Posted by: gabrielshirley | 3 April 2010

Useful Tools for Online Research

I’ve been doing a lot of academic and organizational research the last few years and, frankly, I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of convergence between the physical and digital research tools. As someone who works comfortably with modern social media and online tools, plodding through real world libraries and even online databases of academic journals can feel very slow and inefficient. I have become spoiled by Google and instant access to just about any information… except the stuff that’s holed up in many academic publications and libraries.

As the “digital convergence” continues along its path, I see more opportunities for researchers online. If you’ve ever “felt my pain,” this blog’s for you. I wanted to share some of the resources I and other colleagues have found to be most effective for combining the research process with the speed and accessibility of modern global connectivity and tools. Some are targeted specifically at researchers, but many are general purpose tools that have significant advantages when applied to the research process.

Click the + at the end of each branch of the mind map below to reveal more information. If you have other resources that have been invaluable to your own research process, drop me a line and tell me why I should include it in this map. Hopefully we will make life just a little easier for researchers everywhere.

* Special thanks to Marilyn Price-Mitchell for contributing to this map.

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 4 January 2010

New Apps for the New Year

This is a reflective time of year for many of us. We take time to review our accomplishments and challenges from the past and then look ahead to our goals and intentions for the next 12 months. I like to be “unplugged” during part of this time, to re-connect with family and nature, and remember that life is about being in service to people — ourselves and others — in a way that increases our learning and helps us evolve toward our potential.

As the new year comes and we ramp up our daily lives once again, I look for technologies that will help me and others in the new year. Here are three of my favorites for 2010.

For many years I have been interested in the intersection of people, nature, and technology, and at the end of 2009 I discovered MindBloom, the perfect digital companion for anyone who is interested in achieving your own significant life goals. Paul Ingram and the crew at MindBloom have done a superb job of moving goal achievement to the next level. An immersive natural metaphor creates a reflective space you can easily enter and exit within a couple of minutes… or linger for a while if you have some pondering to do about what’s important to you. I’ve been using the service for about a month now and I highly recommend it as a way to keep what’s important to you front and center throughout the year. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen in this space before. Do yourself a favor and give it a try — there’s a 14 day free trial and they have a great deal of half off the annual subscription right now.

As a Christmas gift, my family gave me a Garmin Forerunner 405 sports watch. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but this thing is quite impressive. Press a couple of buttons and it tracks speed, pace, heart rate, elevation gain, etc. If you’re like me, that information doesn’t matter much when you’re out on a walk or a run, but once you get home, the data syncs wirelessly with your computer (unfortunately through a USB “ANT” device instead of bluetooth, but it works well enough) and the Garmin site shows you a map of where you’ve been, how far, your average, high and low pace, calories burned, etc. I wore it skiing the other day and it tracked my entire day of activities… including an increased resting heart rate at altitude. At my age it’s time to start paying attention to my heart health, so I’m grateful to have this “set it and forget it” device that can give me a baseline for what “healthy” means for me and then makes visible any variation from my norm. It even has me thinking I’ll run a marathon one day!

Finally, I just started using the LiveStrong iPhone app as an experiment. It’s essentially a calorie counting application, but it makes the process fairly easy and gives me useful information such as calorie target for the day, calories burned from exercise (you enter the type and amount of exercise), and calories eaten from food. After using it for a couple of weeks, you have a library of foods you commonly eat and searching for something that’s not on the list is a fairly quick process. It’s all tracked and private (if you want it to be), and the software can help you with your particular health and weight goals. It even made me re-think my portion size for tonight’s dinner… now that’s something!

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 6 November 2009

Design Thinking for Consulting Firms

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, has written a new book called The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage.

The concept of Design Thinking is has really taken hold as a primary innovation strategy in the last few years. It has been pioneered by companies like IDEO and by Experience Design professionals in the Web 2.0 space. Martin contends that design thinking is likely to present challengers to traditional management consulting firms that charge large sums of money for incremental improvements. Design firms, on the other hand, do not limit themselves to thinking based on “proof” or “hard data.” They get creative, get innovative, try new things and see how they work in a fast and nimble way. A consulting firm that brings Design Thinking to its clients would be able to deliver breakthrough results for significantly less money. Combining the skills of traditional consulting firms with design thinking firms could be the winning combination that provides both innovation and acceptable risk management for larger corporations. See the Fast Company article on this subject.

I have been using Design Thinking in my consulting practice for a number of years with excellent results. One of the key assumptions about this kind of work is that everyone can contribute to innovation. It’s important to listen to “the need beneath the need” and ask everyone involved what they would do if there were no limits or constraints. Inevitably creative ideas arise from the collective, the “group mind,” if they are invited to the party.

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 12 February 2009

Microsoft and Google Address Energy Efficiency

Both Microsoft and Google are providing software that helps automate and visualize electricity usage.

Microsoft’s solution, using its Dynamics AX technology, is intended to help large building operators monitor their environmental impact and efficiency.

Google’s solution is open source software that is intended to stimulate an ecosystem of products that help consumers change their behavior through better access to real time information (see NYT article). In the same way that Prius owners tend to change their driving habits due to the information display that shows how different kinds of driving produce different fuel economy in the car.

The advent of real-time data coupled with social technologies that help people see how their friends and neighbors are doing compared to them will likely have a significant impact on our power consumption.

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 24 November 2008

Why Paper Trumps Electronic Organizers

I have tried many different methods of organizing action items, to do lists, priorities and schedules. Every time a new and promising technique or technology shows up on my radar, I give it a go, hoping I might learn a thing or two. I’ve used Covey’s system, Getting Things Done, and others along the way to developing habits of organizing that work for me.

Which brings me to my first and most important point: each of us organizes things differently because our brains are organized differently. Due to our unique combination of genetics, personality, and experience, we all see, store, and remember the world differently from each other. You thought there was one world “out there?” Well, I’m here to tell you, there are multiple worlds, and they are all “in here,” inside each of our minds and the way we interpret experience to create what we think of as “real.”

That makes creating a single method for organizing that works for everyone a nearly impossible task. Even more challenging is the fact that our individual organizing needs and styles change from day to day and moment to moment based on things like our mood (I’m having a bad day, so I should do things that will help me feel better), or location (I’m on-site with the creative team, so a picture might be worth a thousand words) or content (how do I help this engineering team see the forest in addition to the trees?).

With the advent of the iPhone, I thought I would finally have an electronic organizer that could replace the paper I habitually carry around with me to organize my day and week. After all, the key features I needed were 1) something I could write on that was small enough to fit in my pocket and 2) something I was sure to have with me when I needed it.

It turns out that the iPhone has a variety of options for keeping lists of things, some of which let you prioritize, set due dates, etc. I’ve used the very simple Notes application that comes with the phone as well as Jott (which has the very satisfying feature of swiping across an item to draw a line through it and mark it off the list) and OmniFocus, which is based on Getting Things Done and includes optional due dates, photos, and voice recordings.

The shortfall of these applications as compared to a good old piece of paper is this: they all assume that one method of organizing works all the time. Their well thought out structures require me to fit my thoughts and priorities into a predetermined organization that may be great for some things and terrible for others. I’ve been around enough to know how I think best in different circumstances. When I have to change the way I think to use a tool that is supposed to help me organize my thoughts, it’s no longer a good fit.

A blank sheet of paper, on the other hand, is an inviting space that asks me the question: how do you want to organize your day? It remembers what I write down, what I cross off, what I connect to another thought or action or picture. It has no issue when I decide half way through my day that there’s a better way to organize for the week. It works with me so I can change how I think based on changing priorities, moods, and circumstances.

The software I’ve used that comes closest to the flexibility of paper is probably Microsoft OneNote. OmniGraffle, MindMeister, and MindManager are also good for certain kinds of thinking. None are available in a mobile version yet. I keep hoping that Apple or an iPhone developer will fill this gap with an organizing app that flexes with my thought process.

I continue to experiment with electronic organizing apps because I like some of the things they do well. But when I’m serious about organizing my day and week, I pull out my pad of paper and get down to business.

If you have used other tools or methods that work well for you, drop me a line, I’d love to hear about them.


Other organizing / thinking / planning tools that I and others have found useful include:

Microsoft Excel
Google Docs & Spreadsheets

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 27 July 2008

iPhone 2.0, MobileMe and BusySync

Like many others, I was very excited to experience the new iPhone 2.0 software and the related MobileMe service that enables over-the-air synchronization of calendar data and other information. In particular, I was hoping for a fix to a long standing family annoyance — there are 3 of us and we have 3 different schedules. Most of the time we each want to see our own calendar, but occasionally it’s important to see the calendars of other family members at the same time to schedule family events, hand-offs, etc.

MobileMe to the Rescue?

My partner Tracy and I both have original iPhones, and we’ve updated them with the latest 2.0 software. We have several calendars between us, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll talk about 3 of them: Tracy, Gabriel, and Abby. We manage Abby’s calendar as a family and our own calendars individually. However, since iCal’s publish and subscribe features presume a single person “owns” a calendar, to date there has been no way for both Tracy and I to manage the Abby calendar. That’s the “holy grail” of family organization I was hoping for with MobileMe.

Unfortunately, MobileMe does not currently provide us the ability to share calendars editable calendars with each other. In fact, calendar sharing functionality is noticeably lacking in the current implementation of MobileMe. 

Enter BusySync

While searching the web for possible solutions, I came across BusySync, a software add-on to the Mac’s System Preferences that provides the ability to synchronize Apple’s iCal calendars with Google Calendar and it enables multiple people to update the same calendar. It does both of these jobs quite nicely.

What does synchronizing with Google Calendar have to do with the iPhone and MobileMe? Good question. It turns out that it’s part of a rather complex but functional workaround to enable over-the-air synchronization of iCal calendars for iPhone users. If I update an event on Abby’s calendar from my iPhone, here’s what happens:

  1. Gabriel updates an Abby Calendar event on his iPhone.
  2. Gabriel’s iPhone syncs over the air to MobileMe.
  3. Gabriel’s Mac syncs the change from MobileMe to iCal.
  4. Gabriel’s BusySync syncs the change from iCal to Gabriel’s Google Calendar.
  5. Gabriel’s Google Calendar syncs the change to Tracy’s Google Calendar.
  6. Tracy’s BusySync syncs from Tracy’s Google Calendar to her iCal.
  7. Tracy’s Mac syncs from iCal to her MobileMe account.
  8. Tracy’s MobileMe account syncs to her iPhone.
It’s WAY more complex than it should be, but it does work. It requires both Macs to be turned for certain parts of the process to happen. They do not have to be on at the same time, but the more they are off, the longer it may take. You could simplify this process if you are able to use a single Google account and/or a single MobileMe account. Neither of those was an option for us.
I’d like to thank the BusySync folks for providing this workaround while we wait for Apple or Google to provide a simpler solution.
Posted by: gabrielshirley | 10 March 2008

Standing Still

Most people I touch in my life these days feel like they are moving too fast. What would happen if we just stood still, even for 5 minutes? Would the world notice? Would it make a difference?

Check out this video of 200 people who stood still at the same moment in Grand Central Station.

I wonder what it would be like to do this experiment on an even larger scale. Hmmm. Let’s see:

I hereby invite the entire City of Seattle (and anyone else who wants to play) to stand still, frozen, for 5 minutes at 12 noon (Pacific) on Thursday, March 20. You get extra points for doing it in a public place, but you lose points (LOTS of them) if you do it while driving heavy machinery. Be safe, have fun, do it with friends, tell me what happens.

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 5 March 2008

Turning 40

On Friday I turn 40.

When I was a child, perhaps 12 years old, my mother turned 40 and I remember it was a Big Deal for her. She didn’t want it to be a Big Deal, but some of her friends planned a surprise party for her, which she discovered was in the works. So instead of throwing a surprise party, they threw a “non-surprise” party complete with a big yellow construction sign announcing to the world that she had passed this particular mark on her journey. Then there was the male stripper. If you know that my mother is a former Catholic nun, you get the picture that this made the event a Big Deal.

At the time I tried to imagine what it would be like when I turned 40. It seemed so far away. Past the turn of the century.  Some other foreign land of future time that barely had any meaning to me then. Now that I’m here, 2008 seems very present to me. I’m in grad school, I’m a consultant, I have an amazing family and an expanding cadre of friends doing good work in the world. My idealism is as present as ever, but it’s more refined, deeper, trusting people to be who they are and still wanting to strive toward the as-yet-to-be-defined best in all of us. I’m intensely grateful for my life. And the ongoing sense of being on a journey that’s bigger than me and also a collaborator with me. We’re woven together in the interplay of individual/collective, each supporting the other to realize itself more fully as part of a larger whole. My mother, my life, and all of the people on my journey have helped me see this is how life works.

Being present to what’s happening right now is, well, really cool. The present is where the individual and collective really meet each other, the place where things actually happen, the place where new possibilities emerge, where we imagine better futures, where we experience all there is to experience. The wisdom traditions of the world invite us to get in touch with the present through meditation and prayer. The expanding modern work on multiple intelligences is really all about the “multiple intelligences of the present.”

As I move into my next decade, my wish for myself and for the world is that we choose to be conscious of the fact that we live in the present. What will happen in the future is important, yes. And how we are right now will determine that future course.

Turning 40 is a Big Deal for me because it’s a marker of coming into my own. While I consider myself a life-long learner, I am also making a choice to speak out more, to be more present with my unique voice, to contribute what I have to contribute, to lead where leadership is needed. We live in a time that calls for a fullness of thinking, being, and acting. I’m signing up to contribute my part and encouraging others to do the same.

Posted by: gabrielshirley | 12 December 2007

Nexus II and Nexus U

Last week I spent two days in Chicago working on the design for the 2008 Nexus for Change conference. A dozen senior-level designers of systemic change initiatives comprise the Core Design Team for this 2-day conference and 2-day pre-conference learning event that seeks to advance the utilization and impact of systemic design principles and large scale change methodologies. The invitation list includes practitioners (internal & external consultants), scholars (teachers, students & researchers), organizational leaders (client systems), activists, and “thought leaders” (well-known people in the field, including some considered to be “founders” of methodologies or schools of thought).


It can be quite a challenge to effectively corral a group of “experts” in any field, and Emily Axelrod did a fabulous job of keeping us focused and on task while inviting the full participation of the various skills represented in the room. There are times when groups manage to hold a healthy respect for the diverse capacities and perspectives represented by the individuals present and still maintain both an equal playing field and a practical orientation. This was one of those times.

We began with a welcome from Steve Cady and a review of feedback from last year’s conference. More than 2/3 of last year’s participants filled out the online feedback form. Jon Kennedy, Peggy Holman, and I had a hand in sifting through the results to identify key themes and get a sense of the distribution of perspectives. The spectrum ranged from “loved it” to “hated it” with approximately 75% saying they would recommend the conference to others and would consider coming again. Yet there was a clear indication that some audiences did not feel included or find enough value, especially those representing businesses and those coming to learn about specific change methodologies.Last year’s conference had a strong focus on emergent design, identifying and adapting to the changing conditions in the room. Some of those adaptive design decisions were seen as successful and others less so by participants. Those with learning styles that thrive in highly structured environments were fish out of water — some of them began to grow lungs and others flopped out of the room and back to more familiar territory. Still others hung around with questions about how to design differently to accommodate the many needs represented.

At the end of last year’s conference, I proposed a pre-conference that would specifically address the needs of people who were coming to sample different methodologies to get a sense of what they are, when to use them, and how to design change initiatives with various methods in your toolkit. I’m happy to say that Nexus U will be the implementation of that idea, enhanced through collaboration with others. In two days participants will get a sense of the history of change methodologies, hear a range of stories of their application in real situations, and get to choose a couple of specific methods to understand in more detail. Then there will be an opportunity to apply new learning in the design of an intervention for a real-world case. We hope this experience will both satisfy those who wanted more specific details about methods and also prepare people for the conference that follows.

The conference will pick up the theme of thinking and designing from a systemic perspective to address real-world issues. There will again be a variety of perspectives represented by attendees, but this year we hope to do a better job of weaving together opportunities for different needs to be met while providing plenty of opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and initiatives. Participants in Nexus U will bring their learning forward to both explore their questions further and to help bring others up to speed for Nexus II (the conference). There will be a combination of theory and application, as well as a spacious design that allows time for critical informal conversations and the emergence of new alliances.

The conference brochure will be available in the next few weeks.

Save the dates, it’s gonna be good:

Nexus U – March 29-30, 2008 (Sat-Sun)

Nexus II – March 30-April 1, 2008 (Sun-Tue)


Posted by: gabrielshirley | 30 November 2007

Designing the Future: How We Think

How we think matters. The way we think determines our understanding of the world, and that understanding determines the questions we ask and the actions we choose to take. We each have a limited set of filters through which all perceptual experience flows. Change those filters and you change your world.

For the past few months, I’ve been doing a bit of action research for my own organization. The goal is to better understand peoples’ perceptions of the future and how that perception can or should impact their actions in the present. The research protocol is very simple. When you are engaged in conversation and have achieved a reasonable level of trust, ask the question, “What do you and your organization need to be and do to be relevant in the next 20 to 50 years?”

I find that this question elicits a variety of interesting responses. Invariably, it gets people thinking about the futures they think are likely and how they might respond to them. My goal in the conversation, which may happen over time, is to move from this “respond to” position toward a more proactive stance that identifies concrete action that will help create a desired future. There is something incredibly powerful in the act of choosing your preferred future. Along the way there is a shift where people begin to see themselves as creators of culture rather than simply consumers of culture. This is the magic moment where empowering possibilities arise.

You are hereby invited to try this experiment yourself. Start with people you know well and see where the conversation leads. Invite them to join the experiment too, and to report back their results. Try it on yourself and see what happens.

As always, if you have an ah-ha experience and are willing to share, or if this raises questions or concerns for you, please let me know.

I look forward to the conversation.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers