New Civilization News - Category: Knowledge Management    
 The Isdom of Wisdom8 comments
picture 20 Jul 2004 @ 14:55, by ming. Knowledge Management
Anthony Judge mentioned his article The Isdom of the Wisdom Society. Anthony is one of the smartest people I know of, and his enormous site and his articles are somewhat intimidating to approach. Certainly clear enough to read, but he covers so much ground that it takes your breath away a bit.

This piece was for the UN World Summit on the Information Society, and is exploring information and knowledge and wisdom, and then points to what's maybe at the core - what IS and how to BE with it.
Many studies explore the importance of the distinctions in the sequence from "data", through "information", then on to "knowledge", and finally to "wisdom" [more]. At each stage there is a much-studied challenge of "management" (as in "information management" and "knowledge management"). Arguments are also made for the importance of a corresponding "information society" or of a "knowledge society" -- perhaps expressed as a "knowledge-based society". But clearly it is easiest to argue the case for an "information" focus, especially to hardware, software and information vendors -- hence the title of the UN World Summit on the Information Society. It is more challenging to make a case for a "knowledge society", especially since "knowledge management" is in process of being disparaged as a fad term lacking any real content -- notably in those corporate environments that claim to practice it. And yet it is precisely the transfer of knowledge, in the form of "know-how" that has been a preoccupation of the United Nations over many development decades.
But knowledge is a troublesome thing to get a handle on. If I know one thing, and you know another, and a lot of knowledge is hidden in the library or on the net - what do we really know? Is it knowledge if we put it all in the same database? We so easily end up scattering both our information and our knowledge about, and apart from ourselves. Maybe splitting something apart that really isn't apart. Like ourselves.

What we usually really need is the wisdom. To somehow transcend keeping track of the information and the knowledge, and somehow have the instinct for making good decisions, even in difficult circumstances.
The distinctions between data, information and knowledge are increasingly problematic as is to be seen in efforts to give content to "knowledge management". It is perhaps helpful to see the sequence as a progression from more objective to more subjective -- namely an increasing dependence on judgement, cognitive ability, experience and the capacity for synthesis (see Evaluating Synthesis Initiatives and their Sustaining Dialogues, 2000). Whilst software can be provided to manage information, those packages designed in support of "knowledge management" are far more dependent on the knowledgability of the user. Similarly, whilst data and information can be readily explained, this becomes more of a challenge in the case of knowledge. This is exemplified in the case of appropriately ordered information on a food recipe. Although the recipe may be followed, it is only in the light of the knowledge acquired through past learning and experience that there is any guarantee that the result will be tasty.
OK, we need to understand wisdom better. Wisdom involves subjectivity, and it isn't easy to just break it down and explain it. It can't easily be transferred.

Wisdom seems more intimately bound to space-time than information and knowledge. But in a way that makes it sort of timeless. It has more to do with the quality of how you know and how you go about things than with the actual content. It involves a quality of discernment largely absent from conventional knowing. So, maybe that all leads us towards the mysterious quality of being present, of the "Now", of what IS, and how we act in it.
Paradoxically, as one might expect with respect to a "timeless" quality, its uniqueness derives from a way of "being in the present". This focus on the present is echoed in many sources of wisdom -- as the key to appropriate action in the more extended framework of space and time. Its proximity is for example stressed in various religions. Judaism and Islam recognize that the separation between Heaven and Hell is but a "hair's breadth" -- echoed by Zen in the acknowledgement that the separation between enlightenment and ignorance is again just one "hair's breadth".

It is for this reason that -- playfully -- it is suggested here that the domain of wisdom might usefully be recognized as "Isdom". This might be seen as corresponding to terms such as "Kingdom", "Dukedom" or "Fiefdom" -- except that the focus is on the domain of "is-ness" in the present.
Well, that's very refreshing. The Zen of the moment. Again, hard to take apart, by its very nature, but it can be hinted at, maybe a bit poetically.
As the domain of the present moment -- the present instant -- Isdom is a place of being characterized by a quality of appreciating that moment, and sustaining that appreciation. It might be understood as the mode of expression and interaction in the instants before conventional exchanges occur. As such it resembles a kind of existential foreplay -- in part made of glances and understandings that are global in their quality -- an interplay of being. For example, one international event focused on The Butterfly Effect as the "coordinates of the moment before discovery". It is the sparkle on a pool -- or in a person's eyes (or those of any other animal).

The moment may be imbued with a sense of incipient knowing or of intuitive re-membering -- of re-cognition. It may be understood through the anticipatory quality of "happening" -- a sense of in potentia -- as when encountering a significant other (perhaps for the first time). It is, for example, the instant before any process of falling in love -- "at first sight" -- namely before intentionality or action of any conventional kind.
Well, I'm not going to go on and quote the whole thing, but Anthony goes on to explore how we might possibly "contain" the is-ness. It so easily gets spoiled and reverted into banal normalcy. So hard to hold on to. It is like the plasma needed to create nuclear fusion. The hardest part is to keep it together without it being messed up by the stuff that isn't it. How can the present be reified - made more real? How can we recognize and tap into FLOW? We might have to look for answers in quite different places than what we normally use to take things apart and analyze them. Indeed the addictive "normality" of our habitual world is exactly what keeps us from understanding the zen of the present moment, from tapping directly into the consciousness of wisdom and becoming more fully alive. The things we need to *get* easily border on craziness when seen through the eyes of our collective normalcy. The things we can neatly describe and categorize are not it. From the Tao Te Ching:
The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.
The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of creation.
To really BE in the present moment, and to be in touch with our inherent wisdom, we need to get beyond most of what we can think of putting a name to. Yet, the world is made of the stuff that is observed and named. Ah, delightful paradoxes.  More >

 Connected Information24 comments
picture 18 Jul 2004 @ 10:15, by ming. Knowledge Management
I occasionally wake up sweating, thinking I've forgotten to do my paper route, and undelivered newspapers are stacking up somewhere. When awake, the feeling gets replaced with a vague feeling that there's something somewhere that I've forgotten, and it is important. Of course I haven't had a paper route for, oh, close to 30 years, so it probably isn't that. Except for that I'm not totally sure if I handed in my resignation, so maybe there really is 20 tons of bundles of old newspapers standing there, and a lot of angry customers waiting for their morning paper. How do I know?

But the feeling is quite close to how I relate to many kinds of information. You know, there's something I should know about, and that I should be doing something about, but currently it is disconnected from what I actually do, and I don't quite remember. But it might come back and bite me at any moment, at which time the *information* will clearly show that I'm an idiot who's not doing what I'm supposed to. Until then, the information might well be hiding somewhere where I'm not looking. So, where should I look to find all the information I should be aware of?

Paying bills is a bit like that for me. Relations with public authorities certainly is. I have the sneaking suspicion there's probably some big things I should be doing that I'm not, like paying taxes or having the proper licences, permits and immigration papers. I have some vague ideas. But, I look around me, and there's nothing in my environment that tells me much about any of those things. It takes some hard work to go and track down the information I'm supposed to have, and then figuring out what to do with it. And I never know if I got the whole picture. Yet, there's no excuse for not knowing the law. Meaning, there are 10s of thousands of pieces of information I really should know about, many of which could put me in jail if I didn't act correctly in accordance with them. Oh, most other people don't know them either, but they somehow manage to get the most vital pieces, and then they look around themselves and see what other people do, and they figure they can't go all wrong if they do roughly the same.

My point is that information is typically something disconnected and abstract. Data certainly is. It is some kind of extract representation of something, which possibly might be real. Information is when we put some of that data together so it seems to say something coherent.

I get a bill in the mail. That's a datum, or maybe several. If I study it and discover that, aha, I'm supposed to pay this before the 10th of next month, and this is the amount, then that is information. At that point it is still unconnected to everything else. Who says I'll remember that next month, or that I have any money at that time? Where do I put this thing so I find it again? Well, if I really think it is terribly important, I make some kind of system to remind me. I make a folder for that creditor, I write it in the calendar, I try to estimate my budget over the next month. Of course, you say, everybody does that. But it is not that *of course*. It is just that you're used to living in an information world where things like bills and deadlines appear to be real. Even though they're disjoined and often inconsistent abstractions, several levels removed from anything real.

If you call up Microsoft for tech support, based on some odd problem you have with Windows, they'll usually end up telling you that the answer is there, plain and clear, in technical note number 17536, and you're a bit of an idiot because you didn't know that. They have their information asses covered, just like the law. It is your fault you don't know.

To be fair, most open source mailing lists work like that too. You ask a question, and there will always be somebody quite willing to tell you how stupid you are because there's some file somewhere that has the answer on line 514. And you didn't know. It is a bit of crime to not have processed and tabulated all the information in the world.

In a society like the french, often things aren't said explicitly, but it is assumed that you'll somehow know. The school doesn't necessarily give you a piece of paper that says when vacation is over, because it is assumed that everybody knows. If you apply for being admitted into a new school, they might not even bother to tell you if it was accepted or not, because you somehow ought to figure that out by yourself. The business world works like that too in many ways. You're sort of supposed to guess what is going on, even though the information isn't readily available, and your boss isn't talking. You've gotta be well networked, drawing on an extensive intelligence network when you do anything. You're supposed to know things, but there might not be anybody who tells you exactly how. And the available data itself might not help much.

There's an implicitly idea somewhere that data adds up to information. Which potentially might be structured into knowledge. And if you then really internalize it, it might become wisdom.

It is a questionable model. It assumes that the direction is from disjoined snippets of data towards something more integrated and useful. Who says it works like that? Nature doesn't seem to me to work like that. There nothing quite equivalent to data out there. Nature includes lots of systems that have partipating elements that send messages to each other. A plant or animal that is trying to procreate often sends out millions of little seeds or pollen or eggs. And there are millions of ways they might get activated. DNA is certainly information, but it is replicated billions of times. There are billions of ways that DNA might hook up and produce the next generation. Billions of signals with certain receptors might be met with billions of possible counter-parts that have matching receptors. It certainly doesn't depend on one little piece of information hidden once somewhere, which somebody has to remember to go look for.

That is where our informational systems tend to go wrong. We put something in some suitable place, and then one is just supposed to know where to find it. And, oh, one can make all sorts of reminders that makes it easier. Like, if on the web a piece of information is stored in some place, other sites can link to it, and people can make bookmarks, and they can write a little note for themselves to remember where it was. And you can go search in a search engine. And that helps, and somehow most things work out. But it still seems vastly inferior in some way to the relatively effortless manner information is used in the natural world. Our systems depend on somebody remembering what to look for, at the right time, and discovering the right context. It is very fragile.

Just like our technology, which is built on similar models. One little wire is disconnected or one little comma in the wrong place in a program, and the car doesn't start or the space probe misses Saturn. Our constructions often have many single points of failure. Nature generally doesn't.

We can learn, I'm sure, from nature, how to help things link up more often, and more reliably. Of course what I really want is for the information I need to be available exactly when I need it. I want the information to come to me at the right time, and I want to not have to analyze large amounts of data to find out what is going on. I want to be reminded of my bill at a reasonable time to pay it, and I want the expectation of having to pay it to be wired to my budget somehow. I would want to know of course, the moment I try to buy something else frivolous that it would mean that I couldn't pay that bill next week. Well, really I'd rather not have a bill. I'd rather that my economic metabolism took care of the needed energy exchanges, continuously.

A lot of our information use carries with it the phenomenon of "Now the cake should have been in the oven for 1/2 hour". You know, you get to a certain point in the recipe and it tells you that there's something you should have done at an earlier stage, but you weren't aware of it at that stage. I might put a reminder in my calendar to pay a bill, and when it rings, I will remember that I should have made sure I had money to pay it. Which I might not have done.

Disjoined information doesn't necessarily add up. There's no guarantee it adds up to meaningful information and useful knowledge. Just because you spread a lot of screws and other mechanical parts around on the floor there's no guarantee you can construct a refrigerator from it. If I started with a working refrigerator and dismantled it, then I likely could. But independently aggregated bits and pieces, no. And most of our information is like that. It doesn't come from a dismantled whole, but rather from unrelated bits and pieces, which you're then supposed to put together into a whole. Which is next to impossible.

We are pretty good at managing anyway. Despite that we live in a sea of disjoined information, we're pretty good at creating some kind of network between them and making useful things happen. We do it in a rather primitive low-tech kind of way, maybe. Most countries have an enormous and ridiculously complicated system of law. Most people, including the politicians who wrote the laws, and the lawyers and judges who interpret them, do not at all have an overview of what it adds up to, and many laws contradict each other. So, for normal people the answer is usually to look around you and guess at what the laws seem to be. Stop for red lights, don't steal other people's stuff, etc. And the lawyers will just search for laws that support a particular point when the need arises. We find a pragmatic way of dealing with it, in the face of the impossibility of knowing what the laws actually say in total. So what do we really know, if the pieces are scattered all over, and we're just barely coping?
"In what sense is a thing known if five hundred people each know one constituent of it and nobody knows the whole? Or again; what if this truth has a thousand constituents and half of them are not known to anyone, but only stored in libraries? What if all of them only exist in libraries? Is it enough that somebody knows how to look them up if they should ever be needed? Indeed is it enough that this person should have access to a system which will look them up? Does the enquirer even have to understand the questions which these truths answer?" - Mary Midgley (Wisdom, Information and Wonder: what is knowledge for? 1989)
Is that really the best we can do? Can't it all connect better? Well, one possibility is a structured semantic web. If all information is meticulously categorized and related with all other information. Possibly in some huge all-encompassing hierarchy. I don't know how likely or possible or even desirable that is. Another possibility is making everything easier to find, and to constantly look for matches for everything. That's more like nature's way, I think. You put everything that needs to be remembered out in loads of redundant copies. And then loads of little pieces are constantly looking for matches to what they're looking for. You know, a Synchronicity Engine of some kind.

There's still some major key missing, though. We need a paradigm shift that takes us from the overwhelming complexity of scattered information to a world where things might again be simple, but at a new level. You know, you're hungry, there's an apple on the tree in front of you, so you eat the apple, and you feel good. That kind of simplicity. You're tired and you sleep. But while at the same time being globally connected with a vastly bigger network of people and information. Rediscover the simplicity in a higher order of complexity. I have no doubt that it is there. And if we don't find it, it is probably because we still address information complexity the wrong way.  More >

 The Junior Woodchucks' Guide Book57 comments
picture 25 Apr 2004 @ 07:19, by ming. Knowledge Management
When I was a kid, a relatively significant portion of my attention was dedicated to Donald Duck magazines. The new issue of Anders And (Donald Duck in Danish) came out every Tuesday. I don't think there's any issue between 1960 and 1970 I hadn't read a number of times over. And, well, the best ones were the old ones. Original Carl Barks stories, particularly. I haven't noticed any equivalent magazine in the U.S., although they obviously existed in earlier times, so it seems to have been a bigger deal in Europe. "Anders And & Co" still comes out every week in Denmark. Disney licensed out the characters, so most of the content has been created in Europe for many years.

As everybody knows, Donald Duck has three nephews: Huey, Dewey and Louie. They are members of the Junior Woodchucks, which is a kind of boyscout group. And, now, to get to the point, they have a most useful accessory: "The Junior Woodchucks' Guide Book". I only just looked up what it is called in English. I know it as "Grønspættebogen", which means almost the same thing in Danish. Anyway, the cool thing is that this book seems to have the answer to anything. Not just boyscout stuff about tying knots and starting fires. No, just about anything anybody wants to know. Just look it up in the guide book. Translations of ancient languages, advanced chemistry lessons. How everything works. The history of everything. I'm not sure if it promised to contain everything, but it always seemed to provide some useful knowledge whenever Huey, Dewey and Louie looked anything up in it. Which they would cheerfully read aloud, and it would most of the time get them out of trouble.

According to one of the story lines, the guide book was written by Guardians of The Lost Library of Alexandria.

Naturally I would like one of those books. I would really like the knowledge of the world to be presented in such a handy format.

The closest thing to it in the real world is an encyclopedia. Maybe Wikipedia is what comes closest on the net.

But it is also a certain philosophy, of presenting knowledge in a simple and immediately useful how-to format. We find that for example in survival manuals. On my bookshelf is the U.S. Army's Survival Handbook. It explains how you would survive in wilderness. If you find yourself stranded far from civilization, but you happen to have the book with you, it will explain how to build a good shelter from branches and leaves, and it will tell you what kinds of plants you're likely to be able to eat, and what you should do if you get bitten by a snake.

So much of our knowledge is inaccessible. It is embedded in vastly specialized fields with complicated terminology, which it takes years to master. Our organization of knowledge is so distributed and specialized that it wouldn't take much of an interruption of our civilization to lose most of it. How are metals extracted from the earth? How do I make electricity? I have vague ideas about much of it, but if I had to start from scratch, I wouldn't get very far.

There isn't any terribly good reason we shouldn't have most of what we know handy in an encyclopedic overview format.

Personally, the way I learn best is to get the big overview first. Some people learn differently, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm confused if I can't get the big overview executive summary up front. Give me the key points, and then I have a framework to fill the details into.

I can't count the number of times I've had to read some big, long text in order to realize that it adds up to something quite simple that could have been said in a few sentences. I'd like to have those sentences up front please.

There are plenty of books and websites that do that, of course. I guess I'd just like to be better able to find them first.

Or I'll just have to join the Junior Woodchucks.
 More >

 BlogWalk 1.07 comments
picture 19 Mar 2004 @ 17:40, by ming. Knowledge Management
So, I spent the day at BlogWalk 1.0 here in Enschede, The Netherlands. We didn't really walk and we didn't particular blog much along the way either. But we met at the Telematica Institute and did Open Space and various kinds of group discussions, also over several meals. Just 17 people or so, which gave a good opportunity for staying relatively focused and getting to know each other. Subject mainly being weblogs in knowledge management contexts, but also weblogs in general. So, looking at what functions weblogs might play in institutions and enterprises, and what might be the obstacles to make it happen, or the steps and positioning that might make it work. Obviously the people who are in charge in many organizations have no clue what weblogs are, or, if they do, might have a lot of fears and concerns about how dangerous it would be if people would actually rather freely talk publically about what they do, and even mix it in with their personal life and other interests. What if they reveal company secrets, or make the organization look bad, and that kind of thing. There are problems like that, of defining the lines between private and public, what should be shared and what not, but mostly it is just that people don't understand how it works, and don't realize that it could be a powerful tool for information sharing and relationship building. And in many cases as effective a knowledge management tool as anything else that is out there. There are fancy KM systems that often are not that easy to use, or that stuff can get lost in easily. Whereas a weblog is rather easy, and you don't have to worry very much about where exactly a certain item fits, and you can usually find old items very easily when you need them. And weblogs build up relationships and one's relations help filter information, and various self-organizing things go on that are useful. But is hard to explain the blogosphere to somebody who's totally not tuned into that kind of things, and haven't tried it, and particularly to managers who're afraid of losing control. And, despite that most of the hardcore bloggers can see quite well how it can be beneficial for various kinds of organizations, there seems to be a scarcity of good studies or success stories to show as evidence. Which is important both for the academics studying the phenomenon, and for anybody who tries to introduce a tool like weblogging into an organization.

Anyway, a very enjoyable event with great people. You can find some comments from some of the other guys at TopicExchange.

These BlogWalk events are loosely related to and lead up to the next BlogTalk, which is a bigger event held in Vienna, next July 5-6. And I should be making it there this year.  More >

 Information Order and Ease6 comments
16 Mar 2004 @ 16:15, by ming. Knowledge Management
These are just some lose thoughts while I'm thinking aloud.

One can learn a good deal just by plotting various kinds of qualities on different axes in a coordinate system and noticing what seems to end up in the different quadrants.

Now, one of the things I'm interested in is how to get myself and others the most useful information I need in the easiest and fastest way possible. That sounds kind of tame in itself, so let me skip ahead a little bit.

What I really would want is that I'm presented with exactly the most useful information I need at any given time, without any work on my part. Doesn't have to relate to computers particularly - I'd like that in life.

If I suddenly need a plumber, it would be nice if the first person who walked by my house, say within the next minute or so, would happen to be a plumber who could use some work. And, incidentally, he happened to be the most skilled and reliable guy, and cheap too.

OK, it wouldn't be much more trouble if I had to make a phone call and he showed up. But the trouble is the information. I need to know who the best person is, who has optimum pricing, who can be here quick. Maybe I already know the answer and it would be great. Maybe I know who to call quickly, and they would know the answer. All of that would work. But the yellow pages involves too much chance.

And that's a simple and routine problem. It is harder if I want to find somebody to go into business with, or I needed the answer to a unique and maybe complex question.

I might know the answer already. I might be good at guessing it. Or I might know people who're likely to know, and I can reach them quickly. Or I have the right book to look up in. Or I go and search in a search engine. Google has made me much smarter already. I can answer a lot of questions within a minute, simply by guessing at a couple of search words. But, again, if my need or my question is more complex and unique, it will not give me anything.

Nevertheless, I want ALL of it to be ordered suitably, just for me. All information in the world that I might possibly need. I don't necessarily care HOW it happens. Although, I do care if I need to help making it happen in some way. But at first I just care about the effect I want.

There's, for example, how ordered my information is...




OK, words can be used in various ways, and of course everything is ordered somehow. But I'm talking about what I might need. If I go into a library, the best kind of order would be that the two books I need happened to be standing right by the entrance, easy for me to see. A friendly sign saying "Flemming! Here are the books you're search for!" would help too. See, if doesn't at that point matter to me that the whole library uses the Dewey decimal system and alphabetical sorting. What matters is that I find what I want quickly. Or slowly if somehow I enjoyed that more. Anyway, we're talking about a somewhat subjective quality of orderedness. But we're talking about how to accommodate our subjective idea of what order something should be in, by some system in the real world, which probably is computerized. And it needs to do it even if I don't really know exactly what my preferred order is. I want it to be in the right order without me having to spend any significant time in finding out what that might be. Of course, if I do know, and I suddenly have a preferred order I can state, like "Give me all the books sorted by the colors of their backs", I'd want that too.

Actually, besides how ordered things are, we get into the issue of how much work it is to make it so. I could sort all of the books in the library in color order, if I took a few weeks and they didn't kick me out. Or some other mechanism might do it for me. Anyway, there's naturally a scale of...




which leaves out various dimensions, like who or what does the work, and does it need to be done in advance, or is it done at the time the need arises.

I suppose it is not a problem if something requires a lot of work, if either it has been convenient for somebody else to already do it before I need it, or some parallel supercomputer has put it together, and can present the results to me easily. But I prefer doing as little as possible. And I suppose we can say that it is generally better if things happen with ease and minimial trouble, as opposed to with great time and effort. And how that adds up is maybe more clear if I put it together in two dimensions like this:




OK, I'm really just brainstorming here. Nothing scientific about it, and we can argue about how to use the words and where various things will fit.

But you'll notice for example that some activities and some people involve a lot of effort for little result. It is sometimes how it is to be poor or having bad infrastructure. Walking 10 miles for a pot of water. Or how poor people in an otherwise rich society might do stupid things and waste the resources they have. Or how people just trying to survive in developing countries might make an ecological mess.

Then there's the situation that you apply massive power and resources for a rather small purpose, and it therefore can be extremely well organized and ordered. Say you're a billionaire and you insist on getting fried hummingbirds freshly caught in Madagascar on your dinner plate every evening. You might command a jet to fly them to you every morning, and employ a whole hierarchy of people to make it happen in the most precise manner possibly. Or, say you're Microsoft, and you make software. Instead of making better and more inherently elegant software, you might instead hire 1000 more highly qualified engineers to try to close the holes in what you have. In other words, if you have great wealth or power, you can afford doing something in an inefficient but very organized way. If you are very wealthy and you want some kind of information, you can have a whole team of the most highly qualified and highly paid experts sitting around trying to get it for you.

In the lower right, I put "Nature", which one could well argue about. Nature is ordered, but not in the way we normally call ordered or organized. It is in many ways a mess, but a mess where nothing is ultimately wasted, and where there are lots of synergies between different lifeforms and elements. Lots of work is being done, but not really in the sense of what we normally call work. Each living creature is pretty much just going about its business and doing what comes natural, and apparently not losing any sleep over how things are "supposed to be done". If some suitable food walks by, you'll eat it, and if something comes by that considers you food, they'll eat you. The waste products are just left behind randomly. But somehow it all works rather beautifully, and something else will probably consider those waste products its own lunch. If you examine, for example, ants, they just walk around and follow very simple rules for what to do. There's a lot of redundancy, and eventually things get done, haphazardly, but quite well. It is done in a messy way, but without anybody having to make plans or work hard on making them turn out. Thus, great ease, but low organization.

Although we humans can learn a lot from the rest of nature, and strategies like what ants are using to find food might well be useful for our own algorithms to automate, those approaches aren't how we ourselves would like to work. We'd like to work at a higher order. I'm not satisfied with having to wander around haphazardly if I already know what I want and where I'm going. I wouldn't at all be nonchalant about being eaten on the way there. No, we humans usually want something fairly complex, but focused, and we want to be quite sure to get it, but most of us don't have a lot of time and resources to put into it.

So I want something very ordered that takes next to no work to acquire. We're back to talking about information. Ideally I want something just-in-time, exactly when I need it, without having to wring my brain trying to plan everything in advance, and without having to start a big project whenever I want something.

When we're talking about information, there are various noble approaches that are aiming at giving me ordered and useful information easily. There's the Semantic Web, which tries to mark everything with added attributes so that we can ask more meaningful questions. Instead of just storing text, somebody notes down which parts are an "address", a "person", a "place" and that kind of thing. Which adds some intelligence. And the hope is that people will actually feel like recording this kind of information somehow. Another philosophy is that this isn't going to happen, but we need better search engine technology that itself guesses at what things mean, based on our behavior when we move around on the web, so that it might better give us what we might need. Maybe it will be combinations. Social networks, or networks of economic activity, might gather information, by both the behavior and the deliberate value choices of many individuals. And it might add up to better information, and a better way of giving me the information I might want.

As a user, I don't necessarily care how it happens. I want an experience where things appear either like synchronicity, where an apparently random item I get presented with happens to be exactly what I need; or simply as the answer to a question I pose. But I expect that this can happen in some kind of sustainable way, just like how google comfortably can provide everybody's searches without incurring any impossible costs.

I suppose some kind of free market, self-organizing, collaborative filtering is part of what will get there. Plus somebody's clever inventions that aren't there yet.  More >

 Many to Many8 comments
picture 9 Apr 2003 @ 02:34, by ming. Knowledge Management
How do we invite democracy to emerge? How does spontaneous cooperation happen? How can humanity self-organize in more useful ways? How can we make our civilization more synergetic?

I am here particularly interested in how we can use our existing or almost existing technologies to arrange our information and our means of communicating in such a manner as to invite these things to happen.

My instinct is that our society could be organized in a drastically different way, from the bottom up, in a way that will allow just about all of us to do productive work that we are happy with, and in a way that is vastly more productive as a whole. If we just knew how.

I believe our information networks could provide some core leverage in getting us there, but they aren't yet. It is kind of like we're almost ready to operate collectively at a much higher level, but we're still communicating with tin cans connected with string, and we all have paper bags over our heads, so we can't do anything very complex together, except for rather clumsily and haphazardly.  More >

 The Mechanic8 comments
picture 24 Jan 2003 @ 23:50, by ming. Knowledge Management
For a while I called my weblog "Ming the Mechanic", because I somehow liked how it sounds. Some people said "Great name!", and others, like my family, said "Mechanic???". Well, I like mechanical stuff, but, really, hardware is something I have rather little talent with. I wouldn't know what to do if my car breaks down. And whenever I need to add memory or a harddisk to my computer, and I decide it is a good idea to do it myself, I tend to end up breaking something. No, I'm a different kind of mechanic. I have some success as a people mechanic, or a system mechanic. I like if people bring me something to fix, and I fix it. Particularly when it relates to individuals or groups of people trying to do something, and not quite succeeding. And I resonate with people with that kind of abilities.

Several corporations I worked for used consultants for various purposes. Like, if the board of directors needed an outside opinion on things, they would bring in Coopers and Lybrand, or Andersen, or some big consulting company like that. Three or four people in suits would show up with briefcases, and they would create a thick report, saying basically what they had in mind saying before they came, and it would cost the company $50K or so. Nobody paid any attention to what they actually said in their report, but everybody were content with the whole thing, because nothing ever changed.

But in this one company, when they actually had a problem, and they didn't know what to do about something, they brought in another kind of consultant. It was this little old lady. Maybe she wasn't that old, but she was an unusual sight for a consultant. I don't remember her name, but let's say it was Heidi. They didn't care about her company name, it was just "Let's call Heidi". And she was fabulous - and very expensive. An extremely sharp and experienced person who would walk around and talk with everybody, and rather quickly figure out what actually was going on. She cared very little about the corporate jockeying-for-position, trying-to-look-good kind of thing. She just went straight for the facts, figured out what the scenario was, reported it to the CEO, and left. And things got fixed. I really liked her. I wouldn't mind being a person like that.

Another example, some would say a horrible choice, but it illustrates my point: In the movie Pulp Fiction, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson's characters get in some trouble. There's a dead body in the car, blood all over, they're at this guy's house, and his wife is coming home in an hour, and they don't know what to do. Their boss, the big gangster Marsellus Wallace decides it is time to call in Mr.Wolf. Mr.Wolf happens to be across town in a tuxedo at a party, having cocktails. But when he gets the phonecall, he's professionalism itself. He gets paid extremely well, but he is only used when it really counts. He's there in 10 minutes in his Porsche. "I'm Winston Wolf, I solve problems" he says. And so he does. All he really does is to take a keen look at what is going on, and to tell the people who're standing around what the logical thing to do is. And, well, I certainly don't have in mind working for gangsters, but I like the idea of being the person who's brought in to solve a problem, but who otherwise is happily uninvolved.

As to the Mechanic metaphor - a mechanic fixes things, by being knowledgable about how things work, by looking at what is going on, and by adjusting things so that they work. The Mechanic loses no sleep over what you do in-between the times when you need him, whether we're talking about a car or a person or a company.  More >

 Categorize or Search20 comments
picture 22 Jan 2003 @ 23:59, by ming. Knowledge Management
So, do I want to categorize things when I store them, or do I just want flexible ways of searching for things later on? I'm talking about the filing system(s) in my life. My e-mail archive, my personal databases of things I need to remember. Until now my vision has been that a sufficiently multi-dimensional system could be devised where I could easily assign a piece of information to a number of different categories while I'm in the process of saving it, even being able to make up new classifications on the fly. And then, later, when I need to find the information again, it is already classified in a number of different useful ways, as many ways as I feel like, and chances are that one of them is what I need. By date, by location, by people involved, by subjects, by reference to other items, etc.

But the first problem is that no matter how easy the user interface is, I will quickly become tired of categorizing things. I'm already getting way too much e-mail, and even the job of going through it and deleting it, or filing it in even one folder is beginning to be too much work for me. So, would I really want to have to select from dozens of different pulldown lists whenever I file an e-mail? Probably not.

The second problem is that I don't know what my main categories of interest will be next year. I change often, and next year I mostly likely will have a list of new ways of categorizing things, which I couldn't think of now. But am I then going to go back and apply those categories to all my old information? No, I won't have time for that.

So, I must admit that what I really want is that when I need something, I will get it, in an organized, complete and sensible fashion. I want to say "Computer, give me a list of all the people I have sent e-mail last year!". And when I get the list, I want to say "Sort them in order of volume of mail", and then "Correlate the top 10% with the list of people who've called me on the phone". I want the freedom to make it up on the spot. And I don't want to have had to predict that query a year earlier. I don't want to have had to select a dozen pulldown menus on a screen whenever I get a phonecall. I just want to, at best, answer my phonecall.

What I need is apparently an AI that records everything that happens to me, and that is smart enough to be able to give me a complete list of relevant, cross-indexed information, whenever I desire it. Please.  More >

 Idea Solidifier16 comments
picture 11 Dec 2002 @ 15:37, by ming. Knowledge Management
I need a piece of software, or a pattern or structure, for solidifying ideas. For putting more meat on something that starts out vague or abstract. Let's say I decide I'm interested in "Patterns of Upliftment" or "Communities of Virtue", but I might not even quite know what that means. Then, when I go through life, or through the web, I might notice "Aha, that's an example of ___" or "That's a good definition of ___" or "Oh, those people are studying ___". And I want to file it with my focus subject. It should be in a format I can easily share, on a webpage, so others can come along and see the idea getting more substantial, and maybe contribute to it. Well, there is Wiki-Wiki, which allows easy posting and updating by multiple people. But I suppose I'm looking for something that actually guides me towards a convergence, a clarification or solidification of the subject matter. A Wiki-Wiki would tend to encourage divergence, creating new branches. A piece of paper doesn't work, because I can't find the original sheet again when I happen to run into a piece of the puzzle I'm trying to assemble.  More >

 OrgSpace23 comments
picture 7 Oct 2002 @ 20:51, by ming. Knowledge Management
I have a persistent vision of a multi-dimensional information storage system. It flashes before my eyes frequently. I dream about it at night. I'm missing it many times each day. The world needs it.

In my dream vision it seems rather simple. A virtual space with an arbitrary number of dimensions. There is always an obvious place to put something, or you just make the place on the fly, and you can find it again along any of the available dimensions. You can add a new dimension whenever you need one. A dimension can be regarded as a storage bin, a category, a trait, a degree of freedom, whatever suits you at the moment. It all seems simple and obvious. You just make connections between the things that ought to be connected.

But if I sit down and try to make a computer program to implement it, or even if I just try to diagram it really well, I quickly get lost, and it suddenly seems to be an impossible problem to wrap one's mind around. A universal database structure that will represent any kind of structure at any scale, in an efficient manner.  More >



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