The Epistemist

…on the knowledge journey

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What matters

January 25th, 2011 · uncategorized

“Intelligence, academic performance, and prestigious schools don’t correlate well with fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishment. The traits that do make a difference are poorly understood, and can’t be taught in a classroom, no matter what the tuition: the ability to understand and inspire people; to read situations and discern the underlying patterns; to build trusting relationships; to recognize and correct one’s shortcomings; to imagine alternate futures. “   David Brooks, Social Animal, The New Yorker,  January 17, 2011.

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Clay Christensen on Creating a Culture

September 11th, 2010 · leadership, support

In a recent HBR issue, Christensen made a point about organizational culture that really resonated with me:

“The theory arrays these tools along two dimensions—the extent to which members of the organization agree on what they want from their participation in the enterprise, and the extent to which they agree on what actions will produce the desired results. When there is little agreement on both axes, you have to use “power tools”—coercion, threats, punishment, and so on—to secure cooperation. Many companies start in this quadrant, which is why the founding executive team must play such an assertive role in defining what must be done and how. If employees’ ways of working together to address those tasks succeed over and over, consensus begins to form. MIT’s Edgar Schein has described this process as the mechanism by which a culture is built. Ultimately, people don’t even think about whether their way of doing things yields success. They embrace priorities and follow procedures by instinct and assumption rather than by explicit decision—which means that they’ve created a culture. Culture, in compelling but unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems. It can be a powerful management tool.” (Christensen, C. (2010). How Will You Measure Your Life?. Harvard Business Review, 88(7/8), 46-51.)

In the language of my current company, this balance between what people want from their participation, and the actions that will produce the desired results,  is called “shared vision”.  It has become part of the fabric of our corporate culture – and perhaps the most challenging concept to internalize for anyone new to the organization,  whether it is a single employee, or the whole team coming onboard after an acquisition.

Christensen also applies this concept to the family life, and this is where it gets even more interesting, as you get to the point where command and control stops working, and “because I said so” is no longer an valid argument (nor that it ever really was) – and by then you better have developed the shared vision with your child, this common understanding of what is right and what is wrong, and how to make good choices and avoid bad ones.

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Small groups from systems perspective

September 10th, 2010 · dissertation

After a longer than acceptable hiatus, I am restarting my academic work. My immediate focus is on  developing an understanding of the academic landscape in the areas of small group collaboration. I am particularly interested in looking at problem-solving groups as self-organizing systems. Each member of the problem-solving group brings their own unique combination of skills, knowledge, and prior experience, and the success of the group problem-solving depends on diversity of experiences of group participants. The group is self-regulated and only exists with the particular membership for the instance of a particular problem-solving event. After the problem is solved, the group dissolves and may be reassembled with the same or different membership during the next situation when this type of participation is needed.  In the next few months, I am working on building a theoretical foundation for my dissertation work on knowledge co-creation in small problem-solving groups.

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Deconstructing comments

May 20th, 2010 · humor

Ever since my site was hacked, I am seeing some really bizarre comments  caught by spam filter.  They all have embedded .ru URLs, and the texts read like some post-modern poetry. I am feeling almost compelled to deconstruct them…

Here are some of them:


I am sorry, this variant does not approach me. Who else, what can prompt?
Today I read on this question much.
I recommend to you to come for a site on which there are many articles on this question.
You commit an error. I suggest it to discuss. Write to me in PM, we will talk.
I can consult you on this question. Together we can come to a right answer.


I am assured, that you are mistaken.
I perhaps shall keep silent
I think, that is not present.
))))))))))))))))))) it is matchless ;)
Should you tell it — a false way.


In it something is. Many thanks for an explanation, now I will not commit such error.
Has casually come on a forum and has seen this theme. I can help you council.
It is exact
I know a site with answers to a theme interesting you.
I apologise that, I can help nothing. But it is assured, that you will find the correct decision.

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Google voice: lost in translation

May 15th, 2010 · humor

Google Voice is a very useful service and has many cool features, including voice mail transcription. It is also endlessly entertaining when it attempts to transcribe messages in foreign languages. I frequently get voice mails from my Russian-speaking friends and family, and the Google transcripts are hilarious. Here is what Google thinks the callers were saying:

Vaguely business-sounding:
I was on yesterday was and schedule before the use of the estimate based on the body of it because the designation weather or what the yeah she doesn’t look good. Lunch Program.

Well I’m Linda all my money right now. I’ve been watching for you on your.

International flair:
Well, I’ll talk with each other. I just want to discuss poorest via Samos messages and Campbell. Bittel horrible. And don’t worry I’m not. Hey I’m on my telephone so is the voice him that he said he said lucky session resources. David’s you really my cellphone, Hi, this is the voice in just left, so if you have a Steven off of the Lebanese if you bye.

Project Runway :
Or  you  read  this  all  otherwise  have  several  show.  Yes,  you  assume  you’re  at  it.  I  know  that  quit  their  intention  is  going  great.  I  would  really  love  her  so  go  ahead.  Sorry  you  and  we  are  a  model  you  know  that  they’re  celebrating  again.  You  know  we’ll  see  if  she  was  because  yo  dude,  I  was  hoping  for  a  couple  of  Appointment  door  sweating  new  address.  Andrew,  which  is  restrictions.  How  are  you.  I’m  gonna  send  it,  couple  of  minutes.  Okay.

And finally – existential:
Well  I’m  calling  in  life.

Lala, I was on yesterday was and schedule before the use of the estimate based on the body of it because the designation weather or what the yeah she doesn’t look good. Lunch Program.

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Presenting at Technology Services World

May 9th, 2010 · support

David Kay and I presented at Technology Services World conference last week.  The topic of our presentation was “Creating Strategic Alignment Across a Large, Complex Organization” – covering the process we went through to bring multiple business areas at Intuit together to create a comprehensive Knowledge Management Framework. This was a very interesting journey, and the lessons learned were not just about Knowledge Management processes, but also about change management.

Below is the session description, and the text of the presentation is available here.

Wednesday 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Location: Grand B

David Kay, Principal, DB Kay & Associates
Lala Mamedov, Director, Services and Support, Quicken Health, Intuit

  • How to engage diverse business units to develop a shared vision and strategy
  • How to build on each group’s successes to create a best-of-the-best model
  • How to translate strategy to action with a maturity and prioritization tool

Presentation Abstract:
Intuit’s business units pride themselves on their customer focus and on delivering ease of use. Each organization optimized its service and support offerings for its very specific customer segment—from consumers using Quicken® and TurboTax®, to small businesses using QuickBooks, to large enterprises managing their real estate. Not surprisingly, service and support strategies for such diverse customer sets seemed to demand equally diverse sets of business processes. In this presentation, the speakers will present the tactics they used to build a successful common knowledge management strategy across nine Intuit business lines, including what worked well and what they would do differently. They’ll present techniques for engaging the right executives at the right time with the right questions. They’ll describe how to use a Proven Practices Discovery methodology to leverage and recognize the innovative and meaningful work that’s happening across the businesses. And they’ll share tactics for getting people to participate in, and ultimately own, the strategy creation. Cross-business alignment is hard, but it’s worthwhile. You’ll learn the benefits Intuit reaped from this effort—and the benefits your organizations can receive, too.

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Hacker attack

May 6th, 2010 · tools

Some time last month, my site was hacked by some imbecils for some nefarious botnet malfesance. To add insult to injury, the attack was apparently coming from Russia. Probably some dropout from my old high school in Moscow, with IQ too low to become an oligarch and too high to get accepted into KGB (or whatever they call themselves these days). Google Webmaster Central helpfully flagged the site as malware,  but neglected to notify me that it did. I could not even access the site admin panel from FireFox, had to go use  a computer with IE which was very nonchalant about allowing me access to  malware-infested site. Ughh. I had to rebuild the entire site (and put it on automatic backup).

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February 9th, 2010 · writing

“Their house had real hardcover books in it, and you often saw them lying open on the sofa, the words still warm from being read.”

David Sedaris, Reflections, Loggerheads, The New Yorker, December 7, 2009, p. 42

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New working title for my dissertation

November 1st, 2009 · dissertation

  Swarms:  Spontaneous Collaborative Problem Solving Events

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Social ritual in collaborative problem solving

October 20th, 2009 · dissertation

One of the ideas for my research

Unlike the well-structured traditional problem resolution process, the  collaborative problem resolution that I am  interested in is frequently ad-hoc. Groups self-organize around a problem, and dissolve after the solution has been identified (hence the “swarm”).  In fact, the most successful problem-solving  results are produced by highly diverse groups from different functional areas.  The activity of joining such group could be considered a social ritual. This unarticulated ritual includes the trigger for group’s creation, the explicit or implicit permission for joining the group, the level of information-sharing in the group, the norms for using the knowledge generated in the problem-solving process, and, finally, the protocol for exiting and dissolving the group.  Traditionally, these ad-hoc groups are observed in an open face-to-face environment, where people can easily join a conversation that they happen to overhear. Collaboration becomes more challenging  in the digital environment, where participants are not interacting face-to-face. What are the new social rituals for collaborative problem-solving in the digital domain? Is it acceptable to forward and email with the question to another person who many have insights? Is it OK to quote any of the participants and what level of attribution is expected?  And so on.

The type of collaboration I have been talking about so far is the collaboration between members of the same organization. In the last decade, a new type of collaboration has emerged  –  Internet-facilitated collaboration between complete strangers providing  value to an organization they are unaffiliated with.  This type of collaboration is frequently referred to as “crowdsourcing”.  In this type of collaboration, large groups of people may solve problems through interaction in online forums (Microsoft Usenet forums or Novell Sysops forums) , generate encyclopedia content (, ,  offer tax and accounting advice to each other (Intuit Live Community), write literary reviews (,, generate entertainment (or what goes for entertainment these days – and so on. Collaboration of this type is purely digital  and has different social rituals around it.

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