I remember where I was

When I was young I recall my mother telling me that she remembered where she was the day that JFK was shot. That she could still clearly see the teacher telling the class while tears streamed down her face.  I can remember thinking that I will never have those memories, because our world was better now than the one in which she was raised.

I am here to tell you that I was wrong.

I remember where I was during 9-11.

I remember what I was doing during the Eaton Centre shooting in Toronto. I know how I heard the news about Parkland and so many other atrocities that have become commonplace occurred in the USA. 

I have signed petitions and voted for politicians that promise to increase gun laws and take automatic and semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of people outside the military. I have studied and written about the benefits of equity and diversity, but I haven’t worked hard enough to speak out against hate. In our modern world not speaking out has become way too similar to condoning these behaviours.

My ego told me that everyone was safe in NZ. That things like that just don’t happen here. I had moved to a place so kind and welcoming this former Torontonian couldn’t handle all the strangers that say hello as you walk down the street. Immigrants were welcome here.

When the news broke about the Christchurch/Ōtautahi shooting I was giving a lecture on the legal history of discrimination & employment equity legislation and the importance of speaking out against hate, bias and stereotypes to a group of university students from a variety of backgrounds. I spoke about how each of us has the chance to act as an advocate and help our world celebrate how our differences make our countries and world better and had talented students engaged in crafting a better world.

In a strange twist of fate I was attempting to teach others why we must not be silent when confronted with wrongdoing. 

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Martin Luther King Jr.

We cannot combat hate with more hate. We must fight with love. My chosen home has welcomed me and I must now pay that forward and welcome others. 

I will always remember where I was. 

Kia Kaha Aotearoa

A blog by any other name

I’ve been blogging for a long time now. I originally started in 2009 for a charity project I was working on and discovered a passion to share my ideas with the world (even if most of them were only ever read by my mom-Hi Mom!).

On this forum alone my posts go back to 2011, many of which are still relevant today. While I should admit I am highly critical of my evolution as a writer, I have never been afraid of to have confidence in my ideas no matter how flawed the delivery might have been. I credit this confidence in my words to the passion of my early years: journaling, and to the professors who give me good grades on my work.

So today I am wondering what the value my contributions and those of others are making on our culture and the digital space as a whole through the act of blogging.

Creating community and sharing ideas

The internet and all that lives on it from blogs and forums to ratings and reviews are about connection across time and space. Sharing ideas with people without regard for their time zone is something that makes blogging special.

Bloggers like Luis Suarez discuss the idea that this community and collaborative lifestyle is our right as citizens of the world. Kathleen Asselin also speaks of this interactive lifestyle and momentum in growth in her thesis (reference here: sadly not available outside of a library).

My posts started as essays on topics I was faced with in the workplace. They are littered with challenges of offering great customer experiences in eCommerce and digital marketing, topics, which were the reason I started erinburrell.ca. Here and there I would throw in a few accolades for those doing great things, but it quickly morphed into business commentary and hard-won survival tips with a sprinkling of academic content added for good measure.

Creating reach to new content and topics

As a student and scholar, I have access to publications most people only armed with Google and an internet connection will never see. Content under the badge of being scholarly and peer reviewed is often highly researched, validated, and edited for quality but sadly read even less than my personal blog in some cases.

Part of that fault is, of course, the desire for people to be paid for their content. An idea which with just a smidgen of understanding what it takes to publish an article makes sense. I have access to a great deal of paid content because I pay tuition and rich library access is included in my fees. I agree that content creators should be paid for their efforts, but I am sad that many publications and ideas will never reach people who could benefit from them.

Unfortunately, that means that the ideas we are all exposed to at no cost in some cases are….. well…. Let’s just call them poorly researched and not well cited to be generous.

Heidi Estes discusses the idea that blogging makes space for personal commentary and criticism in academic efforts and helps to round out the ideas of a scholar (here’s hoping).  Sadly her blog was not in the first few pages of search so the closest I can offer you for free is the abstract of one of her articles discussing the topic in more detail.-You can purchase instant access to the entire article for about what Netflix costs you each month.

Finding the balance: Freemium content

Freemium is one of my favourite things about the digital age. I could dedicate more than one post just to the value I think this adds to the digital economy, but for the uninitiated, this means that you have access to a product or service with limits. If you want to live life without limits you must pay for the privilege-somewhat like TV in the 90’s.

Great content providers in the entertainment, business, and journalistic space have embraced this idea. Harvard Business Review will let you read a little, as will People.com and the New York Times, but after you reach the limit it’s pay to play. I wish academia would embrace this, but I suppose it will be scholars like me that can change the face of publishing if we want to.

Freemium in my opinion, is the best of both worlds. Creators get paid and if they are producing content people really enjoy, in turn they pay for a subscription or buy what they want in an a la carte pricing menu.

So who am I to direct you?

Today I would call myself a scholar-practitioner. I study a number of topics and currently practice in the space of information technology and business strategy. My content is free and without the burden of extra ads and marketing because I pay service providers for blocking additional noise from my words.

If you like something I share or dislike it for that matter, you are welcome to comment, like and follow me. Or not. Your call.

I will continue to share my thoughts because I might be able to offer connections between the dots of concepts that you wouldn’t hear about without me.

I do ask you to forgive the gaps that may occur between posts. I am currently working toward my second masters degree, work full time and have lots of hobbies that keep me busy.  Plus, we all know that I actually pay for the chance to talk to you through this forum (domain registration, ad suspension, web hosting), not the other way around.

Then again delays could be that I am randomly surfing YouTube watching the cat videos that make the internet great.

Head to the archives and see what else I have to say.

Becoming an educated consumer of ideas

I had a paper due last week that included a critical review on the ideas and strategy of a talented scholar. At first I struggled with the idea that my feedback could possibly be valuable. It wasn’t until I began to evaluate the content with fresh eyes that I was able to find the perspective I needed to add value.

Adding to a body of work in any area is intimidating, but it’s exactly how new ideas are born. The work I was reading had a particular approach that could be reused and adapted to meet other environments and it was my fresh perspective and background that make that possible.

It is in this frame that I present my newly created 3 step process to becoming an educated consumer of ideas:

  1. Educated idea consumers have a base to start from: You must first have a foundation of knowledge to evaluate content on. In the case of my paper, I was using research methodology and types of critical inquiry to evaluate the authors work. In order to provide any feedback of value, I had to make sure I understood the theory behind research and inquiry before evaluating theirs. See the contrary approach of the guy who refuses to vote but criticises the politician.
  2. Admit what you do not know: I was not an expert in the topic of the paper so didn’t provide feedback on the data itself, but instead on the way they approached the research question and the methodology they used to develop their theory. See the guy who critiques the mechanic when they have never even lifted a wrench.
  3. Take a chance to learn from what you read or hear: The topic of the paper was fascinating to me well beyond what I was tasked with reading it for. It motivated me to do additional reading to further solidify the new ideas in my own mind. While at first I was intimidated by the topic I was able to take the new content on a more personal journey through the internet so that I could understand the overall purpose more fully and add a new tool in my mental toolbox to further improve the way I work. See the girl who receives irrefutable evidence but still swears that her argument is valid.

Reading and writing critically will be something I continue to work on, but with the help of great instructors, and some friends on the internet I was able to learn about two things at once. Talk about double dipping! If we each apply these three simple steps we can all become more educated consumers and creators of ideas.

 

Critical Thinking this is Beer; Beer this is Critical Thinking

For a long time, I have been an advocate for sharing opinions freely and with honestly. Sadly, honest critique can hurt people you care about and offend others. It seems that finding a balance between honesty and attack is where true critical thought and feedback lives.

Unfortunately being truly unfiltered with your feedback in business or academia can create conflicts with employers, clients, and colleagues. While being too harsh in other areas of life can make you a cruel critic and let’s be honest: friendless.

However, over a pint with a friend or peer a portion of the experience to hearing feedback such as

“You do look fat in those jeans”

and

“Your product is crap”

were decidedly softened because of the informal environment and sensibilities that had been lubricated with libations.

So… what is the point you ask?

I was recently assigned a critical comment on a paper for my MA. It was the act of reading content critically and writing a paper as a critic that I was reminded of a project that had never even gotten off the page.

A few years ago I was having dinner (well…beer and nachos) with some friends who were equally passionate about sharing opinions and ideas without worrying about all of the ramifications. Over drinks we decided we were each able to be the most constructive without being hurtful when we were out for a drink in a safe environment. We decided to create a project that was lost to the path of good intentions until now.

So in the interest of stretching my own boundaries and taking on another project that my professional, scholarly, and personal lives may not love I offer you the first podcast from Critically Drinking.

Remember: I am an amateur in this space and have lots to learn, but it is my own Minimum Viable Product. If you need to rip it to shreds at least offer to buy me a drink first.

 

 

Creating Community

A few weeks back I was able to attend a couple of different conferences and at each time I was struck by the welcoming groups I was surrounded by. Despite never having met or engaged with many of the attendees, organisers, or presenters in each case, we found reasons to discuss ideas and master new skills and concepts in a safe space through shared experience.

Erin Burrell Community of Practice
Creating Communities

It is this movement towards shared experiences that turn strangers into friends across demographics and time zones. What was most surprising to me was not the differences, but instead the similarities in each conference despite them being from totally polar parts of my life.

A community is something that we all belong to regardless of our level of participation. While some may seek to just read a product review, coach a sport, or to present best practices at a global conference each level of contribution helps to make the community function.

In digital strategy, we often discuss the need to create an engaged and empowered group of consumers, clients, and vendors. Our digital community

In business, we focus on developing best practices inside each discipline so we can share ideas and learn from one another. A community of practitioners

In education, we work within our scholarly groups to develop research and further the knowledge we can contribute back. Our scholarly community

In sports, we work with coaches to grow our skills so that some day we can be just like that talented professional that we have posters of on our wall. A fitness community

 

Each scenario is unique in its output but is ultimately responsible for the same thing. All versions show a community of like-minded individuals with each segment contributing their knowledge and experiences for the betterment of the wider group.

Personal Reflection-increasing understanding by making space

The need to have time to reflect is critical to solidify learning theories for students and professionals alike. By acknowledging the space between what we read or hear and what we already know we are able to create links between the two. It is through these associations that new ideas and perspectives are born.

Making time

When I headed back to school to complete my MBA in 2012 I had an instructor (Kim Gunning-Mooney)  recommend we focus on taking the time to reflect. She explained what I think was some version of my description above (honestly I was mentally and physically exhausted for most of MBA so I can’t guarantee that I am totally accurate here, but she deserves credit), and rationalized that we would never imagine what this space could do for the development of our ideas.

Honestly, I thought it was crap. What would writing down my thoughts about what I had read, seen, or heard do for my ability to write an assignment or to do my job?

LOTS!

We often don’t realise how our brains create connections, but in many cases it is when we aren’t studying a topic that we begin to understand it. Have you ever had that moment in the shower or driving to work when everything suddenly makes sense?

That is the power of space to reflect.

Creating connections

I spend a lot of my professional time telling stories to clients and partners. Customising the story to each individual is critical to making it relevant to them and this is where I discovered how reflection helps us make connections.

Many of the early years of my career were spent in the home improvement industry. This causes me to tell a lot of stories about how computer software/employee engagement /management/ marketing/leadership is like the plumbing in your home.

Stay with me here….

You often don’t take the time to think about your plumbing or FILL IN THE BLANK business challenge until it is broken and find yourself in a hurry to get it fixed before you are covered in poop. In a really bad circumstance, it is being covered in poop that tells you the problem exists in the first place.

The importance of the analogy (or any analogy really) is the fact that people can suddenly see the connection between two ideas and just how urgent or serious the challenge they are facing has become.

Our ability as experts to connect the dots matters more than the dots themselves

By walking away from a challenge, literally or figuratively we are able to encourage our brains to connect these new concepts with the information that we have already internalised.

Build compelling arguments

I used to follow my gut on everything. Gut instinct is a powerful thing, to be sure, but honestly it is meaningless when you are pitching a multi-million dollar venture to the board for sign off. You need to have evidence (shown through the connections) in order to make a point.

You: “Hey board of experts I just know that this is a good idea so can I have some cash, please?”

Them: “Yeah, nah bro.”

But when we have some evidence (I consider all ideas evidence to create a compelling argument), and then we combine it with gut instinct and past experiences we are able to make connections that create a compelling and successful business case in many situations.

You: “Hi board of experts we have a challenge and it can be met by combining this times that. We believe it will work because of this idea X connection = result and this idea X connection = result.”

Them: “Well of course! Here are your millions of dollars”

Yes, this may be a bit of a simplified circumstance, but the likelihood of creating those connections is infinitely higher when take the time to reflect and internalise new information. A few steps that work for me are below, but feel free to reflect in whatever way you find effective.

  1. Write down what the content told you in your own words:
    1. Create a summary of what you read so that a fifth grader can understand it.
    2. Journal about the items you are reading. When you start telling the story you connect items without thinking about it.
    3. If you can’t summarise it yet, that’s ok move to step 2
  2. Brainstorm around the topic:
    1. Use a mind map or fishbone diagram to list concepts and create connections between them. The lines are the part that matters most
    2. Use a word blurb to see what concepts repeat most in the article. Tools like Wordle are awesome for this.
    3. Use your favourite method of brainstorming, the method is not as important as taking the time to do it
  3. Walk away
    1. Go for a run, take your kids to the park, binge watch some OITNB, read a trashy novel, it doesn’t matter what it is just get away from the work for a few minutes/hours/days as your timeline allows and let your brain do its thing.

What’s in it for you?

This is the age-old question when we put a task in front of someone. Why would you give up something you value (time, space, money) in exchange for this thing?

Reflecting makes connections faster than reading or listening to lectures alone. It helps us to find ways to internalise the idea and merge it with our personal expertise to make it valid and relevant. AND even if you don’t get anything special from it at that moment, we are raising our likelihood for shower Ah ha! moments exponentially just by trying something new.

 

References:

Reflection is the most important part of the learning process

Mind Tools Brainstorming

Acting on your research: The business and humanities merger

Most of my career and definitely throughout my academic efforts, I have attempted to make immediate use of the knowledge I acquire. For me, application (or in some cases failed application) is in direct correlation with my ability to understand concepts clearly. What I didn’t realise was that despite being traditionally business-focused, many models of planning and research are pretty much the same, just with fancier pictures and acronyms in some cases.

In business we have models, and in the humanities we have models, while most people are loyal to one side very little keeps them apart. The main difference between the two seems to be a bit of editing and marketing jargon. Business, as we know is overwhelmed with buzz-words and visual tools to support memory and application. The humanities seems to be equally filled with people using big words to tell the story a picture could effectively convey.

One of these is just like the other

While neither approach is right or wrong, the more we understand the similarities, the more the two disciplines can merge for more effective implementation.

Action Research

The goal of action research is to learn from current and past experiences (through data analysis, interviews, literature reviews, etc.) and arrive at new approaches to problem-solving.

Following seven basic steps action research allows the researcher to make informed decisions about what is working or not working and arrive at conclusions that allow them to put their learning into practice to improve the life of the participants.

  1. Select focus: Identify the problem area
  2. Clarify theories: Perform preliminary research around the topic to ensure a clear understanding of challenges currently valid
  3. Identify research question: narrowing the field of purview to a single question
  4. Collect data: Through first person study or literature review
  5. Analyse data: with the research question in mind
  6. Report results: share with those involved
  7. Take informed action: based on what you know

Sounds simple right?

What I didn’t see at the beginning of the exercise was that this model is just the same as one that I have been using for years. I wasn’t calling it action research I was calling it lean management.

Lean Management-PDCA

The goal of lean management and the PDCA model is to focus on continuous improvement and the elimination of muda (waste). Muda is described by Kaizen World with 9 types of waste including wasted time, effort, and motion. This description is broader that the seven types traditionally listed, but is relevant for today’s environment.

Elimination of muda can focus on items like efficiency in production, reducing wait times, inventory maximisation (human or physical), ultimately resulting in process improvement.

Contrary to many opinions, lean management application is not limited to the traditional environment of manufacturing where it was born at Toyota. Lean methodologies are being used to create better human workflows and more effective automation in categories like marketing and health care.

  1. Plan: Identify the challenge and what you want to change
  2. Do: Carry out the test in a small (hopefully low risk) environment or pilot project
  3. Check: Identify what worked and what didn’t
  4. Act/Adjust: Place new knowledge into application

Sure, lean does in four steps what action does in seven, but what is really different? Nothing. The same concepts hold true for both. The more work you do planning and analysing, the more capable you will be of making change that is significant and valuable to participants.

So, what does this teach me? It reminds me that business and humanities are closer than I think. It also tells me that as my knowledge builds the ability to translate concepts from one to the other will be empowering.

Resources

Wikipedia PDCA

What is Action Research?

Kaizen for Dummies

Kaizen World

The importance of teams

Being a part of a high performing team is a pretty rewarding thing. What few people realise is that it rarely happens overnight, and is incredibly special when it does.

Pulling the weight

I’ll admit it, I never used to like working on teams. A team always meant pulling someone else’s weight and dealing with last minute scrambles to do work that someone else committed to delivering and didn’t. I’ve talked about how everyone wins when everyone contributes here, but sadly this is not always the case.

Over years of working in ineffective teams, it became easier to promise only what I could deliver and so I became an advocate for independent projects. Truth be told, even when I started to manage people I was selective about how I continued to work within the team I was leading. This is a bad habit to get into and only serves to create large groups of people doing tasks in a similar space.

Nothing changes without new inputs

In order to create a new output something has to change or be introduced. Yes, as an individual I was able to get things done. I was able to consistently deliver at a reasonable level, but nothing was pushing me forward.

Working independently doesn’t offer as many chances to grow a skill base or challenge ideas. By working with others, you are able to collaborate and create great ideas and output from what would otherwise be good enough, but not spectacular.

Some people would argue that they are pushed by reading and engaging with new content through independent development efforts and while this is partially true, we cannot always see past a single idea or concept limiting the scope of our ability to grow. A second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes, experiences, and ideas offers us that new perspective to help us develop.

Making things great

Great teams challenge one another through dialogue, brainstorming and more. By introducing new variables, (such as alternate skill-sets and backgrounds), we are able to develop hybrids of our approaches that meet the needs in new ways.

Sometimes this leads to creating something that is entirely new. This magic cannot happen without a collaborative approach to delivery.

With good comes bad

Challenging a person’s ideas is a place for potential growth and has the high potential to create conflict. Having lived through some pretty tense team environments, I can say that this is something that should be addressed early on.

Setting expectations for engagement and conflict resolution early in the effort cam serve to avoid or limit the scope of these issues. I understand that one bad experience can create a bit of fear when it comes to team delivery, I have to say that when it all comes down to the end it is all worth the drama.

My discovery: great teams are strange polygamous relationships.

Each person finds their way to contribute and cares for the team dynamic differently. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people I might never have met because of team assignments and I am better for them all.

In order to create high functioning teams, tools like charters, communication plans, and expectation management are critical.

There are lots of resources out there that can help, but Lane Sherman, a former team coach of mine recently wrote a book that really steps you through everything you need. You can buy it here. I was lucky enough to help provide feedback on it, and he has done a great job taking some of the mystery out of developing (or fixing) teams.

 

 

Mutations in the Public Domain

Bond. Steve Bond.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, now does it?

Every day we use methods and models that used to belong to someone else to produce intellectual property of all sorts that we eventually profit from. In software, we often talk about open source versus closed source code bases as though they cannot possibly ever connect. In many cases closed source code involves open source areas and vice versa. This is true in the real world in many cases as well.

As a writer I like to think that my ideas are open source and the words that I have actually written are closed. In my head my words are mine for now and forever. It’s a magical concept that doesn’t really exist.

Sadly the reality is that my words are mine, for now at least, but at some point in the future they will not belong to me or to those who inherit what I leave behind. Eventually whether or not my words are worth remembering, they will progress to the public domain.

So what is the public domain?

The public domain is a place where ideas and words blend together to be created and redesigned in the way a new author or producer sees fit. It’s open source ideas and words to be mixed and matched for the profit of whoever wants to create something with them.

The best example of content in the public domain that I can come up with is the fairy tale. Since most of our favourites are hundreds of years old, people are able to re-write/re-produce them and even subsequently profit however they want and no income is returned to the original author or those who now hold their estate.

As someone who has been raised with these recycled favourites I had come to accept the idea that every fairy tale was mine as much as it was a possession of The Brothers Grimm.

So… why should anyone care?

50 to 70 years after our death our ideas become public domain for mutation in good and bad ways.

The first founding part of modern pop culture has become public domain in Canada (every country has different time guides). James Bond is no longer part of the Ian Flemming estate and someone has already written a new Bond book.

It made me realise that even books and movies that shaped my childhood like Star Wars and Harry Potter are en route to public domain too. After all George Lucas is already over 70 so maybe not in my lifetime, but shortly thereafter someone may create something new with themes that I hold dear.

All of the things that shape us as are eventually subject to reinterpretation by others.

I hope that at some point someone may think it’s a good idea to build on an idea or theory I present helping to further contribute to the wider body of global knowledge, but they may also mutate it beyond measure and that is outside of my control.
 

Head back to Academic and Social Research or check out other posts on Education.

Image Source:

Inquiry into Inquiry

Data-driven research has always been something that made sense to me. For many years, I have created surveys that ask specific questions that can be sliced and diced into action points when I receive the data. I love simple yes and no answers and yet, here I find myself in the midst of social sciences, which introduces so many new levers that can be pulled to adjust every part of the research and the results.

I’ve spent a few days just trying to wrap my head around terminology that sounds like made up words. Phenomenology or hermeneutics for example just don’t sound real in my head. I understand that they are just concepts I haven’t been exposed to and in a few months they will be a normal part of my day, but they are new to me now.

Combine that with the idea of all of the bias and personal ethical values that I have been loading onto my neutral mathematical surveys and here I sit….

Mind, blown.

Erin Burrell: Calvin and Hobbes Perception
Perception is complicated

Perception is complicated
Yes, I admit to being biased. You have bias too.
We all have historical biases of some type. These are not intentional but from the way we were raised to the places we live and work, we perceive ideas in a way that is unique to our personal make-up. That means that when we ask or answer a question it carries all of the weight of every day we have spent on the planet regardless of what it asks us.
I can recall getting calls from telemarketers (before I blocked my number) and having their pronunciation of my name impact the way I responded to them. A person in some call centre has no way of knowing if they are correct, and I shouldn’t hold it against them, but my name is personal to me and getting it wrong may impact the way I respond. Right or wrong. We can’t always help it when our feelings are involved. Unfortunately, I could skew the data set because of something that has nothing to do with my thoughts on my long distance service.

How do you define ethical?
Once again our values as individuals add weight to the impact of the questions we ask and how we go about asking them. This concept leads me to some movie where a police officer asks questions of a suspect under duress. Yes, they were trying to do the right thing, but it was not necessarily carried out under what another person might define as an ethical situation since the person being questioned was not fully in control of their environment and/or faculties.

“Don’t under estimate the importance of body language” Ursula The Little Mermaid

Erin Burrell: Ursula Body Language
Don’t under estimate the importance of body language

I understand that I placed a cartoon here. I’m making light of something that adds incredible importance to social science research. I’ve wrapped the last point in my post around something that I think will leave you with a good memory of the experience of reading this post, further creating bias and impacting your views on my work.

Every thing in the way someone asks a question, interviews a person, or responds can impact the results of the inquiry. So, next time you answer a question or survey ask yourself if what you are answering is really all truth or just a little bit about something else.

Resources:

Content concepts:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/index.html

Mindful Inquiry into Social Research http://www.amazon.ca/Mindful-Inquiry-Research-Valerie-Malhotra/dp/0761904093/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434795240&sr=8-1-fkmr2&keywords=Mindful+inquiry+into+social+research

Image source: Calvin and Hobbes

Image source: The Little Mermaid