head, otherwise it’s gone. The human forehead should feature a sticker proclaiming:

"WARNING: KNOWLEDGE IS KNOWN TO FADE FROM THE HUMAN BRAIN AT AN ALARMING RATE.  STORE IT THERE AT YOUR OWN RISK."

We’ve all experienced or witnessed the following in our business lives:

  • Answers to questions that are fuzzy
  • Points not backed up with facts
  • Smart people appearing inept, disorganized
  • Time wasted re-researching and re-reading

If someone rifled through all the books we’ve read over the years and started firing questions, I know I would not fare well.  Even if they stuck to things I highlighted or noted as “super important.” 

Here at Pandexio, we like to have fun with this one.  We have people crack open their file manager, then we point at files and ask questions like “what did you learn out of this one?”  They don’t remember a darn thing.

We learned the solution long ago, probably in elementary school: actively read, take notes, create summaries and outlines.  So why don’t we do it?  Because the options suck:

Option 1: paper

  • Print, highlight and add sticky notes
  • Consolidate to index cards, synthesize on a yellow pad

While it works, it's offline, inaccessible, non-linked, non-shareable, non-green and non-mobile.

Option 2: computer

  • A few of the options we have heard:
  • Copy and paste into a Word document
  • Email to self with the source document as an attachment and notes in the email body
  • Same as email to self only using Evernote (or using hyperlinks in one large Evernote note)

These are all hacks, workarounds.  The knowledge gets disconnected from the content and there are too many apps and steps involved in the process.  None of these systems were design for capturing and organizing knowledge as one reads and learns.

Our challenge

Our ability to read and understand knowledge vastly exceeds our ability to store and re-access it.  That gap is widening.  As the information load rises, we must absorb new knowledge faster than ever.  If we are to be organized, competent and credible, it is imperative that we figure out ways of capturing our knowledge in our computers that is convenient, connected and integrated into our workflow.

What do you think?

Is there a better system?

Knowledge management for experts, innovators and other humans

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The quantity of information has been doubling every two years.  We need to consume more content faster than ever before.   It’s not slowing down and it’s not enough to just read it.  We need to absorb and manage it so we can re-access and apply it when needed.  The success of our career, company and country rests on our ability to turn raw information into accessible, actionable knowledge.

We went out and surveyed hundreds of executives, professionals and students to understand how they deal with this, specifically how they capture what they learn as they read.  Here’s what they reported doing:

  • Print, highlight, post-it notes
  • Copy/paste into Word, screenshots
  • Mix of note-taking, annotation tools and emails to self
  • Store in head

This is nuts.  The leading answer was “head” followed by printing, highlighting and sticky notes.  From interviews we conducted, it’s clear that our to-read pile and associated knowledge is scattered across desk surfaces, file folders, email systems, bookmarks and brain cells.  No wonder we feel overwhelmed, frequently lose facts and sources, and feel like our knowledge is disconnected and disorganized.

Weren’t computers supposed to help us learn faster, remember longer, help keep it all organized, connected and accessible?  That’s not happening.  Those who print and highlight are abandoning them entirely, and annotation tools merely compounded the problem by sticking the needle back into the haystack.

We built Pandexio to help people succeed through information overload, particularly voracious learners who seek to stand out as experts.  There is so much information available about our field, market, company, competitors, products, technologies, projects, processes, systems that it is hard to keep up with it all.  Yet if we don’t, then we cannot:

  • Form reliable conclusions
  • Contribute knowledgeable insights to meetings
  • Provide credible recommendations
  • Articulate points and back them up
  • Answer questions
  • Make informed business decisions
  • Create persuasive reports and presentations
  • Generate new ideas and innovations

Our mission is to help you learn faster from the content you consume, so you can do the things above better, easier, faster.  We think it should be easy to convert web pages and documents into connected knowledge you can retain, re-access and apply – and have set out to do just that.  In the process, we have learned a lot which we will be sharing with you via this blog.  We also seek to shed light on the basic nuts and bolts issues of everyday knowledge management that have been under-appreciated, and in some cases completely ignored.