Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Knowledge Workers and the Business of Knowledge

Knowledge workers in today have to become managers of their knowledge. They need to determine what knowledge is needed next, what must be maintained, and what can be forgotten. They need to figure out how to organize their knowledge and the best ways to get and keep that knowledge.

But knowledge of your domain alone is not enough to be effective anymore. The fact is that to be effective there are many arenas you must be have at least competence in.

For example, each of us, in the current climate should be acting as an entrepreneur. Each individual should treat himself as a business. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that if you have a job in the private sector, you are likely an "at will" employee. That means your company can lay you off for any reason. And because investors like the effects layoffs have on the bottom line, in our economy, you can't count on keeping your job.

As an employee of a large organization, your livelihood is at a greater risk than a successful freelancer. If you are laid off, it can be a major crisis. Your one source of income is gone. As a freelance, you have a portfolio of customers.  Losing one may hurt, but shouldn't leave you out in th cold.

So how do we mitigate this risk? First by managing your knowledge; but also by treating yourself as a business. Your manager is one of your clients, but you can develop other ones both within and outside the company. You can cultivate relationships with any of your coworkers - sales, marketing, operations, etc. If you are in a customer facing position, then more directly, each customer is one of your clients.

What does this mean? It means that not only must your deliver the right expertise to the right client at the right time, but you are responsible for marketing your expertise and selling your expertise. You should also be looking at the market for your expertise and the competitors for your service. You should have your own business plan.

This makes lots of people uncomfortable since marketing and sales get a bad rap in our culture. Not all salespeople sell ice to Eskimos. A good marketer tells a true story, and a good salesperson sells a valuable service to someone who needs it or wants it.

Which brings us to the point: you have to play the business game, the marketing game, and the sales game. The alternative is to ignore it and that leads to playing badly. Which means that we should seek to become better in this vital set of skills.  Even if this makes some of us a bit squeamish.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Decision Fatigue or Decision Strengthening

Heard another pearl from Jocko Willink this week.

There are tons of blogs and talks out there talking about decision fatigue.  The idea being that as the day wears on, each decision takes a little more out of us, until in the evening we go nuts on eating candy and cake.

That has some consonance with my experience.  At the very least, we make worse decisions when we are tired.

But in his latest Tim Ferriss podcast, in the context of talking about why you should get up at 4am, he makes a claim for the exact opposite.  That is, he claims that each good decision, such as to wake up, to work out, makes good decisions easier later, so you wont eat that doughnut in the break room at 10am or 2pm or 8pm.  Is good decision making like a muscle?

Looking at my own experience, this seems to be true too.  But how can both things be true?  Decision fatigue or decision momentum?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Freedom and Discipline - The warrior, the monk, and the surfer...

Jocko Willink, a Navy Seal and author, says that "Discipline is Freedom".  The sentiment goes all the way back to Aristotle.

It's easy to see what they mean. The "you" that thinks and plans controls the "you", that acts.  Discipline is when the actor does what the thinker wants.  The "thinker" has freedom.

Another reason why this feels right is that the opposite - a lack of discipline - is NOT freedom.  Acting based on the desires and impulses of the moment feels like the opposite of freedom.

But if that model is wrong -- if the self is one -- then Mindfulness is Freedom.  Being aware of what you as thinker/planner/doer are doing is freedom.  If the controller is the controlled, what other freedom could there be?

But what if the self is a system?  The thinker/planner is a governor for the doer.  But there are lots of other inputs to the system. Momentary desires, the environment, the state of the body all affect the system.  Even competing plans can affect the outcome.

So the self is a kind of avatar of the ever-changing system.  Surfing the waves of system states and behaviors, so to speak.  Inputs at one point in the stream - say eating a heavy meal, or creating a habit - can affect the system down the road - stomach upset, sleepiness, desired behaviors.  If early in the stream you had inputs (food, exercise, stimulation, sleep, lack of stress) that left you in a high energy state - the governor could stop you from consuming that heavy meal.

In this case, freedom comes in degrees -- the better you surf, the more free you are. Both discipline and mindfulness play a part, but so does the rest of the system and environment.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sleep timing

Sleep goes in about 90 minute cycles.  From light to deep sleep to light again.  Wouldn't it make sense that the optimum sleep at night would be a multiple of that?

For optimum sleep, you should wake up after 1.5 hours, 3 hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours.  Right?

My (unprofessional) guess is that the cycle probably continues during waking hours.   So the best time for a nap might be at 4.5 hours after waking, 6 hours after waking, or 7.5 hours after waking..

Finally, when taking a power nap, one should either wake up prior to deep sleep (some amount of time less than 25 minutes) or after a cycle (90 minutes).

The great thing about all this is you can test it for yourself easily!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Find your passion or let it find you?

There's lots of folks out there exhorting you to "find your passion", and all will be well.  But there are plenty of people who get stuck at this step.  Not everybody has a clear "passion", although there are a lucky few who seem to.  And it's not clear that successful people who are passionate "found" their passion, but more or less picked it.

Okay, so if your are not going to work on the project of  "finding your passion",  what’s the next question?  How about "What's the most fun I can have while earning a buck?"

Putting it that way takes some of the pressure off, doesn't it?

There are lots of way work can be fun.  First, is it interesting?  Are you working on something exciting like the next generation electric car, the space shuttle, fashion, design, movies?  That's one way to inject fun into your career

But beyond that, there are plenty of folks in less exciting industries (for me, banking, insurance, etc) that still have fun.  Working with a great team and a great boss on meaningful projects can make almost any kind of work fun.  Heck, Mike Rowe seemed to make even"Dirty Jobs" fun.

We all know how to make work "not" fun .  Horrible bosses, tedious and meaningless work, isolation, little camaraderie, and cutthroat competition make for a soul-deadening environment.

So instead of finding your one true passion (like your one true love), you can find one of the many ways to have fun while making a living.   That sounds like a recipe for happiness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Strategies for Knowledge Workers

Many of us, these days, are knowledge workers.  As knowledge workers, our knowledge is our stock in trade.  Adding to it, maintaining it, pruning it are critical for our ability to contribute to the organizations and causes we care about it.

As with any resource, our knowledge practice needs governance.  Knowledge governance is impacted by several characteristics that make it particularly problematic.

One is that knowledge has a definite shelf-life.  Some knowledge has a longer shelf life than others. For example, the knowledge of philosophy and history I gained during my university education is still about as useful now as it was when I acquired it.  But my knowledge of MS-DOS (a 1980s computer operating system) has lost all of its value.

The second concern with knowledge is the sheer vastness and availability of knowledge now available.  There are videos, podcasts, blogs, forums, and an ever increasing number of books in every domain.  The sheer number of these sources of knowledge seems destined to grow exponentially, and not all the sources are trustworthy.

That leaves the knowledge worker wanting to manage her knowledge resources with some very daunting challenges.

Which domains should she concentrate in going forward?  Which will be most relevant 2, 5, 10 years from now?  Which domains are faltering and should be no longer maintained?

Which data sources should she use?  Which are the most trustworthy now and going forward?  Which expert communities should she join and contribute to?

Once these strategic decisions have been made, there are then tactical ones -- how narrow or broad should she make her own knowledge resources?  Given that most "knowledge" can now be looked up, what are the critical pieces that should be learned, and which pieces can be digitally stored?  How should one structure your knowledge so that the pieces you have in memory can effectively point to where information can be discovered?

Again tactically, once we've decided on the knowledge, how do we mine for it?  Classes, books, videos, and communities might be the data sources, but how do you make the knowledge you come across stick? What tactics and methods will you use?

As with any other resource, knowledge resources must be deployed in the context of the goals of the organization or the individual -- how will your knowledge resources be deployed in delivered?  An accountant might deliver a balance sheet, a lawyer might deliver a contract, a doctor might deliver a prescription or recommendation. An IT professional might deliver recommendations for IT processes or IT systems.

Most organizations, while usually paying lip service to developing their knowledge workers, fail to ask these questions.  But given that the "product" of more and more organizations is knowledge, organizations would be well rewarded if they treated these questions as carefully as they treat questions about where to gain resources in coal, or oil, or steel, now and in the future.  It might be good for individuals to ask themselves the same questions!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Career management in the modern economy

There's a difference between being good at your job, and being good at managing your career.  This is what Cal Newton called in a recent post the difference between career knowledge and career metaknowledge.

How do you gather career metaknowledge -- knowledge about how you can advance your career?  This is not something you can learn in a class. This knowledge will be unique to organizations and industries and circumstances.

A first strategy might be to ask questions of others who are further along your career path than you.  This seems intuitively correct.  But as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato noticed many years ago, practitioners often can't articulate what they know.  An artist may be able to produce magnificent paintings, but he can't tell you his  process.  He has know-how, not know-that.

A second strategy to overcome this would be to work with a mentor.  Working as an apprentice, you can see and internalize the strategies of an accomplished person.  But while working on a career may be know-how, it is different from the work of the art and the craftsman in several ways.  The craftsman takes on one project after the other, honing his craft as she goes.  Progress and mastery is increased as each project is completed and then surpassed.  In the career metaknowledge arena, this is not true.  You only have one career, or at most, a few careers.   It is unlikely you will have enough careers in your lifetime to gain know-how in "careering". 

Of course, you have to be good at the tasks for the role you are currently in, but that is just table stakes.  To move ahead will require other skills as well as luck.  At the very least you need to have some emotional intelligence - to be able to detect how others see and feel about you, and to be able to act on that information -- in order to manage a career.

A third strategy is to observe the behaviour of successful people in your field, as if you were a journalist or scientist, and try to determine what acts led to their success.  But this strategy has two problems.  One, it may be difficult to figure out which behaviors tend toward success and which are irrelevant.   For example, wearing a Rolex or an expensive suit may be irrelevant to success;  but successful people often wear such things.  Secondly, randomness/luck/good timing may play a larger or smaller role in the success of some of your subjects; it will be difficult to say how much.

The very project of gathering career "meta-knowledge" presupposes that there is a more or less fixed career path that others have trod before, and that is stable enough to provide a guide for a future. Neither of these assumptions are valid in today's changing world.  Many of the important positions in today's economy did not exist ten years ago.  We have good reason to believe the same will be true to a greater extent ten years from now. 

(As a side note, I am often amused to see ads for jobs that require ten years' experience in a discipline that didn't exist ten years ago.)

An additional complication is that very few people spend their entire careers in one organization any more.  And, of course, career goals will change with the changing world.  New opportunities will open up, old ones will close.

So managing a career in today's flow has the character of a journey without a fixed direction.  One sets off in an interesting and promising direction, and depending on what one finds, you may alter that direction more or less frequently.   The most you can do is try to limit the risk involved by engaging with a set of fellow travelers following roughly the same road.  Of course, from time to time you may model the behaviour of another to get a little further down this road or that, but every traveler's journey is going to be unique.