Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I've long had a LinkedIn account that I've been idle with. I would accept requests to the dormant account, but wouldn't invite anyone. Until now.

Recently I've determined that the power of networks would be a useful resource in advancing some personal goals. I've requested that a few contacts join my network, and even requested a referral from some close colleagues and clients. I like the results. I'm confident showing people my LinkedIn profile as an alternative to a bio of any kind. It doesn't only speak to work history or interests, it speaks to an individual's living network.

Scott Allen wrote that "LinkedIn was designed to be more of an extended Rolodex than a virtual cocktail party. LinkedIn's core value proposition enables significant improvements in efficiency for search/discovery within your extended network". I've done the cocktail party thing with facebook and others. Used for its purpose - which I now have a need for - LinkedIn is a good tool. Some other business networking applications it's being used for:
  • Prospecting/researching possible customers
  • Prospecting/researching key people in organizations (often potential customer's organizations)
  • Keeping information accurate, almost like a customer managed CRM
  • Softening territory to do cold calls. I.e. "you know _________ from my network, we should chat"

With the endless professional and personal networks out there, how can one manage their contacts? I've recently been exposed to, but never used: WeMeUs. It's another thing to have to log in to, but it might help in centralizing what you or I are using now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Neurotechnology and Communication

Back in May of '08, I posted this blog about monkeys using their thoughts to control machines. It is based on a New York Times article. There are practical prosthetic applications, and the video is pure hilarity, but the relevance to communication and collaboration was less obvious to me at the time of writing. But in a wonderful coincidence, this article and concept have re-entered my life, and there is great clarity around how it applies to communication.

I was "Session Captain" at a few sessions in Boston recently. See the 8:45 Focus Session on Neurotechnology at this year's CIMIT Innovation Congress. Note that the presenter was none other than John Donaghue, PhD, of Brown University. Donaghue is a leading expert in brain science, and was referenced and quoted in the NYTimes article that the previous post was based upon!

In the session, Donaghue shared stories told through media and personal accounts (masterful presenter, check him out if you have the chance and take note of his style) how minuscule brain implants can interpret signals from brain cells that are indicating to limbs - whether or not they even exist or function - how they should operate. These same implants can take that information and instruct prosthetics or say, a cursor on a computer screen, to move in a certain manner. We watched a video of a man with no control of his limbs control a cursor to draw a circle on a screen, directed only by thought. It was pretty unsuccessful his first try, but he was able to clear his screen and by the third attempt he had produced what you would recognize as a circle. Incredible.

Don't worry, I'm getting to the communication piece...

Also on the panel was epileptologist Dr. Anthony L Ritaccio from Albany Medical College. Instead of using invasive chips, Dr. Ritaccio is monitoring brain waves (see relevant posts here) to try and predict the onset of seizures. This is leading edge research, but another thing he said that stuck with me was how this kind of technology can one day do more than replace motor skills and forecast seizures. It can change the way our race communicates.

Since the early days of the homo sapien, we as a species have communicated syntactically. The way we communicate has not changed much since we were cavemen. We use symbols and noises. That could all change though. Advances in neurotechnology could see us mastering semantic communication in the future, sharing concepts with one another without common language or background. The possibilities for collaboration are limitless if/when this is achieved. I hope I live to see (or see? or think? or feel?) it.

Also of interest, all of the experts in these panels cited the multidisciplinary nature of the collaborations taht will need to take place to advance this field as perhaps the greatest challenge. Great recognition for a sometimes underappreciated problem.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Innovation Congress

I'm here in Boston at the CIMIT Innovation Congress. What an incredible study in healthcare, innovation, and convening this has been. With years of practice and success in their CIMIT Forum, the CIMIT team has become expert at connecting people - which in turn connect ideas, research, capital, etc, etc - to the benefit of health. Not just locally around Massachusetts General Hospital, but improving patient care around the world by putting the right people in the right environments and nurturing the conditions that stimulate connection and innovation.

I will post about some particular focus sessions and elements of this conference over the coming days. Be sure to check back, because this was an incredible experience with many great speakers bringing action to he purpose and structure provided them.

For now, I just want to comment on the conditions a bit. Like many conferences, the Innovation Congress shoulders focus sessions, idea exchanges and other breakout formats appropriate to different objectives with plenary keynote speakers. Creating a conference following this formula isn't a guarantee for success, although it's the formula that people (especially this clinical and academic audience) expect. CIMIT knows this, and has put great consideration into the meeting design.

For example, they don't give speakers a time limit and topic. They give them these things, as well as some guidance and requests. Much like the TED rules, they have philosophies that hope speakers can consider. Story sharing and interactivity are central. The moderators they enlist are elite in their field of expertise, but they are coached and encouraged to create a dialogue instead of a download. The results are amazing. This thoughtfulness and engaging faculty in advance makes for an entirely different, and in my opinion superior, meeting experience.

I had tried to offer some visual component to provide some frame of reference, but my damn webcam isn't capturing video! I'll see if I can link to CIMIT's blog if they post something.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner wrote his famous book "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences" in 1983. The theory is generally well respected and accepted. As a matter of fact, most American universities have first year students study the different styles. A part of the curriculum is typically to have students practice study techniques that are best suited to their intelligence. For example, a Verbal/Linguistic student is advised to create flashcards about what they are learning. Or a Musical student is advised to tap to a beat while studying. An Interpersonal student might share what they are learning with someone else, etc.

Following a brief reading and paper to develop this personal "mastery", it's commonplace for students to consider how different intelligences among their classmates will affect the way they work together. Again, this is usually a bit of reading, perhaps a pocket of a lecture, and a brief paper.

Why is it that this theory is often lost in adult learning initiatives? Not only are professionals not often asked to be mindful of multiple intelligences, but I've seen enough learning and development programs to know that only a few great ones pay any heed to the various styles that make up a group of learners. I think the key piece is the awareness. How could learners benefit from each other if just given a bit of background around how their colleagues learn?

Has this theory become replaced by other interpersonal typing methodologies? Does an assessment that gauges how people receive and provide information, or conduct themselves in a group provide enough personal insight and understanding of others to make Multiple Intelligences obsolete? Here are a few typing methodologies that would be seen in professional development and adult learning more regularly that are designed to help people understand communication styles, preferences, etc:

And there are several others. Many share the same trade-off that they are too difficult or time consuming for a significant number of people on a team to realistically learn, or they are niche or narrowly focused and only provide limited insight. As with anything, experimenting with a few varieties and starting simple is a low risk way to learn what you like.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The YouTube Phenomenon

The stats around YouTube are well documented and very relevant to markets, media, etc. Have a gander at this anthropological look at what YouTube has done and is doing, though. It's fascinating subject matter, and a great lesson in using media in presentations.

It's interesting to think about how YouTube or a similar concept could be used in support of collaborations. I'm facilitating a meeting soon where all participants have made a case for why their department should be entitled to certain resources in advance of the meeting. I'd way rather see the videos than read these documents, and I'm sure the rest of the group would too.

More aligned with this lecture would be a way to share profiles and connect people before a meeting. I can't see too many people biting on this idea, but I'm sure there's a group out there that's willing to expose themselves a la YouTube to accelerate a tight group dynamic in a meeting.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Text Polling

I've discovered and am quickly falling in love with a cool tool called Poll Everywhere. It allows for people to respond to questions using narrative, by using the tools that they almost certainly have on hand anyway.
You just create a poll online by typing in a question, and then project that question on the screen. The audience simply sends an SMS with the text "Cast (and your keyword)" plus their questions, suggestions, responses or input, to a constant number.
There is little one can do to synthesize the information once received, but it does create reports in Excel, and it's free or virtually free for an upgrade. There are more robust polling options, but they usually require specialized devices. This requires an internet connection, and wireless devices that are present in every meeting room, for better or for worse.
The advantage is that people can provide anonymous feedback in the moment. It can also help presenters to steer presentations in the direction that that is required of the audience. There are also multiple choice polling options.
The danger of course, is encouraging people to interact with a device that usually signifies a dying meeting or disengagement.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Cool, Useful, and FREE Tools

There is such a wealth of open source software and applications out there. Finding it can be difficult though. I try and stay abreast of the collaborative tools, but it's nearly impossible. I focus my searches to the simplest of the many options. I like toys where I can just pick up and play; no instruction reading required.

A simple collaborative software that's free to users and gaining more users all the time Google Docs. How it can be used to collaborate is limited, but it's a great place to start. It's a basic word processor, and multiple people can access documents if given permission.

Now there may be a superior set of tools out there under one umbrella, called Zoho. Zoho has a word processor to match Google's, but it also has a presentation (read: PowerPoint) utility, spreadsheets, wikis, planners, chatting tools, etc, all free. There's also some business applications, like webconferencing and databases. If not for free, then at least some free trials.

Check these out and give me some feedback.