Philip K. Dick was right but may be wrong also

For those who are not Science Fiction fans, Philip K. Dick was a writer of notable insight to cultural trends.  His books have later been turned into blockbuster movies: BladeRunner, Minority  Report, Total Recall,  and Next to name a few.  His books had a dystopian perspective to these, where governments and social agents become tyrannical.   I will not dwell on that forecast of the future of society is this post.  One interest concept I thought interesting was his focus on media.  More specifically how the media would change.  Though the movie adaptations only hinted at it media, print for example, changed from a primarily word based format to more of a graphical based one.  Well the saying goes “One Picture…”

When moveable type was created it did two things. First it made production of information cheaper.  Thus distribution of information increased and was made available to lower income people. Second, it changed the cost ratio between text and graphics.  When books were hand drawn, the cost of graphics was on a par with text.  This ratio changed only slightly over the years until the application of computer technology.

What is interesting about this was that prior to the movable type revolution much communication was through pictures and other symbols.  Dick’s prediction of the future was a return to graphical communication and a reduction in text.  This inferred a lowering of grammatical literacy within society as a whole.  Having just complete several Government RFP response marathons where reply instructions were specific about writing to an 8th Grade level that would seem to prove Dick’s point.  However, I took a few steps back in considering such.

What came to mind were presentations and proposals I’ve seen and participated in over the years.  Many times I was privy to executive decision-maker sessions.  What struck me over the years was how these sessions have changed.  Initially presentations and proposals were fully of textual information.  A slide or page was filled with paragraphs of descriptions and opinions.  A little later after spreadsheets had become the go-to business tool, these became filled with tables of data and charts.

Then as graphic software became more capable presentations in many companies became more simple and focused.  A term which was not originally meant to be complimentary became popular code for these presentations to executives: “Big Animal Charts”  I suppose this was because someone thought reducing issues down to the simplest concept was similar to old children’s books; “See Spot Run, See Tiger run…”   A sort of arrogance was hidden in this comment lay just below the surface.  That is “I’m the expert and you’re not.  I have fancy jargon”  While jargon is useful to shortcut the communications process, its also an inhibitor for those that are not dedicated to a particular discipline or domain.  What many proposers and presenters forget, myself included, is that the presentations and proposals are not about me but about the audience.  So any means to make understanding easier for the audience is good.

Now I get back to my most recent RFP and presentation efforts.  After writing my technical responses I ran a reading level analyzer.  The results didn’t shock me.  The text was rated at Ph.D or beyond.  A far cry from the 8th grade level requested.  After significant effort I managed to reduce it down to 12th grade reading level. There I was stuck and required assistance from team mates, who thankfully jumped in.  What I found interesting beyond the reading level issue was that when I presented similar or more complex material I used very little text, choosing to use pictures, diagrams, and charts.  When I asked several audience members if the material was too complex and I should simplify it, thinking the words needed to be “dumbed down” I got a surprise.  They hadn’t even read the words, instead they got all they needed from the charts and spoken words, even though I used very technical jargon.

Which brings me back to Mr. Dick’s forecast of the future of media.  That graphics would dominate communications in the future.  Interesting points to consider: Look at Steve Jobs presentations, Nancy Duarte’s books Slid:eology & Resonate or books on Storyboarding –Hollywood’s go-to method to organize and present complex information.  All of which rely on graphics.  May be Philip was right in his forecast of the rise of graphics but others were wrong in thinking that graphics is dumbing down the communications.


Enterprise Portfolio Management insights

This weekend’s brainstorming and reading brought up some interesting insights.  So much so I couldn’t sleep and woke up around 2am with the following visuals in my head.

First of was a refinement? on Govindarajan and Trimble’s concepts about two competing engines within an enterprise in their book Beyond the Idea.  Their proposed model theorizes whay its so hard to get innovations deployed and adopted in existing concerns while startups do not seem to have this internal conflict issue.

Gravity Centers in Enteprise

Second was an idea I’ve been refining over the years; that portfolio selection is not just a single event but a series of filters applied to narrow down the pool to the portfolio member to actively work on.  There are lots of models on sections methods (BCG Matrix) Balanced Scorecard, etc.  What is common to all is a concept of sorting and filtering members into groups, which creates a group of members to actively work on.


Portfolio selection is a filtering process

While these are not likely the final visualizations of the presentation I’ve proposed for an internal conference in February.  The metaphors speak clearly to me; I wonder if they do the same to others?


Joy at work

Spent most of yesterday focused on creating a draft of a slide deck.  Previously I would hurry through creating a deck.  However, now I’m having to slow down…because I will not be the one presenting to the executive committees.  So I will not be there to answer questions or bridge the gap in logic.

Over the decades I’ve loved to give presentations on the fly (Chalk Talks) as they seemed more dynamic, interactive and honest.  You’d get to address the areas of topics your audience had rather than a predefined path and conclusion.  It was more exploring the area together.  At SharePoint Saturdays –though I had a slide deck that covered the topic, I won’t follow a script– I’d typically have more “Actor’s Studio” dialogs with the audience as one reviewer put it.  I prefer dialog to speeches I guess.  However, in my role now, I have to ensure my team gets the message across accurately to Executive Management.  So spending time crafting the story and message is more important as the windows of time is so short.  It goes back to a comment I made on Facebook to a friend.  The joy in a job or role derives from developing the precision in executing it more so than the financial remuneration.

SharePoint benefits for End-users

SharePoint Saturday L.A. interview courtesy of Christian Buckley of Axceler a few months back


Enterprise Linguistics Revised

Had a quick email discussion thread with peers and friends last night, It brought to mind a presentation I did for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in the 80s, “Enterprise Linguistics –A factor in Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM)”. 

It was one of my first official speaking engagements as an IBM Employee.  I believe it was the first public engagement.  I had been a professional hire, so I’d already been speaking at conferences.  However, this was different.  I was speaking as IBM; suddenly the whole nature of speaking took on a new weight.  I felt like the entire world was watching me including Executives from my company and clients.  I was a nervous wreck and mulled over in my mind “please god, don’t let me make a fool of myself in front of everyone”.  I promised myself if I got though this in once piece I’d join Toastmasters or some other public speaker training group –never did, it’s still on my to do list.

I approached the stage, somehow the lights appeared much brighter than previous times and the room was so quiet it seemed deafening.  I started out with what felt like to me a voice several octaves higher than my usual pitch.  About mid-sentence I looked at the front row to see one of my peers, Joan Heil, smiling at me.  Joan was a brilliant younger woman who had a Masters from University of Michigan Ann Arbor in Engineering specializing in Thermodynamics that joined IBM as a Marketing Representative.  Needless to say, there was serious brainpower behind that smile. 

About that time I realized she and the rest of the audience had come to hear me speak, not present, and there is a difference in my mind.  I did something then that was totally unIBMish.  I took off my tie, unbuttoned my top button and sat in front of the podium, rather than use it as a crutch as my nerves were about to have me do.  I began just talking.  I threw out my prepared script and just talked with the audience about the insights I had working in various portions of companies the past decade. 

My career had been rather eclectic; recruiter-speak for lots of different roles, many lateral, rather than climbing the ladder.  I later learned IBM and other corporations did that as grooming for future executives, so they would have an appreciation for all parts of the business.  In IBM they called some of these career assignments “FastPath” or stretch assignments.  Up to that moment I felt as stretched as I’d ever wanted to be.

 Back to the conference.  I remembered some advice I was given by several of my mentors; take a breath, slow down, look at individuals not the crowd.  All of that but look at individuals went out the window.  As I continued my dialog with the audience I stated my observations and asked questions back.  Instead of a lecture my presentation turned into a great conversation.  Soon I had various members of the audience chiming in with their experiences as proof points to my premise: An Enterprise is like the world.  Throughout this little world people speak different languages.  I know each sound like English but it’s not.  I myself am fluent in four languages: Manufacturing, Engineering, Information Technology and Marketing.

I bring this point up in regards to enterprise architecture, ontology and taxonomy research this blog is about as a point to remember that meanings to terms throughout the enterprise change with context.  So a term in Engineering may mean something different to a term in Manufacturing or Accounting.  Computer Applications that cross functional boundaries need to be award of this when being developed.  I have had people change me on this statement.  The proof point is easy:  Look at how many definitions an organization has for the term customer.  I know is several of the companies I’ve worked in definitions to that one term exceeded ten and in many cases the concepts those terms represented had other terms associated with them depending upon the context.  Are you a customer or a partner? It depends who’s asking the question

So the area of taxonomy is often dependent upon ontology.  These are linked methods to understanding and organizing our worlds.