Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

The style of reports in the original IBM Consulting Group style is explained well by @buckwem, with presentation slides in landscape format following Minto’s pyramid principle structured with horizontal logic and vertical logic.  I never met Mark Buckwell during my IBM career, but he’s been there since 1993, so we “went to the same school”.  If I’m not using this style in a presentations, it’s for a conscious reason, as this way of writing and presenting is always in the back of my mind.

On Slideshare, Mark has shared Using logic for productive presentations and reports 31-jan-2013 – speakerdeck in the series

Mark first surfaced Using Logic for Productive Presentations and Reports while teaching a chemical engineering course at Birmingham University, on a blog post at

The Pyramid Principle from Barbara Minto was first written over forty years ago and defines a logical way of writing reports and presentations. The technique first came from McKinsey and Company but it is now used by many management consulting companies including IBM Global Business Services.

On a subsequent blog post, he provides a rigourous “Checklist for Presentation Logic” at .  This knowledge is normally imparted situationally by experienced engagement managers, so the checklist could seem intimidating for individuals coming up the learning curve.

August 8th, 2013

Posted In: practices, services

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“Designing for Thrownness” showed up for me via “Design, Wicked Problems and Throwness” by Harold G. Nelson.  The citation of Karl Weick as a source, with references to Flores & Winograd (1986), led me to find the Managing by Designing research led by Boland and Collopy, with the 2004 conference as Case Western Reserve abstracted in a series of videos (of which Thrownness is #4 of 7).

Boland and Collopy differentiate between a design attitude and a decision attitude.

A decision attitude toward problem solving is used extensively in management education. It portrays the manager as facing a set of alternative courses of action from which a choice must be made.

  • The decision attitude assumes it is easy to come up with alternatives to consider, but difficult to choose among them.
  • The design attitude toward problem solving, in contrast, assumes that it is difficult to design a good alternative, but once you have developed a truly great one, the decision about which alternative to select becomes trivial.

The design attitude appreciates that the cost of not conceiving of a better course of action than those that are already being considered is often much higher than making the “wrong” choice among them.

The decision attitude toward problem solving and the many decision-making tools we have developed for supporting it have strengths that make them suitable for certain situations. In a clearly defined and stable situation, when the feasible alternatives are well known, a decision attitude may be the most efficient and effective way to approach problem solving. But when those conditions do not hold, a design attitude is required. [editorial paragraphing added]

This contrast between a design attitude and decision attitude becomes clearer as Weick later describes thrownness.

Design is usually portrayed as forethought that leads to an intention. But on closer inspection, design may be less originary than it looks. One reason is because beginnings and endings are rare, middles are common. People, whether designers or clients, are always in the middle of something, which means designing is as much about re-design, interruption, resumption, continuity, and re-contextualizing, as it is about design, creation, invention, initiation, and contextualizing. What separates good design from bad design may be determined more by how people deal with the experience of thrownness and interruption than by the substance of the design itself.

Weick refers to Heidegger, via Winograd and Flores (1986):

Heidegger [… unpacks] the word geworfenheit (werf to throw, geworfenheit being thrown), which has been translated as “thrownness.” Heidegger treats being-in-the-world … as “the prereflective experience of being thrown into a situation of acting without the opportunity or need to disengage and function as detached observers” (Winograd and Flores, 1986, p. 97).

An example from Winograd and Flores (1986) is summarized by Weick, in the plight of a chairman in a difficult situation.

December 7th, 2012

Posted In: design, practices, systems

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Digital cameras have become so common that they’re often now a feature in mobile phones and audio players.  Pressing a button to capture a snapshot of time is so easy.  The workflow of storing, printing and sharing those images is complicated.  Many would like to return to the days when we would just take the film cartridge out of the camera, and drop it to a photo lab for processing (often in about an hour).

People take more photographs digitally than they did with film cameras.  In a six-month study in 2000, when digital cameras were relatively uncommon, subjects (aged 24 to 38) took 200 to 1000 (with an average about 500) photographs, compared to their prior non-digital accumulated collection of 300 to 3000 (with an average of about 1000) pictures (Rodden & Wood 2003).  This means that when digital cameras were relatively expensive — and camera phones didn’t yet exist — people were averaging about 1 to 5 photos per day!

People presumably use cameras because they want to be able to retrieve the images later.  In a study of 18 parents, the value of long-retrieval of family pictures was high (i.e. around 4.7 on a scale of 5).  On experiments of 71 retrieval tasks — finding birthdays, family trips, first pictures of a child, etc. — 61% were successful, taking about 2.5 minutes each.  On the 39% of unsuccessful retrievals, subjects gave up after about 4 minutes  (Whittaker et al. 2010).  This effectively means that, on average, nearly 40% of the digital photos taken last year are lost, and considerable persistence is needed for them to be refound.

I. What activities, platforms and artifacts are involved with managing digital photos?

Digitalization in photography has replaced trips to the photo lab with the copying of electronic files.  Industry standards have stabilized so that image files can be readily copied from cameras to personal computing devices, and onto web servers.  Here’s a diagram of some of the activities, platforms and artifacts in digital photography.


Based on this diagram, let me (a) pose some questions for reflection on the choices we implicitly make about managing photos, (b) outline some popular alternatives, and (c) describe the way I do it, myself.

II. What type of photographer am I?

December 22nd, 2009

Posted In: practices, web tools

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In the Adaptive Enterprise research that I had conducted between 1998 and 2001, I was primarily focused on conversations for action, towards a commitment action protocol. I extended, in 2008, those ideas into a research paper to recognize (at least) four types of obligations:

  • commitments to produce a deliverable;
  • commitments to follow a process;
  • commitments to provide a capability; and
  • commitments to contribute to a relationship.

These four types were not considered exhaustive, but helpful in understanding how service systems work.

In the background, I’ve always known that there are other kinds of conversation.  To be explicit about these, I’ll refer to a 1987 article by Terry Winograd (that was a revision of 1986 workshop paper reprinted in 1988).

Winograd provides the foundations back to speech act theory, from Austin, and then Searle.

Austin (1962) noted that not all utterances are statements whose truth or falsity is at stake. Performatives, such as I pronounce you husband and wife are actions, which can be made appropriately (felicitously) or not, but which are neither true nor false in a simple sense. Similarly, the language actions of commands, questions, and apologies are not descriptions of a non-linguistic world.

Searle (1975) identified five fundamental illocutionary points — things you can do with an utterance:

December 12th, 2009

Posted In: practices

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When a group of people come together for sensemaking about a situation, it’s pretty typical for someone to start sketching out boxes and lines to improve the clarity of the ideas.  Amongst 2 or 3 people, this might be sketching on a napkin.  Convening in an office usually suggests that a flip chart or a whiteboard will be used.  These media have the advantage of expressiveness — effectively conveying ideas — with the challenge of replicable precision and subsequent intelligibility to people beyond the original participants.  As the average business professional has become more adept with computer-based tools, presentation graphics — often as dreaded Powerpoint slides — are common.  Although more advanced drawing tools (e.g. vector graphic editors) and specification languages (e.g. UML and SysML) are easily available, the gulf between “easy-to-use” office productivity tools and “rigourous” modeling tools has yet to be bridged.

Based on a legacy of collaborations with IBM Research, my colleague Ian Simmonds pointed out the upcoming workshop on “Flexible Modeling Tools” at Cascon 2009 — a short commute within the Toronto area — with the following description.

This workshop will explore why modeling tools are not used in many situations where they would be helpful and what can be done to make them more suitable.

For example, during the exploratory phases of design, it is more common to use white boards than modeling tools. During the early stages of requirements engineering, it is more common to use office tools. Yet in these examples, as in many other tasks, the advantages of modeling tools would be valuable – providing multiple views for visualization and convenience of manipulation, providing domain-specific assistance (e.g., “content assist”), ensuring consistency, etc. Why, then, are they not used? The many reasons include: learning curve, interaction medium, rigidity and lack of support for informality.

This workshop will bring together tool builders and people who have or might use tools for their software development activities to explore the barriers inherent in current modeling tools and what can be done to remove these barriers. It will also address what key research challenges remain.

The day-long workshop on November 2 should be more of a generative conversation, rather than an exposition of completed research.  Contributions to the workshop are in the form of position papers.  On my last visit to the UK, I had some discussions with Gary Metcalf and Jennifer Wilby on current research into an emerging science of service systems, as well as ongoing client work with municipalities in Canada.  We wrote this up, and the position paper was accepted for the workshop.

Introducing modeling tools to non-technical business professionals: some cases with preliminary observations

A position paper prepared for the Flexible Modeling Tools workshop at Cascon 2009, by …

October 28th, 2009

Posted In: practices, technologies

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I’m relatively conscientious about referencing sources when I write in an academic style (or even when I blog)! I was in the middle of writing a paper where I cite How Buildings Learn, by Stewart Brand, and found that the entry on Amazon doesn’t include an image of the front matter that describes where the book was published.

So I went down into my basement for my paperback version of the book, and which gave me the following geographic information:

April 10th, 2007

Posted In: practices, universities