Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: Transition and Discovery

It's been two weeks without a post. Much too long regarding my own commitment to the task. So what happened? We've gone back to France for the season's break and visited parents and family, which means some travel (about 800 miles in all), leisurely activities and very little time on-line. This is no excuse, of course.

I've also been busy attending a one-day Consultant Marketing seminar organized by ITG, an umbrella company which offers haven to independent consultants who do not wish to be swamped by all the administrative tasks required when one starts his or her own business. Such companies will deal with all invoicing, insurance, pension, tax duties while consultants can devote their time to do what they like most to do: develop their business, nurture their network, land contracts. I have some contacts who could lead me to find my first mission as a free-lance consultant. If this happens soon, I'll seek to strike a deal with such a company.

So what about the earlier part of 2007?
The big events have run around the reorganization of the business and my struggle to find a suitable position in the Knowledge Management domain at my company. This has not worked out, but at the same time, I've found this to be a great opportunity to put my professional life in perspective and ask myself what is it I really want to do for the rest of my active life (probably about 10 years). So, I've decided that it was worth pursuing what I am passionate about, helping people and companies work better in a cooperative environment.

As a consequence, we have planned to move back to France during the first quarter of 2008 and establish this new business of mine there. It will fulfill a long time desire of ours to get back to our friends and family.

2007 has been notable also with my realising how social networking is at the heart of most human activities these days and especially for the knowledge worker that I am. So I have taken every opportunity to connect or reconnect with all the people I know or once worked with and I have started to make new on-line friends in France. This latter part worked amazingly well: I was able to find like-minded people who had just started a discussion group (La nouvelle énergie du business - the new business energy) and we've been busy planning for further development of the group in the new year.

The values promoted by that group are:

  • Take responsibility for your own life
  • Cooperation is at the heart of personal fulfillment and societal achievement
  • Be generous - Give without thinking about retribution
  • Open your mind to trusting others
  • Stand by your word to earn others' trust

I have made these values mine and hope to live up to them in 2008.

Dear reader, I hope you had an enriching year and that the coming one will bring you what you most desire. And I hope that some day we will find opportunities to help each other.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Explorations in TiddlyWiki land

I'm been enthralled by TiddlyWiki this past week or so. The more I dig into it, the more opportunities I find.

In my quest for the ultimate personal note taking applications I looked at various solutions, from the classical Office documents that are not flexible in terms of tagging pieces of content and organising a notebook like a diary.

At my work facility, we are using OneNote: it's got the versatility of adding pages easily in a set of hierarchical sections, sub-sections, pages and sub-pages. It can embed entire documents as well or link to them. But, with all its power, OneNote requires to be installed on all the computers that I am using for me to open my Notebook at various place at work and at home. I am a bit daunted by the complexity of of the whole OneNote application and have misgivings about its being around for a long time.

The next cool application I've been using is Web On a Stick (WOS), which is really a full blown web server running Apache and major open source applications, such as Drupal, Workdpress and MediaWiki to name a few. I've been using the latter extensively to record my thoughts, references and plans in a non-linear way. I found it very useful, also I am missing a Wisiwig interface, which I'm told exists as a plugin. I have not taken the time to install it though.

Now comes TiddlyWiki. I tried it a few months back and at the time simply did not get it. I did not know where to start with it, how to customise it to my liking and how it could be quickly put to work as a notebook. So last week, I came back to it on a whim, and this time it clicked. I was able to start using it as a daily journal and to record thoughts, things to do, now or later. And I have seen amazing applications of TiddlyWiki: whole web sites, GTD (Getting Things Done) documents, etc.

So what's to TiddlyWiki?
I like the fact that it's self-contained. I mean that the whole thing is in a single HTML document, which is fairly portable: all you need is a web browser on a machine which can run Linux, MacOs or even Windows ;-). Next, it's great to capture non-linear thinking, like going back to projects over time, and it help make all the links that one needs to retrieve things very quickly.

The basic concept is to encapsulate pieces of content (text, scripts, macros, pictures, links, podcasts or videos) in "tiddler" that you can tag (or have the system tag them for you), with a wiki style editor.

Then the interface, lets you organise your content, i.e. tiddler in a number of ways, having them appear or disapear at will on the page.

Gone is the tedious folder hierarchy, if you can name what you're looking for, you can retrieve it.
Last goodie for now: there is a dynamic and enthusiastic community of developers out there to make you life easier, including Jeremy Ruston , the creator of TiddlyWiki, Eric Shulman of ELS Design Studios, and many others.

Check it out!

Links of interest:
The TiddlyWiki Vault - thanks to Dave and Blanca Gifford
TiddlyWiki review by tifrap
Can't Live Without It, TiddlyWiki by Cynthia Russell

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Web2.0 Virtual Office

After reading this great post by Eric Dupin on "My life without software and with barely a computer" (sorry, the original text is in French), it came to me that it may be of interest to describe my personal productivity environment.

I've been using Windows, in various versions this past 18 years from 3.1 to XP in my work environment. Coming from the Apple IIe and Mac world in the pioneering years (1983 to 1989), the move was wrenching at the time, much like driving a Ford model T, after years of enjoying a classy Porsche 911. But, by work necessity, I tried to make the best of the IBM PC/Windows environment.

With the advent of the web, I recently took the decision to explore tools that would free me from the ever increasing race towards more cycle-hungry operating systems and thick desktop applications and would enable me to potentially work from any computer, wherever I am connected.

Although, my journey of discovery is far from being complete, here is were I am at this point. First, I decided to have a go at Linux as an alternative to Windows. So I erased the latter on a Thinkpad T22 that I bought about 5 years ago and installed PCLinuxOS, a distro that compares well with the likes of Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse etc. It's been fairly painless to install, although I had a bit of a struggle with the Broadcom wireless network card.

So, on this laptop, that I upgraded to 512Mb of RAM from the initial 256Mb, I am happy surfing the net with Firefox. I use Google Reader to check my suscribed feeds and I tag websites and resources of interest using Google Notebook is a nice complement that helps me clip information of interest, categorize it and add notes on the fly.

Open Office seems to be a valid replacement for MS Office, although I have not completed the conversion yet. I think the next step is going to be about finding online replacements of these desktop productivity tools. The big advantages that I see in moving in that direction are:

  • Storing files on a remote location enables the ability to share them with my friends and co-workers
  • I can reference them in blogs or websites with their URL
  • I don't need to think about backing them up, although having a copy somewhere is always a good idea
I am also a big user of mind mapping software. I like MindManager in Windows and I've tried FreeMind, an open source software which is OK for basic mind mapping in Linux. Recently, a friend indicated comapping, a mind mapping application that is completely hosted on the web and allows for co-editing of mind maps in real time and remotely. It's an impressive tool, with all needed conversion capabilities from and to freemind and MindManager. We intend to use it to record minutes of our teleconferences live.

Another area of growing interest for me is social networking, mainly through Linkedin and Viadeo. I find that in addition, I have a need for a contact manager to make sure that I follow up with my network contacts in a timely way. I've chosen Highrise, by 37signals, the providers of Basecamp, the project management tool of fame. It provides me with the necessary functionality to log my contact history, details and tasks. It's a great resource, even with the basic free license.

Lastly, I am addicted to Getting Things Done and use Todoist, a neat online facility with good flexibility and Gmail integration (which I haven't gotten around to testing so far).

What productivity applications have you found on the web that you particularly like?

Interesting link:
Linux and Open Source Blog (from which the picture above comes - thanks)

Post update at 18:03:
Check this article on CIO Magazine: Windows vs. Linux vs. OS X

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Convergence of Social Networking in the Entreprise

These are interesting times for fostering collective intelligence in the enterprise. More and more people have taken steps to connect with other people they trust, using one or several social networking platforms of their choice (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing, etc.).

A lot of big corporations are now making forays into building social networking capabilities within the entreprise. For instance, Pfizer was one of the two companies to strike a collaboration deal with Microsoft to explore the potential of Knowledge Network, an entreprise solution for mining emails for keywords, and providing people search capabilities, i.e. the ability to search for people with specific knowledge, skills or talents. I'll expand later on the lessons from that particular initiative, the point here is that the traditional approach to getting social networking capabilities within the firewall has been to either bring in a major provider of software solutions or build a solution from scratch.

The big aha for me has been to realize that the content of social networking does not belong to the companies people work for. It belongs to the people. Therefore, companies would be well advised to get the content where it currently sits; i.e. directly from the social networking platforms of the planet.

That is in this perspective that I am very excited about the recent publication of the OpenSocial API standards, which has the potential to offer social networking content for consumption in the entreprise environment. Just imagine the possibilities: company X gets a view of how its people communicate internally and externally, simply by putting together an aggregated view of all connections made by its employees. In addition, it can develop services that help mine internal data along with people data, or using the wealth of information to initiate fruitful collaborative efforts outside the entreprise.

What's in it for the people? Well, they would not have to maintain yet another profile page and connection data in the company they work for, or have to fill all that over again when they change companies. And more importantly, they would keep ownership of their profile page and connections data and bring that to the company they work for as part of their intrinsic worth.

What do you think?

Links of interest:
Explaining OpenSocial to your Executives by Jeremiah Owyang
Google OpenSocial will (hopefully) make social apps more relevant by Charlene Li
OpenSocial: it's the data, stupid by Tim O'Reilly
(I do not share Tim's misgiving about OpenSocial's ability to share data. Some comments are quite interesting to read)
OpenSocial: a new universe of open applications all over the web by Marc Andreessen

Post update at 1:48 pm:
I just came across this article that goes in the direction I was hinting:
Enterprise Social Computing by Jon Williams
I will check the Alfresco WCM platform closely. As a matter of fact, in a completely separate stream of work, I've made contact with folks at Knowings, a French firm who have a partnership agreement with Alfresco. Connections come around...

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Transcendental Nature of the Web

In her blog, Acronym, Lisa Junker blogged about an impressive video that visually explains the evolution towards Web 2.0.

"Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, lays out a lot of the major issues surrounding Web 2.0 in a short video called “The Machine Is Us/ing Us.” "

Content has become the enabler to linking to other content and people. It points to the thought that the web is the most evolved construct for tacit or informal knowledge internalization, i.e. providing all connected people the ability to act effectively. We thus become the free and willing instruments of a superb meta-machine.

I just wonder whether we've reached a singularity point were the meta-machine has attained self-awareness yet. Maybe it has, but we, mere body cells, just will never know...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Taking Time to Realize One's Dreams

This morning, I came across this slide deck on Prashant Bekhare's blog which helped me shed some light on my journey through life and work. In essence, we work for Time, Money and Security.

  • Time: we spend time earning the money that help us achieve security. As we are working, we exchange time for money.

  • Money: we need it to achieve our dreams, whether material, intellectual, social or spiritual as they may be.

  • Security: this is the state where we can spend time and money to do whatever we've always wanted to do.
What is argued is that earning money in exchange for working time limits our ability to spend time on realizing our dreams. The next step would be to establish a royalty-based business that multiplies our virtual time, by having others spend time to earned money on our behalf, in exchange for our business knowhow and experience.

However powerful the message is, it leaves me with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, as I am striving to achieve financial independence and I have hopes that could happen some time in the future, I realize that time is our most precious asset and that one has to know when to stop spending it to earn money and security in order to use it to fullfil our dreams .

On the other hand, I cannot help thinking of the slide deck as some sort of propaganda to join the Income Royalty Organization, which seems to have goals of its own that are very unclear to me.

How does it feel to you?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Entreprise creation: from wishful thinking to really doing it!

On the second day at the "Salon de la Micro-Entreprise" I particularly appreciated Laurent Edel's talk about the transition from idea to realisation. With some humour and a lot of sensitivity, Laurent pointed out the hard questions one has to honestly ask oneself, in order to make sure we are not fooling ourselves into believing that entreprise creation is the universal answer to our problems:

  • If I sorted out my current problem or un-satisfaction, would I still want to create my entreprise or become consultant?

  • When is looking forward to creating the most acute? Is it when difficulties are piling up and we feel like we when to just give up and do something else?

Then he asked a question which is sure to surprise a number of my American friends:

  • What can you do to make sure that your endeavour will be a failure?

Laurent explained that visualizing every instance of making mistakes helps make sure that they won't happen. This is obviously counter to all positivistic theories whereby you visualize success to put yourself in the right state of mind to succeed. My take to it is that this is a tool that needs to be used with extreme caution. I recognize the value of analysing risks, which helps come up with mitigating actions, but at the same time, seeing oneself in a winning position is a powerful way to prepare for success. It may be alright to envisage situations in which we fail, as it helps ask the right questions and prevents us from fooling ourselves, to the condition that ultimately we follow up with positive thoughts that put us in a winning mindset.

Some quick search on "positive visualization" showed a lot of hype about how visualization bring to reality everything you want. That's not true however: what works is a positive mindset and then a lot a sweat and persistence to make things happen.

Finally, I retained the idea the transition does not need to be brutal and disruptive. It can come one small step at a time. Asking ourselves: what small actions did I accomplish today that demonstrate that I am progressing toward my goal is helpful to get a positive feeling from our progress.

Laurent's presentation was very popular, to the point that a lot of people were denied access to the conference room for security reasons. The story does not say whether there were more dreamers in room than in the group of persons who could not attend his talk...

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Portage salarial or umbrella companies": risk free entrepreneurship*

The next session I attended at the "Salon de la Micro-Entreprise" in Paris on October 9th was sponsored by, a portage company which basically offers to employ people who aspire to create their own business, but are not quite ready to do it on their own.

Main services provided by "Portage companies":

  • Employee status, with public and private health insurance and means of contributing to a pension scheme.

  • Compensation is based on business contracts that the employee-entrepreneur lands, which corresponds to a net pay of about 50% of contract money (after deduction of the portage company charges (10%) and the health insurance and pension deduction (40%). Please note that the net pay is before tax, as in France, tax are due one year after income was earned.
  • Professional insurance and judiciary protection
  • Invoicing and accounting services
  • Network of entrepreneurs and potential clients
  • Portage seems to be an appealing proposition to intellectual workers who would like to start a business of their own, test a new idea, product or service, while minimizing risks. They are still considered as employees, which in France, ensures maximum protection in case their business is not as successuf as anticipated.

From what I've seen the main domains of application are strategy, human resources, training and information services.

What's in it for potential clients?

Well, companies looking to offer them one-off missions that require specific skills, can do so with the assurance that they will get a highly qualified consultant, backed by the portage companies' reputation, at a very competitive cost.

Alternatives for them would be to 1) hire a person either temporarilly or permanently with all the overhead of the recruiting process or 2) call upon a temp company (of the like of Manpower) at a high cost.

Who are these "umbrella companies" in France?

There were a number of portage companies present at the "salon", in addition to Freelance .com (formerly and Valor Consultants). Others present were:

Public services (part of Départments' Chambers of Commerce and Industry) also offer structures to host and help would be consultants. It's very well worth checking with your local administration, if you live in France.

What personal insights did I gain from this presentation?

The formula looks vey appealing to rapidly gain knowledge about how consultants operate and to help get a network of people (competitors and potential client). It seems like a good way to validate a project and speed up getting to a profitable situation. So my plan is to investigate further by contacting several of these companies, probably towards beginning of next year.

* I could not find a suitable translation for the French expression "portage salarial". I'd appreciate any clue... Update: thanks for the tip. I'll adopt "umbrella company" as a translation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Salon de la Micro-Entreprise" Paris - Oct 9th - Day 1

The "salon" was pack full of company stands and featured a good number of conferences that were to the point and very stimulating.

The day started with a talk by Catherine Pompei on "Consulting: how to develop a successful business", based on the book she co-wrote "Consultants: how to land your first contracts". According to Catherine, there are 3 type of consulting missions:

  • Expertise
  • Those requiring a specific domain know how
  • Outsourced resource, which independent consultant rarely take

I found this classification useful as it made me realise that I aspire to be an expert consultant. My expertise is in social network analysis and business analysis to help companies fully leverage the potential of the tacit knowlede they don't know they have.

The other re-inforcing thought that I got from her talk was that success lies in how a consultant nurtures their network and particularly their clients. A successful consultant gives first with no propect of immediate return. It is a great way to establish a genuine atmosphere of cooperation and trust. In fact, it is a way of life. You cannot fake it. You have to feel the imperative of acting in such a way for your own well being.

Finally, Catherine had a nice image to emphasize two essential qualities of a successful consultant: a consultant has to embrace the strategy of the elephant's toe allied with the agility of the kangooroo. The meaning of this is that it's best to establish commercial relationships with a client in measured steps, so that the commitment does not seems too important upfront that it would trigger a negative response. At the same time, flexibility and adaptability are paramount to ensure that the consultant's contribution will fullfill the client's expectations in the best way.

I bought Ms Pompei's book so I could get a deeper understanding of the steps that I need to take to land my first contract.

I attended a couple more conferences that day that I will describe later.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My take on a Collaboration Maturity Model

Hierarchy versus informal knowledge sharing

Over the past few years companies have paid increasing attention to communication skills, have trained their employees and screened candidates to find people with appropriate skills. All this is generally being done so that current employees and new hires fit seemlessly into companies' organisational structure and easily adopt their culture. What is systematically overlooked, though, are the human assets represented by the informal communication patterns within the enterprise, or between entreprise colleagues and the outside world for that matter. Although, companies have representations of their hierarchical organisation, they do not have means to easily represent the patterns of communication, information sharing and value creation that are the actual paths towards getting work done effectively.

A framework for entreprise collaboration

A way to build views of the way a group or a company interact informally is to perform an organisational network analysis that will help quantify the shape, intensity and value of communication in support of business objectives.

The results will give insights about the maturity of collaboration in the company. I would define maturity of collaboration as the ability for a group or an entreprise to create sustaining value through an unfettered flow of information that can be generated to solve problems, develop products or markets or foster innovation.

Drawing from a number of sources (see linkography at the end of this post), I've been trying to depict a collaboration maturity model that would clearly describe the state of an organisation as well as give clear indications as to what needs to be done to move from one stage to another. I came up with this diagram:

The main conclusions that one can draw from this model are:
  • Collaboration moves from aphazard individual initiative to full blown enterprise strategy as we climb up the maturity ladder

  • Entreprise culture needs to evolve to nurture, recognize and reward values of openness, knowledge sharing, risk taking, trust and "crowd evaluation" (knowledge value emerging from assessment by the people in an interactive fashion)

  • The technical infrastructure needs to evolve towards content and people information accessibility, global metadata management and ultimately provide seemless access to intranet + extranet resources


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Career Transition

A lot has been happening in my professional life recently, all around transitioning. As our organisation has been changing, so do I have to find a new job opportunity at the same work place or... outside.

This is a good thing. Or it will be in the end. What's good about it is that it takes me to places I would not have dare go and ask questions that I feared to ask. Such as: at this point in time, what do I really want to do with my life? What makes me tick?

Well, what I am passionate about is people and the way they interact to create value in the society and in the enterprise. So I am going to talk about my progress in finding my ways to new project.

One idea is to start as a consultant, helping organisations assess the potential of their informal structure and make plans to foster a culture more conducive to collaborative performance. This should help them create more value while making the work place a better place to work in.

What makes it a compelling opportunity is that technology is here (see Peter H. Reiser - Web 2.0 applied in the Enterprise post) to provide a work environment that facilitates access to the "what" (information) and to "who knows what "social networks".

So how can I reach out to those organisations? One way would be to get to know HR consultant already operating in the field, first to learn about the potential market, then to better assess the idea and thirdly to find opportunities for partnership in consulting.

One step at a time. My current focus is on:
  • Due diligence (market research)
  • Networking
  • Refining my Organisational Network Analysis offering

More on these later.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Corporate Blogging versus Internet Blogging

An internal effort to come up with corporate blogging requirements made me think about guidelines or a code of ethics that bloggers should follow, pretty much like there is a code of ethics for writing documents or emails.

Corporate blog guidelines
I don't need to go further than re-iterating the excellent 6 points described in this Groundswell post by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff:

  1. Make it clear that the views expressed in the blog are yours alone and do not necessarily represent the views of your employer.
  2. Respect the company’s confidentiality and proprietary information.
  3. Ask your manager if you have any questions about what is appropriate to include in your blog.
  4. Be respectful to the company, employees, customers, partners, and competitors.
  5. Understand when the company asks that topics not be discussed for confidentiality or legal compliance reasons.
  6. Ensure that your blogging activity does not interfere with your work commitments. "
However, I think the guidelines need to be applied differently in two aspe to the type of blogging that people intend to do, i.e. they are highly dependent on whether the targetted audience is behind or outside of the company's firewall. These are about matters of confidentiality and interference with work commitments.

Regarding confidential information

When the audience is restricted to colleagues, one is bound by the company's internal policy regarding handling and sharing sensitive information internally. There are 4 levels in the classification of information in my company:
  • Public domain information
  • Information for internal use
  • Confidential information
  • Strictly confidential information

Essentially, information for internal use can by circulated on electronic environments internally, provided those environments are protected by standard company security. Confidential information can be circulated on a "need to know" basis, to a restricted number of colleagues and strictly confidential information cannot be circulated without express authorization by the originator of the information.

Internet blogging on the other hand, should not include any information for internal use unless there has been explicit authorization to use it outside the firewall.

Regarding interference with work commitment.

Although the statement is to be followed when corporate bloggers talk about subjects that are not directly linked to their work, there is a growing opportunity to use blogging as an alternate means of describing work in process and accomplishments in the scope of work assignments. Potentially, this new means of publishing results can help decrease the overhead in multipurpose email with the outstanding benefits of offering a space to retrieve/reuse/comment on the information at a later date as it has a permanent web address and can be tagged.

For more information about categories of blogs, check the reflections on the learning values of blogs by John Casteldine, an estimated colleague of mine.

Friday, July 27, 2007


A new beginning
Funny that creating my first ever public post feels like giving birth to a first child (although I would not know that much about that, considering that I am a father of two grownups ;-).

I have been thinking long and hard about what I would write about, how it could possibly be of any interest at all to other people and came to the conclusion that I should do it for me as well as for others. If it does not work for me, i.e. if I do not find its content interesting, there's a good chance that nobody will bother read it. So, let's get started.

I've never been that keen on networking, until very recently I came to realize how much I am dependent on other people, at work and in the world outside. So I started to get interested in keeping track of people I know well and have used LinkedIn for about a year and a half. The first months were very quiet and I did not look a my LI account very often. And then I reached the tipping point about 3 months ago when I realized that networking could bring me the means to do what I do best, which is servicing others, i.e. providing resources to help resolves other people questions, issues or problems.

So what about my experience with LinkedIn so far?
I have reached a point where I have about invited all the persons that I know well, professionally. I sense that I need to attain another level that involves active participation to activities with my contacts so as to establish a presence on the web as well as in real life.
Actions that I have started to get involved in are:

  • Contributing to LinkedIn Answers (still need to ramp up this activity)

  • This blog

  • Corporate blogging within the firewall of the company I work with

  • Regular reading of my feeds and occasional commenting

  • Publishing my profile

Recipes to smart networking
Yesterday, I was privileged to attend a webinar about ways to nurture one's network.
Here are a few lessons learned from that meeting:

  • "Networking is about developing and maintaining a web of contacts that have the potential for mutual benefits"

  • Never ask for a job. Instead use the AIR principles when making a request: ask for Advice, Information and Referencing.

  • People will introduce you (referencing) only if it makes them look good.

  • Before networking, prepare thyself: write your Personal Brand Statement.

  • Have a personal business card that complement your branding such as provided by Vistaprint.

So, this is a start. The blogosphere is my oyster...