Thursday, 31 March 2016

What collaborative, online sharing tools do you use?

This isn't one of those posts where I try to claim I know the answers and you should read to become enlightened (hopefully I never really write like that at all).  This is about the way I work, want to work and look for ways to improve.  What I will do is mention two or three tools I like to use and why, then see if you can help me to come up with some more.  To put in context I love to work out loud, and I'm giving a presentation on the collaborative working and sharing and would like to spend part of that time on tools.  Part of being involved in collaboration and sharing is knowing you don't hold all the answers, so it would be great if someone out there would help a little with a comment or two to lead to some further investigation.  So, here's what I use and love, and where I need more help!

Google Apps
My Drive
If you're looking at collaborating then Google is a pretty damn good place to start. I'm always amazed still at the proportion of 'team' work that gets sent around on Excel or Word seeking input from others.  It seems like madness to me to deal with version control and shared drive spaces in an old-fashioned way, when great tools exist to enable us to work on the same spreadsheet or document at the same time from a variety of locations.  When you're in the apps, I love the way they show you who else is there (the anonymous animals are always good for a giggle too) and you can see live updates. My 13 year-old daughter does her homework in Google Docs and shares with me to help her edit!  Google Drive is enormously valuable too, with the huge amount of free storage offered even on a personal account it makes sharing of large files really easy.  Sites I find a bit clunky, but for a free service I can live with them too.  Of course you also get the most common email address and the way a large number of other apps allow you to sign-in with Google makes having a Google account a must in today's collaborative sharing world.  If you don't have a Google account I really don't understand why not.  I'm predominantly an Apple user and the account and apps play well in the Apple environment (I'm not a fan of Android as an OS but that's just me) and Windows - particularly if you use Chrome as your browser (if you're using IE still you've lost me again...). Yes there are limitations, things like Power View in Excel just don't have an equivalent in Sheets, but for 90% of what you're going to do, this suite is tops.

One of our Trello boards on development work
If there's been one go-to tool over the last few years for me it's been Trello.  This great little app/saas offering started out as a project management tool and is very good at that but is adaptable to so many other things.  When I describe it to people I say it's a bit like a big whiteboard, you put headings on it (lists) and then it's a post-it sticky system where you put as much or as little as you like on the 'cards' and can move them around.  It's collaborative in that other users can write on the cards, change the names of lists, add stickers, notes, attachments, links etc and everything updates real-time.  Chuck in there an audit record of everything that's going on and an active set of features that are regularly updated (and a good support community) it's a really versatile tool.  Log-in with Google of course and start building in a shared environment from the get go.  Great for teams, particularly where projects are involved or across organisation.

My Slack teams
Man I love Slack as a comms tool for teams, it's slick (which probably would have been a better name too!), can handle multiple teams and groups and is very very neat.  I love that you can tie it in with Trello boards and use it to communicate out changes and an easy way to track the changing picture on your Trello boards.  Slack isn't a way to engage the wider audience and reach the outside world - you have to know your teams first, but once set up it's a really powerful tool.  I do like the way you can have different emails, different domains etc and Slack is happy and doesn't care whether you're Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome or whatever - just good quick comms across the group with private and limited areas really easy to setup.  One of the good things is very simple, just adding a set of reactions to say you've seen things, and the reduction effect this has on unnecessary emails is more than welcome.

Much maligned but Twitter is another go-to collaborative tool for me.  I know people spend a lot of time setting up lists etc, but my favourite thing about Twitter is that it's a quick and easy way to get stuff out there.  If Slack is about teams and optimum work in exclusion, for me Twitter is the other end of the spectrum - inclusion to everyone.  Once you embrace that Twitter can be a really fun environment.  When I publish a blog like this, the first thing I'll do is pop a link to it up on Twitter to direct traffic here (okay, light traffic, but traffic all the same).  If you need help, where better to ask for it than in public? The use of hashtags means that your needle in a haystack request now has a beacon attached and the more you interact the more you get out of it.  When you think about avoiding silos this is where Twitter can really come in to its own and if you're like to learn things that you want to find out about (self-directed learner) then try searching and reading through this great little curation tool.  Yes, yes, I know Twitter isn't a curation tool per se, but if a great article has been written, it's usually been discussed or shared on Twitter too...

Yes Facebook and LinkedIn deserve a mention because like the rest of the world I use them, I particularly like the closed groups on Facebook (sports teams are a lot easier to run these days) and LinkedIn I use but often in a way I feel is a bit fake (I'm not sure what my professional persona is, but that's where you'll probably find it).  I think Zoom is a great tool for video (remember when Skype was our go-to tool?), Blab seemed a bit quirky but I didn't quite get on with it in the early days because it crashed a lot so I don't really do that much...

Every tool I've mentioned here also happen to be FREE.  I only mention it here so you can see that free tools aren't my priority as such, but the fact that they can work together without charging the end user is like the Swiss flag; a big plus :)

So there we go... this list definitely needs building and working on - want to help to achieve that? Add a comment to this blog or email me: or find me on Twitter @The_NthDegree

Oh, and if you hate the tools I like, cool, let me know what's better :)

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Continuous Improvement Killers

I'm a huge fan of continuous improvement or (given my adversity to #wankywords) always looking for better ways to do things. The problem is that whilst some of us are keenly looking for improvement, others are more interested in maintaining the status quo - here's the most dangerous improvement killers out there:

Reverse engineering.  This is the subtlest of the improvement killers but it's also one of the most harmful. Dressed up as accepting change what this often looks like is a rose with a quick change of name that still looks and smells the same.  A great example of this is when changing training materials - in education we often get a new qualification or a change say from competency based assessments to achievement based - we can change the qualification, the assessments, but often the teaching teams want to 'adapt' what they currently have.  In essence this means teaching exactly the same material under a different title and killing the opportunity to really make things better.  Sometimes a big improvement opportunity calls for big changes not just tweaks.  Sometimes we can't break through to the next level without leaving the last one behind, scary as that might be.

Don't throw the baby out... We've all heard this one too and in some ways it's related to the one above.  Sure we need to change the bathwater, but the baby stays right? Yes... sometimes.  Sometimes the metaphoric baby was the problem in the first place.  Sometimes our metaphor is a bit twisted too - the baby is the bit we need to change and the bathwater was okay, but it's all changed around depending on who you need to speak to.  Ask yourself this question; if we were starting from scratch, would we do it this way? You might then be able to at least work out what needs to go.

We've tried that and it didn't work.  How many times have you had a suggestion bounced back because it's been tried before but didn't work?  Reality is that this is another way of saying that 'it ain't broke don't fix it'.  It's possible that they have tried it before and maybe it didn't work, but everything changes and often as not there's a whole raft of reasons why initiatives haven't worked, some of those may well have changed.  You do need to learn from the past and things that have been tried, but you also need to be able to revisit past ideas with a fresh perspective and recognise the opportunity for improvements are no more set in stone than the thing you are trying to improve.

If it ain't broke... Okay so I used this phrase above, but it's important to note that there's a whole world of people out there who believe that something being okay is good enough.  I don't believe in 'best practice' but I do believe in opportunities to improve always being there.  Great it works, could it work better?  Even when I'm told (maybe especially when I'm told) this is best practice (stay calm) I want to ask 'Is there a better way of doing this?'.  Even if it was the best for a given point in time with a given set of people and conditions, those things change, is it still as good as it can be?

We don't have time.  Now you're just pushing my buttons! This is one of the most frustrating things in business, the illusion of a lack of time or a perceived level of 'busy' that prevents looking for better ways to do things.  If you don't have time to find efficiency savings for example, then you actually have to accept that you're okay wasting time.  It's like someone offering you a $20 dollar note for a $10 and you turning it down because you only had $12 and you can't afford it...

Best Practice. Sorry, had to add this in, I know I referred to it, but it doesn't exist and so it's a killer to continuous improvement because it infers something is 'concrete'.  This is the best and so decreed that it will always be so. BS. If something is in reality the absolute best (and I'm not even sure that is a reality given the amount of subjectives at play), it's the best then and there only, with those circumstances and conditions, people, time etc. everything changes and so does your practice need to.

People.  I didn't really want to say people because I like to think that everyone would change for the better given the opportunity, but the reality is that some people won't ever change and sometimes we just need to move around them, over them, through them or whatever else works to actually get effective improvements.  I'm not ready to give up on most people this easily, but there are some people that simply resist any sort of change even if it means huge benefits for them.

That's it, I'm fairly well done on the subject for today at least, but just like the content of this blog, this list is subject to change and improvement.  Have I missed something? Almost certainly, so feel free to add comments or ideas to mine...

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Making a difference

Let me make this clear, this isn't a self-help article, nor is it a new or innovative technology that will change your life for better.  I'd love to start a really cool trend, or better still something to solve some of the socio-economic issues for New Zealand or be able to solve the climate change and world peace issues.  Heck I'd settle for being able to change the culture of where I work, maybe have a positive affect on... well, something, anything eh?

Just in case you're wondering if I've forgotten to take my lithium this morning, I really haven't, but I've been grappling with a few things recently, and it reminds me of why.  Why we do what we do, why we're motivated to go to work, why we're playing sport and why we bring children into this world.  Sure, there's things like money, there's belonging, there's whanau (family to you non-Kiwi types) and friendship, but for me there's one ultimate motivator in just about everything I do; it's making a difference.

Problem is it sounds so cliched doesn't it?  Try using 'I want to make a difference' in your next job interview and you'll likely find them repulsed by your answer, but really, this is the heart of where I am and I think, and maybe hope, that it's also the resonating fact for others out there.  I go to work because it's a necessity no doubt, family is kinda counting on the income to pay things like mortgages, food, clothing and those things you could roll up and call money.  But I spoke with some of my WOL circle friends last week and we agreed it would be great if we didn't have to work for financial reasons so that we could fully help others.  We'd still work, but it wouldn't be for anything as mundane as money, it would be to help others; to make a difference.  If I didn't have to work would I? Yes, just in a slightly different way, but still money isn't really a good enough reason to do anything..

Work satisfaction for me comes down to just that single element.  If I can't make a difference I'm not sure I want to work where I'm working.  Here's the thing, I usually write around learning and learning technologies and I think making a difference links in especially powerfully here.  When I was a teacher, the subject was never the thing for me, it was the connections, it was the belief that by connecting with students I could actually have a positive influence on their life.  If I could help them to establish a scientific type mind to question things around them I felt I was making a difference (rather than the science I was actually teaching).  If what you're doing doesn't make a difference, why do it?  That's the huge demotivating factor people face in their workplaces... it's also true of so much learning material.

eLearning has great examples of non-difference making stuff.  Page turning, boring, fact stating stuff that doesn't challenge thought, doesn't make a difference.  Learning technologies are in a great position to clutch in to technological advances and leverage those to make an even greater difference.  How can we use the advances in social media, connections, wearable and affordable technology to help people shape their learning?  Not how can we turn a book into an online version and bore people in a whole new way.

This all fits with how I see learning as being pervasive and the opportunities for learning being everywhere and continuous rather than a series of planned discrete events.  I believe that what we learn shapes us as it flows around and through us - it's not a series of what I learned but how I am evolving and changing due to what I've seen, done and been learning on the way.  So for me making a difference is about shaping too, can what you do at work or in your general life help to shape that environment as well as shaping yourself along the way.

Shaping.  Maybe that's the answer if you're in an interview.  I want to be a part of shaping this and I'm happy for it to shape me on the way.... yeah, I want to make a difference.