Slack Product Review: Almost Perfect

I ran across Slack a few months back, but with so many new products and vendors of Social Business Systems, I only gave it a brief glance. Last week I saw that they just raised $120M with a $1.12B valuation, that caught my attention and deserved further research. So far I have only looked through their on-site educational material, but I really like what I see. They are focused on creating a single stream of content, regardless of source, something I have been looking for for a long time. I like this! They are also (relatedly) working through integrations with other systems, and not trying to be all things in a monolithic package. Meaning you can store your documents in Dropbox or Google Docs while using Slack to handle messages related to changes in the documents. Basically there is a lot to like here, and I will let others go into more detail about all the features.Screenshot 2014-11-04 10.42.05

I want to address the one thing that I see as an “architectural issue”, Team-centricity, meaning that the “team” is the fundamental element of the system. As I understand it, if you want to use Slack for more than one team, then you need to operate in more than one instance of Slack. I would like to see the architecture operate around the individual instead, and team be a level of filtering and segmentation available to the individual. In today’s world, teams are fluid and individuals are mobile. I want to see a single dashboard that holds all of my teams so I can get a universal view of everything that impacts me, without having to jump from instance to instance. Their current architecture seems to undo everything they gained with the “single stream”.

There is so much to like here that if I can find a way around this issue, Slack may become the solution I have been looking for.


The problem with Enterprise Collaboration: Or Why I lost my Job

In 2007 I saw the light. A better way to work was about to happen, Enterprise Collaboration. A change in organizational behavior, assisted by technology, that would allow people to work together more effectively. I took that turn as my career path, first as an independent consultant, then with Cisco, and finally with Moxie Software. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. In January of 2014, Moxie dropped Collaboration as a stand-alone product, and let me go as part of that transition. I think that all of us that were (are) working in that area have learned over time that collaboration software as a stand-alone product is a solution looking for a problem.

iStock_000006428830SmallI still believe that organizations need to do a better job of collaborating, but the path to getting there is much different that we thought seven years ago. I just ran across this article in PCWorld
that provides a little more detail. The fact that jumped out for me was:

Gartner predicts that through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve their intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology…

I can attest that this was my experience as well.

The proper model for collaboration technology is to look at it as a feature within other business processes. We can collaborate better around the budget process; we can collaborate better around the hiring process; we can collaborate better around the procurement process; etc. The point is to understand the problem you are trying to solve first THEN look for the best solution, which may happen to include better collaboration…

Problems, Problems

This morning I was thinking about the nature of problems, so, of course, I googled: “nature of problems”. What I found was this great blog post by Frank Chimero. It resonated with my own thoughts. (I am always amazed by what you can find just by looking.)

The post highlights four common mistakes we often make when considering problems:

  1. We forget that there are two kinds of problems.
  2. Aspects of problems are a little bit concrete and a little bit squishy, and we mistake one for the other.
  3. We think there are solutions when there are none.
  4. We forget that our responses to problems create more problems.

Essentially all of what he says rings true with my own experience. I might add another mistake that I see:

  • We tend to confuse symptoms with problems, and thus waste time addressing symptoms instead of underlying problems.

My take away from this is that we tend to not spend enough time understanding and articulating problems in our rush to reach solutions. Finding a better way to talk about problems, is a problem worth solving.

Project Design for an Agile Workplace

Approaching the Agile Workplace

They were saying it 20 years ago, and it is more true today than it was then, “The only thing that is constant is change, and the rate of change is accelerating.” Some of the changes we have seen since the 1990’s include:


  • Software-as-a-Service
  • Agile Development
  • Remote/Distributed Workforce
  • Reorganizations too numerous to count

All of these changes are leading to the Agile Workplace, a working environment that can quickly transition in response to the needs of the market. We are not there yet, as there are still too many vestiges of hierarchical infrastructure, top-down command and control, and ego driven agendas within most organizations.

One element that is embedded in most organizations today that does support the shift to an agile workplace is the project centric approach to work. Essentially every organization in existence operates with a project mentality in one aspect or another. Projects done well can enable rapid change, but projects done poorly are merely extensions of the burdensome bureaucracies that sidetrack innovation and deflate effective operations. So the question becomes, how do we design projects that support the agile workplace?

Project Design is about Process

Project management is first and foremost about communication, making sure that the right person has the right information at the right time. The difficult part is being able to identify:

  • Who is the right person?
  • What is the right information?
  • When is the right time?

And to compound the situation, no single person ever knows the answer to all of these questions. The most common approach to alleviating this problem is to gather all the information into a project charter and project plan, and make it available to the project team. But then other questions arise, where did that information come from, did all stakeholders have input, is it current? Too often assumptions are made that lead to problems downstream. For example: a project manager may assume that the project sponsor queried all the stakeholders prior to generating the project mandate. Or the project team may assume that the root problem identified has been tied to a prioritized business need.

Explicit and open statements should drive the project forward, not assumptions. Similarly the process for generating project information needs to be open, and subject to feedback from all stakeholders.

In order for project information to be effective, not only must the content be readily accessible, but also the process and context behind the content must be transparent. When all the information about a project is available and everyone can see the roadmap for how that information was generated, only then do you have the basis for an agile project and thereby an agile workplace.

The bottom line is that the success of a project is dependent on the way you design the systems and processes that support the project. 

Mind The Gap

Most organizations I encounter possess a huge gap. That is the gap between concept and execution. Everyone loves to create the big idea, the grand plan and they want to get moving on it ASAP. Failure to “mind the gap” inevitably leads to failure of the initiative.Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 10.27.13 AM

So what is in this Gap? We all know what needs to be done:

  • Document the current environment
  • Identify root problems
  • State your objectives
  • Create your plan for execution

The problem is that we rush through this part and/or don’t involve enough stakeholders. Frequently a preconceived solution is already in mind, which precludes any opportunity to be sure you are solving the correct problem. Filling this gap effectively is essential to the success of any initiative.

After years of working in the area of major organizational initiatives, I can say that the place I provide the most value is in Minding the Gap.

There are two parts to doing this well. First is creating a solid charter. The second is creating a thorough stakeholder map. Each task is seemingly simple on the surface. In fact each activity requires unique skills to do them well. The underlying theme in both activities is creating a transparent and dynamic conversation. Only through this process of proposal and feedback can all the issues be surfaced and dealt with before the tactical work begins.

This is what I do, and it just so happens this is the position I am currently looking for. As of today ( January 30, 2014) I am available for full-time or contract work to help organizations “Mind the Gap”.

Kotter – Accelerate

Screenshot 2013-10-15 16.23.08

I just finished reading John Kotter’s HBR article Accelerate! If you are interested in how to build an organization for success in the 21st century, this is a must read. The basic content in the article will be published as a book  in the spring of 2014. I suggest reading this now and getting ahead of the curve.

This is an evolution on his previous landmark work “Leading Change”. It incorporates what he has learned from his 15 years of delivering the “Kotter Methodology”.

One of my favorite quotes:

People have been writing for 50 years about unleashing human potential and directing the energy to big business challenges. But who, outside the world of start-ups, has succeeded? So few do because they’re working within a system that basically asks most people to shut up, take orders, and do their jobs in a repetitive way.

So much of what he says resonates with my own experience. It is about openness, transparency, and trust; but structured in a way as to not loose focus on the intent and direction of the organization.

Until further notice the organizational “dual operating system”  is becoming my new way of thinking. The article is free to read if you register on the site.

Curation as a Key Competency

Last month I wrote a post that stated “content curation must become a core competency”. I want to expand on that a bit, and point you to a related post that Euan Semple put up last week, Curatorship. In it Euan says:

This process of curating stuff that appeals to you allows you to be found by people who share your interests. This helps start relationships and build networks. This is how you get to do interesting things with interesting people.

In essence, curation is a way to tell your story. By highlighting and commenting on content that you find interesting or compelling, you are letting others see inside your head. Writing to tell your own story is difficult and time consuming, and the truth is that most of us do not take the time to do it. (My own sporadic entries in this blog bear witness to that.) Curation on the other hand is easier and typically an enjoyable experience, and it yields much the same endpoint as writing your own narrative.



Now for the best part. When you curate content, you are making the online world a better place. Your stamp of approval on content makes it inherently more interesting to those that care about your opinion. In the workplace this process becomes invaluable, as good content is surfaced, and bad content drifts to the bottom of the stack, where  it belongs.

Connected organizations will thrive on being able to surface the best ideas, and curation is the best path to that end. Organizations that do not see curation as a key competency will eventually drift to the bottom of the stack…

Keeping Notes

One of my eternal quests is to find a way to keep track of my notes, tasks, etc.  I have tried, in varying degrees, GTD, mobile apps, Evernote … the list goes on.

So here is a new one, Bullet Journal. It is analog, it uses the old fashioned blank page bound notebook. Really it is about a set of standard notations and a consistent approach to linking items and pages together.

Bullet Journal

I can’t decide if I an ready to sacrifice a new Moleskine to it yet. Here is a video that describes it in more detail:

3 Tenets of the Connected Organization

diversityIn the past 15 years the Internet has given rise to the Connected Generation. Realtime opinion and information is globally available. The dynamics of personal interactions are changing.

Organizations are just beginning to understand and make this same shift in a way that will lead to increased effectiveness, beyond mere efficiency. For organizations to leverage the connectedness inherent in the world today, they will have to internalize three essential tenets of operation.

  • Diversity combined with empathy is the gateway to innovation.
  • Content curation must become a core competency for everyone.
  • There must be a separation of responsibility between stewardship of resources and strategic budget allocation. Or another way of saying it, those responsible for making markets and meeting customer needs, should not also have responsibility for the welfare and development of the organization’s resources, but instead must solicit for those resources on an as needed basis.

Each of these ideas will be addressed further in independent posts.

Knowledge is Personal

Below is a piece I wrote in 1997. It has been in the back of my mind ever since but I have never before published it publicly.


The Premise

Knowledge is personal. This paper begins and ends with the same statement. Everything in between is intended to support or make use of this single idea.


Knowledge Management, Intellectual Capital, Learning Organization. These are some of the most prevalent topics in today’s business press. They all deal, in one way or another, with the idea that people are the most important resource available to an organization. Simply put, if an organization could more effectively harness the full intellect and wisdom of all the individuals that comprise an organization, then that organization would have a significant competitive advantage. Nice idea but how do you go about actually doing it. My premise is that the organization that truly understands and embraces the idea that knowledge is personal will have taken an important step toward gaining a significant competitive advantage and toward becoming a knowledge-based organization.


My goal in writing this paper is threefold:

  • to explain what I mean by “Knowledge is personal”
  • to examine why this statement is significant in an organizational setting
  • to show, at least one way, how the concept that knowledge is personal can be leveraged to create value


The pursuit of knowledge has been going on since the first sentient beings, presumably humans, became … well … sentient.. The human race has been trying to get its hands around the concept of knowledge for a long time. This paper is not intended to be a definitive answer to this search. I only want to create a working definition of knowledge that can be used within the framework of the concepts presented here. I wish to use this definition and framework to show how knowledge can be used in an organizational setting to create value. One point I want to make is that my definition of knowledge herein is simple and mechanical. I am not trying to ascribe any type of valuation to knowledge or embark on the more philosophical discussions of wisdom, intelligence, etc. My hope is that you will accept my definition at face value, at least for the duration of this reading.


To help with my definition of knowledge, I want to present the first part of a model that relates facts, data, information, and knowledge.












  • Facts are what actually exist, the essence of what is reality.
  • Data are facts that have been recorded.
  • Information is data that has been gathered, edited, organized and otherwise made presentable.
  • Knowledge is information that has been registered in the human brain.


Between each level in this chain is a layer of process and interpretation. Facts that are recorded become data, but this is not a random occurrence of nature. It is a deliberate act, engineered in some way by someone. The act of recording the fact and creating the data was accomplished by some process; and some sort of interpretation was required to define that process. There are virtually an infinite number of facts in the universe and probably an infinite number of interpretations of each fact. Therefore the creation of data is merely the record of one interpretation of a fact by one process.


Essentially the same argument holds true for the creation of information. Recorded data might as well be infinite; we have become so good at creating it. The temperature at Raleigh-Durham Airport at midnight on December 13, 1997 , the closing price of Microsoft stock on December 23,… etc. The point being , for all this data to be useful it needs to be processed and interpreted. It needs to be turned into information. This information can be the output from a computer system; it can be a magazine or a book; it can be a spoken word. Information can take many forms, but it is always the result of data being filtered through process and interpretation before it is presented.


This leads us to knowledge. When we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch, the sensation is registered in the brain. The brain performs the process of trying to place the sensation within a known context. The brain is trying to filter the information based on past experiences already sensed. The human brain is by far the best mechanism ever devised to perform this task of creating context. It is the ultimate implementation of the process and interpretation filter.


The definition that I am presenting is that knowledge only exists within the human brain. Knowledge is, therefore, unique to each individual. Knowledge is personal.


By this definition, knowledge is not something that you can explicitly record or pass on to someone else. As soon as an individual imparts her knowledge to an external audience, by writing a book, giving a speech, or having a conversation, her knowledge is rendered into information. (Of course this is also referred to as communication.) This information is then passed on to the receiving person and becomes new and different knowledge for the receiver. The knowledge of the receiver is necessarily new and different because their existing knowledge provides a new and different context for the newly received information. Since every individual has unique knowledge and since all existing forms of communication are primitive compared to the internal communication network of the brain, it is impossible to explicitly pass on knowledge.

Why Is The Premise Important

Why is the premise that “knowledge is personal” important within the context of an organizational setting? To answer this question, I will expand the model I started in the earlier section.

















Arguably, the primary reason for the existence of most (or all) organizations is to provide value or benefit to someone somewhere in some direct or indirect way. The question is, how does an organization create this benefit/value. My contention is that benefit/value is generated by some type of process or interpretation generated by the organization. The output generated by the company, cars made, drug developed, consultant’s report deliver, is the result of someone’s conclusion, innovation, or decision. (From here on I will use the acronym “CID” to stand as a generic label for any conclusion, innovation, or decision.) Organizational outputs do not (or should not) occur by random chance, but rather by someone’s conscious CID.


If we accept this as a reasonable argument, let’s take one step back up the chain. Let’s ask “What is a CID and how is one created?”


My definition is that a CID is a specific output generated by the mind of an individual. This output is the direct result of the individual applying their knowledge to a specific situation or problem. The immediate implication of this statement is that the quality of a CID is directly correlated to the quality of the knowledge possessed by the individual. Stated another way, better knowledge yields better CID’s. Since the CID’s made by individuals within an organization drive the processes that create benefit/value, the creation of knowledge within an organization will positively correlate with the benefit/value provided by the organization. If you allow this line of reasoning then you can begin to see why the premise that “knowledge is personal” can have significant impact on how we choose to design the systems, both social and technical, that define an organization.


What Does The Premise Imply For Organizational Design

If we ascribe to the premise that knowledge is personal and what that implies with regard to organizational output, then the way we approach the creation of knowledge becomes the primary element to be considered in organizational design.


My contention is that most (all?) internal infrastructure systems and processes should support the single goal of facilitating the creation of knowledge; this includes all management systems: IS systems, finance systems, compensation systems, i.e. everything not directly contributing to output for the customer. In short, management and infrastructure should only exist to facilitate the creation of knowledge within the individuals that comprise the organization. If management and infrastructure do an excellent job facilitating the creation of knowledge, then the professionals and content experts of the organization are properly equipped to make the best CID’s for the organization, thus providing the best output for the organization. This division of managers and professionals fits nicely with Sveiby’s[1] discussion in his book The New Organizational Wealth.


Following this line of reasoning, organizational design should be about knowledge creation. This concept is the basis for much of today’s business literature. In essence, what I am stating here is nothing new; I am merely attempting to build a framework to provide some structure for thinking about managing a knowledge-based organization. Reading the more renowned authors will provide more and better content than I am able to, but using this framework should provide a helpful way to understand that content. Among the other authors I have read and am referring to are: de Geus[2], Edvinsson[3], Hammer[4] [5], Peters[6], Drucker[7], and Stewart[8].


About The Creation Of Knowledge

Before delving further into implications regarding organizational design, I want to spend a moment discussing some ideas about how knowledge is created. My contention is that knowledge is created when information is available and the environment is conducive to the individual for receiving that information. These two points are critical to remember. First, it is impossible to create new knowledge without new information. This implies that making information freely and readily accessible is a necessary condition for the creation of knowledge. Second, knowledge will not be created if the environment surrounding the individual is not supportive of receiving information, even if the information is available. Again, a supportive environment is a necessary condition for the creation of new knowledge. Though both of these conditions are necessary for the creation of knowledge, neither condition alone is sufficient to facilitate the creation of new knowledge. Both conditions must be present for the effective creation of knowledge.


A corollary theory of knowledge creation is that the more varied the information that is received by the individual, the more opportunity there is for the individual to create significantly new and different contextual connections. The broader the range of contextual connections a person possesses, the greater the knowledge they possess. In other words, knowledge is best created in a dynamic environment.

How To Apply The Premise To Organizational Design

To facilitate the discussion of organizational design, I want to continue building the model presented earlier:















I will call this “The Knowledge-Centered Model of Value Creation” or the Knowledge/Value Model, for short. Each of the six states of this model is separated by an interface or filter comprised of systems and/or processes. Each of these interfaces can be generically defined.


























  • Capture is plain old recording of facts. Nothing particularly new or interesting here. In an organizational setting this is entering an employee’s home address or annual salary rate, or recording the results of a test or experiment. This is typically a mechanical process
  • Delivery is where all the excitement has been for the last few years. The Information Age. The World Wide Web. Client Server Systems. These are all systems, mechanics, and concepts that have led to an incredible change in the way we think about information. Most literature that deals with the recent explosion of information systems and technologies, is really about the improved ability to manipulate (interpret) data and deliver it instantly regardless of distance or the number of destinations
  • Absorption is the assimilation of information that exists in the external environment into the mind of an individual person. Each element of information that is received by the individual is placed within the unique context of their existing knowledge to increase that knowledge.
  • Application is the use of knowledge to generate the true output of individuals, i.e. CID’s. All conscious acts of a person are, presumably, the result of that person applying their knowledge to the situation at hand. This could be stating an opinion in a meeting or having a breakthrough insight on a research project or deciding where to go for dinner.
  • Use is incorporated in what we usually think of as “business processes”. These processes would include a manufacturing process or a marketing plan. These processes are the result of CID’s and are what provide value to the customer.


Using the Knowledge/Value Model, we can now begin to investigate how to build a more effective organization. First let’s examine the distinction between information and knowledge. Most discussions about “knowledge systems” tend to use the words knowledge and information interchangeably. Without a structured definition, this can be confusing. Using the Knowledge/Value Model simplifies the discussion. Using the model helps us understand that most entities referred to as “knowledge systems” systems are really just information systems. Granted they may be sophisticated information systems, but information systems none the less. It seems that the use of the term “knowledge systems” is supposed to imply that these new systems are better than older “information systems”. What’s next then “wisdom systems”? Let’s just stick to fundamentals, any mechanical process that manipulates and/or presents data is just an information system, no matter how fancy it is. The only true “knowledge system” is the brain.


Understanding this distinction between knowledge and information helps to explain why many information systems do not deliver the intended results. If you confuse information with knowledge it is easy to operate under the assumption that once the information system is deployed that the job is done. If the focus is on the processes of delivery, all that has been accomplished it that the information is available, one of the two conditions necessary to create knowledge. The second condition necessary for knowledge creation is often neglected. That condition is the supportive environment. The supportive environment falls into the realm of social systems. If we look at only the mechanical processes then only half the job is done. We need to create the social systems that align with an environment where information is freely available. Unfortunately most social systems within an organization are based on the outdated models arising from the industrial era where physical assets and manual labor, not knowledge and information, were the most important resources. For today’s information systems to reach their true potential, we need to focus our effort in organizational design around the social systems that support an open information environment.


What exactly are “social systems”? Simply put they are everything about how we deal with the people in an organization: compensation practices, management techniques, corporate culture, etc. Basically most everything you read about in any book in the Business Management section at Barnes & Noble. My contention is that applying these ideas within the framework of the Knowledge/Value Model will provide a better understanding and direction for designing organizations. Again if we accept the premise that knowledge is personal and that better knowledge yields greater benefits for the customer, then the clear goal of organizational design becomes the facilitation of knowledge creation. This translates into developing social systems that align with an environment where information is freely available. Of course we need to continue to advance the mechanical process of information delivery, but we need to remember to not stop there. Newly deployed information systems must work in conjunction with the social systems of the organization. The people in the organization must want to use the information that is being made available.


One particular social system that can have a significant positive impact on knowledge creation is Diversity. If we return to the theory stated earlier that knowledge is best created in a dynamic environment, we have in essence stated the single most important reason for having a diverse organization. An organization populated with people having a similar background and mindset is not optimal for the creation of new ideas. The most valuable information a person can receive is information that is totally foreign and totally new, which can create new and unforeseen knowledge. In this sense diversity means more than just the traditional areas of EEO, but also extends to cross-training and lateral job shifts. As seen here, using the Knowledge/Value model can provide significant benefit in organizational design. It provides a fundamental basis for why we design organizations in a particular manner, as opposed to designing by gut feel or legal obligation.


Other areas of study that may benefit from using the Knowledge/Value model are the use of scenarios as a management and planning tool. (For more information about scenarios as a management tool check out The Living Company by de Geus2.) The model can also be used to debate the relative merits of information push vs. information pull systems and in what circumstances each would be appropriate. Tom Peters’ new book The Circle of Innovation6 presents fifteen B-I-G ideas. Each of these ideas can effectively be placed within the framework of the Knowledge/Value model. Go ahead and try some of your own ideas against the model and see if it holds together.


Hopefully this information has allowed you to create some new knowledge and generate some new ideas. But this is just the beginning; most of the work involved in creating a truly knowledge-based organization still lies before us. All we have to do now is to keep the original premise in mind, “Knowledge is Personal”.

[1] Sveiby, Karl Erik; The New Organizational Wealth: Managing & Measuring Knowledge-Based Assets; ã1997; Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.

[2] De Geus, Arie; The Living Company: Habits for survival in a turbulent business environment; ã1997; Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

[3] Edvinsson, Leif & Malone, Michael S.; Intellectual Capital: Realizing Your Company’s True Value By Finding Its Hidden Brainpower; ã1997; HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York.

[4] Hammer, Michael; Beyond Reengineering: How The Process-Centered Organization Is Changing Our Work And Our Lives; ã1996; HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York.

[5] Hammer Michael & Champy, James; Reenginering The Corporation: A Manifesto For Business Revolution; ã1993; HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York.

[6] Peters, Tom; The Circle Of Innovation: You Can’t Shrink Your Way To Greatness; ã1997; Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

[7] Drucker, Peter F.; Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyond; ã1992; Truman Talley Books / Plume, New York.

[8] Stewart, Thomas A.; Intellectual Capital: ; ã1997;