Sunday, November 13, 2011

What I Learned In Denmark

Even after I had agreed to speak in Aarhus, Denmark at the J. Boye Aarhus 11 Conference, I did not really know what to expect from a gathering of IT and communications specialists who run intranets for large organizations. My experience confirmed the wisdom of going to meetings outside one’s own field and seeing the world through a different lens. Health care has a poor track record of learning from other disciplines, but I discovered a lot that could help us transform the American clinical delivery system. This blog post will be my first attempt to understand what I learned in Denmark.

Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institute, delivered the opening keynote: Come, Let Us Go Boldly into the Present, My Brothers and Sisters ( Edson and I chatted the night before his keynote at dinner, and I found him to be friendly, interesting and a good listener. As a lecturer, he is of the pacing and twirling dervish school of keynotes complete with the flashy slides I usually abhor. Even though we belong to different keynote camps (mine is the simple words on simple slides school), I was captivated.

Noting that the new ideas have been around for 5 to 10 years, Edson quoted Howard Rheingold (Smart Mobs), Lawrence Lessig (The Future of Ideas), Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Wikinomics), Tim O’Reilly (What is Web 2.0?), William Gibson (Zero History), Clay Shirky (Cognitive Surplus), and Thomas Friedman (Serious in Singapore).

Edson’s new ideas include overcoming synchronicity, the changing nature of now and the future, Bill Joy’s Law, cognitive surplus, network effects, Kathy Sierra’s hero, and Moore’s Law.

Lessig wrote, “The open and neutral platform of the Internet has spurred hundreds of companies to develop new ways for individuals to interact…. Public debate is enabled by removing perhaps the most significant cost of human interaction – synchronicity.” When I heard Edson read this quote, I realized that my teaching HPL 500 online for Jefferson University School of Population Health took advantage of this development so that practicing physicians could participate in my class whenever their busy schedules allowed. I also connected this concept with how twitter has enhanced my participation and learning from conferences I do not attend in person or from comments in the twitterstream months after I have given a talk.

Drawing heavily on Gibson, Edson states that the future no longer matters as much as it used to because now is much narrower than it used to be. Things change so rapidly today that we really cannot plan for the future; we have to do it right now.

Bill Joy famously observed, “No matter what business you’re in, most of the smart people work for someone else.” Tapscott and Williams build on this idea and describe how mass collaboration becomes so much more important and powerful. “As a growing number of firms see the benefits of mass collaboration, the new way of organizing will eventually displace the traditional corporate structures as the economy’s primary engine of wealth creation.” Edson also reminds us that Shirky estimates that there are a trillion hours a year available for networked people to collaborate and create, and Kathy Sierra reminds us that since every man (patient) is a hero, all of us should help everyone else achieve their dreams and goals.

Edson wrapped up his talk by describing a Thomas Friedman column about how Singapore elementary school kids learn about DNA by reenacting CSI crime scenes in class. Edson and Friedman would have each of us ask the following questions: 1) What world am I living in? 2) What impact do I want to have in that world? 3) What should I do today?

Feeling totally inspired, I sampled various presentations from the ten tracks: digital strategy and governance, going mobile, higher education, user experience, web content management, digital marketing, intranet, online communications, online health, and standards and technology.

Highlights for me personally included a deeper understanding of search and how organizations are struggling with going mobile. Martin White of displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of the past, present, and future of search. I especially enjoyed his story of the company that discovered the most popular search was for “conference call” because nobody could remember how to call into meetings, and his classification of searches as successful, failures, or disasters. Disasters occur when employees find old documents and assume, for example, that the old list of banned chemicals is the same as the new list of banned chemicals. Products are made with banned chemicals and a disaster has occurred for the company. It was also sobering to learn that companies with 1000 employees have 200 terabytes of information and that manufacturing companies have 1 petabyte of information that needs to be searchable.

Robert E. Johnson of Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC utilized his extensive experience of consulting with North American universities to deliver a compelling message for all of us to go mobile by identifying our top tasks. His Law of Top Tasks states that not everything on our website is equally important, our visitors determine what is most important, and we have to give up control over what we feature on our websites. When the City of Liverpool developed a mobile website, they were surprised that the number one task citizens wanted to accomplish was to find out about recycling and trash collection days. Needless to say, this was not the top priority of the mayor. Quoting Gerry McGovern who said, “How much of your content is dead and useless junk that impedes navigation and search results,” Johnson said if it won’t fit on your mobile website maybe you should consider deleting it from your traditional website. He also shared a US government website that I have found extremely useful

The conference ended with a town hall debate moderated by Janus Boye himself featuring Katrine Thielke of the Danish Patent Office vs. Raymond Boissevain of the Dutch government. Internal communication was declared dead; video is not annoying; remix and mash-ups still add value; big systems like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP are not great; apps are here to stay; and we do not need more governance. Thielke won the debate, and Boissevain conceded graciously and retired to the dinner to drink local beer.

In a future blog, I will share the insights I learned at J. Boye Aarhus 11 participating in the online health track.

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