Tag Archives: Collaboration

The School of Misdirection

* Masquerade *

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller

“Misinformation works.”
– Rand Paul

Before I became a computer programmer I was a student at a tech school. It was a fast-paced track that promised to teach employable programming skills in under a year.

On the first day the students in my class were also promised that many of us would drop out. That is what had always happened on this tough track.

But it didn’t happen to us.

The stereotype of introverted computer geeks hadn’t taken hold in the culture yet. Sociability was fairly high in the class and many of us hung out together, had lunch together, or had drinks together after class. We studied together. This group was very open, no one was excluded.

Along with a few others I was getting straight A’s and would help anyone who asked, answer anyone’s questions, keep trying to explain for as long as needed. We learned very quickly that doing this helped us to learn the material better. Things become clearer when you think them through and make them simpler.

Helping other students definitely helped me to improve.

And talking about the material made everything more interesting and studying was actually fun.

At graduation time they told us that we were the biggest class to make it through the course and we had the highest class GPA. We had a record number of students finish with an A average and few or no dropouts.

My class had gelled around a sense of mutual support.

Recently I’ve been told that some educational tracks are cut-throat. The students compete with each other for grades and ranking and the tactics can be vicious. A few weeks ago a United States Senator advised medical students to sabotage each other with bad information. Apparently within some fields of study knowledge is a zero-sum game and the incentives reward hoarding it for oneself and trying to prevent others from accessing it.

A few years after graduation I was looking for a better job. One of the students from my programming class spotted my resume on her boss’s desk. She told him that she remembered me from that class and that I’d helped her with the coursework.

I got the job.

In my career since then I’ve always tried to share whatever knowledge I have and tried to help and answer questions and offer ideas. In my spare time I became involved with a local technical group dedicated to spreading know-how and networking, and I served on the board of directors. Sharing has always enriched my life and I love it when I can make something clear enough that I can actually see the light in another person’s face as connections are clicking together.

Occasionally I’ve also encountered people who hoard knowledge or even are outright saboteurs, intentionally giving bad information in an attempt to cause the other person to fail.

I’ve found that people remember the ones who helped them and learn to distrust saboteurs.

As the use of social media rises, employers are catching on to the value of teamwork and sharing. Knowledge hoarders will find that they must learn to share or they won’t fit in.

And saboteurs? Saboteurs will find that misinformation will follow them.

Masquerade * by pareeerica, on Flickr

Connecting Across Spaces


We spin out our webs, weaving a structure for others to cross between or after us, if they happen to chance upon them.

There must be tracks to span the spaces between worlds, between my world and yours and anyone else’s. How else can we reach?

When structures fail us, that’s when we fall. That’s when the homeless find themselves huddled on an uncaring street. That’s when the suicide grasps at the blade as if flailing for a line, because solid structure can’t be found; if it exists it’s unseen, unfelt, tragically unknown. The strand that was followed ends here, the trail fades out, drops off.

The tracks our lives leave are what matters. Our lives are short but the tracks we leave behind may support scores after us.

Without them our lives are written on the wind.

Image source :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/34439637@N08/3199422889/” title=”Construction by ook.com.sa, on Flickr”


My favorite thing about collaborative software and techniques is the ability to quickly assemble and coordinate an ad-hoc cross-functional remotely diffuse team to work on an urgent or important problem.

Imagine a situation at a manufacturer where a production line has gone down due to the failure of a key computer application. A person in IT is notified by a worker on the line. The collaborative software is used to create a document that describes the problem and a high priority is assigned. The IT worker assigns appropriate troubleshooting resources via the software: maybe a techie to check the hardware, someone to check the network connection, someone to investigate the interface between an in-house written entry program and the ERP packaged software provided by an outside vendor (who might also be tapped for input). Notifications and alarms are issued.

All of these people report back or can ask questions via the collaborative software, keeping a centralized record of progress on these steps.

People on the line are granted access to the problem document as needed and are subscribed to all updates as they occur. They can answer or ask questions. Managers can be subscribed so that they can monitor progress and can easily see which parties are involved and whether the crisis is getting the appropriate attention and resources. People who manage relationships with outside stakeholders – perhaps a customer whose shipment may be delayed or a vendor whose product may be faulty, are included. Anyone who needs to be kept in the loop is easily added.

Troubleshooters can address the entire group instead of playing phone tag with individuals and hoping that information is relayed to the correct parties.

Everyone’s roles and behaviors become easier to discern. I’ve found that the people who have a tendency to disrupt meetings and discourage the input of others with sarcasm or bullying tend to monitor themselves better when their comments are self-documented. These controlling tendencies are visible to all and can be confronted and coached if bad behaviors surface here. This makes it easier for the entire team to focus on the problem at hand, minimizing the interpersonal dynamics or conflicts that might occur in a more private setting.

Individuals who hoard knowledge become more apparent as do the knowledge sharers. Stellar performers can be lauded and thanked right there in front of everyone involved.

The entire process is self-documenting and becomes a source of knowledge should a similar problem occur later. The document can become a repository for evidence: a place to attach PDF copies of reports, emails, affected vendor or customer info, notes, links to similar problems, checklists, etc. It becomes a workspace, lab report, and agenda. If further action is needed to prevent a reoccurrence of the problem, the document becomes an invaluable resource. It formalizes problem solving, notification procedure and evidence retention. Problems are less likely to be band-aided and forgotten. It becomes more possible to trace the root cause of secondary problems that sometimes arise due to the unforeseen consequences of a bad ‘fix’ of the original problem.

The entire process is self-documenting and becomes a source of knowledge should a similar problem occur later.

Integrated with best practices from a discipline such as ITIL, this type of collaboration can reduce the number of critical incidents in an organization, allowing everyone a breather from constant firefighting so that the organization can focus on becoming more competitive and effective, rather than focusing on just keeping the lights on.