Control when needed

rocket by jurvetson
Respecting Control:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

We are in a time of change and new innovations. This impacts how we interact with each other. It will take a while to work out all of the kinks but we have a nice discussion of some of them here.

Posting Of Sensitive Documents

Much angst and concern exists in corporate social media projects around this issue — everyone wants to encourage more sharing and collaboration, but not every internal document is meant for every employee’s eyes.

And there’s no easy answer.

Push the pendulum too far in one direction, you’ll end up with hundreds or thousands of gated discussions that just end up being a fancy dumping ground for documents that no one can read, and no one can discuss.

We’ve lived in this world, we don’t want to go back to it.

Push the pendulum too far in the other direction, and there will be a backlash against the corporate social media problem. It’s a reality of the corporate world that not everything can be shared with everyone.

We’d like to avoid onerous corporate policies, content review processes, etc. — all the 1.0 backlashes that can result when people think something has gotten a bit out of control.

Working out the distinct elements of these contradictory needs (openness vs. hiddenness) can have huge impacts on an organization’s ability to succeed. The Intelligence agencies of the US are an example where the posting of internal documents must be controlled due to secrecy issues.

Yet, they created Intellipedia which has had a huge effect on their ability to accomplish their mission. The issue is risk management, not risk avoidance.

Making everything open is not really management, or it is the weakest form of management. Just as keeping everything closed is not really management either. The key is finding a level of risk management that actually enhances the efforts.

A particular problem of these technologies is that they are often started by individuals that want to enhance their own productivity. They put up documents because it helps them and their groups. But this is where problems happen.

A very senior individual in the organization expresses significant concern and anxiety for posting of sensitive document — and isn’t quite sure how to handle the situation.

Posting individual makes a strong case for increased information sharing across the organization as a part of better business practices and the general good. In theory, yes, but …

Very senior individual makes a strong case for more restrictive policies, review, enforcement, policing, etc. of the social platform. Wants to do the right thing, but damage exceeds benefit in their eyes now.

Now, everybody is unhappy. Instead, the discussion should be on the management side, not the risk side. And guys at the top are more responsible for risk than guys lower down. So, their concerns need to be respected.

Put plainly, if you’re in charge of a business unit or function, you should have some say in what sort of things get broadly shared, and what sort of things have a more limited internal audience.

And having an internal social media platform with lots of proficient people who tend to share everything they come across shouldn’t take that measure of control from those senior individuals.

Social media is supposed to empower people, and not render them powerless. And that list of empowered people should include very senior managers and executives.

As we work out the social mores for these behaviors it is important to put a little thought into the process. Just because something is cool or important does not mean it has to be made available to all.

And as we respect control more, those in responsible positions will respect freedom more. And remember this,

Mistakes Will Be Made

Many of us who are active on the social platform have made the same mistake — we’ve broadly shared something we thought was interesting, but we missed the fact that someone who has responsibility might not agree with us.

The recovery formula is pretty simple:

– immediately apologize and admit the mistake
– offer to take the document immediately down
– acknowledge their concerns and right to control certain kinds of information being widely shared
– express a sincere intent to do better in the future
– and apologize again

Respect has to work both ways for these tools to be effective. The leaders need to know that most information can be more effective when spread and the users need to realize that the leaders exert ultimate control.

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High tech helping biotech innovate

art by “T” altered art
Innovation, biotech, software, etc:
[Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

There are a lot of synergistic effects of high tech on biotech. Much of the work done today requires high powered instruments running very complex algorithms.

But it still requires highly skilled people to do the work.

In a talk at E-Tech, Drew Endy apparently said that big money requirements of biotech are holding it back and one could make biotech innovation more like software and innovate much faster. Admittedly this is absent of context, but I responded to that tweet with one that said that while there is definitely a lot to learn, instruments and people cost money. My focus was actually on the latter. In the world of software, there is some specialization, but skills are more general, while in the life science world there is a lot of specialization of some very highly trained individuals (in fact one could argue that the amount these people get paid is a travesty compared to some other professions).

There are some things in biological research that can not be made easier by using computational approaches and processes. At least not yet. These systems are too complex and full of non-linear pathways.

There are a few things we can learn from the software world; DRY, iterative developments, organizational structure, etc, but biological systems are not perfect, they are not predictable, and most of all, our solutions have a lower margin of error. Whether it’s a drug, a diagnostic, or some kind of therapy, the process of development and associated regulations is always going to take time and it’s always going to throw nasty surprises at us. Biosimulation, protein structure prediction, robotics, improved collaborative tools, there are so many things to look into to make life science R&D faster and more efficient, and less prone to failure, but I find the idea that you can just use software development as a template a little insulting.

In fact, I think that in many ways biotech and high tech take very different approaches towards innovation. Computational techniques often take a procedural approach to solving a problem. Often, it is process driven and once the process has been found/optimized, you are pretty much done.

Process-driven sciences usually have well characterized components that act in defined manners. You start at point A and get to point C by going through point B.

Biological research at its base is not process driven. Not to say that there are not parts that can be encompassed in a process. But if a process is designed to provide a black and white answer (A to B to C), then the multitudes of gray that are biological results indicate its difference.

You start at point A and get to point C but you might go through points Q, R, and S before getting to point B. But only if the patient has a particular set of 20 different genes. For someone else, it could be a totally different game.

This is why it takes so long to develop any major drug. The model systems we use to develop them are not perfect. Then we have to hope that they will have greater beneficial effect in humans than deleterious.

We can, though, find ways to make some parts more efficient. Researchers are inundated with a surfeit of data these days. Disbursing these data throughout a social network helps alleviate this glut while making it more likely that the right data can get to the right person at the right time.

Human social networks are exquisitely formulated to tease out the underlying knowledge from a diverse set of information, and then pass this knowledge around quickly. Finding computational approaches to leverage these human social networks in order to solve these complex biological systems will have innovation as an emergent property.

It is a hardwired principle of humanity.

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PASS – Present A Simple Story

trombone by FaceMePLS
Nonprofit Presenters: What are your best tips for preparing presentations?:
[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

Humans often deal with a complex world by using simple stories, simple rules of thumb (or heuristics for the technobabblers). We use stories to teach us how to behave, how to react, etc. Almost any ad tells some sort of story.

The presentations that stick with people long after the talk are almost always based on a storytelling tradition. The same tools and tricks used by the teller of the Iliad still work, even in front of a small audience using a digital projector.

Beth Kanter gives a lot of presentations every year. Here are some of her thoughts:

Earlier this week, I was inspired by my good colleague, Alan Levine (aka Cogdog), I visited Save the Words. It’s an interactive flash site that lets users find and adopt words that are in danger of being removed from the dictionary.

I adopted the word archiloquy. It’s the first part of a speech or presentation. That’s the most important part of your presentation because you need to grab the audiences’ attention. I use a variety of techniques to do this, but one of my favorites is to create a story. I learned this from Andy Goodman — I’ve taken his workshops and read his books.

Andy is a master at storytelling. In his workshops, he offers the following formula for a storytelling based on Hollywood script writing:

  • Introduce the central character
  • Inciting moment: something bad happens to the character that will prevent them from achieving a goal related to the goal of your presentation
  • Barrier to resolution #1: Character tries to solve the problem, but can’t
  • Barrier to resolution #2: Character tries to solve the problem, but can’t
  • Resolution: What you’re going to share in your presentation
  • Widen the Lens: The bigger picture

I’ll have to help revive archiloquy. There are only 41 hits or so for the word on Google but it is a really useful term. The beginning of a presentation is the most critical to get people on board for the story you are about to tell.

Putting real thought into the start of a presentation, and to what sort of story you want to tell, are very important items to check off when preparing a talk.

As with any story, if you can make it personal, and make the audience connect with the narrative, you have engaged their attention. But remember PASS – Present A Simple Story.

You do not need to make the presentation a Shavian critique or a Swiftian satire. There is a nice legend (another way of saying story) that suggests there are only two types of narratives: a hero goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town.

Andy uses the former mode – the hero goes on a journey to achieve a goal that has been stymied. The latter also works quite well because the stranger coming to town almost always brings change. Here is one mode of this story:

  • Introduce the town (perhaps in Iowa), which does not realize it yet but it is about to change forever
  • The stranger arrives, bearing the tools of change (say 76 trombones, or perhaps only a novel way for communicating with others)
  • Describe how the town reacts to these tools (perhaps by thinking the stranger is a fraud or by not understanding why they have to change)
  • Show how a member of the village, perhaps a previously neglected member of the town with a lisp, finds the new tools open up avenues of success unseen before
  • The town is changed forever by these new tools and the stranger moves on (or he can stay and marry the town’s librarian/piano teacher)

Which of these two stories you use really depends on whether you want the audience to adopt the viewpoint of the hero or of the town. But using just one of only two archiloquies helps you Present A Simple Story.

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Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking as taught by Ackoff:
[Via CDOQ-Chander’s Diary of Observations and Questions]

One of my heroes is Dr. Russell Ackoff. I have read a few books he has written and have learned Systems Thinking from him. I am surprised that the field of Systems Thinking is not well understood. Following is my attempt to share what I learned from one of Ackoff’s recent lectures.

Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” According to Dr. Russell Ackoff most managers agree with Einstein’s statement but not many know what it means. It is easy to agree with something whose meaning is vague.

In the Renaissance era, when the science as we know it today was born, a scientific inquiry method called Analysis was developed. Analysis comes naturally to us. Just watch kids breaking new things and being curious about the parts. The understanding of something follows a three step process in analytical thinking:

1. Take it apart
2. Understand (function, role, behavior) what the parts do
3. Assemble the understanding of the parts into understanding of the whole

Thus begins a very nice discussion of what systems thinking is and how it affects business. These approaches will have to be brought to bear on many of the complex problems we now face.

This is because we have pretty much solved all the problems where analysis and reductionism can be used. We are now left with multifunctional, highly linked problems.

For example, many of the drugs we have developed worked against relatively simple diseases. a single drug affects a single receptor that was the major cause for the defect is one example. But things like weight, heart disease, etc, will not have single points of fault and thus are unlikely to have a single cure. Multi-pronged cures may well be necessary and a complete (or nearly complete) understanding of the relevant biological systems will be necessary.

If an organization can not bring synthetic, multidisciplinary approaches to bear, then it will most likely be ineffectual in finding a solution to these types of problems. That is why systems thinking will be important.

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Leo Durocher was wrong

baseball by Boston Public Library
Nice guys can finish first and so can their teams!:
[Via Eureka! Science News – Popular science news]

Ever thought the other guy was a loser for giving his all for the team even if others weren’t pulling their weight? A new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, says that person can influence a group to become more efficient in achieving its goals by making cooperative, collective behaviour seem acceptable and appropriate, and thereby encouraging others to act similarly.

The study, authored by a professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and his collaborator at Northwestern University, calls such individuals “consistent contributors” – people who contribute all the time, regardless of others’ choices.

The findings challenge assumptions made by many game and rational choice theorists that people should cooperate very little in situations with a known end-point when there are short-term incentives to act selfishly.


This is a very interesting result. When people act selfishly in a group setting, they often change the behavior of others. There was a nice paper a few years ago that examined what a group did with cheats.

The game was set up in a similar fashion, with people in a group ‘donating’ their money into a pile. The group that donated the most got a bonus back. So, the way to make the most money was to be in a group that donated lots but donate little yourself. That is, freeload off of the rest.

What inevitably happened is that the rest of the group saw what was happening and started hoarding for themselves and the group would eventually fall apart. It was not stable. So what would create a stable group?

What worked was to allow people to sit out a round if they wanted. When people found a freeloader in the group they would all start to withdraw, making the parasite’s gambit worthless. When they came back in, the situation would remain stable until another cheat arose.

People would take a break until the cheat learned their lesson. So a relatively stable situation would develop if the group had a way to effectively deal with freeloaders. Otherwise it fell apart.

Now this study demonstrates that positive behavior can drive a groups approach simply by pushing forward no matter what. When people continue being consistently cooperative, they help everyone in the group.

“But our study found consistently cooperative actors even in places you might least expect them, and when they’re there they seem to set a tone and shape how their fellow group members understand situations,” says Prof. Weber. “Their clear, consistent behavior elicits cooperation, and once you get a few people cooperating with each other, they seem to enjoy cooperating. Groups become more productive, more economically efficient and, anecdotally, people enjoy being a part of them more as a result.”

In settings where there is an advantage to cooperating, groups with consistent cooperators were more successful than those who took a more ‘realistic’ approach. One can see why a social animal would evolve this way. Groups that cooperated would be more likely to survive than those where it was every man for themselves.

Given a level playing field, we want to cooperate with one another. The key is making the playing field level, insuring that the incentives do not push for behavior that is detrimental.

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No lines between disciplines

bubbles by woodleywonderworks
Science Without Boundaries:
[Via AAAS News – RSS Feed]

AAAS Southwestern Meeting in Tulsa Explores Science Without Boundaries

The 2009 AAAS Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division Annual Meeting will convene in Tulsa, Oklahoma., on 28 March for four days of events including a two-part special topic symposium on the climate and ecology of the Cross Timbers and South Great Plains.

The meeting—to be held on the campus of the University of Tulsa—will feature symposia on rainforest natural history, motor speech disorders, and alternative energies; along with student poster sessions and science communication workshops.

David Nash, executive director of the division, said this year’s meeting will emphasize the importance for science to transcend traditional boundaries.

“The largest problems facing society are so large and burdensome that no one scientific discipline, institution, or research method can find solutions,” said Nash. “This year’s meeting is going to show why scientific collaboration is vital to the scientific process.”


More meetings should be on exactly this same topic. Well, maybe not the same topic but the same underlying premise. Innovative research, and the underlying solutions that drive technology, can not be done anymore in silos of scientific disciplines.

The answers will be less and less likely to arise from a Department of Biochemistry or Oncology alone. It will take work across disciplines to find the answers.

It will require systems thinking and synthesis of information. Not reductionist approaches and analytical deconstruction.

The faster that organizations realize this and actually to something positive about it, the faster we will solve these problems. AAAS has recognized this as have several other organizations. Now if we can just change the ship of grants that is the NIH and then redo how research universities are put together we may get somewhere.

Baby Steps.
[Crossposted at Path to Sustainable and Path to Sustainable]

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Other matters

For those interested, I’m hosting a open discussion group on science and sustainability called Idea Club here in Seattle on March 23. It is hosted by the Sustainable Path Foundation.

This month’s topic is on turning knowledge into action and how sustainable communities may be formed. It is based on some sessions that the AAAS Annual meeting in February.

I have written about some of these at my other blogs, Path to Sustainable and A Man with a PhD. You can register for the free event there.

One of the things we like to do is to ask people to submit their own ideas for a topic, even if you can not attend. If you have an idea,leave a comment at any of the other blogs.

Hope to see some of you there.

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The benefits of Creative Commons licenses

What happens when you set your content free with creative commons licensing?:
[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

Winner of the Creative Commons 2006 Photo Schwag Contest

I believe in setting my content free. It provides a huge return on investment. Here’s why:

A way to crowd source ideas. People can add and embellish your content and if you have access to the remix, it can give you new ideas
It creates a gift economy and that help you build your network
It gets your work out there. My photos and blog posts have traveled around the world!

I use the “BY Attribution” creative commons license. I’ve used this license now for four years because it is simple, direct, and easy. “You are free to use the content, just me credit and/or a link.”

Creative Commons provides an easy way for individuals to control their IP without needing a huge array of lawyers. In fact, it permits one to easily make things available for others in ways that benefit everyone.

I’ve talked about using Flickr as a photo resource. It is easy to provide attribution and a link. Most people are honest and will do this to provide a benefit for those providing the photos. And for those who chose to be dishonest … well the Web has a billion eyes and it is very likely that someone will notice. Openness and transparency can sometimes help provide a reasonable governor on poor behavior.

All of this assumes that people really bother to look at the license, understand it, and respect the rules. I still sometimes see rather blank expressions when I ask about turning to CC licensed resources to find photos. It turns to surprise when they see what is there and it free for the using. Or, I get gasps of horror from some colleagues who more concerned about how to “lock up” their content with “all rights” reserved and hire IP lawyers to help them police and protect their work so no one “steals it.”

The possible benefits outweigh the possible detriments. But it may take a generation (probably only an Internet one, though) to change attitudes. But, as I mentioned in another post, even large pharmaceuticals are recognizing the benefits of opening up some of their IP.

Here’s a few (good) examples of how I have remixed other people’s work or other people have remixed my work.

1. Remix This Powerpoint. The powerpoint slides came from a webinar I did a couple years ago for University Extension professionals. The title was “Ten Steps to Extension 2.0.” The presentation itself is a remix of a remix. I remixed it from an earlier presentation called Associations 2.0 which was based on Marnie Webb’s Ten Ways To Use Web 2.0 to Change The World. It also incorporates cc licensed materials from others, including videos and flickr photos.

The cover is from a remix mashup that Mike Seyfang and I did a couple years back from a conversation about the least restrictive creative commons licensed. That photo is one of my most viewed flickr photos and resulted in a number of inquiries for work.

A difficulty with scientific presentations is that the copyrights of the graphs and figures are not even owned by the person who did the work. Scientists have historically turned over all copyrights to the publisher in order to get published in the first place. If you want to get published, you had to relinquish all rights.

Now this is changing with Open Access but it is still a difficult problem when incorporating data from an article. Most scientists just use the figure, along with attribution. While technically a problem, everyone does it.

You can check the policies of each journal. They are all different. If more papers were published under a Creative Commons license, which they should be since most were financed by public money, it would make it easier for all of us.

2. How Much Time Does It Take To Do Social Media? This was a blog post that I wrote remixing an earlier blog post with the same title from Nina Simon as part of thinking through some of the material for the WeAreMedia project, another open content project. The illustration is a powerpoint slide that I shared on slideshare. It’s been remixed with and without attribution. Many do not add more improvements on the idea itself, but rather just cut and paste. A number of folks have sent back thanks for saving them some time in prepping a presentation.

There was a brilliant example of remix from Morgan Sully who took the idea and remixed it for electronic musicians. Creating a remix that goes beyond cut and paste, takes some time, creativity and higher thinking skills!

Adding context or new information is a great reason for being able to remix. This is still problematic with a lot of scientific information since usually all rights are reserved. What is fair use then?

When I remix someone else’s work, I go to great lengths to give it proper attribution. But, I never know if people who have remixed my work have done so in return. Now there is an easy way to track it.

Attributor Corporation and Creative Commons have just launched FairShare which is now in public beta.

The press release describes it as:

A free service allowing bloggers and individual content creators to understand how their work is shared across the Web. FairShare allows anyone creating text content to submit an RSS feed of their work and choose a Creative Commons license to determine how it can be shared. Users then receive license-specific results via RSS with detailed insights into how and where their work is reused.

The FairShare service enters public beta supporting six Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 2001, that promotes the creative reuse of intellectual and artistic works, whether owned or in the public domain. The FairShare service will be integrated with the Creative Commons license selection process and available in each of the 12 languages that FairShare currently supports.

FairShare helps make the Creative Commons “Sharing Economy” vision a reality by enabling millions to reuse content in a way that provides a value back to the original content creator – value that each creator can define for themselves.

As you know, I do a fair amount of listening, so when I using monitoring tools I can see exactly who is using my content and in what context. That is if they mentioned my name or linked to me. My goal in using this tool is not to police my content. Rather, I want to see how it is being remixed so I reap the benefits of the Sharing Economy.

Update: Article in the LA Times

This is a great example of how mashups can use data in ways no one had anticipated. RSS was not designed to do this but FairShare can manipulate the data from RSS to make it not only easier for the creator of content to control their work but also to track ow others are using it. This only serves to foster information flow, helping increase the rate of diffusion of innovation in an organization.

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Opening sources for Biotech

Genentech open sources Unison: [Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 14:  Pedestrian...Image by Getty Images via Daylife While on the subject of open and pharma, a bioinform article (sub reqd) tells us about Unison, a protein sequence analysis platform from Genentech that has been released under the Academic Free License (why not the Apache License since they are very similar). What is Unison? Unison is a compendium of protein sequences and extensive precomputed predictions. Integration of these and other data within Unison enables holistic mining of sequences based on protein features, analysis of individual and sets of sequences, and refinement of hypotheses regarding the composition of protein families

Essentially Unison is a data warehouse, which includes a number of protein sequences, and a bunch of pre-computed data. They have also released the complete schema, API, and some of the predictions. The backend is PostgreSQL and the platform leverages the BioPerl API. So the web service serves as a reference implementation of the Unison platform. People can essentially replicate the system and contribute code within their own servers using.

I think that biotech/pharma companies may do this more and more. The advantages for a company do not really come from these particular tools but how they are used and interpreted. Making this available to a much larger group means it is more likely to yield useful results. Genentech can only do so much with these tools. If someone else uses them to find something novel, some thing that Genentech did not recognize at all, Genentech might be able to reap some rewards that they would not have if they had kept things to themselves. Even if they do not get rewards directly, the publicity is worth something. They see this as a way to extend their influence rather than something for competitors to use against them. By furthering collaboration and increasing the number of eyeballs using their tools, Genentech can accomplish some things that would be difficult to do with their cards held close.

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Where I get my pretty pictures

pretty by Halima Ahkdar
Give Each Blog Post a Pretty Face With Flickr:

I was asked by a friend on Twitter where I got all the pictures that I use for my blog posts (like the one you see in the top left of this post). The answer is that I get them off Flickr. But there’s more to it than that. Here’s a quick run-through of how I use photos on this site, and some more about Flickr.

First, A Note About Creative Commons

The photos that I use on Flickr for this blog are licensed to be used under Creative Commons. That means there are some rules to using them, but if you abide by the rules, you can use them. (More on Creative Commons.). There are multiple rules for these photos. I use the least restrictive photos, found by searching using this link, which will give you any photos posted by people who simply want credit attributed to them for their work.


First off, this post by Steve Garfield should be required reading. He’s right that Flickr’s system needs some tidying up. That said, I’ll write from the perspective of how I’ve been using photos and how I attribute them.

The word “attribution” in this case means giving credit to a person for their work. The photo above was taken (or at least posted) by someone who goes by the name M@rg. If you note above, I’ve made the photo clickable, such that it takes you directly to the person’s Flickr page. Further, skip down to the bottom of this post, and you’ll see an italicized area where I point out the photo credit.

The best way to give credit would be to have the text of “photo by” or something directly under the photo, but I’ve yet to figure out the proper html syntax to accomplish that neatly for my blog. (You’re welcome to recommend how, in comments). That aside, I’ve at least give two ways for you to realize who snapped the photo, and how to find more about him or her.


This is one of the great examples of how Web 2.0 tools can be repurposed to become even more valuable. I have been doing this for quite some time. It may take a little bit of searching to find a good, appropriate picture but it sure is easy.

And the results are sweet.

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