Monthly Archives: June 2010

Skunkworks for innovation

From Kevin Kelly:

Originally posted in New Rules

Because skill guilds constrain…

…(and defend) an organization, it is often far easier to start a new organization than to change a successful old one.

This is a major reason why the network economy is rich in start-ups. Starting new is a less risky way to assemble an appropriate new set of competencies than trying to rearrange an established firm, whose highly intertwined bundles resist unraveling.
In a rugged economic landscape, about the only hope an established company has for adapting to turbulent change is by employing the “skunk works” mode, which reflects another biological imperative. Computer simulations of evolution, particularly those run by David Ackley, a researcher at Bellcore, demonstrate how the source for mutations that eventually conquer a population start at the geographical fringes of the population pool. Then after a period of “beta testing” on the margins, the mutants overtake the center with their improvements and become the majority.

At the edges, innovations don’t have to push against the inertia of an established order; they are mostly competing against other mutants. The edges also permit more time for a novel organism to work out its bugs without having to oppose highly evolved organisms. Once the mutants are refined, however, they sweep rapidly through the old order and soon become the dominant form.

This is the logic of skunk works. Hide a team far from the corporate center, where the clever can operate in isolation, away from the suffocating inertia of success. Protect the team from performance pressures until their work has had the kinks ironed out. Then introduce the innovation into the center. Every once in a while it will take over and become the new standard.

Economist Michael Porter surveyed 100 industries in 10 countries and found that in all the industries he studied, the source of innovations were usually either “outsiders” or else relative outsiders–established leaders in one industry making an entry into a new one.

Again and again, Kevin Kelly will reach back into his archive and pull out a gem like the above. I subscribe to Kevin Kelly’s Lifestream Updates. Wayne Hodgins turned me on to it. Highly recommended if you are trying to track the big picture.


I am moving the My Documents folders from all of my computers to one Dropbox.

Dropbox is the equivalent of a hard drive in the cloud. I’ve been using the free version (2 GB) for months without any hassles.

Dropbox lets me work on files offline; it syncs when I’m back on the net. It provides a shareable folder to make files available to others. You can share folders selectively (Internet Time Alliance has a shared DropBox repository.) Dropbox backs everything up, including 30 days of un-do history. Upload and download are drag-and-drop. Transmission is encrypted. Dropbox works with my iPad, essentially giving me a My Documents folder there, too. Dropbox can be reached by iPhones and Android devices, too. And I can search all my files from one place.

I just upgraded to 50 GB of storage for $99/year.

Here’s something I’ve never seen before on a Pro account of anything:

This is like having a private, omniscient wiki.

Sign up here

Gurteen Knowledge Letter celebrates 10th birthday

David Gurteen has written his “Knowledge Letter” every month for the last ten years. 120 issues! Here’s proof.

I’ve followed David’s adventures in Knowledge Management for years. It’s one of the few periodicals I let into my e-mailbox. Take a look. David’s site also provides reviews of KM books, biographies of thought leaders, and more. It’s my primary KM reference site.

David has been a major influence on my views of knowledge management. If the topic interests you, sign up for his newsletter.

The Gurteen Knowledge-Letter is a free monthly e-mail based KM newsletter for Knowledge Workers. Its purpose is to help you better manage your knowledge and to stimulate thought and interest in such subjects as Knowledge Management, Learning, Creativity and the effective use of Internet technology. Archiv e copies are held on-line where you can regist er to receive the newsletter.

It is sponsored by the Knowledge Management Forum of the Henley Business School, Oxfordshire, England.

You may copy, reprint or forward all or part of this newsletter to friends, colleagues or customers, so long as any use is not for resale or profit and I am attributed.

Babies and bath water

Managers often mistake the large for the small.

The more successfully integrated…

…a firm’s capabilities are, the harder it is to shift its expertise by changing just a little. Thus successful firms are more prone to failure during high rates of change. (Success makes it easy for the successful to deny this fact.) Indeed, the very success of successful organizations makes them conservative toward change–because they must unravel many interdependent skills–even if some are working fine.

Kevin Kelly’s New Rules

Things are changing so fast you can feel it in your bones. The flexible will inherit the earth.

Best camera I've ever owned

Canon PowerShot S90

10MP Digital Camera with 3.8x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3-inch LCD

$362.42 with extra battery (which you will want to have)

I continue to be impressed with the Canon S90. Great in low-light conditions. (I never use the flash.) Fast lens. Vibrant colors.

PlaNetwork 2010 PlaNetwork 2010 Museum of the Legion of Honor Paris Fish on fire Alliance meets in Salisbury Crevettes Mamounia Gardens Majorel Gardens Wissembourg, Alsace No dogs allowed Black Forest Malaga Marrakech Marrakech Marrakech Marrakech Marrakech Black Forest Black Forest Malaga & Estepona Malaga & Estepona

While no camera is idiot-proof, I took all these in automatic (program) mode.

  • New 10-megapixel High Sensitivity System; DIGIC 4 Image Processor
  • Improved low-light image performance, plus a Low Light scene mode for ISO settings up to 12,800
  • Customizable control ring for easy access and operation of manual or other creative shooting settings
  • Wide-angle 3.8x optical zoom with Canon’s Optical Image Stabilizer
  • Bright f/2.0 lens
  • Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 inches ; 6.2 ounces
  • RAW + JPEG shooting and recording modes; capture images to SD/SDHC memory cards
  • Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 inches ; 6.2 ounces (fits in shirt pocket)

Generalities & specifics

The ‘Learning Knights’ of Bell Telephone in the Op/Ed section of today’s New York Time is a case study of Push learning vs Pull learning.

In 1955, Bell Telephone was concerned about leadership development:

“A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.” Bell, then one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.

Bell set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education.

Drawing by Dave Gray

The Institute was deemed a success overall but Bell was disappointed its graduates tipped the scale of work/life balance more to the “life” side:

One man [said] that before the program he had been “like a straw floating with the current down the stream” and added: “The stream was the Bell Telephone Company. I don’t think I will ever be that straw again.”

Over the following five years, Bell phased out the Institute of Humanistic Studies. Old ways die hard and once again, control preempted autonomy.

Today’s companies are grappling with the same issues Bell faced a half century ago. Are we confident our organization is preparing leaders who will be able to deal effectively with the challenges of the future?

  • Do we have the right balance of generalists and specialists?
  • Are we focused on the short-term or the long?
  • Should we teach what we know or inspire people to discover what we don’t know?
  • Isn’t the “soft stuff” as important or more so than the “hard stuff”?
  • Are our programs developing people we can trust to make the right decisions down the road?

I fear the training community is on the wrong side of these questions. The world is open-ended; it’s not assembled from black and white answers. Real life is painted in shades of gray.

You can’t measure discovery learning with an LMS but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. This does it mean you shouldn’t use an LMS to monitor compliance and formal learning either. In a healthy learning ecosystem, “Pull learning” and “Push learning” are symbiotic; you need a bit of both.

We need fewer drifting straws on the stream of American business, and more discontented thinkers who listen thoughtfully to both sides of our national debates.