No, I Don’t Want To Use Your Portal

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Not every employee is the same: Companies must build many paths to useful knowledge

A few years ago I joined an online community of E20 practitioners. This community used  Jive,  an all-in-one platform that merged blogs, forums, and wikis into a single space. I found the conversations were delightful, but the interface got in the way. I wanted to engage but I kept bumping into UI walls. I couldn’t make it work. I couldn’t find the right groups. So, I wasn’t very active.

Then the community manager added a new Twitter-like platform, SocialCast. Happy day! I saw conversations. It came with a mobile version:  I could add pictures and it buzzed in my pocket when someone mentioned my name. The community came alive. I was checking in multiple times a day. I became an active contributor.

Later, under new ownership, the community discarded the streaming platform in a consolidation effort. Engagement was difficult for me again. I withdrew.

This happens often. Efforts to control and consolidate — to “simplify” — are a good way to disconnect audiences. Social software vendors must acknowledge there are many kinds of people, each with preferred way to discover things. Optimize for one kind of person at your peril, dear community managers. In these times of customization and impatience, your audience is likely to walk away.

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There are four ways Homo sapiens enterprensus finds useful knowledge:

  • Librarians are organizers. They invented bookshelves and can remember ISBN codes. Librarians are natural organizers. They sort the stacks, tag the articles and create the file hierarchies. Lists send them into rapture.  Librarian taxonomies are clean and precise. When they go to find something, they know exactly where to go. Efficient retrieval is achieved – for them. But what happens if you’re not the librarian? How do you know where to start looking?
  • Homesteaders thrive in online forums. They live in community discussion groups. If they have a question, they ask it in the community. Homesteaders read every thread. Sounds good, but who has the time to read everything?
  • Streamers are the attention-deficit searchers. They organize “feeds,” awareness-based subscriptions, to gather newsy bits. E-robots gather headlines into lists they can read later. Find something interesting? Then click on the link to read the entire thing.
  • And there are the Searchers, the People of Google, the yahoos of Yahoo. They reverently approach the little white text box with words and phrases. Searchers scan the first page of results. If they don’t find what they seek, then they change the question and ask again. Searchers iterate many times until they settle on something they like.

Have an inert SharePoint site? Is it a document coffin? How about your division portal? All the care you put into the design, but no one visits it. Why? Perhaps it was designed with a faulty assumption: everybody thinks like you. Thank goodness they don’t!

How to solve this? Most organizations have half the problem solved: they have great content. But they must deploy multiple ways to find it.

The Consumerization of IT has changed employees: no longer are they willing to settle for soviet, one-size-fits-all, interfaces. They’re spoiled by all the consumer goodness outside the company. And they have learned how to find knowledge in many ways. They expect the same from their employer.

My millennial son lives in Reddit, my wife in Wikipedia and Pinterest, and I in Twitter, Feedly and Google. He’s a Homesteader, she’s a Librarian and me? I’m a Streamer with Searcher tendencies. The funny thing is, we often hear about new memes at about the same time. My wife will send me a link she found that I read the day before.

So, if your 2007 intranet portal is link sarcophagus, perhaps you should also inject its knowledge goodness into an internal wiki, maybe post updates in your corporate online forums, and if you’re lucky to have one, your enterprise streaming tool.

Special note to social software  vendors: I know you’re in a hard place trying to appease many customers. Many voices, many “votes” on what  new features you should deploy in Release Next. Listen to them to your detriment. You risk releasing a mishmash compromise if you try to squeeze everything into one place. My idea: focus on humans. Allow each person to define what they want to see, and how. Eschew “common look and feel.” Avoid “embedded experience.” Let the Librarians navigate, the Homesteaders browse, the Streamers scan and the Searchers seek.

 

Photo: Lynnette Fortin

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Let’s Make Some Pencils

“This is the world we live in. If we weren’t surrounded by it every day, if we didn’t take it for granted, we’d be dumbstruck by its very intricacy and brilliance.”

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It has been my privilege to work in large enterprises my entire career. Over the years I have worked with just about every business role in nearly every function in large companies. When I stand back and look at their accomplishments, I am struck by their “very intricacy and brilliance.” This is their advantage. This is their strength.

Large companies, especially those with decades of wisdom, have developed many paths to success. Fortune flows not only from the top downwards, but upwards where business innovation happens best. Opportunity doesn’t appear only in an executive’s spreadsheet: it is there in a customer complaint, a sourcing contract, a line extension … a new information technology. Intelligent employees take initiative. Internal networks and collective wisdom provide the confidence to experiment. They provide the speed to innovate on the spot. And the company wins.

Organic cooperation and many experiments led successful enterprises to where they are today. Manufacturing, R&D and yes… IT, Sourcing, Finance, HR and Supply Chain, innovate in thousands of unheralded ways to seize business opportunities and grow the company.

Okay Acme Corporation let’s make some “pencils.”

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“This is the modern world. It’s miraculous, it’s intricate. And it gets better every day, so long as people are free to interact with each other. If we can leave the human mind uninhibited, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”

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“I am so done with innovation”

ImageCoCo in Minneapolis

Last week I went to CoCo, a co-working business in downtown Minneapolis. I had heard about CoCo via Twitter. I was anxious to check it out for myself. Apparently CoCo is thriving.

ImageClockwise: a special meeting room, CoCo founders Kyle Coolbroth and Don Ball, a fueling station

Once I walked into the CoCo open space, I could see why: low, warm light, moveable walls, and cozy wooden floors, arching ceilings from the old Grain Exchange, comfortable furniture, throw rugs, and quirky touches like street lamps and string lights. The place is an upscale student union with touches of Steelcase, Architectural Digest and Starbucks. CoCo is open without being crowded, intimate but high-tech, intense yet relaxed.

The place is a magnet for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Memberships offer desk(s) rental or setup for small groups. Members can reserve a single day or several. CoCo’s allure isn’t just its environment: it is the opportunity to meet other small businesses. Networking, whether social or business, is continual. When people push away from their desks, they grab a cup of coffee, find a sofa and chat with someone that just met. CoCo is all about collaboration.

So, where does my comment about innovation tie in? As part of an activity on Design Thinking, I had to interview random people in CoCo. My task was to approach strangers and ask them to tell me what “modern,” “family” and “innovation” meant to them. With a legal pad in hand, I asked two young people on a coffee break if they would help me. They agreed.

Both are at the start of their careers. They are friend-associates from different enterprises who look forward to the days when they can  meet at CoCo. “Cate” and “Elissa” were fashionable, cosmopolitan and soft-spoken. They gave me twenty minutes.

What did they say? What did I learn?

“Modern” meant “architecture” to them. “That’s lines and buildings” “I don’t think of myself as modern.”

“Family” is “networks” and “friends.” “I have a work family and my home family. Sometimes they merge.” “My work family grows from acquaintances I meet here and on projects.”

And “innovation?” Here Cate pushed her stylish glasses atop her head so we could see her full eye roll.” “I am so done with ‘innovation.’ It doesn’t mean anything to me.” I pressed her: “Why?” She went on: “Oh, I guess innovation is important, but it’s what I do with my friends, it’s how I make things better.” Elissa: “Innovation is for automobiles and sandwiches. It’s everywhere.”

This was epiphany for me: “innovation” has shifted. This baby boomer (me) sees “innovation” and thinks of bold  breakthroughs: moon landings, technology and artificial hearts. Innovation is an end to itself. A patent. A trophy. A triumph. Mankind marching forth. Progress.

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But not at CoCo. “Innovation” is  a means to an end. It’s what you do.

Recipe: Carmel Corn

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There is nothing healthy about this snack. Seriously, it is very bad for you. The only non-processed ingredients are butter and brown sugar, and it uses corn syrup, one of the worst fake foods for human metabolism. Expect an increase in personal girth. Lardage is inevitable.

BUT I DON’T CARE. This is an incredibly delicious treat. I cannot descibe how amazing it is. Put it in front of people and they will scarf it down in no time. Teens inhale it. The combination of salty corn, butter and caramel is irresistible.

I make this just once, for Christmas, and I make sure to bring it to events where other people will help me eat it. If this was in the house for just the two of us, we would consume it in a day. This caramel corn is high-calorie sin. Completely indulgent. And I hope you make it.

This isn’t my recipe; it comes from the Old Dutch company, a local snack company. Look for “corn puffs” or “puffed corn” snacks if you can’t find Old Dutch “puff corn” where you live. Don’t substitute a cheesy snack like Cheetos. ‘Puffed corn” is like regular Cheetos, all puffed up, but without the orange cheese coating.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bag of puffed corn
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1.25 cups brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups light corn syrup (yes, I am ashamed)
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees
  2. Combine butter, sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan.
  3. Cook on medium heat until everything is dissolved. Stir frequently. It may foam. If it does remove from the heat.
  4. At the last moment, add the  baking soda. Remove from the heat. Stir until the soda is dissolved and the foam subsides
  5. Empty the corn puffs into a large roasting pan with high sides.
  6. Pour the caramel over the corn puffs. Stir until all the puffs are coated with caramel.
  7. Cover a large area on your counter or a table, three foot by two feet with wax paper

 

Bake it!

  1. Put the pan in the oven.
  2. Cook for 45 minutes.
  3. Stir the corn every 15 minutes, making sure to scrape the caramel off the bottom of the pan.
  4. When the corn is done, stir it one last time.
  5. Spoon the corn puffs onto the wax paper.
  6. Quickly break the corn puffs apart with your fingers. They cool quickly.
  7. Once the puffs are completely cooled, serve or put into a sealed container.

Some notes:

The caramel corn will keep for a week, if it lasts that long.

Do not use margarine or any butter substitute. Butter is the only thing you may use. Margarine is disgusting. Please don’t ever visit my blog again if you use it.

Variations:

  1. Add toasted pecans to the puff mix prior to pouring the caramel.
  2. Melt some quality semi-sweet chocolate chips in a bowl over boiling water. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled caramel corn.
  3. Use good quality air–popped popcorn as a corn puff substitute.

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Recipe: Artichoke Calzones

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Baked

 

 

This is my own creation. Calzones are usually pizzas folded in half, sealed and baked. Mine is open at the top and the sauce is spooned over it when served. This offers a better presentation than normal calzones which look like giant pasties: all dough and little color.

I used to make my calzones when my kids were teenagers. We loved them. Now that they are out of the house and on their own, I seldom make calzones. I posted this recipe for my son Evan to try. I hope he extends it with his own creativity. And I look forward to having him setting one in front of me at his dining table.

 

 

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen bread or pizza dough
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large jar of artichoke hearts, marinated in olive oil
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Marinara sauce, homemade (see below) or from a jar

 

 

Preparation

  1. Allow frozen bread dough to thaw and rise in a greased bowl covered with a damp cloth, about four hours.
  2. Drain artichoke hearts. Chop into small pieces.
  3. Strip rosemary leaves from the stem. Chop fine. Discard stem.
  4. Mix rosemary leaves, pepper flakes and drained artichoke hearts. Set aside.
  5. Separate egg yolk from white. Mix egg yolk in a small cup with milk. Set aside.
  6. After the dough has thawed and risen, punch it down and knead for 1 minute.
  7. Grease a large baking pan.

 

Some assembly required

 

  1. Roll out dough on a large wooden cutting board sprinkled with flour or cornmeal. Roll the dough into an oblong shape.
  2. Sprinkle 1/2 shredded cheese in the middle third. Avoid sprinkling cheese near the top and bottom, allowing a one-inch cheese-free border.
  3. Sprinkle the artichoke mixture on top of the cheese.
  4. Cover the artichokes with the rest of the cheese
  5. Make cuts in the long edge of the dough, one inch deep, one inch apart. Make matching cuts along the other side
  6. Fold over the top and bottom edges
  7. Pull a tab from each side and twist together. Move nimbly, working your way up the top, twisting as you go.
  8. Carefully transfer the braided calzone to the baking pan.
  9. Cover the calzone with a damp cloth. Allow to rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.


Cook it!

  1. Preheat oven to 375F 
  2. Uncover the calzone. Use a pastry brush to gently cover the dough along the twisted braids and sides with the egg-milk wash.
  3. Sprinkle with Kosher salt
  4. Put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven. Allow to cool for five minutes.
  6. Slice thin. Serve immediately, spooning warm marinara sauce over the slices.

 

Finalproduct

 

Some notes:

You may substitute traditional pizza toppings like cooked sausage, pepperoni or olives for the artichokes.

Please use quality, marinated artichokes. Frozen and canned artichokes are flavorless. If you do use marinated artichokes, please use the best, those steeped in olive oil and spices. This makes a difference.

 

John’s Homemade Marinara Sauce

  1. 2 cans tomato sauce
  2. 1 small can tomato paste
  3. 1/2 cup dark red wine
  4. 2 cloves crushed garlic
  5. 1handful of sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
  6. Thyme, to taste
  7. Oregano, to taste
  8. Chopped basil, to taste
  9. Kosher salt, to taste
  10. 1 tablespoon chopped raisins. (Secret ingredient!)
  11. 1 tablespoon olive oil

 

Heat olive oil in pan. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Add other ingredients. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

 

 

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March of the metronomes

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Synchronization vs Independence

Watch this experiment. Thirty-two small metronomes on a suspended surface are started at different times. Each little machine is set to the same rate, yet they attain synchronicity on their own. It didn’t take long. At 2:40 the last holdout, the little pink metronome on the far right, second row, finally obeys the rhythm of its clicking comrades. All clatter is gone: only a single, monotonous ‘TICK” remains. Arrhythmic becomes consistent.

What we see here is the phenomenon known as positive feedback resonance. The motion of many individuals causes the flexible floor to sway. Individuals add to the sway and reinforce it when they adapt to the motion from the floor. It can have serious consequences with high-volume traffic in buildings and bridges.

Is positive feedback resonance just physics? We see this in social movements, too. Audiences have the ability to adjust to a single clap. Fashion is a “me, too” phenomenon. And so with politics, religion and government. It’s a conscious-unconscious thing. Individuals sense the pressure to conform; unconsciously, they start to march in step.

Fortunately, humans, although highly social, are intelligent individuals. And unlike the controlled metronome experiment, we are subject to unpredictable stimuli that upset orderly things. We right ourselves and march to our own beat. For a while, at least.

The little machines march on, like a  formation of soldiers with bayonets. That is, unless the giant hands descend again.

 

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Plague

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“Frühlingsduft” under assault in July. The entire bloom was gone by midday.

 

The Japanese beetle plague has been so awful this year, I’ve taken to removing one-time established garden beauties. Gone are my Sargent Cherry, my yellow birch and as of this month, many of my favorite roses (“Golden Wings,” “Applejack,” “Prairie Princess,” “The Fairy,” “Granny Grimmetts” and ‘Sweet Chariot.’ My one-time rose garden had over 300 roses. I expect to be down to 20 by next year.

When you live in an area of mostly flower-free yards and yours is always filled with blooms, you come to realize that you created one big beetle lure. They fly from afar to strip my plants. The swarms are bad. When I mow the lawn, I raise hordes of beetles from the shrubs. They cling to my clothes. They land in my hair.

I never held much of a lawn fetish: I appreciate green swards, but I won’t spend a lot on chemistry and I rarely water it. I do dote on a green swath between the rose beds. That was our croquet lawn. Thick, cool fescue to enfold bare feet. No more.

That area is mostly bare now — Japanese beetle grub damage — and I will resort to insecticides for the first time. I wanted to do the natural approach by applying natural grub predators. But nematodes are expensive and require difficult application conditions. The University of Minnesota extension service dismisses milky spore as ineffective. So, the poison.

I feel like I am losing part of my identity. I have been gardening for decades, enjoying my garden as it matures, and yet … my beloved hobby is diminished. We have so little time to garden here in Minnesota. I might as well just plant spreading junipers around the place.

Sigh. I can’t give up…

 

Fruhlingsduft

“Frühlingsduft” first flush in June was glorious. The beetle plague was just weeks away.

 

 Violent retribution makes me feel better: I scoop the nasty things into a pail of soapy water and watch them drown, pop them in my fingers, or grab a handful and stomp them to death on the pavement.

Is coexistence is the key? The beetles are here to stay and so I must adapt. I snatched up some sale plants at local nursery, cultivars that won’t attract the beetles. I matched to size and color to replace the departed roses in situ. I’m actually thrilled by a chartreuse Cotinus that is lovlier than the yellow rose it replaced. It holds the light in a wonderful way.

My old-garden roses (OGRs) will stay. These are fragrant and bloominous in the spring, and they’re done before the bugs swarm. Hardy, too.

The beetles and rabbits chomp away. The emerald ash borer, another exotic pest, is just a few miles to the south and migrating here. That’s three plagues for me. Pharaoh Ramses endured ten plagues before he gave up. I can manage.

Maybe the beetles are an opportunity to adapt and discover exciting new plants. The garden evolves. Gardeners know this. I just forgot.

 

 

Sur la Prairie

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Afton01

The prairie was bright with goldenrod.

 

We packed a picnic lunch and headed east to Afton State Park in eastern Minnesota. It was a glorious day: 75 degrees, gentle, dry breeze and puffy clouds in azure skies. A hint of fall was in the air.

 

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Three ecological areas converge at Afton: savanna, hardwood forest and floodplain. The river valley rises and falls before it descends to the river valley. We started on a prairie walk that cut east into the forest. We walked along the St. Croix river after we reached bottom. The path there is a converted railroad bed. Perfectly flat and shaded by oak, maple and basswood.

 

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We spent four hours at Afton Park. We promised outselves we would return in the fall when the leaves turn color.

 

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The beaches are sandy. The water is cool, clear and tea-colored

 

 

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Where Do Engineers Come From?

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Entrepreneurship, Cardboard and Packing Tape

 

You may need a handkerchief before watching this

 

Nine year-old Caine spends his mornings in the family auto parts store. While his father works the computer in the office, little Caine makes use of the extra boxes and tape he finds in the back. Watch the eleven minute video and you’ll see what an ingenious inventor Caine is.

Here’s why am I captivated by Caine’s story:

  • Caine perfectly demonstrates creativity under constraint. He uses junk and office supplies to build an entire, interactive arcade.

  • The documentary demonstrates the power of social media. But that’s really a side story; it’s really about community. Caine’s store is in a poor working-class east Los Angeles neighborhood. A friendly, socially-connected man recognized a genius when he saw one and he took action. Strangers surprise, engage and applaud Caine for no other reason than they are generous souls. Humanity’s better angels took action.

  • Caine built this all on his own. He did “build that” as entrepreneurs do.

  • Caine’s father is one of the best examples of a good parent. No hovering. No managing.

 

The short, eleven-minute documentary will make you smile and maybe, cry. What do you think of Caine?

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It’s a steamy morning. I shot these from behind the window at my house.

 

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Taken with my iPhone 4s using the Camera + app.