Book Review-Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities

I’ve been a part of or have led many groups in my time. Each one had a unique “feel.” Some were hyper focused, and others generally organized around a topic. Some were high technology and others decidedly not so. Developing communities has always been interesting, since some communities flourish and others languish. Understanding how communities are formed – particularly communities that exist, at least in part, in the ethereal space of our digital age – is what Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities is all about.

The Way Back Machine

Before getting to the content, it’s necessary to explain that this isn’t a new book. It was published in 2009. I was first introduced to it through a book by Michael Sampson called User Adoption Strategies, which I read all the way back in 2011. Back at that time, my note-taking was substantially more primitive. I wasn’t writing reviews on a regular basis. I was working on some user adoption content for a client and stumbled across the reference – and the desire to revisit some of the sources that shaped my thinking about user adoption strategies.

Reviewing a 9-year-old technology book feels like dusting off dinosaur bones in the space of communities and digital collaboration – but though many of the examples cited in the book have been lost to the sands of time, the underlying principles of how communities come together and stay together haven’t changed. While myspace lost to Facebook, and some of the thriving communities from 10 years ago are all but gone, the need for humans to connect hasn’t changed in a few thousand years.

Alone and Together

Alone Together takes a negative view of how technology is driving us further from one another. Bowling Alone speaks of our continued abandonment of physical communities. There is a certain component of destruction in new creation. Digital Habitats is focused on the creation part of the process. It speaks of how communities are drawn together – whether in person or online – and how technologies can enable and support that process.

While it’s possible to create technologies that isolate us from one another, it’s equally possible to create connections.

Rhythms and Interactions

Digital Habitats speaks of our connection with others in communities in two parts. First, there are the rhythms – that is, the patterns of being together and apart. Second is interactions, which is described as participation and rectification. Rectification means “making into object.” In this context, I’d adjust this to say that it’s consensus building – whether written and formalized or not.

Rhythms of connection – and disconnection – are important. They form the basis of our ability to merge with the group identity and separate to regain our own standalone identity – or merge ourselves into other groups. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on the identification process.)

Interactions are the part of communities that most of us consider when thinking of the community – but from the narrow perspective of the episodes of interactions rather than the outcome of those interactions. Interactions can divide; but more frequently within a community, they build our understanding and create consensus. We learn about different perspectives and nuances about the thing that we’re in the community to learn about. Sometimes members of communities convert the consensus into an artifact that can be leveraged by others to speed their learning about the topic. (For instance, take a look at my posts about the Indy CIO Network and my summary of those conversations, like Marketing Information Technology to the Organization or Effective IT Steering Committees.)

At an individual level, we gain knowledge through our communities. At an aggregate level, the artifacts created from the interactions of those passionate about a topic – whether expert or not – creates value to the world as those artifacts are available to others.

Orientations

Digital Habitats asserts that there are different orientations to every community, and those orientations shape the needs of the community. The orientations and their key needs are listed here:

  • Meetings – Emphasis on regularly scheduled meetings
  • Open-ended conversations – Emphasis is on the ability to reach out and connect in a conversation at a time
  • Projects – The desire to work together to complete specific projects
  • Content – The desire to create content
    • Library – Providing an organized set of documents
    • Structured self-publishing – A forum for participants to publish information using a consistent format and metadata
    • Open self-publishing – Participants contribute but in a format and structure that suits them
    • Content integration – Participants build a network of links that connect information available publicly into a consumable structure
  • Access to expertise – The community forms so that the members can have access to expertise that they don’t possess
    • Access via questions and requests – Questions are broadcast in a way that experts can respond
    • Direct access to explicitly designated experts – Specific folks are identified as the experts that others seek to get access to
    • Shared problem solving – Group members help individuals solve problems
    • Knowledge validation – Artifacts are routed to members until they’re fully vetted
    • Apprenticeship and mentoring – Learning of the individual takes place through the mentorship of a skilled practitioner
  • Relationships – Connecting with other people on a common interest
    • Connecting – Networking with people who are likely to be useful
    • Knowing about people – Getting to know others at a professional and personal level
    • Interacting informally – Interacting one-on-one and in small groups
  • Individual participation – Creating opportunities for individuals to engage
    • Varying and selective participation – Various forms of participation are offered as ways to engage
    • Personalization – Members can individualize their experience of the community
    • Individual development – The community helps the development of individual members
    • Multimembership – Coordinating access across multiple communities
  • Community cultivation – Focused on the creation of the community itself – or the broader community
    • Democratic governance – Self-governing structures of self-management
    • Strong core group – A caring group of people take a nurturing role in the community
    • Internal coordination – A small group takes the role of coordinating the community
    • External facilitation – An external facilitator who is typically not a subject matter expert is responsible for managing the community
  • Serving a context – Orientation to the member’s point of view
    • Organization as context – The community is seen in its relationship to the host organization
    • Cross-organizational context – The community as seen as serving multiple organizations in a larger community
    • Constellation of related communities – The community sees itself in terms of the related communities that it serves
    • Public mission – The community sees itself in terms of the public mission it’s moving forward

While the ability to distinguish between multiple goals of different communities is important, I find this taxonomy unwieldy. Because this is a multiple selection-type organization, every community falls within every category to some degree or another, making it difficult to put your finger on exactly what the goals are.

More troubling than that, it seems as if, rather than being one set of categories, what we have are a few dimensions. I’d propose that there are a set of dimensions for communities as follows:

  • Context – Self-serving or other serving
  • Organizational approach – Completely democratic and free-form to completely bureaucratic
  • Expected Participation – From the “lurker” who never posts to the highly engaged
  • Relational – Is the objective casual professional talk or deep relationships that transfer outside of the group as well?
  • Intent – Meetings (ritualized gatherings), open-ended conversations, access to expertise, projects, and content creation

Technology Stewards

Ultimately, Digital Habitats seeks to empower technology stewards. That is, to take the caretaker for the habitat and enable them to make intelligent technology decisions to help the membership to get out of the group what they desire. In this, the book explains some categorizations and selection criteria that didn’t survive the test of time very well but provides a focus on the needs of the community, which will always be relevant.

Every digital habitat needs a caretaker, someone who will look after their Digital Habitats.

Book Release: Secret SharePoint

We interrupt our normal schedule of book reviews to announce that we’ve released our latest book – Secret SharePoint. We’ve been leaking some content from the project for months on our blog, through a free subscription to an email series, and through partners like SPTechCon. This has been in preparation for our launch of the Secret SharePoint book – and that launch is today!

The book is over 200 pages of special tips that I’ve learned over the last 18 years of working with SharePoint. It’s solutions to hard problems, and they work whether you’re using SharePoint on-premises or SharePoint Online.

From birthday calendars and navigation to search and Word Quick Parts, Secret SharePoint has the solutions you need for the problems you’re facing.

More than that, we’re still offering the free email course that you can sign up for to get part of the content from the book and a newly-released, self-paced online course. Both of these offer not only the written text but videos and screen casts that walk you through the entire process of building the solutions that we’ve created for other customers.

As a special thank you for following us, you can get the book directly from us for $15 + Shipping. That’s half the retail price. Order yours today.

Toggling Checks in a PowerApps List

Sometimes you want to allow users to take actions on multiple items at the same time. One way to do this in an application is to include checkmarks next to the items in a list; however, doing this in PowerApps isn’t straightforward – and there’s a quirk around selecting checkboxes that you must work around. In this post, we’ll show you how to create a list where the checkmarks toggle on and off.

Collection of Items

To make this work, we’re going to need a collection of items. To make it simple, I’ve added the following to the OnStart of the first screen in the app:

ClearCollect(MyListOfItems,

{Key:“SSheep”, Description: “Sam Sheep”, Update: true},

{Key:“LLamb”, Description: “Lola Lamb”, Update: false},

{Key:“EEwe”, Description: “Ellen Ewe”, Update: false})

This gives us a simple collection to work with. There are two keys to this collection. First, there is a key field that we can use to look up an item. Second, there’s a Boolean flag that we can use to control visibility of the check.

One important thing: in the designer, OnStart won’t rerun after you’ve initialized the designer. Close out your form and reopen it in designer so that you get your collection.

Gallery

The next step is to create the Gallery. You can do this by selecting Insert and Blank Vertical Gallery. When the Data pane appears, select your collection of items – in my case, MyListOfItems – and go ahead and select a Layout of Title. This will give you a basic structure to work with.

Next, drag the label for title and make some space to the left of it for a checkmark. With the field still selected, from the Insert menu, select Icons and Check. This will put a check icon in the item template for the gallery.

Move to the property selector and select Visible. Then set the Visible property equal to ThisItem.Update

Now the checkmark will show for Sam – because update is true – but not for Lola or Ellen. To allow the Update property to be toggled, we’ll need to change the OnSelect event for the Gallery. Select the Gallery and then the OnSelect property from the selector. Note that we do this at the Gallery, because all the controls in the Gallery pass their selection up by setting their OnSelect to Select(parent).

Update Two-Step

Updating should be as easy as setting the property in the row – but it’s not. We need to signal to PowerApps that the data has changed. To do that, we’ll use Patch() – but of course, it needs a row in the item, which we don’t have, so we’ll look it up. Getting an item is as simple as

Lookup(MyListOfItems, Key =
Gallery1.Selected.Key)

The other consideration is toggling the update. That’s easy. Just use the Not() function around the existing value.

Putting the Patch() command together, we get:

Patch(MyListOfItems, Lookup(MyListOfItems, Key =
Gallery1.Selected.Key), { Update: Not(Gallery1.Selected.Update)})

Press run, and you’ve got a Gallery that supports toggling a checkbox.

ForAll

The last little bit is doing something with the data. For that, we use the ForAll() method. The first parameter is the collection to process. The next parameter is the code to run for each row in the data. Here we can evaluate the current row and decide what to do. For our sample, we’ll add a button that clears all the checkmarks.

Unfortunately, you can’t make changes to the data source or collection that ForAll() is operating on from inside of it – so we have to play a bit of a shell game. First, we’ll define a collection for our keys and then clear it out with:

ClearCollect(CheckClear, { Key:“Value”});

Clear(CheckClear);

Next, we’ll put the keys in the collection that we need to clear with:

ForAll(MyListOfItems,

If (MyListOfItems[@Update],

Collect(CheckClear, {Key: MyListOfItems[@Key]})));

Notice that we access a field in the collection with brackets and an at (@) sign. For each record where Update is set, we add an item in to our CheckClear collection. Next, we just have to process that collection to clear the items:

ForAll(CheckClear,

Patch(MyListOfItems, Lookup(MyListOfItems, Key = CheckClear[@Key]), { Update: false }))

There you have it. A list you can toggle and some help with what to do with the data when you get it.

Microsoft Flow, SharePoint, 429, and Throttling a Workflow to Death

We’re here to mourn the death of many a workflow instance at the hands of SharePoint’s HTTP throttling. Except it’s not SharePoint’s throttling that is the true killer. SharePoint’s just the accomplice in this crazy dance that will get your workflows killed. Though it’s possible to protect your workflow instances from being throttled to death, it isn’t as easy as it might seem. In this post, we’ll talk about what happens every day and then what strategies you can use to protect your workflow.

Request Throttling

Before we can explain how a flow gets throttled to death, we first must understand a bit about throttling. Web servers are under constant assault from well-intended users, the code written by bumbling idiot developers (of which occasionally I am one), and malicious people. One of their defenses is to respond with “I’m too busy right now, come back later.” This comes back as the code HTTP status code 429. Sometimes these responses are kinder and will indicate when the person should come back. “Hey, I should be able to take care of that request for you after seven seconds” tells the program when it should retry the request – and here’s the kicker – expect that it will be able to be serviced.

The problem is that, when you’re dealing with so many different users and so many variables, it’s sometimes difficult to predict when the server will be willing or able to service a request.

Automatic Retries

Because a server may respond with a 429, most programs know to retry the request. The strategies vary but the default answer is an exponential interval. The first time you get a 429, you stop for a period of time – say four seconds – and then each time you retry, you square the interval. So, four seconds becomes sixteen on the second retry, and 256 seconds on the second interval. Flow allows you to follow the default policy, which is described as exponential, or explicitly set the interval to exponential. To do this, click the ellipsis at the right of the action and select Settings.

The action’s space in the flow will change to the settings view, where you can explicitly set the retry policy to exponential – which will further change the view to provide spaces for a maximum retry count, an interval, minimum interval, and maximum interval.

The default settings, however, are supposed to do exponential waiting on retries and four retries. So that seems like a good place to start. The default is implemented as one try plus three retries. That is how they get to four retries.

Retry Schedule Conflicts

What happens when there is a conflict between the provided retry schedule and what the server responded with as a part of its 429 response? The good news is that Flow will use the larger of the two numbers. In theory, at least, you’ll never hit a retry more than once or twice. Sure, the server could make a mistake with its guidance once but surely not twice. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the response from the server – and the default exponential interval – will be too small, and you’ll exhaust the three retries and end up failing your request. This typically happens when you have multiple flows running at the same time.

Parallelism

Any given Flow may not be making that many requests, but what happens when there are many Flow instances running at the same time? If you do work on a queue that information is dropped into, you can’t necessarily control how many items will come in at the same time. With the scalability of the Flow platform, what’s to stop you from running hundreds or thousands of Flows at the same time – against the same poor server that’s just trying to cope?

If you have 100 Flows all starting in a relatively short time talking to the same back end server, it may be getting thousands of requests from Flow every minute. Even if each Flow is told to retry later, even the server telling the consumer to retry later may cause the server to need to push off work even further. The result is that every Flow gets throttled to death – until so few remain that they can be handled inside of the capacity of the server.

Luckily, Flow offers a technique for limiting the number of active flows at any time. This can be done by going to the ellipsis and then Settings for the trigger. This changes the trigger to its settings display, which allows you to limit the number of concurrent Flow instances – or the degree of parallelism.

SharePoint Request Throttling

Generic request throttling is fine but how does my favorite server – SharePoint – do it? Well, the answer isn’t clear. Microsoft published an article “Avoid getting throttled or blocked in SharePoint Online“, which says that they won’t publish the rules – because they’re changing them.

At the same time, they make clear that some of the criteria being used to manage the workflow are things like user agents, accounts, and App IDs. However, when it comes to Flow, we have some limitations.

Flows always run as the user that created the Flow – not as the user initiating the request. So, from the point of view of SharePoint, one user is making all the requests – and they’re making them from the same application, Flow. This makes Flows a high target for throttling, even when you consider it’s a well-known and well-trusted application.

It turns out there’s more to it than that. There’s an interface layer that the connectors – including the connector to SharePoint – use.

Connectors and Infrastructure

Many of Microsoft’s new offerings like Flow, PowerApps, and PowerBI need access to the same service data inside of multiple tenants. As a result, the connectors use a common architecture that allows multiple services to interact with Microsoft’s online service offerings. This architecture has its own throttling built in. It’s designed to protect the back-end services and has its own rules for throttling requests that’s more aware of the uniqueness of each of the fixed number of Microsoft internal consumers.

One of the things that this infrastructure can use to manage throttling is the connection to the service. In the first figure, you’ll notice two connections in the settings menu – with the same identity. This is one way that you can help the infrastructure avoid throttling you.

Multiple Connections

When there aren’t many things to differentiate requests on, the connection is one. It’s got its own identifier. Because of that, it’s easy for the back end to see which connection a request is associated with – and throttle too many requests from a single connection. Thus, if you want to help your Flow avoid getting throttled, you can make multiple connections to the same data source. This allows your requests to get spread across different thresholds and for more to get through.

The Fingerprints Match

For my case, the Flows were getting throttled not by SharePoint directly but through the infrastructure hub. I set the maximum degree of parallelism and assigned every action in the flow to a different connection, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t set the retry settings manually, and the default settings continued to allow my poor Flows to be throttled to death by the infrastructure.

In the end, to spare more Flows from being throttled, we moved some of the data to Azure SQL. However, we saved many Flows just by adjusting the retry strategy and concurrency and creating multiple connections.

Book Review-The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

It’s five AM, and the alarm hasn’t gone off yet. I roll over gently, grab my iPad, and start reading. I’m not checking email or catching up on the latest news. I’m reading. It’s my habit, and this one, powerful habit has allowed me to read a book each week for years now. My wife is sleeping next to me, curled up in one arm as I use the other to hold, highlight, and flip pages in the Kindle app. (Which is a skill in and of itself.) This book is about The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Most of what we do is a habit. It’s beyond the everyday wanderings of our conscious thoughts. Like the number of stoplights that were red when you drove to the grocery store, habits keep our cognitive load down and allow us to function in a world that’s overwhelming. (You’ve got a habit for driving and following traffic rules so few of us can recall the number of red lights we’ve seen.)

Keystone Habits

Duhigg starts by making it clear that we don’t have to change every one of these unconscious routines at one time. We don’t have to radically alter our entire lives in one moment to accomplish great things. In fact, greater success is found by intentionally swapping out just one habit at a time – ideally, the keystone habit.

Like the keystone set in architecture, it’s this habit that the other habits are built on. Changing this one thing starts a ripple effect that can change everything about our lives – assuming, of course, that we can find the keystone habit and alter it. Before we can find a habit, we must understand what habits are. For instance, a habit like smoking can be a keystone habit. Once you eliminate smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, etc., may easily change to healthier options.

Defining Habits

Habits are automatic and unconscious; but what do they do and how do we go about changing them? Habits may be typically unconscious, but they’re malleable. (See Peak for more about how elite performers make habits and make them conscious at times.) We can bring them into our consciousness to see what we’re doing and, with careful inspection, what’s trigging us to start the habit in the first place.

Habits have three basic components. First, there’s the cue. This trigger causes our brains to activate a routine – the next part of the habit. The habit ends in a reward of some sort. It could be getting to work, the sugar spike from that cookie you know you shouldn’t have, but you want, or something else entirely.

The key to changing habits isn’t in using our willpower to resist them. (See Willpower for more on willpower.) The key to changing habits is to find the right lever. Change or Die explains how, in most cases, folks who want to make serious life changes fall back to their old habits. Check the heart attack patient one year later, and you’re likely to find them back behind a plate of bacon and eggs instead of fruit and oatmeal. Substitution is the name of the game, and that is where marshmallows come in.

The Marshmallow Test

Walter Mischel’s simple test might be construed by his subjects as mental torture. Imagine the pains running through a child’s mind as they’re offered a tasty treat – like a marshmallow – or twice as much if they can wait a few minutes while the researcher is out of the room. For some, this was torture until they ate the treat in the center of the table. For others, they found ways of distracting themselves and allowed the time to pass by, so they could get twice the reward. (For more on this see The Marshmallow Test.) The interesting thing isn’t this torture of preschoolers but rather the techniques employed by those that were successful in waiting – or their success in life years after the simple test. Imagine higher SAT scores and better overall lives based on the ability to wait a few minutes for a marshmallow.

The real secret here is how to teach these young children – and adults – how to distract themselves, to change the focus of their attention, to something else. In doing this, it’s possible to flip the switch on the train tracks and route the habit train down another path – ideally, one that’s much healthier and more productive.

Interrupting the Cue

A cue is simple. It’s something that triggers your attention. It could be that twinge of pain you feel as you leave your vacation heading back to the real world. It can be the smell of chocolate cookies baking in the oven. It can be anything that your external senses can perceive – or any internal cue that your mind can conjure up.

The first choice for interrupting the cue is willpower. Willpower is an exhaustible resource, like a muscle that gets better with exercise – but with limited capacity. In some cases, simply identifying the cue that leads to the habit and being on the lookout is enough. A bit of attention from our reticular activating system (RAS) and a smidge of willpower and we can interrupt the automatic routing into the preexisting routine. (Change or Die has more on the RAS.)

One of the key challenges is that people don’t attempt to leverage their willpower to reroute the cue. Instead they try to suppress it – or they try to stop the routine once it’s already started. For most of us, this doesn’t work. Our willpower isn’t strong enough to suppress a cue. Our biology is wired to repeat messages that are ignored – often more loudly. The more you deny the cue exists, the louder and more insistent it will become, until it our willpower can’t hold it back any longer.

The other approach – to disrupt the routine once it’s started – is similarly ill-fated. Not only are you trying to use your consciousness to interfere with an automatic process, the delay in completion causes the initial cue to be repeated. A good model for thinking about this comes from Johnathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis. The Elephant-Rider-Path model is my favorite mental model of how our mind works – and it says that the elephant (emotions and automatic processing) are in control, not our rational riders. The work of Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow also explains this epic battle of the mind and how challenging it can be to win with our rational thought – since our unconscious mind can lie to us. (See Incognito for more on interesting ways that it lies.)

In other cases, where there’s too much to overcome, another strategy may be required. That’s the strategy of predecision. That is, before something occurs, we decide how we’re going to handle it. In effect, we rewrite the circuitry that routes from the cue to the routine. We can either force it into a non-routine or a routine that’s better. This strategy is fraught with problems, as quite frequently when we encounter the cue, we’ll override our predecisions. That’s what happened to coach Dungee’s Colts when they were “in the big game.” Instead of relying on the habits that Dungee and the coaches had drilled into their heads, they starting trying to think too much and started trying to second-guess their training. It cost them time, and that time cost them the game.

Finding the Cue

Finding the cues that trigger the routines may be the hardest part. Sometimes the cues are easy – like a visit to the family. Other times, the cues are subtle and difficult to find. However, once the cue is clearly defined, it can be “marked” by our conscious brains in a way that allows us to tell ourselves, “Hey, I need to look at that before blindly continuing.”

Finding the cue takes some careful sleuthing and patience. Setting the flag on it – making it available for our consciousness – is the next big challenge. However, once that’s done, you’ve got a critical break in the flow and the opportunity to change the routing from the cue to the routine.

Breaking the Routing

Effectively, the back side of the cue is routing to the routine. Most of the time, this is automatic. Whatever the default routine is gets run automatically. With our flagging the cue – which can sometimes be difficult – we get a chance to make a conscious choice. If we find that a call from our mom causes us to mindlessly start to eat whatever sweets are on the counter, we can look for the call as a cue – and pick a different strategy. Maybe doodling can cure our need to do something else. If we can’t quite go that far, maybe we can change what we eat to be carrots. It may still be a mindless routine in the end – but at least it won’t have the negative effects that eating sweets will.

It’s the routing that is key. We’ve got to keep the flag on the cue, so we can interfere with the routing long enough for a new default to take hold. For that to happen, we’re going to need some positive feedback.

Feedback

What makes some habits stick and some fade away? That’s the interesting question behind the revival of Hush Puppies. They were introduced in 1958 and were on the verge of being discontinued for lack of sales when something strange happened. In New York City, Hush Puppies became fashionable, and they started showing up in dance clubs and on runways – leading to a revival in the brand. (See The Art of Innovation for more on Hush Puppies revival.)

The answer may lie in the corn fields of Iowa. Everett Rogers worked for Iowa State University, and his work with the farm extension led him to study how innovations were adopted by farmers. He noted five factors for an innovation to spread: relative advantage, compatibility, apparent simplicity (his was complexity, but I’ve flipped it here for consistency), trialability, and observability. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more on his work.)

His final factor is the interesting one, as it indicates that you need to be able to see the difference. When coupled with relative advantage, the ability to see the advantages you get is powerful. Hush Puppies might have become a status symbol (see Who Am I? for more on motivators, including status). However, most of our habits don’t fall into the category of status, unless it’s your morning cup of Starbucks coffee.

The ability to see the impact of what you’re doing is feedback, and it shows up everywhere as a key factor. Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman all speak of the need for feedback to enter the highly effective mental state of flow. Ericsson speaks of the need for feedback – often candid feedback – in the development of peak performers in his book Peak. One of the key challenges that marketing programs face is the difficulty of getting good feedback to make informed decisions. Thinking in Systems (and to a lesser extent The Fifth Discipline) reminds us that delays in feedback can cause systems to be unstable. Effective and nearly immediate feedback has changed the way pictures are taken. Digital cameras provide instant feedback and therefore the ability to take pictures again – and learn from mistakes.

In learning, feedback is essential to anchoring the learning into the system. Immediate feedback – not during a test – can make learners dependent on that feedback and can prevent learning. However, in most cases, feedback is a critical component to effective learning. By depriving learners of effective and timely feedback, you can depress or even suppress learning. (See Measuring Learning Effectiveness for more.)

Effective feedback lies at the heart of improvement on many levels. Multipliers use feedback to help employees improve, while diminishers provide little or poor feedback, and as a result deprive people from growing. (See Multipliers for more.)

How Feedback and Rewards Differ

Duhigg calls the end of the cue-routine-reward cycle “reward”; however, the researchers he cites for his work use words like error, bias, and, more importantly, feedback. I’m willing to go out on a limb to shift away from Duhigg’s language, because his language doesn’t accommodate negative feedback. We can change behaviors by attaching tangible, short-term, negative feedback to a behavior. Feedback is a more encompassing word than reward that can take in the complexity of our brain’s decision-making. When we see the cue, we want to pick the behavior that has the best chance of the best reward.

Additionally, reward is an implied singular thing. Feedback can contain multitudes. There can be some positive and some negative feedback. We can net that out in the same way that we can consider all gravity to be concentrated at the center of an object. This center of gravity for feedback – the center of feedback – can shape whether it is more or less likely for a cue to route to a routine or not.

In my work and the work of others whom I trust, shifting the routing from cue to routine is THE key to making change.

Creating the Craving

Duhigg explains that we can get into a situation where we have a neurological craving for something. In this case, we can receive a shot of dopamine before we get the reward. Dopamine, though described as the pleasure drug, is beginning to lose its moniker. As we learn more about dopamine, we realize that it’s not the be-all and end-all of pleasure after all. It plays a role in pleasure and in learning, though the role isn’t as clear-cut as we once thought it was.

Duhigg speaks of Wolfgang Schultz’ work, and how neural activity spikes occur before the reward. However, it’s not clear what these spikes in activity mean. It’s possible that these are the result of mental models being built and run. In correspondence with Dr. Schultz, he indicates that the dopamine receptors may be getting information from the models about outcomes – though this is still unclear. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

We do know that cravings are real. While addictions aren’t primarily based on chemical addiction, there is a neural processing component that drives the continued behavior. It’s not clear whether this is a neurochemically-based problem (a hardware problem) or a thinking problem (a software problem). There are some genetic markers for addiction susceptibility, but the gene doesn’t indicate that you will become an addict, just that it’s more likely. (See Chasing the Scream for more about addiction and No Two Alike for more about the role of genes and environmental interaction.)

Cravings, Duhigg explains, drives the cycle back from reward to cue again. Here, too, I disagree.

Open Loop

Duhigg draws the cue-routine-reward as a closed circle. I disagree with this representation, because the arrows don’t mean the same thing. The arrow from cue to routine could be described as “leads to” – so, too, could the arrow from routine to reward. However, it’s difficult to assign “leads to” to the arrow between reward and cue. I believe that this is because the real diagram is from cue to multiple routines – with connecting lines of varying thicknesses. The step after the cue, the routing, selects the best fit routine – which is the one with the strongest connection. (See Analyzing the Social Web for more on connection strengths.)

The issue is, I think, that Duhigg doesn’t have a representation of a routing component – the critical component – in his model. This is where the action happens and where changes both do and need to occur.

12-Steps

If you want a model of changing habits, a good place to look is 12-step programs, though they occasionally come under fire for a lack of demonstratable efficacy – and because they will allow people to exit on their own. However, arguably no other program or approach has helped as many people overcome their addictions. Why and How 12-Step Groups Work is the subject of a separate post.

Expectations

If you want someone to stick to a decision – to a change in behavior – how do you do it? In short, tell someone. Once you’ve told someone about a decision, it makes it less changeable. Once your friends, family, and community have been told of your intent and expect that you’ll follow through, the odds are that you will.

Our social drivers will not want to wade through the disappointment and the continual conversations of having to face everyone with the lack of change. In effect, we change the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that others tell about us. (See Redirect for more on the impact of stories on change.) It will often provide a firm push into the direction of making things happen.

Making It Visible

Telling someone of your intent is just one expression of the fundamental concept of making your changes visible. 12-step programs say that you’re only as sick as your secrets. The more you can make your thinking visible, the more likely you are to make the change. However, there’s another important role to visibility. By simply making things visible, you make it possible to evaluate things that you never realized might be happening.

Food journaling is an effective way to change eating behavior – because it makes it impossible to ignore the reality of how much food is being consumed. It is no longer possible for our memories to get intentionally fuzzy about that extra helping or the second cookie. It takes what our brains want to be invisible and makes it visible.

The Value of Failure

Failure, when it’s used to teach, can be valuable. Addicts often fail to “remain clean” their first time. They fall back into old habits. They get disconnected from their new support systems. However, successful recovering addicts learn what the trigger was, or what their hubris was, or what “got” them. They put barriers in place to prevent the same thing from happening again. Ultimately, this creates a situation where there are too few gaps for their old habits to sneak through.

Failure is only failure when you give up. Failure can be a powerful teacher as long as you don’t let the failure become fatal. We have to expect that, when we’re changing habits, we’re going to have some failures.

Hope

The most powerful force in the universe is hope. It’s what fuels our ability to get up after a failure. It’s what allows us to believe that we can make a change when no one else has. Hope broke the four-minute mile. Hope got us to the moon. Hope returned Apollo 13 home. The greatest thing that allows you to change a habit is the hope that you’ll be successful. That’s why 12-step programs are so important and powerful. They instill hope that you can change, because someone else has already done it.

It’s my hope for you that, if you’re trying to change your habits, you’ll find the answers in The Power of Habit.

Book Revisited-Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge, and Organisational Effectiveness

The first time I reviewed Organising Knowledge was 2007. The book was new then. However, Organising Knowledge has become a book that seems to have a lot to say – even 11 years later. When I wrote my last review, I was just beginning with knowledge management, information architecture, and organizational effectiveness. Since then, I’ve done many projects and read many books. In preparation for a new information architecture course I’m preparing, I wanted to go back and revisit the book to make sure that I didn’t miss any of Patrick Lambe’s insights. This time I read it on Kindle – which means I’ve got more extensive notes – and my writing style has changed quite a bit in the last 11 years.

The Six Pack

Terrifying. That’s the word that most new pilots use to describe their first solo landing experience. Practice makes perfect, they say. (Though Ericsson has some other requirements in Peak). When you strap yourself into an airplane for the first time and look at the dashboard, you see a collection of vaguely familiar instruments that convey what you need to know about the plane and what’s happening, but which instruments do you need to really focus on?

Pilots are taught to scan six key instruments: attitude indicator (sometimes called artificial horizon), turn-bank indicator, directional gyro, altitude, vertical speed indicator, and airspeed. Collectively, these instruments tell you most of what you need to know about flying the aircraft – and provide a double check should an instrument fail during flight.

The first time with the instructor in the plane that I was landing, I can remember all the variables I was trying to compute. Airspeed, altitude, rate of descent, pitch, engine throttle position, flap position, radio calls, and maneuvering were just some of the thoughts running through my head. Over time, some of these things became automatic. I didn’t have to think about them. Experience had taught me how to “feel” the aircraft and when I could ignore some of the data coming at me – and when I needed to pay attention. Gary Klein would say that I started to build a model of the airplane (see Sources of Power). It wasn’t an academic model, it was a tacit model that I could call upon to simplify what my explicit, rational mind had to process.

That’s the way I feel about the process of building taxonomies and organizing knowledge. I can see all the variables, but I’ve learned which ones I need to pay attention to and which ones are the most important. It’s in that context that I approach this revisit. With the experience, I’ve learned some of the things that I can ignore.

Planning for Failure

There are three very disconcerting things when you’re flying. First, when your engine quits, you start sweating. The propeller is more than the big fan in the front to cool you off. If you lose your engine in a single-engine aircraft, you’re going to be coming down. The good news is that essentially the plane is a powered glider. Unless you’re in a critical phase of flight (takeoff or landing) losing an engine isn’t that big a deal.

The second disconcerting time is when you’re in clouds, and your brain is telling you one thing, and the instruments are telling you another. Many pilots have been killed by spatial disorientation and failing to listen to their instruments. Perhaps the most famous is John F. Kennedy, Jr. The good news is if you learn that your brain will lie to you, and, collectively, the instruments won’t, you’ll consciously override your feelings and fly by the instruments. (See Incognito for more on how our brain makes up things.)

The final disconcerting time is when an instrument fails. You are mid-flight, and, without warning, one of your instruments starts “drifting” from the correct answer. Whether it’s the attitude indicator starting to indicate a gentle turn to the left, or you notice that your directional gyro starts to spin like you’re in the Bermuda triangle, it’s sure to get your attention. Luckily, any single instrument failure can be identified and eliminated from your scan by cross-checking other instruments. Planning for failure is designed into aircraft. That’s why losing an instrument is just disconcerting.

Facets serve this purpose in organizing your content. Though we think of filing away our information in a single large hierarchical tree, with one level followed by the next, invariably creators and consumers will get stuck and be unable to properly file or find content in its correct spot. Using facets allows users to file and find content, because when one facet fails, generally others are effective.

Finding Facets

Ideally when you’re looking for facets, you’ll find a set that are mutually exclusive (said differently, orthogonal), unambiguous, and complete. That is, it would be great if the facets you find can help you accurately and completely define the content that you hope to file and find.

Defining Dimensions

Before getting into how to define effective facets, it’s important to understand what they are. In practical terms, facets are aspects of the information to be organized. Each characteristic of the item can be said to belong to the set of values in the facet. For each facet, then, an item has a value – a metadata value. Organising Knowledge defines metadata (plural) as “a collection of structured information about a document or piece of content.”

Taken in singular form, this means that a piece of metadata is structured information about the document – structured along facets. To create organization along facets, you’ll necessarily be capturing this structured data. Almost universally this is done as a column or field stored with the document having the field name similar or identical to the definition of the facet. The values of the metadata field or column can either be fixed – as in a controlled vocabulary – or open. For instance, a facet that describes color may be a set of fixed set of colors – like those in a coloring box. An open facet might be one like weight or height that is a continuum of responses that don’t have a fixed set of values.

Facets are an important boundary-spanning object, because they can be used for “big data”-type analysis of content and other analytical techniques beyond the simple retrieval of information.

Following Footsteps

The first part of the path is easy. You can follow the footsteps of others who have walked the path before you. You can start by the father of faceted categorization, S.R. Ranganathan. A librarian in India, he proposed that the existing classification systems, like the venerable Dewey Decimal System, were insufficient. His ideas were a footnote in the annals of library science until electrons ruled and atoms were ancient. It’s a different world to organize digital information, where copies are easy to make, and findability is the key issue. In a traditional book library, you organize one literal thing; in the electronic world, everything is substantially more fluid.

Ranganathan’s facets were personality, matter, energy, space and time. He proposed that these facets would allow you to describe most things – and for them to be findable. Lambe expresses these plus the addition of subject matter – which agrees with Morville and Rosenfeld in the classic Polar Bear book (Information Architecture for the World Wide Web). Morville and Rosenfeld also include price – which makes sense when you consider the eCommerce perspective of their work. Richard Saul Wurman – the father of the term information architecture – adds alphabet and hierarchy (or scale.)

In aggregate, these give you a great place to start.

Standard Steps

Lambe provides a helpful table (2.1) that relates practical examples of ways of breaking down hierarchies, which I’ve reproduced here:

Taxonomy

Superordinate Term

Subordinate term

Relationship term

Military rank General Colonel Power/authority
Biology Genus Species Common Evolutionary history
Family Parent Child Genealogical
Vehicles Car Steering Wheel Whole: part
History 1960s Assassination of JFK Period: event
Geography United States Alaska Whole: part
Landscape Mountain Everest General: specific
Terrorism Al Qaeda Osama Bin Laden Group: member
Disease control Infection Symptoms Causality, sequence

This table provides several relationships that you can walk in the top-level facets to get to more detailed areas of the tree.

Stepping Out

Unfortunately, after these good solid starting points, it’s necessary to get specific to the content that you’re organizing. That requires tuning into an inherent capacity that humans have for breaking information into meaningful chunks. Take a baby and show them a set of dots traveling together, and then have one of the dots fly off out of formation from the others, and the baby will indicate their confusion. Even small children can convert groups of objects into a single object for consideration.

To further the development of the facets, we must look towards the natural groupings that people – particularly the consumers of the proposed facet – are likely already creating. While these categories are rarely perfect when encountered, they often form a solid but flexible framework on which a taxonomy can be created.

Taxonomies

Organising Knowledge defines a taxonomy with three characteristics:

  • Classification Scheme – It needs to be a way that we organize our world.
  • Semantic – Meaningful and transparent to the end users
  • Knowledge Map – While a map is not a territory, it represents the territory, and so, too, a taxonomy should represent the knowledge territory.

In this context, each facet is a taxonomy. It’s a way of viewing the information much the way that you can organize ideas in a book by chapter and have a separate organization of ideas in alphabetic order in the back of the book – called an index. In many ways, the index at the back of a book is like a thesaurus for the taxonomy. A thesaurus is simply a taxonomy organized alphabetically rather than by subject, as is ideal for taxonomies.

Pragmatic

One would think that a rule-following person might be great at taxonomic work. After all, they’re good with rules. Unfortunately, building taxonomy is an odd blend of skills that requires the rigor of looking at the details and sometimes stepping back to see the forest – it makes it a cognitively difficult feat. Further, taxonomies are necessarily fraught with compromise. Consider the number of items that should be at a single level.

Hick’s law says that, when the chooser knows the order, having all the items in one list is the most efficient way of organizing information. Contrast that with the work of Barry Swartz in the Paradox of Choice, which explains the fact that anxiety increases with the number of items being chosen from. This ignores the primary practical issue with Hick’s law, which is that it relies on a central condition – the users know the order.

This is a semantic slope that’s easy to miss. Is the category for automobile called automobile, car, ride, vehicle, or transportation? Without a complete knowledge of the list, it’s impossible to know which term is used in every case. This is particularly true when we’re considering that, most of the time, the users of our taxonomies today don’t know whether the information they’re looking for exists – much less what the “correct” terms are.

Conversely, if you create a set of subcategories, you necessarily make some items difficult to find based on their difficulty of being categorized along the facet. Where do you put the color blue-green – under blue or under green? If you have a category for furniture, will the user understand that they need to look there for rugs or lamps?

Additionally, even knowing the number of subcategories under a given category can be challenging. While much research here points towards The Magic Number 7, that research has been clarified to not mean what people think it does. We do know as the number increases, anxiety increases, but too narrow of choices produces a very deep click tree, which causes people to become frustrated and abandon their attempted navigation. The deeper the trees go, the more people you’ll lose before they get to the bottom.

The pragmatist tries to find a balance between these competing factors. They also find ways to “cheat.”

Polyhiearcy

One of the solutions to the taxonomic problem of which category something belongs in is to leverage polyhierarchies – that is, to associate a single term to multiple parent terms. Tomato can be associated both with fruit and vegetable. (See The Accidental Taxonomist for more.) However, this is an impure solution that breaks the neat and orderly progression of a traditional hierarchy. It’s decisions like these that make it difficult for rule followers to make the hard calls to break the rules.

Journey Not Destination

In the end, you’ve got to live with the consequences of those places where you break the rules. Organization isn’t a one-time thing. The things that you’re organizing change – and grow. That means that organization is a shifting sand that you must continually adjust to. One way to start the journey is to learn more about Organising Knowledge by reading.

columns

Setting Default Column Values

This solution will discuss how default column values to make it easier to enter metadata. By setting these default column values on a folder-level, it means any document added to that folder will get the same value in the column as the folder. We’ll walk you through how this works, first by setting up a library with some folders, then adding a column that will hold the desired information, and finally configuring the default column value settings on individual folders.

Task 1: Set Up the Library App

This task will lay the groundwork for default column value settings. We need to set up a library and create a couple of folders in the library.

1.    In a web browser, navigate to the SharePoint site where you want to create the library. The site’s home page will open.

2.    In the Suite bar, in the upper-right hand corner of the page, click the gear icon. The actions menu will open.

3.    Click Add an app. The Your Apps page will open.

Figure 1: The Your Apps Page

4.    Click on the Document Library tile. This is normally found under Noteworthy, but you can search for it as well. Click the “Find an app” search box, type library, then press Enter. Matching results for “library” will appear. You can then click Document Library. The Adding Document Library dialog box will appear.

5.    In the Name field, type a name for the library app. For this example and for the rest of the document, we’ll use the name Sales.

Figure 2: The Adding Document Library Dialog Box with the Sales Name

6.    Click Create. The Sales library will be created, and you’ll be taken to the Site Contents page.

7.    In the site contents listing, click Sales. The Sales library’s default view will open.

Figure 3: The Sales Library’s Default View

8.    In the command bar, click New. The New menu will appear.

Figure 4: The Expanded New Menu

9.    Click Folder. The Folder dialog box will appear.

10.    Type a name for your new folder. For this example and for the rest of the document, we’ll use Company A.

Figure 5: The Folder Dialog Box with the Company A Name

11.    Click Create. The Company A folder will be added to the Sales library.

12.    Repeat steps 8-11 to create another folder. For this example, we’ll use the name Company B. The Company B folder will be added to the Sales library.

Figure 6: The Company A and Company B Folders in the Sales Library

Task 2: Associate Site Columns to the Sales Library

Now that the library is set up, we need to create a column that will hold our metadata. For this example, we’ll use a custom site column we’ve already created. For more guidance on creating site columns, please see the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users task, “Create a Site Column.”

1.    On the Sales library’s default view, in the Suite bar, click the gear icon to open the actions menu.

2.    Click Library settings. The Sales library’s settings page will open.

Figure 7: The Sales Library’s Settings Page

3.    Towards the bottom of the page in the Columns section, under the list of columns, click Add from existing site columns. The Add Columns from Site Columns page will open.

Figure 8: The Add Columns from Site Columns Page

4.    In the Select Columns section, under Select Site columns from, select the site column group that your site column is categorized as. For this example, we’ll select the Secret SharePoint site column group.

Figure 9: The Site Columns in the Secret SharePoint Group

5.    Under Available site columns, select a site column to add to the library. For this example, we’ll select Company Name. Then click Add. The site column will be added to the Columns to add box.

Figure 10: Company Name Selected as a Column to Add

6.    At the bottom of the page, click OK. The site column will be added to the Sales library, and you’ll be returned to the library’s settings page. In the Columns section, the Company Name site column will be listed along with the library’s default site columns.

Figure 11: The Company Name Site Column in the Columns Section

Task 3: Set Default Column Values

Now that we have the column and the folders set up in the library, we can set the default values for the column.

1.    On the Sales library’s settings page, under General Settings, click Column default value settings. The Change Default Column Values page will appear.

Figure 12: The Change Default Columns Values Page

2.    On the left side of the page is the menu Location to configure. Under Sales, the folders Company A and Company B are listed. Click the Company A folder. The page will refresh, and the breadcrumb bar will show Company A.

Figure 13: Company A Selected to Configure Default Column Value Settings

3.    Under Column (click to edit default value), click Company Name. The Edit Default Value dialog box will appear.

Figure 14: The Edit Default Value Dialog Box

4.    In the Default Value section, click the radio button for Use this default value.

5.    Under Default value, type the desired default value for this column. For this example, we’ll type Company A.

Figure 15: The Default Value Set to Company A

6.    Click OK. The Edit Default Value dialog box will close, and the page will refresh. Now, whenever a document is added to the Company A folder, the Company Name column will automatically get the value Company A.

Figure 16: Company A’s Company Name Set to Default Value “Company A”

7.    Repeat steps 2-6 for Company B. On step 5, type Company B. When you’re finished, whenever a document is added to the Company B folder, the Company Name column will automatically get the value Company B.

Figure 17: Company B’s Company Name Set to Default Value “Company B”

8.    In the breadcrumb bar, click Settings. You’ll be returned to the Sales library’s settings page.

9.    In the breadcrumb bar, click Sales. You’ll be returned to the Sales library’s default view.

Task 4: Add Documents the Sales Library

Now that we’ve added the default values to the column for the Company A and Company B folders, we’ll add a couple of documents to the folders. We won’t worry about the document names for this example, but you can direct users to follow these steps when adding documents to the library.

1.    On the Sales library’s default view, click Company A. The contents of the Company A folder will appear.

Figure 18: The Company A Folder

2.    In the command bar, click New. The New menu will appear.

3.    Click Word document. Depending on your library’s settings, Microsoft Word will launch, and a blank document will appear. Your settings may also cause Word Online to launch.

4.    Since we’re just showing how metadata is populated, we don’t need to change anything about the document. Return to the Company A folder. If Microsoft Word launched, close the document. If Word Online launched, in the Suite bar, click Company A. You’ll be returned to the Company A folder.

5.    The new document will be visible in the item listing of the Company A folder. In the Company Name column, the value will be automatically populated with Company A.

Figure 19: The New Document with Company Name Populated with “Company A”

6.    Return to the root folder by clicking Sales in the breadcrumb bar. The Sales library’s default view will appear.

7.    On the Sales library’s default view, click Company B. The contents of the Company B folder will appear.

8.    Repeat steps 2-4 to create another document in the Company B folder. When you return to the Company B folder, the new document will appear in the item listing, and Company B will be automatically populated in the Company Name column.

Figure 22: The New Document with Company Name Populated with “Company B”

Book Review-Email Marketing Demystified: Build a Massive Mailing List, Write Copy that Converts and Generate More Sales

It’s been several years ago now. I had a technology client that was a marketing firm. In a conversation with the president, we were talking about getting responses to an advertising campaign. He said to me, “I can guarantee you a number of responses, I just can’t guarantee you it will be cost effective.” That stuck with me as a fundamental truth of marketing. I had always thought that you might not get enough responses, but, in truth, if you’re willing to spend enough money, you can always generate the responses – it’s a matter of whether that will be cost effective or not.

That’s why people turn to email marketing. In general, it’s cost effective. The Direct Marketing Association says that, on average, for every $1 spent in email marketing, the business gets $43 in sales. That’s a huge return. However, how do you get those kinds of returns? That’s what Email Marketing Demystified: Build a Massive Mailing List, Write Copy that Converts, and Generate More Sales seeks to help you do.

The Point of It All

Before getting into the details of the how, it’s important to focus on the why. (See Start with Why.) You do email marketing to market something – but what is that something? In some cases, it can be consulting services. In others, it’s product sales. However, product sales to whom, and what is the product being sold?

For me, we sell The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users to corporate customers, who buy it for everyone in their organization. We sell courses to individual corporate buyers who are looking to learn more about SharePoint themselves. We want these products in the hands of more people.

One of the insights from Email Marketing Demystified is that if you continue to pitch the same products to the same audiences, you’ll see diminishing returns. The business question becomes how much time do you spend marketing, and how much time do you spend creating new products? There is – of course – no answer to this question. You can build lists and write great copy, but if you’re not selling products, eventually the whole system will fly apart.

Copy Writing

The heart of getting conversions on your emails – moving someone from reading to responding – is copywriting. On the surface, this is an easy task. Everyone learned to write in grade school. However, the subtle arts of copywriting aren’t as easy as they seem. The difference between a 1% and a 2% conversion rate aren’t impressive until you realize that this doubled your effectiveness – or can move you from one hundred purchases to two hundred.

Simple tips like keeping your headlines and subjects to five to ten words that will fit on a single line of text flow throughout the book. The copy on a button can dramatically change how many people click and respond. (“Sign Up Now (Free)” is the recommended copy for a button.)

List Building

In the category of list building, Email Marketing Demystified isn’t silent – but it’s definitely not verbose. Effectively you’re directed to Traction and to DigitalMarketer.com for finding ways to build your list. There is the tongue in cheek response that you just build great content for years and years until it starts to work. Of course, no one wants to hear this – but to some extent, it’s true. The Halo Effect focuses us on the truth that the world is filled with probabilities, not certainties. You can increase your chances – the probability – that your list will grow, but there’s no certainty in its growth.

A good friend of mine who teaches marketing once told me that all marketing is “throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks.” I can tell you that in my experience this is true. There are some things that I thought were going to be great for list building that did nothing. Other things that I didn’t expect much from have been very useful to me.

In short, if you’re looking for solid techniques for actually building your list, you may need to look elsewhere.

SPAM Shift

Before completely leaving the topic of list building, I should say that there has been a shift from purchased lists and mass mailings to smaller numbers of people who are more actively engaged in your content. While it’s still a valid list building technique to get someone else to pitch your offer to their list, rarely does acquiring a list work these days. Lists todays have to be built.

The tools that exist to help users protect themselves from SPAM have becoming increasingly more effective, and this may have something to do with the shift. Major mail systems are prioritizing the emails that you interact with, and, as a result, the massive number of emails that are being sent – and delivered – aren’t being seen by the users.

List building isn’t like the old days, where you could build your list by acquiring it.

Frequency and Timing

One of the considerations when you have a list is how frequently you should be emailing your list. The guidelines are interesting… No more than once a day, and not less than once a week. Of course, if you look at books like Launch, they’ll tell you to send reminders on your launch day so you may end up above the once a day rule – but at least it’s not every day.

My own results have been mixed. I believe that, between product launches, there is a place on your refresh list for emails to be sent out once a month. Basically, these are people who are interested in you and what you’re doing, but there’s nothing that they need to buy right now. You don’t want to inundate them – but at the same time you don’t want them to forget you. I still send a monthly newsletter to people who are interested.

In addition to that, I send people email campaigns when they want them. We offer 30 Office Tips (delivered every other weekday) and a set of SharePoint Secrets that are delivered every three days. It’s possible that we’ll be emailing folks more than once a day – but only if they’ve asked us for that frequency of contact.

The other dimension is how long do you hold onto a lead? The recommendation from Email Marketing Demystified is to have autoresponder sequences that last three to five months. This feels long to me, but who knows? They also recommend that if someone hasn’t interacted with you in six months you should remove them from your list.

Demystified?

I don’t know that I’d say that Email Marketing Demystified lives up to its title. It feels more like a set of clues to find your own path than a secret decoder ring. However, if you’ve been doing email marketing for a while, you probably realize there is no such thing as Email Marketing Demystified – the best you can hope for is some useful clues that make you a bit more productive.

Indy CIO Network Lunch: Collaboration

Collaboration means working together towards a common goal. However, what does that mean in the context of IT at an organization? How can CIOs foster collaboration, and what’s the role of tools? That was the topic of discussion at a recent Indy CIO Network lunch. Everyone in the room makes investments to collaborate. Their attendance demonstrates that, since the group gathers to network and collaborate with other CIOs to improve their ability to support their organizations.

Though our conversation drifted past various collaboration tools, most of the time was spent speaking of the larger factors that influence collaboration. While collaboration vendors want you to believe that their brand of solution causes collaboration once deployed, it’s closer to say that tools can remove barriers and enable collaboration – if your organization wants to do it.

Culture

Most corporate cultures may belong in a petri dish, but we’ve all got one – whether it’s bad or not. From the smallest organization to the largest, every company has a culture. That culture dictates how the organization will respond. Organizations themselves resist change. They’re designed as a stabilizing influence, and that influence means whatever has been the rule is likely to stay the rule unless someone can break the inertia.

Organizational culture comes from the people and the processes. The people you have in an organization have a way of approaching things. They have their feelings of safety and of fear. If collaboration conflicts with someone’s basic desires, it will be very hard to accomplish collaboration – unless and until you change the people. However, people are only half the battle. The other side is the processes, the rules – both written and unwritten – inside the organization about how it works.

Organizations that have a stack-rank approach to employee performance, which rewards the top performers and “releases” the lowest performers, will find that collaboration won’t blossom, because the workers inside of a department are effectively pitted against one another. While some coalitions may develop where groups of employees work together – and against others – for the most part, a structure of constant conflict will stamp out collaboration and prevent it from taking root.

Trust

At some level, it’s a matter of trust. Trust that you and your colleagues are really working towards a common goal. Trust that if you help them, it won’t hurt you – and that they’ll return the favor. Organizations where trust is broken find it difficult to generate widespread collaboration, because there’s no belief that in the end it will be beneficial to them – and everyone else.

Being vulnerable in a group of others requires a perception of safety. The perception of safety comes both from the individual’s experiences and from the experiences they’ve had at the organization. The safer the environment seems, the more vulnerable – and therefore collaborative – that they can be.

Of course, just being safe doesn’t mean that they’re bought into the mission.

Ownership

The topic of how to generate ownership in the idea of collaboration resonated with the group, as they sought ways to help build buy-in across all levels of the organization to really work together – rather than to defend territories. Building that ownership revolves around helping everyone realize the importance of collaboration, both to the organization and, more importantly, to each person individually.

Barriers

Even with the right levels of trust and ownership, there are sometimes things that get in the way of collaboration. A lack of clarity on what is expected and desired as well as a very hierarchical and rigid structure leads to barriers to collaboration that are hard to knock down.

Communicating Clarity

One of the hardest problems when a new initiative is started is the lack of an expectation about what it should be like. When faced with a lack of clarity, most people freeze. If you don’t know how to use the collaboration tool, most will simply not use it. How to use something is very contextual and tacit. It’s hard for someone to know how to use the new tool until they’ve done it.

Organizations can communicate clearly what the expectations are with regard to collaboration, including which tools to use for what, and why. The communication needs to be in the context of the person and how it impacts their world and what is expected of them. It also needs to be multi-channel, as all of us are overwhelmed and may miss communications provided in a single channel.

Mindset

The other key barrier is mindset. When we think only of our own situation and our ability to keep our own job, we’re necessarily unable to work collaboratively for the greater good. We simply can’t see the forest when we’re worried about saving our own tree.

The effects of fear and stress on creativity and collaboration are well documented. If everyone is afraid or stressed out in their work with others at the organization, collaboration just won’t form. Conflict has a negating effect on collaboration.

The Role of Conflict

We spoke briefly about the conflict that arises between two groups even inside the technology organization. We spoke of the developers who are goaled on new features and the operations folks who are goaled on uptime. Whether these goals are explicitly stated or are simply a part of the individual’s expectations, this difference in goals creates a conflict.

Organizations try to eliminate this by providing explicit goals that are around revenue – larger goals – than individual expectations about their goals. However, these internal goals still hold. They believe that the best path to revenue is through increased features – or improved uptime. There’s a persistent pull towards individual goals that can be influenced or controlled within the group.

The real work of a CIO – in their department – is to continuously realign employees towards the work of delivering value to the organization and understanding that they’re all a part of that. To make bread, you need flour, water, salt, eggs, and yeast. If you leave an ingredient out, the bread doesn’t work – it takes everyone in the organization to be able to support the organization.

Tools

It’s difficult to have a conversation like this in a room full of problem solvers with great experience without descending into what tools are effective for different kinds of collaboration. Despite the occasional mention of tools, for the most part, we spent our time speaking of the business challenges and how we change the way we approach collaboration – more than just adding another collaboration tool.

Author’s Notes

While this summarizes our conversation, I’ve editorialized a few things and tried to make some concepts more explicit than someone listening might have heard through the conversation – thus, the perspectives here are mine but are thoughtfully informed by the 20 or so attendees.

I’d like to suggest some resources for more information about the topics that are related here:

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Using Word Quick Parts with a Custom Content Type

This solution walks you through the process of adding Quick Parts to the default template of a custom content type. This way, anyone who selects that content type from the library will create a new form with those Quick Parts added already. By filling out the Quick Parts fields, the metadata for that document will also be filled out in the corresponding SharePoint columns.

The step-by-step will assume you already have a library and custom document content type prepared. For more information on associating content types to a library, please see The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users tasks “Create a Library App” and “Edit List or Library App Content Types.” For our example, we’ll use a library called Resources with the content type Invoice, which uses site columns Invoice # and PO #.

Task 1: Create a Content Type Template

This task walks you through drafting and editing the default template for your content type. In our example, our content type is for invoice forms, and we already have the form designed. We just need to add the Quick Parts, then save the document as a template. We’ll save it locally, which will allow us to access it when we edit the content type’s default template later.

1.    In a web browser, navigate to the SharePoint library that has your content type. For our example, we’ll go to the Resources library. The library’s default view will open.

2.    In the command bar, click New to open the drop-down menu.

Figure 1: The Expanded New Menu

3.    Select the custom content type. For our example, we’ll select Invoice. Depending on your library’s settings, Microsoft Word will launch.

Note: Depending on your settings, Word Online may launch. At the top of the Word Online window in the ribbon, click Edit in Word. The We’re opening this in Microsoft Word… dialog box will appear, and Microsoft Word will launch.

4.    If it isn’t already designed, design your form or copy and paste in the contents of an existing form. For our example, we already have our invoice form prepared, so we’ll copy and paste it in.

Figure 2: The Invoice Form in the New Document

5.    Click the Insert tab to open the Insert ribbon.

6.    Find a location on the document that will contain the information you want to send to SharePoint. For our first example, we’ll use Invoice #, which is found in the upper-right corner of the form. Because we want to place invoice numbers to the right of Invoice #, click the area to the right of Invoice # to move the insertion point there. If there is existing placeholder text, delete it now.

Figure 3: The Insertion Point to the Right of Invoice #

7.    In the Insert ribbon’s Text section, click the Explore Quick Parts icon. The icon looks like a page that has multiple boxes of content in different colors. The Quick Parts menu will appear.

Figure 4: The Explore Quick Parts Icon

8.    Hover over Document Properties, and a list of the document’s properties will be displayed. You should see both the default document properties, such as Author, Title, and Tags, as well as the names of the site columns associated to the content type.

Figure 5: The Document Property Menu

9.    Select the site column you want to add as a Quick Part in the document. For our example, we’ll select the Invoice # site column. The Invoice # site column will be added to the form as a Quick part. It’ll be displayed as a gray text box with the site column’s name in square brackets, such as [Invoice #].

Figure 6: The Invoice # Quick Part in the Template

10.    Repeat steps 6-9 to add other Quick Parts to the form in the desired locations. For our example, we’ll also add the PO # site column. Our location for purchase order numbers is in the table on the middle of the page, under PO#, so we’ll click the blank table cell, then select PO # from the Quick Parts menu. This will add the PO # Quick Part to the form.

Figure 7: The PO # Quick Part in the Template

11.    When you’re finished adding Quick Parts to the template, click the File tab to open the Info screen.

Figure 8: The Info Screen

12.    Click Save As. The Save As screen will appear.

Figure 9: The Save As Screen

13.    Click Browse. The Save As window will appear.

Figure 10: The Save As Window

14.    Give an identifiable name to the form. For our example, we’ll save it as InvoiceTemplate.

15.    In the Save as type field, click the drop-down menu, then select Word Template. The file type will change to .dotx. The Save As window will automatically change to show the Custom Office Templates folder on your PC.

16.    In the Navigation menu, click Desktop. You can usually find the desktop in the Quick Access menu. The contents of the desktop will appear in the Save As window.

Figure 11: The Invoice Template Ready to Be Saved on the Desktop

17.    Click Save. The Save As window will close, and the new form template will be saved to the desktop. You can now close the Word document.

18.    In your browser window, return to the library app’s default view, if it’s not already visible.

Task 2: Edit the Content Type’s Default Template

Our next step is to update the content type’s default template and use the new template we created with Quick Parts.

1.    On the library’s default view, in Suite bar, click the gear icon to open the actions menu.

2.    Click Site settings. If Site Settings isn’t visible, you may need to navigate to the Site Contents page first, then in the command bar, click Site Settings. The Site Settings page will open.

Figure 12: The Site Settings Page

3.    On the Site Settings page, under Web Designer Galleries, click Site content types. The Site Content Types page will open.

Figure 13: The Site Content Types Page

4.    On the right side of the page, next to Show Group, click the drop-down menu and select the site content type group that has your content type. For our example, our Invoice content type is found in the Secret SharePoint site content type group, so we’ll select Secret SharePoint. The Site Content Types page will refresh to show only the site content types in the selected site content type group.

Figure 14: The Secret SharePoint Site Content Type Group

5.    Click the custom content type. For our example, we’ll click Invoice. The Site Content Type page will open.

Figure 15: The Site Content Type Page for Invoice

6.    Under Settings, click Advanced settings. The Advanced Settings page will open.

Figure 16: The Advanced Settings Page

7.    In the Document Template section, select the Upload a new document template option. The Upload field will become enabled.

8.    Click Browse. Your browser’s file upload window will open.

Figure 17: The File Upload Window

9.    Navigate to the desktop, then click the name of the form template, such as InvoiceTemplate.dotx. The file name will appear in the File name field.

10.    Click Open. The file upload window will close, and the file path will appear in the Upload a new document template field.

Figure 18: The New Template Ready to be Uploaded

11.    At the bottom of the page, click OK. You’ll be taken back to the Site Content Type page. The new form template’s file will be uploaded as the default template for the custom form content type. Every time a user selects the content type from the New menu in the library, a new document will be created based on the form template with the Quick Parts added.

Task 3: Populate Metadata Using Quick Parts

This final task will show you how information added to the Quick Parts will be added to SharePoint without typing the information twice. You can instruct users to use these steps whenever they fill out their form.

1.    If you aren’t already on the library’s default view, navigate to the library now. For our example, we’ll navigate to the Resources library.

2.    In the command bar, click New. The New menu will appear.

3.    Click the name of your content type. For our example, we’ll click Invoice. Depending on your library’s settings, Microsoft Word will launch, and the default document template will open.

Note: Depending on your library’s settings, Word Online may launch. At the top of the Word Online screen, click Edit in Word. The We’re opening this in Microsoft Word… dialog box will appear, and Microsoft Word will launch.

Figure 19: The New Invoice

4.    Fill out the fields of your form.

5.    When you get to a field that contains a Quick Part, you’ll see a gray text box with the name of the field in square brackets, such as [Invoice #]. To fill out these fields, click into the Quick Part, then type the information. For the Invoice # example, we’ll type LL-002.

Figure 20: The Invoice # Quick Part with LL-002

6.    Repeat step 5 for every Quick Part in the form. For our example, we’ll also fill out the P.O. Number field. We’ll click the Quick Part, then type PO-200.

Figure 21: The PO # Quick Part with PO-200

7.    When you’re finished filling out the fields, save your document. Click the File tab to open the Info screen.

8.    Click Save As. The Save As screen will appear.

9.    Under Current Folder, click Resources. The Save As window will open.

10.    In the File name field, give a unique name to your document. For this example and for the rest of the document, we’ll use the name Invoice LL-002.

Figure 22: Invoice LL-002 Ready to Be Saved

11.    Click Save. The document will be saved to the Resources library, and the information you entered into the Quick Parts will now be added to the site columns of the document library as properties of the document.

12.    Close the Word document. If Microsoft Word was initially launched instead of Word Online, your browser window should show the library’s default view.

Note: If Word Online was originally launched, you should see the Word Online window instead of the library’s default view. To navigate back to the library app, in the Suite bar to the left of the document’s name, click Resources. You’ll be returned to the library app’s default view.

13.    Your document will appear in the item listing with the metadata populated in the columns. For our example, you’ll see the Invoice # field contains LL-002 and the PO # field contains PO-200.

Figure 23: Invoice LL-002 with the Populated Metadata