Don’t make work work

When Play Becomes Work:
[Via elearningpost]

Shankar Vedantam explores the widely accepted belief that extrinsic rewards can get people to do things. Research studies, Vedantam shows, points the other way around — external rewards kills the inner drive.

“External rewards and punishments are counterproductive when it comes to activities that are meaningful — tasks that telegraph something about a person’s intellectual abilities, generosity, courage or values. People will voluntarily perform intellectually arduous work, for example, because it gives them pleasure to solve a puzzle or win a game of wits.”

For this to work, there needs to be a way for the telegraphing to get disbursed throughout the community and allow others to know about the intellectual abilities, etc.

If this is not done, most people will feel like schmucks, taking on arduous work with no real group compensation. The reward does not have to be much. Intellipedia just used a small spade.

In fact, it works better when the reward is something small, almost frivolous, when the reward is for the work done, not when the work is done for the reward.

There is a great story (it may be from HP) whose details I can not recall. Essentially, an engineer walked into the boss’s office and let him know that a big project was complete. To show his pleasure, the boss picked up some incidental object in the office (like a hammer) and gave the engineer the first Golden Hammer award.

The group passed the award around whenever someone did something outstanding. The rewards have to help strengthen the connections, not break them.

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Digital notebooks

lab notebook by Marcin Wichary
Electronic notebooks are cool, and so is RDF:
[Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

Had a conversation earlier today, all about RDF and linked data. I am a big believer, which is why posts like this one by Cameron Neylon on A new way of looking at science? bring a smile.

Andrew Milsted, a PhD student, enabled an RDF dump of the content in the lab notebook used by Cameron’s group (and others I suspect). The result, a graph that shows each post in the notebook as a node and links between posts as edges. It is a universe of the work going on in the lab, and how that work interacts. It would be interesting to see the dynamics of this graph evolve, and various other ways of visualizing the underlying data and relationships. It would also be cool to put this up on the web as linked data and link it to data outside Cameron’s lab. Might even lead to some very interesting observations and relationships.

This is a simple example, but highlights why it is so important to be able to put data into machine readable formats. RDF is a naturally good model, since it highlights relationships within the underlying data.

In the not too distant future, lab notebooks will be digitized and all the info will be available online, at least for the use of the researchers creating the data. This will be because most of the experimental results will be in digital form, making it much easier to attach them to the electronic notebook but also because the work can be accessed and examined in totally novel ways.

As shown here, the digital material can be examined for links and mined in ways that are just impossible today. Linkages between pages, data and comments could be examined. Possible relationships between projects could be highlighted. Areas for collaboration could be determined.

Context can be added to data in order to create a deeper examination of the information created.

The groups that more rapidly embrace these sorts of approaches will be able to turn the creativity cycle faster, increase the rates of diffusion of innovation in the community and find solutions to complex problems that are unsolvable by simply analog approaches.

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The four ‘ayes’

Kansas, We Owe You One (Updated Election Video):
[Via Common Craft – Explanations In Plain English –]

I’m not sure how this happened, but there is an error in the original version of the “Electing a US President” video. The original version says that there are 3 congressional districts in Kansas. As we discovered today, via a nice email from Gerry Deman of Kansas, there are actually 4 districts.

Here’s what we’re doing about it:

We have created a new, corrected version of the video. It’s embedded below and we have replaced the video on the original blog entry (and embed code) with this new version. We’ve also replaced the downloadable versions in the Store and other places where it is shared.

Unfortunately, this means that two versions will exist on YouTube, because it’s impossible to replace a video. By deleting the original version, we break the connections to the You Tube players on blogs that embedded it. If you embedded the original version, please do replace the video with this new version.

It’s a good thing that folks like you keep us in check so we can limit the potential confusion. We’ll count better next time, I promise.

So the video put up yesterday had an error – The wrong number of congressional districts in Kansas. A trivial fact in the scheme of the presentation but one noticed by someone in the community.

After being made aware of the error, it was a pretty easy thing to fix. And, because of the ease of use for current Web 2.0 tools, the new version was up and running very quickly.

This is an example of how the iterative process found with Web 2.0 conversations can investigate some information, identify where it can be improved and then implement those changes rapidly.

The Four ‘Ayes’ of the Iterative process:

  • investigate
  • identify
  • improve
  • implement

The more rapid each turn of the iterative process is, the faster perfection is approached.

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