Thursday, July 06,
Among this morning’s tasks was outlining a brochure on a
day in the life of an eLearner. Well, actually it’s a month or
two in the life of an elearner since elearning is a process not
an event. It morphed into a series of stories (since they communicate
better than out-of-context descriptions). And the stories, vignettes
really, must involve people of a variety of ages, backgrounds,
and needs because one of elearning’s strengths comes from treating
each learner as an individual.
Anyway, several hundred words from Jay’s head went down the
toilet when the web application crashed. Too bad. It was great
stuff and I know you’d have enjoyed reading it. In a few years,
the web will be our hard disk. I enjoy being ahead of the crowd.
Sometimes it’s stupid, but it’s certainly instructive.
I remember writing that I was about
to take a break. I’d completed a thousand-word outline of the
points I hoped to convey and the dozen little stories to make
them. Time to refocus. Nibble a few Alpine strawberries from the
front yard (I do my best creative work at my home office), have
another cup of coffee (the freshly ground coffee is better at
home, too), and pat the dog. Pleasing distractions take me out
of the trees so I can appreciate the forest. Sometimes, like in
Eames’s marvelous film Powers
of Ten, I like to ride the hot-air balloon of consciousness
higher still, to get the 10,000’ view. I find it useful to think
of projects as a series of layers or hierarchies. Every now and
then it’s useful to jump up or down a few layers.
I came back from my break in a few minutes and decided to
peruse my writing tips web page. (Huh? What web page?) For a dozen
years, I’ve been jotting down quotations, useful processes, and
other stuff that struck me as important or interesting. Now I’ve
put all this stuff on a personal web site so I can retrieve it
when I want. Let me show you.
Email just arrived from the guys whose app destroyed my earlier
words (the ones you would have liked):
>I just lost an hour's work.
We currently have an hour automatic timeout on a session.
Work inside the update editor does not extend the hour. Only a
Save or a something that causes a refresh in the Site Manager
pane on the left does. We had thought that since our hour limit
was twice the industry norm that this was a safe bet but it seems
not. In retrospect, we should have related this better. So we
plan to implement an auto refresh that, in effect, obviates any
timeout if the page is displayed. Thanks for your patience and
Berries, coffee, microwaved tortilla
chips [no oil]
I printed out the outline I’m working on and am going through
it, fountain pen in hand, asking myself, “How can I make this
better?” The intro could be a mock newspaper story; people are
more likely to read that than a description. It will arouse their
curiosity. Is this story real or is it Memorex?
I decided to mock up the story and went searching for an
American Banker logo. Found one. Put it into PaintShop. Decided
to change the color. <alarm! alarm! alarm!> Though fun,
not a productive use of my time. I have Geoff Moore’s new book,
on the Fault Line right in front of me. I’ve highlighted one
message heavily, “Core activities add value; all else is overhead.”
I take this personally as well as incorporating it into my view
of good business practice. I tell myself, “Jay, outsource the
doodling and get back to crafting this brochure.”
I just realized that I can replace the one-on-one queries
with one general question, followed by each individual’s responses.
I am going to pluck a few images from my picture files to plant
this in my head. (Yes, you guessed it...When I see a photo of
an interesting looking person on the web, I’ll download it to
use in personal mockups like this. Several dozen people inhabit
this rogue’s gallery.) Then I’m going to crawl into each of their
heads to come up with dialogue that’s peppy and not too stilted.
One point I wanted to make is that
good elearning isn’t workshops or school; it’s more an experience.
The Experience Economy may have been a bestseller but I
never read it, so I call up my personal search page (What? You
haven’t made a
personal links and search page? You like re-inventing the
wheel?) and go to Business Week’s book reviews, and figure
this bears more looking, so I do a Google search, and end up reading
an excerpt of The
Experience Economy that uses examples of grocery clerks and
Barbra Streisand as proof that all customer experiences are theatre,
and I write that elearning is like Disneyland; you buy your ticket
at the entrance and can hop on any ride you feel like without
paying more (but with elearning you don’t have to wait in line).
And now serious distraction sets
in. I get an email alerting me to a report on Strategies
for Building America’s 21st Century Workforce,
and I can’t resist taking a moment to see if it contains anything
new. Answer: not much.
<Break to replenish intellectual capital>
I emailed a few pages to a friend who’s working to help down-and-outers
overcome the digital divide. Then I wrote a brief review
for my web site to save other people the time I spent looking
for the meat in this wordy report. (I believe in a digital karma
that tells me if I share tips with others, I will be repaid in
this life or another.)
I’m going to go for my daily walkit’s 6 pm here. When I’m not picking blackberries or whatever,
I’ll think a little about dialog to put into the mouths of my
brochure’s characters. <Walk in the forest for an hour.>
On my walk, I try to channel my characters and record them on
my slick little SONY voice recorder. (Did I mention that I’m really
After dinner, I spend an hour transcribing my hike’s dictation
and dolling it up a bit. This exercise of jotting down my thought
processes has been fun. Often the best way to learn something
is to watch someone else do it, then give it a whirl for yourself.
But we really don’t know what sort of thing is going through other
people’s heads. We only get the sweetened version, prettied up
and recast for our benefit.
Saturday, July 08, 2000
I’m adding a few tweaks to www.internettime.com that
came to me overnight. I do some of my best thinking while asleep.
Ever see a Latin American worry doll? About 1” tall, made of toothpicks
and colored yarn. When you turn in, you give over your troubles
to the worry doll and you can sleep in peace. I’ve extended this:
I’ll hand a worry doll something I’d like an answer to and in
the morning, it magically gives me what I asked for.
Before turning in last night, I was reading an article about
While the evil empire and other major companies are talking about
the glorious day in the future when subject matter experts will
create their own content; bloggers are already doing it for free,
for fun, at the office. If I ran the zoo, I’d ask every employee
to maintain a blog for sharing discoveries and ah-has. Information
usually doesn’t stick in my head unless I mess with it, and I
imagine that this is the case with most of us. The value of corporate
blogging may be more in singling things out and recording them
(messing with the information) than in the content shared. So,
it becomes a play within a play (isn’t everything?). I’m sticking
this thought in my head by recording it here and making an entry
about blogs. This would simplify the cut-and-paste and FTP sequence
I’ve been using to keep, for example, the site’s headlines current;
a blog should let me do that directly.
Visiting my open source page got me to thinking about gnutella,
the server-less alternative to napster that I see as a model for
decentralized knowledge management. I surfed over to the gnutella site and found just
the statement of philosophy I wanted. I was also looking for a
few cool revolutionary graphics (e.g., Lenin and Gnutella “Power
to the People”). Maybe corporate America hasn’t caught on because
the decentralized approach is wrapped in anti-establishment images
and rhetoric. One gnutella graphic pictures a kid giving the finger
and this strikes me as juvenile. It brings back images of a favorite
old bumper sticker here in Berkeley, “Defy Authority.” That one
still raises the hair on the back of my neck. Better to “Visualize
Whirled Peas” or “Defend Your Right to Arm Bears.”
About once a month, I click into arts
& letters daily, the liberal arts outpost on the web.
This headline caught my eye:
three great philosophers of German history are Hegel, Schlegel,
and Bagel. Alas, no one understands Hegel, no one reads Schlegel,
and as for Bagel...
I thought about Hegel last week while hiking. (I am not making
this up.). Not that I remember one iota of his philosophy. I was
reflecting on his instructional process, for Hegel is my archetype
of the nineteenth-century German university professor. The review
in arts & letters daily reports that Hegel, or, more
familiarly, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, was no worse than his peers
(except for his impenetrable subject matter).
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich walks into the lecture hall at the University
of Heidelberg. He strides to the lectern, opens his notes, and
reads them to the assembled students. The students scribble furiously,
for no one understands this stuff on first exposure; they have
to tease meaning out of their notes by reading and re-reading
them. Herr professor is so unerring in his reading that he never
has to write books: His students do that for him by comparing
Did I remember when Georg was boring those students
in Heidelberg? No, not within a century. So while looking back
at what I’d written, I popped over to Google
and searched “Hegel Heidelberg” and found he was born in 1770,
the same year at Beethoven, and that his brother served in Napoleon’s
armies. In fact, Hegel actually saw Napoleon and wrote, “I saw
World Soulriding out to reconnoiter the city;
it is truly a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, concentrated
here on a single point, astride a single horse, yet reaching across
the world and ruling it.”
I found that I’d misconstrued the tenor of Hegel’s lecturesmust have been the professor next
door I was thinking about; an academic headhunter, who found Hegel’s
presentations filled with “false pathos, shouting, and roaring,
little jokes, digressions... arrogant self-praise....” I also
had that bit about Hegel’s students writing his books wrong. The
University of Heidelberg, it seems, required professors to base
lectures on published texts. Hegel published the outline of his
lectures as Encyclopedia of the Philosophical
Sciences in Outline and his students filled in the blanks as he spoke.
reports that, “Hegel had become absent-minded near the end of
his life.” Anecdotes abound, including one story of Hegel arriving
for a lecture wearing only one shoe. Yet the real decline in his
later years was marked by a hypocrisy: Hegel came to believe his
theories were ‘truths,’ able to withstand time. This belief contradicted
Hegel's own theory that all thoughts decay, replaced by new ideas.
Clearly Hegel came to believe he was the most influential philosopher
of his time.”
Interesting. He came to believe his theories were truths.
That sort of attitude shuts down one’s ability to learn since
learning means being open to new perspectives. Georg went from
an extreme of “everything’s up for grabs” to “I’ve got it all
figured out.” Know-it-alls don’t learn.
We learn from our mistakes. (Finding mistakes is proof positive
of the provisional nature of knowledge.) I’d managed to forget
just about everything I knew about Hegel from college days. I
only knew he taught at Heidelberg because I used to live there.
I did have a murky, apparently distorted, image of the guy. Now
that I’ve been corrected, reinforced by writing it down, and made
it important to me by sharing it with you, I’ll carry an image
of the know-it-all professor coming to class wearing one shoe
’til the end of time. Learning’s like that.
Now I’m updating my website again. It’s a hobby I learn from.
I consider myself an artist with words as my brushes and ideas
my medium. The screen becomes my canvas. When HTML came along,
I knew I had to learn it. How cool that it “writes” graphics as
well as text and then links things. I like to show stuff to other
people via the net. So, I’ve become an HTML author. When I tackle
a new subject, building a few web pages is a natural for keeping
track of pertinent stuff. It’s like learning by teaching others
except this is more like a dry run in an empty lecture hall.
Friday July 14,
On the drive to Oakland this morning, I wondered why I've
never diagrammed how I think. Making things explicit is a lot
of what I do for a living yet I have no flowchart of my standard
processes. This makes it difficult to provide insight to others
into how I think. Without knowledge of my model, other
people assume I'm using their model. How I think is the
same as how I learn, at least if I remember the conclusions of
my thinking. Too often I’m on autopilot, unaware of the passing
scenery. Going through the motions. Not mindful. Not learning.
Try as I might, it’s awkward to describe how the wheels are
turning in my head, knowing that others are observing. I suppose
in time I could overcome this just as humans habituate to virtually
anything that’s not in motion.
Most mornings I go through a sort of seven-step exercise
of my senses to give them a little wake-up call, to make sure
they’re all alert and helping me learn more about how the world
I start by looking at something really close, like the back
of my hand from about a foot away; then I shift my vision to something
distantthis morning I see the redwood trees
waving their branches in the backyard.
Then I listen. There’s always noise although I tune it out.
Today I hear a distant plane, a dog barks somewhere far away,
the heater just when on, and the computer emits a low-level buzz.
I shift to smell, finding still a trace of skunk in the air.
The taste buds are registering sort of a milky mouth feel. The
air is pleasantly chilly against my skin (the morning’s here are
cool and foggy, and my office window hasn’t shut tightly since
my son draped Ethernet cable through the windows and across the
back of the house).
For touch, you can’t beat a soft doggy, and Smokey just came
up to me for a pat; longhaired dachshunds are insatiable. My body’s
feeling very relaxed at the moment although it’s screaming, “Exercise
me, exercise me, let’s go for a walk.” I sense the space I’m filling
in the room.
Senses ready? Vision. “Check.” Hearing. “Check.” Smell. “Check.”
Taste. “Check.” Touch. “Check.” Body. “Check.” All systems go.
Mindful and ready to seize the day.
Learning is a pleasure. I love it. Like the artist who works
as a janitor to pay for his oils, I work for the luxury of being
able to learn. When I was in school, doing as little as I could
to squeak onto the Honor Roll, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d grow
into an insanely curious fulltime learner. CEOs brag when they
award their employees with 40 hours of training a year! I try
for a minimum of 40 hours of learning a week. (“I don’t
know who I am but life is for learning.” Joni Mitchell, Woodstock.)
Today I spent most of the morning
and afternoon listening to Jakob Nielsen tell a large audience
about web design. I've read Jakob’s
site and his recent book, the awkwardly titled Designing
for Web Usability. So, am I wasting my time sitting here listening?
No. I'm picking up Jakob's funny stories and examples. As he describes
various principles, I'll frequently say to myself “I remember
that” and reclaim lost knowledge, putting it back on the front
burner. I’m gearing up to help a company redesign its elearning
web pages and having Jakob’s principles and aphorisms at the ready
will help me along. I’m not just recording what Jakob says. Rather,
I'm continually asking myself, “Do I buy this?” and keyboarding
what I might use later into the Sony laptop.
For kicks, I put all my notes in ThinkFree,
a clone of Microsoft Office that lets me flip back and forth from
Word format to HTML as I write. Saturday morning I’ll cut the
useful sections of my notes and paste them into my web pages.
Well, enough of my ramblings. Hope you enjoyed this peak
into my head. Consciousness is such a bunch of drunken monkeys.
See you on the net. Or maybe not.
Jay Cross is
a free spirit, energetic learner, and astounding marketing guy
with 25 years in the education industry. Creative despite degrees
from both Princeton and Harvard, he lives in the hills of Berkeley,
California. Jay founded Internet Time Group to help organizations
learn. Fast. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on the web at http://www.internettime.com.
Copyright (c) 2000-2004 LiNE Zine (www.linezine.com)